How I’m Staying Sane

Values values values. At various points throughout my life, various people have refused to shut up about value. Thus, I have done many values exercises. In tenth grade, we had to work on a project that include – I kid you not – “chastity.” Not sure if any parents, administrators, or other teachers were aware of this. (I did great, in case anyone cares.) That was one of the worst. Better: an exercise that involved a tournament-style ranking of values. Instead of just crossing off the less important values, you pitted them against each other repeatedly until you had your top five, three, and one. I particularly liked this because I realized that certain values fit into others – for example, I see kindness as a huge part of both integrity and humor (keeps you from cruelty/harm). Now, I talk about values with my students when I help them with their college essays, and this might be my favorite iteration, because a successful essay identifies values in context: what do you think is important, and how does that inform your actions? Nevertheless, these lists invariably omit one of the most important values ever: sanity.

If you’ve never lost your mind, you might not worry much about holding onto it, which is probably a good thing. Even so, sanity comes in degrees, and my definition of total madness might look a bit different from other people’s. I’ve learned how to recognize sanity by familiarizing myself with its opposites, which include crippling depression, unhinged psychosis, uncontrollable mania, and those devastating, intrusive thoughts that fall somewhere in the hazy chasm between obsession and delusion. Having your mental faculties slip away is a frightening feeling, to say the least, and I’ve become keenly attuned to the first indicators of insanity, such as:

  • The increasingly persistent conviction that there is no such thing as reality and/or that the texture of reality has fundamentally been altered and/or that reality is out there, but utterly impossible to grasp.
  • Time changing weight or viscosity.
  • Thoughts crawling out of mind like the tentacles of an octapus wriggling forth from the plastic Easter egg in which you have been struggling to contain them.
  • Hyperrealistic nightmares.

1. “News is noise.” These are the words of James Lindsay, founder of, red pill manufacturer, and author of Cynical Theories. If you haven’t seen his Translations from the Wokishness, it’s worth bookmarking on your computer and then opening for reference every time someone starts spewing terms like “privilege-preserving epistemic pushback” and “White girl tears.” The “news is noise” concept come from an episode of the New Discourses podcast in which Lindsay discusses how he manages to remain sane while reading critical social justice literature all day, every day. Key takeaways:

  • Most of us get more news than we ever know what to do with. For example, I just checked my feed [at the time of writing; over a week before the time of publication] and learned that…
    • Trump has nominated Amy Coney Barrett for the Supreme Court
    • Biden isn’t worried about the first presidential debate,
    • There may or may not be a far-right rally in Portland
    • COVID’s still a thing
    • You shouldn’t say “Happy Yom Kippur”
    • Brain-eating microbes are a problem in Texas
    • Something about the Charlie Hebdo attack
    • Jupiter and Saturn are out there somewhere
  • What am I supposed to do with all of this? Most of these headlines aren’t going to change how I live my life. I’m worried about the Supreme Court nomination, but I’m not going to go read about it or try to save democracy right this minute. Besides, that headline is from USA TODAY, so I doubt the article will be particularly substantive. I’d rather wait for a time when I have 30-45 minutes to get informed from a variety of outlets that offer substantive commentary. The point is that I didn’t actually need to see any of this, which was something of a revelation for me. I guess I always just assumed that if I didn’t read the news, I was an ignorant jackal. However, I would rather be a jackal who is aware of her ignorance than a jackal who overestimates her knowledge of subjects that she understands only superficially, and maybe we should stop hating on jackals while we’re at it, because they’re really kind of badass.

Tl;dr – I deleted the news app from my phone, stopped checking the news every morning, and have not yet transformed into a jackal. You should try it.

