I always end up with mouthy beasts. They’re forever trying to interact with me, get my attention, “talk” to me. Even little Miss Shadow, who said nary a peep for months after we brought her home, has become a regular motor mouth. When I complained about this to my husband, he replied, “Of course she talks to you. You talk to her.”
A light bulb went off in my head, glaring with the painful realization that he was absolutely right. I DO talk to the animals. Even those crazy donkeys get called by name, asked what’s going on with them, and admonished to leave the landscaping alone. The whole time I’m out there it’s a non-stop monologue. No wonder they start honking every time I open the door.
I think back to something I told my kids when they were first pregnant. I advised them to talk to their babies all the time, even though the babies couldn’t answer yet. “They’ll understand you long before they can talk back to you,” I insisted. “You can teach them a lot that way, make them smart, make them feel secure.”
I did it and my kids were (are) smart. And they talk all the time. ALL THE TIME! They also write, though to a lesser extent than their Mama. The point is, they always have something to say and they’re driven (DRIVEN) to express it. And we are all in professions where we essentially communicate for a living.
In the Psych World we have an acronym that is supposed to help us maintain professional distance: WAIT. It stands for Why Am I Talking? The idea is that clients come to YOU to talk. You’re supposed to shut up and listen, but listen “actively”. You pay attention, remember, relate to other events and distill it all into gleaming nuggets of golden insight.
Great in theory. But when clients describe their bad experiences with other counselors, what they say the most is “He (or she) just sat there and didn’t say a word.” “Well,” I explain, “we’re sort of taught that. We’re supposed to be listening.” “What good is that!?” they cry. “If that’s all I wanted, I could talk to my dog!”
Good point. When I pick up my counseling magazines, I am constantly amazed when veteran counselors admit to the grievous wrong of “self-disclosure”. After years of maintaining strict professional distance (i.e. denying any form of humanity at all in the face of their suffering clients) they took the chance and opened up about themselves and their experiences.
“And it made all the difference!” they gush at the end of the article. Give me a break! I’ve been doing that from day one. Now I DO understand that the session is not about me dealing with MY issues, but what am I there for if not to interact? It’s worked well for me. But come to think of it, my clients ARE getting more mouthy.
I have friends and relatives who think the Affordable Care Act will be the savior of the country. From my vantage point as a provider, I just don’t see it. To be “affordable” the plans have such high deductibles that no one can afford to use them. And truly needy people can’t get a plan at all. Let’s face it, our government is neither efficient nor effective at providing counseling.
First, let’s look at MediCare. In its “wisdom”, our government decided that all counseling services must be performed by MDs or “doctorate level clinicians”. So basically you’re talking about psychiatrists and psychologists, neither of whom want to do any counseling.
Why should they? A psychiatrist can see four patients an hour to prescribe medication and get $200 each. A psychologist can administer tests for $400 to $800 a pop. Compare that to about $85 per hour-long session for counseling. Do the math. And for what it costs to get those degrees and pay for that malpractice insurance and I don’t blame them for following the money.
The biggest problem is that once someone has MediCare, it becomes “primary”, which means that no other plans a person might have will pay, either. Not Medicaid or supplements. So we end up with a lot of people who really need counseling, but who can’t find a provider to see them
Every year the American Counseling Association gets someone in Congress to sponsor a bill which would let Master’s level counselors (LPCs like me) accept MediCare. Every year it goes nowhere. Ironically, a counseling practice that has a psychiatrist on staff CAN have LPCs bill for MediCare. But just TRY getting a “pill doctor” to join your team. They’re rarer than hen’s teeth.
Next consider Medicaid. In Texas, no one but kids and pregnant women can get on Medicaid so that leaves out nearly everyone I would be seeing. Plus Medicaid is a nightmare to navigate. (I imagine MediCare is, too, but I haven’t been allowed to try.) For example, I’ve been trying for the last four months to change my tax ID number with Medicaid. No luck.
First I play phone-tag until I can get an appointment to talk to someone who walks me through the process and has me fax in some forms. Good to go, right? But no! Three weeks later I get a letter in the mail telling me I need to do something else. Which I do, but which still doesn’t solve the problem. I’m hoping to have it all done by the deadline of December 2016.
Because of this difficulty, most healthcare practices hire someone who does nothing but fight through the insurance red tape to get the bills paid. That adds cost but because government payments are fixed, the provider can’t pass along the increase. After a while you get to the point that you’re doing a service for free. That’s when providers drop out of the system. Expect to see a lot more of it!
I firmly believe that time is better than money for the things that really matter. You can tell a lot about a person by how he chooses between the two. The death of a loved one is always an event that brings out the best and worst in us. The ones who truly cared wish they had more time with the deceased. Users simply wish there had been more money to pass around.
Nowhere is the distinction between time and money more important than when it comes to your kids. And nowhere is this clearer than in the unending conflict between Conservatory Parent, representing time, and Weekend Parent representing money.
Weekend Parent isn’t around for all the messiness of school, job and extracurricular activities. He isn’t part of the eternal struggle of baths and chores and meals. He rides in at the end of the week and gets to be the “fun one”. It doesn’t take kids long to learn this routine and to exploit it. Conservatory Parents resent this, feeling that they are all work while the other parent is all play.
But many non-conservatory parents also complain about this situation. They actually WANT to be involved with their kids and resent the implication that they’re supposed to be all about entertainment. It’s expensive and it gets old. I don’t know about you, but I can only spend so much time at a Celebration Station before I’m a shivering wreck.
The same choice between time and money goes on in “intact” families. Many parents invest in expensive electronic equipment to keep their kids entertained while they work or rest. Mistake! The worst thing you can do to your kids is to banish them from the day-to-day tasks of living. They need to be involved, no matter how much they complain or how much faster you could do it yourself.
This is part of training them to be adults. It’s also a handy way to get in more time that costs almost no money. Cooking dinner, doing laundry, cleaning house. These are all opportunities to pass on your knowledge and to build cohesiveness within your family. Maybe the kids would rather play video games, but they don’t get that choice. They can play games when the work is done.
Then there are all the kinds of work that actually are fun. Decorating for a holiday, baking cookies, raking leaves (and jumping in the pile). Your kids need to be part of that. It’s how traditions are created and passed down. Despite what they may SAY, kids really want your time and attention more than anything you can buy at a store.
But where does that leave the non-custodial parents whose time is limited by the court? You can sneak in more interaction with your phone. You can send cards. Kids love getting mail! And if at all possible, be there for the game or performance. That they will remember better than your 26th visit to Chucky Cheese.
I bet some of you are worried I’m going to launch into a sappy Hallmark Movie tale about how wonderful it was growing up in my family. Was it perfect? No. No it was not. But some of you may be hoping to hear me dish on my tragic childhood. But no, it wasn’t horrible either. I had what we like to call in the business a “good enough” family.
We weren’t rich, but we lived well due to my parents’ hard work and thrift. We had plenty to eat, central air, new clothes as necessary and a pool membership every summer. And every year we spent a week camping in the Ozarks.
What I remember most about those trips was the long ride there and back (no AC in the car) and how my mother was grumpy most of the time. She told me later that camping for her was all the work with none of the conveniences.
My parents weren’t strict, but they weren’t wimpy, either. We were expected to act right, help out and fit in. When we messed up we were punished, but reasonably. We weren’t spanked past toddlerhood. After that it was grounding, extra chores and no phone time. And they made sure to let us know that they still loved us, even if they hated our behavior.
They practiced the style of parenting what my father dubbed “benign neglect”. They cared about us and wanted the best for us, but they weren’t all up in our business. There was no helicoptering. They let us fail, get our feelings hurt, get in trouble. And, after a little tongue-lashing, they were there to help us get back up again.
My parents didn’t act perfect. They got mad and sad and silly. They made mistakes and allowed themselves to have feelings, good and bad. That taught me how to deal with powerful emotions without lashing out or making a fool of myself. I didn’t grow up to be the perfect parent, either, but I didn’t have to. I was “good enough”.
And that’s what really matters. You don’t have to provide your children with gourmet meals, designer clothing and vacations on the Rivera. They just need adequate, healthful food, clothes that don’t make them stand out (in a bad way), and plenty of chances to explore the world and experience its pleasures.
Poverty, violence and substance-abuse all take a toll on a family. But even these ills can be surmounted if there is enough love. Think back on your family when you were growing up. Were people kind to each other? Did everyone belong? Did you share? Did everyone count? Did everyone pitch in? Did you have the feeling, most days, that things were going to be okay?
If you can answer yes to most of these questions, then you probably had a “good enough” family. And that’s really the best kind. So try to enjoy them this Thanksgiving.
I recently discovered that my cat has been cheating on me. Considering the enormous efforts I’ve expended to serve her fuzzy little butt, this is particularly hurtful. She was a rescue, after all. She’s lucky to be fat and happy right now. This is how she repays me? Running around? Shamelessly! Making me look like a fool. But perhaps a little background is in order.
Shadow was found on the street, hungry and homeless, by a friend who couldn’t keep her. We took her in and gave her the run of two acres with a pet door for easy access. I know you’re supposed to keep cats inside, but I refuse to house captives. In order for my cats to experience felinity to the fullest I’m willing to accept some risk. Such is the price of a life well lived.
I do my best to maintain their safety, however. We both keep a sharp eye on Shadow. My husband tries to find her in the early morning. I look for her at dusk. When she’s not around, we worry. A lot. Shadow, of course, is oblivious to our concern. She operates on no one’s schedule but her own. She answers to no man. Or woman.
That’s one of the things I like about cats. Dogs are loud, dirty and needy. The exact opposite of clean, quiet cats. The minute you walk in the door, the dog has to throw a fit, jumping all over you and maybe even peeing a little in the process. In contrast, a cat barely reacts. “Oh, it’s you,” it seems to say, tossing you the briefest of glances before going back to what it was doing.
Likewise, Shadow makes no effort to respond to our calling and searching. She’ll watch from a dark corner without making a peep, stalking us from room to room until we spot her. And then she’s more likely to run out the door than into our arms. When I get Shadow to obey me, I know I’ve really accomplished something.
One day Shadow was missing from the dusk check and again from the one at dawn. When she wasn’t home by dusk, we despaired that she’d been dinner for the coyote pack. Still we resolved to wait (she’d been gone a whole week once, after all) and turned into bed with sad hearts.
About midnight I awoke from a fitful sleep to the familiar mew and thump of Shadow hitting the bed. Leaping up joyously I cried to my husband, “She’s back! She’s back!” But when I rubbed my face against hers in the traditional feline greeting, the miserable beast simply reeked of cheap perfume. Oh the betrayal!
She stuck around for a while after that, but soon she was gone again, only to appear a day later similarly scented. It happens about every week now. I know she has another woman. She probably has another name, the hussy! But what can I do? I’m a sucker for the challenge.
So you could call Houston the City of Haters because they didn’t pass a restroom parity law. As I understand the issue (which is vaguely at best) the law would have allowed a person to choose his (or her) restroom based on the sex he (or she) believed himself (or herself) to be that day. (Good Lord! At this rate I’ll hit 500 words in a snap!)
Maybe the voters of Houston ARE a bunch of ultra-conservative, fundamentalist dinosaurs who just hate diversity. Or not. I’d really like to see the demographics of that vote. I’m betting women sidelined that law because we just have a very different understanding of what constitutes a proper restroom experience than men do.
A woman never considers the restroom as merely a place to “evacuate”. It is a place to actually REST. And refresh. It needs a dressing room with a sofa and lots of mirrors. A choice of soaps and hand drying options. Air freshener. A changing table and lots of stalls. It must be not only clean but also tastefully decorated, preferably in keeping with the season. What it must NOT have is men.
“But these are men who IDENTIFY as women!” one might protest.
“Okay,” I might reply. “But how do I know that for sure?”
Maybe I AM a hater, but I just don’t want to be fixing a wardrobe malfunction or using the feminine products vending machine right when some guy walks in. If I could be SURE that he was a woman in disguise, I guess I’d be okay. But how can I know that without discriminating?
Do I look only at clothing? Jeans and a T-shirt are pretty universal and some drag queens are actually hetero. Do I look for breasts or would that be discriminating against the flat-chested? If a man is having a sex change procedure, how far along does he have to be? Or am I discriminating by thinking that he has to transform at all?
Could a man with a full beard and a three-piece suit say that he feels like a woman inside? And how would I know that he isn’t just some creep breaking the sanctity of the woman’s restroom, possibly snapping pics with a shoe camera? Weirder things have happened!
Could we call a truce in the restroom wars by simply creating a new category – Trans? Will architects of the future always include a three-restroom layout in the floor plan? What should the trans restroom look like and how big should it be?
According to the latest statistics, 3.5% of Americans identify as LBGT. That means one stall and one urinal would be plenty for most places. Problem solved. Now we should tackle the REAL issue here – the fact that there’s always a line in the women’s restroom. Obviously we should have twice as many facilities as we currently do. Let’s get that on the ballot!
Before I got cancer I never heard much about it. Or maybe I did, but it was brief, incidental. A PSA on the radio, all that horrid pink stuff for sale, the casual comment from an acquaintance.
