Grace to the Humble: Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness

Grace to the Humble

Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness

Praise by customers for The Joy of Life: A Biography of Theodore Roosevelt

This book chronicles Theodore Roosevelt’s journey in a clear, detailed and “friendly” manner…so compellingly that I found myself reading into the wee hours—just one more chapter—several nights in a row!!! This book gives total, factual, page-turning validation to an incredible life and legacy.—Coral Sue

Told so well and so compellingly that one must consider becoming more, standing taller, working harder, caring more, sharing more, living the life of integrity, as TR did.—LakerMRB

Well written. Flows well. Information I was not previously aware of from the other biographies on Theodore Roosevelt. I thoroughly enjoyed it.—R.W. LAZARD

I always wondered why Teddy Roosevelt was carved into Mt Rushmore. After reading this biography it is no surprise at all. What a tremendous person and how blessed we were to have such as he for a leader.—Carol A. Gerber

Easy reading, gave a glimpse of a man I have always admired. Particularly enjoyed reading about when he was Police Commissioner of New York.—Elizabeth

This is a perfect introduction to Theodore Roosevelt. It captures his funny, hyperactive, enthusiastic, exciting personality and covers his life completely from birth to death. Any one who wants to learn about his spiritual side will discover some interesting information also. It is very well researched.-- JWS


Other books by Mary Beth Smith

The Joy of Life: A Biography of Theodore Roosevelt

Healing Manic Depression and Depression:  What Works, based on What Helped Me

The War Against Polio

Abraham Lincoln: The Formative Years 1809-1841

Abraham Lincoln: Ascent to Power 1840-1860

Better Than Before: How Polio Transformed My Father

For my father who learned from pain and loss.

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,

“God opposes the proud

but gives grace to the humble.”—1 Peter: 5:5


About Grace to the Humble

This book is the end result of the author trying to “get a handle on” her father who died when she was 33. Starting in her mid-forties she wrote several booklets for her family in an attempt to understand him. Endlessly calm and smiling, undisturbed by the yelling of his wife and the small spats of his children, he was like no other father. He was calm, fair and a man of integrity. This was remarkable since he had lost the use of his legs before three of his children were born. Only when she read chapter 11 of Abraham Maslow’s Motivation and Personality did she realize that her father was a self-actualized man. Realizing that psychological health is important, Abraham Maslow tried to explain it. He described it as a syndrome consisting of several symptoms: their needs having been met, the self-actualized turn to helping others; they accept themselves and others; they are stoic; they act simply and naturally; they have some mission in life which is for the greater good; they are able to tolerate criticism better than others; they have compassion for others; they dislike pretentiousness; they do right and do no wrong; their creativity is more spontaneous than others. Abraham Lincoln was a self-actualized person. The author’s father may have been also. Without doubt another polio survivor, Arnold Beisser, was psychologically healthy. He was totally paralyzed yet worked as a psychiatrist using Gestalt therapy. He specialized in treating athletes having difficulties with their sport or mourning because they had been forced to retire.

The book shows that only when a person becomes humble enough to admit they need help, and to get it, can they recover from a severe setback such as paralysis, clinical depression or addiction.


About the Author

The author worked as a computer programmer in Baltimore and at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. In 1984 she experienced a manic psychosis which soon became a clinical depression. Ever since, she has been working on self improvement by going to psychiatrists, praying, and reading self- help and spiritual books. She worked until 1995 when she went on disability because of bipolar disorder. One self-help book claimed that President Theodore Roosevelt was also bipolar. Trying to understand how a manic depressive could become a great president, she wrote a book about him. People, amazed by his funny and loveable personality and by how much he accomplished, praised the book. Encouraged by their praise she wrote some more nonfiction books about manic depression, polio, and Abraham Lincoln.

Grace to the Humble

Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness

  • Table of Contents *

  • Introduction *

[* *

[* 1. Lincoln
p<. Depression

Lincoln’s Depression

The New Testament

Love Your Enemies

Lincoln’s Secretary of War

Be Kind and Merciful

Think Before You Speak

Learn From Criticism

Follow Your Calling

Don’t Be Picky About What You Wear

Don’t Be Picky About What You Eat

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

The Self-actualized and Love

Always Do the Right Thing

* *]

[* 2. Physical Illness
p<. My Father
p<. Polio

Children’s Hospital 1944-1945

Discovering His Purpose in Life

Early 1950s
p<. He Slowed Down


Vow of Silence

Before Polio He was Hyperactive




p<. Was Dad a Saint?

Arnold Beisser
p<. Mindfulness

What to Do With the Rest of His Life



[* 3. Mental Illness
p<. Bill Wilson
p<. 1920s—1930s

1935 – Dr. Bob

The Serenity Prayer

Composing The Twelve Steps

The Twelve Steps

God’s Chosen Ones

My Story
p<. Depression

Cognitive Therapy



  • 4. Results of Religious Experiences *

[* *

  • Bibliography *

[* *

  • End Notes *


What follows are stories about recovery from clinical depression and physical illness. The following are steps that I think work. It takes a long time to recover properly from severe mental or physical illness. You never get over the illness completely. Severe mental illness such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia require that one take medication for the rest of one’s life. A person paralyzed by polio or from an accident will never walk again. Some are never able to sit up or even breathe on their own. I suffered a clinical depression after a divorce in 1984. But depression is best understood by reading descriptions of Lincoln’s. The mother of a friend gave him a Bible while he was in the midst of a suicidal depression and he used it for the rest of his life as a sort of lifeline.

My father lost the use of his legs from polio when he was 35. He tried to live life as he had lived it before—trying to stick with hobbies he had had as a young man. He realized attempting to do what “normal” people do was not working for him. So he slowed down, talked less and volunteered for the March of Dimes. He discovered he was their perfect spokesman and was able to collect a lot of money for them. By the time I was born—five years after he contracted polio—he seemed, to me at least, to be a calm, funny and happy man. The section on my father is my attempt to discover how he became this way.

In 1950 Arnold Beisser, a famous tennis champion, was completely paralyzed by polio. He was stuck in an iron lung for a year and a half and bed-bound a total of three years. He found that many people in the hospital resented having to help him but there were some who were compassionate. These were people who as children had had to help a disabled parent or sibling. While in the iron lung he had a mystical experience which helped him cope with that horror. Later he managed to befriend and marry the most beautiful nurse in the hospital. He had gotten his M.D. at the young age of twenty-three. Since the only physical ability that still remained to him was the ability to talk, he decided to become a psychiatrist. Also psychiatry doesn’t involve much physical activity. He became successful at that profession. His wife was able to stop working and give him whatever physical help he needed. He became well known for his ability to counsel athletes who were having trouble with their game or facing retirement before they were ready for it. (He said they are never ready for it.) He wrote several papers and books on Gestalt therapy, as well as his autobiography, a book about friendship and one about the right to die.

Bill Wilson had panic attacks, anxiety and depression which drove him to become addicted to alcohol. He got help from a religious group but realized it was too spiritual to appeal to alcoholics. After he had a mystical experience he became a changed man. He went from being a person who needed help to a person who wanted to help others. Starting with the religious group’s four most important steps, he composed several more steps of his own. His first real breakthrough was helping an alcoholic when he himself had an overwhelming urge to drink. The two men, Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, together founded Alcoholics Anonymous which has helped millions of people.

These are my twelve suggestions for recovery:

1.   Admit you need help.

2.   Get help.

3.   Pray.

4.   Slow down.

5.   Practice silence.

6.   Think before you speak.

7.   Don’t be picky about what you wear.

8.   Don’t be picky about what you eat.

9.   Be compassionate towards your enemies.

10.  Always do the right thing.

11.  Follow your calling

12.  Learn from criticism.

Grace to the Humble

Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness

The essays here are best understood by people who have been through some particular tragedy and have thus been forced to “grow up” out of the narcissism that we all have which keeps us from healing.  It contains examples from Lincoln’s life, Bill Wilson’s, and survivors of polio.  It tells about people who have had to rebuild their lives.


The Bible quotations are from the New International Version of the Bible.

Chapter 1


For this chapter I used Herndons’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, Motivation and Personality by Abraham Maslow and my book, Abraham Lincoln: Ascent to Power 1840-1861


If you experience a manic psychosis or clinical depression, do see a psychiatrist. The medication he will give you is almost guaranteed to treat it successfully. However the medication will not bring you peace. Without peace resentment, anger and need for revenge will fester.

I have gone to many meetings of the mentally ill and have listened to complaint after complaint about the members’ unkind and tactless relatives. Instead of trying to gain peace, they were storing up resentment.

President Lincoln, a depressed person his entire adult life, avoided this particular problem. Instead of storing up resentment, he refused to read the criticisms of himself in the newspapers and ignored comments about his stupidity and appearance. He didn’t collect belittling assessments of himself and didn’t react to them.

He dwelt with depression, a miserable marriage, a homely appearance and the Civil War. Prior to the war he read, studied, made friends and entertained people with his comedy. He was the comedic genius of the Midwest. He would make people laugh so hard that it hurt. These activities helped alleviate his depression.

Lincoln’s Depression

In December of 1840 Mary Todd and Lincoln decided to get married. Mary’s sister, Elizabeth, said everything was ready for the wedding, even down to the supper. “But Mr. Lincoln cut off the engagement—cause insanity.” No one knows why he broke off the engagement. Soon after the breakup Lincoln became clinically depressed.

Depression was called the “Hypo” in Lincoln’s time.  People understood its danger. Joshua Speed said, “I had to remove razors from his room—take away all knives and other such dangerous things—it was terrible.”

From January 13 to 19, 1841 he stayed in his room. Lawyer James Conkling wrote, “He is reduced and emaciated in appearance and seems scarcely to possess strength enough to speak above a whisper.” Orville Browning, who boarded where Lincoln did, said, “He talked incoherently and was delirious to the extent of not knowing what he was doing.”

Mary’s brother-in-law, Ninian Edwards said, “Lincoln…went as crazy as a loon.” Joshua Speed, Lincoln’s intimate friend, said, “In the winter of 1841 a gloom came over him till his friends were alarmed for his life. Though a member of the legislature he rarely attended its sessions.”

He was unable to think or write. On January 23, 1841 he wrote a letter to Stuart about the “deplorable state of my mind at this time.” He was able to give him some political news. “Your reelection is sure, if it be in the power of the Whigs to make it so.” But then he could write no more. “It is not in my power to do so. I am now the most miserable man living. If what I feel were equally distributed to the whole human family, there would be not one cheerful face on the earth. Whether I shall ever be better, I cannot tell; I awfully forbode I shall not. To remain as I am is impossible; I must die or be better, it appears to me.”