2. CVS (the location). What comes to your mind when I say “Ensure Plus?” The most common answers I get are “old people” and “ew.” Ensure Plus was first offered to me in hospitals, and by “offered to me” I mean “forced down my throat whether I liked it or not.” The funny part is that I did like it – or at least, I disliked it less than I disliked food, and more often than not, this is still the case. This is definitely related to the autism, because my sensory processing issues make me absurdly sensitive to even the smallest changes in taste and texture. And even if the taste and texture don’t change, my perception of the food changes, regardless. Impressive, right? Ensure Plus is always exactly the same, no matter what, so it’s a dependable source of nutrition, whereas another, less chemically based food can taste fine one day and then become disgustingly off-putting the next. It’s also convenient to have 350 calories packed into eight ounces for those fun times where I forget to eat, misinterpret hunger cues, and only realize that I’m hungry once I’m lying on the floor, too dizzy to stand up.

So yes, Ensure Plus keeps me sane, and what keeps me even saner is the fact that I go to CVS regularly and have thus acquired a steady supply of coupons, which I adore. Most of them are useless ($2 off $30 any CVS-brand vitamin and supplement!), but some of them aren’t ($5 off (3) Ensure packages), and on my last trip, I saved THIRTY DOLLARS in ExtraBucks Rewards. THIRTY DOLLARS. Impressive, right?

3. CVS (the song), by Winnetka Bowling League, along with a ton of other songs that have graced my playlists throughout this calendar year. I wanted to do an entire post called “Songs of the Summer,” but now it’s October and the summer is over and there goes that one, so instead, I’ll give you the abridged version:

“I Know the End” by Phoebe Bridgers. In January, I was plagued by apocalyptic delusions, a sense of unceasing solipsism. At least my friends and doctors could tell me that the world wasn’t ending with relative confidence. By the end of February, that was no longer the case. Curiously, it wasn’t antipsychotics or therapy or deep breathing or coping skills that helped me get through the start of the pandemic, though all of those helped. It turns out that one of my favorite musicians is not just anticipating the apocalypse, but preparing for it. Down on the coast, everyone’s convinced / it’s a government drone or an alien spaceship / either way, we’re not alone. I never saw paranoia as a source of companionship. I’m not afraid to disappear / the billboard says the end is near. This isn’t young adult nihilistic flippancy. It’s quiet spiritual determination. Phoebe Bridgers is not afraid to disappear. And after listening to this song I-don’t-even-know-how-many times, I might not be, either.

“Fuck it I love you” by Lana Del Rey. It’s spelled “f**k” in my Apple Music library, but come on, we all know what the stars mean. Lana’s amazing and I may not be a teenager, but I reserve the right to be a teenager, if you know what I mean. Well, maybe you don’t because that doesn’t make much logical sense…put it this way: I reserve the right to be moody and angsty and melodramatic and irrational, and I reserve the right to wallow in all of the above, so long as I’m not harming myself or anyone else.

And speaking of wallowing:

“Are You Bored Yet?” by Wallows feat. Clairo. It took a while for this one to grow on me. Sort of like moss creeping across the surface of a dampened stone.

“I’m Not Getting Excited” by The Beths. This song is my attitude towards this whole damn pandemic. Cases are down in Santa Clara County? I’m not getting excited. Sophomores might be back on campus in autumn? I’m not getting excited. Fauci says we’ll have a vaccine by Christmas? I’m not getting excited. And when we learn that cases are spiking, school is remote, a vaccine is at least a year away, and everyone else is miserable, I feel a bit better, because I was never excited to begin with.

“rue” by girl in red. No one asked Marie Ulven to write the soundtrack for a third of my life, but she did it anyway, and I think there are a lot of girls my age across Europe, North America, and potentially other places who would say the same. A year or two ago, this might have bothered me. Not wanting to be a cliche, wanting to be different. Ironically, wanting to be different is a cliche, and there are some elements of girlhood that are just really awesome. “They’re so pretty it hurts / I’m not talking ‘bout boys, I’m talking ‘bout girls.” “It was a bad idea to think I could stop / Was such a bad idea, I can’t get enough.” “There’s a dead girl in the pool, there’s a dead girl in the pool, there’s a dead girl in the pool, I don’t know what to do…” Why would I want to miss out?

Photograph of girl in red, a white teenager girl with long dirty blond hair and a septum piercing. She's wearing a Harvard sweatshirt and lying down in the passenger seat of a car, looking at the camera.