“My mom has cancer and it’s pretty bad.”
“Oh I’m so very sorry!”
And that was it. Cancer held no great meaning for me. It was like drowning or electrocution or having a bad car wreck. Simply one of the many ways in which people die.
But when I GOT cancer all that changed. Now everyone I meet feels compelled to relate the horrible tale of how their loved one succumbed to the disease, complete with such colorful phrases as “Nothing but skin stretched over bones” and “You could tell she was gone by her eyes.”
Other people give me their treatment advice. I eat too much sugar. I need more anti-oxidants. I should try an herbal cleanse. Oh, and I should be taking enough vitamin C to float a boat. Or choke a horse, or some other such very large quantity. I try to be patient, look for an opportunity to change the subject. Most people know by now that I really don’t want to talk about it.
Because I’m fine. Truly, I am. I thought I’d cry when I got the news, but I didn’t. Then I thought I’d cry when all my hair fell out, but I didn’t then, either. I’m really quite blessed. Sure I got cancer, but I’m also getting the breast reduction I always wanted and a tummy tuck. (They’re going to use my fat to make me new breasts! How great is that!)
My clients get the same sort of treatment from their family and friends, but they don’t have the legitimacy of a deadly disease to make it better. When you say you’ve got depression or bipolar, people are usually supportive at first, but you also get their tales of woe.
“Oh my grandmother had that and it was just terrible for her.” “You sure ARE bipolar! I’ve been telling you that for years!” And the treatment advice, frequently assuring you that all the medications you’ve been prescribed are just junk. But after a while, people get impatient when you don’t have surgical procedures or drug infusions to go through.
Pretty soon you start getting, “Well I’m depressed, too and you don’t see me moping around the house all day!’ And finally the dreaded “Why can’t you just get over it!” To be fair, people with other types of chronic medical conditions get the same rap. Just try telling someone you have lupus and see how far it gets you.
But depression IS a deadly disease. Suicide rates are going up, and there’s no telling how many overdoses or car wrecks are actually intentional. Depression should be taken as seriously as cancer. Sure people need to learn how to live with their disease, but for God’s sake! Give ‘em a break!
They say that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. And in our millisecond modern world, most of us can’t remember yesterday so I guess we’re all doomed! Or not. There are some among us (like me) who DO study history, geology, paleontology and even literature from whence I can quote Solomon the Wise and say there is truly nothing new under the sun.
Not good for those tasked with bringing us a 24-hour news cycle. Those talking heads are ever hungry for some choice tidbit to breathlessly report. The result is our growing perception that everything that happens is the WORST EVER!
It can’t just rain a lot. We have to be experiencing HISTORIC FLOODING. A hurricane can’t just slam into Mexico, as they’ve been doing ever since Central America rose above the waves. It has to be the biggest hurricane EVER RECORDED! Most people shorten that to “ever” and conclude that things are getting worse and worse. Which is patently untrue.
The Earth is about four billion years old, give or take, and we’ve been recording wind speed for what, a few hundred years, tops? Odds are good that there’ve been lots of high winds that were never observed, much less recorded by humans. In fact, we’ve had hurricanes within the last 100 years that had higher wind speeds, we just forgot about them.
Just like we forget about all the droughts, floods and tornadoes of the past and focus solely on the ones topping the news cycle. Few people bother to investigate history to see just how common these events might be. Fewer can remember them. But I do!
When I was growing up we watched the evening news every night. We subscribed to two daily newspapers, three weekly news periodicals and several monthly scientific magazines. I read them all, cover-to-cover along with all the books in the house. (You can identify my relatives by the crushing weight of books sagging in shelves, piled in corners and covering every surface of their homes.)
Fortified with this knowledge, I can face the WORST EVER and be confident that it is really just more of the same. I remember when Indian monsoons killed millions, not a few thousand. I remember wading through snow up to my waist in the mid-seventies when even Al Gore said we were headed into another Ice Age.
Now Bette Midler, no doubt an accomplished meteorologist on top of being an A-list performer, has told all us deniers to wake up and feel the wind and rain. Did it. Wasn’t that bad. So Patricia poops out and the talking heads are on to more death and destruction. Next year no one will even remember her name, certainly not the Divine Miss M.
Most of my clients don’t watch the news. It keeps them from getting all upset over something that probably won’t be that bad and that no one will remember in a week. Crazy like foxes!
Couples counseling has its own challenges. Many therapists shy away from it, mostly because a session where you have two clients screaming at each other can quickly devolve into a session where both clients are screaming at you! Sometimes the issues that bring couples into therapy are sudden and/or catastrophic: Death of a child; death of a parent; job loss; serious diagnoses; affairs; or gender reassignment.
But more often than not, the same few sticking points send couples up the wall and into my office: The trifecta of Sex, Kids and Money. Occasionally there has been a drastic change in one of these dynamics that has the couple struggling to cope, but not usually. Usually they’ve been fighting the same fight since before they got married.
Let’s start with Sex. Typically one partner wants more of it (and it isn’t always the man) and the other could live very happily if it never happened again. I'm not a Sex Therapist (and have NO desire to become one!) so I tread lightly in this area. With a little questioning I can usually find out what the problem is and it’s generally fairly simple. You’d be surprised how often it comes down to personal hygiene.
Next come the Kids. Questions abound! Do we want kids? Do we already HAVE kids? Do those kids have other parents and how involved are they in this little domestic drama? Issues of visitation, child support and favoritism can quickly become heated and ugly. Add in different parenting styles and the division of labor in a two-income household and you have a never-ending argument.
Finally there is Money. Spenders marry savers. One person pays all the bills and the other wouldn’t know a checkbook if it slapped him in the face. People make large, selfish purchases without consulting their partners. Others hide and hoard money neglecting even prudent outlays, like health and dental care.
The treatment for all of these problems comes down to one thing: Improved communication. Generally because there has been NO communication. Amazing as it seems, people date, fall in love and marry having never discussed the Big Three! Big mistake! I wish couples would spend as much time exploring their attitudes and values as they do picking the color scheme for their weddings.
Start by asking what each of the Big Three mean to you. For some money is just a means to an end. For others it is an end in itself. For some sex is an expression of love. For others it is something painful and shameful. Many people think that having kids is a way to right all the wrongs of their own childhoods. Others seek to live through their children, achieving what they never could on their own.
The takeaway here is that you need to discuss these issues, and others, deeply and fully before you say, “I do,” or I can practically guarantee you’ll be fighting about them for the rest of your marriage.
Every year thousands of people end up in ERs across the country thinking they’re having a heart attack only to be told it’s “just” anxiety. I sometimes wonder where we came up with the term anxiety attack in the first place. Did some wise guy doctor bring by the test results and quip, “Your heart’s just fine. The only thing you were attacked by was anxiety!”
Either way it sure feels like an assault – pounding heart, rapid breathing, chest pains, thinking you’re gonna die! Where does it come from? What sets it off? If I had the answers to those questions I’d have to charge a whole lot more than I do.
Anxiety is basically fear. It’s a holdover from the time when we lived a precarious, day-by-day existence at the mercy of Nature. Strangely enough, our ancient ancestors probably didn’t have much anxiety. They went about placidly, looking for enough to eat every day and trying to keep the fire going at night. Not a moment was spent worrying about tomorrow’s presentation or the fast-approaching tax season.
At first, our fear served us well by grabbing our attention and forcing us to choose between only two options – fight or flight. We picked one and kept at it until the threat was over. Then we went back to foraging and snoozing without a care in the world. But for our modern-day dilemmas neither choice will work. And so we end up with anxiety which is basically running in place.
Anxiety is bad enough when you KNOW what you’re worried about. Worse is the sudden attack of crippling fear with no identifiable cause. In theory, the answer resides in our unconscious, that shadowy realm where all our past tragedies and triumphs play out in real time. Something in the present – a sound, a smell – triggers a memory of past trauma and we react with full-blown panic.
Most clients with anxiety will relate a history made unstable by poverty, physical/mental/sexual abuse, moving around a lot, and/or substance-abusing parents. These situations are overwhelming to kids who have so little control over their own lives. They feel like pawns tossed about by big people who don’t seem to have their best interests at heart.
Fast-forward to adulthood and you have people who “panic over nothing”. The bounced check is not just a nuisance for them. Before them yawns the horrible memory of daddy drinking up the Christmas money (again!) and no presents this year. A notice that the apartment manager is raising the rent brings with it all the shame and uncertainty of repeated late-night evictions.
People seldom put this together on their own because the memories hide deep in their brains. Only the emotions leak out. That’s why it's so important to work with someone (like me!) to revisit the past with new eyes, adult eyes. Once you actually get down and look, the monster under the bed isn’t that huge after all. And you’re all grown up. You can take him!
In the psych world things are seldom black and white. Everything runs on a continuum from “a little off” to “bat shit crazy”. And the question is really not “Will I go there?” but how often and for how long. Think it can’t happen to you? Think again.
Let’s say you come home after a long day of work and find your house surrounded by police tape and flashing squad cars. As you rush forward you are restrained by well-meaning cops who tell you that something terrible has happened inside, but you can’t go in yet because the coroner is still working the scene.
What would do you do? Stand there patiently and thank the officers for sparing your feelings? Heck no! You’d go ballistic and you know it! And it wouldn’t be over once you found out what had happened. You’d be a hot mess for a good long time. How hot and for how long depends on a good many factors.
Unfortunately, most people don’t “get” mental illness. They can excuse someone for breaking down after a tragedy but after a while, most people think you should “just get over it”. In fact the DSM-V (our diagnostic Bible) states that you only get two years to grieve. After that you get another “lesser” diagnosis.
One of the most difficult disorders for people to understand is plain old depression. “Everyone gets sad from time to time,” they will argue. “That’s just part of life. So get out of that bed and get on with it!” I’ve even had clients tell me of their loved ones actually stripping off the covers and dragging them out of bed by their feet in an attempt to “help.”
Funny, during all my years of training and practice that particular technique has never been suggested. Probably because it never works. Hence the disconnect between the way we deal with mental as opposed to physical illness. No one ever suggests hauling a coma patient out of the bed and telling him to “just get on with it.”
So what DOES work? That depends on the person and the situation. Some people are just more resilient than others. Some have a lot of family and social support. Others are already so wounded and isolated that the road back is long and painful. But there are some techniques that work most of the time.
First the trauma must be fully processed, whether the result of a sudden misfortune or a lifelong malaise. This is not a time-limited process. It can take years and years. Next, supports, both internal and external, must be identified and strengthened. Along the way you develop coping skills, from banishing painful thoughts to beginning an exercise program.
Finally comes acceptance. Things have changed. There may be a “new normal” in your life which, while isn’t the same, doesn’t have to be terrible. Life goes on. And with each age and stage we can find new joys.
I love getting free stuff. Samples at the grocery store. Buy-one-get-one-free deals. Of course, as my husband (Captain Buzz Kill) ALWAYS has to point out, it isn’t actually free. “They roll the cost of those samples into the price,” he sneers. “And it isn’t free when you have to buy one first. It’s only free when you don’t pay at all.”
I counter with “I’m not going to BUY that product anyway so who cares what it costs? And so what if you have to buy one to get another one free? It’s something I’d buy two of anyway and I’m getting them for half price! I’ll be in the car!” Free IS good. Except when it isn’t.
Most of my Democratic friends are backing Bernie Sanders (thank God it isn’t Hillary!) with his free healthcare and free college mantra. They think this will help close the gap between rich and poor in this country. But it won’t. The rich will still have better healthcare and education because they spend more money on it, and you get what you pay for.
The problem with giving away something for free is that it devalues the product. Hence the horror stories about free kittens and puppies becoming snake food or bait animals in dog fighting operations. Look at the way renters will trash a house but buyers seldom do. When you don’t invest anything in a product, you have less respect for it
Plus, we already HAVE free education in this country and it’s a dismal failure. Government oversight (i.e. endless testing and level after level of administration) has resulted in a product so flawed, many students entering college have to take remedial courses before they can begin. A “free” high school education is becoming just that - worthless.
People argue that it isn’t the schools, it’s the lack of parental involvement. How true! And you know what gets most parents REALLY involved? When they’re PAYING for their kid’s education! Just look at the difference between parental participation in private versus public schools. Alas, for many parents, school is nothing more than free daycare.
Likewise our government is already providing free or reduced price healthcare with MediCare, Medicaid and the VA. And they’re nightmares of shoddy service, fraud and waste! Do you really think it will get any better when we give our government the whole healthcare enchilada?
What it will do is put more and more good, ethical providers out of business, the way good teachers are fleeing education for “industry jobs”, i.e. corporations. Bernie wants to regulate them, too, but the same thing will happen. The good ones will just up and leave the country taking their jobs and taxes with them.
Strangely, The Donald (a man my Dem friends consider to be the Devil incarnate) says to impose import taxes high enough that it’s unprofitable to move your factory to Mexico. See how when you have to PAY, you pay more attention?
I’m always telling people not to kill snakes. “They’re on our side against the rodents,” I argue. “Kill them and you’ll be overrun with rats and mice.”
