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I will again attempt to clean out my shed and will give up and blame it on my kids not being willing to come up and get all their stuff.

Another baby donkey will be born in my yard come May.  Not really a stretch as Mama Donkey is looking distinctly gravid.

I will continue to lose and gain back the same five pounds I’ve been yo-yoing for the past decade or so.

The sea ice in the Arctic will continue to grow and the Global Warmers (who all swore it would be gone by now) will continue to say that is exactly what their “model” predicted.

There will be an uptick in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes and we will continue to think we are somehow responsible for this.

There will be floods and famines, heat waves and freezes and the media will continue to hail them as “the worst EVER recorded” even though we recorded something very similar less than a century ago.

The link between television consumption and obesity will be conclusively proven leading to no changes whatsoever in our consumption of television.

The government will continue to mandate healthy lunches for our school children who will continue to throw them in the garbage.

Helicopter parenting will be proven to stunt the emotional maturity of our children prompting parents everywhere to work harder to emotionally mature their children through increased oversight.

Hillary Clinton will come out of the closet in a desperate attempt to guarantee the gay vote, one of the few demographics she has not yet totally alienated.

President Obama will slip up and call the American people his “subjects” thus proving what we have all already guessed - he thinks he’s a king, not a president.

The police shooting of a black repeat-offender will continue to be seen as a hate crime, but a group of black teenagers gunning down a white toddler will not.

Muslims will continue to be offended by Christmas displays, but Christians will not try to muscle in on Ramadan demanding “equal time”.

Cyber-attacks will continue prompting businesses everywhere to rely on actual conversations rather than tweets and emails.

Movie studios will scrape the bottom of the barrel putting out “blockbusters” based on characters from fast-food children’s menus.

Someone rich and famous will: commit suicide; beat his wife and/or kids; meltdown on live TV as the result of drug and/or alcohol abuse.  And for a few days we will focus our attention on these serious issues before turning the channel to some amusing rom-com rerun.

And the last one is a hope as much as it is a prediction.  I will still be gainfully employed as a counselor, working for myself and loving every minute of it.  Happy New Year!

I thought I was going to spend Christmas at home with my husband but then my Dad called and guilted me into going up to Kansas.  Thus I faced the horrors of modern air travel – stripping down for the TSA, making repeated trips through the metal detector (seems my ear muffs were setting it off) trotting up and down the concourse as they repeatedly changed my departure gate.

When I finally got onboard I noticed that the front row was unoccupied except for a man in the aisle seat.  “Anyone sitting there?” I asked.  “No,” he replied.  Score!  Window seat and easy exit when we land!  “I guess no one wants to be the first to die if the plane goes down,” I quipped stowing my overnight bag.

Suddenly I had every eye.  “Well at least our lifeless bodies might give you the cushioning you need to survive,” I assured them.  The flight attendant frowned at me and made a notation on her clipboard.  I struggled into my safety belt and, between sips of diet coke, watched as the other passengers slogged through. 

The flight was full so someone would eventually have to take the “prized” middle seat.  Harried mother with squalling toddler?  Nope, that one was old enough for his own seat.  Skinny teenager with his face glued to his I-Phone?  That’d be okay.  But no, he straggled on.

It began to look like we’d luck out, but at the very last minute, a nicely dressed woman rushed in wearing a huge faux fur coat.  “Is this seat taken?” she asked.  “Now it is,” I answered, hoping she wouldn’t detect the disappointment in my voice.  “Thanks,” she smiled, squashing herself into the seat and taking about a quarter of mine in the process.

“Oh no,” I thought.  “She looks chatty!  What if she finds out I’m a therapist and I have to spend the entire flight listening to how she can’t make her 40-year-old son get a job and move out of the basement?”  But she immediately shut her eyes and, before the flight attendants had even finished their spiel, was fast asleep.

I settled back to work on my crossword in relative contentment.  Then I smelled it.  Good Lord!  Had the coffee creamer soured in the galley?  Did somone just rip one off, silent, but deadly?  I waited a few minutes, but the odor didn’t dissipate.  In horror I realized it was her breath!  Her head fell to one side (MY SIDE) and I gagged.  That breath could have stopped a charging hippo in its tracks.

I turned to the window discretely holding up my collar.  After a while the smell died down and I looked back.  Her head had fallen to the other side and Mr. Aisle Seat was leaning as far forward as he could to avoid the stench.  That’s when I noticed the attendants in their jump seats giggling at us.

On top of it all, Ms. Fur Coat COUGHED the entire time without even TRYING to cover her mouth.  (I’m not sure she actually woke up.)  It was a deep, hoarse cough that some people call “productive”.  Productively producing atomic WMDs of disease!  So that was my flight.  Trying to keep from throwing up with my shirt collar stuffed up my nose.

When we landed Ms. Fur Coat jumped up and was the first off the plane.  “Well at least we’ll have the head cold to remember her by,” I grumped to Mr. Aisle Seat.  “Maybe it was a smoker’s cough,” he said hopefully.  That’d be a gift.  And a Merry Christmas to us all!

One of the best things about my job is the low overhead.  I don’t need much in the way of equipment or tools.  Just a pen and paper and two chairs.  Once when the power was out in the neighborhood, I was still able to give sessions by merely opening the door to let in light and air.  It doesn’t get much cheaper than that.

However, there are two devices I can’t live without – my phone and my computer.  And when one or the other is on the fritz, my job becomes impossible.  When BOTH of them are down, I revert to a quivering mass of frustration and hopelessness.  You just never realize how bound you are to a machine until it stops working.

Case in point.  Last week my phone was down for a couple of days.  I could get and send calls, but no texts.  And I couldn’t retrieve my voice messages.  All I could do was see that someone had called and call them back.  They invariably began the conversation with “Didn’t you listen to my message!?”  I WISH!

It took several hours talking with the service tech from my land line (which I LUCKILY had  preserved) to finally get the frickity-frack piece of, well, “stuff” to start working again.  Then I had several dozen messages to sort through.  It was unsettling to hear my clients getting increasingly angry as they left message after message – many of them in response to MY calls before I realized I wasn’t getting any of my messages.

Then there is the internet.  Wonderful tool when it’s working.  Hideous, taunting ogre when it isn’t.  Before I got my new computer, I had to do a “hard boot” about once an hour when the frickity-frack thing locked up.  “What about that pen and paper?” you ask.  Well, sure, those work DURING the session, but BEFORE that can happen, I need the internet to check on people’s insurance coverage. 

And after the session I need the internet to input their bills.  When the insurance company websites are down (and ONE has been down for over a week now) I’m dead in the water.  Nothing riles me up more than the prospect of not getting paid for my work.  Now I COULD simply hire a billing company, but that’s a lot of money to spend on something that would just take a few minutes if only the dang internet would work!

Don’t EVEN get me started on all the other things I use my computer for – tracking my financials, writing letters, recording session notes.  All I can say is that you can’t backup your files TOO often.  So yes, I have a very low overhead, but I am shackled to my phone and computer.  You hear a lot these days about taking “a vacation” from technology.  I’d consider it a vacation if I could just get through ONE week when that technology worked flawlessly!

When I ask someone how his holiday was, I usually get the same answer:  “Good,” said with an expression that means everything but.  I start probing at one extreme.  “Well, were the police called?”  (You’d be surprised how many times the answer to that is “Yes”.)  From there I work down the line to physical assault, verbal assault, theft, drunken ranting, re-airing of dirty laundry and rehashing of hurtful memories.

Why is it that getting together with our loved ones can bring out the worst in us?  I’m not talking about the innocent faux pas (such as asking if we might PLEASE turn down the TV, at least while we eat and being rudely admonished that it’s time for Wheel of Fortune and “in MY house we watch The Wheel!”)  I’m talking about consciously calling someone out in no uncertain terms.

Fightin’ words plop to the floor, an odious, steaming mess.  More harsh words are thrown.  Then fists and, possibly, small, dense objects if any are at hand.  Threats are screamed.  “Don’t you EVER set foot in this house again!”  “You’ll NEVER see your grandkids!”  “I’ll GET you for this!”  Doors slam, tires squeal.   Fa-la-la-la-la.  La-la.  De-dah!

So, when trying to help someone gird his loins for the annual family gathering, I hit hard on the subject of expectations.  Your experience is largely dependent on what you THINK it will be.  If you go in hoping for a Hallmark Christmas with everyone singing carols and holding hands, you’ll probably be disappointed.  Likewise, if you go in looking a fight, chances are you’ll find one.

Start by remembering the last gathering.  What was good about it?  What was bad?  And what activities contributed to each?  In many cases, we stumble into the same conflicts year after year.  Address these directly and agree to banish them from the proceedings.  Typical stumbling blocks are parenting, partnering and politics.

For example, when my family meets, the rule is that you can only rant about your politics when you’re in a room full of the like-minded.  Otherwise shut up about it!  We all know where we disagree so there’s no point in bringing it up in “mixed” company.  Those who push the boundary are gently brought to heel with chocolate and glasses of wine.

Remember what brought you all together.  Making cookies?  Trimming the tree?  Watching a treasured holiday classic?  Maybe when everyone laughed was when you were raking leaves or washing the cars, or playing cards.  Make sure you do those things again.  Give people a shared goal and they are less likely to fight, more likely to unite.

Finally, Alcohol is sometimes the problem.  As much as I enjoy a cocktail, I can see the wisdom of having an alcohol-free celebration, especially when hosting those in recovery.  If your other relatives can’t be without a drink for the few hours it takes to attend your party, they just don’t need to come.

And no I’m not going to write about that Michael Brown mess.  All I can do there is to sigh and shake my head.  No, I’m going to tackle something much more important -- my problem with how my kids discipline MY grandkids.  (A vital issue, so far totally ignored by the media!)

Don’t get me wrong.  I think my sons and their wives are great – smart, hard-working, courteous.  But every time the subject of child discipline comes up, they recoil from my ideas in abject horror.  I don’t get it.  It’s not like I’m suggesting they give their kids a time out in the Iron Maiden.  I just don’t see what’s so wrong with a little thump on the butt or a little tap on the hand.

“My kids think I’m a monster!” I wail to my friend.  She clucks her tongue.  “I know what you mean.  None of these kids know how to discipline any more.  We were at Applebee’s and there was this toddler just running all over the place, yelling, getting into things.  I took him back to his table and asked his mother to please keep an eye on him.  She told me to mind my own f-ing business!”

“What did I do so wrong?” I sniffle.  “I used to be the GOOD mother.  People complimented me all the time about how great my kids were in public.”  “Mine, too,” says my friend.  “That’s because they knew if they acted up they were going to get it when they got home!”

“But I never hit them WITH anything.  It’s just sometimes they quit listening and I had to get their attention.”  I hesitated, wondering if I sounded like Adrian Peterson trying to assure the media that bloody welts on your legs are a normal part of growing up.  “I bet they can’t even REMEMBER a time I spanked them.” 

“They’ll figure it out,” my friend assures me, “when they get tired of making apologies and paying damages.”   She’s right, but then her grandkids live in town and she gets to babysit them two days a week.  I get irregular scraps of carefully supervised time when nothing interesting is going on - an afternoon here, a breakfast there – and a three-hour drive each way.

It’s all so ridiculous because I work with people who had to endure REAL abuse from their parental units.  I’m talking black eyes and broken bones.  Not just once but routinely.  Such beatings inflict intense psychic damage.  But so does a lack of discipline.  It’s no fun being the bad one all the time.

My cherished aunt spent most of her career in elementary education.  “The ones you have trouble with in class,” she explains.  “When you see them with their parents you can tell that they get away with murder at home.  It’s the kids who lose out in the end.  We try, but,” she waves her hands dismissively.

And that’s what happens to the undisciplined ones.  They are dismissed.  From school, from friendships, from society.  I think that’s abuse, too.

And of course I’m referring to my little neighbor donkey, Susie.  (You knew that, right?)  Despite the fact that I love her, she can be, well, an ass.  Stubborn as the day is long!  In working with her, I am reminded of the many techniques I used to raise my boys for, as we all know, children can be asses, too.  (Okay, I’m through with that word now, I promise.)

When trying to get a child to go somewhere he doesn’t want to go, you have to make the destination appealing.  Susie is easy.  All it takes is a cup of birdseed.  I do believe she’d walk through fire to get it.  But with kids, food only works for so long.  Just try getting a teenager into the shot clinic with the promise of a lollipop.

Sometimes the appeal is the simple understanding that if you don’t go, I’ll beat your butt.  But as anyone who as stood at the back end of a donkey with a switch can tell you, that doesn’t work very often.  You’ve got to go with the honey, not the vinegar.  Now I’m not counseling you to bribe your kids into obedience, at least not ALL the time, because, believe it or not, there are things more powerful than money, toys and a Happy Meal.

One is peer pressure.  If all the OTHER kids are doing it, your kid is more likely to follow along.  It doesn’t have to be all of them either, just ones that your kid admires.  In trying to get Susie to let me brush out her (filth-caked) coat, I first worked on Mama Donkey who loved it and didn’t want me to stop.  That got Susie’s interest, but she still fled when the brush touched her as if it were a cattle prod.

Education is another inducement.  You should always explain to kids where they are going, what will happen there and how you expect them to behave.  I used to have these little rehearsals in the car with my boys on the way to the doctor, church and the grandparent’s house.  Of course I can talk to Susie all day and she’ll be no wiser.  So I set the brush on the ground and let her explore it donkey-fashion, by thoroughly smelling it, then carrying it around the yard in her mouth.

Finally, there is praise, which all kids want whether they admit it or not.  They all want to feel grown up, trusted and appreciated.  “I know you’ll make me proud,” you can say.  And then when they do, let them know how impressed you are with their maturity.  We all get too little praise in this life (just think about your boss) and it is very powerful.

I didn’t really need to praise Susie, the pleasure of being brushed was enough.  Once she settled into it, she was hooked.  Now both she and her mother follow me around nuzzling my hands as if a brush will miraculously appear in them.  High tribute from a couple of real asses.

