Coping Skills #11 - Taking a Chance

Robin Cunningham Health Guide

    Before you read this blog, please reread my blog posted on May 4, 2008 entitled "Be Prepared for Failure, But Don't Settle for It."  Also read Christina Bruni's comment on that blog.


    "Taking a chance" involves deliberately undertaking risk.  After everything that those of us with schizophrenia have gone through and still must deal with on a daily basis, I think that most of us, if asked to voluntarily take on more risk, would respond with an emphatic - "No thank you."  After already "being at risk" because of our illness, why would we deliberately subject ourselves to additional risk?  The choice seems like a "no-brainer."  But is it?

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    It's my experience that consumers who've fought long and hard just to get into recovery, tend to be more patient, understanding and compassionate when dealing with others, whether these others have borne the burden of our illness or not.  Those in recovery are often wise beyond their years.  Why is this so?  I think it's precisely because we, even in recovery, remain at risk and have had no choice but to face this risk head on.  My first psychiatrist and I were talking about this whole subject at the beginning of my senior year in high school when he issued a challenge.


    At the pinnacle of the social stratum in my high school reigned the "soc's."  The name was derived from the fact that these students belonged one social club or another.  Membership was by invitation only.  These clubs were trying to mimic the fraternities and sororities in universities across the country.


    When I entered high school I was actively psychotic and displayed very demonstrative operant behaviors that simply could not be ignored by anyone in my vicinity.  I redefined the term "super-nerd," pushing the boundaries of nurdiness to the extreme.  Throughout high school, my psychiatrist and I tried every new medication when it was introduced, identifying what worked best for me at any given time.  Because of this continuing search for effective medications, coupled with my psychiatrist's invaluable therapy, my condition slowly improved over my high school years until, in my senior year, I actually blended into the rest of the student body.


    My psychiatrist had insisted over the years that I could become anything I wanted, but to achieve my desires, I would have to undertake some measure of risk.  I began to wonder about his sanity when he challenged me to become a "soc."  Even with his coaching, I was'nt certain this could be done.  In fact, I was quite certain that it would be impossible for me to do so, and my failure would again subject me to ridicule and torment from my classmates.  But when he bet me $5.00 at 5/1 odds that I would succeed, my greed overcame my fears.  The whole affair was rather odd because I was betting that I would fail, i.e., I was betting against myself.  Although I could have thrown the bet, my pride would not let me do so.


    To get me started on this adventure, he recommended that for two weeks I closely  observe the nature of the soc's interactions.  Then I was to begin dressing, talking and acting precisely as they did, including the use of their signature dance step at Friday night school dances.


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    When I started to dress like and mimic the actions of the soc's, it created a social firestorm.  The soc's ridiculed me and did everything they could to make me stop, but they couldn't.  For the soc's, my actions were clearly an embarrassing and intolerable usurpation of the very devises they used to distinguish themselves.  This sort of thing had never happened before and they simply didn't know what to do.


    To make a long story short, by midterm, much to my amazement, I had received invitations to join from two of the more prestigious soc clubs.  Having dealt with the soc's, I found I didn't like them very much, especially their attitudes, trivial ideals and phony superiority.  I turned down the invitations and rejoined my real friends, i.e., the nerds.  This was a most embarrassing event for the soc's.  It seems I made them look as foolish as they were.


    Among my friends, the nerds, who had been ridiculed by the soc's for years, I had suddenly become a folk hero.  They formed a loose and uncomfortable coalition just long enough to elect me to the student council.


    My psychiatrist and this experiment convinced me that a lot more was possible for me than I had ever imagined.

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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: May 25, 2008