My exasperated friends answer that if I love the snake so much I can jolly well come over and take it home with me. I would, but the thing would be gone before I could back out of my driveway. (All the more reason to just leave it alone and let it get back to the business of killing rodents!)
Fear of snakes is the most common human phobia, found in all continents and cultures. The paleoanthropologists say that this is a holdover from our days living in the trees when snakes were a major predator.
That may be, but I have to believe that leopards and jaguars were also major predators and we were so afraid of them that we invited their smaller cousins into the house to hunt rodents. We don’t do that with snakes.
The snake appears as a symbol in most religions, ancient and modern. We’re all aware of the bad rap the serpent got in the Garden of Eden, but even then the snake was seen as a symbol of wisdom, the most subtle of all the beasts. From the Greeks we get the twin serpents on Hermes’ staff. He was a god of cunning and his staff now represents the medical profession.
But mostly we see snakes as the embodiment of evil. Snake in the grass, dirty snakes, sneaky snakes. No one ever calls someone a snake as a compliment. And even though I defend them, I really don’t want them in my house, either. The garage, okay, the yard, sure, but not the house.
So where do you draw the line with a creature that is both dangerous and beneficial? Take the example of lions and elephants in Africa. For the local people, they are pests. Elephants destroy crops, lions steal away calves and goats. Strangely enough, preserving them only becomes attractive when you factor in the income the locals can make from big game hunters - themselves seen as an embodiment of evil.
Where does that leave us with the snakes, or more to the point, with evil? How much of it can we tolerate as a society before it becomes “too much”? Some people would say “none” and that would be great if it weren’t for the fact that everything contains a bit of evil.
The beautiful butterfly lighting on a blossom is in reality laying eggs that will turn into ravenous caterpillars which will devastate the flower. The life-giving sun can become a pitiless destroyer wielding heat and thirst. Even the baby you love turns you into a zombie of sleep deprivation.
One thing I know for sure. You cannot combat evil by ignoring it. You have to face it squarely and understand it intimately. The more you know, the better you can fight. As the Godfather told us, “Keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer.” (And leave the snakes alone!)
When deep in the throes of my chemo sickness, I have a tendency to think the worst. Everything seems hopeless, life sucks and soon I will die. I try hard to think positively, being grateful for my clean comfortable bed, my safe, well-stocked home and my loving husband who will rub my shoulders and bring me whatever I gesture at. (During those times I lose the mastery of words like “cup” and “book”.)
So while I may be undergoing cancer treatments, I’m pretty lucky to be a lady of certain age and means living right here in the good old USA when things are still relatively peaceful and prosperous. But this time in my depression, I found myself obsessing over a time when America the Great could devolve into barbarism. It could be the Dark Ages all over again.
Now don’t get me wrong, I love history. I spent a good portion of my life skirting the edges of the Renaissance Faire Circuit. I could never actually hit the road because of the house, kids and job. But I cherished weekends living in the hovel above my Shoppe, washing in one bucket, peeing in another. It was fun to read by an oil lamp, witness the glory of stars undimmed by city lights and be lulled to sleep by the songs of insects.
Of course as any historical re-enactor will tell you, the past is a nice place to visit, but it was no picnic living there. Life was precarious, hunger and sickness were ever-present and respect for the rights of others was singularly lacking. It was a time of tribal alliances, blood feuds and repression. In short, it was the world that the Islamic terrorists are trying to bring back.
People argue, “That isn’t REAL Islam! It’s a perverted sect.” Okay, so fix it! If a bunch of Old Testament loonies were running around taking eyes for eyes and stoning people, we’d put them in jail. Why isn’t that happening? The extremists continue to multiply because they have the tacit approval of their people. I see the same thing when clients refuse to “call the laws” on family members who are acting out. They’re afraid to take a stand.
But that’s exactly what needs to happen. Islam must be officially and legally reformed the way Christianity continually is. There is just something fundamentally wrong with a religion that denies fully half of its devotees (women) any rights over their minds or bodies.
In no world should the sexual slavery of a child be permitted. It can never be okay to ride into a village raping and killing because the people there worship a different god. Without reform, I fear Islam will continue to breed the type of despair that has young people strapping themselves with bombs because life holds nothing better for them.
So let’s care for the refugees, but let’s also watch that they don’t bring the jihad with them. I, for one, don’t want to live in that world, even for a weekend.
History repeats itself. I don’t think anyone would dispute that. Another way to say it is: What was old becomes new again. For example, I recently saw an ad for bell bottom pants. My kids once found a picture of me wearing said garment (along with John Lennon round glasses) and concluded that I must have been to Woodstock. The fact that I was all of 12 during the Summer of Love (the picture was taken in the mid-seventies) won’t dissuade them from their conclusion.
Likewise, we have all had (or will have) that horrible realization: Oh my God, I’ve become my mother (or father)! In the psych world we often note that family dysfunction lives on, generation after generation, despite attempts to quell it. The offspring of alcoholics often become alcoholic themselves. The abused grow up to become abusers. It is sad, but true.
For this reason, I like to look at what was going on when a client was a child. It was then that he learned how to deal with the world. And his teachers were his parents (or parental substitutes.) What did mom and dad do when they were angry, sad, scared? Chances are my client will react in a similar fashion.
We take those childhood coping skills into adulthood where they inevitably become a problem. Children respond to an abusive parent in one of two ways: they hide or they fight back. It is the “fight or flight” reaction that is part of the evolutionary tool kit of every creature from the mighty elephant right down to the lowly ant.
Witness that child all grown up and faced with an angry boss or nagging spouse and it’s like he’s a kid again. He will withdraw, call in sick, run away. Or he’ll yell back, become physical, or (God forbid) show up at the job with a gun. What we observed as children become our go-to reactions as adults.
So how do you break the chain? Believe it or not, the most effective treatment is to achieve a full realization of the fact they you have become your parents. You’d think this would be obvious, but it usually comes as a shock.
A good example is the client who continually minimizes his emotions. He’s not angry, he’s just a little upset. He’s not sad, he’s just a little disappointed. He continues to deny his feelings until the point where he explodes in a rage or engages in self-harm. If I look back into his child hood I will inevitably find that worst of all family dysfunction – sweeping things under the rug.
In this scenario, all feelings were seen as weakness and the way to deal with bad behavior was to pretend it never happened. So he grew up woefully incapable of dealing with normal emotion. My job is to get him to see that feelings are neither good nor bad, they simply are. Then I teach effective coping skills for dealing with them. It takes a while, but in the end you get a much happier adult.
People go to a counselor for lots of different reasons, like reassurance, support, education or just the need to vent. And yes, some people want to be lied to. If that’s what you want, you should go to a different counselor. Or, better yet, go to a psychic or New Age healer. They’ll be glad to take your money and tell you just what you want to hear.
I, on the other hand, try to tell it like it is. I’ve always said that I’m simply too lazy to be a good liar. I can’t remember who I’ve told what, so I just keep on spouting the truth, as I understand it, until the cows come home. Or until our 50 minutes are up, whichever comes first. And I think that people, on the whole, are hungry for honesty.
Witness the rise of Donald Trump. Can’t say I like the man. Can’t say I’d vote for him. But, gosh darn it, I like his no-holds-barred approach. These days we’ve all been “politically corrected” to the point of absurdity. It is so refreshing to hear someone say the things we’d all like to say, if we weren’t so afraid of being called haters.
While I don’t really appreciate the “blood coming from somewhere” type of remarks, I do believe that average Americans are tired of watching our values being eroded by the very people who came here to enjoy American values. Some immigrants seem to want nothing more than to recreate their home countries right here in the good ol’ USA. If that’s what they wanted, why did they leave?
I’m also tired of watching honest, hard-working people demonized by special interest groups for not “embracing” their particular special interests. I’m betting that the same baker who refuses to create a same-sex wedding cake would also refuse to make one with swastikas. Why are his interests not embraceable?
Political correctness has a dark side beyond the shriveling up of personal freedom. Let’s look at the case of the fired newscaster who gunned down three people recently. By all accounts, this man was having mental trouble for a long time. One of his employers should have sent him for a psychiatric evaluation, but no one did. Why? Maybe because they were afraid of getting sued for discriminating against a black, gay man!
As I’ve said before, I am NOT politically correct. I see no point in lying to people, especially when they’ve come to me for help. God forgive me, I’ll tell you when you have bad breath, or body odor, or there’s a booger hanging out of your nose. I’ll tell you that you come off as abrupt, or angry or like a know-it-all. (I should know!)
Of course, I’ll do it much more tactfully than The Donald, and with the goal of helping you make positive changes. After all, how are you supposed to get better when no one will tell you what’s wrong?
Every time someone starts to tell me about his horrible wedding/funeral/birthday party/family reunion, I always ask the same question. “Were the police called?” You’d be surprised how many times the answer is, “Well, actually they were.” (Or, “Of course they were! I TOLD you it was my FAMILY!”)
What is it about gathering around our nearest and dearest that gives people license to act like complete buttheads? Yet it seems to happen all too frequently. Add in alcohol and someone’s sure to be dialing 911 before the day is through.
Now if you’re going to make the call, be sure the reason is valid. Being a police officer is a tough job even under the best of conditions. It’s hard dealing with people who are upset, and there’s usually not much you can do to render “justice” besides taking a report. Try to respect their time and training.
There are lots of good reasons to call the police. I tend to refer to them collectively as “crime”. Someone beat you up, stole your property, broke into your house, crashed into your car. That’s when you need one of the Boys in Blue on the scene if only for insurance purposes. But does an already busy deputy really need to witness the fact that your family would fight over a cold?
This is what the police politely refer to as “domestic situations”. The most recent one I heard about was a man calling in the law because his girlfriend always had to have the last word and he wanted the officer to make her shut up. Not exactly the type of work you aspire to when you join the Police Academy.
I hate it when I hear about people using the police, or, even worse, CPS, to further their personal grudges. Angry that the mother of your children has moved on with a new boyfriend? Just make an anonymous call to CPS and next thing you know, ex-wife is peeing into a cup down at the station while the kids are being shunted off to relatives.
Need quick cash? Just accuse the parolee down the street of stealing a non-existent toolbox out of the back of your truck. Who are the police gonna believe anyway? File that report, make the insurance claim and collect your check. Ka-ching!
What’s worse, though, is when there’s a really good reason to call in the police and someone DOESN’T do it. Son shoves you into a doorframe, takes all your money and drives off in your car? Now honestly, why wouldn’t you make that call? Yet it often doesn’t happen. Usually because you’re afraid, either of your son or to be seen as a bad parent.
But that’s when you really need to act. My very firm rule is that, when it comes to domestic violence, you report it first time, every time. No exceptions. Arguing over who was mom’s favorite? Give the cops a rest on that one.
People are pretty disillusioned these days. I hear more and more tell me that they just can’t trust anyone anymore. And these aren’t necessarily clients. Friends and family alike are turning away from our 24-hour news stream not knowing what to believe and harboring a sneaking suspicion that it’s all lies no matter which “side” is doing the talking.
So when someone tells me they don’t trust people, I tell them they shouldn’t. Aside from the rare shark or bear attack, we humans have only one real predator – other humans. So much of our survival depends on how we interact with our fellow man that you’d have to be a fool not to do some first-class judging before you let anyone get too close.
Of course judging sounds so, well, discriminatory. Political correctness dictates that we shouldn’t make those kinds of snap decisions. Except that we all do. It starts with the first time you lay eyeballs on someone. You immediately make conclusions based on everything from speech to dress to skin color. Anyone who says he doesn’t is simply lying.
Add in the environment and the judging goes to a whole new level. Someone you wouldn’t give a second glance in a crowded store becomes much more menacing when you encounter him in the dark, lonely parking lot. Other circumstances matter as well. The neighbor you happily chat with over the fence becomes a whole different animal when he asks to borrow $100.
Basically, it all comes down to what we psych people call “boundary setting”. In the beginning of a relationship of any kind, those boundaries should be broad and well-defined. It starts with your personal space. And I’m not talking about how close someone stands. My first and firmest rule is that no one moves into your house, even for just a few days. It invariably ends up in a fight and, possibly, legal eviction.
No one borrows your car or any sort of tools or equipment you can’t afford to quickly replace. You never lend money. If you can, give what you feel is appropriate and don’t ask for it back. Never give someone money to pay a bill. Pay the bill yourself and get a receipt. Same thing goes for grocery money. Take him to the store and pay at check out.
Sounds pretty harsh, doesn’t it? But after years of hearing about people getting ripped off, I’m convinced I’m right. You need to take your time and get to know someone really well before you let your guard down. If in all that time you’ve seen how he handles himself, his possessions and his affairs and you have no more doubt that he’s a righteous, upstanding individual, then you can let go and trust.
In the process, you become a better judge of character. Consequently, you have fewer bad experiences and it seems like people can be trustworthy after all.
Haven’t written about my cancer journey for a while, so I guess it’s time to catch you up. Took my first chemo treatment a couple of weeks ago. Even though I’d convinced myself I was ready, I was NOT prepared. I thought, “Susan, you’re in pretty good shape. You eat right. You walk a mile every day. You’re tough! You’ll be fine.”
