The lunatic is in my head. Yours too? Here’s a neat trick.

Mental health is mostly a matter of personal choice. That’s the theory put forth by psychiatrist and ex-Clevelander, Dr. William Glasser, who just passed away at age 88. Dr. Glasser wrote a series of successful books about how mental health problems can be resolved by accepting personal responsibility for our own actions. He believed that people are more in control than they realize, which is a scary proposition for many. It’s a heavy responsibility.

“We choose everything we do, including the misery we feel. Other people can neither make us miserable nor make us happy,” he wrote. This will sound familiar to anyone who has dabbled in Buddhism or meditation.

These theories were rejected by psychotherapists who were proponents of prolong, deep-dredging psychoanalysis. Dr. Glasser shifted the power to heal from the doctor to the patient. You can see why this didn’t sit well with many. It’s hard to buy a sailboat when your clients are leaving in droves to cure themselves. Dr. Glasser was adamantly opposed to drug therapy, which upset the pharmaceutical industry. He also believed that efforts to change other people in our lives are doomed and could actually be the cause of further emotional duress.

He encouraged teachers to abstain from class rankings and grading, seeing them as corrosive. “Once children start failing, they begin to believe that they can’t do anything. They give up.” That was me. I was an academic failure. I didn’t do well early on and it fed on itself, like a cancer. If there had been standardized, mandatory testing in order to graduate, as is the case today, I wouldn’t have been awarded a high school diploma.

There are, in my view, valid criticisms. Children shouldn’t be burdened with that much responsibility. Also, there are serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, and cases of ongoing physical and psychological abuse that require outside intervention. But in many instances (certainly, mine), satisfaction can be achieved and sustained by avoiding the urge to blame others and relive past hurts. It’s hard work, but it can be done.

I’m not exactly a bastion of psychological strength, but I shudder to think of the mess I’d be if it weren’t for my continued efforts to stay grounded. To that end, I have a little trick I’ve been employing for years. Whenever I start to spiral into my dark, terrible thoughts, be it on my long commute or staring at the ceiling at 3:15 a.m. or even walking up Madison Avenue, I’ll stop myself and my inner voice will say, “Or, I can choose not to,” and I tend to snap out of it. Not every time, but often enough. It‘s beautiful.

I just reread that last paragraph and it sounds silly, but it’s a powerful tool. And the more you use it, the more effective it becomes. I’m terrible at meditation, but at least I took that much from it.

“People are just as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Abraham Lincoln

*     *     *

Here are a few selections from this weekend’s trip to the local botanical garden. I can’t name any of these flowers. Not a one. It’s not my thing. But I can tell a first edition of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter at five paces. That’s got to count for something.




I think these next ones are daisies. Right?




40 thoughts on “The lunatic is in my head. Yours too? Here’s a neat trick.

  1. Sometimes, it is enough to love the flowers for what they are. And sometimes, it is also enough to love yourself for what you are. 🙂

    There! Wasn’t that profound!
    Flowers? Look like zinnia, hibiscus, celosia, more zinnias and marigold(tagetes)

    • That WAS profound! Well done, you. And sometimes it’s enough to love a book for what it is. You don’t necessarily need a first edition, although, it doesn’t hurt. Some prefer it, in fact.

  2. Each person needs to find the way that works for them—-and it is different for everyone. I spent a year once trying to talk myself out of how truly terrible I felt and it made me suicidal. THAT was not the right path for me. I needed and still need to do just the opposite. I need to feel how truly terrible I feel—-get it out and then I can move on—even if t is just temporary….But what helps every time is Nature! The Flowers, The Birds and The Bees—-and all the other creatures of Nature…..
    Like you, I was not a good academic. I had terrible grades and it’s a miracle I graduated from High School, at all…..! But I found what I love to do and that was the most freeing thing, ever…..
    I’m so happy for you that YOU found what works for you, my dear….You have so much to give and you are as smart as a whip! Fuck School and fuck being made to feel you are not capable of doing anything….That sure is a killer, in more ways than one…..You are capable of anything and everything and your blog is proof of that! Bless you, my dear…..!

    • Ah, yes. Always a tsunami of kind words from you. Thanks so much. If I lived closer I’d buy a big bag of donuts and drop by for a longer chat.

      While I found what works for me, I wish to God I didn’t need it. I wish I had an even, placid disposition. The constant battle with my inner beast wears me down. And, I wish I had done better at school. I don’t have very many regrets but that’s one. I wonder how far I could have gone with a degree in my pocket? I’ll never know, but I’ll always wonder.

