Do you remember what it felt like to stand atop a skyscraper, strap on your cape, and soar through the clouds? You were invincible. Do you remember?
My little brother and I would race through the house in our Superman pajamas, weaving around furniture and stretching our arms out for optimum speed. We’d lift obstacles with our super strength and untie damsels from railroad tracks and rescue kittens from trees. We’d fight villains with lasers that shot out of our fingertips and overwhelm them with our sweet karate moves.
It was a fun game – one that has continued into adulthood. Have you ever been asked what superpower you’d most like to have? Flight? Strength? Invisibility? Though I suppose some thoughts are better left unread, my answer was always the ability to read minds.
As we grow older and life deals us our cards, we come to realize that we’re, in fact, not invincible and that the likelihood of being bitten by a radioactive spider is slim. Our hopes of leaping from building to building or being able to see through walls fade. When hardships arise, stemming from disease, for example, those childhood fantasies of immortality vanish and are replaced with fear.
Fear is something we learn. We learn to allow fear and doubt to become real-life villains and it’s important that we discover that, while they’re not how we once envisioned them, we do possess super powers.
Here are a few of mine:
Empathy: I’ve learned a great deal of patience and understanding of other people who live with chronic and unseen illnesses. My “BUT YOU DON’T LOOK SICK!” switch is no longer triggered when I see someone park in a handicapped spot or use an elevator to get up or down only one floor. Compassion has always been a strength of mine, but it’s more fine-tuned now to the secret and not-so-apparent afflictions that many people face. I’m personally invested now in a way that I wasn’t able to comprehend before.
Strength: Every single person on this planet has a threshold that, if crossed, will cause them to crumble. This limit for adversity varies from person to person and is influenced by their physical and emotional environment. I hope and pray that I never reach that line in the sand, where I teeter on the edge of completely falling apart. I’ve come close, I suppose, but the ability to reign in fear and refocus your attention on gratitude for the positive – while still allowing yourself to feel human emotions – is strength.
Visibility: This might be the most important one. Shoving invisible diseases into the spotlight is no easy task. There is much at stake: pride, relationships, or career path, for example, and it takes a brave individual to put a face on an ugly sounding disease. Fully owning an invisible illness and allowing it to be part of who you are without letting it become you or define you is a delicate balance that is achievable, if you work toward it.
Some might argue that these are not extraordinary characteristics, but rather traits that we are all born with. This may be so, to a degree, but I choose to believe that superpowers are grown and matured through experience and hardship. Look at Batman, for example. Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents being murdered and he grew up to fight crime, taking on the identity of something that he was most afraid of – bats – and turning it into a symbol of hope.
What’s your superpower?
This article was authored by Cat Stappas and originally published on the National Multiple Sclerosis Society’s blog, MSConnection.org, on December 1, 2016.