Guest Post: Simplicity Does Not Fix Complexity

This is a guest post from Chris Votey. He is a disabled atheist author who is trying very hard to kick start a career in writing. He is nearing his goal on Kickstarter and could use your help. Consider backing him, even $1 helps. Click here.

My name is Chris; I am an author and an Atheist. I am also disabled. In my journey of my disability, I have met many people who have tried to give me a cure to my problem that was literally just water. I’m not kidding; they offered me water. How is this an issue for an Atheist? I believe it is an issue of critical thinking, and my article will explore how this is an issue. We hear creationists wanting to bring religion in the science classroom, and urging people to argue, “Teach the controversy.” So what’s really the harm in teaching creationism or any other religious study in a critical way? The critical part.

I suffer from a condition known as Post-Concussion syndrome. Basically, it is a condition that results from a Traumatic Brain Injury. Most people who get a concussion develop PCS, which starts a few days after a concussion and lasts up to three months. Me, I’m going on three years. I am unable to work. I have problems with focus, concentration, memory, light and noise sensitivity, headaches, and mood swings.

(The following contains elements of my life I know happened, but my memory of them is very skewed. I apologize if the details are lacking.)

I will start by saying that being disabled is rough. No matter if you believe in God or not, it is one of the toughest things to deal with in life. Whether it is a physical condition or a mental one, some part of you no longer works the way it is supposed to. The worst part of this is when you have no answers from the people who should have the answers, and recommendations from people who think they have the answers.

In 2012, I suffered a work related accident that led to my having PCS. It has been a horrific experience, and I ended up being denied for worker’s comp, Long Term Disability, and Social Security Disability. I lost my job, my health insurance, car insurance, cellphone, and apartment. I had to move back home and I sold my truck. Most of my existence resides in my room. I rarely go out, and when I do, I feel ready to pass out immediately.

So, I’ve lost everything. If it weren’t for my Mother, I would be on the streets. Now that you have an idea about my story; let me tell you the worst part about this: Everyone has the magical cure.

BrainThe challenge with my condition is explaining it to people. It’s hard to fathom what I’m going through, because your brain works just fine. You don’t realize everything your brain does until it no longer does it. Essentially, I suffer from a constellation of issues. However, when people (including most Doctors) hear your problems, they try to single one thing out and try to treat that.

I’ve had my fair share of Doctors tell me I’m depressed. Funny part is, I know I’m not depressed. I was depressed for the first 25 years of my life, and then I overcame it and became a new man; I became happy. I even saw a therapist a few months after the accident, and she confirmed I wasn’t depressed. It got so bad with Doctors that one of them practically blackmailed me into taking an antidepressant. It made things worse.

Many Doctors I feel were just “on the payroll” and were ordered to say I’m fine. Others did the bare minimum, because they would be paid either way. It’s bad to say that about Doctors, but I will say there are good ones out there that tried to help. However, Doctors are Doctors. It’s people that make me laugh. With people, there are two categories of them, critical thinkers and non-critical thinkers.

I’ve noted an interesting pattern with people. It’s not 100%, and there is a small crossover, but for the most part; non-critical thinkers tend to be the advice givers. I am not against receiving advice, but there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. Generally the right way to give advice is to first ask people if they want it to begin with. Also respecting that an individual knows more about what they are dealing with than you actually understand. Lastly, trying to understand the issue itself rather than hear a part of it and come up with the answer.

It’s the other group that annoys me. The people who give advice that wasn’t asked for. People hear a bad case like mine and hate that I have no answers, and want more than anything for me to have an answer. To that degree, it is a bit noble. At the same time a bit selfish, that they begin to think they might know more than you and in a way, treat you like you don’t know anything. I try not to take offense to that, at least not show I am offended.

I have found that when people give you advice, they set an expectation on you. This expectation is for you to take their advice, follow it, and be happy that they were there to give it. I have received all sorts of advice for my condition. Some have stated that I’m not drinking enough water, and that water has great healing properties, but I have to drink a lot of it. Another suggested that I’m not eating the right kinds of food.

The advice given doesn’t first ask me how well I eat or drink, or whether or not I’ve already tried it. It assumes that I have not, and it is the missing key to my problem. If my problem was that I always feel hungry when I eat a meal, then perhaps the “eat the right foods” would be good advice. As far as those advices go, I have tried that. When I had money thanks to having a job at the time, I ate a lot of health food, with six meals a day, and drinking primarily water. This was before those individuals gave their advice. Guess what… made no difference. My body might have felt better, but not my head. It’s like a bullet fired against a speeding train… you’ll be lucky to hear the bullet bounce off.

The crazy part about people giving their advice and expecting you to follow it is their reaction to your refusal. I know much about my situation, and look at it for what it is, a complex problem that has no easy answer. Even if something someone offers helps me with one thing, it could affect my other symptoms. I’ve had two doctors prescribe me with anti-depressants, and it might have given my brain more energy, but did far more harm than good. However, when you tell people that their advice won’t work, they feel compelled to offer another piece of advice, and another. Then they get angry.

Why should they be angry? They aren’t the ones dealing with the problem. They don’t want to understand what you are going through. But somehow, you have insulted them by not taking their advice. It doesn’t matter if you’ve already tried it, doesn’t matter if you know it won’t work… you should take the advice that is given to you and be thankful the person was there to give it.

For instance, about a year ago, I went out shopping with some friends. I was told they were only going to one store. The thing about me is that when I’m in a new environment, I have problems. Every new thing your brain sees, it scans everything you see and tries to remember it. Ever feel a bit tired after an hour of shopping at a grocery store? Part of it is walking around and standing, but another part is your brain needing a break. For me, it is a lot worse, and then after about 10 minutes, my brain wants to shut down. Knowing this would happen, I drank an energy drink. This will supercharge my mind and offer some protection. Too bad I couldn’t drink these 24/7. I know it is bad for me, but it is the only thing that works.