I spent the weekend with my grandkids and endured 48 straight hours of Frozen on the TV and in the car.  (If I hear the song Fixer Upper one more time, I think my brain will explode.)  The show is musically and visually addictive, I have to admit.  But just what kind of role model is a Disney princess with her huge eyes, impossibly slender waist and killer singing voice?  It wasn’t always this way.

When I was growing up, there was only one princess, Snow White.  Sure, she was young, slim and beautiful, but at least she looked “human”.  I challenge you to find an image of Snow White, not her photo-shopped modern version, but the ORIGINAL, in all her rounded-thigh, chubby-cheeked glory.  Then compare that to Anna from Frozen.

Snow White has the sturdy figure of a real-live girl with a realistic waist and hips in believable proportion.  Anna’s waist is so pinched, there is no way it could support her upper body, much less that huge head.  And yet below that tiny waist are ridiculously broad hips.  Can you image the torque that would be created when the poor girl tried to walk on those pencil-thin legs?

Poor Snow White doesn’t have a lot of character.  She runs away from danger, willingly agrees to be a servant and stupidly accepts an apple from a very dubious-looking stranger.  Then when the prince wakes her up, she up and marries him with no further consideration.  She’s the epitome of female helplessness.

In contrast, Anna runs around with her prince, willingly courts danger to rescue her sister, and ends up with a commoner.  She’s certainly smarter, more assertive.  It would seem the message is that you have to make your own life, not just wait around for a prince to come and marry you.  But in the meantime you have to be rich, thin and talented. 

Now I understand that we’re talking about entertainment here.  No one will shell out nine dollars to watch an animated movie about an average girl who doesn’t do much.  We want to hear about the princess - the very word implies wealth and privilege.  And we want her to have fantastic adventures.  We want drama, spectacle, a cast of thousands!

But, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we want those big eyes and that tiny waist, too.  The girls I counsel – without exception – think they are fat and ugly.  They think that they’re worthless because they can’t sing and dance.  They see an empty future unless they somehow stumble upon fame and fortune. 

And no matter how hard I try to tell them they are precious and worthwhile, a few hours with a Disney princess undoes it all.

A few of my clients report contact with the spirit world on a fairly regular basis.  Many more can recall an instance or two when they felt a strong connection with the great beyond.  They usually make these confessions reluctantly.  “You’re going to think I’m crazy.…”

But I don’t.  After all, I have only the vaguest understanding of what happens when our spirits leave the flesh.  However I do believe in existence after death.  And if that’s true, then it’s at least technically possible for us to contact the living after we die.  So yes I think it happens, I just don’t think it happens very often.

I can only image that it’s awfully difficult for spirits to make the trip, otherwise they’d be doing it all the time.  And wouldn’t that be hell on Earth?  Image being nagged by the father you hated, tormented by the neighbor who hated you, harangued endlessly by people who know better.  Thankfully, it must be too much trouble for most ghosts.

So when one makes that rare and arduous journey into our mortal plane, I have to believe it’s because he has something mighty important to say.  But that’s not what my clients report.  Ninety-nine percent of the time, what I hear about is not a warning of when the stock market is going to collapse, or where the safe deposit box key is, or even that 2019 looks to be a heck of a hurricane year.

No, my clients almost always say their “angel” had some variation of this short and simple message:  “It’s going to be okay.”

“I saw my brother just standing there at the end of the bed.  He told me not to worry.  That it’d be okay.”  “My grandmother was right there in the hallway, and she just told me everything would be okay.”  “He didn’t actually say anything, but I had the feeling that everything was going to be all right.” 

Sometimes my clients don’t actually SEE the ghost.  They may feel a presence, hear a voice inside their heads.  Maybe they just felt someone sit at the end of the bed.  Usually it’s a family member or good friend.  Sometimes it’s a total stranger.  And sometimes the message is downright elegant.

One client reported that her angel said, “Your feet are already on the path God has chosen for you.  You shall be uplifted.”  Beautiful!  Another said his angel looked around at the dingy parking lot where they stood in the rain and remarked, “Isn’t it all so wonderful?  This is all God’s church.”   Apparently they have better vision than we do.

Now you’d think when someone has an authentic assurance from a bona fide angel he’d quit worrying.  But it doesn’t work like that.  My clients just add in the worry that they’re crazy, seeing things.  I’ve never seen an angel, or ghost, or the spirit of someone I knew.  I hope if I ever do, I’ll have the ability to believe what they tell me.

Some of the people who actually read this blog (and I’m talking to YOU) will see this week’s headline and groan, “Not another article about mindfulness!  My mind is full enough!”  And they will quickly click on another link. 

But NO!  Pay attention.  I said mind-LESS-ness.  As in drifting along, empty-headed, not a care in the world.  This is the state I aspire to, but not in the sense of stumbling around aimlessly.  No, I want to be paying attention, full attention, to what is right in front of me.  Letting go of the past, forgetting about the future.  Just doing and being in THIS time, fully.  No beeping phones, no buzzing TV.  All I want to hear is wind and birdsong.

This is where I am when I am winnowing wheat or untangling string.  Occupations of which I am very fond and exceptionally skilled.  But so what?  “That’s just mindless busy work,” my husband would grump.  Exactly, and we don’t have enough of it these days.  We have to stop moving so fast, being in so many places at once.  We need to embrace the paradox of Eastern religion – you have to first empty your mind in order to fill it.

I took some time to let my mind drift last weekend. It was my annual stint at the Ren Faire, filling in at my friends' booth while they "pulled a double" at a quilt show. That night before the show I sat in blissful silence with nothing to watch but the stars. I was reminded of my childhood when I could spend hours looking at clouds.

I remember "playing" with the neighbor kids, but I really can't recall much of what we actually did.  We were outside with maybe a ball, maybe a doll, but somehow we managed to fill all the hours between breakfast and dinner and be so enthralled with it that our parents had to call over and over to get us home. Such was the magical combination of youth and imagination.

When do we ever allow ourselves such long periods of reverie these days? What has become of the daydream?  Now all our dreams are uploaded for us complete with zombies and explosions. We trot from activity to activity, but just how much do we really enjoy each one? Are we even really THERE when we spend so much time talking to people who aren't there and checking on what's happening someplace else?

I invite you to take some time and unplug. Turn it all off and let your mind wander. Watch some clouds. Listen to the birds. Drain your mind until it's good and empty. Remember who you used to be.  Remember what you wanted to be when you “grew up”.  Take some time to daydream.  You just might find out who you really are.

When I got my son’s old IPhone, I finally did some of the programming I had never bothered with on my beloved flip phone.  One was to set distinctive ring tones for my family.  My dad and brother have a jazzy piano.  My kids (and kids-in-law) “boing”.  And my husband barks like a dog.  This always gets laughs from people who hear it, but there is more to this story.

As I’ve mentioned before, my husband suffers from a terminal case of “right-itis”.  The defining symptom of this dread condition is expressed in the endless (and endlessly repeated) lectures he gives me about the “right” way to do anything and everything.

When I’m driving, he just has to let me know that, if I’m going to hit the curb, it is best to do it head on and not scrape the tire.  When I tell him what I had for lunch, he never wastes the opportunity to inform me that I should save the soups and salads for my evening meal as it is better to avoid sleeping on a full stomach.

I get lectured about doing the laundry (the heavy duty cycle wears out the clothes faster), watering the garden (it’s best to do it in the evening so the water doesn’t just evaporate) and flipping through channels on the TV (going from top to bottom once in a while gives the up button a rest).

“How am I still sane?” you ask.  By using a little trick I teach my clients when they’re trying to deal with a nag.  (There!  I SAID it!)  Try to imagine his scolding as some sort of mildly annoying background noise, like crowing birds or barking dogs.  The mistake you make, I tell them, is thinking that anything you say could possibly help.  Let’s look at your options.

First, you could agree with the nag and change your behavior to fit his expectations.  Seems like that would solve the problem, but it won’t.  He’ll merely find other things to fuss about.  You could argue with him, tell him that YOUR way is best and then spend a painful, exhausting and, ultimately, pointless day/week/month trying to get him to see your point. 

Or you could nod politely, murmur the occasional “uh-huh” and think about something else.  He’ll shut up eventually.  And if you wait long enough, you sometimes win the prize of having your nag proven wrong without you having to say a word!  Here’s an example.

Mr. Grump lectured me endlessly about how our new dishwasher did NOT require pre-rinsing of the dishes.  “That’s what the dishwasher is FOR!” he howled. “Uh-huh,” I responded and rinsed away while going over our upcoming choir anthem in my head.

Then one day he was horrified to open his precious dishwasher and find it full of wriggling vermin!  Seems that the three days it took for us to “efficiently” fill all the available space in each and every rack (another one of his nags), had created the perfect Bed & Breakfast for a nest of fire ants.

Calmly, I looked him in the eye and, with a completely straight face, said “Maybe we should rinse the dishes first.”  Then I walked away leaving the mess to him.  One nag down, one thousand to go.

There is a well-known platitude I like to use:  Never say it can’t get any worse.  So now we’re up to three confirmed cases of Ebola in Dallas and everyone expects for there to be even more.  At least we have an Ebola Czar.  (NOW I feel safe!)  Shoot!  This guy isn’t even a doctor, for heaven’s sake!  Is there nothing in the world our politicians won’t use for a power grab?

But there is also another platitude I like:  Look for the silver lining.  Or:  ‘Tis an ill wind that blows no man to good.  Why just this morning, a friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) said that his or her relative (their exact relationship shall also remain nameless) had cancelled a planned visit to Dallas just because of the Ebola scare.  My friend couldn’t be happier.

AND… as people are pointing out, ad nauseam, only ONE person has died in the United States from Ebola while every day hundreds, THOUSANDS die from (insert illness or accident here).  By golly, they’re right!  So why do we worry so much about an exotic disease from which we have almost zero chance of dying, and forget about the biggest risk most of us will ever take – getting behind the wheel?

Because we LIKE to drive, that’s why.  And this brings up the perplexing role perception plays in our lives.  In the counseling world this happens most often when we compare people’s “experience” of an event.  Siblings, even twins, can be raised in the same household and still report vastly different “experiences” of childhood.  For one it could be hell, for the other, heaven on Earth.

Twin studies are the Holy Grail for researchers.  You can totally eliminate the genetic factor and look straight at environment in trying to determine individual differences.  But even so, all that research has really proven is that people are born with different “temperaments”.  Even twins.  Some are shy, some courageous.  Some are calm, others go off at the drop of a hat.

What’s important to understand is YOUR temperament.  Basically, Temperament + Experience = YOU.  Case in point.  I can drop one granddaughter from a height of six feet onto a mattress and she will giggle and squeal for more.  Yet I can gently jostle the foot of the other one and it’s a twenty-minute screaming fit.  Can you guess which one is more likely to take up bull riding?

So if you find yourself terrified that YOU will be the next Ebola victim, even though you live miles away from anyplace anyone even briefly exposed to it has ever been, you need to consider your “experience” of sickness.  Were you sickly growing up?  Have you always been easily scared?  How was illness treated in your family?  Have you ever wanted to be some sort of czar?

Last week I wrote about end of the world scenarios and forgot about the one closest to home.  For right there in Dallas, a mere thirty miles from my front porch, the global scourge of Ebola seems to be taking root.  Am I concerned?  Well, let’s just say I worry about catching Ebola about as much as I worry about becoming anorexic, which is not at all.   

Now I’m no doctor, but even though the outbreak is relatively close to me (closer than Liberia, for instance) I truly believe I’m safe unless for some reason I decide to drive over to Presbyterian Hospital and start poking around without a hazmat suit.

What I find more disturbing than a large, modern, metropolitan hospital blowing the chance to stop a pandemic in its tracks, is how the carrion birds of greed and hatred are already beginning to circle.  By the time many people read this column, Jesse Jackson, Jr. and Al Sharpton might already be rabble-raising in Big D.  It’s just sad.

First, there is the accusation that the Liberian man WOULD NOT HAVE DIED if he’d only been white.  That’s right.  The hospital sent him home at first because “they” are racists.  After all, the only person to die on American soil from the disease (so far) has been black.  That can’t just be a coincidence.  It has to be racism, pure and simple.

Then there is the grieving family who are not grieving too hard to stop them from considering a law suit against the (racist) hospital.  Let me see if I got this straight.  The man lies about his proximity to someone with the disease to get on a flight to the U.S.  While here, this FOREIGN CITIZEN falls ill.  He doesn’t PAY to see a doctor.  No, he goes to the ER and gets the same FREE medical care we give everyone regardless of their citizenship or lack thereof.

Now the hospital screwed up, make no mistake.  For the public good, they should have looked a little deeper.  But the care they provided was still head-and-shoulders above what he would have gotten back in Liberia and maybe he counted on that.  At any rate, he didn’t get LESS care simply because he was black.

I have a lot of clients, black, white and other, who can’t afford medical care.  They’re in and out of the ER so often they ought to qualify for frequent flier miles.  For the most part, the “care” they get consists of a Band-Aid and an aspirin.  They frequently get sicker and continue to suffer unless MediCaid or MediCare enter the picture. 

How can these hospitals be so HEARTLESS?  Why aren’t they giving the highest quality care to anyone who needs it regardless of his ability to pay?  ‘Cause they’d go out of business, that’s why!  It’s the same reason the grocery store doesn’t give you T-bone steak for the price of hamburger.  And everyone GETS that, except, of course, our politicians and professional rabble-rousers.  (Or are they the same thing?)

So which do you want?  A hospital full of fallible humans that has to ration care in order to stay on the black side of the P&L statement?  Or NO hospital, because no one’s stupid enough to invest in a business that continues to lose money.  You choose.

Welcome to the end times!  According to those in the know, we are fast approaching the end of days.  “All the signs are here!” they wail.  “Things have never been worse!”  Except, of course, they have.  And people have predicted the end of the world over and over but it’s still here.  “Make no mistake!” trumpet the faithful.  “This time the world is REALLY going to end!” 

