"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
March 14, 2014
Setting Limitations on Ourselves and Others
by Sarah Hancock

I sit here wondering how many people put limitations on themselves because they listen to the concerned people in the world.

When I was really sick, people frequently told me that I couldn’t do things. For 12 years I listened. I didn’t shake the boat. Consequently, any confidence in my abilities and willingness to try something slowly withered until I honestly believed that I couldn’t do anything.

I thought that no matter what I did, nothing would change. It’s called “learned helplessness,” but I call it “living pathetically.” I became so willing to listen to the well-intentioned advice of those around me (determined to protect me from getting more and more sick) that I began to believe everything they said.

No, I couldn’t do this; it might be too stressful. No, I’d better not go there; it might bring up bad memories. No, I’d better not try to continue my education; doing so would cause me to become overwhelmed.

Anything that might propel me forward would overwhelm me, and I’d end up in the hospital or institution. Even the most supportive people in my life became determined to discourage my efforts. I’d better not try, because I could fail.

As a young girl, my parents bought me a blue bike from a garage sale on the way home from my grandparents’ house. It had big U-shaped handlebars with a long, white banana seat. It was probably two or three times the size of a kid’s bike; I could barely touch the pedals with my toes, if I sat on the very front end of the seat. I was thrilled.

My father didn’t believe in training wheels. In the evenings, after work, Dad ran up and down the cul-de-sac with me, holding my bike upright by the back of the seat. I pedaled. He coaxed. I pedaled. He cheered. I pedaled. He let go. I rode by myself, turned to share in my excitement, realized he wasn’t there and face-planted into the asphalt.

I really don’t remember the details of that event, but I know it was a significant one in my young life. Why? I got back on the bike.

I’m sure it took additional reassuring, coaching and coaxing from dad, but I can proudly say that today I enjoy riding a bike. I’ve even been known to mountain bike. I rode a bike on my mission — in a dress.

There’s no way I could have done any of that, if my dad hadn’t encouraged me to get back on that blasted bike after we dug the grime, dirt and rocks from my scraped knees, hands, arms and face during my first attempt to ride alone.

Living with mental illness is much the same way. It can come on gradually or suddenly, but however it manifests itself, the person with the mental illness can and hopefully will find the coping skills and strategies to live successfully. What’s vital is the encouragement from self and others — people who kindly and lovingly help pick us up, dust us off and encourage us to get back on our proverbial bike.

Not allowing us the opportunity to stretch ourselves is like discouraging us from even looking at or dreaming about riding that bike. Sure, the bike might be too big at the moment, but that doesn’t mean we won’t grow into it.

I really like President Uctdorf’s talk, “You Can Do It Now” from last October’s conference. He illustrated my point beautifully when he said, “There may be times in our lives when rising up and continuing on may seem beyond our own ability.... Even when we think we cannot rise up, there is still hope. And sometimes we just need someone to look us in the eyes, take our hand, and say, ‘You can do it now!’”

For those with mental illness, family members, leaders and providers, wrapping people in bubble wrap so tightly that they cannot move, doesn’t allow them to try new things, test the waters and see what it’s like to move forward.

Yes, we might fail. We might even fail miserably. But let me assure you, there is some dignity in failure. At least it allows us the opportunity to do a self evaluation and determine what might need to be done to strengthen strengths and build upon abilities.

If we can learn from something, is it really failing? President Uctdorf continued, saying, “Our destiny is not determined by the number of times we stumble but by the number of times we rise up, dust ourselves off, and move forward.” That goes for anyone, not just someone with mental illness.

After all, who knows when you’ll see your dream bike at a garage sale.


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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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