Finding balance: The Four Burners Theory and Mental Illness

Stencil Art by Eclair Bandersnatch
Eclair Bandersnatch

This is in response to a post that I read on ParParV about the Four Burners Theory of Success.

According to the Four Burners theory the “Four Burners” are like the burners of a stove.

Each burner represents an essential part of life.

One is family, one is friends, one is health and one is work.

According to this theory a really successful life requires that a person shut off or turn down two of the burners.

How does this apply to someone with a physical or mental illness; with two or more burners shut down by his body or his past?

The first question is, what does the word success really mean?


a :  degree or measure of succeeding

b :  favorable or desired outcome; also :  the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence

3 :  one that succeeds

I find it curious that that the second definition of success is a favorable or desired outcome illustrated by this clarification: the attainment of wealth or eminence; or stated another way, hoarding more money and resources than one needs.

Success is defined as a material outcome based on the standards of our current media culture which mandates and normalizes self-indulgent consumerism.

I consume mass quantities therefore I am–a success.

By this definition 99 percent of us are not “really successful” in a rather successful way, meaning that if our goal is to continue to live on this planet without dying from any of the millions of random events that may happen any second we are a success even if we have not gathered multiple billions of dollars and multiple millions of “fans” who worship our ability to hoard money in envious anonymity.

The first definition of success is a bit vague; a degree or measure of succeeding.

Does one shut down one’s family and health burner for a degree of success that falls short of really successful”?

The third definition is equally vague; one that succeeds.

Does one abandon one’s friends and family to merely succeed?

What is success for someone with a grave physical or psychiatric disability?

What is success for a man with Dissociative Identity Disorder?

Today I am a success because

I didn’t wake up and spend the entire day in a dream in which I watched myself play with toys

I did not let a snide accusation in my email flip me into an uncontrollable rage. (for the entire day)

I walked to therapy despite the worst series of panic attacks since Spring.

I remembered to tell my partner I love him.

I looked at my WordPress stats and saw that I’ve blogged at least one post a day for the past 25 days. That’s a huge success for a man who believed he couldn’t blog at all a short year ago.

I was not hospitalized at all this year.

I am no longer involved with a pathological narcissist. This is the first time in my life that I am completely free of feeling obligated to please someone.

I have a circle of friends on Word Press whom I am proud to know. I am honored to collaborate on projects with the Public Blogger, I am honored to have the respect of Danica, Linda, Erica, Kendall, and a host of other people who read and comment on my work. I hope that you know who you are.

I have a therapist who genuinely cares about my health and whose work heals my life and my relationships.

I have not stopped writing.

For people with severe, disabling psychiatric disorders, just having enough gas to light those burners is a success.

This is especially true in a culture that reserves it’s most savage treatment for people with mental illnesses.

Today I am not sitting on a street as the people of my city treat me like an animal.

Today I am not in a squalid hotel room where the local crack dealers have stripped me of the little cash that I have.

Today I am not in a filthy, underfunded residential facility under the threat of discharge because my thirty days are up.

Today I am not in a hospital surrounded by a staff group that is dangerously under-trained and skeptical of my diagnosis because they don’t understand how someone as ‘smart as you’ can have a mental illness.

Today I am not begging a Randian bureaucracy to give me back the money I gave it when I worked so that I can eat.

Today I do not feel helpless and suicidal.

Today I feel loved.

Today three of my burners are up and running and my health burner still flickers.

By my definition I am really successful.

How do you define success?


Blog for Mental Health 2015