For many months afterward friends worried about suicide. In the summer of 1841 he spent four months at Joshua Speed’s family estate in Louisville.

Speed’s mother presented Lincoln with a Bible and told him to read it carefully and do what it said. He wrote a letter to Speed’s sister saying that he intended to read it regularly. He said, “I doubt not that it is really, as she says, the best cure for the ‘Blues’.”

By October of 1842 he felt better. Mary Todd and Abraham Lincoln married on November 4.

The New Testament

Lincoln was not a practicing Christian but as president, he did carry a pocket sized edition of the New Testament with him.

When Thomas Merton, the famous writer, was young and searching for answers he met a Hindu monk named Bramachari. The monk had lived in the United States five years, gotten a PhD in Philosophy from the University of Chicago and made a living giving lectures at colleges and churches. He was a shy, happy and gentle man. He gave Merton a piece of important advice, “You should read St. Augustine’s Confessions and The Imitation of Christ. He repeated this adding, “Yes, you must read those books.” Merton was surprised to be told this by a Hindu monk.

Whatever you believe about Christ, following his guidance is a way to attain psychological health.

Love Your Enemies

Some of Christ’s teachings are difficult to follow. For example: “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery” and “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Lincoln was able to be compassionate towards his enemies. For many of us an enemy is one who criticizes us unfairly. Lincoln liked to visit General George McClellan regularly, to get to know and understand him. One day Lincoln waited for McClellan to return from a wedding. McClellan returned and went upstairs ignoring the president. After a half hour Lincoln asked the general’s servant to get McClellan. The servant came back saying McClellan had gone to bed. On the walk home his secretary commented on how rude this was. Lincoln said, “It is better at this time not to be making points about etiquette and personal dignity.” Lincoln knew that McClellan had little respect for him. He called him an ape, a baboon and an idiot behind his back. But Lincoln saw a lot of potential in the young general. He didn’t make endless mental notes of criticisms of himself.

Leonard Swett spoke of this quality after Lincoln’s death. “He was certainly a very poor hater….If a man had maligned him, or been guilty of personal ill-treatment and abuse, and was the fittest man for the place, he would put him in his cabinet just as soon as he would his friend.” 1

Lincoln’s Secretary of War

In 1834 Cyrus H. McCormick invented a reaping machine. It worked so well that other companies began to manufacture them. They were like McCormick’s reaper but differed in important ways. One of these companies, the head of which was John H. Manny, had a factory in Rockford, Illinois.

In 1854 McCormick sued Manny for copyright infringement. Thomas Drummond, who knew Lincoln well, was to be the judge in the case. The lawyer for the defense was George Harding. Edward M. Dickerson would represent McCormick. Peter H. Watson assisted Harding in preparing the case.

Since the trial would be held in Illinois, Watson and Harding tried to get Isaac N. Arnold to be their local associate.  Arnold was unavailable so they tried to get a Springfield lawyer named “A. Lincoln” or “Abe Lincoln.” Harding sent Watson to Springfield to look Lincoln over.

Even though Lincoln’s appearance was unorthodox—he wasn’t wearing a coat or vest—Watson could tell he would be effective arguing in front of an Illinois judge. To Lincoln’s surprise he gave him a retainer and arranged to pay him a substantial fee when the trial was over.

Watson told Harding what he had done but advised him to quietly employ lawyer Edwin M. Stanton and eventually try to get rid of Lincoln whom he described as “uncouth.” When the trial was moved to Cincinnati there was no more need for Lincoln.

Lincoln went to Cincinnati carrying his well prepared brief. As soon as Harding and Stanton saw him they realized they would have to fire him. “He was at the head of the steps standing on the platform….He looked like a tall, rawly boned, ungainly backwoodsman, with coarse, ill fitting clothing, his trousers hardly reaching his ankles, holding in his hands a blue cotton umbrella with a ball on the end of the handle….When introduced, we barely exchanged salutations with him, and I proposed to Stanton that he and I go up to the court. ‘Let’s go up in a gang,’ remarked Lincoln. ‘Let that fellow go up with his gang. We’ll walk up together,’ said Stanton, aside, to Harding. And we did.”

At court “Stanton made it plain to Lincoln that we expected him to withdraw, and, upon his offering to do so, he was taken at his word instantly, and treated as no longer connected with the case,” said Harding.

In spite of this Lincoln stayed the entire week that the hearing took place and “was a close observer throughout.”

Although Harding, Stanton, Watson and Lincoln were at the same hotel “they never conferred with him, never had him at our table, or sat with him, or asked him to our rooms, or walked to or from the court with him.” During the week the judge had all the lawyers over to dinner. Lincoln was not invited.

In spite of being snubbed Lincoln was captivated by Harding’s summation. He was even more impressed by what Stanton had to say. Ralph Emerson, one of Manny’s partners said, “From what Lincoln said to me when he was president I am satisfied that it was that speech which made Lincoln choose Stanton as his final Secretary of War.”

Stanton continued to dislike Lincoln. He voted for him “with great reluctance.” He had to close his eyes as he dropped the ballot into the box. Harding and Stanton had no appreciation for Lincoln’s integrity. They thought he was without character, common sense and good manners. Lincoln understood their feelings and never held it against them.

During the trial Stanton called Lincoln “a long, lank creature from Illinois wearing a dirty linen duster for a coat.” Lincoln said later that he had been “roughly handled by that man Stanton.”

Edwin M. Stanton became Lincoln’s second secretary of war. During Stanton’s first months as secretary Lincoln became much more upbeat. Stanton began to love and respect the president.


Lincoln refused to read the newspapers that were most likely to criticize him. He had his secretaries go through them and report back only the important information. There was no point in exposing himself to hurtful language while he was fighting a civil war.

Mary Lincoln used to try to read the newspaper attacks to Lincoln. According to her, he would say, “Don’t do that. I have enough to bear, yet. I care nothing for them. If I am right I’ll live and if wrong I’ll die anyhow. So let them pass unnoticed.” 2

Be Kind and Merciful

After Lincoln died Leonard Swett said of him, “He had a very great kindness of heart….He would be just as kind and generous as his judgement would let him be—no more. If he ever deviated from this rule, it was to save life. He would sometimes…do things he knew to be impolitic and wrong to save some poor fellow’s neck. I remember one day being in his room where he was sitting at a table with a large pile of papers before him. After a pleasant talk, he turned quite abruptly and said, “Get out of the way, Swett. Tomorrow is butcher day and I must go through these papers and see if I cannot find some excuse to let these poor fellow off.”

“The pile of papers he had were the records of court-martials of men who were on the following day to be shot,” he added. 3

Toward the end of the war Lincoln was brought a list of the men from Western Pennsylvania who had resisted the draft. “Well, these fellows have suffered long enough and I have thought so for some time and now that my mind is on it, I believe I will turn out the flock…So draw up the order General and let me sign it,” he said.

Joshua F. Speed spoke about the last day of Lincoln’s life:

Lee had surrendered, Davis had fled and Lincoln was joyous. He called his entire cabinet together and asked what should be done. Some said the traitors ought to be hung. After everyone had given their opinion he spoke to me. “Speed, you are hot after the Rebel. I should have thought you would be for kindness.” I said, “Mr. President you asked me my opinion and I gave it honestly.” “Tut tut,” said Lincoln, patting me on the shoulder. “I know that and admire you the more for it, yet I say you are mistaken.”

Lincoln went on. “I can describe my feelings by telling a story. I feel like a little neighbor boy of mine in Indiana. His father was a hunter. The boy was tender and chicken hearted. One night his father found an old coon and her young. He killed the old one and all the young except one. He tied a little rope around its neck and told the boy to watch it while he got a chain. The boy was afraid his father would treat it cruelly. I went over to the crying boy who would never kill anything. The boy said, ‘I wish this coon would get away but if I let him go my dad will whip me. I do wish it would run off.’ That’s the way I feel about these rebel leaders—Davis, Lee etc. I wish they could get away. Yet if I let ‘em loose, dad—the people would whip me. Yet I do wish they would leave the country.” 4

Think Before You Speak

Do not throw your pearls to pigs. – Matthew 8:6

Lincoln did not discuss the Emancipation Proclamation with his cabinet until he had thoroughly thought it out and written it down. He didn’t want unnecessary argument about it to sway him. Leonard Swett said, “He would listen to everybody. He would hear everybody, but he never asked for opinions….As a politician and as president he arrived at all his conclusions from his own reflections, and when his opinion was formed he never had any doubt but what it was right.” 5 He did take Secretary of State Seward’s suggestion and waited until the Union achieved a victory to release his proclamation. Antietam was a draw but Lee had been driven out of Maryland. On January 1, 1863 he read it to Congress and signed it. Before doing that he showed it to his cabinet again and asked for suggestions. The only suggestion he followed was the one made by Treasury Secretary Chase to invoke both the Constitution and God, which he did:

And upon this act, sincerely believed to be an act of justice, warranted by the Constitution, upon military necessity, I invoke the considerate judgement of mankind, and the gracious favor of Almighty God.

Learn From Criticism

Some people learn to handle criticism if it’s constructive. When Trump was elected president I began to feel depressed—enough to need candy or food or alcohol. When I told my husband a new kitten would help me, he exploded. He lectured me saying that he was the one who did all the work for the four cats we already had—changing their litter, paying attention to them, feeding them. Not only that, he had to wash the dishes and walk the dog. When he went away for four days I discovered that these things were easy. My feelings were hurt. But thinking about it, I realized he was right. The cats did need my attention. I learned from this and tried to help out more.

When my mother was eighty she joined the Discalced Carmelites, an order of religious and lay people who imitate the Carmelite order of nuns through prayer and action. Mother wanted to become a saint. She consulted a priest. She wrote in a notebook, “Father says I have to get rid of my narcissism.” I noticed a difference in her by the time she was eighty-five. It troubled me. There was something missing. She had entirely given up her habit of criticizing me and seemed much nicer. Later I read her notebook which said, “Thank you God for letting my children point out my flaws.” She might have been taking her cue from St. Thérèse who learned how to accept humiliation in the Carmelite monastery. We were always harsh towards Mother as payback for her criticism and how she had treated us as children. Who knows? Maybe my mother had actually achieved sainthood by the time she died at age ninety-one.

Follow Your Calling

Jesus called them and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.—Matthew 4: 21-22

Abraham Maslow says the psychologically healthy usually have some mission in life. “This is not necessarily a task that they would prefer or choose for themselves; it may be a task that they feel is their responsibility…that is why we use the phrase ‘a task that they must do’ rather than the phrase ‘a task that they want to do.’” It may be a task taken up for the good of mankind or the good of a nation. 6

Lincoln reentered politics in 1854 to do something about a great injustice—slavery. Bill Wilson was called to help other alcoholics get well. Theodore Roosevelt was called to be a great leader. They didn’t freely choose these causes. But they felt it was their responsibility. Lincoln knew he was the person best positioned to remove slavery. He felt compelled to do it and he came back into politics at the proper time—after the Missouri Compromise had been revoked. A book about Theodore Roosevelt by Herman Hagedorn is called Power and Responsibility. He used his great power responsibly. He was the person best positioned to bring our nation into the Twentieth Century.