  3. “Or, I can choose not to” is a good little phrase and I’m glad it works for you. Another one I’ve heard “This also will pass”, which sounds more Buddhist. I don’t think a dread of failure is healthy, though. Winston Churchill, who suffered from depression, said “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.”

    • Here’s another one I like to use once in a while: “HEY! Will you fuck OFF and leave me ALONE?!” I like that one when I’m feeling randy. All this soul-bearing can get tedious. I’m going back to cell phone jammer posts after this.

  4. I have read it; good book. I am currently working on “choosing” the way I want to feel. I have been allowing others to make me happy, or miserable lately, and I have known for many years that doesn’t work. It is a bumpy road, but I am determined to get myself on a different path.

    • It’s an admirable and necessary undertaking. Don’t think about the part where it’s ongoing and never really has an endgame. Just get to that place where you can walk through the day, go to bed at night and say to yourself, “Well…all things considered, that was pleasant enough.”

      • In desperation to be loved, I had forgotten to love myself. I have been treating myself exactly the way my abusive ex-boyfriends have treated me—beating myself up with words.

      • Never, ever beat yourself up, silly girl. As you meander through life, trust me, there’ll be plenty of people who will perform that valuable service for you. No need for you to pile on.

  5. I was a complete fucked -up teenager mentally, the reasons are many, but nobody knew. I carried on like everything was just grand thank you very much. Got good grades, was the joker of the class etc, etc…

    It all came tumbling in around me in my early twenties. It did actually feel like the world was falling in on top of me. A breakdown they said. It was not nice and I got out of there as quickly as I could. I will never allow it to happen again. Whenever I get my dark thoughts that’s what I remember and they quickly vanish. Good friends help, they can be a tower of strength. And watching my family grow.

    I too often wonder where I would be if I had carried on in education. But I have no regrets, I love where I am now.

    Try to leave the regrets behind my friend, they can gather weight sometimes.

    Oh yeah, nice flowers. :¬)

    • Mighty polite of you to carry on without mentioning your suffering to anyone. Save them a lot of grief and worrying, I suppose. Well done. You seem like a perfectly sane, well-balanced bloke to me. I’m happy to see things worked themselves out. Good for your daughters, too, for helping you out with that, whether they knew it or not.

      I don’t think it’s accurate to say I wallow in regret. I don’t. But I always wonder what if. Isn’t that just part of the human condition?

    • If you had carried on and gained an education my friend, we probably wouldn’t have witnessed such a voice as you have about you. Besides, I kinda like you just the way you are.

      How about I give you a wee hand here with your arithmetic eh?

      If I was to lend you €10,000 over a fixed repayment plan of 3 weeks at an interest rate of 66%, how much would you have to repay me after 3 weeks and 1 day before you heard the first creak on the stair in the wee small hours?


      If a business man catches the 14:20 flight from Alicante direct to Dublin, and lands at 17:03, is collected by 3 other large gentlemen in a big car with dark windows, drives for 2 hours and 10 minutes with a sports bag, shovels, quick lime and a sawn off in the boot, what time will he watch the others filling in a hole somewhere in the countryside?

      Aye, towers of strength… that’s what we will call ourselves when we are back in the big city remembering your name.

      • While it’s true that I missed out on the University experience, I have to admit, I had a really, really great time in the Coast Guard. I remember being on a search and rescue mission and thinking, “I can’t believe they’re paying me to do this.”

        Those are excellent math problems. I will submit them to my daughter’s 6th grade math teacher and ask for the simplest solutions.

  6. I believe we all have a certain madness inside of us waiting to escape, a sad and lonely gloominess we succumb to on occasion without fully realising why. I’m not one for doctors analysis or happy pills, I’ll leave that to the people who haven’t got the inner strength to combat what life throws at us from time to time.

    Your way of dealing with the demons is exactly the right way to go about it. We heal ourselves by being positive. It’s not easy, I will admit, but it works… Next time you are walking down Madison Avenue and you feel a case of the doldrums coming on, remember exactly who you have at home waiting for you, be grateful for your good health and most of all take nothing in life for granted.

    Nice flowers, but is that the devil from your shoulder in photie #3?

    • I think there are people who are so overwhelmed with mental illness that they have no choice but to turn to medication and long-term (or permanent) forms of therapy. But I think for many, if not most, we have within us the internal fortitude to rise above life’s unfairness and misfortunes. You think that your suffering is special only because it’s yours But nobody escapes. It’s best to just wipe your feet on it.

