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The Problem With Making Assumptions About Other People With Our Health Condition

The internet is such a powerful tool, especially when it comes to the health community. It’s helped people self-diagnose when they can’t afford an actual paper diagnosis. That being said, there’s a dark side to the wealth of information available to us that I don’t feel that we’ve talked about enough. While well-meaning and well-intentioned, positioning ourselves as experts on every person with the same condition we have can be very dangerous and harmful.

There are certain symptoms and traits that are characteristic of every condition. It’s how we can diagnose ourselves whether self or professionally. We line up what our symptoms are to either the DSM or other forms of diagnostic material to see if our symptoms and traits match with a condition. From there we seek community, learn from others, and figure out life with our new condition. However, your individualized experience, symptoms, and traits may and often do differ from others. 

When we go on the internet and talk about our conditions, we typically do so to make sure other people feel less alone. However, there’s a difference between speaking from your experience about it and what’s helped you, and positioning yourself as an expert on the condition.

The key difference between the two is sharing what you do, versus telling other people what they should do. I once saw a post in a private group that said how loving playing with LEGOs is a key neurodivergent trait. 

LEGOs.

I know a lot of neurodivergent people who love LEGOs, but I am very neurodivergent and that isn’t true for me. If it works for them, great, but there are too many pieces and my brain could never hyperfocus on that. That person used their own experience as a diagnostic tool and that’s harmful.

Sharing a condition doesn’t mean we share the exact same life with the condition. So many variables exist that aren’t surface level. They can be genetic, systemic, you name it, but it changes so much about how we relate to and live with our conditions.

Understanding what we live with is important, but at the end of the day, we should strive to become experts on our life with our condition, or else we could end up denying other people their realities. Maybe LEGOs help your brain, and you can suggest to others that LEGOs could help them, but using it as a sign of autism or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) isn’t right.

When talking about your conditions, ask yourself the following:

  • “Is this an actual diagnostic trait/symptom or is this just what works for me?”
  • “Am I suggesting or am I telling?”
  • “Am I basing my advice on my experience, theirs, or ours?”

These questions can help you figure out if you’re accidentally positioning yourself as an expert, or if you’re simply sharing your experience.

Getty image by Jasmin Merdan

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