“Triptych” by Samia. Her new album is brilliant. She’s obscenely pretty, too, it’s unreal. I’m obsessed with female artists deliberately inverting metaphors and innuendos related to food and love for vaguely to definitively feminist purposes. E.g.:

  • “Feeding you my cake, you my cake, eating it too” (Samia)
  • “I’ll bite the hand that needs me” (boygenius)
  • “I want blood, guts and chocolate cake / I wanna be a real fake” (MARINA)
  • Я назову тебя сказочным, вафельным тортом, сливочным сладким ягодным, ярким…this one was really helpful for me in terms of learning Russian food vocabulary
Photograph of Samia, a light-skinned young woman in her early twenties with thick dark eyebrows and long brown braided hair. She is wearing a white sleeveless buttoned shirt and is tilting her head to the right so it's resting on her arm and looking at the camera.

“circle the drain” by Soccer Mommy. I hate being depressed in the summer. It makes me feel like the universe is taunting me. Sunshine, dripping popsicles, long uninterrupted stretches of sky, stroking heat, and I was miserable in spite of it all. The sweat felt like an infestation. I’d work out in the gym, eyes always fixed on the calorie counter, and I’d drink coffee from huge Mason jars and plow through the latest novel and sit in the park with my back against a tree, book heavy on my lap, trying to feel something, never succeeding. Then there were the songs of the summer: “Hanginaround” by Counting Crows when I was twelve, and then Louane, Noir Désir, Juanes, Coeur de Pirate, Matt Maeson. Eclectic, maybe. But the dissonance ate into me. Long spools of honeyed sunlight. Delicate, lacy heat. How could you be so sad, Lucy? How could you?

Like this. Like this bubbly watery light slur of music and noise that is “circle the drain,” hey I’ve been fallin’ apart these days, a chord progression I couldn’t understand no matter how deep it dug into my bones. Probably better not to understand it. It’s a feeling that boils in my brain / I would dial back the flame / but I’m not sure I’m able.

“It hits you in the heart,” Sophie Allison explains on Song Exploder. “It makes you want to laugh just like sing along to it, I guess it’s this weird mixture of really sad, and it’s also, like…makes you want to scream it a little bit.

A photograph of Sophie Allison playing an electric guitar and singing into a microphone. In the background, purple, blue, and magenta lighting, smoke, and a drumset are visible. Allison is a white woman in her early twenties with short straight blond hair wearing a black t-shirt and blue baggy mom jeans.

Split open / watching my heart go round and around / round around / circle the drain / I’m going down…

How could you be so sad, Lucy? How could you?

Like this:

3. Judaism. Circa June of this year, I aspired to be an antiracist. Circa July, I decided that this was a terrible goal. Circa August, I started reading about and agreeing with John McWhorter’s thesis that antiracism is a new religion. Circa September, I decided that when I have the choice between a 4000-year-old tradition with extensive literature, amazing culture, ethnic ties, an emphasis on heterodoxy, good food minus the gefilte fish, and an incredible history of resilience versus a just-born chaotically postmodern DiAngelo-inspired cognitive distortion-based cult, I’ll take the former every day. And I figured this out right before the High Holidays. Good timing, eh?

As a kid, I always wondered if it was “High Holidays” or “High Holy Days.” For the record, both are correct, and in my experience, non-holy holidays are just glorified days. As a kid, I enjoyed Christmas, Valentine’s Day, the Fourth of July, my birthday, and Halloween because I appreciated the sensory elements and the food and the activities and the aesthetic, but there was never a spiritual dimension to any of it, never a deeper meaning or a requirement for me to engage in anything more than cooking or preparing costumes. The High Holy Days are labor intensive. I sat in a total of perhaps 20 hours of services, and that’s definitely on the low end. I’m sure Hasidic Jews would do five times that, at least. Of course, amount of time spent in shul isn’t necessarily a good proxy for engagement. As the parable goes, a student went to a teacher and said, “Rabbi, I’ve been through the Talmud seven times and I still don’t understand.” The Rabbi responded, “How many times has the Talmud been through you?”