No such luck. Sure, I felt okay the day of what we’ll call “the infusion”, but then I got sicker and sicker and sicker. Nausea, diarrhea, pain and weakness. I hobbled around like an old woman, gasping at every step. But mostly I just lay on the recliner, wall-eyed in front of judge shows and cartoons, inert, exhausted.
The entire process took five days, on three of which I had hopefully planned to work. (Oh, the hubris!) When I finally got better, it happened fast. Suddenly I could eat. I could walk down to the road and get the paper. I started to straighten up, do laundry. Pretty soon I was bored and it was time to get back to work.
“So far so good,” I thought. “I can handle this!” But was cancer done with me yet? Alas, no.
Now I’m losing my hair. Again, I thought I was prepared for this part. I made the preemptive strike of getting my hair cut short. (Everyone said I looked ten years younger, in effect telling me I looked older before!) But it was okay. It was cooler, I didn’t need so much “product.” Sadly, I only got a week of “looking younger” before I started looking bald.
It began with a few wisps dusting my steno pad during sessions. Soon I could pull out clumps. My husband was disturbed. He, like a lot of people, offered to shave his head in support. I begged him not to. (“I believe my exact words were, “NO! God, NO! One bald head in the house is enough!”) Tag! I’m it.
Now I have three options: Hat, scarf or wig. Personally, I’m thinking wig. People already know I have short hair. I’ll get a short wig and no one will be the wiser. But, of course, SOMEONE will know. How will my beloved husband feel at the end of the day when I peel that baby off, whether wig, hat or scarf? The shock! The disgust! What a test of our bond.
What a test for ME! I’ve been lying to myself. I’m not that tough. I’m a sedentary old woman whose grandchildren already know can only carry them for SO long. Sure I eat right - when I’m not scarfing down restaurant food or junk! And I actually make that mile four times a week – TOPS! Truth be told, I’m one chunky monkey whose time is running out.
Time to step it up! My next treatment is Friday and I’m going to be ready. A few more walks, a little less junk. And the wig. Don’t forget the wig.
Many of my clients agonize over what other people think about them. They endlessly reenact imagined faux pas in their minds until they’re convinced nobody likes them. Or at least nobody they KNOW likes them. And sometimes they are absolutely correct. Familiarity does, indeed, breed contempt.
Of course I always ask the question, “Who cares?” Does it really matter that your sister-in-law hates you? That’s a choice she gets to make. You can ask yourself if you gave her any real cause to dislike you, try to be nicer. But you can only go so far trying to appease people before you stop being yourself.
And these days we hear a lot about people “being true to themselves” concerning their habits, beliefs and even their bodies. In this age of “anything goes” diversity we are supposed to accept, no CELEBRATE, whatever people want to espouse from their religion to which sex they think they are.
For the most part, I agree with this. From an early age, people know who they are inside and, given a chance, they will choose a lifestyle that is most comfortable to them. I knew I was biologically a girl, I didn’t WANT to be a boy (ICK!), but I sure did want to DO what the boys did. Forget them dolls, I wanted to wrestle and shoot off fireworks!
So I have no trouble accepting people who just want to be themselves, but along with that comes the obligation to let OTHER people be who THEY are. And to accept the consequences of your choice. My decision to be a tomboy meant that a lot of the mothers in the neighborhood disapproved of me.
Did my parents organize a protest march demanding my “right” to be a tomboy? Heck no! They didn’t even get behind the movement to allow girls to wear pants at school. (Yes, there was a day when we had to wear dresses, even in the freezing cold!) So no, they didn’t force me out of the trees and they didn’t try to soften the stigma of being “a bad influence,” either. My choice, my consequences.
Was that wrong? Should the neighbors have been forced to celebrate my tom boyishness? Should they have been required to post notices on their doors warning me that “girly girls” resided there lest I be offended by entering? Should I have come with a warning tag?
Strangely, it is the very political persuasion demanding diversity that is so very punishing to anyone with a different opinion. No place is this more evident than on the internet. (“Mom,” says my son using my own exasperated sigh against me, “please stop getting into fights on FaceBook. It’s embarrassing.”)
Just try saying something like “I disagree” and suddenly the “party of tolerance” has no trouble calling you an F-ing B. I’ve been told to “go kill yourself" and to “shut the F up.” What happened to acceptance? Why are MY opinions not worthy of celebration? Luckily, I don’t care what they think. Not much, anyway. (SNIFF!)
Sorry there was no post last week. I was too sick from the chemo to lift my hands onto the keyboard. And even if I had, I couldn't put two thoughts together to save my life!
I’d like to respond to a story in last week’s Forney Messenger (which publishes this blog). The essence was that Licensed Clinical Social Workers usually don’t ask clients about their religious beliefs. I’m not sure if that’s really true or not, but I’m certainly willing to entertain the notion that people who work with the public are afraid to mention the topic for fear of governmental retaliation.
Well, not me! I ask ALL my clients about their religious beliefs. It’s the part of the assessment I call “identifying social support systems”. And I think EVERY mental health worker should ask about it. Shoot! If I can question people about their sex lives, why shouldn’t I be allowed to ask whether or not they go to church?
Of course I go about it gently. My usual approach is something like “So where are you with the whole religion thing?” Many people tell me they’re Christian and sheepishly ask me if I am. When I say “Yes” their relief is overwhelming. They were afraid to ask, too! How far have we gone wrong in this country when stating your religious persuasion is considered “hate speech”?
Many people say they are “spiritual” but don’t attend any church. They’ll say “I believe in God, and all that, but I don’t see why I have to go to some building to prove it.” Right you are! Sitting in a church makes you a believer the same way sitting in a garage makes you a car. (Or whatever else you keep in your garage.)
I’m glad to know that people have religion. It can be a tremendous help. The concept of Faith is particularly useful. So many people worry so much about things they have absolutely no control over. They fill their days and nights with useless rumination and end up trembling wrecks. To be able to just “let go and let God” is a powerful coping skill.
Likewise developing Patience is helpful, especially in our millisecond world. People feel that if they don’t Act Now, they’ll miss out, mess up. I often tell people, “You don’t have to make any decisions right now. You have time to think it over, get more information. Most of this will resolve itself without any help from you anyway. You can wait and see.”
Going to church is also one of the few social organizations anyone can join, any Sunday of the month. Good churches offer more than just a weekly sermon, however. They are clearing houses for public service work. They offer classes, activities, fellowship. Having a place to go, something to do. This is essential for recovery.
Now if a client makes it plain that he just doesn’t want to go near all that religious mumbo-jumbo, I leave it alone. There are plenty of other ways to work together. But I’m going to keep asking the question. So I guess I’m just not politically correct. (Did you honestly expect it from me?)
When people first come to see me, they’re usually VERY upset. Part of this is because they’ve already waited weeks, months, or even years before they finally made the call (during which time things definitely didn’t get any BETTER). So they’re extremely anxious. Many report they didn’t sleep a wink the night before. (Jeeze! I know that I’m a PROFESSIONAL counselor and all, but mostly I’m just an old lady. I wish I inspired that much respect in my kids.)
I’m not sure what people expect their first session, but I usually start with my standard dog and pony show. I listen as they tell me about their lives. I try to identify patterns, strengths, weaknesses. I educate them on the current theories about mental disorders and go over possible treatments. But mostly, the BIG question is “What do YOU want your life to look like?”
That’s because it’s different for everyone. Or at least it should be. Many people are unhappy merely because they don’t think they’ve become the people they SHOULD be. And they’ve usually got a lot of other people TELLING them just that, so they feel guilty and hopeless. Those other people have also repeatedly called them “crazy”, maybe adding in “bipolar” or “borderline” just to sound smart.
So many of my new clients come into the office thinking they’re bipolar or borderline. Now I’ll be honest. If I were to go through the diagnostic manuals list of symptoms, I’m sure they’d have most of them. (Often they’ve already done this for themselves via internet.) Okay, the distinguishing symptom for both diagnoses is a marked inability to self-regulate emotion and, as a result, instability, especially in relationships.
“Feel better now?”
Didn’t think so. Coming up with a label is the easy part. What takes all the time and work is figuring out how to get what YOU want out of life (and not what someone ELSE wants). Luckily, the first step is pretty easy. Simply stop doing the things you hate. Some of those you can stop right now! Like arguing, hitting, drugging. For other things you need to stop much more slowly.
A good example of a slow change is “the job”. You NEED that job. Is it the “right” job for you? Probably not, but it’s all you’ve got for now and it creates the foundation for all the other changes you’ll want to make. So before you just quit, spend some time identifying what you really want to do. Do you need any training? Can you expect to make a living at it.
Then start leaning in that direction. Talking to people, getting information, mulling it over in your mind. What’s kept you from going there before? Is that still a valid concern? For example, I’ve always wanted to be a ballerina. Maybe once I could have, but at 58 that really isn’t an option. So, I guess PROFESSIONAL counselor just has to be good enough!
For the past few weeks I’ve been writing about nothing but my cancer challenge and I’m frankly sick of it. In my own defense, however, I did this so that I didn’t have to repeat the same story over and over to clients, family and friends. But now that everything is on hold, I’d like to get back to the COUNSELING issues that this blog should really be about.
So we’ve been having another rash of “killing sprees”. The media dutifully reports that the perpetrators were “troubled”, “showed signs of mental illness”, “refused treatment” and so on. I think this just perpetuates the myth that people with mental illness are more violent than the “normal” population. Nothing could be further from the truth.
A recovering addict once told me that the only thing more disruptive to your life than addiction was addiction with access to lots of money. You might be tempted to then say that the only thing more disruptive to society than crazy people are crazy people with access to lots of guns.
But the issue here isn’t who has guns and who doesn’t. What we need to look at is who has a propensity toward violence. The people I treat are much more likely to hide away from the world, avoid speaking up for themselves and accept shoddy treatment as their due. In my experience, any violence they might express is generally targeted toward themselves.
So where does violence come from? Does violence begets violence? The perpetrator was usually a victim at one time. He (or she) learned at a young age that the appropriate way to deal with anger and disappointment was to beat up someone or something. Once the victim got big enough, he turned the violence on others.
But most victims of childhood violence do NOT become violent themselves. They tend to gravitate to relationships where they continue to be the victim. Many note that alcohol and other drugs often act as a catalyst to violence. But again, most people who dope themselves up are trying to escape from emotional pain. And they tend to suffer in silence.
So at what point does a person choose violence? Well, in the business, we call this type of decision a “cognitive distortion”. It’s illogical. For example, who honestly believes that punching holes in the wall will improve his marriage? We also toss around terms like “impulse control issues” and “faulty emotional regulation”. But in the end, we don’t have a clue why one kid withdraws and the other starts swinging.
So this is really a non-question with a non-answer. Maybe some people are just violent the same way some people are just tall. Maybe with the improvements in genetics and brain imaging we’ll finally find the “anger gene” or the “rage pathway” that will send the drug companies into ecstasy at the prospect of new and expensive medications. Until then, teach your children well. Don’t let them learn violence from you.
As cancer challenges go, I’ve had a very easy time of it so far. My (ridiculously huge) insurance deductible has finally been met so I don’t have to whip out my credit card every time someone with a hospital ID passes me in the hall. I’ve finally trained myself to sleep on my back. And I’m cherishing fond hopes of going back to work I am now able to string together a coherent sentence. (Pain pills are great but talk about an alternate reality!)
Friday the plastic surgeon took out my drain tubes. Watching him do this my husband and I were both amazed at how very long they were. They just kept coming and coming, like a string of handkerchiefs pouring out of a magician’s pocket. I’ll be darned if I can understand how all that fit inside my (now much smaller) breasts.
What had me pretty perturbed, however, was that the surgeon didn’t even glance at the careful record he insisted I make of just how much “fluid” dripped out of each of those tubes. At least three times a day I was supposed to measure that mess and note the quantity. To that end he’d given me no less than three copies of a graph to use along with explicit instructions both written and verbal.
Now I think it was all just a ruse to make sure I DID check the tubes from time to time. In fact, I think they’ve been manipulating me on a regular basis, hence all the knowing glances that pass between the doctors and their nurses. For example, when I asked the cancer surgeon if I could start taking my estrogen again, she shot a pained smile at her nurse and asked me if I’d been having “symptoms”.
“Heck yeah,” I responded. “If you mean melting one minute and freezing the next!” Jeeze! You’d think I’d asked her how quickly I could start injecting heroin again. In the end, she told me I could take it every other day. “At full strength?” Just a slight nod which I’m sure didn’t make it into my medical record.
And both of them kept looking at my chest as if I should’ve been gushing with gratitude at my new “perkiness”. (I’ve decided that “perky” MUST be the proper medical terminology since everyone uses it from the doctors all the way down to the office staff. I wonder what the billing code is for “perkiness?”)
Mostly I’m just glad the cancer is gone. Since I became a grandmother, I sort of lost interest in what I look like. I just try to dress “appropriately for the occasion” and stay below “obese” on the BMI chart.
Looking fondly at her handiwork, the surgeon remarked, “Now you can see your stomach.” And she gave me another one of those meaningful glances. “But you can do something about that,” she added, nodding knowingly.
I don’t know about you, Doc, but I’m thinking liposuction.
