Last week I finally had the chance to catch the Mr. Rogers documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?,” and first I want to say that it’s such a heart-warming and inspiring movie. I feel like you leave the theater wanting to be a better person. Wanting to make the world a kinder place. So I’m absolutely recommending it as a “Must-Watch” whether you were a Mr. Roger’s fan growing up or not!
I have to admit that I didn’t really watch much “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” growing up. It wasn’t something my parents put on the television for me, and my only real memories of it were in passing and being slightly disturbed by the calmness and kindness. Growing up in an environment that I’ll say was “high energy and anxiety,” it felt unnatural to me. Only as an adult have I started to internalize the magic and healing properties of a show like that. But in watching the documentary and how it highlighted one particular song “Sometimes I Wonder If I’m a Mistake” from Episode 1578, I’m starting to wish I had watched the show as a child rather than the screeching, hyper-colorful cartoons I tended to consume voraciously. (In fact, I can remember my brother and I being glued to a marathon of Rugrats one rainy summer day and how I felt physically ill after several hours of watching it.)
The songs starts with Daniel Striped Tiger contemplating his self-doubts around his tiger-hood:
Sometimes I wonder if I’m a mistake
I’m not like anyone else I know
When I’m asleep or even awake
Sometimes I get to dreaming that I’m just a fake
I’m not like anyone else
Then Lady Aberlin responds with love and support:
I think you are just fine as you are
I really must tell you
I do like the person that you are becoming
When you are sleeping
When you are waking
You are my friend
And finally, as the song moves to its third verse, you might expect Daniel Tiger to change his tune and join in harmony with Lady Aberlin singing about how he’s no longer doubting himself. That’s the happy, candy-sweet kind of message we usually send to children, right?
But that’s not what this song does. Instead, Daniel Tiger and Lady Aberlin overlap their respective verses, highlighting how hard it can be to let go of our self-doubt. But that doesn’t stop us from having people love and support us as we move through our struggles. (And honestly, how important that support is in our healing and growth process).
And oh my goodness, as I listened to the film dissect this particular song, I had never felt so seen.
I’ve spent a lot of my life (since I was around 13, maybe?) wondering if I was mistake. It started with feeling very much like Daniel Tiger, wondering why I was so different from everyone else my age, but devolved over time into depression and suicidal ideation until I wondered about the point of my existence at all. It seemed like nothing but pain and heartache and disappointing people. It’s been a long journey back up from my lowest of low points, with the Lady Aberlin-like support of friends and family in my life, but hearing that song brought so much of it back. Really, that one phrase: “Sometimes I wonder if I’m a mistake.”
I function a lot on two different planes of thought. Like logically, I know I’m not a mistake. My faith tells me I’m loved and chosen by God. And even just practically, what would make a person a mistake? Could anyone really be a mistake? Or once we’re here, do we define our own path?
But the depression side of my brain isn’t so kind. It says that I am strange and awkward and unlike anyone else (and not in the Mr. Rogers’ “special” way), but in a way that makes me unlovable and unable to be understood (the two things I desperately long for).
These two ideas war in my mind all the time. One winning out over the other depending on the day and how I’m faring in my journey with depression at the time.
Now I’m not saying that if I’d watched this episode of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” as a child and heard this song, I would somehow be magically cured from depression or never had to deal with any of my mental health struggles. That’s pretty impractical. But I will say that hearing it now, it still has incredible staying power. It was a reminder, even at 28 and doing pretty well with my mental health overall, that it’s okay to have doubts. And it’s okay to be different. Daniel Striped Tiger wasn’t as big or wild as the other tigers, but that’s what makes him who he is, just like all my strangeness and struggles make me who I am. And I’m “just fine” the way I am. Not a fake. Not a mistake. Me.