Don't say "Maybe you can't" Instead, say...


Why do we treat bipolar people the way that we do?

I know, I know: they have all these delusions of grandeur.

Delusions are bad. We want people to live in reality.

So when we see someone who has been mellow and quiet and probably depressed their entire life suddenly saying things like, “I could be President of the World if I wanted to. I know how to fix ALL THE THINGS,” we shake our heads and say, “Poor little crazy person. Here, take these pills and talk to this doctor. You’re not feeling well.”

But we shouldn’t be surprised that they don’t always go down without a fight. These are people who have known all their lives that they would never be great. That they could never change the world. That their ideas aren’t really that great—I mean, maybe they’re good, maybe they’re okay, but they’re not the best ideas anyone’s ever had. They believe that maybe they’re special, but they’re not really more special than anybody else, after all.

This is how they’ve been thinking all their lives, until one day, when they stand up and shout, “Why COULDN’T I change the world??? My ideas are actually pretty great. Maybe I could get Democrats and the Republicans to cooperate. Maybe I could end some of the suffering in the world in the process . . .”

At which point, their friends and family start shaking their heads and saying, “Poor thing. You’re obviously not feeling well. You can’t be that great. Your ideas aren’t good enough. Thinking that they are good enough is obviously a delusion. Here, take this pill and listen to the nice doctor. We want you to feel better.”

I just wish that all the normal, non-delusional people in the world could understand just how devastating it is to be the person who is being told to go back to “normal” after suddenly feeling better than they’ve ever felt in their life. We really don’t need people telling us to sit down and be quiet because our ideas might not be good enough. The problem is that we already KNOW that our ideas probably aren’t good enough. We already KNOW that we might fail. We’ve been telling ourselves we’re not good enough for years and years and years.

Maybe what we need in that moment is for someone to say, “Hallelujah. Finally, someone who knows how to fix the world. Please, by all means, fix it.”

What is everyone so afraid of? The worst thing that could happen is that we would fail. Well, that certainly is going to happen anyway if we don’t try, isn’t it? Why not encourage us to try to fix the world while we still believe we can?

I bet there were plenty of people who were telling Mother Theresa that she couldn’t bring peace to the earth. I bet there were plenty of people who told her that she could never help enough people to make her cause worth it. I bet there were plenty of people who tried to discourage her from trying. The reason I’m so sure there were people who tried to discourage her is that people discouraging others from becoming great is a pretty universal thing.

Here are some of the reasons I think we discourage people from trying to be great:
1) We don’t want them to get hurt. Failing hurts, so we try to discourage them ahead of time so they don’t have to feel the pain of failing.
2) We have already tried to do a similar thing and were unable to be successful. So we discourage people from trying since we already know from personal experience that it doesn’t work.
3) We’re afraid that they will run off to try to save the world and leave behind their responsibilities at home.

There are probably more, but these are the main ones I’ve come up with for now.

1) Failing hurts.
Addressing the first point—like I said earlier, why not let them try and fail? Every person who has ever achieved anything great has universally failed first before succeeding. Michael Jordan didn’t achieve a slam dunk on his first try. He was probably a few feet too short to even dream of slam dunking a basketball the first time he tried. Thomas Edison failed something close to a thousand times trying to invent the light bulb. I am one hundred percent certain that people told him to quit trying, that he could never make it work. I think the entire world is grateful he didn’t listen to those discouraging voices.

There were many people who said a black man could never become President of the United States. I’m sure plenty of people told Barak Obama not to try. There are admittedly people who still wish he hadn’t tried. But whether you agree with his politics or not, you have to admit, he achieved something that many people believed was utterly impossible. I say, that’s downright inspiring.

2) They have already tried and failed.
On to the second point: people discourage us from trying because they have tried something similar and have failed. They are thinking about how much failing hurt them, and they are trying to save us from making a similar mistake.

