Skip to main content

How to Stay Sane

Shock, rage, fear, despair, depression, hopelessness, apathy, or even how about - drinking the kool-aid, surrender. Do we have a better choice?

Robin Chance, behavioral specialist and therapist, did a little therapy for the nation three years ago with her article, How to stay sane if Trump is driving you insane: Advice from a therapist. She offered a better choice.

Two questions: (1) How do we integrate this crisis into our understanding of the world? and (2) what do we do now? Now that the crisis of three years ago is our new normal, it seems time to revisit her words.

She begins with some hard truth telling.

We must understand that the belief in human progress is a myth, with historical and religious context, and it is no longer serving us.

Now you don't want to believe that. You were taught to believe in progress like you were taught to say the Pledge of Allegiance. But there it is.

Nobody ever heard of the idea of progress until the eighteenth century. Nobody expected things to get better, short of the coming of the kingdom of heaven. And that coming wasn't going to be pretty.

But the US, born of eighteenth century enlightenment, built progress and its soon-to-be-motion picture trope of the happy ending into the national psyche. It is time to get over it.

People who cannot get the expectation of the happy ending out of their heads are doomed. They (you?) fill their Facebook feeds with the latest outrage and the comment SCARY! This is not helpful. This constant activation of the amygdala will exhaust you, depress you, leave you brittle and without the resources you need to navigate this insane new world.

In its place, Chance pulls out the heavy duty artillery, the mind trick that works for people with borderline personality disorder, the mental illness with an 80% rate of suicide attempts. If you are that determined to be dead, what on earth can turn you around?

Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, that's what. We need a national course in dialectical behavioral therapy. And the basic tenet of DBT is:

Radical Acceptance.

Huh? We're supposed to accept what is happening? Well, not exactly. We're supposed to accept that it is happening. Stop with the I can't believe this is happening! Believe it. It is the starting point.

Stop with the wishful thinking. No, there isn't anyone in the White House who will rein him in. There isn't some groundswell of human decency going to come out of the Senate. I could go on...

Serenity Prayer

Some years back, I started praying the serenity prayer. It is a staple of Alcoholics Anonymous, though its murky origins are in a meeting of the Church ladies and Reinhold Niebuhr. Here is the original long version:

      God, give us grace to accept with serenity
      the things that cannot be changed,
      Courage to change the things
      which should be changed,
      and the Wisdom to distinguish
      the one from the other.

      Living one day at a time,
      Enjoying one moment at a time,
      Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
      Taking, as Jesus did,
      This sinful world as it is,
      Not as I would have it,
      Trusting that You will make all things right,
      If I surrender to Your will,
      So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
      And supremely happy with You forever in the next.

A short form goes like this:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

There is much in here that reads like a textbook in dialectical behavioral therapy. Read Chance's article to see how it plays out.

When I put this prayer into my daily prayer practice, I couldn't accept "accept." A one word change says the same thing but removes the stumbling block:

God, grant me the serenity to acknowledge the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.

It's about reality. It's about acknowledging what is real.

From there, I can work on what I can do something about. I can choose who I am going to be in this new world.

And if I choose love, well, that is not an easy choice. I have a lot to learn about how that plays out. But it is a steady rudder.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, in the public domain
book cover from
candle by anonymous, used under the Creative Commons license


Popular Posts

Mental Health Care as our Institutions Fail

There are twelve psychiatrists in Zimbabwe for a population of 16 million people. When Dixon Chibanda, one of the twelve lost a patient to suicide because she could not afford the $15 bus fare to get to her appointment, he did not blame her for breaking the appointment. He came up with another system to deliver mental health care. He trained grandmothers.

We also have barriers to psychiatric care in the US. Some of these barriers are similar to Zimbabwe's, distance and lack of providers.

There are less than ten psychiatrists for 100,000 people in eastern Oregon, an area with one of the highest suicide rates in the country. An overworked psychiatrist in eastern Oregon came home one day to find seven cows in his driveway. They were not his cows. It was not the first time. Who knows what his day/week/year had been like. He snapped. He shot seven cows, killing six of them.

Unfortunately, he botched the job. The community might have been understanding if he had shot them in the head. …

A Common Struggle - A Review

In A Common Struggle, Patrick Kennedy tells the story that only he can tell.

There are many memoirs of depression, bipolar, co-morbid substance abuse, families that keep secrets, and recovery. Lately there are memoirs that combine a personal story with a cause: get help, get the right diagnosis, find people who can support you, advocate for better treatment.

Kennedy's unique perspective is the insider's view on the long-term national political work of improving mental health care.

His aunt Eunice lobbied for better care for people with mental disabilities and started the Special Olympics. That issue was combined with mental health care in the Community Mental Health Centers Act signed by his uncle John in 1963. His father Edward spend his whole career advancing the cause of universal health care.

Patrick's contribution to his family's record of public service is The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act.

For political neophytes Kennedy's book is a master c…

Out of the Nightmare: Recovery from Depression and Suicidal Pain

Suicide is not chosen; it happens when pain exceeds resources for coping with pain.

David L. Conroy had me at the opening sentence.  I read it first at and knew it came from somebody who had been there.  I recommend the website for help and insight from the insider's perspective.  If you are thinking about suicide, read this first.