No matter how much time I spend talking about mental health and encouraging others to reach out for support, there always seems to be a little shame-monster lurking in the back of my head, telling me I should feel guilty when my own mental illness returns. The stigma surrounding mental illness is very real, and it is especially difficult to ignore this stigma while in the throes of a mental health crisis.
However, I’ve chosen to value myself and my progress not in spite of my mental illnesses, but because of them. In fact, my mental illness makes me a goddamn superhero. How did I reach this conclusion?
In fact, my mental illness makes me a goddamn superhero.
I work as a counselor to men in a group home, many of whom have serious mental health and behavioral problems. My job is challenging, to say the least: spending 40 hours a week with guys who kinda hate you and aren’t afraid to show it can be pretty mentally and emotionally taxing.
Don’t get me wrong– I love my job!
I love knowing I’m helping, and there are many rewarding aspects to a day gone well. But as someone who has always struggled with depression and anxiety, working in an intensely stressful environment can have serious mental health drawbacks. Since I began the job, my nearly-slain anxiety has begun to poke its head out more frequently, bringing with it panic attacks and depressive episodes.
After chatting with a client about his struggles with anxiety, he listed ways that his anxiety disorder impacts him negatively, before smiling and adding with a chuckle, “But you know what’s kinda really cool about it? Getting lightheaded from anxiety so much made my balance really good so now I can dance way better!”
His ability to highlight a strength he has gained through his anxiety got me thinking. If his superpower is super-danceability, what other powers might my friends be hiding?
As you do, I turned to Facebook for answers.
A dozen of my friends responded to my post asking what talents their sometimes-uncooperative brains had bestowed upon them. I am still struck by the incredible answers I received and honesty with their challenges with mental illness. One friend, who is known for her emotional strength and passion, wrote that her PTSD has made her “emotionally invincible” and able to persevere even on the worst days. Another friend, who has borderline personality disorder, has become an interested and compassionate listener; in fact, she comforted me on more than one sad or lonely night in college.
Don’t let yourself believe for a second that your illness makes you weak.
One friend even revealed that he can turn invisible and envision the future. His anxiety and depression let him blend into the background when he wants or needs to, and gives him “a Dune-like clairvoyance” in which he can imagine all the possible conclusions of a situation.
After reading the miraculous abilities my friends had gained through their struggles, I finally zeroed in on my own power. While I may get anxious over some little things, I know how to run shit during a crisis. I hold up well under pressure, and in a pinch can calmly handle anything life tosses at me. I trust myself to be able to save the day if disaster hits, and that’s a pretty cool power to have if I do say so myself. (I’ve also become remarkably skilled at completing pages out of coloring books, but that may not count as a superpower.)
If you have mental illness, it will get you down sometimes (that’s sorta its thing). But through your struggles and perseverance, you can uncover superpowers that you never even knew you had. Seek the treatment and support you need, but don’t let yourself believe for a second that your illness makes you weak.
In fact, it very well may be shaping your greatest strength.
If you, or someone you care about is feeling fragile You’re Not Alone. Please seek the help of a mental or behavioral health professional if you are unable to cope with your emotional pain. If you ever have any thoughts to harm yourself or others or to end your life, please reach out for help. National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1.800.273.8255. Crisis Text Line.