Oftentimes, you hear the phrase “Follow your heart and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.” It’s something that has been embedded into our culture. You see it all over the media. It has become the cliché answer for many famous athletes, musicians, actors, etc. to give when asked about what advice they have to those who want to pursue their dreams. While it may be good advice in certain respects, it can also be dangerous. I believe there is a fine line between doing what you feel is right and listening to others. While my case may be more extreme or unique than some, it is still something to consider.
In the most recent manic phase I had last year, I would tell you I was doing not just fine, but great, when asked. I had lost a lot of weight, I was feeling optimistic all the time, was on my way to grad school in California. What could possibly be wrong? So, when many family members and friends expressed concern, I was quite honestly baffled. I thought maybe some were just jealous at my amazing transformation. How I went from depressed to on top of the world so quickly. They don’t know every detail, they don’t see everything that is going on, I thought to myself. I became angry when anyone said anything to me that contrasted with my point of view.
In my mind, I was just following my heart. I was doing what I thought was right, and not giving a care what others thought. Where did that get me? Well, as I detailed before, it got me to the point where I was both physically and emotionally spent, exhausted from a lot of trips from here to there, usually not getting great quality sleep along the way.
Finally, I started to realize that maybe others were right. Maybe my “heart” was actually leading me astray. I had fallen into the trap set by the people I looked up to. Anyone who says they “made it” without the help of anyone, without listening to advice from others, is lying. Too often, it seems more dramatic and amazing if a musician, or athlete, or anyone, paints the picture that they made it to where they are by “silencing all the haters” and doing things their way. You see, the idea that your heart will never lead you the wrong way is, quite honestly, not true, especially for people with mental illnesses.
Perhaps I am, as I said, an extreme example of how taking this advice too far can be dangerous. However, I am not here to say that pursuing a passion is always a bad thing. I have a passion for writing, for example, and am following it by writing this blog. The difference between this and the other things I “pursued” is that I am not worrying others by doing it. Rather, I have received a great amount of support and am grateful for that.
Yes, you may have to make sacrifices to do things that you want to do, to make your goals a reality, yet the idea that “people who criticize you just don’t get you” is not really the best advice. If you are leaving friends and family in the dust because you are pursuing your dreams, following your heart to the promised land, maybe it is time to rethink things a little bit. Is it really worth it to turn yourself into an island? It is possible that all these “haters” really do have a point. Most of the time, people who speak out, especially those that know you, are speaking from a place of concern and care, not because they are jealous and are trying to bring you down.
I am all for going after things, for taking risks and shooting for the stars. With my life’s mission unclear at this point, I find myself trying to listen more to others. Trying to take advice from others more seriously. The main point I am trying to make here is that nobody can become anything alone. In my opinion, the notion of individuality, the idea that you need to be unique and make a name for yourself by yourself, is one that has been taken too far.
This brings me to the flip side of the advice of not listening to anyone else. Another cliché is that “nobody can do anything alone.” While this advice can be dangerous as well, as you don’t want to depend too much on others, it is probably closer to the truth than “follow your heart and disregard the opinions of others.”
As I said before in blogs, I did have an attitude that I was taking on the world by myself. Let me tell you, it can be quite exhausting. It drains all your energy to constantly feel like you are defending yourself, trying to explain why you’re right and they’re wrong. It makes it especially difficult if you are doing this with close family and friends.
I was thinking of how I was going to build a life for myself, trying to draw inspiration from musicians, athletes, anyone, who I felt had made a success story by themselves. However, I didn’t really consider that these musicians had teachers growing up, that they had family who believed in them, and ultimately a record label to sign them, fans to support them, and radios to play their songs. Athletes always had coaches and numerous family members/friends to help them along the way.
This last paragraph may seem silly to some. You may have read it and thought “Well, duh, isn’t it obvious that you need support of others to achieve your goals?” Yes, it is obvious to many. However, when you’re caught up in the moment, in the midst of the worst period of a mental illness, things like that aren’t really so obvious. What is obvious to you is your world, your reality. That reality, however, is skewed by your brain chemistry, something you can’t control.
I guess this whole experience has made me more sensitive to others with mental illnesses. I certainly see how you can be caught up in your own world. No matter how much people try to tell you otherwise, you feel you’re right and they’re wrong. When people laugh and call others “crazy”, I think of how they may be suffering from some type of mental illness that they can’t control without the help of professionals or maybe medication. The catch 22 and sad part of all this, and the challenge to getting people to take the medication or see a professional, is that oftentimes people can’t see what may be off, just as I couldn’t when I was caught up.
Now, that last paragraph could become a whole post on its own, but I think it’s time to wrap things up. Like I said in the beginning, my case may not be an ordinary one of how not listening to others can go awry. However, I think it can apply to anyone. It can be little things, like if people are always telling you to try doing a simple little thing differently. Or if your mom is always on you, telling you not to wait until the last minute to do your homework. You see, I think anyone can benefit from trying to listen to the advice of others more, rather than trying to tackle the world head on by themselves. It is possible, maybe even probable, that the world would be a better place that way.
On a side note: This ended up being the longest post I have made so far. Before writing it, I was struggling to even find the words to say anything. I didn’t have some big inspiration I may have had in other posts. So, if you want to do something, sometimes the biggest thing is just taking the first step and then letting the pieces fall as they may.