Can your mental health problem be your superpower?
I opened my computer the other day to check something and somehow found myself on Facebook (how does that happen?). I followed a link someone had posted to the page of a blogger I have long admired but rarely read (not sure why): Glennon Doyle Melton (of Momastery).
I scrolled down, glancing at the small amount of text she had prefixed her latest blog posts with, until one stopped me in my tracks.
This is what I read:
”Yes, I’ve got these conditions — anxiety, depression, addiction — and they almost killed me. But they are also my superpowers. I’m the canary in the mine and you need my sensitivity because I can smell toxins in the air…”
Without reading the post in full, I slammed my laptop shut.
I shuddered, consumed with fear, with doubt. I couldn’t read another word. It was too close to home.
If you replaced the word ‘addiction’ with the phrase ‘addiction to self-salvation projects’, or ‘addiction to overwhelming and misplaced responsibility’, it could be me.
Suddenly the words I put on the page and sent out into the ether felt ridiculous. They felt small and insignificant. They felt inconsequential and unnecessary. Glennon’s way with words and ability to connect made me feel foolish, as though I was a poor copy. I wanted to shut my blog down and post one final statement, as a parting gift:
”For all further support and encouragement – see Momastery.”
I felt like an imposter, a fraud. As though my stories were too small and too personal. That my contribution was not needed. What right did I have to be setting myself up as any kind of voice in this arena? I don’t know enough. I haven’t read the right books and my life is messy. I certainly don’t have all the answers figured out. Alongside these feelings of self doubt, one other thing remained. A word burnt into my retina remaining long after the laptop was closed.
Anxiety is a part of me. I don’t know how long it will be for. Maybe forever. Maybe not. But it is one of the things that makes me unique, that gives me insight, that alerts me to potential harm, that softens me to other’s pain, that allows me to see emotional truth quicker than some others.
And, I am beginning to realise, it is my superpower.
I have learnt to identify with my pain, to see it as a path to healing and understanding. I have accepted my weakness and realised that my experiences can be helpful to other people.
But, superpower? This is another league. Another level.
And the more I have thought about it, the more the word has rolled around on my tongue, the idea rattled around in my head, (whisper it)… the more it has begun to feel like the truth.
Maybe this idea was a bit too hot to touch when I read it in Glennon’s post, a bit too bright to look at. Maybe, alongside the self-doubt, this white-hot truth caused me to look away, to shield my eyes from the reality.
But, my anxiety is my superpower.
Like any superpower it can be destructive and I have known many, many of those moments, when this force threatens to swallow me whole, to destroy the very essence of who I am. But like any superhero, the more I take this knowledge, these experiences, and use them for the benefit of us all, the more I see the force for good it can be.
My vulnerability is transforming my anxiety into a superpower. My writing, and talking, and witnessing, and sharing, converts the power-sapping kryptonite of my anxiety into a force to be reckoned with.
So I’m going to keep on writing, despite the doubt and fear, and despite the feeling of being an imposter, because superheroes need to use their powers otherwise they end up fat and disillusioned like Mr Incredible.
I will write when I feel inspired and try to write when I don’t. I will write as honestly as I can. I will write because it makes me feel alive.
I will write pointing to the potential dangers and hazards ahead. I will write to shout about the unhelpful ways of living that have made me ill. I will write because “me too” is a powerful phrase.
I will write even though someone else can do it better. Even though someone else has thousands more followers than me. Even though my offering feels paltry alongside theirs.
I will continue to write. To sing like the canary in the mine. Because, anxiety is my superpower and I’m going to use it.