|Parable of the Origami Bird|
|by Sarah Hancock|
This evening I had a simple, yet profound realization. It all began this morning when my work sent me to an origami class. I was to learn the folding, memorize the steps and return to my work. Upon returning, I was to teach others how to make an origami bird. We were learning how to make these origami birds to provide centerpieces for a recognition dinner.
I was promised the origami would be basic. Personally, I’m not the most coordinated person, nor do I have a good memory. The idea of being placed in charge of not only learning but then teaching something I was completely clueless about was kind of intimidating. And then I saw the finished product.
The “easy to make” origami swan.
It wasn’t exactly basic. Dismayed, I looked at that swan thinking, Ha! Right! I can’t do that. But the teacher assured us we could.
Sitting at the table, staring at this masterfully made paper swan, I seriously questioned whether I was up to the task. I just had to follow eight steps to fold a little triangle. I watched the teacher carefully, kept an eye on those sitting near me, and folded a teeny, tiny triangle. I started folding paper.
I’ll admit, I messed up a couple of times, folding paper in the wrong direction. When my shape started looking different from those around me, I tried to figure it out on my own and then asked my neighbor what I’d missed. He showed me.
I fixed the mixed-up step and finished making my little triangle. It was pretty easy. In fact, it was surprisingly easy. To make the swan, I had to fold 205 triangles. Initially the entire thing seemed pretty daunting, but one triangle at a time, the triangles became easier and easier to fold. I had no idea how to stick the triangles together to make that swan, but I had a growing pile of triangles.
I returned to my jobsite with this newfound knowledge, inviting people to join with me in making the swan. We’d been supplied with a multi-color assortment of tiny, rectangular pieces of paper. We could make our swan whichever color (or colors) we wanted.
Initially, people stared at me with that doubtful look in their eyes. (It was probably the exact same look I’d given the teacher earlier that morning.) There were some people who came right over, willing to try their paper-folding skills. Others just shook their head, mumbling they couldn’t do it. Those who were willing to give it go sat down with me and together we started folding paper.
Initially it was frustrating for some. Others picked up their teeny rectangles, folding them into perfect triangles on the first try. Some people gave up after a couple of confusing folds. Still others watched from a distance until after witnessing their peers do it, they came over and joined in the fun.
At first we celebrated each time someone followed a step correctly. Then as we got used to that, we started celebrating each completed triangle. Oddly enough, once having figured out how to fold the triangle, it became fun — relaxing even. Soon, carefully folded, multi-colored triangles began piling up. We felt pretty accomplished over having folded close to 100 triangles. Better than that, we felt unified in purpose. Our goal, folding enough papers into a beautiful swan, seemed achievable.
Often times in life we are told to make the proverbial origami bird. I’ll liken this ornately folded bird to living with a mental illness. Initially (upon experiencing symptoms or getting a diagnosis), a person will stare dumbfounded at the scattered shreds of paper, wondering how on earth she could ever make anything good out of it. Perhaps a loved one or child was just diagnosed with a disorder and you find yourself sitting in the doctor’s office, stupefied. In your mind’s eye, all hopes and dreams for your loved one seem shredded and lying scatted before you. Maybe you wonder, How can you live with this? How can you fold your bird?
Initially when I was diagnosed, I found myself in this situation. So did my leaders, friends and loved ones. We grappled for answers, kind of like when I was staring at my table mates, striving to fold my paper exactly like them.
Unlike folding white paper into neat little triangles, I discovered my paper was a completely different color. My circumstances were different. For a while, as I kept folding my symptoms into proverbial triangles, I discovered I was starting to accumulate little piles of triangles (coping skills) but I didn’t know how to connect them to make that swan. I wasn’t even sure I was making a swan; maybe I was making something else. Try as I might, I wanted to make that gorgeous swan!
My parents and loved ones wanted me to make that swan! Unfortunately, I truly felt that no matter how hard I worked at folding those stupid little triangles, the best I could possibly hope to become was the ugly duckling. I began looking at myself as the misshapen ugly duckling. Some people in my life looked at me as though all I’d ever be was a pitifully, sad and very ugly duckling. I hadn’t even started piecing together my triangles. I didn’t even know where to begin and neither did my loved ones.
Unlike the steps behind folding tiny triangles, answers to living with symptoms, are not uniform. What works for me won’t necessarily work for you (and vice versa). Some people don’t have a trusted source to teach them how to gather their life’s scraps — collecting the coping tools — to begin folding their symptoms into neat little triangles.
But, as we begin supporting one another in our efforts to make the right folds in life, we need to celebrate each correct fold. Sometimes that fold is celebrated when your loved one takes a shower. Sometimes that fold is celebrated when they have the gumption to leave the house. Perhaps the fold is celebrated after a hard day or week straining to work around symptoms. Whatever the fold, celebrate it! Don’t take it for granted. It’s a step in the right direction, a fold towards getting a triangle.
Triangles, a slightly larger achievement, come in all different colors. Maybe it’s the color achieved by having a clean bedroom for a week. Maybe it’s the color of going for a month without overdrawing the checking account. Maybe it’s the color of not requiring hospitalization for a month (or a year). Maybe it’s the colored triangle of taking a class, finishing your GED or embarking on a college degree.
Whatever color your triangle is, it, too, is worthy of celebration because it, too, leads to becoming that proverbial origami bird. All birds are different and beautiful in their own right. With support, tender loving care and patience, everyone with a mental health diagnosis — regardless of the severity — can become a colorful and even breathtakingly amazing, beautiful and unique origami masterpiece.
Like origami birds, people with mental health diagnoses can be all lovely, and all different.
If you’re wondering how to fold your symptoms into triangles, reach out! I recommend looking into the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), America’s frontrunner in mental health education (www.nami.org). There are NAMI classes in most U.S. cities. Attend an educational class like “peer-to-peer” or “family-to-family”. Classes are taught by real life people who’ve found real life solutions. There are similar resources in other countries, too!
You can check out how to make an origami swan at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kV0exIHTQ0 Embrace your colors and have fun, one tiny fold at a time.
Copyright © 2012 by Sarah Hancock