I cannot lie. I am deliriously pumped up and on Cloud 9 today. My beloved New England Patriots won one of the wildest, craziest Super Bowls ever, 28-24 over the Seattle Seahawks.
I watched the game with my cousins in Brookline (near Boston.) As the teams traded leads and the game went back and forth, our emotions were all over the place. Up. Down. And lots of places in between. I noticed this last night, and it got me thinking about what can my team teach me about living with mental illness. Here are my 5 take-aways.
1. There will always be adversity. Deal with it, but focus on what’s important. As anyone who follows football knows, the Patriots went into the game with the cloud of Deflategate hanging over them. Though there is still no hard evidence that the Pats deflated their footballs during the AFC Championship Game, they were pretty much guilty in the court of public opinion, and they knew it. But no one plays better under adversity than the Pats. Quarterback Tom Brady acknowledged that the Deflategate accusations hurt his feelings. But he didn’t let that stop him from focusing on practice for the big game. He wound up throwing four touchdown passes, and becoming the game’s MVP.
The lesson for those of us with a mental illness–In so many ways, we face adversity every day. But as much as we can, we must try to push through it to focus on our goals. We don’t ignore our adversity, or the fact that so many people judge us unfairly. But no matter what other people think, we should not let adversity define us. Which leads me to Number 2.
2. The Patriots and their fans have LOTS of haters, but they don’t let that get to them. Just about every Pats fan knows that outside New England, the Pats are probably the most hated football team in America. My cousins and I got a taste of this right after the game. One of my Facebook friends told me the Pats were “just lucky.” One of my Cousin Max’s friends was a little more blunt. He told Max to go f**k himself. If us fans get this kind of hate, I can only imagine what the team gets. But here’s the thing: we know what people think of us–and we don’t care. We just care that our team keeps winning, and they seem to have no problem doing that.
The lesson for those of us with mental illness–God knows, we have detractors. Or at the very least, people who judge us and misunderstand us. I spend a lot of time trying to explain myself to people. Some of them get me, but many of them don’t. I’m learning to care less about those who don’t get me, and more about the people who do. Yes, I sometimes think that nobody gets me. But, in my better moments, I try to be careful about how I spend my personal energy. I try not to waste energy on people who probably are not going to understand me no matter what I say or do.
3. The Patriots never thought the game was over, even when everyone else did. There was less than a minute to go in the game. The Seahawks, trailing 28-24, were driving to get a touchdown. Quarterback Russell Wilson threw the ball, and at first, it seemed as though the ball was tipped away from his receiver. Somehow, when the receiver fell on his back, the ball plopped right into his lap–deep in New England territory.
At this moment, even I secretly thought “The football gods are against us.” But Tom Brady didn’t think that way. He just thought, “Oh boy. I might have to go back on to the field and do what I can to win.”
The lesson for those of us with mental illness–The “game” is never over. I don’t think I have to explain that further.
4. The Patriots know how to expect the unexpected. Everyone in the football universe is questioning the Seahawks’ decision to throw the ball from the one yard line, instead of giving it to Marshawn Lynch, easily the game’s best running back, who could have, as the theory goes, easily run the ball in for the game-winning touchdown. The Patriots didn’t just prepare for Marshawn Lynch. They prepared for every possibility. It’s a mantra stressed throughout the team, from seasoned veterans like Brady, down to undrafted defensive rookies like Malcolm Butler–the man who stepped in front of that ball and made one of the most unlikely interceptions in football history.
The lesson for those of us with mental illness–Nobody can tell for sure what’s going to happen. We can only prepare for any and all possibilities. For those of us with mental illness, that’s much harder to do than for many others. But that’s where great “coaches” come in, in the form of therapists, clergy and, if we’re lucky, understanding friends and family. They can help us see the “big picture” better than we can on our own.
5. The Patriots envision themselves as winners, even when others don’t. After the game, Butler said to anyone who would listen that he “had a vision” of himself making a big play. Some may roll their eyes at this. I say this is a great example of mindfulness. As an undrafted rookie, Butler was lucky to even play in the game. Still, he was able to see himself making a difference. Now, he’s a Pats hero who will probably be treated like a king in New England for the rest of his life.
The lesson for those of us with mental illness–even if we have to fake it, it’s so sweet when we can prove that we are more than what people expect of us. There are so many mental illness stereotypes out there. But there are so many who are breaking those stereotypes. Two days ago, most people would have laughed at the thought of an undrafted rookie becoming a Super Bowl hero. They’re not laughing now. Even if so many still think of us as everything from lazy to deranged, we can prove them wrong.
So there you have it–my crazy attempt to parallel my team with my illness. I hope you can gain something from these tips, even if you’re a Seahawk fan. If that’s the case, you could use a little consoling right now.