Be Yourself. It’s Your Most Powerful Tool.


Collen is a member of the Active Minds Speakers Bureau. Bring her to your campus to speak about mental health. 

My family recently took a trip to Disney World. My little boy, Paul, had a heart transplant last year and this was his Make a Wish Trip.

The Orlando airport departure area experience is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Security is a nightmare and after a flagged bag and an almost missed flight, my family finally made it to flight 992.

I am sitting with two kids, Paul (4) and Georgia (2). As we take off, the flight attendants play a song from top gun and we sing it. We try to play go fish. We talk about how planes work and when snacks will arrive. We read books and sing some more.

I’m doing the best I can to entertain my tired and hungry children when this woman in the row in front of me stands up, turns around, glares at me and says “I appreciate what you’re doing with your children but you are just very loud.”

“Excuse me?” I say.This can’t be real. 

“I have no problem with your children but you are just too loud.”

Yep, that’s what she said. 

“So you’re saying you just have an issue with my existence in general? You don’t like my voice?”

“Yes, you’re just too loud.” She sits down.

Now what? Did this lady really just say that to me in front of my kids? Who made her the noise police?  Ok, I’m gonna fight her. No that’s not right – I’ll get kicked off the plane. I’ll say sorry- no I’m not sorry not even a little. Ignore it- can’t- won’t- never. Insult her flabby arms. No wait that’s not nice. Give her my resume.-No- that’s weird- won’t work.

Talk to her her about kindness. Tell her our story. Sucker punch her. Start crying.

Pointless. Not germane to our present situation.  Mean. Potentially inappropriate.

Own it. Yep that’s the way. Own it… 

“Kids.” I say. “We are going to be super LOUD now just for the lady in front of us!” They giggle. Yep this was the way to go.

I continued to jab her the rest of the flight. We went to the bathroom. On our way back I say “Georgia let’s give a big LOUD hello to this row!!”,

“Paul make sure you read this one extra LOUD.” “Yes you can play with that tray that’s right behind her seat!”

Here’s the thing-you never know what people are going through. Maybe I’m LOUD because I’m hard of hearing and my ears were plugged on the plane.  Maybe I talk LOUDly because part of my livelihood involves using my LOUD voice. Maybe because I learned to read to my babies over the LOUD noises of a hospital room.

Maybe I’m just so happy to be alive that I just choose to do things like play in the rain, get really dirty with my kids, rock my cellulite, wear overalls and pig tails if the spirit moves me, pray for people that I don’t know, celebrate diversity, climb trees, and talk really LOUDly without realizing it. Maybe I’m just made that way.

Here’s the thing-you never know what people are going through.

Maybe she never had kids. Maybe she couldn’t and really wanted them and my enthusiastic display of motherhood was hurtful to her soul. Maybe she didn’t have a mom or just lost her mom or didn’t have a mom that really mothered her. Maybe she suffers from migraines and my voice was making it worse. Maybe she hadn’t pooped in four days and was just taking it out on me. Maybe she’s just plain ole’ mean. Or maybe she really thought she was helping me become a better human.

So what does this have to do with mental health? Quite a lot, actually. Mental wellness is about owning those things that are just “us” in spite of what others believe or perceive. Emotional wellness is about knowing how to have perspective on really challenging interactions. We have to remind ourselves often that so much of how other people interact with us is about them-it’s not about us. In other words, people’s inability to love and appreciate you for you is not your fault at all.

Each and every single moment we have the opportunity to show the world the light of our souls. Authentic light comes from within and it comes from without.

My light may be LOUD but it’s mine. It comes from years of being bullied and popular, rich and poor, the worst student and the best, loved and reviled, and living abnormal circumstances in a normal world. I’m proud of my joy- LOUD and proud. I hope noise police lady has a light too- one that shines brighter than the sun that I just didn’t get to see on flight 992.

If YOU can keep doing YOU- fiercely and wonderfully, whatever that looks like I bet a lot will fall into place. What is your light? Think about it. Even if it’s buried way deep down- it was there once and you will find it again. I lived so much life blunting my personality so others could feel better and quite frankly it was exhausting. Keep doing you- the emotional wellness that comes from doing just that is so incredibly powerful.