Parenting is all about power. And it’s crucial to realize that you have it all. Everything that kid eats, wears, plays with or rides in comes from you and you can grant or withhold it at will. Most modern parents don’t accept this. They operate from a position of weakness, professing the belief that their job is to raise the happiest, smartest and most well-dressed children in the history of the world.
Wrong! Your job isn’t to raise children at all. Your job is to create fully-functional adults. Then let them go, to make you grandchildren which you ARE allowed to spoil (on a limited basis.)
Let’s take the example of the $200 shoes. No kid needs them unless he’s competing in the Olympics or making billions of dollars in the entertainment industry. So when your kid asks for them, the answer should be “No,” stated without a shred of guilt or hesitation, followed up with, “The day you earn $200 you can decide if you want to buy a pair of shoes with it.” (Hint: He probably won’t.)
The kid will invariably respond with fits of weeping and fury expressed along with statements about how you’re the worst parent ever. Your response should be a blank expression, perhaps accompanied by a shrug. Let him have his temper tantrum. There’s still not going to be any $200 shoes in this house.
Most parents mess up this elemental power play by trying to reason with the kid, getting angry, and/or giving in. First, you don’t need a reason. “Because I said so,” is good enough. Second, you NEVER let your kid get you angry. Once he learns there’s a button he can push that will send you into fits of hysteria, he’ll never tire of pushing it. Third, you never give in without a really good reason, like “My royalty check for $5,000 just came in.”
One of the most powerful tools a parent can use is the allowance system. A lot of parents balk at this, reasoning that they shouldn’t have to pay their kids to do their chores. That’s not the case. The purpose of an allowance is to teach your kids how to handle money, from working for it, to spending it, to saving it up and, hopefully, investing it.
Come up with a chore chart and assign each one a dollar amount. Then step back and let the system work. You don’t remind, nag or plead. If the kid does the chore, he gets paid. If you have to do it, you get paid. At the end of the week, sit him down at the table with a stack of $1 bills and go over the chart. Once he sees all the cash he’s leaving on the table, he’ll fully understand without a word being said.
And if he does half the job, that’s half the pay. Let him know that nobody pays for a two-scoop ice cream cone that only has one scoop.
Well it got cold, but then it IS winter. What did you expect? If you listen to the news, this is the hottest year on record. Doesn’t seem like it now, but that’s just “weather”, not “climate”. Still I wonder if they’re adding all this record-breaking cold into the equation, or if they’re just going to stick to their story that we’re doomed to hellish warming that will destroy us all.
In contrast, Viking mythology hypothesized a hell of unending darkness and cold. Sort of like the winters I endured growing up in Kansas. And we ARE sliding into a solar minimum. The last time that happened we got the Little Ice Age during which the Thames River in London froze solid and hundreds of thousands died from starvation brought on by failing crops.
But if you listen to the prophets of climate doom, the Little Ice Age never happened (despite it being one of the most extensively recorded climatic events in human history) just like the Medieval Warming Period never happened nor the Greco-Roman Warming Period before that. Everything was just wonderful until we invented the internal combustion engine. Then disaster.
But I digress. What got me started along this line was a news report from the northeast warning of dangerously cold temperatures. The reporter advised everyone to stay inside and (burn up a bunch of fossil fuels) to stay warm. He listed the risks of exposure to sub-freezing temperatures and noted that he had almost slipped on the ice coming out of his home.
Some guy ALMOST slips on some ice and this is headline news!? What are we? A nation of wimps!?
Perhaps it is apt that we term our current crop of college students “snowflakes”. They who demand safe places complete with puppies to hug and books to color in. They who dare not be schooled on the rough-and-tumble world of history lest they be “triggered” into unbearable anxiety. They who refuse to be exposed to ideas other than those they already hold, despite going off to college, presumably to learn a thing or two.
As a therapist, I know all about triggers. These are sights, noises, even odors, that remind people of traumatic episodes in their past. The sound of fireworks becomes the gun battle where you lost so many of your fellow soldiers. The sight of crumpled up car becomes the multiple-fatality wreck you worked as an EMT. The smell of a certain aftershave becomes the uncle who molested you.
