I spent many years in school. Putting off the real world? Perhaps. Probably. But across three undergrad schools, one masters, and one doctorate program, I met a lot of teachers. The best course I ever took was abnormal psychology at UMass Amherst. It was there, I think, that I first learned it was not a weakness to be different.
This class was held in a huge auditorium with hundreds of students. And the professor was so engaging that if you didn't show up early, you had to take a seat on the floor because people crashed the class just to listen to his stories. Now, I can't for the life of me remember this man's name, but several moments from that semester are burned in my memory.
He worked part-time as a clinical psychologist and part-time as a professor teaching eager young students such as myself. He told us stories of treating patients over the years and showed us how complicated the human mind is. One story sticks out—the man who saw Martians.
Professor Beard (We'll call him that because all I can remember about him is that he had a beard) spoke a lot about young patients in their teens and early-twenties. Now, looking back, I see that he was reading the room. He was teaching us empathy and understanding, knowing that any of us could have ended up as one of his patients (and perhaps some did).
He told us the story of a twenty-year-old who had visions of green Martians. He was fairly successful beyond that little quirk. He held down a job, dated, and had friends. But he also had three invisible Martian friends that lived with him. Professor Beard was the last in a long line of psychologists that tried to fix this young man's visions. According to him, this man had some kind of psychological need to keep those invisible creatures in his world, and the more doctors tried to "cure" him, the more stress he fell under.
Now for the interesting part. Professor Beard told us something that changed how I look at the world. He said something to the effect of "What if you stop trying to get rid of them? What if you accept that these Martians are part of you, even if no one else can see them?"
In essence, he was saying, just because you see and feel something others don't, it doesn't make you wrong. If memory serves, this man went through psychotherapy and dealt with many unresolved childhood traumas, but the Martians never left. He went on to get married, fully open with his wife about his invisible friends.
The reason this hit me on a level I wasn't fully aware of until years later, is because this professor was one of the first people I ever heard encourage us to accept our weird, quirky selves, even if society didn't understand us. It was like I took a breath for the first time.
It would be many years before I would fully wrap my head around the idea of being different (still wrapping, if I'm honest). But sometimes the simplest of ideas lay a foundation, the results of which will change you over your lifetime. You might notice that all my books deal with found family, self acceptance, and the hidden power of young women. Why? Because I want what I didn't see or hear while I was growing up.
My green Martians were extreme anxiety, panic attacks, and a serious case of introversion. Much as I wanted to rid myself of them, I couldn't. But when I learned, hey, you won't get rid of these things, they are part of you... it was then that I stopped feeling so anxious and even began to see how these troubles could become a superpower (hint: they all are the reason I'm an author today). Thanks to Professor Beard (whatever his name was) for being one of the first to teach me that this kid was all right.
~Sip Coffee. Savor Books.