My mom, for instance, tried to get in to see President Monson at one point. She was pretty sure such a thing was possible, because she knew him personally and she was sure that he would remember her. I, for one, am positively convinced that he does remember her, and I think he would be glad to have a chance to see her if he can find time in his schedule. She was told that it, in fact, was not possible. So when I, in my manic phase, started saying that I thought it would be possible to get in to see President Monson, she discouraged me from trying. She had tried and failed, and she was trying to save me the time and trouble and disappointment of doing the same thing. I don’t blame her a bit for this.

At the same time, I still think I could get in to see him, especially if I promised to bring my mom along. I think he would be happy to catch up with her after all these years. I am still determined to try. I have composed a letter. I am planning to hand deliver the letter to the church office building and make them promise to hand deliver it to the prophet. I am planning to invite him to arrange a time in his schedule to meet with my mom and me. I am not at all convinced that he will have the time or be able to do so, but I am convinced that if he does have the time, he will want to meet with us. This is crazy talk, of course. Why would the prophet care about us, some of the obscure, regular people of the church? And yet, if you know anything about President Monson, you will know that the obscure, regular people of the church are the people he loves the most.

I might fail. I admit that this would be discouraging. I also know, however, that not trying will guarantee a discouraging failure, and so I am going to try anyway.

3) We have responsibilities.
On to the third point, I can understand that our loved ones are afraid that with all these delusions of grandeur, we are going to leave behind our responsibilities. For those people like me who are single parents, it is especially scary for our friends and family to think that we might fill our head with delusions of grandeur to the point that we forget our responsibilities at home.

My dad, for instance, has some delusions of grandeur of his own. He’s never been diagnosed as bipolar, maybe because he has never let anyone discourage him to the point that he goes in cycles between mania and depression. He has charged ahead with his goal to solve Einstein’s Unified Field Theory despite the many discouraging voices around him. This is something not even Einstein could figure out. My dad, as opposed to Einstein, lives in an era where the amount of knowledge we have is exploding exponentially because of many factors, including the availability of information on the internet. I believe it is entirely possible that he could solve the Unified Field Theory if he had the resources he needs to prove his theories.

Because my dad is focused on doing great things, he often forgets the little things at home. This has caused many problems for him and those around him over the years. When I started acting a little bit crazy and delusional, I believe the people around me were worried that I would get so wrapped up in pursuing a pipe dream that I neglected my family at home. This is a legitimate concern.

I don’t think that that means we should bring bipolar people down to a depressed state. I believe when we stabilize a bipolar person, we are probably “stabilizing” them in a depressed state. They break out of it occasionally and we quickly help the cute little crazy person back down to “normal.” Maybe we should be aiming higher. Maybe we should help bring them down *just a little* to the point that we are sure they aren’t going to go around neglecting their families or doing anything crazy like trying to “fly” off a tall building. And then let them try to go be great anyway, even though they aren’t delusional anymore.

What I really want to know is, why do we have to tell bipolar people (or anyone who dreams of greatness, really) “maybe you can’t”? It means exactly the same thing as “maybe you can,” but is terribly depressing and deflating. Why don’t we instead say, “Maybe you can!!! Maybe you CAN change the world! Maybe you CAN do amazing, great things! Maybe you CAN fix the political mess in the United States! Maybe you CAN meet the Prophet in his office! Maybe you CAN homeschool your children using YouTube as your main information highway! Maybe you CAN dye a streak of blue in your hair and not regret it for years while you wait for it to grow out!”

Semantically, it means the exact same thing as “Maybe you CAN’T dye a streak of blue in your hair without regretting it for years!” but is so much more encouraging and heartening!

So even though this will sound like crazy talk, I’m going to say it anyway:
Maybe we CAN treat bipolar people like their ideas are great and still find a way to protect them from hurting themselves or others as we help stabilize them on their right medication. Maybe saying “Maybe we CAN” will change EVERYTHING!

Let’s try it.

Who’s with me?

I think we really CAN make a difference.