I dreamt about being in a fire last night. That's no big news - I've been out of the fire service for years, but I still dream about fires, car accidents or medical calls two or three times a week. And this dream? This was a gentle one.
This was a small fire at first, this fire in my dreams, one I saw start in an extension cord and spread to the underside of a desk. Fire alarms were going off, the room was filling up with heavy smoke and I was looking for a fire extinguisher before the sprinklers went off, and I was underneath the desk when a fire crew finally came in and found me.
I remember thinking at one point that I was using the wrong kind of extinguisher to fight the fire and then getting the right kind off of a wall bracket. That's no big news either. When I'm not burning or trapped, I do things in the order I was taught in training, almost religiously.
Coming out of the building, I realized that my face was covered with soot, my hair stiff with smoke. My chest, tight.
I put my car into reverse and, in a daze, backed my car into another vehicle. I sat there behind the wheel, gasping, thinking that no one had realized I must have breathed in a dangerous amount of smoke. No one had noticed.
Maybe it's a bit of a long-winded way to get to what I'm really writing about - but the important part is that no one noticed.
I know that really well. And I know how hard it is to really explain what's involved to someone who's lucky enough to have no idea what it is you're talking about.
It made me think of a little snippet on a Facebook page about invisible diseases - about the issues that plague many Canadians, but aren't the kind of illnesses that are obvious to anyone from the outside. Among the "invisible" illnesses? pancreatitis, Crohn's, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, diabetes, lupus, fibromyalgia, multiple sclerosis, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, epilepsy, autism, muscular dystrophy.
The message? "Never judge what you don't understand."
More to the point, though, is maybe you should not expect that everyone is fine just because you can't see any damage.
Things you don't see
Call this a plea for understanding - a plea to understand things that you might not even know exist in the person standing in front of you. And it can be all kinds of things, from constant pain to crushing anxiety.
Plenty of people simply won't admit anything's even wrong, at least not to anyone beyond family.
I know no one's going to see the sleep I regularly don't get, and no one's going to know the panic and depression I'm sometimes confined in. Maybe I'll just seem stressed or short-tempered. And plenty of other things.
Maybe I'll be talking to you and go suddenly distant or cold. If it seems like I've suddenly gone to another place, I can pretty much assure you that it's not a nicer place. And I know no one can ever be expected to make allowances for something they don't even know exists.
People often end up having to live with a lot. A lot more than me.
Realistically, I know now that I will probably be fighting fires and responding to car accidents in my sleep for the rest of my life.
It is, I guess, my lot - and there are people who have drawn far, far worse lots than I have. It doesn't always seem that way, not when I'm dreaming about my hands melting like candlewax or when I'm sitting in a restaurant, wide awake, absolutely certain that I have to be prepared because someone is going to choke and I have to remember how to do everything right.
The times when it seems a crazy torture that just won't stop, despite the fact I can step away rationally and know that it's all in my head.
I have more column space on this page, but suddenly, I don't want to talk about this anymore - the way you realize talking about something sometimes just brings the rabbit hole closer.
So, just this: we all have our pathologies - physical, mental, emotional. We are human.
We would live in a better place if we all spent a little time making allowances for that.
Russell Wangersky is The Telegram's editorial page editor. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.