There’s a fascinating new NPR podcast called Invisibilia. I listened to their How to Become Batman episode on the way to work today, which begins by detailing research about how our thoughts and expectations can affect those around us. You’ve probably heard about this concept before—the studies that show how when teachers, for example, who are told a select group students are exceptional, their IQs actually go up over the course of the year even though, in reality, their IQ was no higher than the other children to begin with.
The hosts then tell the story of a man named David Kish—the titular “Batman”—who’s able to ride a bike, even though he’s blind. He’s able to manage this seemingly impossible feat because he’s developed a way to click his tongue to understand where he is in relation to other things, something that bats do as well called echolation.
The part of the story that resonated the most with me is about David Kish’s mother, who, after surviving an abusive marriage, decided she’d never let fear rule her again. And for that reason, when her child became blind she lived by that tenet, never limiting him or telling him there was anything he couldn’t do because of his blindness. Her expectations of him—that he could live like other children—led him to develop skills most blind people never do. He could cook for himself, walk to school, and then, as mentioned, even ride a bike.
How does this podcast related to mental illness?
As I see it, because our illness is invisible to most people, we’re actually fortunate enough to not be inherently defined by an illness or limitation that leads others to lower their expectations of what we can do.
We do, however, influence who we ultimately become by our own expectations. If we see bipolar disorder or schizophrenia or depression as a limitation, then it will limit us. If we see it as a challenge that can be treated, we’re going to be more likely to manage our condition and stay healthy.