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.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

Woman in cafe looking sideways

To the People Who Say ‘I’m Tired’ When Someone Asks How You Are

“I’m just tired.” When people ask you what’s wrong, that’s what you say. You say I’m tired. Like you just didn’t get enough sleep last night. Like maybe if you get a couple extra hours tonight, or rest up this weekend, you’ll be better on Monday. But deep down, deep beneath all the fake smiles [...]
Woman and dog touch faces

How My Dog Saves Me Every Day in My Life With Mental Illness

There are so many days I wake up and spend at least an hour talking myself into getting out of bed. There are also days, which could easily stretch into weeks, of not leaving my home at all. I’m not even sure I would get dressed most days. Showering? Ha, maybe but probably not. To [...]
Someone playing Pokemon Go, who found Pikachu

What You Should Know Before You Roll Your Eyes at Pokemon Go

It’s easy to look at new technology, especially extremely popular technology, and be judgmental. Video games in particular have taken a lot of flak for being a waste of time, for keeping people buried in their computer or phone and for getting in the way of socializing. What many people don’t realize is that as someone [...]

To My Husband, and Countless Others Fighting Mental Illness: I See You

To my dear husband, I was thinking back to when we began talking six years ago about psychology, mental illness and our various struggles with what we’ve both been through. We connected back then through our shared enthusiasm for the mind and how far the medical profession has come in the advances within the mental health [...]