Don’t Be Picky About What You Wear

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, Oh you of little faith?—Matthew 6:28-30

People worry far too much about their clothes.

When Lincoln was a lawyer he dressed like other Illinois lawyers. But because his legs and arms were so long the clothes didn’t fit. He seemed to be oblivious to that fact. During the Lincoln-Douglas debates he was described this way:

Lincoln wore that old high stovepipe hat with a coarse looking coat with sleeves far too short, and baggy looking trousers that were so short that they showed his rough boots. The Douglas men laughed at him and said he would be a nice looking object to put in the senate and to tell the truth the Lincoln men couldn’t brag much on their man for exhibition purposes.

I recently read an article advising its readers to wear the same thing every day to work. This would save money and eliminate the anxiety about what to wear on a certain day. It suggested (for women) black pants, a black jacket and a blouse. Probably no one would notice that a conservative outfit like this one had been worn over and over.

When Lincoln was president he wore a black suit and a top hat. People said he looked like an undertaker.

Don’t Be Picky About What You Eat

Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?—Matthew 6:26

People are often far too picky about food.

Lincoln and the other lawyers would eat at a long table in the village tavern. He never complained about the food even though the others did. “Well, in the absence of anything to eat I will pitch into this cabbage,” he said once. He no more noticed that something was badly cooked than he noticed that his clothes fit poorly. “He ate mechanically and filled up, that is all,” said William Herndon.

People aiming for maturity should try to be less particular about food. The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis explains gluttony by giving the example of a woman who is so particular about food that she always has the waitress change a menu item in a restaurant to suit her. This causes a lot of work for the waitress. It’s better to not think of taste and personal comfort, especially if that causes extra work for other people.


Theodore Roosevelt is the exception that proves the rule that psychologically healthy people only care to blend in as far as appearance is concerned. He was psychologically healthy yet loved food, a flaw he called “greed,” and loved wearing conspicuous, colorful clothing. A member of the New York legislature described his first sight of the twenty-three year old flamboyant Theodore:

His hair was parted in the center, and he had sideburns. He wore a single eye-glass with a gold chain over his ear. He had on a cutaway coat with one button at the top, and the ends of its tails almost reached the tops of his shoes. He carried a gold-headed cane in one hand, a silk hat in the other, and he walked in the bent-over fashion that was the style with the young men of the day. His trousers were as tight as a tailor could make them, and had a bell-shaped bottom to cover his shoes.

“Who’s the dude?” I asked another member, while the same question was being put in a dozen different parts of the hall. “That’s Theodore Roosevelt of New York,” he answered.

Theodore Roosevelt wanted to be noticed. His attire did not blend in with that of other politicians.

His wife disapproved of his overeating. As governor he had political colleagues over for breakfast at his sister’s house. His wife would remain upstairs in the bedroom. Theodore would overeat and point to the ceiling saying, “I feel Edie’s stern disapproval trickling down from the third floor.”

By Their Fruits You Shall Know Them

By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?—Matthew 7:16

Lincoln became an elector for the Whigs in the presidential campaign of 1844. On May 1 Henry Clay was nominated for president. The Liberty Party, which was opposed to slavery, took votes away from Clay and Polk was elected.

People who were against slavery asked if it wouldn’t have been evil to vote for Clay, a slaveowner. Lincoln said, “If the fruit of electing Mr. Clay would have been to prevent the extension of slavery, could the act of electing him have been evil?”

The Self-actualized and Love

All children were his favorites.—John Hay

Lincoln completely dropped his guard around children and played with them. He showed love to all children—Holly, Bud and Julia Taft, and his own children Willie and Tad. He completely forgot his dignity and wrestled with them, rolling all over the floor. He didn’t find it necessary to act guarded or feel tense around children. He was able to act natural around them partly because he felt loved and accepted by them. He was able to act spontaneous around them.

The self-actualized find love to be an intense feeling directed only toward a few people.

The more people learned about Lincoln the more they loved him. “The better people are, the more they will be loved with greater familiarity; the worse people are the less they will be liked as familiarity increases,” said Abraham Maslow. 7 Lincoln used letters, eloquent speeches and interviews with reporters to make himself known to millions of people. This love translated into votes in the election of 1864 which he won.

Theodore Roosevelt was the same way. He had great love for his wife Edith who helped him contain his enthusiasm. But I think he loved children even more. He took them for romps, camped out with them on small deserted islands, and swam with them. He invited most of his child relatives over to play, including little Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Children thought he was simply a large child. His wife called him her “largest and rather worst child.” Each of his children had a cousin close to his or her age, who became their best friend. He loved his grandchildren even more because they were adorable babies and toddlers.

Like Lincoln he was much loved by the country and easily won a second term. People knew what he was like because he kept in constant contact with them through the press. He was the first president to have a press corps. People also were able to watch movies of him made in the early twentieth century. A film was made of his ride in an airplane in 1910 and a trip out west in 1913. He was photogenic and was eager to be photographed.

Unlike Theodore Roosevelt, Lincoln did not enjoy the presidency. He had his depression, too many office seekers and the Civil War to deal with. To fend off depression Lincoln kept busy, told jokes and read humorists. He had a few good friends who were able to console him.

Noah Brooks said, “As the war went on the old, clear laugh never came back.

William O. Stoddard said, “Mr. Lincoln did not retain the external equanimity of his earlier days under the galling pressure of his burdens laid upon him in 1863.”

Mary Lincoln said when he was “worn down” he “spoke crabbedly to men.”

Sometimes he would reply to a request irritably but the next day apologize and grant the request, saying, “I ask your pardon. I was utterly tired out….” He explained further:

I generally become about as savage as a wild cat by Saturday night drained dry of the “milk of human kindness.”

Another time he felt bad for not granting a man’s son a pardon. A few days later he granted the pardon. He said to a friend, “I fear I hurt his feelings so.”

Generally he succeeded in holding in his anger and threw himself into his work instead “with the strength of a giant and the purity of an angel,” as Hay said in 1863. 8

Lincoln used all his learned and natural skills as president. John M. Scott said, “His greatness sprang from a strange combination of all the essentials of character entering into and forming a grand and heroic character, independent of any one great essential. And such a character is always self-reliant.” 9

Always Do the Right Thing

People like Lincoln believe in doing right and not wrong. Charles S. Zane said “He believed in an immutable standard of right and wrong by which to judge every action….Some ask what is good. He asked what what was right.” 10

Chapter 2

Physical Illness

My Father

How could this happen to me?

I’ve made my mistakes

Got nowhere to run

The night goes on

As I’m fading away

I’m sick of this life

I just want to scream

How could this happen to me?—Untitled—Simple Plan

The section on my father is taken from Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton and my books Better Than Before: How Polio Transformed My Father and The War Against Polio.


There’s a book by Pat Ritter called How Could This Happen to Me which describes his heart surgery at age 42 and the clinical depression which followed.


During the Great Depression my father had to find a job. He ended up working for his father in a salesman job of sorts. His father’s business sold wholesale canned goods to local grocery stores. As a salesman my father had to become more organized, friendly and outgoing. These skills helped him later, after he lost the use of his legs because of polio.

Up until Labor Day, 1944 life had been easy for my father. True he had had a strict father and a mother who smothered him. True, he had had severe asthma attacks as a child. Even as an adult he worried about his breathing, always carrying a small white tube to hold up to his nose and sniff and he sometimes used an inhaler. (The white tube had an extraordinarily delightful smell when you sniffed it.) Air conditioners seemed to make him clog up and he always seemed to produce too much mucous which to our disgust he spit out in public. He always said, “Do you want me to swallow it?”

But his asthma was nowhere near as severe as it had been as a child. And he was grateful for all he had received. He was thrilled to have such a beautiful wife and happy to have two daughters who delighted him with their shenanigans. His wife, true, overprotected the youngest girl. But he was free to do whatever he wanted to do with the oldest. He took her up in an airplane. He took her for a ride in his speed boat and he went too fast. He took her in the car. He went sledding with her. He acted like a child himself. It was fun. And it would have been okay. Until he began to incubate the polio virus. Even though he felt poorly, he dropped his children off at their grandparents on Labor Day weekend and drove with his wife the long distance to a resort in Hot Springs, Virginia. There they rode horses, hiked, and swam. All the while he felt sick and feverish. After riding the horse, his legs ached terribly. Being this active was a mistake because active children and teenagers were the people who came down with polio. Not 35 year old businessmen. But he was almost as active as a growing child or a teenager or an athlete in his early twenties. This allowed the virus to spread to his spinal cord. Babies, toddlers and mature adults usually rest when they are coming down with a virus. They were not becoming paralyzed as often as other people. The virus went right through their intestinal system. Feeling bad, Dad would not rest. He stubbornly pushed himself.

My parents left the resort a day early because he “was getting the flu.” But it was not the flu season. They picked up my sisters at our grandparent’s house. When he got home, he foolishly mowed the lawn. Then, feeling achy, he went to bed.

The next morning my sisters were in one of their bedrooms talking and giggling. Suddenly they heard a loud crash. The giggling stopped. My father, trying to get out of bed to go to the bathroom, had collapsed on the floor. Somehow my mother helped him get back in bed. Then she called the doctor. The doctor looked at him and had a pretty good idea of what he had. He didn’t tell my father what it was, but he was sent to a hospital for contagious diseases called Sydenham.

For the first three weeks he suffered horribly. It was as if a dentist was drilling each nerve in his legs without novocain. Nerve after nerve died. Ghastly pain ensued. It seemed to be happening one nerve at a time until every nerve in his legs was gone. He could not understand what he had done to deserve such pain.

Once the pain had receded he was sent to Johns Hopkins Hospital. While there he was visited by a representative from the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis. They offered him financial help. He had a wife and two children to support. He wouldn’t be able to work for a long time. But he had saved $50,000 during the war and his brother had also offered financial help. “I don’t need your money,” he said. “What can we do for you then?” they asked. He had been thinking about it. He had been hoping to get into a hospital for child polio victims—called Children’s Hospital. But, as an adult, he didn’t think it would be possible. “Get me into Children’s Hospital,” he said. They must have been persuasive. He was quickly accepted—the first man to be admitted to Children’s Hospital. He bragged about this for the rest of his life.

