By: Jaime Ann Sanborn, MLIS, Instructional Designer  | 5/12/2022 |

 Many educators have renounced the term Learning Disability, opting instead for the more inclusive term Learning Difference. The term disabled implies that there is no ability or there is something fundamentally unpalatable about the way in which a learner functions. Differently-abled students, with the right accommodations, are capable of amazing accomplishments. What it takes, is for educators to stop seeing one group of learners as the norm from which all others deviate, and to instead see all learners as part of a prismatic tapestry that is the human experience. There is no normal. There is only human. Let’s take this same concept of the tapestry of humanity and apply it to another area in which people have historically been considered “other.” I am referring to the hottest buzzwords in corporate America these days: Mental Health. 

Mentally Ill has such a negative ring to it. This is especially true when you revisit the history of how the world has treated those deemed Mentally Ill. Torture and imprisonment were often the methods used to “care for” those who were given this label; hence the stigma around “coming out” or seeking help. I could write a book on the gruesome mistreatment Mentally Ill people save suffered throughout history, but my goal in this article is to challenge you to see Mental Health through the aforementioned prism of experience. 

I have Emotional Differences. This is my definition of how I experience life. The American Psychiatric Association would label me as Mentally Ill and, while I reject that moniker, I do accept that my differences require treatment. I will always be under the care of a Mental Health Professional. It is how I achieve optimal wellness. However, I am not living in a perpetual state of sickness, which is why I do not use the term Mentally Ill. I experience emotion and process feelings differently than those who

are considered emotionally-typical. I must be constantly aware of my emotions and how they impact me mentally and physically. I have to work harder than most people to comport myself in ways that have been deemed societally-acceptable. Allow me to explain. From a diagnosis perspective, I have a Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Wow- sounds like I should be locked up somewhere, doesn’t it? Labels are gross. Let me paint a picture of what those disorders (Emotional Differences!) mean to my everyday life. 

I worry more than most people do (a LOT more). I have a much harder time experiencing joy than most people do. I have to spend a lot of time ensuring that my surroundings are orderly, clean, and just-so in order to feel safe and at peace. Currently, I would not define myself as Mentally Ill.

Yes, there have been times in my life when my Emotional Differences were so extreme that I was very, very ill, and living was almost unbearable. I have tried to take my life. I have been self-destructive. I have self-harmed. I have also thrived. I have achieved. I have shined. I have been more productive, successful, and positively-impactful than many people who are considered emotionally-typical. I have had a prismatic experience of emotional wellness. 

I consider myself fortunate. My Emotional Differences are not so severe as to render me incapable of a normal life. The privilege into which I was born as a white, middle-class, American has afforded me access to care, support, and acceptance that other people with Emotional Differences may not have had. I have always felt safe being “out” regarding my Emotional Differences, but not everyone can risk being so honest. The stigma is real and alive and well. This is why I challenge businesses to do more than support an awareness of what the professionals call Mental Illness. Awareness is not enough. 

Like the learner who is capable of great things with the right accommodations, those of us with Emotional Differences deserve to feel safe asking for the same. What does this look like? When I began at Percepta, I immediately advised my supervisor and manager that I have Anxiety. I told them that I will over-communicate and that I need regular assurance that my projects are going well. I also informed them that I “have a leaky face.” My emotions live closer to the surface than they do in emotionally-typical people, so tears sometimes spring forth when I feel something strongly. This is not a sign of weakness, or sadness, or instability- it is just a physical response to a heightened experience of emotion. One thing I stress when I have these candid conversations is that, while I do need some accommodations for my Emotional Differences, this in no way permits me to treat people with less respect, kindness, or decorum. 

As I said before, I consider myself VERY fortunate. Having had these discussions with my leaders at Percepta, the responses I received have been ones of support, care, understanding, and praise. My supervisors at Percepta do not consider me less capable, less reliable, or less valuable because of my Emotional Differences. They see me as part of the human tapestry, and they validate my worth. THAT is true inclusivity. That is true Mental Health support. 

So, please, be kind to yourselves. Allow yourselves the grace to journey through life in that challenging prism of experience. Do not be afraid to ask people to give you the understanding you need to be the best version of YOU. You matter. You are enough. There is no normal. There is only human.