Coping Skill #7 - Never Let Anyone Tell You What You Are or Are Not Capable of Accomplishing

Robin Cunningham Health Guide
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    This coping skill is a derivative, or corollary, of my last blog about setting our own goals.

     

    Stories abound about athletes who accomplish the "impossible."  The prospect of seeing old records broken and new ones set is part of the thrill of watching the Olympics.  I find myself transfixed when figure skating and gymnastics are being shown because triumph or tragedy can occur at any moment.  Following these sports is often painful for me when I think about the fact that, after honing their skills with demanding schedules of practice for years, after giving up a normal teenage life for their sport, the slightest slip in a short routine can destroy an athlete's prospects of winning a medal.

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    Urban legends about ordinary people doing extraordinary things in a moment of crisis are fascinating.  The story of a mother picking one end of a car to free her child who is pinned beneath has special relevance for me because I actually witnessed such an event.

     

    The obvious pride of competitors in the Special Olympics, where mentally challenged children of all ages pour their hearts into the games and receive well deserved recognition for finishing an event is heart-warming.

     

    Hearing accounts of the long and hard struggle of soldiers that have learned to walk again after losing a leg is inspirational, as are the achievements of those with brain injuries that have had to learn to speak, read and write all over again.

     

    Those of us with schizophrenia know as much about struggle and frustration as anyone.  Our challenges are mental, emotional and often physical.  The "competition" for us is every day from the time we awaken in the morning until we fall asleep at night.  When anxiety strikes we can't sleep; when depression weighs down upon us we can't stay awake.  The side effects of the medications we take often cause continuous discomfort and sometimes substantial threats to our physical well-being.  Stigma discourages many from seeking help and belittles those of us that do.  Although significant gains have been made in educating the public, stigma is likely to continue, in one form or other, to be a problem for years to come.

     

    If this sounds like a pity party, let me assure you that it's not.

     

    What all of this means for those of us with mental illness is that, with the assistance of family, friends and providers, or sadly sometimes despite them, we need to be as self reliant as possible.  That's asking a lot, and probably far too much, of a person who is in the middle of a severe mental health crisis.  But for those of us in recovery it may be the key to staying in recovery.

     

    I think self reliance for those of us with mental illness needs to be gauged each day in comparison with where we were the day before.  Goals must be determined in consideration of where we are, and where we want to be.  But if we don't compete with others and set our own goals, we can, from day to day, become more and more self reliant.

     

  • Unfortunately, providers, who most often see us when we are at our worst, can sometimes be spoilers.  On occasion, they may be willing to settle for a measure of stability.  Is the phrase - "you have to accept the fact that you have a disability and will never realize the goals that you set for yourself before you became ill" - familiar to you?  This may be true for some our old ambitions, but certainly not all of them, and probably not for those most important to us.  The truth is, we are the only ones who can determine which of those old ambitions are the ones we still want to achieve, and are, to us, still worth the struggle to do so, even though these might now require a much greater effort on our part to succeed.  I know that my goals, and approaches to accomplishing these, have changed dramatically over the fifty years that I have had schizophrenia, and that these goals and approaches will continue to change as I continue to struggle with this mental illness.

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    So, measure your progress against where you were the day before and not against what other people have accomplished.  After listening to the advice of others you trust and who understand your situation, including your psychiatrist and therapist, decide for yourself what you are, and are not, capable of achieving, then challenge yourself by setting your own goals.  If you remain compliant and work hard at this, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish.  The old adage that states "nothing ventured, nothing gained," is particularly apropos to those of us in recovery.

     

    One of the most important gifts my first psychiatrist gave me was to never tell me there were things I couldn't accomplish.  He did say that some things might be more difficult for me to do, and that others might be very difficult, but he never told me there was anything I couldn't do.  I figured out for myself that I would never become a rocket scientist or get elected President of the United States.

     

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    Please remember, this writing reflects my own experience and opinions.  If you, or a loved one, are experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia, or any other mental illness, you should seek professional assistance.

     

     

Published On: April 27, 2008