It seems to me that stereotypes are EVERYWHERE.
Stigma, prejudice, misunderstanding and fear surround mental health. I’d like to think society as a whole is making great strides toward enlightenment, but at times I’m not so sure.
It amazes me, really, how little educators know about mental health issues.
I am blown away by how much, even the most caring teachers DON’T KNOW about ADHD (and don’t get me started about what they do not know about Depression, Anxiety, or Self Harm.)
I know you cannot expect them to know everything there is to know about every illness, disease, disorder, or disability out there, but sometimes it’s so hard to keep banging your head against the wall as you attempt to explain to teachers why your child does things the way they do and how their actions/words in the classroom harm more than they help.
In my own daughter’s case, she goes to an excellent school. The teachers and staff are completely amazing. Still, in conversations I have with school leaders, they really have no clue. They make these comments to me and I’m sitting there just staring at them, like really? It makes me want to send links to articles I believe they should read and hand out book recommendations.
It’s difficult to be heard even in IEP meetings. It’s frustrating.
A- tries to leave most of her struggles at home. Unfortunately with her extreme heightened sensitivity, often a small trigger can create a mountain of a response. Those things are hard to control in school. It’s frustrating that educators don’t recognize poor emotional control as part of ADHD. It’s frustrating when they tell me that maybe she should wear long sleeves to school so that others don’t ask about her scars. It’s frustrating when they ask me if she is getting all the care she needs. It’s frustrating when strangers stare at those scars and make comments.
A person with mental health struggles is having a hard enough time without having to be constantly judged by the outside world.
On the flip side, you can’t see a smile, and hear the laugh and assume a person is fine, either.
I no longer try to generalize about how my daughter is doing by thinking or saying things like, “She’s doing better.” That doesn’t work. It’s day by day, minute by minute. When someone asks how she is I now say something like, “Today was a good day.” And that’s how we have to look at it. Accept the good with the bad and know that no matter what is going on on the outside, there is more under the surface than anyone will ever know.
One of the things I’m most proud of is how my kiddo has tackled this school year. There have been setbacks, to be sure, but for the most part, she has stuck to her goal of high school being vastly different for her. And it has been.
In just a little while, she will go into Assembly and she will give a speech. She hates talking in front of people like that. But today she will give her speech because she is running for next year’s student council. Vice President. I have no idea what the outcome will be of today’s student voting, but I know that no matter what, A- is proving something to herself.
She’s also making quite the statement, whether she realizes it or not.
She’s standing up for mental health awareness. She is standing up to the stigma and the falsehoods that surround mental health.
She is telling students with ADHD, Depression, Anxiety, Self Harm, or other invisible disabilities that they count.
Running for vice president of student council she is saying she will NOT sit in a corner alone. She is saying that just because she doesn’t do things the way others do them, or just because she battles with her own brain daily that she is not less.
She is blasting through the stereotypes of what “harmers” look like, or how they behave. She is showing how ADHD creates unique, out of the box thinking that makes for excellent leaders. She is showing that having Depression and Anxiety do not make you unworthy and that you have nothing to be ashamed of – nothing to hide from.
A- has shown herself that the quirky, awkward, weird kid that used to get made fun of has something to offer. She has made friends, and has really felt accepted by many for who she is. People have told her so many times this year that her awkwardness is “cute.” She isn’t sure how to take that one – but she has also shown her other side; the funny creative one, the caring helpful one, the loyal intelligent one. And it works. She’s unique to be sure, quirky at best, but from what I can see, it’s what people like about her.
She just had to get out of her own head and put herself out there. That was hard to do after spending years being taunted and teased.
Now, she is a determined force to be reckoned with. She has a great attitude and she is genuinely kind and helpful, which fellow students and teachers alike appreciate.
I don’t know if any of these things will be enough to get her elected as vice president, and I know how badly she wants it so I know how disappointed she will be if she doesn’t win, but I also know that that isn’t really what matters most here.
What matters is the trying. It’s the doing and the standing up for what she believes in. It’s pushing the boundaries of what people expect and what they assume to be true and showing them that they are wrong. It’s about being an inspiration to those who need it and realizing your own vast potential.
People with ADHD are not lazy, stupid or clueless. Harmers are not socially inept loners. Depression isn’t always crying, withdrawal, or appearing sad. Anxiety is more than panic attacks in the restroom.
The face of invisible disabilities is the same face of every person walking around on this earth. It’s the face of every human being.
We all have a story to tell. We all have our private wars and our public face. We all have our strengths and our weaknesses. We all have something to give.
What A- is saying to her fellow students this morning, “I believe in myself, and you should too.”