She stood there in the bright lights, knowing of course that all eyes were on her.
Slightly off to the side of her classmates, nervously swinging her arms, fidgeting with her dress. It had taken four days for the young girl to build up the courage to go on that stage, to join her class in the annual Christmas concert. An entire week of anxiety so bad that her stomach never stopped aching.
Her family sat in the audience, knowing how badly the young girl wanted to be there, knowing how much it meant to her to overcome her illness and join her friends. They held their breath as she entered the stage, then turned around to go back off. They beamed with pride as they watched her reconsider and finally take a spot on stage. A spot close to the door, a spot that allowed her the safety and comfort of a possible escape should the symptoms overcome her.
She is just 14, but you deemed her actions inappropriate for her age.
So you sat in the shadows of the dimly lit auditorium. You sneered, judged and whispered, knowing nothing of her battle. Knowing nothing of what she and her family have been through in the last 14 years. We often say kids can be cruel, but it was the words of adults from behind her that brought hot angry tears to the eyes of the young girl’s mother.
It took every bit of self control in her mother’s body not to confront you on the spot, afraid of the what she might say, might do. Not wanting to ruin the moment her daughter had worked so hard for, concerned of the impact such a confrontation might have on her career,
Your words were cowardly.
The little girl you judged so harshly could teach you a thing or two about bravery, about strength. She wakes up each morning to a fight that would level you, that would level most of us. Diagnosed at a young age with pediatric bi-polar disorder, she has confronted demons far greater than unkind words. She and her family battle the disease daily, riding a constant roller coaster of emotional swings and medication changes and life threatening depressive episodes.
But as the years have passed, a village has grown around them. The young girl has the unwavering support of her teachers and social workers, the endless love of her family, a team of doctors dedicated to beating the disease, the acceptance of her classmates and an entire community standing with her.
Your words, though ignorant and hateful, shrink next to the love surrounding her.
Time will pass. Maybe you will realize the magnitude of your misjudgment, or maybe you will remain there in the shadows, where cowardice lies. I don’t know what the future holds for you. But as for that young girl, make no mistake she will continue to be in the spotlight, singing, fighting bravely with the support of her family, classmates, community and friends.
She will remain in the spotlight, where courage shines, where true strength lives.
Author’s Note: This was written for a family very close to my heart, and for everyone, especially children, who courageously fight the stigma of mental illness. Please share so that we may spread light on these debilitating diseases, in hopes that one day they and their families will find the support, love and answers we all so desperately need.