Children’s Hospital 1944-1945

Although still mourning the loss of the use of his legs, my father counseled the other polio victims in his unit most of whom were much younger than he. They were either teenagers or young men in their early twenties. Years older than they, my father had already had many more life experiences, so he was much wiser. He felt compelled to listen to them and offer advice.

Since they would never walk again, they felt their lives were over. They thought they would never be able to attend college, get a good job, marry or have children. What woman would want to marry them? Many believed they would not be physically able to conceive a child. My father pointed out that since they were still able to have erections they could have children. He stressed that many women would be attracted to them. He said his wife and another patient’s wife were standing by them. He added that a young man’s girlfriend was still visiting him. Even the nurses seemed attracted to polio patients. As far as college was concerned, polio hadn’t damaged their brains. They would do well in college. One of Dad’s young friends eventually became a well known Baltimore lawyer. Most of the patients got good jobs after going to college.

Dad was very popular in the hospital according to my mother. Dad and Mother remained friends with many patients. They also became friends with one of the therapists. My mother stated that all of the patients, except one, were younger than my father.

All polio patients in every hospital developed a camaraderie that exists in soldiers who have fought together in a war. They discussed their hopes and fears. Admiring a nurse they’d say, “I’m ready, willing, and unable.” These patients were far better psychotherapists than the psychologists who spoke to them. Psychologists would try to get patients to face reality by saying such things as, “How do you feel about the fact that you’ll never walk again?” One patient answered, “Cut the crap doc, how do you think I feel?”

Discovering His Purpose in Life

Once Dad was strong enough to handle his braces and crutches he became determined to live as normal a life as he could. He tried to walk without crutches around the house but he broke his leg two times doing that. He took up new hobbies: croquet, badminton and bowling. But by his forties he dropped these hobbies one by one. Perhaps he was too tired. He tried to walk on the beach once by putting tennis shoes on the bottoms of his crutches, but that didn’t work. The most he could do was become an excellent crutch-walker which took a lot of skill. He was depressed that he couldn’t be more active, but, like most polio victims, he made the best of a bad situation. He drove his car, worked hard, worked for the March of Dimes, also known as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP). He became one of its most important local members.

He still had parties, worked on his car and did gardening. He was depressed that he couldn’t do more. He learned to walk without crutches by leaning on the dining room buffet and the kitchen counters. But he could not walk into the living room without crutches. And he had to go up the stairs by sitting on his rear end and pulling himself up, step by step.

So he was sad. But he discovered a new strength. He was a great politician. He was friendly, outgoing and well liked. He held various positions in the local chapter of the NFIP, starting with work on the speakers bureau. The NFIP collected money for the treatment of patients and for grants to scientists trying to find a cure for the disease. He discovered he had a talent for public speaking and he gave many talks to small local groups about the work of the March of Dimes. The NFIP was looking for people like him who either had had the disease or whose child had had the disease. The speaker would show films like the one Helen Hayes stared in. Her daughter had died of polio. Speakers always mentioned progress made in the prevention of polio and emphasized that the disease could happen to any one—your child, your grandchild, even yourself. In 1952 he was named head of the food committee to collect money from grocery stores, the owners of which he knew, since he was in the food wholesale business. (He was also president of the Maryland Food Brokers Association and secretary of the Grocers Manufacturers Representatives Association of Baltimore.) He continued as head of the food committee for several years. In 1954 he was chosen to be secretary of the Baltimore city chapter of the NFIP. In August of that year he was appointed chairman of the Business and Labor committee for the emergency March of Dimes. The emergency drive was necessary, he said, “because not enough money was raised in the January drive to provide both for patients and polio prevention during 1954.” In 1955 he was once again elected secretary of the chapter. In 1956 he became a member of the advisory board for the 1956 March of Dimes and a member of the National Foundation’s executive committee. In April, 1956 he was elected chairman of the Baltimore chapter. In 1957 he was still giving talks on polio. He appeared on a live television show called Comeback! The only thing I remember about that show is that they showed a picture of our whole family and made a big deal about the fact that he sired three children after being stricken with polio. His work with the NFIP had greatly increased his confidence. And with this confidence came the discovery that maybe polio had attacked him for a reason.

He started working with the NFIP in 1946. By the time I was born, in 1949, he had discovered his purpose and was elated by the fact that, being a polio victim himself, he could better help other polio victims, particularly children. If anything could explain why he had to suffer the horrible pain of this sad, sad disease, this could. He knew what the other victims were going through and he could enthusiastically raise money to care for the patients and give grants to scientists. Who else would have that enthusiasm? Plus he knew that he, from his prior experience as a salesman, could obtain, by using the same skills, money for contributions. I can only imagine the skill it takes to sell something. He had to act friendly, outgoing, honest and talkative—things he was not naturally. He could sell just about anything. Those were learned skills that came in handy for collecting contributions and making speeches. Dad rose in the local chapter quickly to become chapter chairman. He also had to use his organizational skills learned while working for his father. He was very, very organized but this was not natural to him either. He had started out as a hyperactive, scatter-brained child. His parents had stressed that he must be nice to everyone, no matter what their race or creed and this was one of the qualities that made people love him and want to empty their wallets for him. Of course the money was for crippled children whose pictures were posted everywhere, but his kind, gentle, friendly and compassionate personality certainly helped. His parents had also taught him all the rules of politeness and gentility. This helped him get contributions from wealthy socialites who thought he was one of them which he was not.

He must have been aware by now that everything in his life had happened for a reason. Once he realized this he must have been awestruck. Because things really do happen for a reason. We may think some of these things are bad (polio, strict father who was his boss as well). Some of those things are things we are driven to learn by necessity (organizational skills, political skills, salesmanship skills). Many things we learn by working at jobs we do not chose. Jobs we have to take because we need the money. In most cases these unwanted things aren’t chosen. These events are often unpleasant and painful. But in the end, taken all together, they contribute to something useful.

Early 1950s

He Slowed Down

Dad necessarily had to slow down because of polio. He had previously been active—overly active. He ran when everyone else was walking. Up until he got polio he talked almost all the time. He had been a fast moving adult. Unusually so. Most of us slow down a little in our thirties. He did not.

As he recovered, he tried to become as active as he had been before. He bowled from a wheel chair, he somehow played badminton. He tried to walk on the beach with crutches, but that didn’t work. He gave and attended just as many parties as before. But, as I said before, in his forties he tired easily and had to give some of these activities up. I only remember one party, for example. I don’t remember him playing badminton or bowling. My memory of Dad, as I said before, extends from his forty-second birthday until his death at age seventy-two. He was a low-keyed type of person.

Everything he did from making a sandwich to getting up out of a chair, from paying bills to driving his car was done slowly and carefully. In the 1940s, a decade I have no memory of, he tried to walk using only his braces. He did this twice and both times fell down and broke his leg. I believe this taught him to slow down. I understand that the army uses a kind of computerized suit for endurance. This allows the soldiers to walk much further than before and to lift heavy weights. Today, paralyzed people can use them also, but the cheaper ones ($120,000) require that they use crutches for balance. Dad, having useless legs, could not maintain his balance without crutches.


By the early 1950s he was more sedentary. He had more time to think. After realizing that there was a purpose to his life he was able to become a contemplative. Contemplative monks at Thomas Merton’s abbey, Gethsemani in Kentucky, complained about the work assigned to them and about the excessive time they had to spend in church. It took time away from their contemplation. My father, too, had to work. At work he was alert, busily answering phones and going over bills of lading from Seatrain and other shipping firms.

By this time he had attained the art of contemplation. At home he was entirely different and this was when he was in the contemplative mode—something I am striving for.

Contemplation is not prayer or meditation. The contemplative state may be compared to the state an artist is in when he is painting a good picture. When I first learned watercolors I was a bad painter. My pictures came out stiff—not spontaneous at all. My only skill at that time was drawing. I had learned drawing when I was eleven and did it by not thinking consciously about what I was doing and only looking at the paper out of the corner of my eye—not straight on.

I attended a watercolor class in my late thirties. For a few months I painted bad picture after bad picture. Then one day I “heard” an inner voice, telling me what to do. I thought, like many beginning artists think, that this voice was the voice of a famous, dead artist. My voice was concerned with color. (Color is my forté.) The voice told me what color to put beside another color to make one of the colors stand out. Painting must be done automatically, listening to this inner voice, otherwise it will not turn out well.

I believe that when my father came home from work he morphed into a contemplative state, untroubled by family squabbles and my mother’s strident voice, her talking, talking, talking—endless talking. He would sit in his recliner with a little smile on his face. Often he would fall asleep like a fat contented cat does when he gets bored.

Thomas Merton, a holy man whose father was a moderately successful artist, said that artists come close to the contemplative state.

This state of mind lasted from the early 50s to 1977 when my father had a stroke which adversely affected his mood.

Vow of Silence

In discussing the monastic life, John Eudes Bamberger said in Merton By Those Who Knew Him Best, “I think the silence was the chief austerity. To live in silence without any chatting, that was difficult. The monastic rule is that you never just chat, that you only speak when it’s important or at least helpful, and you speak only to a few designated people. And we lived that pretty well.” 1

In the years that I knew him, my father was like one of the monks at Kentucky’s Gethsemani Abbey. It’s as if he had taken a vow of silence. He never just chatted unless at a party. When he felt he had to be entertaining, he told funny stories. Otherwise he only spoke if he had something important to say or something helpful, just like the monks. So besides behaving as a contemplative he seemed to have taken their vow of silence as well. At some point in his life, probably while recovering from polio, he must have recognized the waste of time idle chatter can be. After he had polio he became efficient in other ways also. For example, he always wrote appointments and other important information, in big bold letters, in a tiny notebook that he kept in the pocket of his jacket. That book never strayed from his pocket. He kept his keys in the same place so he could always find them and told me “a place for everything and everything in its place.” He paid his bills on the same day and time every month. He ate breakfast, lunch and dinner at the time same every day and his meals were pretty much the same.

Before Polio He was Hyperactive

Before he had polio he talked a lot, not fast, but a lot. His hobbies were daring. He was always active when not at work. He’d pick up his favorite child and go sledding with her. He had parties during which he’d talk loud, because he drank. He’d rent an airplane and take his daughter for a ride. They’d also ride on the roller coaster at the local fairgrounds. He took her in his speed boat and went too fast. At this time he talked much more than he did later. He and his wife would argue and fight but they’d hug and kiss afterwards and he’d chase her and lightly spank her.

