"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
January 18, 2013
Mental Illness: Expectations vs Reality
by Sarah Hancock

After my last column, I received a message from a friend who confided that although he had dreams, he was too sick to achieve them at the moment and was tired of people holding him up to an expectation which he couldn’t live up to -- a major problem for people diagnosed with a mental illness.

Like any other chronic illness, mental illness crops up uninvited in life, often shattering the dreams of those affected by symptoms. I’m not saying that the dreams are unattainable; I am just saying that the same dreams have to be achieved while dealing with a new and completely different set of circumstances. It’s like setting out on a journey and realizing your GPS is taking you the long way.

When I was first diagnosed, I was bound and determined to write the next young adult fiction novel and take the bestseller’s list by storm, have the book made into a movie and catapult myself to stardom as the best writer the world had ever known. Unfortunately, when I started having symptoms of depression, my mental creative beehive was vacated, leaving me with basically a stupor of thought. Medication made it worse at that point in my life because I wasn’t on the right kind. My medication made it so that my creative honey was long ago crystallized. My thoughts hung suspended in a crystallized solid, yet I had no way of warming the creativity to get things moving again.

Everyone with whom I’d shared my dream of becoming a best-selling author kept asking me if I’d published my book yet. I hadn’t. In fact, I hadn’t even finished it. Come to think about it, the depression was so deep, I couldn’t remember the plot or character development. I soon became so discouraged by people asking me about my book that it made me mad it hadn’t progressed beyond what I’d written in college. After trying to figure out what I was trying to write for eight years, I decided I wasn’t a writer. Now I have entirely different dreams, which I’d never have discovered if I hadn’t shelved the book.

When a person with mental illness experiences symptoms, their life’s priority becomes coping with and preventing those symptoms. Until symptoms are managed, it’s as though life is suspended in crystallized honey. That doesn’t mean they are lazy. Nor does it mean they have any less potential. It simply means that they need to find the warm bath of proper treatment to uncrystalize things and get them moving again. Meanwhile life becomes a frustrating waiting game for the person with the diagnosis and anyone else who loves and works with them.

As loved ones and those who serve people with mental illness, we need to learn how to create that warm bath. The best way to do so is to allow the person the dignity of moving at their own pace. Life is not a race. The only true measure of one’s success is what they do with the circumstances they find themselves in. Many people with mental illness and those who love or serve them give up simply because the progress is so slow. So my question to you is what are you measuring? Are you comparing yourself with people of your age, socioeconomic slot or race? Comparing myself to my high school friends, family members, mission companions and ward members left me feeling like a failure, resulting in one thing: bitter disappointment. However, when I began comparing myself to who I was yesterday, things ebbed and flowed while heading in a basically better direction. Sometimes the progress was only negligible to those who could look at my life not as a race, but as a journey. Often times that somebody was not me.

In my journey to achieve my dream of getting married in the temple to the man of my dreams and graduating with my masters, there were a lot of detours. When stuck in those detours, they felt like sink holes. When finally free of the detours, I’d look back, and realize the sink holes were simply potholes on my life’s journey. My journey, regardless of where I thought I was going, is headed in a completely different direction than I’d imagined. However, I’ve realized it’s my journey; I can’t use someone else’s map to find my destination, and neither can those whom you love and serve. Help people find their map. Help them measure their own progress, not that of those who don’t have the same circumstances. In the long run, we’ll all complete our journey astounded at where we’ve arrived. Will you look back and rejoice over having survived the potholes? It’s worth it, I promise.

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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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