Serenity: Is it Possible?

     When my son, Mike, came over recently to play chess — or should I write to easily defeat me in several chess matches — he arrived carrying a DVD. The title was: The Devil and Daniel Johnston.
      Johnston is a cult figure among artists who have mental disorders because he is a song writer, singer, and artist who has struggled for years with mania.
     In addition to the DVD, which documents Johnston’s career and illness, Mike also gave me Johnston’s first album, which contained three haunting songs about his illness. Not everyone appreciates Johnston’s jarring and, at times, squeaky voice, including my wife, Patti, but both Mike and I found that the rawness of his vocals made the struggles that he described even more piercing.
     During the DVD, the narrator interviews Johnston’s parents and, at one point, his father describes how he and his son were flying home from a successful concert when Daniel grabbed the wheel of the family’s single engine airplane during a manic moment and caused it to nosedive into the ground. Fortunately, no one died.
     His father begins to cry in the documentary and speaks about his biggest fear, which is what will happen to his son after his parents die. The tears welling in his eyes and worry etched on the couple’s faces are very familiar to me because I frequently see this same scene after I give a speech and meet other parents with children who have mental disorders. These encounters are reminders of the obvious — that mental illnesses do not only impact the person who becomes sick, but everyone in their families who love them.   
     Patti gave me a silver necklace when we got married and I wear each day. There are two items that hang on it. One is a well-worn cross that she used to clutch when her first husband was in the hospital dying from cancer. She used to hold it and pray. The other is a smaller piece that she gave me after we had endured an especially horrific experience when Mike became psychotic and was shot twice with a taser by the police. It is inscribed with words that are credited to Saint Francis of Assisi:
     “Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Acceptance, especially something as terrible as an illness that continues to strike your child, is extremely difficult for me to do. I still struggle to find serenity.
You can visit Daniel Johnston’s webpage here.
You can read more about Daniel Johnston  here
About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.


  1. Margaret S. says

    My husband and I mourned the death of our son when he got a mental illness. Did he die? No, he did not. But we had to realize that our son had died, at least the one who we had known and loved. Once we realized that our son — as we knew him — was dead. Then we could help our “new” son who was ill and needed our help.
    This sounds harsh as I write it, but it helped us gain serenity.

  2. Daniel Johnston rules!

  3. donnamwilson says

    Thankyou for the information on Daniel Johnston. I saw a program on TV a few years ago and had forgotten his name so I was unable to search the web for him.

  4. donnamwilson says

    Thankyou for the information on Daniel Johnston. I saw a program on TV a few years ago and had forgotten his name so I was unable to search the web for him.