Losing and Winning and Learning

Losing and Winning and Learning

by Helen Sneed

When I was in my thirties, a New York cab driver asked me, eyes on me in the rear view mirror,“What would it take to make you happy?” Without thinking I said, “The Nobel Prize in Literature.” He raised his eyebrows, and shot me a backward glance. “You’re in trouble,” he said. He was right. You see, I had replied truthfully.

I wonder if people can understand just how important awards can be to a person with mental illnesses. A person not unlike myself. What recognition can mean when it feels like you’ve lost all your abilities for good. Well, our podcast Mental Health: Hope and Recovery has recently provided Valerie and me some firsthand experiences. Complete, total surprises. Here’s what happened.

In October 2023, Valerie and I were in the home stretch of the third year of our podcast. It was then we received word that MHHR had won not one but two national Signal Awards: a Bronze and a Listener’s Choice Award in our category. Signal Awards recognize and honor those who raise the bar in the podcasting industry. Our winning the awards was based on Episode 23 : Parenting Skills for Symptomatic Parents, which offers practical skills, inspirational true stories, and hope for the inexhaustible challenges of parenting while struggling with a mental health

We were elated, and flew to New York City to attend the awards celebration on October 23. In a huge ballroom filled with podcasters, we had the chance to meet our peers and learn about the industry. In fact, we hit it off with one producer and have ended up guests on the excellent
award-winning podcast 2 Lives. Our interviews will be aired soon. Watch for the announcement on the website.

Just a few weeks later, we were astonished to learn that MHHR had won the international Positive Change Podcast Award from Speak Up Talk Radio. This time we were the only winner in the Mental Health category. Valerie and I were over the moon! For three years we’d worked hard to produce 36 monthly episodes. And we loved it. We were reaching more people in need than we’d ever dreamed possible. That in itself was plenty. We hoped the publicity generated by the awards would help us in developing larger audiences.

To be selected and recognized publicly made us feel great professional validation. We felt that we had proved ourselves. That our work had value. That the risk we’d taken in telling our own stories in intimate detail had paid off. Our vulnerability was well invested. Our peers in the industry acknowledged and trusted the content of our work. Our old abilities were functioning again and we were putting them to good use.

So what did winning the awards mean at the personal level? For me, my response to the awards was a real eye-opener. Only in receiving the prizes could I realize what they meant. I was one of those individuals that needed recognition, validation, applause in huge measure. In relationships, work, friendships, I worked hard for praise and approval. You see, I was so depressed from childhood that I never developed a grain of self-esteem. I could in no way manufacture a decent image of myself. But I could fake it, and managed to overachieve out in the world for many years.

As an adult who’d known much success, I was decimated when I lost it all and became a full- time mental patient. My identity, never too steady, disintegrated. In isolation, I had no access to others who perhaps might have a more positive image of me. I was utterly removed from the world of applause, success, and prizes. Given my illnesses and severe symptoms, my credibility could be called into question at any time. My word could be discredited because I was mentally ill. It was as if my basic humanity and reason had disappeared into sickness.

As I began to recover, there were no prizes, but I came to discover and respect a new kind of recognition and award. The small things took on tremendous meaning. If I helped a fellow patient or was funny and made people laugh or was insightful in group, it had great value. As always, praise from others meant everything, but I began to learn to praise myself, too. Or atleast recognize that I had done a good thing or deed. However brief, these moments collected inside my mind and heart. I slowly developed a feeling of worth. When I went back to work in a low-status, part-time job, I learned to accept the positive that came my way. I believed in the integrity of work, got over my snobbery, and did a good job. This, too, was added to the collection of prizes I was able to give myself. It seemed that I had to learn everything about losing to understand winning. I finally could see that I was a winner, even without a trophy on the mantel. Awards would always be nice, but not necessary.

Here we are today, eagerly beginning our fourth year. What lies ahead for Valerie and me? What do we want for our podcast? What was our takeaway from winning? Renee Elise Goldberry said, “My job is not to get an award. My job is to illuminate people about something they should  know.” That just about says it all. We will continue to use our best abilities and to use them in a compassionate and generous pursuit. We will do the work that we love to reach people with information and hope that they need. We know that to pursue and fulfill our mission is the ultimate achievement, and the richest reward.

“I love the winning, I can take the losing, but most of all I love to play.” Boris Becker