Except that it won’t. I fully expect to be discussing this issue with my great grandkids someday.  And they will, in turn, discuss it with theirs.  So why does every generation end up thinking they will be the last?  I think it comes down to perspective.  I think it is a corollary of the old saying Ignorance Is Bliss.  In other words, the more you know, the more you worry.

We all start life pretty ignorant.  We are fed, bathed, clothed and entertained with only the vaguest understanding of where all that stuff came from.  Really young kids think the refrigerator just produces food and that clean clothes naturally multiply in their closets.  This dream world is short-lived.  All too soon, reality crowds in and with it insecurity.

I remember when I was in second grade and we learned that all animals need oxygen to survive.  I was shocked and terrified.  How come I was just now hearing about this?  Why weren’t my parents busily storing up oxygen the way my mother canned peaches?  How could we allow such a necessary element to just float around at will?  I had nightmares about suffocating.  I actually tried to train myself to breathe less.

Here in the US we’ve had a long period of blissful ignorance.  Things were pretty good and got better every year.  We were well-fed, clean and safe.  And technology was going to make everything perfect.  Except that technology bred an insatiable 24-hour news cycle which dashed the scales from our eyes.  Suddenly we realized that horrible things were happening ALL THE TIME.  And each tragedy, no matter how remote, was duly uploaded onto our TVs and computers and drilled into our consciousness.

Now people are so afraid, they won’t let their kids play in the yard without an armed guard.  When will it end?  My son, who works at the leading edge of technology, says that the future is in “connectivity.”  Soon we’ll be able to control all the electronic devices in our homes no matter where we are.  So I asked him the question that plagues so many of my clients, “When do they start implanting the chips?” 

“That will never happen, Mom,” he says in a way which leads me to believe that they’re merely tweaking the promotional materials before the big launch.  Someday a processor in my forehead might allow me to start the oven before I pull into the driveway, thus saving me precious seconds with which to witness more of the world’s horror and suffering delivered to a screen implanted in my eyeball.

And even as bad as THAT sounds, it still won’t be the end of the world!

I was glad to see domestic violence being denounced in the media recently.  But I was also saddened that, no matter how many times it may briefly catch the spotlight, the War At Home never seems to end.  I just hope I live to see the day when domestic violence is considered as outdated and ridiculous as spats and buggy whips.  But I probably won’t be around that long.

So why do we keep beating up the ones we love?  I think it comes down to fear.  I think domestic violence is an outgrowth of the primal fear of being abandoned.  Now you can be abandoned physically, but also emotionally.  When children experience repeated abandonment of either kind, they crave nothing more than control. 

First they seek to control themselves, their own needs and emotions, in order to be protected from loss.  They say “I don’t need anyone”’ and “You can’t trust anyone”.  Now, of course they DO need others and we all have to trust some people at least sometimes.  And so fear degenerates into anger, resentment, directed toward the ones who make them “weak” by being loved and needed

Second they seek to control the ones they love.  Strangely, this control shows first as abundant love, care and generosity.  There is almost always a period when the abuser showers his loved one with gifts and attention.  He “sweeps her off her feet”.  Now if he did that LITERALLY, she’d probably call the cops, so he saves that particular horror for later.

Once the loved one is off balance, the abuser starts to isolate her.  She is much too precious to risk out in the world.  “If you really LOVED me, you wouldn’t need anyone else.  You should just be happy here with me!”  Jealousy and suspicion breed endless arguments, so pretty soon it is just easier to stay home, stop calling.

Then the emotional stuff starts.  It usually begins with constant degradation.  “You can’t do anything right!  How come you never learn?”  He tells her she’s fat, ugly stupid.  She’s just lucky that he’s willing to put up with her.  “Nobody will ever love you but me!”

Finally comes the physical abuse.  If he’s done it right up to then, she’s too ashamed to let anyone else know and, deep in her heart, she believes she deserves it.  And just in case she IS thinking about leaving, he saves the best for last.  “If I can’t have you, nobody will!”  A beaten woman is in the most danger when her abuser’s back is against the wall.  That’s when he plans the “murder/suicide”.

And that’s when the media grabs the story.  But only if it’s particularly egregious, or it’s someone famous.  Then, for a little while, speeches are made, marches are taken, bracelets are worn.  But soon, very soon, something else grabs the headlines and it’s business as usual for The War At Home.

Lots of people don’t think psychology is a “real” science.  I guess that’s because so much of what we do can’t be easily quantified.  We spend a lot of time asking people what they feel and, God help them, they spend a lot of time trying to tell us.  But you don’t have to be a genius to know that what’s no big deal for one person can mean the end of life as we know it to another.

Then there’s that pesky placebo effect.  A lot of the time, people report complete relief of their symptoms when all they were given was a sugar pill.  Unfortunately, there are a lot of less than honorable characters out there who use this effect to make tons of money for basically doing nothing.   Sadly, some of them are therapists.

I call these people crystal wavers.  For a handsome fee, they’ll rearrange auras, realign your chakras and read your past lives.  And chances are, you’ll feel better.  You’ll tell your friends and they’ll tell theirs.  Pretty soon your crystal waver will have an 800 number and a summer home in Tuscany.  Nice work if you can get it.

So how is going to a counselor any different?  Well, there’s still that placebo effect.  People consistently report that their symptoms lessen just knowing they have an appointment with a counselor.  And we all know that talking to someone – ANYONE – makes us feel better.  It’s beginning to sound like I ought to invest in some crystals.

But no.  When you go to a Licensed Professional Counselor you’re getting at least six years of college education, one year of unpaid internship and 3,000 hours of paid supervision.  You’re getting someone who passed a national exam and has to get at least 12 hours of continuing education per year.  On top of all that, you get the oversight of a licensing board that investigates complaints and punishes the offenders.

Just try reporting a crystal waver.  Where would you even start?  The police?  They might take a report, but they have real crime to fight.  The Better Business Bureau?  Bet your crystal waver isn’t listed.  Besides, if things got hot, she’d probably just change her name and location and be back bilking more people out of their money before the end of the week.

But before I go all holier than thou, I have to admit that I’m nothing special.  All I really do is listen.  But I listen really, really well.  And I remember, I advise, I educate, and empathize.  That’s what a counselor does.  No crystals needed.

I work hard not to force religion on anyone.  But I must say that my job is easier when a client has faith.  This doesn’t necessarily mean he trots into a church every time the door opens.  But that he believes in a creator who cares for us and in a way of living that emulates “godliness”, as well as is possible for an imperfect human.  With faith comes hope.  And with hope, all things are possible.

That being said, we don’t have to look very far to see that there is great evil in the world.  This can manifest itself in the literal beheading of an innocent, or just the figurative beheading of constant verbal abuse heaped upon another innocent.  A question most people ask at some point is:  “If God is all powerful and God created everything, why is there evil in the world?”  Good question!

Some people attribute this to the work of Satan.  Well, maybe.  But from what I’ve seen, Satan doesn’t have to work very hard to make people treat each other like crap.  Some say that evil is just the absence of God, like darkness is the absence of light.  I like that one a little better, but it still doesn’t really explain all the inhumanity we see in humans.  So what’s the answer?

The social scientists talk about the de-humanization of “the other”.  It’s nothing new.  We’ve been doing it forever.  Whether it’s another race, another religion, another nation, or just the horde living across the river, we are all able to trick ourselves into believing that “those people” are somehow “less than human” and so they deserve whatever harm we care to inflict upon them.  We can cheat them, steal from them, enslave and even kill them with perfect impunity.

That’s great as far as it goes, but what about the evil we do to those closest to us?  I frequently ask family members why they behave so badly toward the ones they “supposedly” love, then treat perfect strangers like royalty.  So it isn’t just some evolutionary prejudice against “the other”.  We’re perfectly capable of inflicting evil upon anyone at any time for any reason or even NO reason.  What’s up with that?

I wish I had the answer.  I guess Jesus said it best when he said we should treat others as we want to be treated.  That pretty much includes everyone, but does that mean that people who do wrong should WANT to be punished?  I sure want that ISIS executioner to be beheaded himself, preferably with a dull knife.  But if I behead him for beheading someone else, should I then be beheaded and should I want that?  Good Lord, my brain hurts!

I guess it just comes down to free will.  Every minute of every day we have a choice to do good or to do evil.  We just have to try our very best to tell the difference between the two.

I admit it.  I’m a wuss.  I tell people all the time to man up and DO it, but did I?  NO!  What am I talking about?  My colleague, James, called me out to do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge and I didn’t do it.  But not for the reasons you might think.  

First just let me say that I definitely SHOULD have done it.  I have a very dear colleague and mentor who is currently suffering from ALS.  This horrible disease has robbed her of her ability to speak.  Had she been unable to walk, she still could have been a great counselor.  But losing her voice deprives her of that vocation.  And robs us all of the benefits of her grace, her humor, her love and her wisdom.  ‘Tis indeed a cruel twist of fate.  

Second, I have no real problem getting doused with ice water.  Just ask my husband.  I’ve been known to stumble into ice-cold streams and ponds on more occasions than I care to admit.  The problem I had was with FILMING myself getting drenched and then posting it on social media.  I’m sort of a private person when it comes to sharing my image.  A piece of my mind you get whether you want it or not.  

But mostly I just wussed out.  I simply didn’t WANT to do it.  And I didn’t like someone telling me I HAD to or I wouldn’t be supporting the fight against ALS.  So, as is my wont, I decided to put up and then shut up.  I donated not just $100, but $200.  Call it a sin offering.  

But this brings up the bigger issue of peer pressure, something that many of my clients struggle with.  And not just the kids.  We all have a basic desire to fit in so, without giving it much thought, we tend to follow the herd.  This is great when it comes to obeying the laws and observing the social mores.  Not so much when you find yourself robbing and setting fire to a convenience store.  

What is truly terrifying is how little it takes to turn a basically good person into a sociopath.  Classic experiments have shown that the simple SUGGESTION from someone merely PERCIEVED to be an authority figure can make normal people inflict (simulated) pain on innocent subjects.  Don’t we all “just follow orders?”  

Well, not all of us.  During my long drive to Kansas I found a station with Dave Ramsey going on a mini rant about living “purposefully”.  By which he means not running up a bunch of debt to immediately achieve a lifestyle that reasonably takes decades to build.  But that also goes for everything else.  It’s not always a good idea to follow the herd.  Especially when they’re heading over a cliff.  

WHICH IS NOT TO SAY that participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge is anything at all like plunging over a cliff!  It is a clever marketing ploy that was designed to persuade people to donate.  And I did.  Mission accomplished.  No bucket of ice water required.  (So there, James!)

Before I came along, my husband struggled under the horrible burden of being right all the time.  It took a lot of hard work and persistence, but I finally cured him of this terrible affliction.  (You’d think he’d be more grateful!)  Unfortunately, many people suffer under the delusion that there is only one right way of doing things and it just happens to be THEIR way.  

This kind of thinking is a relationship killer.  Even the most timid spouse will eventually explode under the crushing pressure of living with Mr. or Ms. Right.  It is one of the most common reasons people come in for marriage counseling.  That is assuming you can even GET the “righteous one” to show up.  After all, HE isn’t “the problem”.  

Whenever we shrinks get together, we all complain about the raw deal of couples counseling.  It turns your peaceful office into a war zone, and, for the same money, you get to have TWO people yelling at you.  Add to that the fact that most couples only agree to counseling as the very last resort before divorce.  So no matter how many years it took them to mess up their relationship, they expect US to fix it in just a few sessions.  Talk about pressure!  

When couples DO show up, they each tend to think of the other as being “the problem”.  Sometimes they have outside corroboration:  Police reports, hospitalizations, drug prescriptions.  But just because a person acts out, it doesn’t mean he acts alone.  That is one of the most difficult things to get people to accept.  If there are TWO people in the relationship, then they are BOTH responsible for what that relationship has become.

Here’s a common example that I call “Bait and Switch”.  One partner, let’s say the man, taunts the other, bringing up painful mistakes, pushing all the buttons, then when the woman is seething with rage, he turns away and refuses to talk anymore.  “I can’t deal with you when you’re being irrational.”  So she explodes and THAT’S the problem.

Then there’s “Guess What I’m Thinking”.  In this little game, partner number one, the woman this time, wants something from partner number two, but feels as though this should just be understood.  She feels if she has to ASK, it somehow “doesn’t count”.  So when she doesn’t get what she wants, she puts up a wall of silent, frozen resentment.  This sends partner two into a fury wondering what he did wrong, and THAT’S the problem.  

Finally there is the perennial problem of dealing with Mr. or Ms. Right.  Here’s how I handle it.  Let him be right all the time, even when he’s wrong.  Insist that he make EACH AND EVERY decision because he’s “always right”.  As the failures mount up the pressure will eventually become unbearable.  “YOU decide this time!” he will finally cry.  And then he’s cured.

Well, okay, it is.  What I mean to say is that work is not a CUSS word.  In fact, having productive work to do is one of the best defenses against depression.  

Now sure, when people first slide into depression they are often incapable of working.  They can’t get out of bed, can’t stop crying, see no point in doing ANYTHING.  They hide at home and isolate themselves.  They, in effect, put themselves in a full-body cast of avoidance as a way of dealing with their pain.

If only they were REALLY in a body cast.  Then it would be easier for them to justify their withdrawal from family and friends.  People would be more willing to believe that there really IS something wrong with them.  And they might not be so willing to toss around that bane of all mental health workers, “Just get over it.”

But once people are over the hump, working can be a real benefit.  We have all known people who, after the death of a loved one, insisted on going right back to the job.  They say it helps take their mind off their grief and they’re right.  As long as that grief is being dealt with at another time, there is no problem with forgetting about it for a while.

In fact, work is, in itself, essential for our mental health.  We should greet every day with some idea of what we want to accomplish.  Just moving from the bed, to the computer, to the TV all day is almost guaranteed to make – and keep - you depressed.  Even if what you want to accomplish is just taking a walk or reading a book, we all need something to do.

In days past, this was not a problem.  People worked from sun-up to well past sundown just surviving.  Life was an endless procession of chores, all of them vital to the health and happiness of the family.  It was impossible to consider what we did as meaningless.  We had the benefit of seeing the work of our hands turn into the food and products we depended on.  

