People often comment on my “courage” for writing about mental illness and our family’s journey in my blog. I don’t view it as much courageous as honest, unfiltered and, quite frankly, overdue. But I guess with how much shame is associated with mental illness in our society, courage is in the eye of the beholder.
Jeff and I just returned from our sixth Parents’ Weekend with Chloe at her treatment program in Utah. The weekend is always pretty exhausting. The first day is filled with therapy sessions, school meetings and nurse appointments. The second day is full of parent support groups and presentations covering tips on working with challenging and difficult kids, redefining our role as parents and nurturing healthy families and relationships. The day always ends with a fine arts show or performance. This time, the girls did performances of song and dance and I was really struck by what I believe courage really looks like.
Imagine, for a moment, playing a game with no rules. The rules take shape as the day unfolds. You begin to understand a pattern of the rules because you get thumped on the head each time you break one. Then, just as you begin to get the hang of the rules and what’s expected, they completely change.
Due to neurological deficits, this is similar to what the girls at Chloe’s program experience on a daily basis. All are on the autism spectrum and have difficulty making or keeping friends because they don’t know how to navigate the social maze of friends and relationships. They are not savvy at reading others’ body language and unspoken cues… skills these kids neurologically don’t possess and never will.
For these girls and people with similar disabilities, getting up in the morning can take a daunting amount of courage. And, some people are unable to face the day. In fact, Chloe would spend many hours and days in bed due to the anxiety of social pressures, overwhelm by school and depression developed by not fitting in.
Chloe’s program helps these girls identify and manage their fears and deficits and recognize their special strengths to help them succeed in life. I am always in awe at the courage these girls possess as they bare their souls at the Parents’ Weekend performance through music, art, writing and dance. I’m not so sure I’d be able to do the same thing! It’s also beautiful to see how the girls develop and grow from quarter to quarter.
One of the primary components to their success is connection to others through teamwork and support. Chloe and one of her good friends sang the duet The Fighter by Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood. Their wonderful performance displayed their courage to be vulnerable and share themselves with others. I believe that one person’s courage may be another person’s inspiration. Below is the chorus to the lyrics The Fighter. We are all warriors and fighters in our journey through life!
Keith Urban & Carrie Underwood
What if I fall (I won’t let you fall)
What if I cry (I’ll never make you cry)
And if I get scared (I’ll hold you tighter)
When they’re tryna get to you baby I’ll be the fighter