Mental Health(Ish) May: First Principle


Why did I begin Mental Health(ish) May with principle number one, stating that you are always doing the best you can with the tools at your disposal?

If you’re doing the best you can, aren’t we all wrapped up for the month? You can’t do any better than the best you can do, right?


With the tools you have currently at your disposal--and in order to be okay.

And before you take that as a free pass to call your dealer, or your toxic ex, or go to the gym for the 9th time today, then note the key piece of logic to extrapolate here: 

You are doing your best with the tools you have in order to be okay in your life.

If you are using a behavioral or psychological tool it means that:

  1. Something is not okay

If the tool you have been using results in damage, harm, or difficulty to your life, it additionally means that:

  1. Your tool is no longer working to achieve the desired result

In other words, it means you are doing your best with the tools you have currently in order to be okay in your life, but instead your life is worse than ever;

Your tools aren’t working anymore. That’s all. If your tools are drugs, or bingeing, or starving, or video games, or sex, or whatever your tools might be—

 You need tools to help you be okay. I get that.

But you don’t need your specific tools. You don’t need whatever tool you tell yourself you need.

You need tools that work. Period.

Once upon a time, you picked up a tool. Once upon a time, it worked. It actually helped you survive. It helped you pretend to be okay. It helped you avoid despair. It helped you regain a sense of sanity in an out-of-control environment. That is survival shit.

It’s also why the tools come with powerful stories, and ways of justifying them, even after using they turn destructive. To the brain, that tool means the difference between life or death. The bond was forged around the stakes of surviving intolerable anxiety, environmental chaos, self-hatred, whatever. The brain doesn’t associate the tool with its negative consequences later on—because we don’t, both individually, and as a society.

We blame the person for needing something that is so destructive. We make the person the agent, and the tool the object of their need.

Every time, we associate the need and the tool more closely. We affirm the connection in the brain.

But the brain knows the need is to survive. That’s what the need is; associating it over and over with the tool makes it impossible for the brain to adapt.

That’s why this is principle #1. Its logic is reflected in the most effective forms of therapy, such as CBT and DBT; I am, however, fully taking credit for coming to the articulation of this underlying principle myself.

Accepting this as true changes everything, from the way we speak to and think about ourselves and our true feelings, to the way we think about addiction.  Unfortunately, it requires accepting things that are difficult for many people, as they require admitting that not everyone has the same reality, or the same ease or difficulty of experience; that what is true for one person is not necessarily true for someone else; that we have a shared responsibility to provide open access to the tools necessary for the possibility of growth; and lastly, and perhaps most simply, that in America, at least, a lot of us are not okay. For different reasons and for the same one: modern life and its wants, and the tools required to be okay with the version of the world that we have created and sanctioned as a society, and increasingly as a global network, are not working for us as human beings.

But of course, selling shame is much bigger business. To know our own needs, and understand our own deep selves, is quiet and deep work. It doesn’t require a single product. And it never ends at a price tag.  

And that is the corollary to Principle #1.

Call it Principle #1, Ancillary Paradox #1:

The world tells you that if you are not okay, you should be ashamed of yourself.

And in a world like that…well. It’s kinda hard to be okay.


Back to blog