Now we sit at computers, stand at cash registers or drive products from one side of the country to the other.  We are so far removed from the PURPOSE of our actions, and almost totally incapable of enjoying the BENEFITS of our work.  Instead we try to hit sales quotas, meet deadlines or just keep up with the ever-changing job market that demands new skills on a regular basis.

All the more important to have a pastime that you DO enjoy, that you see the benefit of.  Gardening, handiwork, fishing, carpentry.  It really doesn’t matter what you do, just be sure you do SOMETHING.  And no, getting to the 50th level of some video game doesn’t count.

In the wake of some high-profile suicides, I think it appropriate to look at the issue in some detail.  The most recent statistics I could find were from 2011 and came from the American Association of Suicidology.  I didn’t even know such an association existed, but I thank them for their data.  

In 2011 approximately 39,500 Americans committed suicide making it the 10th leading cause of death accounting for about 2% of the people who died that year.  It is primarily a white phenomenon.  Almost ¾ of all suicides are completed by white males (71%).  Another 19% are completed by white females.  That leaves 10% being non-whites of either sex.  

I say, “completed” because the statistics change dramatically when you look at suicide attempts.  And these figures can only be estimated because people don’t always report their attempts.  Even if the police or doctors get involved, fear and shame will often make people conceal their intent by insisting that the overdose or gun discharge was just “an accident”.

For 2011, only one in four attempts actually resulted in death.  Of those attempts, women outnumber men three to one.  So overwhelmingly more women attempt than men, but more men actually die.  Some think this is due to the method of choice – men preferring guns and women preferring pills.   

In 2011 50.6% of suicides were done with guns.  Suffocation (including hanging) accounted for 25.1%; poisoning (which I assume includes overdose) comprised 16.6%; cutting came in at 1.7% and drowning rated 0.9%.  That leaves 5.1% in an “other” category that wasn’t defined.  I image that includes things like car crashes, but I’m only guessing.

When you look at age, those between 45 and 64 make up over a third – 39%.  Another third, 32%, comes from those aged 25 - 44.  The elderly (65+) account for 16%; the young, 15 – 24 make up 12%; and children, 0 – 14, make up the final 1%.

Putting this all together, the person most likely to commit suicide in the US is a white male between the ages of 45 and 65 and he is most likely to do it with a gun.  The person most likely to “attempt without completing” it is a white female.  

How we feel about suicide ranges from selfless act of courage (like taking the bullet for a loved one) to selfish act of cowardice (like hanging yourself in jail before having to face the consequences of your crimes).

Working as I do with severely depressed people, I know that the decision to end your own life is not made easily.  And from what I hear, people are most likely to NOT attempt when they have connections – children, family, even pets.  Isolation, whether real or self-imposed, is a killer. 

Just remember this:  
Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Everyone knows that I love to use metaphors to explain things.  I think it really helps make complex concepts more accessible.  And because I like to grow plants, I use a lot of gardening metaphors.  My favorite is one I call God the Gardener.  

Now I don’t want to force religion down anyone’s throat, so when I say “God” you can fill in whatever conception of a creator you might have from whatever belief system you might adhere to.  Heck, you can even say “DNA” for all I care.  Just work with me her

I feel that God is like a farmer who plants a crop and wants only the best for it.  If He puts in a row of corn, He wants nothing more than for it to be the tallest, lushest, most productive corn it could possibly be.  What He DOESN’T want is for it to be okra.  If He had wanted okra, He would have planted okra.

People tell me all the time that they don’t feel they have a purpose.  Not true!  The very fact that you’re HERE means you have a purpose.  Problem is, lots of people don’t get much help or opportunity to figure out who they are.  Consequently, they spend a lot of time agonizing over the fact that they aren’t okra when they were always intended to be corn.

Say you plant an oak tree.  All you want from that tree is for it to grow tall and healthy.  You want it to beautify your yard, provide shade and acorns for the squirrels.  Maybe some day you want to put a tire swing there for your grandkids.  So you give it water, fertilizer and support and wait anxiously for the fulfillment of your hopes.

But let’s look at it from the tree’s point of view.  As far as the tree can see, it’s nothing special.  It just puts down roots and puts out leaves like every other tree.  Even when it’s fifty feet tall, all it really does is just STAND there.  You can see how that tree might come to believe it isn’t important and has no purpose.

Add into the mix the fact that lots of people plant their trees and then just leave them to fend for themselves without fertilizer, or support and with only the water that happens to fall from heaven.  Others actively stunt their trees – cutting off branches, scaring up trunks or even chopping them down to the ground again and again, no matter how hard the trees try to struggle back up. 

This is the neglect and abuse people suffer at the hands of their parents.
  Fortunately there is always time to “re-grow” yourself.  Don’t let the hurts from your childhood leave you stunted.  Put out new shoots, grow around your obstacles.  As long as you are trying to be the best “you” you can be, you can’t go wrong.

This is an old saying among mechanics.  A repairman will often give the owner an honest estimate of the parts and labor it will take to get an appliance back in good running order only to be told, “I don’t have THAT kind of money.”  So the owner asks for an inexpensive fix.  Then when the machine breaks down again, which it will, he ends up paying what the repairman originally quoted – and then some!  

This is also an apt metaphor for raising children.  I tell parents all the time, “You can either put in your time and effort at the beginning or at the end of your kid’s childhood.  I recommend doing it at the beginning, when you kids are cute and pliable and still think you know a thing or two about the world.  It’s a lot easier than trying to start from scratch with a sullen teenager who thinks you’re an idiot.”

You need to start teaching your kids skills right from the start.  The most important lesson is that you are NOT the designated cook and maid.  Everyone in the house needs to help out and that includes them. 

Now I know that little kids are not the most efficient when it comes to housework.  You have to put up with lots of less-than-stellar results.  You have to refocus them when their attention wanders.  You have to go back over it with them again.  And again.

Many parents give up saying, “It’s just easier to do it myself.”

“So you’re telling me that you want to do all the housework yourself for the rest of your life?”

“Well, no, but they can do it when they’re more competent.”

“And just how are they supposed to GET competent without practice?”  

“I’ll just try again when they’re older.”  

“Okay.  You can pay now, or you can pay later.  But let me tell you, the later it gets, the more you have to pay.”  

A fourteen-year-old who has never had to lift a finger for himself is going to be plenty angry when you tell him he’s now responsible for his own laundry and cooking.  You’ll get half-assed, unreliable results and lots of lip.  He’ll never let you forget for a MINUTE how unfair it is and how abused he feels.  

By contrast, a four-year-old is going to be delighted when you allow him to pour the laundry soap into the washer and stir the cheese into the macaroni.  Keep building on those skills and that kid will be cooking meals and doing laundry like a pro by the time he’s fourteen.  AND he won’t give it a single thought.  It will have become second nature.

I’ll never forget the glow of pride I felt when my oldest called from his college dorm that first semester.  “Mom,” he whispered into the phone, “my roommate doesn’t know how to work the washing machine.  How stupid is that?”   

Ah!  Money in the bank!

One of the hardest parts of dealing with mental illness is the fact that lots of people don’t believe it exists.  And some of these people are your family and friends.  At intake I will typically ask new clients about their support system with a question like, “How did your family members react when you told them you were coming to see a counselor?”  

Every now and then I hear something great like “Oh they’re 100% behind me.  They want to help me however they can!”  Sometimes I hear, “I didn’t tell them and they must NEVER know!”  Most often I hear, “They think I’m lazy, weak, making it all up.  They tell me to just get over it.”  

That’s when I slap my forehead and cry, “Just get over it!  Why didn’t I think of that?”  And my clients stare at me like they aren’t sure if I’m kidding.  Which I am.  “If it were THAT easy,” I say, “why do we have a billion-dollar industry in psychiatric medicine?  Why are there clinics, hospitals and hoards of counselors like me?  Does your family think we’re ALL just faking it?”  

So why does this “solution” keep getting trotted out by people who may otherwise be very sympathetic and well-meaning?  It doesn’t matter how horrific the abuse, how devastating the loss, how crippling the condition, SOMEONE out there is sure to have told my client to just get over it.  “It’s in the past,” they reason.  “Let it go.”  

Problem is, as far as your brain is concerned, there is no such thing as “past.”  Our brains live in the eternal present where everything is happening RIGHT NOW!  That’s why nightmares and flashbacks are so terrifyingly real.  That’s why our brains sometimes try to protect us by making us forget what happened.  But even that doesn’t last.  No matter how far you push it down, stuff is still going to come up eventually.  

You can’t “just get over it”.  You have to work it through.  That’s what I’m here for.   

This work goes through some predictable steps.  The first is simply to face what happened by either by writing it down or telling it to someone.  You’d think people would have already done this, but they usually haven’t.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ll be going through the details of his abuse with someone in his 50s or 60s who tells me he never told anyone about it before.  

The next step, which can happen simultaneously, is to re-experience the feelings you had during the trauma.  This is definitely NO FUN.  And it isn’t done just once.  It can last weeks or months.  Even years.  But once it IS done, you are over the hump.  The memories become just that, distant, faint, not something that is still happening, but something long dead.   

Then, and only then, can you begin to “get over it”.

My family and friends are happy that I’m finally getting over my obsession with a certain TV/film/stage actor.  I did this with the tried-and-true technique of Exposure Therapy.  I simply “forced” myself to look at pictures of him (some of them shirtless!) day in and day out until I stopped swooning and became (dare I say it) bored.  

I come to this juncture with a mixture of grief and relief.  Sure, I no longer have to endure my kid’s ridicule and my husband’s exasperated sighs, but let’s face it:  Life is no picnic for an old lady.  I squint even with tri-focals, I have trouble getting out of my chair and it’s a rare night when I’m still awake at 9 p.m.  Falling in love with someone, even someone I had never and would never meet, made me feel young again.  

I’d be totally devastated but for the fact that I know it will happen again.  Beneath this wrinkly fat beats the heart of a teenage girl teetering on the precipice of first love.  One day (probably sooner than I’d like), some media heartthrob is going to get my motor running again.  Secretly, I hope I never lose the capacity to fall in love.  But just what is this thing we call love?  

I recently took a seminar on couples counseling and the presenter believed that we fall in love with a version of a former caretaker; someone with a mixture of the same good points and faults that mom, dad or “other” had.  Except that we think we can “fix” this one.  We think we can manipulate THIS person into giving us all the things we didn’t get from that OTHER one and experience heaven on Earth.  

Mr. Presenter called this “potential”.  He said that we really do pick the “perfect” mate most of the time.  The problem is our selections seldom achieve their potential because we give up too soon.  If we could just figure out how we were “wounded” by our past, we would know what we most want from our present.  Then we could begin to train our significant others how to give it to us.   

He said that we tend to fall into two categories:  Turtles and Hail Storms.  Turtles were “wounded” by being controlled too much; anything from having a drunken, irrational father to the typical Helicopter Mother.  Turtles react to this by pulling themselves inside and “checking out”.  The Hail Storms were “wounded” by neglect, abandonment.  They react to this by pelting everyone in the vicinity with chunks of their frozen rage.  

As you might imagine, Turtles tend to marry Hail Storms setting off a vicious cycle of miscommunication.  The Turtle reacts to the Hail Storm by withdrawing which just makes the Storm hail harder.  The key is to stop reacting and start understanding what each of you really needs from the other.  With time and effort you CAN get the mate you always wanted.  A real one.

One of the best pieces of news I can hear from a client is that he has found a job.  As much as we might glamorize those who “don’t HAVE to work”, we do tend to define ourselves by what we do.  Ask any one to tell you a little about himself and he will almost always begin with his job.  “I’m a nurse.”  “I work in construction.”  “I own a printing company.”  

It doesn’t matter if that particular job doesn’t come with a paycheck, people will still lead with it.  “I’m raising four boys.”  “I’m taking care of my mom who’s got dementia.”  “I head up the local chapter of the Lion’s Club.”  So people who have to admit they aren’t working have it tough.  No one wants to say, “I’m disabled” or “I’m between jobs.”  It’s a self-esteem killer.  

But it doesn’t have to be.  Let’s face it – you are not your job.  Employment comes and goes and we all reach a point when we can no longer work.  I’ve known a few people over the years who were so devoted to their jobs that they actually “died in harness”.  But most people just retire.   

Retirement is one of the toughest transitions that you can make, even if it’s planned.  After a couple of weeks of puttering around the house you can find yourself lonely and bored.  It’s even worse when the “retirement” is forced on you by illness or injury.  Without the benefit of a Social Security or pension check, you’re not only looking at losing your employment, but possibly your home as well.  

It is shocking and demoralizing to have to live with friends or relatives, apply for food stamps, get on the indigent health program.  And don’t even get me started on the soul-killing process of applying for disability.  It’s easy to see why people who can no longer work often feel as if they have no reason for living.  It’s just as hard for people who are able to work, but can’t find any.   

That’s why it’s important to know WHO you are, not just WHAT you do.  One of the exercises I give clients is to come up with a list of their good and bad attributes without resorting to simply saying what they do well or poorly at.  For example, let’s say you’re good with children.  Okay, why?  Maybe you’re really patient.  Maybe you have a lot of empathy.  Maybe you’re just a kid at heart.  

Strangely enough, knowing who you are is one of the best ways to find a job.  I tell people to stop looking for A job and start looking for THEIR job.  What fits you best?  Days or nights?  Lots of customer contact or none at all?  Working on a team or working alone?  Once you start really looking at it that way, it’s amazing what you can find.  

Of course there is one disadvantage to finding a job.  You have to get up and go to work!

My theory is that 99% of our arguments would be unnecessary if my husband would just man up and ask me directly for what he wants.  Now I know that’s unfair and not a little unkind, but I swear the man drives me up a wall with his “requests disguised as questions.”  Here’s an example.  

“Do you know how Mary (not her real name) is doing?”

Refusing to look up from the book I’m reading, I reply, “No I don’t.”

He waits five minutes and then asks, “Do you think Mary is doing okay?”

