The patient said, "You know that I am a superhero." I gave a hesitant smile, not knowing where this was going. The patient said, "I told you a compliment and it made your day. Just like Clark Kent can make his town feel invincible, I can make people feel that way through my words and through my actions." I smiled and nodded thinking about it. Then the patient said, "You know I could have been a villain. If you walked in and I yelled at you and told you that you're worthless, it would have ruined your day, right?" I nodded again and smiled, thinking about how I was thankful that did not happen when I walked in. He continued: "You have a superpower, too, you know. You also have kryptonite, and if you surround yourself with only bad influences, you keep the good out. Why do people not use their superhero power everyday to change lives? We have the capacity to help each person we come in contact with and yet, more often than not, we decide to show our villain powers and tear people down." I was taken aback that such a powerful thought had never come to my mind. The patient smiled and thanked me for listening to his random thought. Why was I being thanked? I felt thankful for being on the receiving end of this lesson.
As the day came to a close, I got on the bus home and found myself putting away my headphones. I was in such a good mood from talking to the patient that I found myself striking up conversations with strangers next to me. As their stop approached, they thanked me for talking with them. I got upset thinking how nowadays it is considered a big deal to have conversations with strangers. As social workers, we are taught that we should be active listeners: smile, nod, open body language. But, what about when we are not in our professions or listening to a friend? How about being a Clark Kent for someone by simply taking our headphones out of our ears and asking someone about their day? For so long, I was tired, cranky, straight-faced riding the bus home and a villain - simply not contributing any positive energy. We all have someone we love talking to, who puts us in a better mood even after we leave their presence. They are our superheroes. We seem to get strength to be better from them and it is a snowball effect from there.
You're probably wondering: How does this relate to healthcare? Honestly, what does it not relate to? As a social worker, it is my job to help people find their strengths to become their own advocate. It is such a rewarding field, but it does not and cannot stop after 5pm - not for anyone. I know what you're thinking, "We can't always be people's knights in shining armor" - but, I am not saying we have to be. If we were to approach each day in an imaginary cape and got our strength from positve interactions from others throughout the day, we could further perpetuate that positivity. What holds others back? Having a mental illness, for example, is still a heavily stigmatized topic. That, my friends, is the Joker all around us. Stigma is a villain holding us back from achieving our strength. It holds us back from getting help, from telling our stories, from admitting something is just not right. What can we do about it? Villains are everywhere in our healthcare system, from pessimistic professionals to laziness to extreme costs, to people not listening to what we have to say because we may be of color, disabled, elderly, or any number of things.
As individuals who want to make a change - health activists - we have the ability to be what people need. I'm reminded of a story I read on the news about a young man who thought about attempting suicide. He planned to go through his day like normal, but if nobody looked him in the eyes and smiled, he was going to jump at the end of the day. He wrote this in his suicide note, which they found at the end of the day after he jumped. This story makes me take step back and think about how in-touch we all are with our surroundings, especially with the people around us. Simply smiling at someone during the day is sometimes all it takes to make a difference.
So, cheers to all of us who will try a little harder every day to be the change we all say we need, but do not know how to get started. Simply walking out your front door is where it starts!