By the time you read these lines I will have had my surgery. I’ll have been stripped down, hosed off and sliced up like a Thanksgiving turkey. “A little off the breast?” Ah well, ‘tis but dust. So what are my reflections as I face this momentous juncture in my life? 1. I hope I don’t die on the table. I hope I don’t get wheeled into the wrong surgery suite and end up having my foot amputated instead of my cancer removed. I hope I don’t get one of those dreaded hospital diseases. 2. I hope my husband takes the ENTIRE week off (because his company will PAY for it) and finishes up all those chores he tells me he can’t get done because of me. All I’m going to be doing is lying on the couch, Mr. Fix-It. There’re no more excuses! 3. I hope they get all the cancer. I don’t want to have to go through this all over again sometime when I have another deductible to meet. 4. Along that same line, I hope the insurance company doesn’t raise my premiums. Especially since my official medical record contains proof that I am genetically deviant. (I mean I have the cancer gene. Jeez! Get your mind out of the gutter!) 5. I hope I really can get back to work after a week and that my radiation and/or chemo doesn’t interfere with my schedule too much. They want those insurance premiums, they gotta let me work. 6. I hope my kids start being more kind and attentive because they realize they could lose me ANY DAY! Hey! I don’t get too many opportunities to throw myself a pity party. I’m going to be using this one for a LONG time. 7. I hope I really can get into a smaller bra, wear shirts that button up the front and get some relief for my chronic upper back pain. Losing five pounds wouldn’t hurt, either. 8. I hope the pain medication works and doesn’t make me throw up. I can just see myself kneeling before the porcelain throne trying to retch without pulling out my stiches. 9. I hope that I can spend a week on the couch and not go completely insane from boredom. Not being able to lift my arms is going to put a distinct cramp in my style. 10. I hope my life goes back to normal. Or normal as I know it.
It is at times like these that you realize how brief and fragile life really is. We get comfortable with things only to have them ripped away by a tornado, a flood, an economic downturn or cancer. I appreciate all the friends and family who have been standing by me and supporting me. And I trust in God that everything will be okay. Even if it isn’t.
Isn’t life strange? It sometimes turns out that good things come out of bad things. Take my life. Ovarian cancer is rife in my family. My mother, grandmother, aunt and cousin all died of it. So it looked like I was a goner for sure. But because of the risk, I was able to have a full hysterectomy at age 35 and it was covered by my insurance.
So at the tender age of 35 I got to bypass menopause and go straight into that great period in life when you have no, well, periods. And I got put on hormone replacement therapy. Which means I took a tiny little pill every day containing 0.5 mg of pure estrogen. By the virtue of this wonder drug I avoided hot flashes, cold sweats, irritability and a moustache.
Life was wonderful, but then the breast cancer surfaced. Even though my cancer does not respond to estrogen, the doctor made me cut my dose of estrogen in half. And for five days before the surgery I can’t have it AT ALL. You wouldn’t think 0.25 mg of anything would have much effect on you, but it has.
Now instead of shivering under a pile of blankets at night when my husband drops the AC to 40 degrees, I’m lying awake, panting like a polar bear in a Florida zoo in August. For about 15 minutes. Then I’m freezing. Then I’m burning up. Then I’m freezing again. All night I toss off blankets only to clutch them back a few minutes later. I haven’t been this sleep-deprived since my oldest son proved to be the one baby in ten thousand who never slept… AT ALL!
That estrogen kept me young and strong. I used to get wondrous accolades for my ability to lift and carry more than my own weight (which is considerable). I could walk for miles without even breathing hard. I could work all day, then get up and do it the next day. And the next. Now if I bend down twice to pick weeds in the yard I’m laid up on the couch for three days.
A lady at my church told me that her 85-year-old mother just painted all the shutters on her house. Well I certainly need to repaint the bridge over my pond, but at this point, I doubt that I could open the paint can without getting winded. Suddenly, I’m worse than old. I’m downright feeble! (And I’m detecting the beginnings of a ‘stache!)
I WANT MY ESTROGEN! What happens when my precious supply runs out and the doc won’t give me another scrip? Will I be haunting rundown neighborhoods trying to score black market hormones? And if I go to a dope house and ask for some “E”, I’ll probably just get Ecstasy. Maybe I’ll just have to set up a drug lab in my shed and process the stuff myself. How hard can it be?
I know a lot of people are hurting from the flooding we’ve just been through. My heart goes out to them. I can only imagine the trauma of seeing everything you’ve worked for simply washed away. But a big part of me is just so happy for all that water. I love the full lakes, the running creeks. My pond is set for the summer!
Of course, the Global Warmers are blaming “human-caused climate change” for all the rain. (That’s also the reason they give for the drought, the heat, and the cold.) They believe that we can “fix” the climate, if we ONLY will (through punishing taxation). Bull Hockey! We’ve got to stop thinking that the climate works like a vending machine where we make a selection and it plunks into the slot.
It just don’t work that way. I can tell you FOR SURE that it’s going to rain. But anyone who tries to say when and how much is just guessing. Like the weather reporters who are right less than 50% of the time. We’d do better to flip a coin. We might as well be sacrificing virgins to the Sky God. (Hey! I’m sure a lot of young climate scientists are virgins. We could start with them!)
We’ve got to accept the fact that the rain IS coming and there is really no excuse for not realizing that “the creek gon’ rise.” Take for example, the rich people who buy up all the “river front” property, who build their magnificent homes there, who deny everyone else access to “their” piece of the river.
Well, every now and then they're going to find out that nobody “owns” a river. It will rise when it wants, for as high and long as it wants. Just take a look at the canyon it’s carved and you’ll know how high it can get. You build anything there, it WILL be destroyed by the force of that river. It’s just a matter of time.
Same thing goes for the billionaires who build their resorts on the seaside. Nice views, but sooner or later the ocean is going to wreak havoc. The water will rise and fall, it will undercut sand bars, beat to death levees and bridges. Don’t even get me started on what a hurricane will do. So if you’re going to build something on the beach, you have to accept the risk for all the damage the ocean IS going to do someday.
And yet, we’re always surprised. We just can’t get over the randomness of it; the fact that it could happen again next year, or it might be 100 years. We don’t like that uncertainty. We want things to be orderly, predictable. And when it doesn’t go our way, we start looking for someone to blame. Maybe we’ll stop having floods if we all drive electric cars. (But I’m kind of leaning toward that virgin sacrifice thing myself.)
As part of my journey with breast cancer, my surgeon suggested (by which I mean insisted) that I get genetic testing to see if I have the Breast Cancer Gene (BRCA 1 & 2). I didn’t see the point. I mean I already HAVE breast cancer, so I’d say the risk of my getting it stands at an even 100%. And I’m done having kids, so I won’t be passing it on any more than I already have.
When I questioned her, my surgeon got huffy and didn’t give me any reason I could understand. I guess it might have something to do with some private research she’s doing on the side, but hey, I have insurance and I’ve met my (ridiculously high) deductible. Why not pile it on? What else have I been saving my money for all these years if not to make up that 20%?
Now it’s official. I have the gene. The BAD gene. So what does that mean? Well, when they get around to repealing Obama Care for being unconstitutional (because it IS), gone will be the one good thing about it – no denials based on pre-existing conditions. Now, as a part of my medical record, I am tainted with (gasp!) faulty genetics! Will anyone ever cover me again?
Personally, I could have happily spent the rest of my life NOT knowing this fact. I think we know too much already. I remember when I finally got around to giving away my sons’ old baby clothes, some of the recipients marveled at all the green and yellow onesies and “receiving blankets.”
“Well people gave me those because they didn’t know if I was having a boy or a girl,” I explained.
They stared at me like I’d just stumbled out of the primordial forest clothed in skins and carrying a stone-tipped spear.
I wonder how long it’s going to be before that drop of blood they take from your baby’s heel will result in an entire genetic sequence that will then be encoded in a chip and inserted under the skin of your forearm. They’ll play it up like it’s a GOOD thing. We’ll be using it to help us select everything from deodorant to eye drops. “Get the allergy drug that works best with YOUR personal genetic makeup.”
Then someone will come out with a handheld scanner people can use to check you out. Imagine what dating will be like when THAT comes around.
“Sure, he’s a great guy, he works hard and has a good job, but have you seen his genetics?”
“I think we should start dating other people. I’m looking for someone with a greater probability of producing blue-eyed kids.”
“Guess what, darling? It’s not me, it IS you. I’m afraid I just can’t risk having children with someone who has a 50% chance of developing breast cancer.”
Good thing I got married and had my kids before the awful truth came out.
Recently I had occasion to be pumped full of various nuclear markers and slid into a series of high-tech tubes. I now have a new appreciation for what my cats go through when I drag them off to the vet. Of course their ordeal only lasts about an hour including travel time. I was at the hospital from 7 am until 3 pm. Tack on another couple hours of drive time.
I shouldn’t complain. All the technicians were efficient and helpful. They did their very best to make me comfortable. But there’s just no way to be comfortable lying completely still for 30 minutes hooked up to an IV full of poison while some howling machine does its business all over you.
Luckily I practice what I preach. And what I preach is a visualization technique guaranteed to transport me in a better place. I’m sure most people have heard of going to your Happy Place, but only a handful HAVE such a place, much less command the skills needed to actually GO there. They are skills well worth learning which is why I teach them to all my clients.
First, you have to determine the landscape of your Happy Place. For me that’s easy. Mau’i and a secluded cove on the northwest side at just past 2 pm. From my shady spot beneath overhanging branches, I can see the black lava megaliths upended in the white sand. I hear the surf, see the glittering ocean stretching out to the horizon.
Behind me is an overgrown path leading through the forest to a seldom-traveled one-lane road. If I turn left I’ll eventually reach the central plane filled with sugarcane. Turning right will take me to Lahaina with its busy port and acre-wide banyan trees. But I’m not going anywhere. Hypnotized by the roll of the waves, I intend to drowse until the sun touches the sea and the first white stars break through the deep blue.
Then a loud alarm goes off and a disembodied voice tells me she’s going to show my pictures to the radiologist. If he doesn’t want move views, she’ll be in to get me in a few minutes. Rats! I was almost asleep. Soon I’m out in the hallway being hustled to the next machine.
Lining my path are discouraged-looking denizens draped in hospital gowns and seated in wheelchairs. Many of them sport the turbans associated with cancer patients. Which is what I am, I suddenly realize. How long will I be able to trot along with a tech, cherishing hopes of getting out of there before rush hour? How soon will I be parked in the hall with nothing to do but wait?
But not today. Soon I’m back on the beach, but this time a studly surfer breaks through the underbrush. Startled, he stammers “Aloha. I didn’t think anyone else knew about this place.” “Mai tai?” I offer. Looks like it’s going to be a great day after all.
Hello, my name is Susan and I’m a rageoholic. I’ll always be in recovery. I’ve gotten a LOT better. I haven’t REALLY gone off in years. Most people I associate with now have never even seen me angry. (The few who have still have flashbacks.) I keep my cool with a regimen of good self-care, positive thinking, hard work and thoughtful planning. I try to order my life so I am always fell-wed, well-rested, comfortable and amused.
That all works great until outside forces upset my precarious balance. This almost always happens when I’m traveling. I hate traveling! Fighting through traffic in an unfamiliar city, sleeping in a strange bed (that’s usually too hard), eating foods I’m not accustomed to, being forced into a different sleep schedule.
I try to minimize my crankiness by traveling with an escort, like my husband. He’ll drive while I work on my computer, do a crossword, or take a nap, thus remaining blissfully unaware of traffic. He’ll also move all my stuff in and out of the room(s). And no it’s not a lot. I just need my box fan, my special pillow, my tea pot, my computer, a selection of snacks, beverages and reading material.
When I get stuck traveling alone I begin to tip off center. Pretty soon I’m yelling at other drivers (who just WON’T get out of the passing lane while they drive exactly the same speed as the car beside them. Up or back, jerk!) Austin is the worst. Not only don’t those people know what a passing lane is, they’re still unsure about what a green light means. (Hint: You don’t just sit still and stare at it.)
Now I heard all their hippie excuses about avoiding a climate-destroying “jack rabbit start” (in your huge SUV). I guess it IS better that we all sit through the light a couple of more times while idling our huge engines. You’d think with all their global-warming fears they’d be able to get a light rail system voted in, but no! God knows I’d ride it!
Once I finally get out of the car, I still have to carry in my stuff. Then carry it upstairs. In Austin there is ALWAYS an upstairs. It’s a hilly place. And whatever you need at the moment is never on the same floor that you are. By the time I get home my calves ache from the stairs and my thighs ache from riding the brake.
Because I no longer allow myself to go off, I go into a slow burn. I rage inwardly which is only marginally better than doing it openly. But my experience is the same. I hate this place, I hate these people, I hate life in general! I can’t wait to get home!
Of course, the only way I’m going to see any of my family, including my precious grandchildren, is by traveling to them, so I guess my husband better get used to driving me.
I’m not a squeamish person. I fear neither blood nor poop. With my bare hands I’ll capture bugs, rats, opossums, even snakes. So when my yearly mammogram showed some suspicious spots, I was unfazed. After all, every woman on my mother’s side of the family has had breast cancer. I’ve been expecting this.