“I have no idea.”

In five minutes (or less) he asks again, “Have you talked to Mary lately?”

“NO!  I’m trying to read a book!”

“Well do you think you should call Mary?”

“You’ve got her number!” I scream.  “You call her!”

That will get rid of him for a while, but before I can finish the chapter, he’ll be back.

“Have you heard from Mary?”  

All of this could have been avoided if he was simply able to ask for what he wants.  Had he begun the conversation with, “I’m worried about Mary.  Would you please call her and see if she’s okay?” I still would have been ticked off by his irrational fear of calling people on the phone, but it would have been over a lot quicker.  

Day in and day out he peppers me with “questions” that are clearly desires.  “Have you called the doctor yet?”  “Are you just going to wait until the oil light comes on to make an appointment with the dealership?”  “Should I plan on sex tonight?”  (I’ll give you just one guess about THAT one, genius!”)  

Unfortunately, he is not alone.  Many, many people have a very hard time asking for what they want.  They pretend that you’re a mind reader and you should “just know” their desires.  (“If you LOVED me, you could tell I want a new pair of shoes!”)  They hem and haw and pick fights about totally unrelated issues.  (“Your mother has NEVER approved of me!” when what they really want is permission to buy a jet-ski.)  

People please!  Just ASK already!  And don’t try to soften the blow with something like, “I need to ask you something.”  (I’m talking to YOU, honey!)  That’s like saying, “I need to eat dinner” before digging in.  Consider carefully what you want, take a deep breath and then just ask.  The worst you’re going to hear is “no”.  

In fact, you should ASSUME the answer will be “no” and be ready to trot out your rationale.  “I want a new pair of shoes.”  “We’re broke.”  “I’ve got some overtime coming on my next check and there’s a 50% off sale.”  “But we’re broke now.”  “I get paid Friday.  We can put it on the card until then.”  “You really going to pay it off?”  “I swear!”  

So just ASK already.  And I promise I won’t throw the phone at you again, sweetheart.

It’s true.  I have an unnatural fondness for fire.  It started early in life.  I remember my older brother and I were always trying to set something on fire.  No, not other people’s property, just old cardboard boxes, yard trimmings and the plastic model ships he (apparently) constructed just to destroy with fireworks.  Oh yeah, I really love fireworks, too.  

Growing up in the suburbs where outside burning was strictly forbidden, we had to keep our blazes small and discrete.  After the spring trimming my Dad made us cut all the branches into three-foot lengths, bind them with twine and set them out for the garbage.  Such a waste!  I saved the big stuff for the fireplace and diverted an ample supply for the secret furnace my brother and I constructed in the backyard.   

It was there we experimented with burning just about anything you can imagine.  Our parents knew about our “hobby” and allowed it.  After all, they had taught us to make fires during the innumerable camping trips that were our only family vacations.  By the age of 10 I was pretty much in charge of keeping the living room fire going during the winter.  Along with that came the responsibility for building up the woodpile with the proper proportions of tinder, kindling and logs.  

Matches were plentiful in our house and available to us without asking.  Come to think of it, I can’t remember anyone ever telling me NOT to play with matches.  (I guess we were like the Addams Family in a lot of ways.)  My parents would let us buy fireworks, also illegal where we lived.  Then they’d drive us out into the country and let us set them off.  I burned my fingers more than once, but it was still the high point of my summer.  

When I moved out to the country with my husband, I was finally able to exercise my pyromania with abandon.  Now after cutting all the brush, I can just drag it out to the center of the pasture and set it off!  Old files and financial records?  Forget the shredder, just fire those babies up!  And I can set off fireworks right in my own yard!  Every Fourth of July I trot up to the firework stand, money clutched in my shaking fists, excitedly shouting, “Where are the BIG ones?”  

Where am I going with this?  Nowhere in particular.  I just want to remind everyone that life is a gift for you to enjoy to the fullest.  So be the person you are and do the things you love.  Within the limits of the law, that is.  And all those explosions you hear south of town on the Fourth?  That’ll be my house!

My precious granddaughter is entering the terrible twos – that wonderful year when our children reward us for teaching them to walk and talk by refusing to sit down and shut up.  She can go from happy playing to screaming fit in seconds and just about anything can set her off.  Her wise parents calmly ignore her, putting her in her room if she gets too loud, and so it usually doesn’t last very long.  

Unfortunately, grown-ups have temper tantrums, too.  In fact, most of the fighting that I deal with in my counseling business is just that – people throwing a childish fit when they don’t get their way.  It’s the same power struggle with the same outcome – hours of impassioned arguing over some issue that neither party can remember the next day.  Why do we do it?  

The key here is the term “power struggle”.  The crux of most of these conflicts is some version of “You’re not the boss of me!”  Whether it’s the husband wanting a night out with the boys, the teenager wanting the latest phone, or the wife wanting to redecorate the house, we all get angry when our requests are met with a good, solid “No”, and suddenly we’re two-year-olds again.  

My clients all know that one of my (many) mantras is “Don’t fight, negotiate.”  After all, if you really AREN’T the boss of me, why am I getting so upset?  I don’t HAVE to do what you say.  All I have to do is consider your “suggestion” and begin the negotiation process.  That starts with both parties simply stating what they want.  

“I want to go out with the guys after work Friday.”  “Okay, when do I get a night off?”  “You’re out with your friends EVERY Wednesday night.”  “Are you putting my Bible study group in the same class as a night out at the bar?”  “Well, you don’t drink, so yeah.”  “Besides, that’s just for an hour.”  “TWO hours, sometimes more.”  “Okay, are you going to be home in two hours?”  “I’m not asking to go out EVERY Friday night.”  

And so it goes until they each get something they want.  Maybe he gets his Friday night with the guys and she gets a Saturday afternoon at the spa.  As long as they both feel equally strong and equally heard, there usually isn’t much of a fight.  In fact, experienced negotiators often go into the process with their concessions in hand.  “Hey, Mom, if I clean out the garage, can I have a new phone?”  

So next time you find yourself throwing a temper tantrum (“But I hate our living room furniture!  I hate it!  I HATE it!”) step back and negotiate.  My husband says I can have all the new furniture I want, as long as I pay for it.  Okay, I’ll pay for it, but he has to move it around until I’m satisfied with the arrangement.  No matter how long that takes!

In my counseling office there is a box of tissues on every flat surface.  Yet people are nearly always embarrassed when they start to cry.  “I’m SO sorry,” they snuffle.  “I’m not usually like this.  I’m the STRONG one.”  

Hmmm.  So let me get this straight.  You just lost your mother to a horrible illness.  In caring for her (for the last three years!) you lost your job and your marriage broke up.  Now you and your three kids are living in one bedroom, grudgingly provided by your brother who never lets an opportunity pass to tell you just how much of a burden you are.  And crying in front of me is the biggest problem in your life?  

Just look around.  Tissues.  EVERYWHERE!  And not the expensive designer brand, just plain ol’ white tissues ‘cause I go through ‘em so fast!  So go ahead and cry your eyes out.  I’ve got another case in the back.  

Where do people get the idea that there’s something ‘brave” about not expressing your emotions?  The most common excuse I hear is that they don’t want to “cry in front of the kids.”  So what?  You want your kids to think that you’re some kind of cold, calculating robot that’s impervious to all human weakness?   

You’re supposed to be teaching your kids how to DEAL with emotion and you can’t do that if you simply deny that you have any.  As with most things, moderation is the key here.  Sure, you don’t want them to see you hysterical with grief each and every day.  But crying is sometimes a VERY appropriate response to a sad turn of events.   

I was so grateful when The Lord of The Rings came out and Aragorn wept (like a baby!) when Boromir died.  Aragron was the king!  Leader of the battle against the dark powers of Mordor!  To see him break down like that ought to be reason enough for people everywhere to give into their sorrow with appropriate, dare I say “manly”, tears.  

One of the things I love about my husband is how he tears up at movies and TV shows, especially westerns where someone is being noble and selfless.  We can’t get through an episode of The Rifleman without a box of tissues at the ready.  Add a dog to the mix and it’s all over! 

Typically, I only get weepy when there’s a brave female character bucking male convention to become who she was MEANT to be (sniffle!) like in Whale Rider and (appropriately) Brave.   

So express yourself!  Those emotions are going to come out, one way or another.  Better your kids see you weep when you’re sorrowful than to wonder why we never talk about grandma.

So let’s just say that my idea of enjoyable activities veers a little from the standard path of beach vacation, hit movie and massage.  Though I REALLY like those things, I don’t get to do them very often, so I have to be a little more creative when faced with an afternoon to fill all by myself.  I found it in the wheat field across the street from my house.  

Friday, the harvesters came in and mowed the wheat.  Then the hay balers went through and bundled up the straw.  What was left were a few patches at the edge of the field.  For the last several years I have been gleaning this remainder, despite the fact that my husband calls it “stealing”.  To get him off my back, I had to go all Biblical on him.

“Leviticus 19:9,” I quoted from the open book.  “’And when ye reap the harvest of your land, thou shalt NOT wholly reap the corners of thy field, neither shalt thou gather the gleaning of thy harvest…. thou shalt leave them for the poor and the stranger.’”  

“That’s OLD Testament,” he sneered.  “Besides, you’re NOT a stranger and you’re NOT poor.”  

“I’ll bet I’m poorer than the guy who owns that field, “I protested.  “And I’m stranger than most!  But okay, how about Matthew 12:1 when Jesus was going through the fields and the disciples ‘began to pluck heads of grain and to eat’?  Jesus said that was okay even on the Sabbath.”  (It WAS Saturday.)  “So just go to your stupid band practice and leave me alone!”  

After he left, I went out with my old pillowcases and plucked heads of wheat.  I took it home, sat out on my porch and threshed it with my hands, just like the disciples did.  Then I winnowed it with the help of the wind, just like people have been doing for thousands of years.  I ended up with five and a half pounds of raw wheat.   

And I was happy.  My face actually started to hurt from all the (unaccustomed) smiling I was doing!  Despite the fact that my back ached and I was rubbing my palms raw, I was totally engrossed, totally content, totally at peace.  (A few members from church even remarked the next day about how unusually calm and quiet I was.  Who says wheat isn’t good for you?)  

I think we lost something when we gave machines all our simple, monotonous tasks.  Spinning thread, carving furniture and, yes, winnowing wheat.  Now all we do is stare at screens and push buttons.  It’s simple and monotonous enough, but it’s so far removed from anything REAL.   Plunging my hands into that bowlful of ripe grain was more satisfying to me than winning any video game could ever be.  

When my husband came home, he remarked on how I had turned my back on the literally billions of dollars worth of entertainment available in our home just to process a few dollars worth of stolen wheat.  Will he EVER get it?!

I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this column has too much stuff.  Most of us have closets, attics, and sheds packed with boxes of stuff that we not only never use, but that we really don’t even remember that we have.  I’m not talking about hoarders here.  I’m talking about average Americans.  We spend years amassing things, then pack them away, either to store them or to move them and, typically, we never get them out again.

I started out my week off with high hopes of cleaning out a shed that hadn’t been gone through since I moved in with my husband 14 years ago.  After a few sweaty hours I realized that most of it belonged to my kids and the chances of getting THEM to come over and go through it were slim to none.  So I gave up and went to see the new X-Man movie.  (It was okay, not great.)  

The truth is my kids WILL eventually have to deal with all that stuff – right after my funeral!  And chances are most of it will go in the trash.  Take note, those of you faithfully storing every kindergarten drawing, every grade school report card, every honor roll listing.  Some day your kids will be renting a dumpster to haul it all away.  And between that time and this, it will probably never once see the light of day.  

Yet even I can’t bring myself to toss those boxes sight unseen.  In one way or another, we all let our stuff define us.  From the materialist who judges his worth by the size of his house to the workman who gauges his value by the extent of his tool collection, our stuff tells people who we are.  For me to summarily dispose of my kid’s treasured possessions would make me a horrible mother!  Can’t have that!  

Of course that empty birds nest, the bow they made with string and a stick and that macaroni drawing that’s missing most of its macaroni are doubtlessly no longer their favorite things.  After a little sigh of fond remembrance, they’ll probably have no trouble pitching them into the trash.  I did the same thing when my mother presented me with the boxes of my things she’d been moving around with her for years (and refused to move again!).  

Contrast this over-abundance of stuff with some of my clients who literally carry everything they own in one backpack or suitcase.  Maybe they’ve been homeless for years.  Maybe they just went through a major catastrophe.  To suddenly be cut off from your layers of familiar stuff can be terrifying.  It can also be freeing.  Several have reported that they never felt happier.  

So take stock of your stuff every once in a while.  Do you own it, or has it started to own you?  If the house were on fire, what WOULD you run for first?  Remember, you can’t take it with you and you never really own more than you can carry.

I have friends who believe that global warming will destroy our planet in the next 50 years and the few of us who manage to survive will be plunged into a horrendous Stone Age existence. 

Really?  Maybe it’s a woman thing; maybe it’s all my years at the Ren Faire, maybe it’s because I live in the country, but I believe humans will survive.  These doom mongers are simply not considering the two most important factors in this equation:  Time and Motivation.   

Take the lost art of making clothing.  We have forgotten that only a few hundred years ago every woman from peasant to empress spent a portion of every day spinning, weaving, sewing, mending, knitting or doing embroidery.  It won’t take much for us to get back to that.  Would my family be the best dressed in the countryside?  No, but I could get together a serviceable set of shirt, pants and socks for everyone.   

And those teenage girls who can’t put their phones down for the 25 seconds it takes to nuke their burritos will be right there with me working away once they’re looking at freezing to death next winter if they don’t.  With just a little practice, they’ll be weaving baskets, tying fishnets and making rope as well.  

What about pottery?  Clay is available almost any place you care to look.  And all you need for a kiln is an igloo of rocks and mud.  You don’t even need that hot a fire to make usable dishes.  Will they be beautiful?  No.  Will they last forever?  No.  Why do you think the most common archeological artifact is broken pottery?  But they’ll hold water and store grain.  

