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The Titanic

I have a framed portrait of the Titanic in my mental health private practice. Many people ask me: What does the Titanic have to do with having good mental health and practicing self-management? The answer is, it has everything to do with exhibiting good mental health. This past holiday season I had the pleasure of sailing on the Queen Mary 2, Cunard’s ocean-liner. I boarded Queen Mary 2 in Brooklyn, where it sailed from New York to Southampton England. Aside from lots of pictures of the Queen, and old ships of the line, I observed a number of Titanic references.

While I wont talk about each specific reference, I can say this. The references were everywhere and throughout the crossing of the Atlantic. On my deck, by the elevator shaft I used most regularly, was a large “SOS” transcript with pictures of that faithful night when the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic. Even as we passed the location of the Titanic’s resting place, an announcement was made on the ship’s intercom that we were no “passing” the Titanic’s final location.

That’s when I realised, there is something to be said about all of this from a self-management standpoint. In self-management, we teach adequate planning and ultimately, when and if you draw the “short-stick” in life and its situations you discover yourself in, how to maintain peace when life seems too chaotic to self-regulate.

So, according to historians, and the Titanic’s operating company “White Star Line” at the time, it has been surmised by written documentation that the Titanic was not only believed to be unsinkable in theory but it was treated this way by engineers and the men that worked and operated it, e.g. the manner in which lifeboats and other safety mechanisms were put into place, and generally, how it was it explained to passengers, in practice.

How we live and operate in the world, in theory, is just as important, as how we execute our behaviors and put planning into practice. There was nothing wrong with building a ship to be “unsinkable”. As far as I am concerned, it wasn’t the ship’s size, grand scale, or ornate qualities that sunk the ship. The ship was already on a collision course with failure of epic proportions even before it left the yard in Liverpool.

As people, we simply don’t know how to live without calculating in possible problems, and ultimately, failure into the mix of our daily outcomes. Sure, we want the best for ourselves. Nobody wakes up and says. “After my credit card gets declined, I am going to buy a pizza with the cash I have left in my pocket”. People instead assume they will get the pizza from the beginning.

Maintaining good mental health requires a degree of planning, not clairvoyance, but at the very least, it requires people to differentiate when theory and practice aren’t congruent or don’t reflect what’s happening in the world around them. This means, in theory, I could be floridly manic, and still, wake up, and drive to work without looking around my vehicle and checking traffic patterns, and do so everyday without incident until the one day when not looking into the mirror signals my demise and I get hit my another vehicle. In this case, it wasn’t the mania, or the relative strength of the vehicle that caused the accident. Sure, these circumstances contributed to it, but at the very root of it, the gap between theory, and practice, which so many of us willfully ignore, or out of neglect, which can have just as devastating consequences.

Speaking as someone who has cruised all over the world in American ships, I can be quite candid about the difference in customs aboard the Queen Mary 2, and other American lines. It speaks to a deeper difference in tradition, and generally etiquette. After my experience aboard the QM2, I am not shocked by depictions of the Titanic in film, where pianos and harps were playing as the ship was actively sinking. While this touches on a larger, “hush-hush”, out of sight out of mind, taboo treatment ignoring what’s wrong, or socially unacceptable during polite conversation, I think it’s about time the bigger message is learned. Not just because there never has been, or will be pianos playing in the ER I discover myself after a terrible accident. But there will be a psychiatrist, reminding me, that theory, and practice, share a frontier in the self-management of my life and mental health affairs.

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