But the doctor doing my biopsy obviously expected me to be terrified. “Don’t worry,” he soothed. “I’ll numb the entire area so you won’t feel a thing. The worst part is the click when I take the sample.” He demonstrated on a flimsy-looking, but doubtlessly very expensive piece of medical equipment. Tick! (Shoot, my knuckles crack louder than that.)
After sliding in a very long needle and pumping a generous portion of Lidocaine into my breast he got serious with something that looked like a miniature fillet knife. I have to admit I was fascinated as I alternated between viewing my flesh and the image on the sonogram screen. “Where’s that needle?” he mumbled.
“Right there,” I answered as it flashed into view.”
“Say, you’re good at this,” he said.
That’s when the bleeding started. Glued to the screen, the doctor didn’t notice as the deep red dot welled up and spilled over. Soon a goodly stream was running over my shoulder. “Uh, don’t you think we should do something about the bleeding?” I asked.
He looked down, blanched and rammed some gauze on the wound. Every little square he added was immediately red and dripping. “We’re going to need more gauze!” he cried to the radiologist who ran out of the room for more supplies. Meanwhile I soaked the towel and the surgical pad. Detecting warmth on my back I realized that I was literally lying in a pool of my own blood.
“Do you take aspirin?” asked the exasperated doctor.
“No one told me not to.”
“Well next time don’t!”
The radiologist returned with a double handful and managed to quell the flow. Hurriedly the doctor got busy and jammed the probe into a lump. “Here’s that click,” he warned.
I don’t think he appreciated my humor. After taking samples from each lump, he stripped off his gloves and fled leaving the poor radiologist to clean up the mess. It looked like a crime scene. Blood drenched my gown and the sheet. A trickle dripped on the floor. Embarrassed, I began to wipe it up.
“Don’t worry about that,” he said. “Let’s get you cleaned up first.” He went to work with hand sanitizer and what was left of the gauze. “It’s good that you shave,” he observed while daubing under my arm.
“I guess so,” I replied, wondering about the other arm pits he viewed on a daily basis.
Applying the largest Band-Aid he could find he cautioned, “You’ll probably have to keep the pressure on for a while.”
“Luckily I wear an industrial-strength bra,” I assured him. “It’ll do the job.” Though I’d never laid eyes on this man, I felt like he was an old comrade-at-arms. I was perfectly comfortable just chatting away while standing there, naked to the waist.
Soon I was dressed and back in the lobby ready to face the really scary part of the procedure: Paying the bill!
One of the most difficult myths to dispel in the psych world is that mental illness is disproportionally a problem of the poor. People with mental illnesses do tend to BE poor, but that’s the effect, not the cause. Mental illness cuts across all categories hitting all socio-economic categories in approximately the same percentage.
It is one of the cruelties of depression that it can affect the ones whom we all think should be deliriously happy. People who have fame, fortune, love and leisure. But none of that can prevent the type of hopeless, bottomless depression that leads some people to suicide. Need I mention Robin Williams?
It is one of the cruelties of schizophrenia that it can affect the best and brightest among us. Just try helping heart-broken parents to understand that the level-headed, straight-A student they sent to college now needs to be restrained and sedated or else he’s going to rip open his own stomach to remove the machines the aliens implanted in him.
Don’t even get me started on how effectively bipolar and anxiety can mess up your life. It is easy for the well-fed and comfortable of the world to look down on those suffering from devastating mental illness and think that somehow their heredity or lifestyle choices are primarily responsible. “Just lazy!” is a term I also hear quite often.
I’ll admit that mental problems are more easily evident in the poor. Rich people have the resources and connections to hush it all up. When the wealthy celebrity has a complete meltdown in public, he is rushed out of the limelight and nestled into a posh “treatment facility”, diagnosed with “exhaustion”. Poor people who act out tend to wind up in jail.
Strangely, the “treatment” that the wealthy receive is often no better than what the poor get at the local MHMR. This is not a problem that can be solved with money. In fact, having more money can just prolong the agony. You have more to lose, further to fall, and people tend to be less sympathetic to your pain.
Rich or poor, the secondary symptoms tend to be the same: Isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, instability in jobs and relationships. Some people think that raising wages will lessen the suffering. I wish! What difference does it make what the job pays when you’re too anxious and/or depressed to even apply for it?
Again, the problem isn’t lack of money. It isn’t even lack of access to services. I have trouble getting people to accept what’s readily available to them due to the stigma of being “one of those people.” As I see it, the most effective treatment for mental illness isn’t really that expensive, but it IS more art than science. And artists are, for the most part, very poor.
I go with education, acceptance, the development of coping skills and a gentle reintroduction into every-day life. And I’m okay with the modest salary I make for doing it.
About a week ago I posted a question on FaceBook asking my friends and family how they typically react to my posts when they don’t agree. I gave three possible answers: argue with me, ignore me or delete me. Most people didn’t react at all. I put them in the ignore category. The ones who did respond overwhelmingly said they would argue with me. No surprise there. They already do!
Now I don’t mind a good argument as long as it’s logical and fact-based. (Of course, we all disagree on what the “facts” are.) What irks me is when people get furious and start attacking me personally.
The most common accusation is that I’m only watching Fox News and therefore have no idea what is REALLY going on. Well, let me just say for the record that I don’t watch Fox News. I don’t watch ANY news. I’m looking for information, not entertainment. What I do is read, read, read, read. Everything from Mother Jones to Judicial Watch.
I especially enjoy reading old text books. It’s fascinating to check back on what was accepted fact 25, 50, 100 years ago. Compare this with what people today are saying is “settled science”, as if there WERE such a thing. As if they collected the data and crunched the numbers themselves. I can only wonder what people will think about these “irrefutable facts” a hundred years from now.
I like to study the past because, as the Bible so aptly puts it, there is nothing new under the sun. Droughts? Been there. Global warming? Done that. Archaeologists know that the number one factor in the collapse of a civilization is habitat change. Paleontologists know that the same thing goes for the extinction of species. And they all agree that it has been going on for thousands, millions and billions of years before the industrial activity of humans could even remotely be considered a factor.
Sociology is a little trickier, but governments all tend to follow the same pattern of conception, expansion, decline and rebirth. And politics? Anyone who thinks that is not all about securing power for you and yours is deluding himself. (Helpful hint for seizing power: Get everyone else arguing among themselves so they don’t notice what you’re doing.)
I can only ask, “Why so serious?” I enjoy tilting a verbal lance with a worthy opponent, but our arguments are little more than exercises in semantics. The idea that anyone in my little circle could greatly influence the tides of history is ludicrous. So why the rage? Why the insults? Why the tendency to hit that “unfriend” icon?
Can’t answer that. I will just continue to stuff my head with information, process it to the best of my abilities, and communicate my opinions as respectfully as I can.
My father is in the hospital again. This time it’s pneumonia. It’s always something. Pretty soon it will be “the thing” and that will be the end. I’m a nine-hour drive away. By plane it’s about four hours when you consider the time it takes to get to and from the airports. Either way, by the time I get the call, it will probably be too late. I’m really going to miss my Daddy. He’s been a very important person in my life.
I’m the middle of three kids and the only girl. As much as my mother wanted a sweet little lady to dress up, ‘twas not to be. I was a tomboy from day one. No interest in dresses, no interest in dolls, always up a tree or playing in the dirt and following my Daddy around like we were joined at the hip.
Thankfully, my parents didn’t try (too hard) to force me into the mold. I knew my mother was vaguely disappointed that I was never going to “enter society” at a debutant ball in the country club. (For one, we were too POOR for the country club!) But I wonder if my father was ever saddened that it was his daughter, not his sons, who accompanied him to the hardware store, bait shop and lumber yard.
Strangely, neither of my brothers took an interest in my father’s hobbies. I was the one helping him rig the sailboat, build the clock, wire the basement. I was on the ladder with him painting the house or fixing the roof. To this day, when we’re together, I “assume the position” of handing him tools and retrieving dropped nails. Though now, I’m the only one strong enough to pound those nails in.
As I’ve written before, strong fathers help girls grow up to be confident, self-assured young women. I’ve never let anyone intimidate or take advantage of me (for long). And I’ve never looked at a goal and thought that I wasn’t worthy enough to give it a try. Nobody EVER had to tell me to just speak up and make my voice heard. (Except my husband who refuses to believe he’s gone deaf.)
I still relish the shocked expressions I get from men in my circle when I say, “Well, that sounds like your fuel pump”, or “Use the 2-inch screws. You’ll thank yourself later.” I guess I’ve gotten my share of wolf whistles, but the time I was really flattered was at the car wash when I overheard a guy say to his buddy, “Damn! I wish my wife could detail a car like that.” (And NO, I wasn’t wearing a bikini, just sweats and sneakers.)
It’s a testament to my father that I spent a good part of my professional life trying to empower victimized women. What if someone hadn't been there for me saying, “Sure you can do it!”? That someone was my father. And he’s been saying it from day one.
Well, THAT got your attention, didn’t it? I’ve been telling my husband for a long time now that I need to “come out” with my sexual beliefs. Of course he’s been begging me not to. He feels, rightly so, that ANY statement I make will upset some people, thus affecting my business and/or personal relationships. So be it. (Besides, when did I ever listen to him?)
First, I believe that God makes a wide variety of people. We aren’t all the same and we’re not SUPPOSED to be. Our differences include our physical makeup, intelligence, talents, temperament and, yes, our sexuality. I also believe that God doesn’t make junk. We must ALL have a purpose, but usually only God can really understand what that is.
Second, I’m heterosexual. (Notice that I didn’t say “A” heterosexual.) Frankly, I’m grateful for that. Landing squarely in the majority saved me a lot of grief. I feel the same way about having two arms, two legs, two eyes and two ears, all of which work fairly well. However I am very cognizant of those not equally favored. I have to wonder why they were slighted. (Or maybe they‘re actually the lucky ones and I’m missing out.)
Finally, I feel that everyone, no matter what their “sexual orientation” should follow some basic standards of conduct when it comes to Love.
1. Respect the gift you were given. Sexuality is an awesome power. And with great power comes great responsibility. What if Spider Man just sat on a street corner shooting out webs for tourists at $10 a head? Likewise, you should try to find a worthy purpose for your sexuality and not just waste it.
2. Respect your body. Strive to stay healthy, strong and clean. Dress modestly and appropriately for your age. Unless, or course, it’s “adults only”. (Thank God I sowed my wild oats long before cell phones and U Tube!)
3. Respect your mate. Don’t cheat, beat or belittle. Cherish and nurture your relationships. Make them a testament to your love. And if you find you just can’t get along, try to part as fairly and gently as you can.
4. Respect other people’s boundaries. It’s okay if I know you’re in love. You don’t have to SHOW me. That goes for gay or straight. I really don’t want to know what ANY of my friends or family do in the bedroom. I’m okay with that whole “consenting adults” thing.
5. Accept the consequences of your behavior. If alcoholics drink, they should understand that DWIs and rehab come with the territory. When nudists go to pick up their kids at school, they should realize that they need to cover up or risk arrest. I’ll be glad to treat both alcoholics and nudists in my office, but not if they’re drunk or nude.
Now if a nudist insists on having a therapist who allows him to be nude in session, I wish him well in finding one. I certainly won’t try to outlaw that particular type of therapy. But am I really discriminating if I don’t want to do it?
I tell everyone I counsel that you need a Plan B. It doesn’t matter the situation. It doesn’t matter the importance of that situation. Have a Plan B, whatever you do. I mean ask yourself, how many times have things turned out just exactly like you planned? Would that be NEVER? Have a Plan B.
Case in point. People think that just because I ran a successful craft business for 16 years that I can sew. No. No, I can’t. I DO have a sewing machine that I inherited from my mother. I CAN sew a straight seam if it isn’t too long. But that sewing machine hates me! It jams up every few inches until I just give up and do it by hand.
That was not an option, however, when I was given the task of sewing up six costumes for my church’s reenactment of the Last Supper. After a half hour of fighting with that infernal contraption, I went for Plan B. Fabric glue, which I have in abundance. Can you guess why?
Another example of the need for a Plan B comes when you have kids who have visitation with a non-conservatory parent. (In legal speak, that means they don’t live with that parent most of the time.) A great passive-aggressive technique for getting back at the conservatory parent is to tell the kids you are going to pick them up for a day of fun at the waterpark, or movies, or arcade. Then don’t show up.
But don’t be that parent left with a bunch of crying kids. Have a Plan B. “If Dad (or Mom) doesn’t show up (AGAIN), we’re all going for a picnic and fishing at the lake!” That’ll show him, or her.
Party planning is another example. I usually envision a magical time with dozens of people enjoying my hospitality around the pond. I’m going to rent a tent, a DJ, a caterer. There’ll be dancing, fishing, fireworks! But somewhere between scrubbing off the lawn chairs and trying in vain to get my husband to edge the fence line, plans change. I end up having three of four people on the porch for hors d’oeuvres. Ok! Chips and peanuts.