None of this is THAT hard.  Just because modern man spends the bulk of his life working at a computer, sitting in traffic and staring at a screen doesn’t mean it will be like that once the electricity goes off.  All you need is time and motivation, two things which will be available in abundance.  

For example, every year I put in a garden.  Sometimes I don’t get much and other years I’m sneaking extra produce onto my neighbor’s porch in the middle of the night.  And I have a very demanding full-time job.  Take away the job (Time) and add in the fact that I won’t eat if that garden fails (Motivation) and I know I could produce enough to feed my family most years.   

There’s no guarantee, there never HAS been.  I just choose to have faith.  I couldn’t do my job without it.  For example, last week I took a young lady to a domestic violence shelter.  All she wants is to get away from her abusive husband, get some further education and be able to support herself.  

Should I have told her that she might as well go ahead and kill herself (there have been attempts) because the world is just going to end in 50 years anyway?  Oh HECK no!  I just might need her to help me spin yarn one day!

There is a popular saying that ought to be at the top of every parent’s list of helpful advice:  Kids don’t do what you SAY, they do what you DO.  What’s so hard about understanding that?  Why do so many parents want me to “fix” their kids but they won’t take a really good look at what kind of role models they have become for those kids?

Now I know that parenting is hard.  It is even harder when you become a surrogate parent – a sister, aunt, grandmother or foster who is presented with a bunch of kids to raise who have been traumatized by neglect or abuse.  I know they are angry, frustrated, exhausted and resentful.  “Why should I have to clean up someone else’s mess?” they cry.  Well, that’s just what parents do.  (See: Diaper Duty.)  

But good parents also teach those kids how to clean up after themselves.  HELPFUL HINT:  You don’t do this by yelling at them.  Doesn’t work.  Never will.  You do this by teaching them how to do it and (the most important part!) by doing it yourself.   

You can’t expect your kids treat you with respect if you don’t treat them with respect.  You can’t punish them for cursing when you curse.  You can’t expect them to be tidy and industrious when you get home, drop everything in the hallway and veg out in front of the tube all evening.  In short, you can’t yell at them to not yell at you.  

A while back I wrote a column on improving your relationship TODAY!  Just add the words “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry” to your repertoire.  This works in your relationship with your kids, too.  Parents will object, telling me “I shouldn’t have to BEG them to do their chores.”  Since when is saying “please” begging?  I thought it was just being polite.  

Recently I refereed an argument between a parent and child over the cell phone.  Child thought everything on it was private and parent shouldn’t look at it.  Parent stated (rightly) that phone belonged to said parent and that said parent had a right to look at it any time, anywhere.  I agreed with the premise.  I just didn’t agree with how it was presented – yelling, cursing, pounding on table.  

When I got kid alone, I started my spiel with “I’m sorry.”  I’m sorry that you’re too young to sign a cell phone contract for yourself and that you’ve got to go through your parent to get one.  I’m sorry that texts are NOT private – for anyone!  Just like emails.  I explained that the written word has a way of showing up as evidence in court these days and don’t even get me started about pictures.  

I asked kid to please be careful with what was texted or posted as it could come back to bite.  I thanked the kid for listening and for calming down.  Next week I’ll work on the parent.

Most of my clients know about my husband, “Mr. Grump”.  I wish I could say he is the only one in my circle of family and friends who has a negative opinion about life in general.  Get a bunch of them together and pretty soon the world is circling the toilet.

Even though they might disagree about WHAT is causing the end of life as we know it (Global Warming vs. Big Government, Evil Corporations vs. Out-of-Touch Academics, Unbridled Immigration vs. Unbridled Capitalism) they all, do, FIRMLY believe that we are fast approaching hell in a hand basket.   

Sheesh!  I believe in seizing the day.  This morning there are honey suckles blooming on my fence.  There is a beautiful blue sky and a soft, cooling breeze.  Birds are singing, leaves are rustling, and turtles are dragging themselves out of the water to sun on the far bank of the pond.  Two days ago I helped deliver a baby donkey in my backyard.  (I named her Susie!)  She’s frisking about on the lawn like it was dawn in Eden.  

How is it possible that I see one thing while Mr. Grump and company see something so very different?  The truth is, we are both seeing the same thing.  The two sides of the one coin.  

It’s not that I don’t know about all the evil in the world.  (I read A LOT.)  I just choose not to dwell on it.  As I say again and again (and again and again), you have to decide what you can and can’t control in this life.  Then do what you can, and let go of the rest.  

For example, I’m not going to stop global warming, but I sure do nurture a bunch of plant life --all of it busily turning carbon dioxide into oxygen.  I’m not going to change the government, but I do vote.  I don’t want to end all corporations (I AM a corporation, for heaven’s sake!), but I boycott a lot of their products when I don’t agree on how they are made or marketed.  

You get the idea.  I take comfort from that undeniable law of physics:  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  If I just keep creating peace and beauty, won’t that somewhere counteract war and ugliness?  I choose to think so.  Call me nuts.  (The Grumps do!)

Most of my clients know about the recent conflict I had with my landlord about the heating and AC.  They’re also VERY aware of the fact that it was 50 degrees in the waiting room all winter and it was getting up to 90 degrees in there just recently.   

Now I could keep my little office warm with a space heater, but I was stressing out over how I was going to keep it cool.  The windows don’t open, so a window unit was out.  I tried a swamp cooler with unsatisfying results.  Something had to be done.  

Everyone knows I am all about negotiation rather than confrontation.  Negotiation starts with you stating just what it is you want.  So I called my landlord about the problem.  Apparently he didn’t listen to the message I left.  He called me back the next evening.

“Look (blank),” I began.  “I had a client nearly pass out on me yesterday.  You have got to do something about the AC.  This is just not acceptable.”  

There was silence on the other end of the line.  Then all heck broke loose.   “You can’t talk to me like this!  You’re not my boss!  I’m through with you!  You can just get out!”

“What?!  Look, (blank), the unit is not coming on at all.  You’re going to have to fix it one way or another.”  

“I’m through with you!  All you do is complain!  No one else complains!”  

“Not true.  Each and every one of my clients complain and every one of the patients who come to see the doctor.  Shall I give them your number?”  

“You get out!”  

Now this is not a literal transcript of our exchange and it went on a great deal longer.  But you get the idea.  I even offered to pay the sleazy little slumlord more money (which infuriated my husband) to no avail.  I ended up saying something like, “You don’t want my money, someone else does.” 

And someone else did.  So I now have a new office which has some advantages and some disadvantages.   First, it is TOTALLY MINE (and James’s).  You walk in the door and you are in MY waiting room.  No one is passing through or waiting for anyone else.  MINE!  MINE!  MINE! 

It is actually easier to get to if you are coming from the south or east because you don’t have to go through downtown Terrell.  (Of course if you’re coming from the north or west, you now do.)  And it is so close to Lakes that I’ll be able to stop by there more often.   

There IS less parking and you have to park on the grass.  But since I see people one at a time, there will only be two cars in the lot at one time at the very most.  And there’s plenty of room for that.  It’s all a small price to pay for air conditioning.  So come on by and check it out!

I seldom say anything that I regret because I m just such a quiet, retiring person, so loathe to stir things up or to make my opinions known.  NOT!  No one who really knows me would buy that line for a second.  When asked to describe me, my friends – and these are my FRIENDS, mind you – my friends will bandy about such terms as “bossy”, “pushy”, “opinionated”, “abrupt” even “abrasive”.  God help me, they’re 100% correct.  

If saying the wrong thing were like stepping in a cow pattie, most people would be able, with care and vigilance, to navigate any given pasture without so much as soiling a pinkie toe.  In my case, if there were but one steaming meadow muffin in the whole of a 10-acre lot, I’d be sure to put my foot squarely in it.  From whence does such a glaring fault arise in an otherwise intelligent, kind-hearted person?  

Blame my upbringing.  My family has always been small and unsocial.  Bookish nerds for the most part.  Teachers and preachers.  Necessary, even valued, but not exactly anyone’s best friend.  For generations we’ve made our livings telling people that we know better.  Not a trait that makes one popular with the in crowd.  But then we really didn’t mind because we were always off by ourselves reading any way.  

But I digress.  Foot in mouth disease afflicts people of all sorts.  Many of my clients suffer the paralyzing guilt of having said the wrong thing and hurting people they care about.  They agonize over their transgressions, shrink from their friends and family, feel they shall never be accepted again.  I share their pain.  Then I ask them, “So why should you be perfect?”  

The only way to completely avoid saying the wrong thing is to avoid saying anything.  And no, that is not an option.  To go through life never expressing your thoughts, feelings and opinions is to have only half a life.  And no, that is not an option!  Besides, if you can’t be yourself around your friends and family, who ARE you, really?

Fortunately, there is a cure for foot in mouth disease:  The one-two punch of a sincere apology and a willingness to make things right.  I know it works because I practice it all the time.  Yeah, it takes some guts to step up and say you were wrong, but it’s the only thing that really works.  You can’t just hide out and avoid everyone for the rest of your life.  Hey, you’re human!  You get to make mistakes.   

With age comes wisdom.  I’ve (finally!) learned to be a little diplomatic.  At least I don’t alienate everyone straight out of the gate as much as I used to.  And something funny has happened along the way.  People are now ASKING me to tell them what to do.  Who da thunk it?

I tell my clients all the time not to worry so much about what other people think of them.  First you have to consider the source.  Your abusive, generally absent father told you that you would never amount to anything.  Now that you’re grown and know what a good father is, do you REALLY care what that lazy joker thought?  Is THIS the man you would ask for an honest appraisal of your worth?  

Second, you have to remember that whenever you choose something – anything! – there are going to be just a WHOLE lot of people who think you are dead wrong!  Some will think it so fervently that they’re willing to take action against you.  Those actions run the gamut between a stern frown, a good talking to, and outright persecution, prosecution and imprisonment.  Italian or ranch, paper or plastic, democrat or republican.  People get mighty riled up about all of it.  

As a lifelong student of psychology, I am both amused and frightened when I witness people of different political persuasions going at it.  Especially if these people are all friends of mine.  People I love who have opened their homes to me, listened to my private torments and shared in my joyous triumphs grow cold if I even mention that, during the few times I watch the news, I’m usually watching FOX.  

Honestly, I’ve watched a lot of news shows and with the exception of some “correspondent” relating an opinion piece, they’re all basically the same:  A bunch of talking chuckleheads looking solemn during the story about the bus crash, then yucking it up through the puff piece about the prize winner in a doggie costume contest.  I listen, but I don’t – and here’s the important part – I DON’T base my opinions on what the news anchors read to me.  

As a counselor, I know better than ANYONE that there are two sides to every story.  And I don’t care HOW fair and balanced you might think you are, you betray your individual slant the moment you open your mouth.  Which is okay with me.  You’re entitled to your opinion.  But guess what?  So am I.  And since no one has agreed to let us to settle the issue once and for all, why can’t we just live and let live?  

Take ObamaCare.  Last spring some of my friends were defending it as the savior of the western world.  When I voiced my misgivings, I was told to stop being racist and just give it a chance!  Well, okay, what choice did I have?  So a year passed and I’ve been asking around but have yet to find one of these proponents who has actually signed up for the program.   

So what did all that raving last year actually accomplish?  Zip, zilch, nada.  But if I mention that, from what I have seen, ObamaCare has actually decreased both the quality and the quantity of healthcare my clients receive, I get the same answer I got last year.  I just hate Obama and that’s THAT! 

Heck, I don’t even KNOW the man.  Does anyone, really?  Where does the politician end and the person begin?  All I know for sure is that I don’t want his job!

If you read last weeks blog (and I KNOW you did) you learned about the struggles some of my clients have with moral issues.  Turn about is fair play, so here’s a dilemma I deal with.  

I’ve been seeing a client for several months and she’s made terrific progress.  She’s handling her emotions well, she’s resolved her conflicts, she’s back at work.  She really doesn’t need my help any more, but gosh darn it, she always shows up and is always eager to make another appointment.  And I’ve got bills to pay!  Do I keep her on, or let her know that we’re done for now?  

Here’s another.  I’ve been seeing another client for several months and he’s made no progress whatsoever.  But he does show up and I’ve STILL got bills to pay.  Do I keep seeing him or refer him to another counselor?  

Well, the answer to both questions is that I’d have to let the client go despite what it does to my bottom line.  It’s what a responsible therapist does.  If months have gone by and you’re making no progress with a client, you have to ask the question, what is he getting for his money?  Or rather, what is his insurance company getting for its money?  That’s the kind of thing you might have to explain later on to a licensing board, so you’d better have a darned good answer.  

Likewise, when it gets to the point that my client and I are just talking about politics and trading recipes, its time to cut things off.  It is not ethical to be a “paid friend” even if someone is more than happy to pay the bill.  I’m not in the escort business, even though it pays better.  (Or so I’m TOLD.)  

Of course, this begs the question, how do you determine if someone is “getting something out of” our sessions?  That can be tricky.  For a very depressed or anxious client, just getting out of the house to see me once a week can be therapeutic even if all we do IS talk about the weather.  And just knowing that you HAVE an appointment with a therapist makes most people feel better.   

Besides nobody is in crisis ALL the time (thank God!).  So maybe we have a couple of sessions where nothing really happens, but then all heck breaks loose for my client.  It can be a real source of strength for him to know that he’s scheduled to see me in a few days and he can deal with everything then.  

So the dilemma continues.  And (drat this moral compass!) I’m going to keep doing the right thing no matter what it costs me.

Lots of my clients struggle with ethical dilemmas.  Here are some examples.  

Your father abused you as a child, abandoned the family and never bothered to support you.  Now he’s in ill health and calls asking for your help.  Waddaya do?   

You’ve spent years nursing your mother through her last illness while your siblings did absolutely nothing to help and seldom even bothered to call and check in.  Now your mother is fading fast.  Do you call these people and let them know?  

You and your daughter had a tiff years ago and she’s kept you from seeing or even talking with your grandchildren.  It’s been a daily source of grief for you.  Now she calls and wants you to help her escape her abusive marriage.  Do you?  

