“What You Can Do About Mental Illness”


Sitting on my desk is one of those book club cards I’m supposed to return if I do NOT want this month’s selected book. Two books, actually. Book clubs like to bundle books together. A pernicious practice.

Anyway, one book they want me to buy this month evidently has to do with “What You Can Do About Mental Illness.” I’m not sure what they have in mind (no pun), but I’ve got a stack of books waiting on me. I doubt I’ll buy this one.

I do, though, have a reaction to the question regarding what we can do about mental illness: We can all do our best not to drive other people crazy. I don’t mean to be flippant about a truly heartbreaking problem; I just mean to be practical on a little less serious but real level.

Some folks make a habit of driving other people crazy. A few of them are so good at it that your first thought when you see them coming is to duck behind a bush. And I’m serious as a heart attack: I don’t want to be one of those folks. I want people who see me heading their way to be glad I’m coming!

So I’ve been thinking about this.

For this discussion, may I just label “folks who drive people crazy” as “difficult people”? And would it help to propose a defining category or two?

Surely, a significant percentage of difficult people don’t know they are difficult people—which is one reason they are. They don’t realize what a “pass” most folks habitually give them. I’m sure, if they weren’t presently driving you crazy, you’d do well to feel sorry for folks who really don’t know that people want to vanish when they see them coming.

Some real sympathy might also be due for some folks who are difficult, know they are difficult, and would really like NOT to be, but who honestly don’t know how to be less difficult and happier. (Again, it’s easier to show sympathy to folks who’ve not just gutted you.)

I’m afraid we must also be realistic enough to say that some difficult people know they are difficult, like being difficult, and fully intend to continue being difficult as a method of controlling the people around them. It’s an approach to life that is as hellish as it is tempting. And that is literally where it leads.

I’m tempted to say that we all are difficult sometimes. True. But it is not true to say that all of us are habitually difficult. That’s what we really want to avoid. But how?

I’m out of space, which makes me feel crotchety and difficult, but I’d offer a few suggestions.

Leave judging to God and let him BE God. He can handle it.

Don’t mistake your standards for God’s standards or vice versa.

Relax occasionally, and let folks around you breathe. Even if they don’t always breathe in ways you like, they’ll appreciate the fresh air.

Let molehills stay molehills.

Your nose is for helping your laugh resonate; it is not for looking down. Laugh often and deeply.

Try to change your mind’s default setting from “criticism” to mercy and grace. That is surprisingly difficult. But people who are serious about trying are rarely difficult. Folks like to see them coming.

I really don’t want to be a difficult person. Those slots are more than filled. But if I start turning into one, you folks will tell me, right? And not just start hiding behind bushes when you see me coming?

Thank you.


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Copyright 2013 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


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