And gardening. I try to lay out a verdant patch bursting with tomatoes, corn, melons. What I usually get is a bunch of squash, which my husband won’t eat, and way too many cucumbers. Plan B? The Veggetti machine! Cover it with spaghetti sauce and I do believe my husband would eat shredded newspaper. The cucumbers go to the donkeys next door.
Then there’s that book I’m always trying to write. It was going to be an eloquent masterpiece, the ultimate answer to the eternal questions of life, the universe and everything! Yet after four years I’ve produced a three-foot stack of pages and can’t seem to get through the third rewrite. Plan B! I write a column for the local newspaper. Hey! It’s better than nothing!
I want to help my clients. I really do. They’re some of the most victimized people in our society. Every day I hear stories of gross injustice, prejudice and just plain evil. Trauma, poverty, abuse, abandonment. They seem to get the lion’s share of it. There’s a part of me that wants to jump in and right all those wrongs. But then I have to remember that I’m only hearing one side of the story.
One of the trickiest situations all counselors face is trying to decide what’s truth, what’s exaggeration, and what’s an outright lie. Now a lot of counselors sidestep the issue by saying it really doesn’t matter. Our job is to work with the truth as our clients see it. Sure. I’ll start there. I do need to fully understand what my client is experiencing. That IS real, no matter what the actual circumstances may be.
But at some point it’s time to get back in the game, make a plan. As I always say, nothing changes until you do something different. I can’t help my clients find solutions to their problems if I really don’t know what’s going on. Now it’s a given that most people tell their story in a way that makes them look good. So a change of perspective can be highly enlightening.
“Pretend you’re your husband (or mother, or boss or CPS worker). What would he (or she) tell me about this situation?”
I might ask if we can have the other people in session with us. At least then I hear it from their lips, even though I know they’ll probably try to “make nice” in front of the counselor. (What they don’t know is that I’ve already read those nasty texts they’ve sent, listened to the vicious voice messages they’ve left.) I still like to put a face with a name.
I like facts. I want a copy of the police report, the home study, the lease, the divorce decree. That way I can help my clients come up with a workable strategy. But a lot of times it just comes down to “he said, she said” and I’m right back having to take my client at his word.
The hardest thing is going to court for a client. At some point before that happens, I usually have a conversation that starts with, “I’m going to go up there and put my reputation, maybe even my license on the line for you. Tell me one more time that you’re not just BS-ing me.” And that’s why I think a lot of counselors go with that “truth for the client” stuff. They don’t like the confrontation.
And neither do I. But I’m only going to listen to how bad things are for so long before I start asking what we’re going to do about it. If the answer is, “Nothing. I just like coming here once a week to complain”, then I’m not your type of counselor.
Now I know the term is Legal Eagles, but I like eagles. They’re strong and graceful with keen eyesight. They aren’t showy or noisy. They swoop in and get things done. Then they take off and you can admire their dignity from afar. To see one is a sign of rare good fortune. Dogs, on the other hand, are as common as dirt. They’re filthy, yappy and insistent, always in the way and slobbering all over you. When I think lawyers, I think dogs.
Which is not to say that the lovely lady lawyer who led the seminar I just took in, was anything like a dog. She was poised, knowledgeable and straight-forward. Plus I loved the way she made fun of the California imports in attendance who were trying to learn Texas law as it applies to mental health workers. Her tag phrase: Honey, you’re in TEXAS now!”
Of course they were ready for the differences in the Duty to Warn statues. In Cali, if your client tells you he’s planning to inflict serious physical harm on someone, you have a duty to warn that someone, if you know who he is. Not in Texas! Here, all you can do is tell the police. In fact, you can be sued by your client for breach of confidentiality if you DO warn the intended victim.
What shocked the transplants was that the police then get to decide how they’re going to handle the threat. A lot of times, that’s by doing nothing at all. Horrified gasps from the stands! “No! Aren’t they REQUIRED to take the client to a mental facility for evaluation?!” Ms. Lawyer waited for the laughter to die down before answering. I shall paraphrase.
“You are fortunate to be practicing in a large metropolitan area,” she began. “We’ve got psych wards in several hospitals and a forensic psychiatric unit. If you’re really worried, you can get a judge to sign an order and get that guy off the street. But in some of these small, rural counties, well, they just don’t have the budget for that kind of thing.”
“So then what happens?”
“Well,” Ms. Lawyer drawled. “I have heard of instances where the deputies just drove the client a few miles into the next county and dropped him off like you’d leave a dog by the side of the road.”
Uproar from ex-Californians. “Well what if he makes good on his threat?”
“LEGALLY,” she emphasized, “you’re not responsible, but that doesn’t mean the survivors can’t try to sue the pants off you. You’ll win, but not before you spend a whole lot of money defending yourself.” (Money that mostly goes to those dogs of lawyers, I thought.)
But then she said something I’ll cherish forever. “What you really have to decide is, what do you want the headline to read? Family Sues Therapist For Not Warning Slaying Victim. Or Man Sues Therapist For Confidentiality Breach? Heck, that one won’t even make the paper!”
God bless her! She’s more of an eagle after all.
My husband and I have been cat-less since last August when our beloved Tom went to his final reward. He's a hard act to follow. Thomas was the smartest cat I ever had. I remember the day we brought him home from the pound, a long-legged, loud-mouthed kit of about 6 months. Within five minutes of entering our home he had fully dominated three humans, two dogs and a very foul-tempered iguana. (Helpful hint about keeping an iguana as a pet: DON’T!)
So when a friend told me about a stray she had taken in, I was intrigued. The kitty was all black with round green eyes and a bend near the tip of her tail. My friend couldn’t keep pets, so it seemed as if we had our next cat. We brought her home, after a quick trip to the vet, and set her up with food, water, toys and a cat box. We vowed not to let her outside until she fully acclimated.
Funny thing about cats, however. They don’t CARE what we think. Cats, by their own design, are only partially domesticated. They tolerate humans as providers of food, entertainment and warm places to sleep, but they don’t buy into that whole Pet – Master dynamic. As has been wisely observed, dogs have masters; cats have staff.
We named the little beast Shadow, not only because she’s black, but because she’s quick and silent with a tendency to disappear. The first day I spent hours just trying to find her. But she seemed happy enough. She ate her food, drank her water and played with her toys. Then, about a week later, (during an ice storm!) she went missing.
My husband and I were heart-broken. We notified Animal Control, went door-to-door and posted fliers, all to no avail. In church we wept at the communion rail, begging God to forgive us for being the worst pet parents ever. We’d only had her a week! Couldn’t we keep a cat alive for ONE WEEK!?
Seeing that I was drifting toward depression, my husband resolved to adopt another cat. One week to the day after we discovered Shadow missing, we were heading to an animal shelter to see about another pet. We were (NO LIE) walking out the door when I saw Shadow just sitting there under the carport.
“Mew,” she remarked and took off, disappearing into the wide assortment of gardening and earth-moving equipment my husband has collected. We called and called, but she wouldn’t come, slipping away with only the hint of a tail, the flash of a green eye. Finally we cornered her in the garage, luring her with Kitten Chow. She was thin and dirty, but she was our Shadow. There was no mistaking that bent tail.
So what has she been doing all this time? And as she drowses by the window, is she happy to be home, or plotting her next escape? Only The Shadow knows!
When I was growing up, we almost never ate out. When we did, it was called a picnic and we ate food we had made at home. Once or twice a year my grandfather would come into town and we’d eat at a Chinese restaurant. We might as well have been on another planet. When we got a little older, Dad might give Mom a break and take us kids to a pizza parlor where we could watch the dough come out of the rolling machine. Magic!
I am old enough to remember when the very first drive-through was installed in our vicinity. And no, this wasn’t a little one-stop-light town. It was Johnson County Kansas. A pretty metropolitan place. I was in high school before I ever USED a drive-through. It was at a Wendy’s and I thought it was pretty amazing.
The reason we never ate out was twofold. First, restaurants cost money and for a family of five, it added up pretty fast. Second, my mother was a health food nut before it became popular. She considered white bread and potatoes poison and had a habit of slipping wheat germ into everything. Every meal she made invariably consisted of two servings of vegetables (one green and one orange), one serving of fruit and one serving of meat.
My mother grew up during the Great Depression and wasted nothing. When she made apple pie, she would bake the peelings with cinnamon and sugar and give them to us. When she made pumpkin pies, she roasted the seeds. She could make a chicken last for three meals. I had to chuckle when some friends told me about the latest diet craze – bone soup. Shoot! I’d been eating that since I was weaned.
My mother put up crabapple jelly, baked bread and made her own granola. She drew the line at squirrel and dandelion greens, however. I guess that made her a “city woman”. The point is, we were all ridiculously healthy. And slender. I don’t think we shared an ounce of fat between the five of us. (I just wish I could say the same today!)
The best part is that my mother taught me how to cook. I didn’t think it was so great when it was my job to come home from school every day and get a meal on the table, but now I realize what a gift it was. I’m not a fancy cook. I almost never use a recipe. I’m the type who can walk into almost any kitchen in town and make some sort of meal out of what I find.
So I carried on the tradition and taught my boys to cook, a skill which served them well when they were dating. But now that they’re married, they say I do it all wrong, like everything else. I see the exasperated looks they give me when I put the turkey bones in a pot to cook down. I guess they’re just too good for homemade soup now. Don’t get me started on the apple peelings.
I know I give my husband a hard time in these columns, but that’s because he gives me a hard time everywhere else. But I know, deep down inside, that he’s a good man and a good husband. I notice this especially when we are out together at the store. That’s when you can tell a lot about how well couples interact. They fall into certain groups.
The first subset I call “She’s Shopping.” It presents with the male slumped over the handle of the cart, a dazed expression on his face, tagging after the female at intervals. She is busily scanning shelves, reading labels and tossing things in the cart. Immature of both sexes may be observed working at a smart phone, with the female often taking photos. They tend to move slowly, so I try to get around early in the circuit.
Then there’s “We’re Shopping”. For this couple, getting out to the grocery store is the nearest thing to entertainment they get in an average week. They’re finally away from the kids, the jobs, the house and they’re in no hurry to get back to it all. They saunter down the aisles laughing, talking, sharing their days. Occasionally they pick up a box or bottle, but they only need a few things and they’re already in the cart. They are also slow movers and may make hurtful comments about me as I pass.
It doesn’t really count as a “couple” but a common subset is “Mommy’s Shopping”. This group exhibits a wide range of behaviors depending on the age, sex and number of kids-in-tow. I try to avoid them as I have a bad habit of offering unwanted parenting advice. I work to stay ahead of them in the aisles to avoid conflict and sticky surfaces.
Most rare is “He’s Shopping”. The male marches about the store as if he were commandeering it for the squadron. The female rushes behind and pleads for items that are summarily approved or denied. With this type it is best to just get out of the way. They pass through like a summer shower – quick and noisy.
Then there’s the way my husband and I shop. We don’t even TRY to stay together. Taking a separate cart, I rush up and down the aisles quickly getting what I need. He moves much more slowly, painfully trying to decipher the coupons I’ve given him and spending a great deal of time at the discounted meat section.
When I’m done, I load my items in his cart and take off. I’m either on the way to another appointment or eager to get home and veg out. At the very least I’m doing crosswords in the car. Or writing this column. As far as I’m concerned, it is the perfect relationship. He isn’t rushed by me, I’m not frustrated by him, and the one who eats the bulk of the groceries pays the bill. It’s a marriage made in heaven!
So a prominent newscaster has been suspended for stretching the truth. What surprises me is that the rest of them aren’t lining up to take their lumps while the public is in a forgiving mood. My motto is always to take news reports with a grain of salt. Or a vigorous shake of salt. Oh, heck! Toss in the whole box! I’ll believe it when I see it!
My other motto is that I’m too lazy to be a liar. I just don’t have the will to deceive. It takes too much trouble to invent a lie and to keep up with who’s been told what. The truth is always best as long as it is told kindly and constructively. But what we’re talking about here isn’t so much truth as it is memory.
Every single couple I’ve ever counseled has said something to the effect of, “I wish I had a recorder on when we fight so you could hear what you say!” That generalizes into wanting an instant replay available to help them recall everything else they said from the day they first met so that he (or she) “would finally get it right!”
When my husband talks about the recorder I always say, “Go right ahead. Save me the trouble!”
This is because he lacks the memory of an amoeba. I tell him, “Turn right at the next light.” “Okay,” he replies, but in the five seconds that it takes us to get there, he will have totally forgotten. “Why didn’t you tell me to turn?” he shouts as we pass the intersection. I respond with my copyrighted combination of pained expression and exasperated sigh. (I perfected the technique while raising my sons.)
The painful truth is that memory is not as dependable as we have been led to believe. Most people think that a memory is laid down in our brains like ink on paper and that it stays unchanged throughout our lives. Wrong! Memories are stored in a bewildering number of places along with all the emotions surrounding the events and remembrance of similar happenings.
Top that with the fact that it is ridiculously easy to plant false memories. In classic experiments, subjects were asked to expound on childhood traumas, as revealed in interviews with their parents. Except nothing of the sort ever happened! But with just a little prompting, people were waxing poetic about the dog bite or the tornado, even talking about how much it continues to affect them in the present.