I know that everyone experiences trauma differently and I don’t judge. The loss of a beloved pet may hurt more than news of the death of a distant grandparent. But I also know that we humans possess vast sources of strength and resilience. Rather than handing you a coloring book, I try to help you gain control of your grief and anxiety by re-experiencing it and gaining new perspective. While the snowflakes melt, I want you to grow ever stronger.
The psych trade is full of dichotomies. Theoretical models operate in direct opposition to each other, and the proponents of those theories each think they know the one, right way to shrink a client’s head. Theorists live in the rarified air of academia where they busy themselves publishing studies and tearing each other apart in journal articles. (Get them together at a convention, add alcohol and things can get pretty dicey.)
But bring those theorists down from their ivory towers into the trenches and see what happens to their one, right method. Like most of us who actually PRACTICE therapy, they’re forced to adopt a much more varied approach. Basically they just have to toss that plate of spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.
That being said, we all have our “go to” techniques, those tools in our kits that get a lot more use than the others. Hence the choice between directive vs. non-directive; process-based vs. client-centered; brief vs. extended. Given the choice I go with extended, client-based and directive. Let’s start with directive vs. non.
The ultimate proponent of non-directive therapy was good ol’ Sigmund Freud. He had you lie on a couch where you couldn’t see him and talk about whatever you wanted to. He very rarely said anything besides, “Our time is up,” or, possibly, “Your last check didn’t clear so I’m going to need cash today.” You were supposed to figure out what was bothering you and how to fix it without his help.
People today hate that kind of therapy. They don’t want to “free-associate”. They want someone to tell them what’s wrong and how to fix it in a neat little package. Hence I start out very directive. I take a detailed history, then tell you my honest opinion of your issues and possible solutions for them, always emphasizing that I’m no authority and you’re free to think and do whatever you like. After all, it’s your life, not mine.
This brings up brief vs. extended. I like to “briefly” determine your challenges, but then work them out for however long it takes. For example, I see no point in waiting for the 15th session for you to finally bring up your childhood sexual abuse, but I also don’t think that’s something that can be resolved in three sessions. It can take years to process some stuff.
Finally I’m client-centered. After all, you’re my client. I want to work on what YOU want to work on. However, I reserve the right to tell you that I think you’re concentrating on one, small issue rather than addressing the huge elephant in the room. And, as a life-long practitioner of the “foot-in-mouth technique”, I have no problem giving that elephant a name. Sometimes I’m wrong. A lot of times I’m not.
What I DON’T want to do is work from an “evidence-based” workbook of insurance company-approved processes. I know the eggheads have to sell their books, but not to me!
Sometimes I’ll write a column that I think is pretty darned great. Proudly I’ll post it and wait for reactions. After a few days I’ll usually get a quick note from one of my “fans” (a group numbering up to three people now!). “Amen!” one will write or “This made me laugh!” And periodically one of my sons will call demanding that I cease and desist.
“You’re not just embarrassing us, Mother” he’ll plead. “You’re embarrassing your SELF!”
But mostly there’s silence. If I truly believe my words were inspired, eloquent and/or totally hilarious, I might take the step of asking for comments by, say, cornering someone after my Sunday school class. His eyes will invariably widen and begin to dart about the room, searching for a quick escape.
“Oh THAT one,” he’ll chuckle nervously and then beat it for the nearest exit.
So what I thought was a masterful example of the writer’s craft was nothing more than a jive turkey. On the other hand, sometimes I’ll mindlessly hack together the requisite number of words an hour before deadline and then get numerous lengthy responses about how deeply moving my column was. How can I be so wrong about myself? Turns out, it’s really easy!
We all carry within our minds an image of our appearance and capabilities. How accurate it is varies between fairly true to dead wrong. Many of us vastly underestimate our abilities just as many of us overestimate them. How we see ourselves is framed by our experiences, what people say about us and how we compare to some cultural model of perfection. And we also tell ourselves lies.
We feel like we’re generous but then avoid eye-contact when the Cub Scouts are selling popcorn at the supermarket. We feel like we’re brave, but when someone is being victimized we “wisely” decide to stay out of it. We all feel we know just what we’d do in any given situation without having ever faced anything remotely close. We’re all armchair quarterbacks.
And when we get dressed to go get some groceries, we all think we look pretty okay. Hence the “People of WalMart” websites and what my sons witnessed walking past our booth at the Ren Faire when they were growing up. (Maybe that explains the phone calls.)
