Kyle’s Column: The respect they deserve


In the latest installment of Kyle’s Column, WSPN’s Opinions Editor Kyle Chen reflects upon the lessons that come with having a cold.

Kyle Chen

In Wellness class, we recently finished a series of classes discussing various mental disabilities and the effects they can have on people’s lives. To conclude the unit, Mr. Berry had us team up in groups, research certain mental disabilities that are prevalent in society today and then teach the rest of the class about the disorder.

The presentations began, as most presentations do, with a few boring PowerPoints, in which a group of kids shuffled to the front of the classroom, turned their backs to the audience and provided a monotonous recitation of their slideshows – which, for the most part, were crammed with too many words to count, let alone read. But things took an interesting turn when a group of students gave their presentation on social anxiety disorder.

The moment the young man stood up with his group, you could see a change come over his face. It was like a shadow of doubt, a flicker of uncertainty that he quickly brushed away. But, like some kind of old habit, the fear of addressing a large crowd of people seemed to grip him – even if only for a few seconds.

The young man went on to tell us a story about his childhood growing up with a mental disability known as social anxiety disorder. SAD, he informed us, is a chronic health condition that impairs his ability to interact with other people, especially in situations where a group is involved. As a result, he spent much of his childhood holed up in his house, not because he didn’t want to come out, but because it was physically too much for him to bear. Every time he would leave his house, he said, he felt like the eyes of everyone in the world were locked on to him, scrutinizing his every move, waiting for him to do something stupid. The fear of embarrassment was so overwhelming and suffocating that he couldn’t even go school for some time. Fortunately, after years of treatment, therapy and medication, he was able to overcome his social anxiety and return to his education.

After he finished his story, the young man retreated to his seat. A stunned silence settled over the room as the magnitude of his situation finally sank in. I, for one, was reeling in shock. I tried to put myself in his shoes. Imagine what my life would be like if I had social anxiety. But I knew nothing – even the worst situations I could imagine wouldn’t come close to the pain and anguish he must have felt.

In that moment, I felt a rush of admiration for the young man. Not only had he overcome an obstacle of unthinkable proportions, he had also come to terms with his disorder and learned to live in harmony with it. It was clear from his presentation that some of his old fears still linger deep inside him; in all likelihood, they will remain with him forever. But what I thought was truly inspiring was that even in the face of such tremendous adversity, he was able to persevere and find a way to live a normal life.

One of the most important lessons I learned from this young man’s story is that people with disabilities go through much more than we give them credit for. On the surface, they may look just like anyone else. They go through ups and downs, they laugh and cry for all the same reasons that so-called “normal” people do. But unfortunately, they have a condition that differentiates and often, unfortunately, alienates them from the rest of society. And more often than not, that condition makes it twice as difficult for them to live a normal life. There have been too many cases in which people with disabilities are mocked and ridiculed. Our own president has done it before. It’s easy for us to fear what we perceive to be different, and therefore to attack and ridicule it, to do whatever it takes for us to distance ourselves from these “misfits.” Too often we focus only on their eccentricities and forget the that these individuals have to work twice as hard as the rest of us to make it through each day. We shouldn’t mock and belittle them; on the contrary, we should celebrate their persistent spirit and give them the respect that they deserve.

Opinion articles written by staff members represent their personal views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent WSPN as a publication.