"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
January 4, 2013
Goals: Realistic or Unrealistic?
by Sarah Hancock

Here it is the time of year when a large percentage of the human race sets New Year’s resolutions. New Year’s resolutions can be tricky. Some people set lofty goals and later feel guilty because they didn’t achieve them. Other people avoid the entire guilt trip by not setting any goals at all.

When it comes to having mental illness, often times when a person is in a manic state, big goals are often the forefront. So much so that many doctors and psychiatric support staff dismiss many goals as being “grandiose.” In psychiatry, grandiose is defined as “having an exaggerated belief in one's importance, sometimes reaching delusional proportions, and occurring as a common symptom of mental illnesses, as manic disorder”. For example, there have been many people when they are severely manic who think they are Jesus Christ. That is obviously grandiose. However, many times psychiatric professionals, friends of those with a mental illness and even family members may define one person’s dreams as grandiose and completely unattainable---a mistake I hope you and I never make. I mean let’s face it, when you have a loved one who lives in a group home or is a regular “frequent flier” of the psychiatric hospital, dreams your loved one may have could most definitely seem grandiose. Perhaps even the idea that this person could live independently might seem grandiose. This person’s doctor may have even pulled you aside and told you in no uncertain terms that living independently is not an option. Perhaps psychiatric support staff have told you not to encourage your loved one’s delusional grandiosity. But let me share with you a little known secret: Not all goals have deadlines. Not all seemingly impossible goals are impossible.

If the Wright Brothers believed flight was impossible, they wouldn’t have flown. If the Egyptians had thought making pyramids were impossible, they would never have built them. If Thomas Edison had thought that reading at night with light other than a fire was impossible, he would have never invented the light bulb. Our ancestors thought talking to a metal and plastic devise allowing people in another city, state or country to hear and participate in the conversation was an impossibility. Today we do it daily, hourly even.

Many people who knew me from 1998-2010 felt that my dream of graduating with a master’s degree defined grandiose. I’d just been diagnosed with a severe mental illness while studying at BYU. In the middle of the semester I dropped from taking my normal full load of 21 credits to barely completing a three credit class with a passing grade. It took me four years of taking classes each semester and through the summer to squeak through what I would have been able to complete (without symptoms) in possibly two semesters. No matter how hard it got, graduating with my bachelor’s degree, to me, was a given. To my loved ones, I’m sure it was almost grandiose. After I graduated with my BA, I resolved to better myself and continue my education. It had always been a goal to get my master’s degree and although I did not know how on earth I was going to do it, I knew I would. I told everyone: doctors, counselors, family members, church leaders, friends and acquaintances. Some people threw it back in my face as a joke. Some people patiently and lovingly tried to tell me that I’d set my goals too high and that doing so would only cause me guilt and anguish. Others quietly supported me, secretly doubting the feasibility, yet kind enough to keep all doubts to themselves. During those 14 years I was sick! I was depressed. I was delusional. I was paranoid. I was catatonic. I was institutionalized. I was treated with electroshock therapy. I forgot more than 25 years of my life. At one time I was an editor for BYU’s Honor’s Publication Lab and edited faculty papers for the Faculty Editing Service. In 2009 I was reading young adult literature and looking up more than twenty unfamiliar words on a page and writing definitions in the margins and in my notebook. I sat for the Graduate Records Examination in 2010, literally six weeks after reteaching myself how to subtract double digits. (GRE scores are utilized by the majority of universities to measure the potential of prospective students). I scored in the bottom third percentile in math and the bottom fourth percentile for vocabulary. Gratefully the Rehabilitation Counseling program at SDSU was more interested in my potential than in my ability to sit for a test! I was accepted and began the program three years ago. This May I graduate, proving to myself I can achieve anything I put my mind to.

For years, I was the only person standing in my way. As someone with a mental illness, let me share with you this. Learning coping strategies and medication management was the hardest part of that journey, getting my degree is the easiest. There were times when I started to believe the professionals. I started losing sight of my goals, during which time, I started losing sight of myself.

I share this with you in an effort to help you see that with the right support, or even with a lack of support, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to. Losing weight, getting an education, learning a new talent, whatever your new year’s resolution, you can do it! Don’t listen to the others who say you can’t achieve your goals. There is enough self doubt to begin with, you don’t need to add to it by listening to others who simply don’t have the dream. As with anything worthy of attaining, many will laugh your dreams to scorn, just like they did with Martin Luther King and Joseph Smith. Don’t listen. You can do it! I know you can! God knows you can!

Support your loved ones (and those with whom you work) in their dreams. Maybe the dream needs a bit of dissection to create a path of smaller goals leading to achieving a big dream, but swear to yourself you will never stand in the way of someone’s goal simply because you can’t see that dream through their eyes.

Now go! Set those New Year’s Resolutions! May this coming year be your best one yet!

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About Sarah Hancock

Sarah Price Hancock, a graduate of San Diego State University's rehabilitation counseling Masters of Science program with a certificate psychiatric rehabilitation.

Having embarked on her own journey with a mental health diagnosis, she is passionate about psychiatric recovery. She enjoys working as a lector for universities, training upcoming mental health professionals. Sarah also enjoys sharing insights with peers working to strengthen their "recovery toolbox." With proper support, Sarah knows psychiatric recovery isnít just possible ó itís probable.

Born and raised in San Diego, California, Sarah served a Spanish-speaking and ASL mission for the LDS Church in the Texas Dallas Mission. She was graduated from Ricks College and BYU. Sarah currently resides in San Diego and inherited four amazing children when she married the man of her dreams in 2011. She loves writing, public speaking, ceramics, jewelry-making and kite-flying ó not necessarily in that order.

NAMI San Diego's Fall Keynote Address: Living in Recovery with Schizoaffective Disorder

Having recently moved into a new ward, she currently serves as a visiting teacher.

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