As a therapist, I usually deal with people who think they’re terrible and incompetent. My task is to try to get them to at least check it out before coming to the conclusion that it’s hopeless. As their counselor, I can give them honest feedback in a nice, helpful way. One thing I often suggest is mirror work. Just watching yourself saying the same stuff you say every day can be enlightening.
It is a rare gift to have someone who will tell you the whole, unvarnished truth. Usually our friends pick up on how we want to see ourselves and try not to dispute it. At least not to our faces.
Before the term “reality check” became part of the popular lexicon, it was a concept from CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). The idea is that, to a great extent, we create our own reality based on our experiences, our expectations and how we filter incoming information. Thus two people in the same situation can have very different perceptions of what’s happening.
We therapists urge our clients to double check their beliefs with a skill we call “reality testing”. For example, you can think that your daughter-in-law hates you, but if you examine the situation more closely, you might see that she doesn’t actually hate you, she just thinks everything you believe is wrong.
Let it be said right now that both my daughters-in-law are wonderful, capable women whom I love and cherish. I’ve resigned myself to the fact that they believe I’m old and out of touch, and so I feel no compulsion to tell them how to do anything, just as long as I get to snuggle those grandkids on a regular basis. (I figure once they get a little older, they’ll come around.)
Lots of people got slapped in the face with a reality check after the result of our presidential election. I admit I was one of them. I truly believed we would have a Clinton Dynasty and my belief was framed, in a large part, by the media. According to everything I read and heard, Trump was an utter loser and Clinton would win in a landslide. Wrong!
The problem was that the media weren’t actually gathering the news. They were creating it. This is nothing new. I’m currently reading a memoir by Linda Ellerbee, who was one of the first female news anchors in the country. It’s fascinating to me that even then (the 1980s) Washington reporters simply made up most of what they reported.
Ms. Ellerbee is very clear on how “editorial judgment” shaped the “truth”. Reporters were sent to interview only people who would faithfully reflect the views that the paper, magazine or news program wanted to portray. Any reporter who tried to buck the system was quickly fired. It was a cozy little arrangement where reporters were spoon-fed stories by our leaders before they all went out and got snockered at some Washington watering hole.
Nothing has really changed except that now, at least for a while, we have the internet. Now people with no job to protect can report on what they actually observe. Everyone has a phone with which they can capture what’s going on outside the narrow focus of the network news cameras. And they can almost instantly upload it to a platform where it can be viewed worldwide.
Is there still room for bias and outright lies? Oh yes! But now people have more varying views to consider when forming their opinions. Of course we still tend to filter out what we don’t like and focus on what we already believe. That’s just human nature. Check, please!
One of the strange aspects of the pysch trade is the unexplainable effectiveness of mere suggestion. When clients come in and tell me what a great difference their new anti-depressant has made, I ponder the fact that, during the testing of that particular drug, just a whole lot of people felt a whole lot better taking nothing more than a sugar pill. The standard of effectiveness is an achingly thin percentage over placebo.
Then when their meds “stop working” (a phrase I hear several times a week) I have to wonder what really went wrong. Despite the fact that no one wants to be told that his problems are all in his head, the truth remains. People who think they can get better tend to get better. People who think they’re doomed to misery tend to stay there.
We’ve all heard the phrase “Adopt an attitude of gratitude.” It’s surprisingly helpful for people with mental disorders. Concentrating on all the bad things in your life truly makes it seem horrible. If you can wrest your attention away from all that and contemplate everything that’s good, it can make a big difference. But it’s a subject I have to approach warily.
Someone with painful degenerative disk disease and a lifetime struggle with bipolar disorder doesn’t want to hear about how lucky he is to have a roof over his head. Especially if that roof belongs to a disgruntled relative, only grudgingly providing help in anticipation of a big back-pay check from my client’s disability claim.
One technique I like to use I call “Already Gone”. When people feel like they’re trapped in a bad situation, be it at work or at home, I try to get them to imagine that they’ve left that situation behind. They’ve already found a better job or a more compatible partner, or their kids are off on their own (and have been told firmly not to call needing bail money).
