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What If People With Mental Differences Weren't the Problem?

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Having a mental health disorder can be so. damn. exhausting. Every day, hour, minute, second is a struggle. The simplest tasks like texting someone back, or taking a shower, or eating, or driving, or, you know, living can be excruciatingly painful. Borderline impossible.

When things are bad, when it’s getting worse, when it seems relentless, we look at the people living their lives seemingly easily and we think:

“Why is it so easy for them? Why can’t it be that easy for me?”

We envy those who seem to be able to live life effortlessly.

It isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair.
It isn’t fair.

My God, I know this mantra so well. Even typing this puts me back in that place, and I’m itching to not even think about it. But I have to. I have to revisit it sometimes so I can see the strides I’ve taken and how I’ve grown. I have to revisit it sometimes so I can know when things are getting worse. So I can take the steps I need to take to keep from falling face-first back into that chasm.

But there is a different perception I want to present to you; a perception that – if you let it – can change your life.

What if our mental health disorder isn’t a curse? What if it’s a superpower that we just haven’t completely learned how to wield?

One of my favorite writers in the world, Glennon Doyle, struggles with mental health “differences,” as she calls them. She had the radical idea that maybe it isn’t us who needs to be fixed. Maybe it’s the world.

(*mind blown*)

She writes, “Actually, maybe it’s not me. Maybe it’s you, world. Maybe my inability to adapt to the world is not because I’m crazy but because I’m paying attention. Maybe it’s not insane to reject the world as it is. Maybe the real insanity is surrendering to the world as it is now. Maybe pretending that things around here are just fine is no badge of honor I want to wear.”

She goes on to talk about something so profound I still sit with my mouth open when I think about it. She discusses (and I’m paraphrasing) how miners used to take canaries into the coal mines with them, because canaries were more sensitive to the toxins in the air then the coal miners were. When the canaries stopped singing, the coal miners knew that they needed to leave because the air was becoming poisonous. Maybe, she states, maybe we who struggle with mental health disorders are the canaries. Maybe we, the sensitive ones, are the ones who are paying attention.

Maybe the world needs what we have to give so it doesn’t suffocate in its own poison.

The world needs the creative problem-solving and high, contagious energy that those with ADHD have to offer.

The world needs the empathy and analytical/philosophical rumination that those with depression have to offer.

The world needs the tenacity and creative genius that those with bipolar disorder have to offer.

The world needs the detail-oriented planning and the intelligence that those with anxiety have to offer.

And so on and so on and so on.

What if we saw it as a gift? What if we saw it as a strength?

Friend, you are the product of thousands of generations of survivors. Facing challenges, fighting to survive – it’s in your bones. You were born to fight, to keep carrying the torch of fierce, beautiful humanity forward.

As Viktor Frankl (neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor) states, “What is to give light must endure burning.” We get up every single day and fight millions of demons that those who “live life effortlessly” don’t fight. We are fucking warriors.

Let’s burn bright.

A version of this story originally appeared on

Photo credit: olenapliuta/Getty Images

Originally published: August 10, 2019
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