Tag: mental health comfort

Covid: Give your Gifts Away

Pablo Picasso was a painter, printmaker, ceramicist and theater designer.  He is widely regarded as one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.  As I have read about him, I’ve come to see that he was as wise as he was talented.

Covid Disconnection

We are attempting to cope with the Covid pandemic in many ways. We socially distance, we try to maintain structure and routine in our daily lives and we exercise.  And, of course, we stay connected via phone, email or Zoom.  I have been struck, though, that with all this 24/7 verbiage about Covid, we are often saying very little to each other that is truly helpful.  All this “connection” doesn’t, actually, seem to lead us to feeling more connected.

The Gift of Ourselves

Let us acknowledge that we are feeling powerless, helpless, sad and angry.  When we talk about Covid we might say “this is scary.”  Understandable.  But it’s quite a different thing if we were to say “I feel scared” or to ask another, “are you scared?”  When we utter these latter words, we are opening ourselves up in a human way and expressing compassion and empathy.  “This is scary” does neither. We all crave comfort and security in these Covid-saturated times and being on the receiving end of empathic emotional intimacy and tenderness is salve for our souls.  When we show our true selves and when we ask others to do so, we are, in essence, giving away a precious gift.  The gift of ourselves.  It’s ironic that the more we give, the better we feel.  Genuine giving isn’t depleting, it is repleting.  It is exactly what we need right now.  It’s no wonder that our dedicated and giving healthcare workers are as revered as they are. 

Give your Gifts Away

Pablo Picasso’s life purpose was one rooted in generosity and decency.  He understood that no one becomes poor by giving.  Quite the opposite.  So if you wish to feel less scared, less helpless and less powerless these days, give the most precious gifts of yourself away.  If you have compassion and kindness within you, give it away.  Give it frequently, give it generously, give it freely and give it abundantly.  If you do, like Picasso, you can paint a canvas where you will make those around you feel so much better and you will feel at least as good as they do.

Babe Ruth’s Bat

Babe Ruth is widely considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  He held numerous career records for athletic feats.  His lifetime batting average was 0.342, an astounding feat.  This number means that when he was at bat, he got a hit about one third of the time.  To say it differently, though, he swung and missed two thirds of the time and was still considered a champion.  We measure him using the correct and fair yardstick given how hard it is to hit a baseball speeding toward you.  We consider him a stunning success even though in reality, he struck out most of the time.  

Picture of Babe Ruth Batting


How do we navigate our way through our own imperfections every day? Our own swings and misses?  If being human implies being imperfect, then we are all very, very human most of the days of our lives.  We fall short of perfection every day.  Given this, why do we idealize perfection as we do? Why do we feel so badly about ourselves when we fail to rise to an unattainable level?  A concert pianist will always hear the one note that was mis-hit and the A student will always focus on the one test where the result was an A-minus.  Wouldn’t it be a lot wiser to expect ourselves to fall short and not castigate ourselves when it occurs?  Why put ourselves through such angst time and time again despite the inevitability of our shortcomings?  This doesn’t make any sense.


Think about this: what yardstick do you use to measure yourself in life? More often than not, one that doesn’t allow you to miss the ball most of the time.  Your expectation is that you’ll swing and hit the ball out of the park almost all the time.  We are not a species that tolerates our human failings. So, we’re not supposed to speak harsh words, to send off angry emails, to mis-hit the piano keys and get that A-minus.  We expect ourselves to be better than one of the greatest legends in the sporting world.  Our batting average is supposed to be 100%.  But what if we were to use a different yardstick to measure ourselves?  What if we used the Babe Ruth yardstick and allowed ourselves lots of swings and misses without self condemnation. A yardstick that allows us to fall short, to reflect upon what we might have done differently but one that doesn’t encourage us to use the bat to beat ourselves up when we are merely human.  Striving to do our best is admirable, perfectionism is corrosive.  

In Life, Choose the Right Bat

So when it’s your turn at the plate in life and you mess up, you have two bats you can pick up to assess who you are.  The perfectionistic bat or the Ruth bat.  Use the Ruth bat. The one that allows you to miss the ball plenty of times without relentless self-condemnation.  If you do this, you’d feel like a champ, babe.

Mania and The Shining

Jack’s madness

I know exactly how Jack Nicholson felt in The Shining.  As he descends into madness, his primitive, base impulses become unleashed.  Whether he wishes this to occur or not is irrelevant.  His unraveling happens without his consent.  As we watch, we know that insanity is his destiny, no matter what.  There is no off switch for this.

Picture of Jack Nicholson in the Shining depicting madness

My mania

Bipolar mania and hypomania kidnap the brain.  I never knew it was coming but when I was in the middle of it, no amount of will or wishing or prayer could stop the inevitable from happening.  I was on fire, taken over by a flood of neurotransmitters that transported me to places I hadn’t asked to go.  When my brain was hijacked in this way, I had thoughts I’d never have in my right mind and was propelled into actions that my sane self would never do.  I became a super surfer, careening along the surface of a tidal wave moving at terrible speed. My sleep was disrupted but I didn’t care because I had boundless energy.  I was overly chatty with strangers and mistakenly believed that I could write novels and plays.  I spent money recklessly and I was the smartest guy in the room.  

It was like being taken against my will to a place I no longer knew.  Jack didn’t ask for his downward spiral and I never asked for my upward ones.  His course was a one way ticket downward but bipolar disorder has cyclical escalations with repeated episodes of insanity interspersed with periods of normalcy.

This might sound like it’s a lot of fun but it wasn’t.  During these times, I was irritable, agitated, anxious and argumentative.  Each time one of my elevated periods burned out, my awareness of how I had behaved and the degree to which I had lost my mind were laid bare and lead to crushing guilt.  Eventually, hypomania brought me to my knees.  

My turning point

After years of worsening mood cycles, I was finally standing in front of the bathroom door, like Jack, with an axe, unable to hold back my primal urges. My visceral id was intent on propelling me through that door no matter what. Unfortunately for me, what lay on the other side was a lot worse than a frightened Shelly Duvall. In my elevated state, I was catapulted forward and suddenly my life was at risk. It was this traumatic event that finally forced me into psychiatric care. I realized that I was either going to put down that axe and get treatment or I was going to destroy all that I held dear. There could be no more fractured doors in my future. There could be no more Mania and The Shining.

I am at my best

When Jack does begin to break through the bathroom door, he maniacally peers through the hole he just created. At that moment, he was at his worst and now years later and well treated, I am at my best. We all have primitive beasts inside but mine have been tucked away for years. The only shining I now see ahead of me are the bright lights of all the healthy days yet to come.

Do you have a story of mania? I’d like to hear from you