Standing Ovation

By Elizabeth Niedra – Class of 2015

Sometimes someone goes into that black hole, that fringe-land on the end of the earth, and comes back. They come back to a place where, although their struggle is not done, they can, once again, smile like you, talk like you – speak your language. They can tell their story in words you understand, using markers and clichés that mean something to you to tell you what they saw, and how they survived. Through this, in your eyes, they become Rocky, Sandra Bullock in Gravity, an Amelia Earhart back from the dead – a hero, a success story, someone like you who went down into the caverns of the dark and the unknown and returned to share their glory, to shake your hand. These people, in this moment, are your equals or your betters; in this spotlight, their struggle is beautiful, is glorious, is not only real, but in Technicolor. For one brief moment, you yourself become a champion for their cause; you support the fight against mental health, by rallying for the victor. You give them a standing ovation.

This is not to say that you should not. That person has gone to hell and back, has fought through blood and tears (often literally), twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for days, weeks, months, sometimes even years on end. They did not give up. And they did not die. They came out alive, and a standing ovation in Madison Square Garden wouldn’t sufficiently honor the struggle they continue to endure, and the strength that they have shown by showing it to you.

This is to say, be mindful of who gets your standing ovation, your smile, your awe. It is the person who has returned to you; the person who speaks your language. The person who has already succeeded enough in their struggle to again dwell in the land of the living. They are mental health neatly packaged for your easy consumption, wrapped in culturally kosher signals of normalcy and relatability. They are articulate, touching, anecdotal mental health. They are not anxious, inconsistent, incoherent, unrelatable mental health. They are no longer forcibly concealed under the boggy ten-ton cloak of their symptoms. Be mindful that they are the tip of the pyramid. Be mindful, that whomever else you meet in the realm of mental health, the classmate, the friend, the supervisor, the patient, the disheveled, the unhygienic, the belligerent, the vicious, the tearful, the rude, the entertaining, the angry, the silent, the skinny, the scarred, they too lay claim to your awe. Perhaps they are more in need of your help than your applause; but that fight you gave a standing ovation? They are fighting it, hard, right now. And if your protest is, but she was brave enough to share it with me—realize, they have come to you, by whatever means. That’s exactly what they’re doing.

 

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