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  • Susan Mader, MSSW, CPS

"I Can Tie My Shoe"

Updated: Jun 20, 2022

This is a reprint of a story from the book I wrote, “Give Me Hope” written in 1996 with some revisions. This is how I felt at the time. Today I can look back to all the successes I have in my lifetime.

Most people are born with a competitive nature and a drive to succeed. It is innate in us as human beings to strive to accomplish what we need in order to achieve a happy and successful life.

As a person with lived experience of mental illness, I’m no different. I have aspirations, hopes, and dreams too. I need to feel good about myself and proud of my accomplishments. But due to the nature of my condition, I can’t handle the stress load that comes with the high price of success. I need to scale down to realistic levels. I have to recognize that I’ll never be a brain surgeon, fighter pilot, or President of the United States. But I could be a good friend, sister, daughter, and most importantly, a good person.

A person with a mental health condition suffers a loss of potential, which in my opinion, is one of the most difficult resulting aspect of the illness. I can’t help but think about “what might have been” had I never come down with Schizophrenia. I attended college and graduated, but how can I compete in the real world with my colleagues who are “normal?”

A few days after being released from my hospitalization, I returned to college as a Senior. There, I began my long journey of recovery by making small successes every day.

As recommended by my doctor, I began individual therapy sessions with an on-campus psychologist. After evaluating my situation, we decided the most important link to my recovery would be by making “contacts” with other people. This would help me get back in touch with reality.

Throughout the school year, this was my number one recovery technique. At first, I needed to make one contact a day, by asserting myself enough to greet another with a “Hi” and smile. Every week I’d increase the quantity and quality of my daily contacts until I was making small talk, four to five times a day.

When I look back, I wonder how I made it through. To any other college student, my number one recovery technique would have seemed pretty sad. Especially to my outgoing school friends who were experts at the art of socialization. But for me, these small contacts were an important part of my recovery because each contact connected me with people and prevented me from complete isolation and withdrawal.

These contacts benefited me in many ways. For one, they allowed me to hold on to a sense of humor. It was a success if I could appreciate a good joke, crack a genuine smile and laugh. The art of listening to conversations helped me to focus and straighten out my muddled thinking. Maintaining eye contact with others helped me gain confidence in myself on the inside and outside.

Towards the end of my four week hospital stay, I had made two friends. We were in a therapy group together with other patients that met every afternoon. We all sat in a circle and shared one thing we accomplished that day. Well, on his turn, one member bowed his head and said “I can tie my shoe.” The rest of us laughed a little, but it was where he was at in his recovery, and if tying his shoe, an act so simple, gave him self confidence, well that’s the point.

I order to reach a self-satisfying level of recovery, which is a good goal to pursue, it is important to be proud of the small successes and to acknowledge them. Successes that may seem trivial to others are not to us.

When I first re-read this story from years ago, it struck me how much I felt about “Us and Them.” I have since changed this perspective. Otherwise, I thought this story showed great insight. I can acknowledge so many successes that I can't even count them!

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