Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Prime Directive

The Prime Directive

Today I want to talk about something I need to hear, myself. Back around the end of October and early November, I was suddenly exceptionally busy. There was a trip out of state, an anniversary, a CD release party to throw; there were all kinds of socializing and chores and errands and projects. I was fulfilling the world’s agenda for me, ignoring my self-care routines. Then one day, wham, it all hits me at once...and I have to spend the next several days doped to the eyebrows with anti-psychotics. Everything came to a standstill.

Because I forgot. I can’t do all that. I forgot the Prime Directive every person like me needs to follow. It’s as important to me as any breathless crisis of the Starship Enterprise. It’s simple and it goes like this: Put Your Sanity First.

That means first ahead of everything. Everyone. Period.

I suppose you could say I agree with Eckhart Tolle: at any given moment, our state of consciousness is more important than anything else that may be happening. When your brain is prone to go flying off in odd directions, that’s how it has to be. If you’re going to live in the real world, you have to be something that I will loosely call “sane.” Of course, what I consider “sane” and what you consider “sane” can be two very different kettles of fish, and that’s all right. All I really mean by it is “more or less functional” or “sufficiently aware of standard reality.” I do not mean symptom-free, since many of us are virtually never symptom free. We can sometimes function with symptoms, at least to a certain point.

But I take this basic “sanity” level very seriously. If I am driving and I suddenly realize my brain is going south, I turn around and head home. NO destination is worth it. If I’m not feeling sane enough, I skip the party, no matter how much I want to go. If I am not sufficiently sane, I try not to stay in angry discussions (that’s a hard one). Functionality is more important than a job, or whatever I’m doing, or any plans I had, or even my husband (I have a lot of trouble remembering that one). There’s just nothing out there more important than keeping my head relatively straight, unless my physical survival is under immediate threat.

My strategy when things get weird is to withdraw. I am better off in a quiet place alone where I can take my pill, get calm, and not scream at anybody. Other people need more structure or activity, not less, and they get very busy. Others need exactly what I don’t want: people to talk to. Coping skills are individual. If it works for you, it’s worth doing.

But whatever your coping skills are, they need to be used early and consistently. What I did last month was ignore all my personal warning signs and plow on. I kept trying to function like I had a garden-variety brain.

I don’t have a garden-variety brain, and neither do you (maybe nobody does). My state of consciousness requires special, gentle treatment to thrive, like an exotic hothouse flower. The difference between me and those fragile flowers is that I can care for myself. The trick is to pay attention, every day, and not forget.

Deborah is a public speaker and the author of Is There Room for Me, Too? 12 Steps & 12 Strategies for Coping with Mental Illness. She has also published two romantic comedies. All three books are available on, Barnes and, Kindle Editions, iBooks, and other major vendors; or  you can order them from your local bookstore. Visit her web page at, or see her catalog at Her newest project is a guided meditation CD produced with her husband, musician Robert Hamaker; available on iTunes and many other venues.