On Mental Illness: Delusions of Grandeur

Jack Bragen
Tuesday March 08, 2011 - 10:49:00 PM

I remember from better than twenty years ago, an encounter with a counselor in a psychiatric hospital who said: “Hi Jack. Have you written any Pulitzer Prize winning novels lately?” A few years later, another counselor commented that I have a better chance of trying out for a professional basketball team than I have at becoming a professional writer. (I am five foot six.) 

While I have not yet reached a commercially successful point in my writing endeavors; that isn’t the point--I am being told by people (who are paid to help) that I don’t have the ability to succeed. They can not safely assume this. 

Another counselor, in the mid- 1980‘s, when I was nineteen years old, wrote in my “progress log” that I had not yet realized I am unable to work. Within a year and a half of that I became an apprentice TV repair technician, and was later assistant manager of the same TV repair shop. I went on to do numerous odd jobs including pizza delivery, recycling clerk, stock clerk, and data processor. I am able to work some of the time if the environment isn‘t hostile and when the work tasks aren‘t overwhelming. 

I am angry, long-term, because many counselors seem to gain something from ridiculing our efforts. Delusions of Grandeur go away when you give up on the idea, or else, when the goal is achieved and it can no longer be called a delusion. 

Even as recently as a year ago, a mental health professional who I usually trust, claimed I have delusions of grandeur concerning my writing. He thought I ought to attend their partial hospital program so that I could give up on these unrealistic ideas. I tried his suggestion, and in the process realized I wasn’t going to give up my dreams for the sake of making a mental health professional happy. 

While most counselors whom I have met have been fairly supportive of my efforts in life, a few bad apples find it necessary to plant seeds of doubt. My wife, who has a bachelor’s degree, was sent to training to become a motel maid by a counselor at a government agency, Department of Rehabilitation. The same agency tried to foist on me working as a laborer, even though I have done electronic repair in the past, and was good at it. 

Delusions of grandeur? Sometimes a person with mental illness says they would like to become a doctor and help other people who are like themselves. Usually, when such a thing is said, it isn’t taken seriously, and the psychiatric professional will presume that it is fictitious talk generated by symptoms. Yet, there are some persons with psychiatric or other disabilities who do become doctors. They aren’t taken seriously until there is a likelihood of getting all the way through medical school. I have met more than one persons who have a psychiatric illness who became a doctor. Often it is hard for them to work in their field, partly because of the pressures of the job, and also because of discrimination. 

I have also met persons with mental illness who have become PhD psychologists, civil engineers, stock brokers, small business owners and practitioners of other professions. Patrick J. Kennedy is a member of the US House of Representatives who suffers from bipolar illness. Abe Lincoln was said to have had some type of mental breakdown prior to becoming President. 

Certainly, some ideas that people have are going to be unrealistic. To know if an idea is achievable, one must look at a goal in terms of what is required to achieve it, and compare this to what resources, aptitudes and abilities one has. In the modern world, certain goals have become more achievable than they once were with the advent of online universities. There is a percentage of students who might not be able to deal with the physical environment of college but who can deal with the material being presented. 

People should not automatically be considered incapable because they have a mental health diagnosis. Delusions of grandeur are nothing more than a heckler saying, “You can’t do it.” It would be better if unproven aspirations weren’t treated as a symptom. If only more people would focus on their own success rather than expending their energy on putting someone else down…