It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. I’m in the process of raising money for a mission trip to Kenya. There are several obstacles, but I’m guardedly optimistic (How Not to Expect Too Much From Yourself). This opportunity–and the challenge that comes with it–made me think about healthy goals and reasonable expectations when recovering from mental illness. I’ve come to three conclusions.
It Costs Nothing to Dream, So Aim High
On the surface, my dream is impossible. But that’s part of the challenge–taking an impossible task and making it possible. “Anything in the world that can be done, you can do it, if you just want to do it badly enough,” my high school English teacher told us. It costs nothing to dream, so aim high.
But, as the song in Les Miserables says, “There are tigers in the night.” Life has a strange way of killing our dreams, especially as we age. Life slowly gets us down, and we become hardened. We stop dreaming. This is especially true when a person has mental illness and is in recovery from mental illness. We give up (What Happens When Your Dream Seems to Die?).
My pastor in Texas was fond of saying “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” He would then explain that the first time we did something, we were terrible at it. But as we kept at our task, we improved, and eventually succeeded in doing it. Our problem was not inability or lack of talent, but that we gave up too soon.
Recovering from mental illness proves this. When we’re first diagnosed with mental illness, we have no idea how to live our lives with the diagnosis. We make mistakes, some of them very big ones. But as time goes on, we learn to live with our diagnoses. We adjust our goals according to our ability. We adapt and evolve. That’s what recovery is–adapting and evolving when faced with disadvantage.
What are your recovery expectations? Are you practicing healthy goal setting? Set them and work like a dog to meet them (How to Set Goals That Work for You).
Reasonable Expectations and Mental Illness
This may sound unusual given what I just said, but dreams don’t come true without a lot of hard work. Create reasonable expectations about your goals when recovering from mental illness. Don’t give in to unrelenting standards.
For example, my dream of going to Africa is going to take a passport, vaccinations, and funds. I start by researching passport costs on the State Department’s web site, then go to the post office to apply and have my photo taken, then pay my passport fee (which I thankfully already have the money for). That’s step one of my goal. Next, I check with the Centers for Disease Control to find out what shots I need. Next, I get the shots at my doctor’s office. That’s step two. I also take on some extra work and apply for a grant to get the money for the trip. That’s step three.
A healthy goal always has a plan. An unrelenting standard is built on assumptions. A healthy goal adapts and evolves according to the situation. An unrelenting standard simply assumes that things are going to be a certain way come Hell or high water. A healthy goal is achievable. An unrelenting standard is not.
How does this apply to mental illness recovery? It all comes down to self-acceptance. If you can accept yourself as you are, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, you can set healthy goals. If you can’t accept yourself, then you’ll suffer from unrelenting standards and unrealistic goals. We need to love ourselves to set healthy goals.
Create Reasonable Expectations and Find Peace Regardless of the Results
This is the gold standard of recovery: are we content with what happens?
A healthy goal can accept failure to meet the goal. An unrelenting standard sees a blocked goal as a personal failure. A healthy goal can move on when things don’t go our way. An unrelenting standard gnaws at our souls. A healthy goal finds peace regardless of the results. An unrelenting standard is not satisfied even when everything goes our way.
While I really want to go to Kenya, I can accept the fact that it might not happen due to the obstacles in my way. That’s okay. Not getting the money to go to Kenya is not a reflection on my character. It’s not going to make anybody love me less. It’s not the end of the world.
Dream big, work hard, create reasonable expectations, build healthy goals, and accept yourself–both in life and in mental illness recovery.