Do You See Me?
I wonder sometimes if we really see each other for who we truly are. I wonder if we ever really let ourselves be open enough to be seen. I wonder if we close our eyes to the truths before us and try to look beyond the words we hear from others. I wonder.
I know how I want to be seen. I don’t want my diagnosis to colour others perception of me or taint their thoughts about who I may or may not be. Sadly, I am all too aware of how society views people with mental illness and lumps us into a group based on misperceptions and media bias. We are shamed into a dark corner of the world that people want to forget exists. My mission is to bring light to that darkness and remind everyone of the gifts and strengths we all possess.
I want to tell you a story from my time working with individuals with developmental disabilities. I was supporting several young men to an outing one day and, while awaiting one of our participants in a wheelchair (who was also nonverbal) to be set up in the accessible cab, a young boy and I began a conversation about things we are good at. It was a pretty simple conversation but all of a sudden, the young boy pointed the man in the wheelchair and said to me, “what’s he good at?”. Out of nowhere I became completely devoid of words. My brain was trying to wrap itself around that question and I was mortified that I couldn’t find an answer. We tend to judge people by the value they bring to society through accomplishments or work goals. I had been in this field for two years and still I found myself caught up in that same mindset. What was this person “good” at? My heart will never forget what happened next. The young boy looked up at me and said, “I think he’s just good at being himself”. In that moment I saw the world through this young boy’s eyes and swore to myself I would never forget it. The gift of just “being”, of existing, of having a presence in this world, is in and of itself a beautiful thing and one that is to be cherished and nurtured.
My encounter with that young boy changed my whole view on life. I have a lot of previous clients I supported who are now friends, and even though they may not have jobs or fit the definition of “productive in society” that some small-minded folks tend to believe, they all have strengths and gifts. There are many people with mental illness who cannot work or volunteer because of their disability. I’ve been that person at times and know how tough it is to see value in yourself when it happens, let alone deal with the judgement of others who cannot visually see the disabled part of you. In my continued volunteer work in the disability field, I promote the important of nurturing the strengths, dreams, and gifts of all people, regardless of their situation in life. The same can be applied to those with mental illness.
And so I challenge you right now to ask yourself this one question…if you didn’t know me but knew I had mental illness, would you really and truly see me? Please think about your answer honestly and truthfully. Many of you will be surprised by the answer.