      The gentleman in the back of photo #3 is the daemon scarecrow. Part man, part goat, part horse. Very effective.

      • i’m kinda fond of the “Creeper Cow” in #3. Won’t just keep the crows away… imagine finding that ol’ thing in the dark when trying to steal a few flowers for your ladyfriend?

  7. Accepting personal responsibility for our own actions… what a concept eh? I could go on but i won’t… every know and then someone wonders aloud if i should seek professional help and i always laugh and reply, why waste the money? they’re not gonna tell me something i don’t already know… but to each his/her own, whatever gets you through the night right? i did have a friend one time who told me that he thought jail would do me good, said i had a lot of things in my head and that then i’d have time to get it all out, he meant it as a compliment, ah well now it’s off to do some yard work…

    • This is the rub…I know exactly what my problem is, has been and always will be. I can’t be taught anything new in that regard. Living with it is the rub.

      I don’t think that locking you in a little box and robbing you of your freedom would do you any good at all! What a stupid idea. You haven’t broken any laws, for cryin’ out loud. You just live (lived) a little faster than most. It’s nothing that deserves incarceration.

      Oh, the moaning and groaning that must be going on in Steeler nation. Even Rome fell. Heh.

  8. finding your own recovery – whatever it may be. that is powerful stuff. it took me a few decades to get a system of sorts that works for me. haven’t had a lengthy visit with the black dog in a few years – because i out run the little motherfucker. kinetics. that is my trick. i keep moving, keep things to look forward to ahead of me – large things (grand vacations) or small things (volunteer stage manager at a local festival, it really doesn’t matter.

    when life turns to shit momentarily, however, i need to get down in the grief and let it hit me. just can’t let it stay on me for too long or the dog gains advantage.

    as you know, i’ve seen real mental illness – and agree that there is certainly a time and a place for medication. can’t imagine where my sister would be without it…

    • Isn’t it a bloody shame we even need a method of recovery? What’s wrong with the human race that we are so unbalanced? Who did this to us? I heard Louis CK interviewed recently and he said that people don’t appreciate the beauty of being occasionally sad. He said that’s why cell phones are ruining humanity. People don’t know how to be sad and alone anymore. But too much of a bad thing isn’t healthy, either.

      I miss your blogging, dear. I know you’re in constant motion and that all things must come to an end, but your posts/photos were enjoyable.

    • Is that a pun? About the irritability? Or were you serious? Because if you’re not kidding, we should form a support group. I hope to one day find out why I’m so irritable all the time.

      • I am often irritable… but I am at a funny age 🙂
        I came back to seek my online support group… but more of them seem to have vanished… I am thinking of starting a new blog called The Last Blogger Left Alive. I will only update it twice a year. Obvs.

  9. Six pints and blurt it all out at midnight. Always works for me.

    The one thing I would say against the idea that you can have agency when one is depressed is that that suggests that an individual is in control of his or her own state of being. That’s quite an American thing. Over here, we have more of an idea that it might have to do with circumstances external to oneself.

    It’s a wonder to me how people cope with modern life. I enjoy it. It’s a form of play. My problems are material, financial–not emotional or mental, and I’m glad that they are those.

  10. I think after all this time I must have found coping strategies. I was said to have had a break- down aged eleven.
    I think you have it sussed but Chef and Daisy Fae made good sense.

  11. I’m terrible at this. I’ve tried that, read all the books and believe that it really IS mind over matter. But, I think my emotional nature is far more powerful than my mental ability. Sometimes, no matter what I try and think, if I’m in a shitty dark mood then I’m in a shitty dark mood. I find in this instance it’s best to just accept that sometimes that’s ok. However, I shall give your sentence a go!

  12. O.K. it’s obviously boot in the arse time. September 23rd. is a long time ago, so pen to paper and let that old chestnut ring in your ears ” Let me entertain you “.

  13. Just catching up with some of my buds… Hope you’re doing well. Open those blinds, k? Gimme a shout if you need anything.

    you must open the curtains
    or the blinds
    or the windows
    to the gentle light.
    to joy.

    – Buk, A Vote for the Gentle Light (worth googling for the full poem)

  14. I’m a blog lurker who’s coming out of hiding to ask if you’re okay. Posting a simple “I’m okay” would be great, and “F*ck off you stupid wanker” will do.

  15. I am worried about you, my dear one….Are you okay? Are you just taking a Blogging Breather? I miss your always wonderfully illuminating words; your humor; I MISS YOU!!! I pray you are alright. Send up Smoke Signals—-I know they will drift west, my dear……

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