The Superpower We All Have

Avatar Swarthmore College Undergraduate
Member since December 2, 2015
  • 12 Posts
  • Age 21

© Pixabay

© Pixabay

I’ve never liked writing about myself or really writing about anything I experience personally for that matter. Now that I think about it, in every college application, every job interview, even my very first blog post for Voices of Youth I wrote about myself in the third person and then changed the subjects and verbs. The pretense of another person, a different character, made it easier to write about me.

But I think I’m cheating—using words to face myself like an edited photo rather than a mirror. So I decided to write a post full of “I’s”, “me’s”, and inner issues within myself.

I grew up in a middle-income family with four crazy, weird, and completely lovable siblings. There are seven of us total—two of which have outwardly dealt with mental illness. I say outwardly because I know that there are people everywhere feeling anxiety, depression, emotional intensity, anger, and other intense emotions, yet cannot call for help.

It’s not simple on either end of this conversation: asking your family member or friend what is wrong and having them tell you they feel or have felt difficult emotions. For one, there’s a stigma in our society that tells us we are weak or unskilled if we cannot handle our own lives. This makes it nearly impossible for someone dealing with a mental illness to reach out. Secondly, it’s hard to know what to say back. Having been a writer my whole life, I have never struggled with words as much as I have texting my family members back during challenging times.

At first I just researched. One in four adults—approximately 61.5 million Americans—experiences mental illness in a given year according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI.) The same report showed that one-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14 and three-quarters by age 24. Furthermore, more than 90 percent of people who committed suicide had one or more mental illnesses. Huffington Post estimated that by 2020, mental and substance use disorders will surpass all physical disease worldwide as major causes of disability.

Facts are people and I still don’t know why that was so difficult for my brain to understand. Facts are people. They are family members. They are friends. They are neighbors and gas station clerks and professors and bus drivers.

I talked to these members of my family while they struggled, wondering what all of my studying and knowledge could really do. I felt this huge pressure to say something, the right words, because there had to be the right words and as a writer I could find them. I gave advice, I sent music, and I talked about “the bright side” of the situation. I researched and researched and researched.

The issue was that I put myself in the place of a psychologist without the training of one. I forgot again that my family members, my friends, and my neighbors with mental illnesses are all people. You don’t treat a person with a disease, such as someone with a cold, differently from a person without one. You don’t act cautiously, tiptoeing over certain words that might cause a person to sniffle. It’s the same concept with people dealing with mental illness. Because when I treated my family members like they were a problem, then that’s how I started to see them: a problem. Worse, that’s how they started to see themselves.

I learned what seems so unbelievably obvious: if a friend, the person who lives next door, or the lady walking an adorable pug has an illness, remember that they are human. Treat them exactly like that. Humans. Pet the adorable pug. Borrow milk from the next-door neighbor. Watch all three Lord of the Rings movies in a row with your friend. Okay, maybe not the last one—I did that once and wow, that was a lot of movie.

My point is that no amount of research could tell me how to treat my best friend if he/she endured a mental illness. Because no amount of research could tell me how my relationship with my best friend works. Only I know that. So that’s exactly what I can do. My superpower is being myself and treating people with mental illnesses like themselves.

This is simply my experience with two family members and I know that every person works differently. However, I know that words only have magic if you give them magic. I could not simply write down a couple words or string along a few sentences to cure depression, just as I could not write up a third person narrative on a girl who had family members struggle with an illness to pretend that girl wasn’t me. The magic only happens when we know who we are, including ourselves, and we treat each other exactly as that—people.

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