Mental Health Issues Are Not Gifts Or Superpowers
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
It’s gift-giving season, but it’s ok if your mental health issues don’t feel like a gift.
I recently came across another article that was trying to frame certain aspects of mental illness as being “gifts” or “strengths” or “superpowers.” I’ve seen more than a handful of these articles over the years, and I’m just plain done with them.
It certainly doesn’t feel “gifty” or super to be depressed, or to be anxious, or to have immense trouble focusing one’s attention, or to obsess about keeping your house extremely clean and organized.
Framing mental health problems as gifts seems to overshadow the significant challenges that they pose to one's daily life and general happiness. It brings to mind those (unintentionally) dismissive comments people will make about being “so OCD” because they like a tidy, organized office or kitchen—as though OCD is simply this wonderful ability to organize things.
Or the comment that “everyone is ADHD sometimes,” when they’re having trouble concentrating for a short period of time—as though ADHD is just this mildly-inconvenient attention problem that pops up every once in a while.
Or the person who says they’re “depressed” because their favorite show isn’t on today, or because their local sports team lost the recent game—as though depression is the same thing as being mildly disappointed or temporarily sad about a minor setback.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I think there’s something to be said for finding the silver lining—the little positives or perks—in the circumstances that life throws our way.
Someone with ADHD may find that their condition helps them to be more spontaneous, fun-loving, creative, or energetic at times.
A person with depression or anxiety may find that these conditions sometimes help them to have a lot of empathy and understanding for other people with similar experiences.
And people with certain types of OCD may indeed be more adept at keeping a clean, organized house.
At the same time, when you’re struggling to get through your everyday life, the mental health symptoms that so often hold you back are really hard to see as any kind of advantage or blessing. If you’re running through hell, you’re probably not going to appreciate the person who reminds you that “at least you’re getting exercise” or that “this will make you a stronger person in the long run.”
It’s ok—quite normal, really—if you find it hard to focus on the “positive” side of your mental health condition(s). That’s the “disorder” part of mental health disorders. If there are times when you are able to see how your mental health problems may work somewhat to your advantage, that’s wonderful, and something to keep in the forefront of your mind as often as possible (really, it is!). Because there will also be plenty of times when that mental health condition is more than just a minor inconvenience or hurdle in your day.
Mental health problems may not be superpowers, but there are times when living with them requires superhuman strength. And it’s extremely important to give yourself credit for coping with these challenges on a daily basis throughout your life.