Imagine you just bought a brand new bookcase that you’ve been needing for quite some time. It has enough space for all of the items you want to organize and display, and it’ll match your home just right. You can’t wait to get home and, since you’re off today, you’ll put it all together. Should be no big deal, it’s just a bookcase right?
For some people, that is exactly true- it is just a bookcase. For those that battle mental illness, or struggle with a learning disability, or have a spectrum diagnosis this simplicity is misleading and often downright laughable. In all that they do- from sitting in a classroom as a child trying to follow directions, read aloud, and interact with peers to becoming adults keeping up with lists, driving cars, caring for children, and maintaining responsibilities- there is a wall they have to break down to accomplish what they set out to do. Let’s get back to that bookcase now…
You are still determined to get it done because it is the bookcase you imagined for that room.
You fight to get that awkwardly large box into your typically spacious suv. A few expletives later and you’re on your way. Only a short ride home until you can assemble the perfect bookcase. Suddenly, an untimely construction zone appears and you have to take a detour. $#!+. Ok, let’s enjoy the back roads on our somewhat-longer drive home. If only there weren’t so many hills and turns that irritate you when you have to go this way.
When you finally make it home you find a delivery truck blocking your driveway taking something to the neighbor’s house. It’s a good thing you finally finished that walkway yesterday. After tripping up the steps with your ungainly box, you manage to get it in the house. You only feel like you lost the skin off three fingers, no biggie. You are still determined to get it done because it is the bookcase you imagined for that room.
“Assembly required” was noted before purchasing, so you unpack the shelves, unroll the awkward package of nuts, screws, and Allen wrenches, and compare your findings to the inventory page just to be sure. %@#$. We didn’t get the little caps that cover the screws at every joint. Well, it’s not structural. This will still be a great bookcase. Everything will work out well. Let’s get started.
Wait, it’s been a long morning so you should go ahead and stop here to grab lunch like you thought about before you got home but, we know, that detour threw you off. Peanut butter and crackers will have to suffice because you won’t get to the grocery store until tomorrow after work.
Alright, back to the bookcase. You open the instructions.
“TOOLS REQUIRED FOR ASSEMBLY: HAMMER, TAPE MEASURE, LEVEL, FLATHEAD SCREWDRIVER”
It just makes sense to organize them instead of digging every time you need something.
You have those… somewhere. You spend the next half hour searching what seems like every dark and dusty corner to find them and manage to spend another hour getting distracted on other random small projects or other areas of the house that need attention as you looked. You finally make it back to the room covered in bookcase pieces.
“Step 1. Locate piece “G” and attach to piece “R” using Long Screw #5.”
Oh #@&*%, the dog chased the cat across the nuts and screws and now they’re all mixed up. You’ll have to separate them all back out before you can keep going. It just makes sense to organize them instead of digging every time you need something. You don’t take note of whether all of the pieces are retrieved because the mess wasn’t that big.
The first few steps were pretty redundant; attach this piece to this piece with this thing. You kind of start to space out thinking about the next piece of build-it-yourself furniture or home décor you will buy because this has been a breeze so far. As you’re tightening the last little Allen head you snap the Allen wrench in two pieces but surely you won’t need that tool again. What now?
“Step 9. Stand the bookcase upright and attach the back (B) to the top (J) and sides (G,R) using the smallest screws (12).”
Well, it looks like you didn’t quite find all of the pieces earlier because you only have three of the smallest screws left and you need ten. Aren’t pass-through bookcases “in” right now anyway? You make it through to the final step with no more hurdles along the way. The last screw is tightened and the shelves are on just the way it looked at the store. You are finally ready to clean up and put everything on that bookcase that you’ve started to develop ill feelings towards. But, it’ll hold stuff and that’s what you needed so it’ll do.
But it’ll just take a few minutes to at least get the stuff off the floor so you don’t trip over it again.
You set your favorite book on the shelf in front of you. Immediately, the shelf gives way. This causes an ear pounding domino effect of shelves clamoring all the way to the bottom. There lies your book leaning almost teasingly atop the four planks that have fallen to the floor.
#&*%!!!! That’s it! You are done. This day has wiped you of your will to continue the fight and for now, you are at terms with your loss to the perfectly infuriating bookcase. Your exhaustion doesn’t allow you the luxury of making it to your cozy bed so the couch it is for a few broken hours of forced slumber.
The people who live with these challenges are resilient
You fall asleep with a bad taste in your mouth and a sour stomach, but you will wake up tomorrow and you will try again. And again. And again, everyday until you finally conquer that just-ok bookcase that holds everything alright and doesn’t look too bad because you have to. You have to, in order prove to yourself that you can do this yourself.
For people- children and adults- with learning disabilities, developmental disorders, and mental illnesses, this bookcase is a comparison to a day in their life. With all the best intentions, all the determination, persistence, and enthusiasm they can muster, they are countered with a slight resistance that makes even menial tasks seems like intimidating obstacles. They are gradually worn down all day long. When anxieties, compulsions, racing thoughts, or the remnants of the day just won’t fall away, a restful night’s sleep is not always a sure thing.
But the people who live with these challenges are resilient. Continuously pressing forward. Some with treatments, therapies, groups, or medications, and others by sheer GRIT. For these individuals many days are long and arduous, but there are so many colorful and encouraging moments in time, too. They are next to your children in school, behind you at the grocery store, sitting next to you at church or the movies and they are striving to be happy and successful. Sometimes they just have to work a little harder on their bookcase.