Defining Success

Elyn Saks, the J.D. law professor who has schizophrenia and wrote a memoir, is billed as a “celebrity.”

I find it curious that people revere a person who has ongoing major episodes simply because she kept going on numerous drug holidays that failed. She might have obtained degrees from Oxford and Yale yer her family did little else to support her as a younger person.

The reason I talk about this now, the reason I wrote about intrinsic motivators, is because I don’t think the goal is for everyone to become a superstar. I’m not impressed with other people’s on-paper remarkable achievements when they have to live with symptoms every day.

Getting the right treatment right away could enable a person to live symptom-free. I’m not a fan of having to live with symptoms. Most people with ongoing symptoms might not be able to do what Elyn Saks can do so this is another reason her story doesn’t impress me.

The focus on achieving external markers of success (husband and kids, picket fence life, Ivy League pedigree) didn’t appeal to me as a young woman and it doesn’t interest me now.

I want to write about this here because in keeping with the last blog entry I want to limn that traditional markers of success aren’t the only valid accomplishments that anyone should covet claiming, whether or not you have a mental illness.

Each of us can get to the top of our own staircase yet the room on the other side must have a view of the kind of life we’ve expressed is personally meaningful for us. For you, it could be an M.D. For another person, it could be having a career as a chef. Yet another person might want to work at Rite Aid part-time while he collects SSI.

Our family members, others in society, would be wise to champion us in our goals and dreams, as hard as this can be when we’re first starting out and might have reached a plateau. I quoted the professor two months ago in here who said a person who reaches a plateau can then go on to be successful.

Define what success looks like to YOU. Nevermind what others in society think it should look like for you. Nevermind what others in society can achieve.

I’ll end here by confessing I was just as guilty of being skeptical of a young woman who didn’t immediately set out to get a job after she graduated college. A year later she applied to library school and is going to be quite successful in a non-traditional career.

I was just like her when I graduated college: I was a free spirit who didn’t relish the thought of being chained to a desk in a cubicle.

Thus my contention that using only traditional markers of success to define a person’s potential is not right, especially for a person with a mental illness who had a harder stair to climb.

I’m not a special person either. I’m just a person who survived the hell of a mental health system ill-equipped to help a young person like I was in 1987.

I decided I wanted to act as a cheerleader today because back then I had no one on my side except my close-knit family and my private therapist and private doctor.

I fought to create a better life for myself. The stair was steep. And it’s why I cheer on everybody now, circa 2014: it’s too late in the history of psychiatry for providers to keep reinforcing to patients that they won’t be able to do the things they want to in life.

Each of us can do the things we want to in life.

It starts when we stop chasing what other people have and decide to work towards our own version of success.

I have no doubt that the young woman who decided to go to library school will be successful.
I have no doubt that people with schizophrenia and other mental illnesses can be successful.

Dare to Dream. Take the stairs, one step at a time. There is no elevator to success for anyone. That’s the point. It’s not about what’s on the other side. It IS about “the climb.”

(Cue the Miley Cyrus song lyrics.)

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