I think first, after he got polio, he realized he couldn’t lead as normal a life as he had hoped. Next, he felt a calling to help in the fight against polio, and after that he realized that his whole life had been leading up to this purpose. That was an epiphany for him. After that he became more contemplative something difficult to explain so I’ll just say he had good instincts. The surprising thing to me is that the monks have to work to be as quiet as he was. I thought it came to them naturally. Apparently it’s hard. I’ve tried it myself. It takes great discipline. But he felt it was important. That too much talking was a waste of time and life was too short to waste time. Talking can also be troubling and cause much conflict. Especially at home.

My father was so quiet that he never spoke (at home anyway) unless it was very important or helpful. He talked to my sister about death when her boyfriend died from Hodgkins disease and he explained the progression of gray hair when I became hysterical at finding one at age nineteen. He visited my little brother in the hospital when he was laying in bed, scared and lonely without visitors. He got a person fired from his job who was taking advantage of me when I was young. He talked gently to me when I was a teenager after my mother had screamed at me for being too quiet, saying his mother had been quiet and was a wonderful person.

He taught each of us honesty by catching each one of us in a lie. He then told us one time, and only one time, that we must never lie. That stuck. He told each of us only once that the only way to get a house or a car was to work for them. We knew he meant work hard and we are all hard workers. He took my little brother to football and baseball games. While they walked toward the stadium, very slowly because he was on crutches, he explained how to invest and save money. He told him to avoid paying interest. Now my littlest brother is well-off. Because he so rarely talked, we listened.

At work he seemed a little bit more talkative than at home. He drew people out by asking questions. He was a great joke and story teller at parties and family get-togethers.


Dad once stated that I had moved away because my brothers were so obnoxious. My horrible brothers! They were always saying, “F this,” and “F that.” They continuously discussed sex. Bud, as a teenager would come to the dining room table with just his underwear on. Once he pulled the tablecloth off to see if he could do it without the dishes falling on the floor. He couldn’t. My nephew, seeing what was about to happen, grabbed his own plate. My father was so sure that this is why I “ran away from home” at age twenty-five. I told him I had to escape my mother, not my brothers but Dad didn’t believe me.

In reality I moved away to stop the suffocating feeling that I was being watched all the time by my parents. When I was twenty-one Dad yelled at a young man for bringing me home past midnight. That young man never asked me out again.

When I fell in love with someone at age twenty-two, I spent every evening at his parent’s house. We were given absolute privacy. His parents rarely disturbed us. When they had to they would give some kind of warning signal. I would be home by ten, so my parents were non-the-wiser.

When we broke up, I felt suffocated by my parents so my mother, who was happy to cut the apron strings, found me a roommate my age who lived in a nice apartment. As you can see, my moving out had nothing to do with my obnoxious brothers.


I believe my father was a holy man. He was whole, entire, a man of integrity. He knew what his principles were and he lived up to those principles. He was totally and completely honest. It seems unfair what happened to him next. He retired at age sixty-two because he was suffering from post-polio syndrome. Five years after he retired, he signed himself into the hospital to see what was wrong. At that time (it was 1977) few people had heard of post-polio syndrome which can cause pain and weakness in polio victims. He never enumerated what pains he had. I wasn’t even aware that he felt bad until he dictated to me a short biography of himself. Then he said he retired because he had felt “awful.”

Thirty or forty years after a person gets polio they often come down with this syndrome. Jonas Salk predicted that anyone who had gotten polio, chicken pox, mumps or some other virus might suffer from weakness and pain in their old age because of nerve or brain damage. He proposed that scientists work on vaccines for all viruses. There are vaccines now for chicken pox, mumps, measles, german measles, polio, whooping cough and others. He felt this was important and wrote a paper on it.

The following is from my book The War Against Polio:

Salk predicted post-polio syndrome in his paper about the importance of early immunization against viruses. Many “viruses invade the CNS” (Central Nervous System). Do those viruses “disappear from the CNS” or do they “remain latent?” He was worried about common viruses such as measles and mumps as well as polio. It was already known that chicken pox could be reactivated as well as herpes simplex. “It would be of interest to know whether or not poliovirus infections could cause…damage to brain-stem centers that might not result in clinically manifest symptoms until a later time, under circumstances of growth, aging, or other stresses….”

My father had a stroke in 1977. While he was in his coma, I held his hand and, not being sure that there was a god, I prayed to his dead relatives in England. He immediately woke up, smiled, and said, “Mary.” Then he closed his eyes.

The next day he was talking loudly and my mother said, “It’s a miracle!”

The doctor asked him who the president was. He said, “Kennedy.” (It was Carter.) The doctor asked him where he was. He gave the name of his company. He was really at the hospital.

They discovered he had diabetes so a dietician came to his room and told him to never eat sugar again. I remember that because I asked about honey and she said, “That’s the same thing.” She also told him to eliminate salt from his diet. My mother later made some delicious soups for him using herbs instead of salt.

After he came home, he was too weakened by the stroke to walk using crutches, so he began to use a wheelchair. His doctor prescribed a tricyclic antidepressant. Bipolar disorder runs in our family so this was a mistake. The antidepressant made him loud, annoying and manic. He did some very manic things one of which was to have a large hole dug in our yard for a pool. Once the hole was dug, he sent the workmen away, saying he could finish building the pool himself. Without going too much into describing mania (the symptoms of which, I am all too familiar with) he was experiencing feelings of grandiosity. He thought he could do anything. He looked up friends he hadn’t seen for forty years and got together with them. He made me give his old flight instructor from the 1930s a ride in my airplane (a Cessna 150). Then he wanted a ride in my airplane. Since his legs were completely useless and he couldn’t control them, some people tied his legs together so they wouldn’t get in the way. Then he wanted to fly my airplane. I let him (it had dual controls) and when he wanted to climb he pushed the wheel down. When he wanted to descend he pulled the wheel back. Then he said, “I can still do it. I can still fly!” He took an airliner to San Francisco for a one day visit because he had had a good time there when he was twenty. When manic you think you can do anything.

My mother saw what was happening and took his antidepressant away from him. He then sunk into a severe depression.

He had a second stroke in 1980 and my mother put him into the nearest nursing home where she visited him twice a day. He never recovered from his depression. Every word out of his mouth was a complaint. His roommate couldn’t stand it. “Things are bad enough for me,” he said, “and this guy is always singing the blues.”

Dad seemed to enjoy my mother’s visits. I began to keep my airplane at a small farm north of there and drove past the nursing home on my way home. Every Sunday, after I finished flying my airplane, I would visit Dad and my brothers and sisters who were gathered there. I would visit every Friday and after my visit I’d go to my mother’s house where she would cook dinner for me.


Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?—1 Corinthians: 15:54-55

One August morning my mother visited the nursing home as usual and then went back to lunch. When she returned, there was an ambulance there. She suspected the worst. She went inside and they told her that my father had had a stroke. She followed the ambulance to the hospital and went inside. My father was on life support. A doctor told her that they could keep him alive for a week but that it was better to let him go. She agreed and they disconnected the life support. She wanted his children to come and say goodbye to him. She was unable to reach me but by the time my sister, Anne, and brother, Bud, got to the hospital he had been dead for a while. They said it wasn’t a pleasant sight. He looked bruised in the lower part of his body (called lividity), which my brother said was normal, but he wished he hadn’t seen it. It was a sight he would never forget.

My mother selected a handsome mahogany coffin and the funeral home did a better job on him than they later did on her, partly because he was seventy-two when he died and she was ninety-one. Everyone thought he looked very good.  He looked better than any dead person I have ever seen before or since, except for the time I viewed my five month old niece who looked like a little wax doll.

Our family spent a lot of time in the basement of the funeral home. My nephew Steve, suddenly ran up the stairs crying, “This is the last chance I’ll get to see him.” Steve had accompanied my father on his last trip to San Francisco and they had enjoyed each other’s company.

At his funeral the funeral director quoted the New Testament, Matthew 25:23:

Well done, good and faithful servant; thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.


Was Dad a Saint?

I died a mineral and became a plant; I died a plant and rose an animal; I died an animal and I was a man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying? Yet once more I shall die as a man, to soar with blessed angels; even from angelhood I must pass on…When I have sacrificed my angel soul, I shall become that which no mind conceived.—Rumi

I think the next step would have been for Dad to have become a saint.

Thomas Merton in Seeds of Contemplation, says:

Our discovery of God is, in a way, God’s discovery of us….He comes from heaven and finds us.

His seeing us gives us a superior reality in which we also discover Him. We only know him in so far as we are known by Him, and our contemplation of Him is a participation of His contemplation of Himself.

We become contemplatives when God discovers Himself in us. 2

[At that point we] enter eternity.

Usually it is Catholics who aim for sainthood but because of his life experiences Dad became a saint in spite of himself.

Merton said, “We become contemplatives when God discovers Himself in us.” And Dad was, as I said before, a contemplative.

Arnold Beisser

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.—Friedrich Nietzsche

Arnold Beisser was a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles. He wrote The Madness in Sports and Mental Health Consultation and many other books and papers. He used Gestalt therapy in his work. The following is from his book Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Being Disabled.

The ability to live in the present, forgive, practice kindness, be humorous and accept what happens leads to peace. The more severe your disability, the worse your bereavement or loss, the more you are able to attain peace. Arnold Beisser began his journey towards wholeness with humility. 3

In 1950 the Korean War began and, as a naval reserve officer, Beisser, an M.D., was ordered to report to duty. When he reported he was told to go on duty with the Army. The Navy had plenty of doctors. The Army did not. En route to his station in Texas he became ill and went to the nearest military hospital. The Navy, the Army and the VA refused to pay for his treatment. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis paid for all his care. For the first year and a half he lived in an iron lung. He was hospitalized for a total of three years. He could not move anything below his head and could only breathe with assistance.

At first he searched his memory to find what he had done to deserve such punishment. What fatal flaw did he have? He could not find a cause and effect relationship to explain this misfortune. He kept comparing himself to the athlete he had been before. He had always been in a hurry. The disability slowed him down and he learned how to live life in the moment.

In the iron lung minutes seemed like hours and seconds seemed like minutes. He was unable to imagine a future for himself. “I spent my time reviewing [the past] as a moment of glory, detailing its pleasures, and even its failures. The past had expanded as the future had closed,” he said. 4

One evening he felt he could no longer stand it. He looked down the corridor. Then he began to notice the darkness, the shadows, the light. The doorways that opened out into the corridor seemed to form beautiful geometric patterns. That state of mind left him but he hoped that it would return. It did many times. He began to slow down and observe minor details and receive pleasure from them. He was able to observe things with an artist’s eye. In the iron lung he began to pass the time looking at the ceiling and observing the differences in it. Where he had only noticed people’s eyes before, he began to notice noses, ears, mouth expressions and skin color. He experimented with different ways of looking at things. Once in a while he could see the world as a kaleidoscope. Soon he began to feel like a human being again. 5


Mindfulness, which Beisser was practicing, is known as “living in the now.” It helps one become a mystic. Mindfulness is living in the moment, noticing sights, smells, sounds and the behavior of plants, animals and other people. Mindfulness means never worrying about the future and never looking back.

