When a Social Worker Suggested My Daughter Switch Careers Because of Her Mental Illness


I read a great article last week about the power of your mind and how you talk to yourself. The article chronicles a study done by researchers at the University of Houston and Boston College on the power of telling yourself “I don’t” versus telling yourself “I can’t.”

From the study:

Don’t and can’t may seem somewhat interchangeable, but they are very different psychologically. And if there is one thing that social psychologists have learned over the years, it’s that even seemingly subtle differences in language can have very powerful affects on our thoughts, feelings and behavior.I don’t is experienced as a choice, so it feels empowering. It’s an affirmation of your determination and willpower. I can’t isn’t a choice – it’s a restriction, it’s being imposed upon you. So thinking “I can’t” undermines your sense of power and personal agency.

The study reminded me of the most powerful lesson I ever received in the power of language and I can’t.

When my daughter was hospitalized at a psychiatric facility at the beginning of her freshman year of college, she was taken to the nearest location. This place. It was awful. They didn’t admit her for six hours. Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely appreciate her university’s quick response to her need for help. And I also recognize we are a privileged family that had never had to see the underside of psychiatric facilities in the United States. God bless those souls that only have that option (and shame on us all for accepting that our fellow human beings have to endure that kind of care).

On her third day inpatient, I finally met with her social worker. Before my daughter got to the meeting, he said, “You know, nursing school is really, really difficult. I can’t see anyone with a mental illness getting through that stress. Let’s talk with her about what she can and can’t do and start talking about different career choices.”

What. The. Hell.

I won’t go into detail about what I told this man. Suffice to say, my words caught him off guard… and I sincerely hope he will never tell anyone in that facility ever again that they can’t do something they want to do.

Listen, people with challenging brain chemistry: You chase those dreams. You can be what you want to be, travel where you want to travel, create the things you want to create. Do you have challenges? Yes. We all do. Take good care of yourself, take your medications or supplements if that helps you, make regular therapy appointments or whatever you can afford to do to stay healthy. Most importantly, school yourself in how you talk to yourself. Learn to recognize the words from others that limit you from being your best self. Then outright reject them.

Repeat after me:

I don’t let anyone tell me who I will be in life.

I will make my dreams come true.

I don’t let my illness define who I am.

I don’t accept others telling me I’m limited to their idea of mental illness.

I will do what I want.

Keep chasing your dreams, dear ones.

Image via Thinkstock.


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