ON MENTAL ILLNESS: Pursuing Goals Wisely

Jack Bragen
Friday June 28, 2019 - 05:31:00 PM

Many people who suffer with delusional thinking due to psychiatric illness may have chosen paths that will not work in fulfilling their expectations. There are numerous possible reasons for this. If the thought processes are not "tracking reality," it impacts the ability to chart a course in life. The same absence of tracking impacts functioning in numerous areas of life. 

The thinking of someone afflicted by delusions may include unrealistic pictures of our capabilities, and unrealistic pictures of what it will be like to try to follow through on the goals they've chosen. Working in an office is harder than imagining working in an office. And while working in an office is often attainable and not grandiose, I am using it as a simple example of how doing something is harder than imagining doing something. 

Here's an example of something grandiose: If you are thinking of running for public office, it is a goal that some affluent and successful members of the community have considered. Some people, mentally ill or not, who tend toward delusions of grandeur, could have difficulty understanding why being elected to public office, for them, is unattainable. 

(On the other hand, there have been people with mental health problems who've been in public office, including Abraham Lincoln and JFK.)  

There are many goals that are out of reach for average or moderately above average individuals who do not have a psychiatric condition. Yet, having a mental illness does not rule out achieving goals. On the other hand, it is important to identify and release delusions of grandeur when choosing a goal. 

There is no hard and fast rule about what goals a person ought to choose. Just because most people don't believe you can do a thing, it doesn't mean they're right about it. 

In the 1980's I had a career of doing electronic repair. At the time, treatment practitioners believed that was extraordinary. But there were some instances where I involved mental health practitioners in my career efforts, and this never worked. In those situations, my treatment at the jobs was demeaning. The treatment people who became involved put it across that the employer was going to hire an impaired person rather than a qualified job candidate. 

Deciding who you are, what you are, how you think, and what you think, can be kept in your own domain. Although many persons with mental illness are in restricted living situations, and although we are subject to mind-restricting, prescribed substances, we may still have the potential to define ourselves and not let others define us. 

Yet, we need to temper our aspirations of greatness with a realistic self-assessment. We must also assess what is needed to reach the goals that we would like to reach. If the two assessments don't coincide, maybe aiming a little lower or differently will get us on the mark. 

Another thing: Goals should not be obsessive, to the point of putting all of our emotional eggs in one basket. When we are obsessive about a goal and then, when we see that it won't happen, we've set ourselves up for a massive letdown, one that can have bad results. 

The realism we incorporate could be based on how things turn out for most people who are doing the same thing. 

There are some pursuits that are destined to fail from the beginning. If we want to be a salesperson in multilevel marketing, we would do well to research that. Most "multilevel marketing," or pyramid companies, make a profit because of recruiting people who fork out money to participate, in the vain hope that they can earn money. 

When you choose a goal, you should do something that is worth doing, including when the hoped-for outcome is not reached. Going to school is an example. It is worthwhile to go to school and learn, regardless of whether it leads to a lucrative career. 

When something doesn't offer immediate gratification, but if it gets your foot in a door, and if it is worth doing--then why not? 

Plenty of people have unattainable goals. You don't need to be mentally ill to have them. Entire industries have been built on this. But maybe we should not give up on success too soon or too easily. 

Goals do not materialize because of how badly we might want them, and/or how badly we feel we deserve them. Goals have a chance to come about as the result of doing the work involved. 

Not trying to do anything is our only guarantee--of no results. 

Jack Bragen is author of "Understanding People with Schizophrenia," available on Amazon.