Photograph of a hand holding a pomegranate made of red clay next to a candle. The table is covered in a webbed tablecloth made of white material in a holed pattern.

Right now, I can’t say much of the Talmud has been through me (but I’ll give you an update in seven years or so), but I found ways to make services more meaningful. I read through the siddur before services began. One thing I love about Reform prayerbooks is that they offer a wide range of entrance points to various prayers. On the right-hand page, there’s always the Hebrew, transliteration, and translation, whereas the left-hand page includes more poetic, liberal interpretations of the prayers. You can find quotes from various rabbis and commentators at the bottom of each page, and particularly for such important holidays, there are lengthy introductions to each service. Chanting a string of unfamiliar phonemes is one thing. Saying a millennia-old prayer that ties you to the history of your people, your core values, your beliefs about the cosmos, your emotions, your thoughts, and your community is quite another.

Another thing I love about the High Holy Days is that we don’t dwell on the atonement. There’s no self-flagellation or doleful commiseration any longer than is necessary. We assess our shortcomings, asking not if we sinned, but how we sinned. (We’re humans. Of course we sin.) We pray for atonement collectively, reading every item of a prayer together, whether or not any particular statement applies to us. In this way, we take on the shared responsibility of holding one another to moral standards. We also do this out of respect. Everyone reads every line so that no one will feel like they are the only one who has erred in any particular way.

We then make amends. God doesn’t want to hear our apologies unless we have first addressed the people we have hurt and repaired the ensuing ruptures in our relationships. We don’t get absolved of our sins by some sort of magical process that rewrites history. In fact, I’m not sure we get absolved at all. Rather, we fix what is broken and resolve to do better. All of this takes place within ten short days, and that resolution to live out our values more effectively isn’t forgotten. We don’t get to break the fast on Yom Kippur until we’ve hammered the first nail into our sukkah. Do not wait, the rabbis of previous centuries seem to be telling us. Don’t let your plans evaporate with your first bites of food. Do it now, do it now, do it now.

I am doing it now. Not fasting – I’m not allowed to fast. Meh. But living out Jewish values, striving to be a mensch, thinking of everyone I respect and love in my community and doing my best to make them proud. During last week’s Erev Shabbat services, between singing the Michamocha to a tune I’d never heard before and the enthusiastic shaking of many-a-lulav, our rabbi urged us to think of the first step towards whatever change we decided to make during the High Holidays. Write it down, she told us. Put it in your calendar. Make a note to yourself, and don’t forget.

I did make a note to myself: save democracy and be nice to other humans. Then I realized this wasn’t a small step, so I switched to: write some letters to voters in swing states and spend time with mom. I did just that on Saturday and again yesterday evening. It was lovely. We listened to podcasts, talked, and wrote to people in North Carolina. This Friday, I’ll light the Shabbat candles and return to services, and I’ll join in saying the shechecheyanu to celebrate the good things in my life. Some of these just happened; they’re not things I necessarily deserve, but I’m lucky to have them. Others aren’t luck. I choose to do mitzvot, to study extensively, to pay careful attention to my work, to volunteer, to connect with the people who matter to me. These are all blessings that I had a hand in. And how beautiful that is, to be able to create a little bit of my very own joy.

4. Nolite te Bastardes Carborundorum. That’s from The Handmaid’s Tale, but I was thinking more about Robin DiAngelo and company. A brief list of upsetting events throughout this summer, in no particular order: widespread consensus in certain corners of the Internet that a lesbian who doesn’t want to date a person with male genitalia is a transphobe; 2+2=5; the appearance of two swastikas by a Stanford church and silence from a student body that claims to oppose any and all forms of racist ideology; rallies where police officers and civilians alike have been injured, property has been damaged, and buildings have been looted in the name of “justice;” disparities in access to education further exacerbated by the pandemic; a Black Lives Matter-led “rally” in Southern California during which synagogues were vandalized and Jewish-owned shops, ransacked; the precursor to the thought police showing up at Stanford, and more.