This is what I think happened with the newscaster. He told the story enough times that he felt like he was really there. So before we burn him at the stake, just think about what would happen if we run back the tape on YOUR life. Or even that last driving instruction your wife gave you.
After my column on being blue, several people expressed their sympathy. I assure you that wasn’t what I was looking for. (Though it was very nice!) I just wanted to illustrate that low periods are part of the game and only a fool thinks he should be happy all the time. We actually NEED regular periods of reduced activity to stay healthy, but we can’t stay there. We need to take the second step in beating depression: Recreation.
Now some of you are thinking, “Same thing.” Nope. Rest is just that. Being still, sleeping, day dreaming, vegging out in front of some screen. Rest is coming back to the center. But pretty soon you have to start moving again. The direction you choose will determine how well you beat your depression.
I may be pretty smart, but I’m also very simple, so I like to recreate in the most basic sense of the word. I plant. This weekend I planted potatoes, asparagus and onions. I potted aloe and started cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower. “Well you’re sure going to be set for vegetables this year,” you might remark. Maybe. My thumb isn’t nearly as green as I’d like.
I lack one essential item for the maximal cultivation of crops: Time. Plants don’t understand that you’re going to be busy from 8 am until 7 pm Monday through Thursday. They want you to tend them whenever they need it. Weed right after a rain. Pick before the fruit gets too big. Squish bugs on a sunny day when they’re lounging in the shade.
I don’t have the luxury of all that free time, so my gardens are always marginal. A bumper crop of whatever did really well that year. But I still plant. I think it is the surest way to emulate the purpose of life. Right after he drop-kicked us out of the Garden, God told us to be fruitful and multiply. It’s part of our nature. That’s why nurturing life feels so good.
And bad. Once your little seeds sprout, it’s hard not to feel responsible for them. Just try facing that row of tomatoes that wants to be watered RIGHT NOW knowing that if you don’t leave THIS MINUTE, you’ll be late for your first client. It’s like telling your kid you can’t make his game because you have an out-of-town meeting.
Maybe that’s how God feels when He sees us mess up so royally all the time. The choices we agonize over must be painfully obvious to Him. Watching us get it wrong again and again, He must be tempted to just give up. But He doesn’t, and neither should we.
That’s why I give my depression the one-two punch of rest and recreation. First I take it easy for a day or two and yes, I do have a tendency to complain and mope around (ask my husband.) But after a while I turn my attention to one of the many projects I’ve been putting off and get busy.
Good fathers raise strong daughters. Which is not to say that a girl without a father can’t grow up strong as well. It’s just harder. So many of the girls and women I counsel had a horrible father who made them miserable by his presence or absence, or both. I wish I could go back in time and tell those men that being a father is the most significant thing they will ever do. So they’d better not mess it up!
A father is the mirror by which a little girl learns to judge herself. His opinion of her will become the standard by which she measures her worth. If he treats her well, she will expect respect from the other men in her life and settle for nothing less. If he’s abusive, she will accept bad treatment as her due and drift from one contentious relationship to another.
That’s a pretty important responsibility for a guy who was probably just trying to get laid. So what makes a good father?
First, he is protective. His daughter knows he has her back. Anyone who tries to hurt her will have to answer to her very angry daddy. But he doesn’t shelter her too much. He teaches her the ways of the world and how to navigate them. Then he encourages her to explore, experiment and gain experience so she can become a wise and capable woman.
A bad father thinks being protective means locking up his daughter in the house. He shames her out of having outside interests. If she suggests cheerleading or soccer he says she’s too ugly and clumsy. If she wants to hang out with friends or go to a movie she’s a whore. Her job is to stay home and take care of him!
By contrast, a good father builds his daughter up. He takes an interest in her activities, celebrates her successes and comforts her when she fails. He never lets her give up on herself because he never will. He shows her respect in word and deed.
I often hear about the hurtful and insulting “pet names” a client’s father has for her. The man will try to justify calling his daughter “Lard Butt” by saying he’s “just kidding around.” But those words gouge out wounds she will carry for the rest of her life.
Every time I have a broken woman in my office I wish I could talk to her father. I’d love to tell him just what a jerk he is.
“How could you take the precious gift you were given and treat it like dirt? How could you mess up the one job you should have put your heart and soul into? And for what? Booze, another woman, the golf course or the game on TV? You sorry sack of (stuff)! You should be ashamed of yourself!”
But I don’t get that chance and it’s probably a good thing. I’d just get sued or socked in the jaw. But hey, a woman can dream!
Just because you’re a therapist doesn’t mean your life is perfect in all aspects. Many of my clients are shocked when I tell them I see a counselor, too. Then they think about it a minute and say something like, “Well I guess hearing what you do, day after day, would drive anyone crazy.”
Not crazy. (At least not CLINICALLY.) But I do face the same headaches everyone does: Hectic schedule, challenging job, persistent bills and a husband who thinks he’s right all the time. I get angry, fearful, disillusioned, and yes, I do worry a lot about my clients. That worry comes in several flavors.
First I worry about their safety. You would not believe the number of times I’ve gotten a voice mail or text in which clients inform me of their decision to commit suicide. I call and text feverishly but get no response. I just have to pray and be patient. Almost always when I finally do hear from them, they didn’t attempt and are feeling much better.
Then I worry about MY safety. People can get pretty upset in therapy. I tend to tell them the truth as I see it without a whole lot of sugar-coating. And even if the clients are not angry with me, a lot of times their families are. For example, when counseling an abused spouse about leaving the marriage, the other spouse may just decide I’m the problem and want to gun me down.
I worry about the legal aspects of my position. Being a counselor means you walk the thin and blurry line between professional and friend. People are always confused by that. They’re offended when I don’t greet them at the supermarket, but appalled when I call their emergency contacts because their phones aren’t working.
“How COULD you call my MOTHER!?”
“Well, you listed her as your emergency contact and…”
“You just don’t KNOW how much TROUBLE you’ve caused me!”
I worry several times a week if my attempts to help someone might result in a lawsuit, fines or even the loss of my license. That’s a lot of liability for an income that’s about on par with that of a fast food restaurant manager.
Finally, I worry if I’m good enough. Sometimes it feels like I’m trying to make ice cubes in hell. I try to keep up with my reading, take my continuing education courses, consult with other therapists. But in the end it’s just me in my office with a very distressed person who’s come to me for help. I sometimes wonder if I do any good at all.
That’s when I have to admit that I’m depressed and do something about it. I take some time off, talk to MY counselor, get a massage, hang out with Susie Donkey by the pond, binge-watch Futurama. Thus refreshed I dive back into the fray with the conviction that I am just going to do the very best I can. That HAS to be enough.
Well I did it! I finally cleaned out my shed. If by “cleaned out” you mean that my husband and I hauled out all the kid’s stuff and loaded it into the Suburban. That still leaves about a half a dozen boxes to go through, some mine and some my mom’s (who died in 1994). But hey! I’m still going to count it as a resolution attained.
Now all I have to do is get my loving and oh-so-helpful husband to drive me down to Austin (in that four-ton 1986 behemoth) and dump the load! The kids are already protesting. “What KIND of stuff is it, Mom? We don’t have that much room, you know, and there’s all OUR kid’s stuff.”
Luckily I’m wise to that dodge. “I don’t know what KIND of stuff it is, only that it’s yours and so it belongs with you. And NO I’m not going to categorize it FOR you. We can all meet up at one of your houses and go through it together. Take a little trip down Memory Lane.”
“Okay, Mom,” they said with all the enthusiasm you’d expect from someone facing a colonoscopy. I was reminded of how I felt on that day so long ago when my mother lovingly shoved one of these very boxes into my hands and tenderly admonished, “Don’t you DARE leave this house without taking that junk with you!”
It’s not like I had a lot. I’ve never been much of a saver of stuff. I try to keep representative samples of the events of my life and let the rest go. But there is one thing I hang onto forever, it seems – my writing. When I told my husband that over half of what I still needed to go through was stuff I’d written, he blurted, “Like what? More books?”
“I’ve only ever written one book,” I sniffed. “It’s that three-foot-tall pile of paper moldering in the corner of my office. No this is what I’ve been obsessively scribbling since I was five years old. Poems, short stories, essays, term papers, even diaries. I’ve got letters I’ve written to newspaper editors and newspaper articles I’ve written.”
“So what are you going to do with it?” he asked. “God only knows,” I sighed. “I guess I’m just going to have to read it.”
I opened the first box to find it was literally swimming in silver fish. The pages were yellowed, nibbled at the corners. As I whacked the cardboard hoping to drive away the vermin, I was suddenly struck with terror. Not from the bugs but from the realization that all my “life’s work” was probably painfully bad and totally worthless. The misshapen manifestations of an immature mind. (See what I mean?)
In short, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I shoved the boxes into a corner, another challenge for another day when, perhaps emboldened by a cocktail, I will explore the depths of my past folly. (You SEE?!)
A lot of my clients (and my family and friends) are mysophobic. For the uninitiated, that means a fear of germs, myso being Greek for “uncleanliness”. You wouldn’t think there would be so much fuss over stuff so small you can’t even see it, but it is a big problem. And let me tell you, it is no fun believing you face certain death every time you touch a door knob.
Where this phobia comes from is up for grabs. Some people point to childhood illnesses, the loss of loved ones to disease and/or media hype. The way the fear is expressed can differ as well. People usually think of continual hand washing, but that really isn’t mysophobia per se. It’s just a compulsion to wash the hands that may or may not be about avoiding diseases.
Your true germophobe fears encountering germs any place, any time. They avoid closed in spaces where people may be coughing and sneezing. They avoid public places that might not be cleaned so scrupulously. And their own places undergo extensive cleaning on a daily basis. I once had a client who had to wash down all the surfaces in the home with bleach twice a day.
Mysophobia is an especially lonely disorder because sufferers not only don’t go out, they also don’t allow anyone in. Now you’d think they would spend more than the average amount of time at the doctor’s office, but no. That’s the BEST place to encounter germs. They generally rely on OTC medications and folk remedies along with tried-and-true isolation.
Fortunately (or not) a myriad of products are available to keep us germ-free. More antibiotic hand cleansers, sprays and wipes are sold every year despite the fact that we benefit from food and water cleaner than at any other time in human history. How much this plays into the development of antibiotic-resistant microbes is anybody’s guess.
We may actually be making ourselves LESS resistant to disease through our frantic attempts to avoid it. There is some pretty compelling evidence that children raised around animals and dirt (like me) tend to be healthier than those raised in hermetically-sealed environments. But this is really old news. Anyone remember chicken pox parties?
However it starts and however it is expressed, the treatment for mysophobia is the same – altered thinking and increased exposure. Many people are impressed when they study up on how good our skin is at keeping out disease regardless of the alcohol we wipe on it. Also, people are astonished to learn that they’d certainly die without the many microbes that take up residence on and in our bodies.
Coming to see at least some microbes to be “helpful” while gradually cutting back on the cleaning rituals usually does the trick for even the most stubborn germ-hater. But, of course, all of this work is undone once somebody utters the word Ebola. Fist bump anyone?
I have some dear friends who are avowed, lifelong Buddhists. I love to visit them because their house is so CALM. There is no blaring TV, not even a radio. Nothing but breeze and birdsong. I always leave there so invigorated, so refreshed.
But once I’m back in my “real” world, I quickly lose all that peacefulness and go back to being an average, frantic American. The temptation grows stronger every year to delve more deeply into this religion and capture the source of that blissful calmness.
According to Buddhism, the path to a peaceful life is to free one’s self from desiring, desire being the source of all evil. One way to conceive of desire is by “Three Poisons” – anger, greed and ignorance.
These are represented by three animals that live within us and are constantly at war with us and with each other. The snake is anger, the rooster is greed and the pig is ignorance. It occurred to me to compare these ideas with the Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity. Let’s start with the snake.
When you think about it, anger (or “wrath”) has at its core both “envy” and “pride”. We get mad when we don’t have the things that other people get (envy) and when we are treated in ways we think are beneath us (pride). The cure for this is to realize that we really don’t deserve anything and that what other people think about us doesn’t make us who we are.
Then there is the rooster of greed. Of course “greed” IS a deadly sin, and it is not so distant from “lust” and “gluttony”, which are just being greedy for food and sex. The sin here is in wanting more than you need, more than you can even use. It is, essentially, making things, food and sex into idols. It is removing them from the Creator’s toolbox and worshipping them in their own right.
Finally, there is that pig of ignorance. Well, the only Deadly Sin left is “sloth”. It’s a stretch, but you COULD see ignorance as being too lazy to learn the truth. At any rate, ignorance is probably the worst of the bunch and feeds into all the others. For example, most anger has, at its root, an ignorance that is manifested in over-generalization. “I’m the only kid in the WHOLE SCHOOL who doesn’t have a cell phone!” “All those immigrants are lazy criminals!”
Buddhists spend their lives trying to divorce themselves from desire. The Christian parallel of this is the concept of faith – the peace that passeth understanding. The cure for all the Deadly Sins is to have faith – the belief that you will have enough and be enough to make it in this world, that there is a reason for everything and that God turns all evil to good in the end.