Sunday 3 December 2017

"Invisible Superpowers"

I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. -Wonder Woman Movie Quote

It's easier to believe in something that we can see, isn't it? With the exception of Santa Claus, God and perhaps the Tooth Fairy, I think it's safe to say that if you can see it, touch it, taste it, it's much easier to believe in it. The same rule holds true when it comes to disability. We can see a person using a wheelchair; therefore, we know that they have a disability. Not so with mental illness.

Have you ever been asked this question, "If you could have any superpower what would it be?" Invisibility would be amazing, yes? You could go do great things - go to places that were normally off limits to you, eavesdrop on conversations and who knows what else. Superpowers are cool and amazing.

But is an invisible illness like a mental disorder amazing? Is it cool? Do we envy people with mental illness? Or do we judge and turn away, perhaps even consider a person with a mental illness to be weak?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reports some interesting findings about the stigma associated with mental illness:

In a 2008 study, "42% of Canadians were unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness" and 46% of Canadians "thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior."  Considering that, conservatively speaking, approximately 1 in 5 of us have either already had a mental illness or will have one in their lifetime, that's a significant part of the population to discount.

That was nine years ago and, in my own experience, I have found that perceptions have improved. Let's see what CMHA reported based on a 2015 survey:
  • 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.
  • 39% of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
Yikes! Not good enough. Not good enough at all.

Here is the reality: people with mental disorders are functioning and contributing to the workplace and society at large and they do it Every. Single. Day. You probably work next to a colleague who has an anxiety disorder and you don't even realize it. What many of us don't see is that people who have chronic illness or have experienced some sort of health challenge have developed skills - let's call them superpowers. Some of the superpowers that I have as a result of two decades living with depression and anxiety are:

Resiliency: There was a time in my twenties when a set back would take me out for the count for awhile. It wasn't always easy for me to bounce back from a breakup with a boyfriend or a disappointment in life; I took things hard. The ups and downs of a mood disorder have taught me how to go with the flow and to be able to dust myself off faster after disappointment.

Perspective: Quite frankly, when you have experienced the darkest depths of depression and been to a place where you question the point of your life, you gain the gift of perspective. I learned how to place things into perspective: will this thing that seems so important to me today be as important a week from now, a year from now or when I am 80 years old? If I can't answer yes to all three questions then it isn't worth my time or worry.

Positivity: I wasn't always positive. There were times when depression had me tightly in its grips that everything seemed bleak - the glass most definitely appeared almost completely empty. But for some reason I never lost sight of a tiny sliver of light, that little bit of hope was still there. I made a choice to view things from a positive perspective as a survival technique. It took practice but it was well worth it and I now view the majority of things in life positively.

Confidence: Knowing that I survived the worst and made it to where I am today (amazing friends, a loving family and a career that I truly love) has given me what might be the greatest superpower of all: confidence. It took me many years to claim this particular superpower and now that I have it, I am not giving it back. I know that I can come back from the brink of despair to achieve great things and I am far less likely to settle for that half empty glass these days.

It's time for Canadians to understand that mental illness is not a sign of weakness or an excuse. Those of us with mental health challenges have skills and the ability to contribute to society. We make amazing friends, employees, parents and partners. Together, let's remove that cloak of stigma that renders us invisible - it's well past time.

Now here's a secret that I want to share with you: YOU have superpowers, too. Together we can save the world! Or, at the very least, we can make it inclusive for all. And that's the kind of world that I want for us all.

KB xo

P.S. Did you know that December 3 is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities? Learn more here. The theme for 2017 is Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all. A 'super' theme if you ask me.

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