A calm falls on the person. Which fascinates me, because nothing, and I mean nothing in his situation has actually changed except that he’s made up his mind to leave it. There is no reason to fight with someone when you’re already gone. There is no need to try to adapt to a dysfunctional work environment when you’ve already found a new job. You can let go of the conflict and enter a new world.
That’s where gratitude comes in. No matter how bad your situation may be, it can still get worse. Focus on what you want your life to look like. Enjoy whatever small pleasures you can find. Realize that even though you might not accomplish your goals today, you can still accomplish them with time. Every step forward, no matter how small, is progress.
Ask yourself what you can do today to make yourself more comfortable, more secure and happier. I personally like a new book, a Diet Coke and a tub of really, really hot water!
Occasionally I get a client who resides in the autism spectrum. It’s always challenging and instructive. I believe autism is much more common than we ever thought. The reason we diagnose it more is because we’re looking for it and studying it. And publishing those studies.*
Having autism is truly living in an alternate universe. I teeter along the line myself and, given different circumstances, I might very well have decided to move inside my own head permanently. But I didn’t. There were just too many things I wanted to do in the “real” world.
I think that’s the problem. Hundreds of years ago, plenty of people were “ornery”, “slow”, “touched in the head”. But they still had important work to do. Herding cattle, mending fences, slogging out barns. It was hard but no real pressure. No one had to type things into a computer all day, in an office full of scheming people with the entire world watching. Instead they were lifting, moving, digging, planting. Falling into the rhythm of manual labor, they were free to explore their internal realms in peace.
Now there’s no work for them and they’re living other people’s dreams. They vegetate in our houses, engrossed in TV and video games. They feel useless. We’re in a strange position in our evolution that we will soon have no real need for man-power. Kurt Vonnegut prophesied this in his 1952 novel Player Piano. With machines doing more and more of our work, we can legitimately ask (as did a character in the book), “Just what are people for?”
It’s a question that we need to answer for our kids strongly and persistently. Here’s what I think.
Your job is to make the world a little bit better place than it would have been without you. That can mean a lot of things from baking a cake to planting a field to discovering the cure for cancer. Your job is to create a calm, clean home where everyone feels like they belong. You’re supposed to right wrongs, gain knowledge, solve problems, create order and beauty.
We’re all given gifts and to not use them goes against God’s plan. We need to nurture the things inside our children that are good and creative, and turn them away from sloth, violence and disorder. They need to become a useful part of the family and community. They need to be given work to do.
Nowadays kids don’t know how to cook a healthy meal, but they can take you through 50 levels of some sword and dragon drama. They don’t know how their own government works, but they can rattle off all the characters in some reality show and what they’re up to. Time to come back to the real world and get to work!
*Let it be said right now, I don’t think there is yet enough causal evidence to link autism with vaccines. Get vaccinated or get ready for the resurgence of polio and tuberculosis!
This last couple of weeks has been a study in contrasts. First my husband and I watched the film “Captain Fantastic”, which I highly recommend. It is the tale of a couple who decided to go “off the grid” and raise their family in the woods of the North Pacific region. When the film starts, the mother is off in a hospital somewhere and the father is the leader of the family.
One of the early scenes shows the father and his six children sitting around a campfire, everyone deeply absorbed in a book. Needless to say, there were no phones, no laptops, no TV. The only sounds are the crackle of the fire and the night songs of insects. Then, perhaps to lighten the mood, the father gets his guitar and soon the entire family is singing and playing instruments.
Contrast this with the cover story of Time Magazine: Anxiety, Depression and the American Adolescent. This article details the rise in mental illness among our youth – everything from eating disorders, to self-harm, to suicide is on the rise. One of the causes, it seems, is the very technology that was supposed to make “feeling connected” so much easier.
I’m old enough that I remember meeting people in college who had come from little Kansas towns where the graduating class might have numbered no more than a dozen. In that “small pond” atmosphere, even the geekiest kid still had a part in the school play. You didn’t have to look like Barbie to be the Pumpkin Queen, and you stood a good chance of being Valedictorian even without a 5.0 average.
Now even in a little town, you have the entire world to complete against courtesy of that computer in your hand. You find out pretty quick that you’re stupid, ugly and fat. And there’s really no escaping it. Used to be if you were bullied in school, you could go home. Now the bullying continues online day and night, not just from the kids at school, but literally from the entire world!
