"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
October 24, 2014
Prove It
by Sarah Hancock

This past weekend I was the keynote speaker for NAMI San Diegoís annual Fall Fundraising Gala, The Color Ball. For me, preparing for The Color Ball was akin to preparing for my high school senior prom ó except this time I got to go with the man of my dreams. (Of course, when I was a teenager, I thought my high school sweetheart was the man of my dreams. Gratefully, I was wrong. I digress.)

Here I am, with the man of my dreams.

For weeks I agonized over what I should wear, where I would get a dress that fit, if my shoes would match, should I buy heels, if I should have someone do my hair and even what I was going to do about my nails.

If you know me, you know that this is simply not like me ó at all. Much to my motherís chagrin, she popped out a tomboy through and through. If I could get away with wearing cargo pants or blue jeans and a t-shirt every day, without make-up, I would.

For me getting ready means jumping out of bed, pulling my hair into a ponytail (my sweetie calls it my ďNinjaĒ) and running out the door. Like I said, I popped out that way. As a teenager, anyoneís attempt to alter my blasť manner of dress, was met with an eye-roll and a sigh. At least thatís how I remember it, which as we know, isnít saying much.

When I was really ill, doing much more than showering and putting on clothes was an extremely huge feat. For that reason, many people (mom, friends, nurses, case managers, doctors and hospital staff) always tried to persuade me to do my hair and put on some makeup.

They may as well have invited me to run a triple marathon in 20 minutes. It just wasnít happening. I didnít have the strength or energy, nor did I have the interest. My normal or ďbaselineĒ did not include a lot of hairspray, paint (whoops, I mean makeup) curling iron, or any type of delicate clothing.

Perhaps thatís why, when I was beginning to feel better, I started paying attention to my makeup and hair. In some corner of my brain, Iíd associated wearing makeup and doing my hair with being healthy.

In fact, when I moved out of that abusive group home, I had two pairs of pants, four t-shirts (with holes) and two skirts to my name. I had no makeup. I had no hair do-ing devices (other than my blow dryer and brush).

I had cut my hair down to a pixie cut years earlier because hospital staff arenít too keen on wasting their time staring at someone using a blow dryer on a locked unit where cords in general are frowned upon (along with shoelaces, drawstrings, ribbon bookmarks and anything of the like).

I think the pixie cut came along when I was stuck in an institution with 50 people and two showers and waiting in that shower line was simply too much effort. It was just so much easier to take care of my hair when it was an inch long ó especially when brushes were looked upon as weapons.

Iíve been out of the woods as far as my mental health is concerned for almost five years now. Gradually Iíve gathered clothing from stores and loving friends. My memory is really foggy as far as putting makeup on is concerned, so Iíve had several refresher courses.

Whenever I give presentations, Iím most particular about what I wear and how Iím done up, because part of me still believes that people wonít take me seriously if Iím not professionally polished. Although I know thatís true for any professional position, yet that 12 years of being discounted as the mentally ill person left me with the acute sense of people being extra aware of my looks.

After all, Iím used to being evaluated on an hourly basis as to whether or not I am stable ó and what, if anything, might indicate that I am not. Stigma is real. There are some people who regardless of how long theyíve known me, if they also know about my illness, it seems like they too are constantly evaluating my work or my enthusiasm in a biased way. Perhaps Iím just overly cautious.

In any case, the idea of standing before more than 150 people last weekend, and sharing my story about living with mental illness, really put me in acute awareness mode. I didnít want to do anything that would indicate I wasnít well. I didnít want to do anything that would give away my mental illness.

My poor sweetie was dragged along my harrowing adventure, constantly reassuring me that I was just fine and didnít need to prove anything to anyone ó but I still felt like I did.

Consequently I spent money on things I would have never dreamed of spending before. I got my nails and hair done. I bought a dress especially for the occasion and bought some shoes and nylons, too.

Now that I look back on it, I guess it was kinda funny to feel like I had to prove myself in a materialistic way. Iím grateful that I was blessed with amazing deals on everything ó except the shoes. Iím grateful that we had the money for those.

When all was said and done, I felt like a princess! I felt like I had the stuff to fool everyone. I donít know why I was so determined to ďfoolĒ everyone. I donít know why I wasnít okay with just going in a church dress with my hair pulled up in a bun.

I canít explain why part of me felt ashamed to be someone living with schizoaffective disorder, perhaps itís because part of me is still fighting that imaginary fight to prove myself as a human, since I wasnít treated as one for nearly 12 years. Who knows?

Iím happy to say that just like I made it through that awkward high school prom where all the self-conscious teenagers are hyper aware at how people look at them. Everything turned out perfectly for my keynote address and The Color Ball, too. I didnít even step on my sweetieís toes. Thank goodness! If youíd like to see the keynote address, check out http://youtu.be/Ifv47-Jxbg4.

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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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