So, I had an energy drink. My friends made five stops. Even by the 5th one, we hadn’t arrived where I needed to go. I tried to explain to them beforehand my difficulty. It’s like they didn’t care. On the 5th stop I went into the store; the energy drink long had lost its effectiveness, and I nearly passed out in the store. I got the car keys and laid down in the car, losing grips with reality. When my “friends” came back to the car, they stated that this was a problem with me drinking energy drinks and that if I didn’t drink them, I wouldn’t feel like this. I tried to explain that wasn’t the problem, which resulted in them getting angry with me for disagreeing with them.

I’ve also been told to give up soda (not in this lifetime) and been given suggestions on what jobs I should be able to do. Those people did get angry or frustrated when I told them no at every turn. As far as soda goes, that’s just me being stubborn. I need a little taste in my life. The jobs, I can’t do most jobs, especially if there is a deadline. I’ve learned over time that you shouldn’t tell people it is a bad idea, and that you will tell them you’ll think about it. Truthfully, I’d rather tell people to kiss my ass.

If I asked for advice, then it would be my fault for not taking their advice into consideration. Since I don’t ask for it, then I should be within my right to outright refuse without a guilt trip. If I complain about my problem, that doesn’t mean I want advice. Just means I want someone to listen. The interesting thing I’ve noticed about this is those who offer advice freely, tend to be religious. Most of my friends tend to be pagan, but a few are Christian. Those that are atheist or skeptical don’t bother engaging me like that. Coincidence?

Religion teaches that all complex problems have a simple answer… God(s). Religion as a whole doesn’t teach critical thinking, it teaches you to not question everything, accept what you’re told, and God will fix everything so long as you believe in him. While religion doesn’t come up often in my talks with people, I think that their decision-making abilities are slanted towards their religious beliefs. Drinking more water is the answer to a complex brain problem… of course, why did I see it before. It makes so much sense. And I’m a jerk for refusing to do it.

What happens when you tell a religious person they agree wrong about their beliefs? They get angry with you and feel insulted. What happens when refuse someone’s advice you did ask for? They get angry with you and feel insulted. Notice a pattern here? I certainly do. Now I’m not saying that people of religion are stupid. I just call to question their thinking process, their need for everything to be summed up in a simple, neat package and ignoring the complexity. Or as I like to call that… God.

PrayingAnother element of religion trying to provide a simple answer is prayer. How often do you hear, “I will pray for you.” How useless. I can’t get into Heaven without Christ in my heart, but you think God is going to cure me overnight simply because you pray. God’s going to help an Atheist. A skeptical one at that, who wouldn’t believe it was the interference of God who had any part in it. To me, prayer is a waste of time, but in truth, saying you will pray for someone is basically similar to hitting the Like button on Facebook. It’s all about doing as little as they can to support you, but feel vindicated that they did something.

Prayer is not about wanting others to feel good, it is about people feeling good that they are asking that others feel good. The only advantage that Facebook Like has over Prayer is that at least you have a digital record of it, unlike prayer, where you have to take someone’s word that they did it. Most likely, they say you’re in their prayers, but then forget later.

But neither a Facebook Like or Prayer really does anything to help you. People do these things as a means to do as little as they can. That’s the reality of my situation. I need a person there to help boost me up, and the best I can hope for is a Like, thumbs up or a stupid smilie face. I don’t mean to be so jaded, but I often feel the absence of people in my day to day live.

I will acknowledge there are a few people out there who truly want me to get better, but I rather they tell me then ask God. I’ll get more out of it if they tell me directly that they are here for me, rather than ask God to help someone who doesn’t believe in him.

A simple hello and well wishes, goes a long way for someone trapped in a mental prison.

It’s hard to say something about people offering their prayer to you. Refusing is basically an insult to their beliefs. I argue them doing it is an insult to my condition. However, our world would side with the religious wanting to pray for me because it is “selfless”. So with people getting angry for not following their advice and wanting to pray for me… I began not telling people of my condition. Just to avoid that. Only recently have I started to tell people again, but I am also jaded by the experience of it that I’m not as polite as I once was.

What it really comes down to, in my opinion is the worst three words you call tell someone of religion… “I don’t know.” Thought I was going for another 3 didn’t you. People can’t handle the unknown. Even I can’t handle it, but I try to find strength in my limited understanding of the universe. People of faith, specifically Christians are so dumbfounded with the thought of “I don’t know” that they must replace an unknown with an unknowable. God is the answer to everything, and if God wants us to know, he will tell us, but only if we really really believe in him.

Again, not saying that people of faith are dumb. I know many people of faith including Christians who know not to waste my time with bogus cures. It’s everyone else that I have a problem with. Remember that episode of South Park where Butters as Professor Chaos wanted to do something evil, but learned that all his plans were first done by the Simpsons. It’s how I feel when I talk to Apologists, “God did it”.

Dealing with a life-changing injury or illness, is at its foundation: life changing. What you once were able to do has now become that much harder. Those who want to help and understand, and just listen; those are the people to keep close to you. Those who want to use your condition to feel better about themselves, get rid of them. I rather have self-respect in isolation that to be used by company. This is not a game, this is someone’s life.

In closing, I am glad I am a skeptic, and I am an Atheist. I fear that if I were swept up by unquestioned faith, I would be susceptible to a lot of con men out there. When you get this bad, you hope that something new can be the cure. I don’t want this disability, I hate every moment of it. I rather be working, getting my life on track and getting something worthwhile out of my life. Fortunately, I have a drug addiction that help me through it. I call it the writing. My dream of being a full-time author is what gets me through the day, prevents me from doing something stupid and/or regrettable.

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