Your son has struggled with drug addiction since he was a teenager.  He’s stolen from you, threatened you and blown off all your attempts to get him into rehab.  Now he says he wants to try again and this time he’s “serious”.  Do you believe him?  

Faced with these questions I always remember what Storm (Halle Berry) said in one of those X-Men movies.  “You have to do what you can’t NOT do.”  In other words, you have to decide the type of person YOU are going to be and not worry so much about other people getting what they deserve.  You have to make a decision that YOU can feel good about on YOUR deathbed.  

Now, people THINK I’m always telling them what to do (especially my kids), but if they listen carefully, I’m really telling them what I’D do.  I try to make it perfectly clear that they are the ones in the situation.  They are the ones who have to live with the consequences of their decisions, not me.  The purpose of therapy is to help them cope with THEIR problems, not mine.  

But God help me, sometimes I just have to speak my mind.  So this is what I’D do in each of the above scenarios….  

Sure I’d help dad out, but I’d also never miss an opportunity to make him apologize for what a rotten father he was.  He doesn’t like it, he can find someone else.  

Yep, I’d call my siblings, but I’d probably say something like “The mother you completely forgot about and were content to let me take care of all these years only has a couple of days left to live.  If you want to see her before she goes I suggest you get your lazy selfish ass down here.”  

Yeah, I’d help my daughter out, but I’d want an apology and extra time with the grandkids and NOT as an unpaid babysitter.   

Okay, I’d help my son get into rehab, but when he comes out, he’s going to a group home, not my home.  It’s going to be awhile before I trust him again.  

See a pattern here?  I’ll do the right thing, but I’m not going to be a martyr about it.  I have feelings, too, you know, and people who wrong me are going to hear about them, especially if they’re now asking me for help.  Petty?  Maybe.  But also honest.  It’s what I can’t NOT do.

DISCLAIMER:  I just want to state for the record that my daughters-in-law are wonderful women and great mothers and I love them both dearly.  This column is not about them.  It’s about me.  As usual.  

When I had sons I never really thought about the fact that I would some day have daughters-in-law.  Worse than that, I was going to become the dreaded Mother-In-Law everyone complains about.  It’s harder than it looks, not that it ever looked particularly easy.  Let’s just say that getting old sucks.  For every advantage (wisdom, senior discounts, early bird specials) there are many more disadvantages (hearing loss, fatigue, creaky joints).  

To that indignity add the fact that you cease to be a superhero to your kids and become instead a pathetic relic of an age gone by.  Multiply that by a thousand and you have what it is to be a Mother-In-Law.  Everything I try to do while interacting with my grandkids is considered hopelessly out-dated if not downright criminal by their mothers.  (And my sons get behind whatever their wives think because at least I taught them THAT much.)  

It’s hard on the old self-esteem to be told day-in and day-out that everything you know is wrong.  I beg my sons for understanding.  When I point out that I managed to raise THEM without causing too much damage, I get the old eye roll.  “Things were different then, Mom!”  When I point out that lots of people pay GOOD MONEY to hear my advice, I get sass.  “People pay for horoscopes, too, Mom, and they’re just bull crap.”  

It would all be unbearable if not for one thing.  Well, two things, really.  My grandkids!  When I’m with them I experience unfettered joy.  At last, little people who think I’m a genius because I can replace the batteries in their toys.  I’m a magician because I can spin them around and make them dizzy.  I’m the quickest woman in the world because I can catch a grasshopper and hold it still for them to touch.  

When I show up I get bright smiles and happy squeals of something like “Grandma!”  They run into my arms with the enthusiasm of rabid tweens at a One Direction concert.  I get shown their toys and invited to read them their books.  I tell you, there is just nothing like having a little, diapered butt back up into your lap.  For a few hours, at least, I’m a valued human being.  And that makes it all worthwhile.  

For my sons and their wives, I only have this to say, “Some day it will happen to YOU!”  One day you’ll wake up to find that your kids think you’re an idiot.  You will have become a painful source of embarrassment to them.  And as much as you try to helpfully nag them, they will not have as many grandkids as they are supposed to as soon as you would like.  Just call it Gam Gam’s revenge!

God bless technology!  Never before have so many people had the power to so thoroughly upset so many of their friends and relatives so very quickly!  Just like the advent of cell phones has forever changed the dynamics of dating and marriage, FaceBook has made the navigation of all relationships just that much more difficult.

Case in point:  You are at your child’s birthday party happily snapping pictures of presents being opened and kids with cake on their faces.  You MIGHT think it is totally innocent to then post a few of those on your FaceBook page.  That is until some of the other mothers send you angry messages about not having permission to use their children’s likenesses.  

Likenesses?  That used to be the exclusive territory of public figures:  politicians, educators, entertainers.  Now we ALL have to guard our images from use and misuse.  Short of having a pile of release forms on hand every time you whip out your camera or cell phone, what should you do?  

Another case in point:  Some relative you never really liked starts posting snarky comments about you on his page.  You fire back with angry rebuttals and counter accusations.  Pretty soon people you both know are being dropped and blocked even though they had nothing to do with the original argument.  And they’re mad at you!  So you should just let someone spread vicious lies about you without fighting back?

A final case in point:  You gratefully reconnect with a long-lost friend or relative and start up a friendly correspondence.  Unbeknownst to you, this friend/relative has given everyone on his page access to your comments and profile.  Pretty soon your boss is hauling you into the office to ask about these pictures of you with the stripper at your friend’s bachelor party.  And you never even knew those pictures existed!

Enough already!  The one, unbreakable, overarching rule about the internet is this:  IT IS NOT PRIVATE!  No matter WHAT you do with your privacy controls, there are always ways to get around them.  No matter HOW careful you are with your posts, someone else can make you look like a fool with what THEY post.  So waddaya do?  

First, be careful with what YOU post.  If other people are in the picture, ask their permission before posting it.  If someone posts a picture of you and you have a problem with it, contact him as soon as possible and ask him nicely, but firmly to take it down.  Check your sites frequently to make sure what is being posted about you.  And if it all stops being fun, you can just drop out.  Just because there IS a FaceBook, doesn’t mean you have to be on it.

Look, I already get up at 5:30 every morning.  I take a two-mile walk, bathe, get dressed, have breakfast while reading the paper and am in my office by 8:00 a.m.  IS THAT NOT EARLY ENOUGH!?!?  Now I have to get up at what amounts to 4:30 a.m.  THAT’S INSANE!!!  Why can’t the government just leave time alone!?!?  

Of course, I’ve always been an early bird.  They say we’re the ones who get everything done, despite all the whining we hear from the night owls working late.  (Hey, if you got to the office at a decent hour, you wouldn’t HAVE to work late, you babies.)  But there really is something behind the whine.  People just have different internal clocks and, to date, no one really knows why.  

Many of my clients get grief from people about the hours they keep.  They’re still in bed at noon (lazy!) and they’re up on the computer well past midnight (unhealthy!).  They struggle with an 8-to-5 world that has them sitting in a doctor’s waiting room at 7:45 for an 8 a.m. appointment, for which they are not seen until 11:30.  Can you really blame them for dozing off?  

I look at it this way:  In our 24/7 world, what difference does it make when you sleep as long as you get your stuff done?  One of the few perks of being retired (or on disability which amounts to the same thing) is that you don’t HAVE to jump out of bed to a screaming alarm clock every morning.  And considering most disabled people are living below the poverty level and coping with painful, immobilizing conditions, why shouldn’t they enjoy whatever benefits they can?  

Of course, SOME clients just use this excuse to be antisocial.  They do their shopping at 2 am when no one is in the store but the stockers and that guy with the floor polisher.  They do all their banking and bill-paying on-line.  They manage to arrange things so that they never have to face more than a couple of real, live human beings in an average month.  Now that really is unhealthy.  

If you read last weeks blog (and I KNOW you did!) you know that SOME social interaction is vital for your mental health.  So even if you don’t get up until noon, you still need to get out there and rub elbows with the rest of humanity at least some of the time.  If you look around, you can usually find activities that happen in the evening.  Many churches have Wednesday night services.  And with everyone at work all day, most clubs offer evening meetings.  

So I don’t care WHEN you get up, you still have to get out there.  No excuses!  Now excuse ME while I reset my clock so I can be up BEFORE the crack of dawn tomorrow.  Sheesh!

My husband I live in what used to be a small cotton-farming town that has since evolved into a bedroom community of Dallas.  But even though that large, metropolitan city is less than 30 miles to the west, it might as well be on the other side of the Earth considering how many times we visit it.  I TRY to make the trip every quarter, but it usually ends up being just once or twice a year.  

Whenever we go “downtown” we gawk at the tall buildings and homeless people like true hicks from the sticks.  I remember the first time we encountered a restaurant that had seating areas for dogs (outrageous!) and the first time we found a bar in a movie theater (outstanding!).  Even though the light rail service is nothing more than a way to work for most people, we press our faces against the windows and stare at the passing scenery like kids on their first Choo-Choo ride.

I mention this because it is important to get out of the house and do something different every once in a while if you are going to stay emotionally healthy.  As I tell my clients (over and over) “If you just stay in the house all the time you ARE going to be depressed.”  But I know how hard it is to make that first step out the door.  I have trouble with it myself.  

I feel like we all occupy a spot on the scale of social anxiety somewhere between Social Butterfly and Hermit.  I definitely track toward the Hermit side.  Left to my own devices, I would spend each and every weekend puttering around the house, sitting out by my pond and binge-watching irreverent cartoon shows.  It takes an act of will to get me out on the street, even if I’m going to something I enjoy.  

That’s why I’ve come up with my mantra – “Just get in the car!”  Whether it’s choir practice or an art exhibit, I can’t let myself over-think.  I’ll come up with a million reasons NOT to go.  I’m tired/sick/depressed.  I’ve got a lot of projects around the house I need to get to.  They won’t miss me.  Maybe they’ll even be glad that I don’t show up.  Maybe nobody really likes me at all!  

That’s what’s known in the business as “Stinkin’ Thinkin’”.  So before I can go there, I tell myself to “just get in the car, for heaven’s sake!”  After that it’s “Just drive over there” and “Just go inside”.  And that’s what I counsel everyone else to do as well.  We NEED social contact, even if we don’t particularly LIKE it.  It’s like exercising and eating right.  You hate to do it, but you definitely feel better if you do.  

So you there, on the couch!  How long has it been since you’ve been somewhere?  How long has it been since you were even OUTSIDE?  That’s TOO long.  Just get in the car!!!

It’s a no-brainer to say that having a pet improves your quality of life.  That’s about the only reason why people have pets.  Usually this starts in childhood.  We want to love something a little bit more responsive than a teddy bear so our parents let us keep a dog, or cat or hamster or whatever.  This is the same nurturing instinct that later persuades us to have children.  Then we realize our mistake and go back to animals once the kids are finally out of the house.  

Just kidding.  I love my sons and wouldn’t trade them for any kind of animal.  But pets have distinct advantages over kids.  For one thing, they never grow up.  Sure, they stop being puppies or kittens, but they never get to the point where they’re telling us that everything we do is wrong.  They eat what we give them, sit on our laps and are glad to see us long after our kids are trying to pretend we don’t exist.

So many positive emotional affects come from having a pet.  Pet owners tend to be happier, calmer and more hopeful.  Many is the time a very depressed client has confided in me that the only thing keeping him from suicide is worry about what would happen to his animals.  (Well if that does it, then hooray for Fluffy!)  But having pets can also create a lot of problems as well.

First, pets are expensive and people with severe emotional problems are usually not the biggest earners in the world.  After a breakdown, they struggle to keep a job and often end up living with others while they try to deal with their disorders.  Someone might take YOU in, but not your 14 cats!  You can get help with YOUR food needs, but that doesn’t include pet food.  Then there’s the vet, grooming, toys, beds.  

Because of this, many people choose to live in very unhealthy conditions just to be able to stay with their pets.  This is bad for the person and for the animals.  None of them get the care they deserve and their circumstances can deteriorate quickly.  I still get nightmares from the few episodes of Animal Hoarders I accidently watched.  (And then COULDN’T stop watching!)

Even if the physical environment is okay, the emotional environment can be harmful.  Many women in abusive relationships stay with their abusers for fear of what might happen to their pets if they leave.  Thankfully, domestic violence shelters are beginning to realize this and some are making room for pets are well as kids.   

But basically, it is a relief to me when a client tells me about his pets.  Even if they can’t talk, they are still a great support system.  Come to think of it, maybe they’re a better support system because they DON’T talk.  Hmmm…

It will surprise NO ONE when I admit that I wasn’t my sons’ “best friend” while they were growing up.  In fact, if someone ever suggested that, my kids would probably roll on the floor howling with laughter.  The fact is I never even TRIED to be their friend.  Friends they could make for themselves.  I was going to be their Mother with a capitol M.  

Many parents make the mistake of trying to give their kids everything they didn’t have when they were growing up.  Hogwash!  Just by being born, my kids ALREADY had a better TV and car than I had coming up.  AND they had a computer, which I never even dreamed of, plus video games, CDs, DVDs, water parks and laser tag!  

I guess I was just a mean mom because I never felt even the remotest of urgings to provide my kids with everything they ever wanted.  What they NEEDED, yes.  They got clothes, shoes, food and a house.  If they wanted designer clothes, $500 sneakers, gourmet food and a mansion, they’d best be finding a job.  When will people learn that stuff doesn’t make you happy?  You want to give your kids gifts?  Try these.

The gift of a secure, peaceful home.  Don’t rack up so much debt trying to have “everything you ever wanted” that each trip to the grocery store has you risking foreclosure.  Don’t over-schedule them so that they’re literally running from the minute you haul them out of their beds in the morning to the moment they pass out at night.  Don’t yell, fight, hit, slap.  Don’t drink or drug yourself stupid.  Have dinners together where everyone talks.  Have holiday traditions where everyone joins in.