Mystics are highly creative because they are attentive to everything that is happening now. They act on inspiration. A writer will write inspirational thoughts in a little notebook during the day. That is how many different writers, for example, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Thomas Merton and Anne Frank, wrote.

These people are what we call “geniuses,” yet their I.Q. may be quite average. They are reaching outside themselves for their ideas. Thus these people seem brilliant to others. Richard Feynman was a typical case. He had an IQ of 123 yet was one of the most brilliant physicists who ever lived. He didn’t believe in God. He only knew he was getting great ideas and should pass them on to future generations.

What to Do With the Rest of His Life

When Beisser realized that he was going to survive he began to wonder what kind of life he could have. He had loved playing tennis and dating. Now he wouldn’t be able to do those things. “Athletics had been the most important single thing in my life,” he wrote later. He had been a professional tennis player. He thought it might be possible to play table tennis. He had been good at it. After some time had passed he realized that his total paralysis would make that impossible.

Someone bought him a radio and he began to follow baseball games.

Then he began to imagine what a love relationship would be like for him. He found that many people cared for him. Accepted by his new friends, he thought more about marriage and a sexual relationship. He also thought about work. He imagined himself as a psychiatrist. He said he had to live as if he had freely chosen this new life. “Grace comes from the fact that the disability has been integrated into a new way of life. Any awkwardness which occurred in the earlier states now dissipates. Life as it is is ‘all right,’ and experienced as good, or as it should be.”

He noted that his disability required that he take care of it. If he did so “it would allow me to do what I want….I must know and be able to acknowledge when I am helpless before him and there is no alternative but to surrender….If I abuse my disability or ignore or reject it, it will defeat me.”

This was particularly true of his limited energy. If he overdid it he paid the price for it. 6

He eventually became stronger. He was able to breathe longer on his own. He could sit in his wheelchair for nearly an hour at a time. He could move his hand.

He already had his M.D. Almost all specialties required some physical activity. Psychiatry would be the easiest physically on him. He was encouraged by another patient’s visitors to go into that specialty.

He would need a wheelchair that could recline completely; it was the only way he could breathe. Those same visitors bought him the latest wheelchair.

He met a beautiful nurse with long dark hair, named Rita. He was very attracted to her but afraid to let her know. She seemed unusually friendly to him. He couldn’t believe that she felt any attraction toward him but it seemed she did. Later she admitted that she was praying, “Oh God, don’t let me fall in love with him.” When her roommate was out of town she invited him over. She cooked for him and they talked. He told stories and jokes and she laughed. They spoke of marriage but he did not know how long he was going to live. Due to his physical condition he was having trouble getting residency training in psychiatry.

A new program started up at a state hospital. The hospital director said to his two associates, “I don’t think we ought to discourage this young man.” 7

He and Rita were married by a judge. They rented a furnished house not far from the hospital. Rita got a job working as a clerk in the city hall. She had much to do taking care of him while he was preoccupied with his fatigue and work. After six months the hospital director doubled his salary and let them rent a house on the hospital grounds at a low price. Rita was able to quit her job so that she could care for him full time. 8

After his residency training he became the director of a new outpatient clinic at the hospital. Later he became the Director of Education and Research at the hospital, including the residency program. 9 He later created a new program about importance of social support for psychiatric patients.

He decided to study the relationship of mental illness with sports. Eventually every athlete has to face ill health, retirement and death. The athlete who insists he’s a winner is denying this. If he has to retire from sports due to an injury he feels like a loser. Often they turn to drink. They feels like their life is over. 10

Some professionals had difficulty winning games due to psychiatric problems. Beisser helped them become more successful. As a disabled person Beisser was familiar with loss, defeat and disability. He was better able to help sports figures and teach them to roll with the punches. He taught them the importance of doing their best even if they are defeated. 11

He and his wife traveled widely in the United States and in Europe. They had many good friends. As Beisser got older his breathing became more difficult and his workday got shorter. Sitting became more difficult. Although they tried, they never had children. When his wife became disabled with rheumatoid arthritis she was unable to care for him. They hired many people whom they became close to. Most were young. They were able to advise these young employees about their many problems. After they left the Beisser’s employ they kept in touch inviting them to weddings, christenings and graduations. They continued to call, write and visit.

After he retired he wrote some popular books including Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Being Disabled; A Graceful Passage: Notes on the Freedom to Live or Die; The Only Gift: Thoughts on the Meaning of Friends and Friendship.

This is his philosophy in a nutshell:

Things happened that we did not want, that we fought against to keep from happening, things that were painful and disruptive. But they brought unexpected opportunities once they happened, and there was no way of turning back. In order to see the opportunities, though, you must accept what happened as if you have chosen it. Whatever comes next, I hope I will be able to remember that lesson. 12

Arnold Beisser died on July 19, 1991 at age 66.

Chapter 3

Mental Illness

Hello darkness my old friend—The Sound of Silence—Simon & Garfunkel

For the following section I used Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age:A Brief History of A.A., Alcoholics Anonymous, The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, and ‘Pass It On’ The Story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, and my book Healing Manic Depression and Depression: What Works

Bill Wilson

The more literally lost you are, the more literally you are the very being whom Christ’s sacrifice has already saved.—William James

Bill Wilson experienced panic attacks and recurring depressions which he dwelt with by using alcohol. Many people use drugs, gambling, shopping, sex, pornography and phone sex to lift their moods. Alcohol and drugs can bring about an early death. Most addictions wreak havoc in one’s personal life. Once a person realizes he needs help he can go to a psychiatrist and get medication for their depression. They usually don’t do this until they are desperate. A relative of mine called it being at the end of his rope. Alcoholics Anonymous (A.A.) calls it “hitting bottom.”

Bill Wilson got the idea of forming A.A. after going to Oxford Group meetings. The group was formed in 1921 and no longer exists. They believed that only a religious conversion would rid a person of his fear and selfishness. The Oxford Group preached about four spiritual practices which they believed would help:

1.  Share your sins and temptations with another Christian.

2.  Surrender your life to God.

3.  Make restitution to all you have wronged.

4.  Listen to God’s directions and carry them out.

The Oxford Group would read the Bible and then use quiet contemplation to seek God’s direction. They considered sharing necessary. They would share their sins and victories with the group. Their victories would give hope to others.

Not every Oxford Group member was an alcoholic. The group was for any Christian who was a sinner. The members that were alcoholics wrote important biographies. One is called For Sinners Only and can be found on Amazon. 1

When Bill founded A.A. he believed that only those who had “hit bottom” should be allowed to join. But the cofounder, Dr. Bob, convinced him to allow anyone to join who thinks they have a problem with drinking.


Bill became a moderately successful stock speculator in the 1920s. His constant drinking ruined his business and his reputation. By 1930 he realized he was on a downhill slope. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t give up drinking.

In 1933 he went to Towns Hospital, a facility for treating alcoholics. There he met Dr. William D. Silkworth who believed alcoholism was a legitimate illness. Healthy people don’t have the same craving for alcohol that alcoholics have.

In 1934 Bill went on a binge after being offered one free drink. Sometime later he was invited over to a friend’s house. The friend offered Bill a drink. Then he poured himself a pineapple juice. When Bill asked why he did this, the man said, “I no longer drink.” He had joined the Oxford Group, admitted he was helpless against alcohol, made restitution and tried to practice unselfish giving. They told him to pray to any God he believed in.

Bill was excited to hear about the Oxford Group but continued to drink. He signed himself once again into Towns Hospital. After the alcohol wore off he fell into a deep depression.

He was an atheist so he said a prayer, “If there be a God, let Him show Himself.” Suddenly he saw a white light, a mountain and felt a “wind of spirit.”  He felt that this must be God.  He fell into an ecstasy and remained in that state for some time.

He joined the Oxford Group. One Sunday they asked him to speak. After he spoke a man remarked on Bill’s knowledge of alcoholics. Bill invited the man and a few others to a nearby cafeteria. He found that he had nothing helpful to say to the other alcoholics.

He asked Dr. Silkworth about it. “Stop preaching at them and give them the hard medical facts first. This may soften them up….Then they may be able to accept those spiritual ideas of yours.”

1935 – Dr. Bob

One day Bill had an overwhelming urge to drink. He knew he needed to talk to another alcoholic. A friend found a man whom she called Dr. Bob. “Bob has tried everything. I know he wants to quit,” she said.

Bill talked to Bob as one alcoholic to another. He said that alcoholism is a physical disease not a moral one. He played down the Oxford Group and his religious experience.

The date was June 10, 1935, the date that Bill helped his first alcoholic to recover. This is considered to be the date that A.A. first began.

During the summer of 1935 Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith discussed the best way to reach alcoholics. Dr. Silkworth had told Bill that alcoholism was a disease of the body and not a sin. Still, it could destroy the soul. They got some ideas from the Oxford Group—self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others. Bill wanted to form a group tailor made for alcoholics. The Oxford Group was for anyone in trouble.

Also, the Oxford Group was evangelical. Alcoholics couldn’t take the pressure to pray and go to church. They agreed it was necessary to take an inventory of their faults and confide in a person whom they trust.

One of their friends, Roland. H. had been to Carl Jung. Jung had told him there was no cure for alcoholism. Roland asked if there was anything that might possibly help him. Jung told him that a spiritual or religious experience would help, but such things were relatively rare. He said, “Place yourself in a religious atmosphere and hope for the best.” Roland joined the Oxford Group and had a religious experience. He stopped drinking as a result.

Bill and Dr. Bob knew that the members would have to depend on God to be cured. They needed to have a mystical experience in order to be healed of their alcoholism.

The Serenity Prayer

Bill’s secretary saw the Serenity Prayer in an obituary. It said, “Mother—God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Goodbye.”

Bill’s secretary copied it and sent it to the members. It is said at every A.A. meeting. It is credited to Reinhold Niebuhr, a 20th century theologian who got it from an 18th century theologian.

Composing The Twelve Steps

Bill wrote the twelve steps at home in bed. He wasn’t feeling well. He prayed and rapidly began writing.

A man visited him that night and read them. “There is too much God in it and too much getting down on their knees. Bill, you’ve got to tune it down. If it is too religious it won’t work.”

Bill said later, “In Step Two we decided to describe God as a ‘Power greater than ourselves.’ In Step Three and Eleven, we inserted the words ‘God as we understand Him.’” They deleted the words “on our knees” from Step Seven. The lead in sentence to the Steps became “Here are the Steps we took which are suggested as a Program of Recovery….” The Steps were to be suggestions only.