It reminds me of an old study they did with rats. The scientists electrified the bottom of the rat’s cages with a charge that was painful, but not deadly. The rats quickly went insane, tearing out their fur, refusing to eat, attacking each other. But if they were given a small pad they could stand on to avoid the charge, they went back to average rat behavior – eating, grooming, sleeping.
And parents aren’t immune either. Used to be you could go home from work and forget about it. Now, thanks to your phone and home computer, you are pretty much always at the job. And therefore, not paying enough attention to your kids, who may be binging and purging, or cutting right under your roof without you knowing.
The solution? Turn off that media feed! Or at least monitor it so that you get a healthy dose of positivity along with the gloom and doom.
As I’ve said many times, just because I’m a counselor, doesn’t mean I don’t have the same challenges as anyone else. I try to practice my own advice and that usually works. But not always. Case in point: I’ve allowed my year-and-a-half breast cancer odyssey to cut me off from most of the social activities I once enjoyed.
The first to go was the choir. What with a chemo treatment every four weeks, I just didn’t have the energy to participate. Then there were the two months I spent crawling back from six days in the ICU. Just when it seemed like that might resolve, an incision-site hernia wouldn’t allow me to stand up straight or take a deep breath. Singing was out.
Multiple surgeries had me missing services, pot-lucks and volunteer opportunities. This was the first year in I don’t know how long that I didn’t work the Pumpkin Patch. Come to think of it, I didn’t even buy any pumpkins! And my professional life has suffered as well. No attending seminars or networking events. I felt like I was doing good to just get to work, come home and go to bed.
I barely saw my friends or my kids. There were few trips, no going out for lunch, and I even skipped my pedicures for fear of infection. For the same reason I didn’t hang out at my pond. The kayak didn’t make it in the water once! I allowed myself to believe that I was too hurt and exhausted to do more than the minimum. Gradually, I slid deeper into my lonely routine, unwilling to come up for air.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I got depressed. Life-threatening illness aside, the worst thing was that I allowed myself to become isolated. (I should mention here that my sons BEGGED me to get off FaceBook, which would have given me a modicum of interaction, but probably not the good kind. Of course they COULD come visit me once in a while, but I won’t go there now.)
Study after study shows that cutting yourself off from social interaction worsens depression more than any other single factor. Sure, the thought of getting out of bed, taking a shower and showing up at a gathering seems overwhelming. It’s just so much easier to snuggle down into that familiar, gray landscape and watch TV all day. But that won’t get you any less depressed.
At some point you have to take the bold step and put yourself out there. At least I have things I can go back to where I’ll feel welcome. But for many people, there’s no going back to something familiar. It’s entirely new territory and holds the terrifying risk of rejection. Still, it must be done.
Start by calling that old friend and suggesting lunch or coffee. Don’t just dismiss all invitations, show up! All you have to do is BE there! It will make things better, I promise.
I hate it when a friend or client tells me she’s found the perfect man. I’ve been through the scenario so many times, I just shake my head. She’s in love and nothing I say will make any difference. It’s like watching a two trains barreling toward each other on the same track. The result is never in question. The only variables are how long it will take and how bad it will be.
The hallmarks of a doomed relationship can be summed up in four words (coincidently the title of this column): Too Much, Too Soon. The “perfect man” sweeps onto the scene, quickly captivating his intended victim. He makes an immediate connection, understanding you in a way that no one else ever could. He offers a life of pleasure and ease. Ladies brought up on tales of Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are all too eager to cede their independence and follow their prince into the happily ever after.
And for a while it’s okay. But soon cracks begin to appear in the hastily built foundation of the relationship. “You won’t have to work” quickly turns into “I won’t allow you to work.” “Your family is pretty dysfunctional” becomes “You need to completely cut ties with them”. And “Your friends are bringing you down” morphs into “You don’t need friends. You have me!”
Legitimate concern for your safety turns into a list of approved places you can go with a strict timetable of how long you can be gone. And then the abuse begins. Slowly, insidiously, insults and put-downs creep into ordinary conversations. “Let me handle the money. You’ll just mess things up!” “You wouldn’t need new clothes if you hadn’t gotten so fat! And no you can’t go to the gym. I don’t want a lot of other men gawking at you.”
