"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
April 11, 2014
The Ability to Change
by Sarah Hancock

When I was first diagnosed with my illness, I felt relieved that there was a reason for my inability to control certain things in my life. It explained my inability to sleep, my inability to slow my thoughts down. It explained how my brain could play tricks on all five of my senses, why I felt, saw, smelled and heard things that others couldn’t.

It explained the intense mood swings that seemed to pop up out of nowhere. It explained the lack of energy, nonexistent motivation and heavy darkness that clouded my understanding of life in general. I felt relieved to know that it wasn’t my fault. I had a severe chronic illness that left me debilitated. The medications I’ve used caused an additional smorgasbord of symptoms out of my personal control.

In short, I gradually began to give up trying to fight it and gave in to the overwhelming existence my life had become. I was sick. It was chronic. Even the best medications weren’t helping me. There was nothing I could do to change my circumstances, so why try?

For years I watched as my ability to take control of my symptoms slowly deteriorated. Mental illness is weird that way. I was broken and flawed. It’s just the way I was. I resigned myself to a fate worse than death. I lived in a temporal outer darkness.

What made it worse was that those who provided me with mental health services, my family and those who used to be my friends and associates ascribed all that I did — not measuring up to their standard of “normal” — to my illness. They too believed that my illness was something that I could not escape.

When everyone around me blamed my illness for my behavior, emotions and responses to external stimuli, it only reiterated that that was just how I was. There was nothing that could be done about it short of taking my medication on a religious basis and trying to live my life as best I could — given my circumstances.

In the summer of 2011, I took a class called Peer Employment Training from an organization called Recovery Innovations. I retook and completed the class this past January.

In this class, the teacher introduced a phrase to me that I often silently repeat and vocally use with others who walk in my shoes. “Until now.” Every time a class member made a limiting statement on themselves or others, the entire class would shout together, “Until now!”

“I haven’t been able to move past my symptoms — until now.”

“My doctors won’t listen to me — until now.”

“I can’t get a job — until now.”

“I have no friends — until now.”

“I’ve always gotten sick in stressful situations — until now.”

“I was never able to complete my education — until now.”

“Because of my illness, I’ve been homeless — until now.”

“Medications have never worked — until now.”

In the recent general conference, Elder Ronald L. Hallstrom spoke of this principle when he said, “Once any of us conclude, ‘That’s just the way I am,’ we give up our ability to change.” 

I am an agent of change. I can alter my future. The teacher of that class taught me that regardless of what had happened in my past, it was up to me to do something about my life ahead.

True, there were many things I couldn’t do on my own, but I had to be the instigator. I had to be the one who determined that just because that’s how things were, they didn’t have to stay that way. It was my job to figure out how to change my life. I am the expert on living with my illness. I am the expert of my own life. I am the expert on what I want my life to become.

Since that class, I’ve become that expert. No longer do I allow my life to happen, wallowing in the “woe’s me” quagmire. Now when symptoms occur, I have an action plan. I take charge. I believe in myself.

As I’ve strengthened my ability to deal with my symptoms, they no longer have the power to render me useless. When extreme stressors trigger overwhelming symptoms, I use my Wellness Recovery Action Plan, get back on my feet, dust myself off and move forward.

Things that once took me months, if not years to overcome, take me hours and sometimes days to do so. Even still, I overcome.


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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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