Bill went through a clinical depression which began in 1944 and lasted eleven years. For long periods of time he stayed in bed. Even so he did a lot of work including writing Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.

One of A.A.‘s traditions is that it is nonprofessional. It would be self-supporting and would only employ certain workers such as janitors. The group is not allowed to discuss controversial topics during meetings. The members are not to seek publicity. If a journalist comes to them, they are not to give their real names. Bill and Dr. Bob decided that the group could include anyone who has a sincere desire to stop drinking.

It was decided that Bill and Dr. Bob would get the royalties from their books. Some of the books are Alcoholic Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, and The A.A. Way of Life (As Bill Sees It).

Dr. Harry M. Tiebout, who was present at A.A.‘s formation explained that A.A. is “a therapeutic program which includes a definite religious element.”

He gave an example of a difficult patient who had a hard narcissistic core. The patient joined A.A. and accepted the existence of a Higher Power. Little by little the patient changed. After some time, the patient had a spiritual experience. After that, she was less paranoid, defensive and suspicious. She also looked more peaceful. The lines in her face had softened and she seemed kinder.

A person needs to become totally humble and be willing to get help before the transformation can occur. Once the change occurs they will go from asking for help to asking how they can help others.

Dr. Tiebout claimed that they find themselves in a new mental state of calmness, peacefulness, love and friendliness.

The Twelve Steps

Step One:  We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step Two:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

Step Three:  Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Step Four:  Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step Five:  Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

Step Six:  Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Step Seven:  Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step Eight:  Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

Step Nine:  Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

Step Ten:  Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

Step Eleven:  Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

Step Twelve:  Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

God’s Chosen Ones

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.—Matthew 5:6

Father Dowling was a friend of Bill Wilson. When he first met Bill, the Jesuit priest said he was fascinated by the similarity between the twelve steps of A.A. and The Exercises of St. Ignatius that the Jesuits use.

Bill, who had a spiritual experience when he was in the hospital, had another one while talking to Father Dowling. He was able to complete Step Five of A.A.—Admit to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

When Bill spoke of his hopes, plans, frustrations and fears the priest said God’s chosen ones feel this way. “Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst,” he quoted from Matthew. He told Wilson that he would always be reaching out for unattainable goals—God’s goals. (Only in heaven will our hunger and thirst be satisfied.)

My Story

It’s the worst thing that ever happened to me.—Tony Dow—Dark Glasses & Kaleidoscopes (Living With Manic Depression)

When I was 35 I experienced a manic psychosis. Thinking I would be reincarnated into a better life in a far, far better place, I sped my car up to seventy-five miles per hour (or maybe less—VW bugs can barely go sixty) and crashed into a tree. I was extracted from the car with “the jaws of life” and taken to the closest hospital. I had broken ribs, a broken ankle and a collapsed lung.

For the first week I was in a lot of pain especially when they x-rayed my back. Because I kept on pulling out my iv a nurse was hired to watch me at night. The next night my mother came down from Maryland to watch me. When I became calmer, she no longer needed to stay all night at the hospital. She stayed in my house and, to my amazement, cleaned it. (The woman had had a maid her entire life.) I was beginning to physically heal, but not mentally. I was convinced to sign a form committing myself to the psychiatric wing of the hospital.

After I was given a room, I looked in the mirror. My face looked gray, my hair straggly. The next day a female technician had me wash my face. She fixed my hair and I looked better. (Another patient, male, my age, said so.) And I had to admit my skin tone was better and my hair was combed away from my face.

No psychiatrist came to see me. I found out later that I was entitled to regular psychiatric visits which I didn’t get. My psychiatrist was on vacation the entire time and hadn’t arranged for a replacement. The pulmonary surgeon saw me a few times. He was mostly worried that the holes made to insert tubes into my lungs might not heal. The holes eventually healed due to the medicine he prescribed.

I felt as if I was in jail. Every door was locked. I was in no condition mentally to look at this as a vacation although my mother brought me books to read and I watched MTV with the techs at night.

I kept asking to be set free. After three weeks they agreed after making sure I had someone (my mother) to take care of me.

When I got home I noticed that my duplex looked cleaner than it ever had since I had lived there. My mother took credit for that. She also told me that the landlady had made her stand on a chair to clean the ceiling fan. Most people her age (72) would not feel secure enough to do that but she had an extremely good sense of balance.

I was taking Haldol, a medication the Russians used to use to torture prisoners. It made me very jumpy and restless. I couldn’t sit still. Later I was told that Haldol could have serious long term side effects, including brain damage and that I shouldn’t have been taking it since I was experiencing severe side effects.

I began to go to an hispanic doctor, who was cute and funny. He was fifty-five, twenty years older than I. He cut the Haldol in half and finally took it away altogether.


Soon I came down with clinical depression. That was the worst thing that ever happened to me. I was afraid all the time. I felt numb. I couldn’t enjoy anything that had previously been enjoyable to me. Every day I’d wake up at 5 A.M., wake my mother, and say, “I wish this had never happened to me.”

This is from my first book on Abraham Lincoln, Abraham Lincoln: The Formative Years 1809-1841:

Depression is an awful thing. It is nothing like the grieving process. Nor is it the sad way one feels when one’s feelings are hurt or after some disappointment. A depression can last months or years. The victim of depression is frightened all the time. They either cannot sleep or wake up suddenly at an obscenely early hour. If they work, they either haven’t the energy to walk to their desk in the morning or, if they find the energy, they have to think hard about how to put one foot in front of the other. They want to die but do not have the energy to plan a suicide. Lincoln had the most dangerous type of depression which is called actively suicidal.

Lincoln’s friends had to watch him, comfort him and take his knives away so he wouldn’t hurt himself. In the 19th century people understood the condition. In the 20th century so-called friends would say, “But you look good.” Or “Jane has cancer. How come you’re so sad? You don’t have any problems.” Co-workers often would ridicule a depressed person for working too slowly. In the 20th century the person was usually fired when they should have been put on disability. Hopefully this attitude has changed.

High Gregory Gallagher, a Pulizer Prize nominee and disability activist wrote, “I can only say from personal experience that the pain of acute paralytic polio in no degree equaled the agony and despair, the abject helplessness of depression.”

My doctor was no help. Instead of giving me antidepressant medication, he advised me to stop seeing my ex-husband who was a close friend. He also wanted my mother to leave but he knew if he told me that, she would become suspicious.

I had been a pilot. He invited me to meet him at a crossroads near the airport. He said he wanted to show me his airplane, a Cherokee Six. We sat in the airplane and then we had sex.

I knew I had to find a new psychiatrist. I had promised myself that I would get help for my illness. I thought the entire illness was my fault since it was mental and not physical. While in the hospital I had decided to get someone to help me become a better person. It was clear now that this guy was not the right doctor for that.

I switched psychiatrists. I also began to go to church regularly and to pray. I went back to work. Hospital tests had shown that my I.Q. had dropped from 119 (President Kennedy’s I.Q.) to 105. Also I was still suffering from depression. I felt terrible. People at work ridiculed me. After the Challenger accident, a few people were laid off. I was one. To the disgust of one of the higher managers I got my job back by complaining to Human Resources. He told every one who worked for him to report to management every mistake I made. Every computer programmer makes mistakes so that wasn’t really fair. With medication, my mood became better but not my job skills. Finally I was transferred to another area where I was able to function better.

During this time I read self-help books and books on spirituality. I said the following prayer often:

Prayer of St. Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood, as to understand;

To be loved, as to love;

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


Coincidently this was Bill Wilson’s favorite prayer.

Cognitive Therapy

For this part I used The New Mood Therapy by David D. Burns, M.D. and Think Right, Feel Right, The Building Block Guide for Happiness and Emotional Well-Being, by Robert D. Isett

One thing that helped me was reading about cognitive therapy which says that we must change our thinking in order to improve our moods. Situations do not make us feel bad. It is our thinking about the situation that causes our emotions.

Depressed people often think of themselves as inadequate, unattractive, unpopular and inferior. They are completely unable to look at situations realistically. The goal of cognitive therapy is to gain “lasting changes in your mood, outlook and productivity,” said Dr. Burns who wrote Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy. Studies have shown that cognitive therapy may change brain chemistry and even the structure of the brain itself. He says reading a good self-help book helps almost as much as therapy and medication.(Bipolar people must take medication but, with therapy, may be able to take a lower dose than other patients take.)

I tried to do what he said in his book and change my thoughts. For example changing an unhealthy thought “my hair looks bad today” to “I have difficult hair but I have a nice smile.” Change “I’ll never get this new remote to work” to “I’ll probably get the remote to work. I’ll just have to read the directions.” Change “I am a loser. I got a low grade on a test” to “If I do not do well in this course, which is unlikely, I can take another course or switch to another major.”

Depressed people often feel they are being criticized when they are not. When a teacher told a mother that her child was doing poorly in school, the mother thought, “I am a bad mother. I should have helped my child with his school work.” The reality of the situation is that she is not a bad mother. Instead she should say, “Maybe I can work with him and his teacher and find out how to help him.”

I was trying to do cognitive therapy on my own. It helped a little, but I found when I was experiencing intense anxiety, it did not help at all. My psychiatrist gave me some medication for it which helped. With bipolar disorder talking therapy must be combined with medication.

I went on disability in 1995 when everything in my field was changing and becoming more difficult. I was no longer able to learn as quickly as I once had. I experienced anxiety about not working for the first time in 23 years so I was given klonopin for anxiety. Then I decided to do some volunteer work. My doctor was proud of me. Not only had I made the decision to do volunteer work—I was so much thinner than his other patients! What a shock! I can explain that by saying I went to Weight Watchers often over the years. Some medications, particularly antipsychotics, can cause weight gain.

In 1998 I decided to write about Theodore Roosevelt. He was a great president who just happened to have bipolar disorder. How could that be? I found I enjoyed the research. I also enjoyed the writing. I decided to limit the book to mostly funny and interesting activities of his. There were a lot. There was no cheap way at that time to publish a book, so I put it on a web page. Not sure if he was bipolar, I diagnosed him with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some people said I didn’t know what I was talking about but I had read extensively about ADD and ADHD. It seemed to me that he had it. I hesitated to say he was bipolar because I thought his worshippers (of which there are many) would object to me saying that.

In 2013 I independently published the book. I set the price of the e-book at zero. I wanted to introduce as many people to him as possible. Everyone gets him mixed up with Franklin Roosevelt, the man who licked the Germans, the Japanese and polio. Everyone is looking for free e-books. About 20,000 people ordered it. They were amazed by TR’s funny, interesting and offbeat personality. He was successful in every job he took on. His forté was leadership. He was a great governor and president.