The gift of common sense.  Teach them to take care of themselves and their environment.  Cooking meals, doing yard work and home repairs, washing clothes, shopping for the best deal, managing money and (for God’s sake!) SAVING money.  They should know how to do a budget and get straight on the principle that you pay the bills FIRST.  They should learn that a craftsman is judged by his tools.  If you don’t take care of your stuff, your stuff quickly becomes junk.

The gift of high expectations.  Forget the “participation trophies”.  Your kids should know that you love them and accept them, but that they are only as successful as their last effort.  Few are the opportunities for slacking in this world and nothing worth having comes without lots of hard work.  So expect a lot out of them.  Encourage success, but don’t punish failure.  Losing is as much a part of life as winning.  The only real question is “Did you give it your best?”

The gift of emotional stability.  That means the ability to love, to be angry, to be proud and to be humble.  Emotions should not be swept under the rug, but accepted and expressed in appropriate ways.  No bottling things up until you explode, no turning anger inward in the form of self abuse.  Model for them how grown-ups act so that they’ll know how to do it when they’re grow-ups.

In short, don’t try to be a good friend, try to be a good parent.  That’s what they really need!

I wrote to my Senator recently to complain about how LPCs (like me!) can’t bill MediCare.  I’m not sure which aide read my letter, but he or she thought I was unhappy with how much MediCare PAID.  I don’t even KNOW how much they pay!  I just want to be able to help the elderly and disabled.  Here is my response.  I suggest you write something similar to your own representatives.  

Dear Mr. Hensarling:  

Thank you for your kind response.  However, I think you misunderstand the point of my letter.  I really don't care how MUCH doctors get paid for MediCare.  I care that I CAN'T bill MediCare because they won't pay a Master's level technician to deliver counseling services to the growing ranks of aged and disabled whom I serve. 

I'm willing to take the measly $50 a session they probably pay, but I'd have to get an MD or PhD first.     (LEGALLY, that is.  Our government offices are so woefully inept I'd probably stand a good chance of getting paid anyway!)  But I don't live like that.  I just want to keep on seeing the people I currently treat.  

The disabled are being taken off MedCaid, which will pay me, and put on MedCare, which won't.  Those who age into MedCare are in the same boat.  And they're not happy about it.  I took two heart-wrenching calls just today from clients who feel they are losing the only person they can trust and depend on.  

These people are hurting and lonely, left behind by the rush of the world and forgotten.  Either you give them someone to talk things over with, or you give them hospital (or jail!) time.  I think you know which one is more expensive both monetarily and morally.  

As for the indigent, they are being put on private plans (yea ObamaCare!) that pay nothing until a huge deductible has been met.  I used to be able to treat them under the NorthStar program (essentially mental health MediCaid) which also provided medication and rehabilitative therapy at the local MHMR. 

Now they are losing ALL of it.  No doctor's visit, no medication, no talk therapy.   These are the seriously mentally ill!  We are essentially cutting loose their safety net and telling them to handle their mental problems on their own without meds.  I ask you, is it reasonable to demand a $6,000 deductible from someone taking in $10,000 a year?  Again, we will see them at the hospital or the jailhouse.  

Please use whatever influence you have to change this law!  Allow Licensed Professional Counselors to bill MedCare for services.  We are denying the most needy section of our society support which could make all our lives easier.  

Susan Lautz, LPC

I don’t like secrets.  I have a hard time keeping secrets.  That’s because I have a hard time lying.  When someone asks me straight up what happened or what was said, I might not actually TELL him, but he will know that I know.  (And I might just tell him anyway.)  The only exception is with my clients.  Those secrets I keep.  So rest assured, everyone who asks me  about you gets the same answer -- “I can neither confirm nor deny that person is my client” -- unless you’ve specifically TOLD me I can talk to him about you.  (And I’d prefer to have that in writing!)  

So that’s why I have a hard time with clients who keep secrets.  Usually because those secrets inflict a lot of psychological damage.  I’m not talking about the “what you got someone for Christmas” or “what you really think about that outfit” type of secrets.  I’m talking about the “mother is abusing pain pills” or “father is molesting you” type of secrets.  But these are the ones people hold onto the tightest.  

I always get to the point where I ask, “Why didn’t you tell anyone?”  The answer is always some combination of fear and shame mixed with the ever-present longing to just pretend it never really happened.  But that genie is not going back in the bottle.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Like billiard balls striking one another, each trauma sends you off on a trajectory very different from the one you had planned.  

So basically, we keep secrets because we are AFRAID of the truth.  We have what might be called a Truth Phobia.  It is well accepted in the psych world that the only way to cure a phobia is through increased exposure to the feared object or situation.  (There are, however, many, many techniques for accomplishing that exposure.)  This is not a new idea.  Ever hear anyone say that you have to face your fears in order to conquer them?

Now I’m not going to decide for someone else when, or if, they need to tell their secrets.  But I am going to help them to see the damage that comes from holding onto those secrets.  And that can be significant.  Keeping a secret can also be perversely gratifying.  Some people enjoy playing the martyr.  Holding onto the pain makes them feel good about themselves.  “I’m no snitch!” they may boast.  They might also feel powerful by holding onto information that might ruin another person’s reputation.  They see it as some crazy expression of love.  

Nonsense!  I’m not saying you need to air the dirty laundry at the family reunion, but you have to take a good, long, HARD look at that secret so that you can finally let it go.  (Just the way I had to keep and care for spiders in order to stop being terrified of them.)  You are not the secret.  You are not even the fear.  You are something else entirely.  Something holy and precious.  The secret is just what happened to you.  Separate yourself from it, and be free!

There are lots of theories about how families operate.  Most agree that individuals assume certain roles within the group.  You’ve got the Pretty One, the Smart One, the Peacekeeper, the Organizer.  Many families also pick a scapegoat who then becomes responsible for anything that goes wrong.  This unfortunate is known as the Problem, or, as we call him in the Biz, “The Identified Patient.”  

If anyone in the family is going to get counseling, it is usually the Problem.  By the time I see them, they have spent years trying desperately to prove their innocence.  But this particular dysfunction has nothing to do with reality.  It doesn’t matter that older sister got pregnant or younger brother is into drugs.  My client is THE PROBLEM and no amount of success is going to change that.  

Sometimes The Problem is the girl in the family who has to be locked up at home while her brothers ride roughshod over the countryside.  I’ve heard parents justify this by saying, “Well at least they won’t come back pregnant.”  When the girl finally breaks free she often DOES act irresponsibly, out of revenge or lack of experience, and so she keeps her title of Problem, even if her brothers end up in prison!  

And that’s the real heartbreak here.  Family roles often become self-fulfilling prophesies.  The Pretty One develops anorexia, the Smart One and the Organizer exhaust themselves in a hopeless quest for perfection, and the Peacekeeper puts everyone else first so much he ends up a quivering shell.  All of them are very prone to depression and substance abuse.  

The Problems are alienated, angry, anxious.  A dark cloud of guilt hovers over their heads and blocks out any possible satisfaction.  They’re locked in an endless struggle to prove their worth.  “What should I do?” they cry.   

I shrug.  “Give up.”  

“What!  That’s your advice?  That I just shouldn’t TRY any more?”  

“Yup.  Your family is never going to see you as anything but the Problem for as long as you live, even if you develop the cure for cancer.  They’d still be telling everyone how you wet the bed even if you were awarded the Nobel Prize!  So give up.  Quit trying to prove who you aren’t and start being who you are.”  

It’s as easy – and as difficult – as that.  Don’t let a bunch of jerks make you miserable.  The best way to get back at those idiots is by having a really great life.  So stop worrying about them and get started.  What are your strengths?  What are your dreams?  What are your values?  Put your energy there.  Decide what YOU want out of life and go for it.   

I like what Aunty Mame said.  “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

Most weekends I make it to church and slog through a bunch of routine chores – cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, laundry.  But for the bulk of my time off, I lounge on the couch binge-watching shows like Futurama and Workaholics.  (Have I mentioned that my tastes in comedy run decidedly low?)  Then Monday comes and I feel guilty for not getting more done.  

So last weekend, I turned off the TV, determined to tackle one of the major projects on my chore list.  I was going to wash the windows!  Last time I did this was when my youngest son was home for the summer after his first year in college.  (He’s 30 now.)  All that time I’ve watched my windows get increasingly dirty and done nothing about it but feel guilty and lazy.  

Not this time!  I grabbed a bottle of Windex and got busy with a stack of old newspapers.  It wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be.  In fact I got done so quickly that I also (with the help of my very tall husband) took down, washed and replaced all my light fixtures.  Then I planted pansies in my flowerbeds.  Everything looked so much brighter and more colorful.  It was like getting a new house!  And I was happy!  A little sore, but happy that for once I didn’t “waste” my weekend on the couch.  

So what did I learn?  Well I already knew I’d feel better if I did some of the stuff I’d been putting off.  What was new was the realization that washing your windows is a great metaphor for changing your attitude.  Our eyes are the windows to our souls.  Yet we tend to let the “dirt” of life cloud our view to the point where we see gloom and doom everywhere we look.  

Case in point:  My husband (whom I affectionately call Mr. Grump) could dampen the spirits of drunken Mardi Gras revelers.  And it’s no wonder why!  With his steady diet of talk radio, network news and internet hyperbole, how could he possibly be a happy camper?  So, every once in a while I have to put my foot down and simply refuse to hear yet another rant about how “our country is going right down the toilet!”  

“Enough!” I cry.  “So we’re circling the drain!  But what exactly what can we do about it today?  Couldn’t we at least TRY to have some fun together before we have to go back to work?  Believe it or not, there is still light and hope out there if you just choose to see it!”

It’s taken quite a while, but I’ve actually got Mr. Grump admitting that life can be pretty good.  Music helps.  I found a station called Martini Time.  Toe tappin’ stuff.  That and a few games of dominoes or a few selections from the Three Stooges DVD and the atmosphere gets distinctly lighter.   

So be sure to wash your windows from time to time.  (And make your loved ones do it, too!)

Many of my clients know that I keep a thick piece of foam tucked away in a corner of my office along with a blanket and pillow.  On days that I’m not feeling well I will spend my lunch hour bedded down on the floor with the lights out and the fan humming away.  I don’t get to do this very often, mostly because I rarely get a whole hour for lunch.   

I also have a killer immune system thanks to probiotics and a childhood spent playing in the mud.  So I don’t get sick very often and when I do get whatever is going around, I usually have a milder version of it.  But last week everyone was sick, including me so I got to doze a little bit with all the cancellations.  Really helped me make it through.

Never underestimate the positive effects of a power nap.  If I could, I’d take one every day!  Many of my clients express guilt about napping.  Whatever for?!  We were designed for naps, especially during the middle of the day after lunch.  We used to take this daily siesta for granted.  And not just in Spain.  I remember one of my German teachers telling me that when she was in school, everyone took two hours at lunch for a nap.  

My son lived and worked in China for several years.  He said that the two-hour lunch was routine – one hour to eat, one hour to sleep.  People just laid their heads on their desks and passed out.  Rather than being a waste of time, this practice increases productivity.  Why can’t we do this in the U.S.?  

Because we’re too busy sucking every ounce of work out of everyone, that’s why!  Estimates are that most of us are so sleep-deprived that, left to our own devices, we would sleep up to 15 hours a day for several days just to catch up.  All this work actually makes us less productive and more accident-prone.  Tragically, some of the people we count on the most – doctors, pilots, truck drivers – are the least well-rested.

This is crazy.  (And I KNOW crazy.)  Nothing is worse than not being able to sleep.  Ask any of my clients who suffer from insomnia.  Life just really isn’t worth living when you’re tired all the time.  So nap away!  Chances are you actually get more done because you are rested.  You will certainly enjoy life more!

I’ve been unfortunate enough to have testified in a couple of child custody cases.  I know other therapists who hate doing this SO MUCH that they charge ridiculous amounts for a court appearance hoping to dissuade anyone from taking them up on it.  ($800 plus travel?!  Are you KIDDING me?!)  Of course, it IS so unnerving that I may get to the point where no amount of money could induce me to do it.  

But for now, at least, I do.  Much more cheaply, I might add.  I do this because I genuinely believe in the rights of my kid clients.  I hate the fact that, in the eyes of the law, they are property to be divided and no one cares about their opinions or feelings

Even parents who are not locked in a custody battle can still treat their kids like objects.  The typical scenario goes like this:  Parent is angry with HIS parent and so says something like, “Do what I say or you’ll never see your grandkids again!”  This level of maturity ranks right up there with “If you don’t let me pitch I’m taking my bat and ball and going home!”  Except your kids are people, not sporting equipment.  

Now if grandma can’t put down the crack pipe long enough to change a diaper, you have a legitimate reason for not wanting to leave your kids there unattended.  Maybe grandpa isn’t actually breaking the law, but he’s just a mean ol’ SOB with nothing to say but a long string of curse words.  Don’t want your kids around that, either.  So you MAY think you’ve got their best interest at heart when you refuse any contact.  

WRONG!  Your kids WANT to know -- and love -- their grandparents, their non-custodial parents and their errant older siblings.  They have a RIGHT to know them.  Kids aren’t stupid.  They’ll figure out that these people are not contenders for Parent of the Year.  And letting them see the ugly truth (in age-appropriate doses) is more beneficial to them than letting them grow up with a hole in their hearts.  

So be a grown-up and let your kids have the contact they crave.  Just control it.  Meet at a public place – restaurant, park, arcade.  Turn it into a teaching moment by letting them know what to expect.  “Now grandpa’s old and cranky and he uses bad words.  That is NOT a reason why YOU can.  We all have to respect our elders, even sometimes when they’re wrong.”  (Besides, unless your kid is deaf, I can practically guarantee he’s heard those words before.)  

Another scenario is that the non-custodial parent will call up and promise to pick up the kids for a day of fun at, say the waterpark.  Then not show up.  And you’re left with a bunch of crying kids with nothing to do.  Don’t let it happen!  Always have a Plan B.  “You know your dad doesn’t always show up when he says he will.  So if he doesn’t take you to the waterpark, we’ll all go to the movies instead.”  

For the love of God, please treat your kids like people!  Don’t use them as bargaining chips, weapons or punishment.  They are our future, you know.