Sanity, the Serenity Prayer, and the Way of Love

Last week I just couldn't. Well, my laptop was dying. And then my printer wouldn't install. But all that within the context of everything that well, you know... So last week there was no new post.

This week, I still can't, not really. I can't find any new research that intrigues me. I can't bear the thought of yet another rant. I am determined not to spread any more pain.

But there's pain out there. There's pain in here. And this blog is about the things I can change. So this I will do.

I have a spiritual discipline that I am using to walk through these days. I am a Christian, and this is a Christian discipline, or series of ancient practices - though my guess is that nonChristians can find something of value here. I will do my best to do some translation.

It's called the Way of Love.

Every morning, I turn. Whatever happened the day before, today I recommit to follow Jesus, or to follow the Way of Love.

Part of my turning is to repeat the Serenity Prayer. In the Episcopal Church, Morning Prayer begins with the Prayer of Confession. But many years ago, I replaced it with the Serenity Prayer. My own version shifts from time to time. Lately I pray:

Grant me the serenity to face what I cannot change.
Grant me the courage to do what I can.
Grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

The Recovery Movement uses this prayer on a daily basis and does not presume theism on the part of the one who prays it. Define the one you are addressing any way that you want. Serenity, courage, and wisdom - those are the kernels.

Then I learn. I read my sacred Scriptures. I follow a set series of readings called a lectionary from Hebrew Scriptures, New Testament, and Gospels. They renew my sense of my larger context in the faith community, all the people who have endeavored to follow the Way through dark days, those people who live in the Bible and those who have looked to the Bible ever since it was written. The Koran, poetry by Mary Oliver or Rumi, substitute what catches you and connects you to something bigger than yourself...

Then I pray. And this may be the place where I lose even some Christians, because this is where it gets hard. I pray for my enemies. But hear me out. Remember the Rabbi's prayer for the Tsar, God bless and keep the Tsar... far from us! Jesus said to pray for our enemies. And I do, something along the line of He's your kid; you deal with him. I pray it sincerely, knowing that God's will for each of us is better than we can ask or imagine. So I can leave it at that.

One of the consequences of praying for my enemies is that I do not become them. I inoculate myself against the disrespect and cruelty that passes for public policy these days - to the extent that I am able.

Then I worship. Now don't get stuck here either. The Recovery Movement lets everyone define their own Higher Power. I have heard of somebody who took gravity as his Higher Power. The point is to acknowledge that I am not the center of the universe.

And that is a point worth repeating: I am not the center of the universe.

Then I bless. This may strike you as bizarre, too, unless you are familiar with my bent frame of reference by now. But seriously, this is my spiritual discipline: I go to Twitter and then to Facebook and find some way to be generous and kind. (It's easier on Twitter, fewer family triggers.) I comment on somebody else's tweet. And it doesn't have to be some stereotypically "blessing" sort of comment. Any kind of nontoxic engagement, any show of interest in what somebody else has posted is a gift.

That's where this discipline really begins to bears fruit - it sets my perspective and my relationship to the world.

Then I go. At some point in the day, I try to engage in a positive way with somebody outside my bubble. That's not as easy as it used to be in maskless days.

Finally I rest.  Because I am not the center of the universe, because I can face what I cannot do (see above), and because this whole way is not easy, I have earned and I am able to rest. Or play Candy Crush.

Nah, I am struggling, too. But my prn meds are lasting a lot longer than I might have expected.

And from an existentialist perspective, the Way of Love is simply the way I have decided to follow. I commend it to you.

graphic for the Way of from from the

meme from Fiddler on the Roof from

Hubble image of an explosive galaxy used under the Creative Commons license

Confessions of the Good Suicide Survivor Story

I was suicidal. I nearly killed myself. I am glad I didn't do it. Because I got better.

Moral of the story: You will, too.

That's it. That's the good survivor story. Hopeful. Virtuous. I have told that story, and when I do, I get all kinds of strokes, including publication of my writing on other websites.

Some of it is true. It did get better. For me. For now.

For now.

There is more to the story. When I tell the more, I do not get publication. I don't even get acknowledgement that my submitted piece was received. I guess I am submitting to the wrong websites, to places that have one story they want to tell, the good survivor story.

And like I said, it's true, some of it. According to David Conroy, there are 50 million people alive today who have struggled, are struggling, or will struggle with suicide. 45 million of them will die of... something else. That's success, right? 90% of us will find another way.

But that's not the same as the good survivor story. Because for the 45,000,000 of us who survive, we have all kinds of stories.

Some of us spend our lives going through crisis after crisis. Yes we survive, but we're not sure it is worth the cost.

Some of us live with passive suicidality on a chronic basis, like treading water. Even if we never actually drown, the tug of the water is always there.

Some of us get better, and don't quite struggle at that same level of lethality again for now. For now.

All of these stories need to be told.

Truth be told, I have no idea whether I will be one of the 45 million who die of something else. It is my ambition to do so. But each of those trips into the abyss was deeper than the one before. And I simply cannot imagine coming back from anything as deep as that last one...

Nevertheless, I dutifully make my crisis plan. I fill out those forms about what kind of treatment I want in a psych hospital and what kind of treatment I don't want, knowing full well that when push comes to shove: 

  • I will be sent to the hospital where a bed is available, if a bed is available, not where the treatment I want is offered; 
  • I will have NO choice about who my doctor is; 
  • My advance directives notwithstanding, the doctors will do whatever they think they need to do; 
  • Chances are pretty high that I will experience trauma; and 
  • I may well come out of it worse than when I went in.

Actually, working on the plan is pretty traumatic in itself. I can't find a psychiatrist. Oh, there are psychiatrists. Last year the pdoc where I get my primary care recommended a drug combo that triggered my PTSD - not the treatment (which I refused), but the suggestion of the treatment. It would take me two minutes to find the research papers demonstrating that her suggestion was crap. Crap in general, even before she consulted my history, which also would have demonstrated that it was crap.

I asked another psychiatrist who is an expert in bipolar (and who had already told me never to take the meds my local pdoc wanted to prescribe) to recommend a new psychiatrist for me. He had no answer; he suggested I simply hope for the best.

Hope for the best.

So, I hope for the best. It does get better. Sometimes it gets worse again. I hope that if it does, it will get better again.

Meanwhile, I will keep doing all those things that keep it from getting terrible, because those things do help.

But to anyone who ever read anything of mine that did get published by those people who publish good survivor stories, I apologize if I conveyed the impression that mental illness does not suck.

I will keep doing all those things, and I encourage you to do them too, because even if they help us feel only a little better, still, feeling a little better is better than feeling worse.

photo of dandelion used under creative commons license
book cover image from
photo of Mahia ocean waves by Mathyas Kurmann and in the public domain
photo from Emergency Room by Thierry Geoffroy, used under Creative Commons license 

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