Since it is so inexpensive now to publish a book I have researched several topics I am interested in. Since I now charge cash money for them, I hardly sell any. But that’s okay! I love what I’m doing! I’m retired now and get to spend all day doing something I love while others complain about being bored. My life-long interest in history, grammar and religion has helped me. My addiction to reading which began when I was six certainly helped. My strict schooling helped. A teacher of English literature who complimented my writing helped. Work helped. I was forced to be organized and logical. Computer Programming wasn’t my choice. I took the job to make money. My thinking is so much clearer now because of it. All of one’s experiences, even painful ones, will help one get free from their narcissism and neuroses.

Chapter 4

Results of Religious Experiences

If the fruits for life of the state of conversion are good, we ought to idealize it and venerate it, even though it be a piece of natural psychology; if not, we ought to make short work with it, no matter what supernatural being may have infused it.—William James

This section uses The Varieties of Religious ExperienceA Study in Human Nature by William James, A Mind That Found Itself by Clifford Beers, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, and What Are Saints? Fifteen Chapters in Sanctity by C. C. Martindale, S.J.

According to A.A., God comes to most men gradually but to some He comes suddenly. William James said that it’s natural “to think of it as being a miracle….Voices are often heard, lights seen, or visions witnessed…and it always seems, after the surrender of the personal will, as if an extraneous higher power had flooded in and taken possession.” He also said that if the results of the conversion are good we should venerate it. If not, we should ignore it.

As a result of such a conversion alcoholics have become missionaries, ministers, priests, nuns, and founders of religious orders.

A Nazi doctor who executed the mentally ill during World War II became a sympathetic counselor while imprisoned in Russia.

An alcoholic said, “From that hour drink has had no terrors for me. I never touch it, never want it.”

Adolphe Monod, a French theologian who later published 3 volumes of sermons, was so severely depressed that he went home, fell to his knees and prayed. Instantly “hope entered my heart and Jesus Christ, little by little, did the rest.”

Billy Bray, an English evangelist said, “In an instant the Lord made me so happy I cannot express what I felt. I shouted for joy.”

One person said, “My soul enjoyed sweet peace.”

S. H. Hadley became an active and useful rescuer of alcoholics in New York during the 1890s.

Anne de Guigné, who terrorized her little brother, began to devote herself to the well being of all children.

Bill Wilson called his doctor after he had a sudden conversion. The doctor said, “Something has happened to you I don’t understand. But you had better hang onto it. Anything is better than the way you were.”

Matt Talbot had been a thief and an alcoholic since the age of 13. After his conversion at age 27 he never had another drink. His habit of cursing disappeared and he became much more cheerful.

My grandfather, who was an atheist, was in the hospital with pleurisy, a painful inflammation of the lungs. He prayed, “God, if there is a God, please help me.” Suddenly he felt a spiritual presence. He immediately converted to Catholicism.

St. Vincent de Paul, who only cared about rank and money, became good, lovable and kind. He dedicated himself to the welfare of children, priests and nuns.

St. Camillus De Lellis was a soldier who was addicted to gambling. After his conversion he founded the Congregation of Nursing Brothers. They wore a red cross on their shoulders. Thus began the Red Cross movement.

After his conversion Clifford Beers, who suffered from clinical depression and had been held in an inhumane mental institution in the early twentieth century, became a reformer of the mental health system.

St. Francis of Assisi was a leader of a gang of teenagers who terrorized the city. When he began to notice the poverty in his town he began to pray and give money to the poor. He left the town and saw a broken down church in the countryside. He heard a voice saying, “Francis, restore my Church, which is falling into ruins.” After this he founded an order of monks.

Thomas Merton became a Cistercian monk and wrote 90 books about spirituality.

St. Therese was, in her words, “really unbearable because of my extreme touchiness; if I happened to cause anyone I loved some little trouble, even unwittingly, instead of forgetting about it and not crying, which made matters worse, I cried like a Magdalene and then when I began to cheer up, I’d begin to cry again for having cried.” After her conversion she became much more mature, courageous, happier and willing to help others. She devoted her life to the conversion of sinners. 1

After a conversion your self-esteem improves, you become very calm and more realistic about yourself and life. You decide to stop doing wrong, no matter how small a sin it is. You also decide to do whatever God asks of you. He may not ask it right away, but when he does it will be something natural for you. An artist will paint. A writer will write. A composer will find the energy to compose much music. A poet will write many poems. A politician will begin to work hard for the good of the people. You will feel driven to do this for some higher good—your community, your country, the world. And, you’ll become elated that you are able to do this.

Theodore Roosevelt enjoyed being president. That was his calling. In 1904 he was worried that he wouldn’t be elected to another term. But he told his son he wanted him “to remember that we have had three years of great enjoyment out of the Presidency and that we are mighty lucky to have had them. [Whatever happens] I want you to feel, that I have been very, very fortunate….I have enjoyed being President and we have all of us enjoyed the White House…It was a great thing for all of us to have had the experience here. So we are ahead of the game whatever comes.

Needless to say, he was elected to a second term.


Works About Lincoln

Albert J. Beveridge, Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1858, Volumes I and II, Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, The Riverside Press, Cambridge, 1928

Michael Burlingame, The Inner World of Abraham Lincoln, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1994

Daniel Mark Epstein, The Lincolns, Portrait of a Marriage, New York: Ballantine Books, 2008

Mary Beth Smith, Abraham Lincoln: Ascent to Power 1840-1860, Amazon.com, Porkchop Publishing, 2016

Mary Beth Smith, Abraham Lincoln: The Formative Years 1809-1841, Amazon.com, Porkchop Publishing, 2015

Ronald C. White, Jr., A. Lincoln: A Biography, New York: Random House, Trade Paperbacks, 2009

ed. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis with the assistance of Terry Wilson, Herndon’s Informants: Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998

Works Published by Alcoholics Anonymous

Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age, A Brief History of A.A., Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., New York: 1957, 1985

Alcoholics Anonymous, The Story of How Many Thousands of Men and Women Have Recovered from Alcoholism, third edition, New York: Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., 1976

‘Pass It On,’ The Story of Bill Wilson and how the A.A. message reached the world, Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc., New York, N.Y.: 1984

Works About Polio

Arnold Beisser, Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Being Disabled, New York: Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1989

Mary Beth Smith, Better Than Before: How Polio Transformed My Father, amazon.com, Porkchop Publishing, 2016

Mary Beth Smith, The War Against Polio, amazon.com, Porkchop Publishing, 2014

Mental Health Self-Help Books

David D. Burns, M.D., Feeling Good, The New Mood Therapy, New York: Harpers Collins Publishers, 1980

Robert D. Isett, Think Right, Feel Right, The Building Block Guide for Happiness and Emotional Well-Being, amazon.com, 2009

Mary Beth Smith, Healing Manic Depression and Depression: What Works, Based on What Helped Me, amazon.com, Porkchop Publishing, 2013

Philosophy and Religion

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, New York: The Modern Library, 1999

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Also includes “Screwtape proposes a Toast,” A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, New York, London, Toronto, Sydney, Tokyo, Singapore: First Touchstone Edition, 1996

Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, second edition, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1970

Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation, Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery, Kentucky: A New Directions Book, 1949

Story of A Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Translated From the Original Manuscripts by John Clarke, O.C.D., Third Edition, Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996

ed. Paul Wilkes, Merton By Those Who Knew Him Best, San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984

End Notes

1. Lincoln

1   ed. Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis with the assistance of Terry Wilson, Herndon’s Informants:  Letters, Interviews, and Statements about Abraham Lincoln, Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1998, Leonard Swett, 166, hereafter Informants  

2   Mary Todd Lincoln, Informants, 358  

3   Leonard Swett, Informants, 166 

4   Joshua F. Speed, Informants, 47

5   Leonard Swett, Informants, 167 

6   Abraham H. Maslow, Motivation and Personality, second edition, New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1970, 159-160, hereafter Maslow 

7   Maslow, 185 

8   Burlingame, 205-207

9   John M. Scott, Informants, 193 

10   Charles S. Zane, Informants, 489

2. Physical Illness

1   ed. Paul Wilkes, Merton By Those Who Knew Him Best, San Francisco: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1984, 116 

2   Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation, Our Lady of Gethsemani Monastery, Kentucky: A New Directions Book, 1949, 32

3   Arnold Beisser, Flying Without Wings: Personal Reflections on Being Disabled, New York: Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 1989, vii, hereafter Beisser 

4   Beisser, 4-5 

5   Beisser, 101-102 

6   Beisser, 131-133 

7   Beisser, p. 51-59 

8   Beisser, 61 

9   Beisser, p. 71-72  

10    Beisser, p.78- 81 

11   Beisser, p. 92 

12   Beisser, 183-187 

3. Mental Illness

1  wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Group

4. Results of Conversion

1   Story of A Soul: The Autobiography of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, Translated From the Original Manuscripts by John Clarke, O.C.D., Third Edition, Washington, DC: ICS Publications, 1996, 97-99 

Grace to the Humble: Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness

This book is the end result of the author trying to “get a handle on” her father who died when she was thirty-three. Beginning in her mid-forties she attempted to understand him. Endlessly calm and smiling, undisturbed by the yelling of his wife and the small spats of his children, he was like no other father. He was calm, fair and a man of integrity. This was remarkable since he had lost the use of his legs before three of his children were born. Only when she read chapter 11 of Abraham Maslow's Motivation and Personality did she realize that her father was a self-actualized man. Her father achieved psychological health through suffering and becoming humble. Other examples of the phenomenon given in the book are Lincoln, Bill Wilson, founder of A.A., and Arnold Beisser, who was completely paralyzed. Each of these three people dwelt with their tragedies in unique ways which are described here. The only common factor is that their illness humbled them. Humility seems to be required in order for someone to change. Abraham Maslow described psychological health as a syndrome consisting of several symptoms: their needs having been met, the self-actualized turn to helping others; they accept themselves and others; they are stoic; they act simply and naturally; they have some mission in life which is for the greater good; they are able to tolerate criticism better than others; they have compassion for others; they dislike pretentiousness; they do right and do no wrong; their creativity is more spontaneous than others. Abraham Lincoln was a self-actualized person. The author's father may have been also. Bill Wilson completely turned his life around to help other alcoholics. Without doubt, polio survivor Arnold Beisser was psychologically healthy. He was totally paralyzed yet worked as a psychiatrist using Gestalt therapy. He specialized in treating athletes having difficulties with their sport or mourning because they were forced to retire. Only when a person becomes humble enough to ask for help and to get it can they recover from a severe setback. For “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

  • Author: Mary Beth Smith
  • Published: 2017-03-22 18:20:17
  • Words: 19077
Grace to the Humble: Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness Grace to the Humble: Recovering from Physical and Mental Illness