It’s enough to make anyone insane. It’s more than enough to make someone insane if that someone has spent much of her own adolescence living in a postmodern hellscape, and if that someone is already vulnerable to and frightened of anyone who legitimately believes that “dismantling reality” is a good idea. I have to learn how to learn. Not just how to learn effectively, but how to learn productively, how to learn in a way that nourishes my mind without destroying my soul – or at least in a way that keeps soul destruction to a minimum. More on that here, but the key points I want to emphasize right now:

  1. Thank goodness for James Lindsay, Peter Boghossian, Helen Pluckrose, Coleman Hughes, Debra Soh, Abigail Shrier, and more.
  2. James Lindsay’s Woke Minis make everything better.
  3. I love when Everyday Feminism unironically posts articles about people feeling “harrassed” because of their tattoos or whining about how polyamory is more difficult when you’re disabled. (Newsflash: Most things are more difficult when you’re disabled.) If you can get over how tragic it is that these take up space on the site, the comedic value of it all really starts to sink in. Also, they appear to be running on fumes, financially speaking, so there’s my latest source of Schadenfreude. #DefundEverydayFeminism
  4. All hail Titania McGrath.
Screenshot of a tweet by Titania McGrath at 11:30 am on March 2, 2019. The tweet reads, "If Mahatma Gandhi has been on Twitter they'd have dismissed him as a 'satirical character' too, and he would never have invented India." The tweet has 106 comments, 271 retweets, and 2.6k likes.

5. I’ve developed ways to talk to myself that are productive. Not conventional affirmations – oh, I hate those. In treatment, we were always serenaded with these narcissistic-sounding affirmations that were a) totally unbelievable, b) really terribly written and c) more likely to lead to grandiosity than anything else. Some of my favorites include, “I have been given endless talents which I begin to utilize today,” “I constantly attract opportunities that create more money,” and “I excel as a friend, daughter, mother, sister, cousin, employee, mentor, mentee, and lover.”

So no, that’s not the self-talk that I’m referring to. What I’m referring to is far less lacy and far more pragmatic. It usually goes like this:


Lucy does squats while holding two twelve-pound dumbbells by her shoulders. She squints in the mirror and breathes heavily through the set.


I can’t believe decolonizing mental health is actually a thing. This is freaking insane. And so condescending to people of color, actually. Why doesn’t Stanford ever get mental illness advocacy right? Is this just me, or are they, like, not even trying to do this? It’s so frustrating. I wrote that op-ed. Should I write another op-ed? Like, how can you organize an entire mental health week and not include anything about mental illness? And then say you’re destigmatizing mental illness? That’s the problem here, isn’t it? Because –


Come on, Luce. We know that you’re annoyed about this. We know you hate mainstream mental health advocacy. We get it, okay? This is nothing new. So do something more productive with your thoughts. Think about the next op-ed that you’re going to write. Come up with the theses and material for 2-4 body paragraphs, plus examples that are going to make sense in the context. Do it. Now.

And I do it. And by the time I’m done working out, I’m calm, I’m no longer worrying about failed mental health advocacy, and I have a head start on my next op-ed.

People like to think of self-care as an aesthetic. Tea and affirmations and bubble baths and soft, soothing voices. I call bullshit. Self-care is an umbrella term describing things you do to take care of yourself. Some of them are fun, others decidedly not. Some are interesting, others are boring. Some are reasonable to share with the public. Others probably shouldn’t go on your Instagram account. At the end of the day, though, self-care isn’t a performance. It’s the tedious, repetitive, necessary work of staying sane, one CVS coupon/indie rock anthem/Erev Shabbat/thought intervention at a time.

Photograph of Phoebe Bridgers, a white woman in her early twenties with bleached blond hair died vaguely green. She is wearing a black long-sleeved t-shirt with a white skeleton pattern on the front and is standing in front of a greenscreen of a train on the tracks, so that it looks like she is standing on the train and riding it.

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