Prince Charming helpfully informs you that you have become fat, lazy, stupid, ugly and extraordinarily lucky that he’s willing to put up with you because no one else will ever love you. By the time the shoves and slaps turn into bone-breaking assaults, you’re so beaten down that you feel like you deserve it.
The best way to avoid an abusive relationship is to get your own life firmly in order. Finish your education. Get a job, save money and continue to polish your work and survival skills. (I don’t mean chipping a spear blade out of a piece of flint, but learn how to change a tire and where to turn off the water at the street.)
Build a strong network of friends and colleagues whom you can trust and then listen to them! Most ladies were warned, more than once, that their prince was a devil in disguise. Unless you’re smoking meth and running guns, you shouldn’t have to change your life very much to accommodate a good man. He shouldn’t need money, a car or a place to live. All he should want from you is your time.
Many people I know are facing life-changing illnesses and/or surgeries. One of the (many) things I harp on in my counseling sessions is taking a much more proactive attitude toward our healthcare than we ever did in the past. Used to be you had a family doctor who saw you throughout the course of your life. He (or she) might even have delivered you!
No more. Even if you regularly go to the same “practice”, you might see a different professional each time. It’s important to be prepared. Luckily (or not) the Internet has made it possible for you to study up on an endless selection of conditions and treatments. You can even watch UTube videos of them being done!
I tell my clients to never walk into a doctor’s office without a list of questions you want answered. “And don’t let that doctor leave the room until you get your questions answered,” I warn them. “Even if you have to throw yourself in front of the door to keep him there!” Sometimes we even start the list right there in my office.
That being said, I just went through a couple of years of potentially life-changing healthcare with my breast cancer diagnosis, mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. When I went looking for a surgeon to do the job, I looked no further than the one my OB/GYN suggested. (Of course I’ve been seeing HER for over 25 years.) And I went with the reconstructive surgeon THAT surgeon recommended.
And I did only the most cursory investigation into these two practitioners to whom I was literally turning over my life. I did absolutely NO searching the Internet about the procedures they were going to do to me. (But, given my family history, I HAD been getting lectures about breast cancer starting the day I got my first bra, and I’ve continued to study the subject off and on over the years.)
Most of all, I had NO desire to see a UTube video of the operation! This despite being utterly fascinated by surgery shows like “Botched” and “My 600-Pound Life”. Those are other people, having other surgeries. Seeing a mastectomy video when I was actually facing the prospect was getting too close for comfort.
I also counsel people to shop around for a doctor until they find one with whom they are entirely comfortable. The same thing goes for finding a counselor. And that means that sometimes my clients decide they aren’t comfortable with me. They quit coming, and I’m left to wonder what I did wrong.
But I don’t worry about it for long. I know I run an ethical practice, based on well-researched principles and techniques. I’m a stickler for confidentiality and proper documentation. I keep up on new treatments and take more continuing education classes than I really need to. I simply can’t be everything to everybody. So when a client decides to look elsewhere, I figure it’s better for both of us.
Last week I had to switch my daily walking costume from headlight, reflective vest, shorts and T-shirt to headlight, reflective vest, sweatpants, sweatshirt and ear muffs. There has definitely been a change in the air. Some of you have turned off your AC for the first time since May (or April?). These cooler days bring changes in our attitudes. Some good, some not so good.
First there’s that blessed relief that it’s no longer an oven outside. For many of us, this means we become reacquainted with “outside” which, up until this point, has been the enemy. For months we’ve been scurrying from our air-conditioned homes to our air-conditioned cars and driving off to air-conditioned offices or stores desperately trying to reduce the amount of time we spend in triple-digit temperatures. Now we can walk a little slower. Maybe notice the landscaping.
And get a nice big whiff of ragweed. Yes, turning off the AC often means that there is suddenly no filter between our noses and all the nasty pollens and molds that make us so miserable. I know I’ve been hit hard this season. Just try telling your client you aren’t REALLY sick after sneezing six (no lie SIX) times in a row and then honking into a tissue for two full minutes. Reminds me I need to stock up on hand sanitizer.
Another nice change is that outdoor games and get-togethers are no longer a battle against heat stroke. No need for tents, misters, cooling stations and EMT personnel on standby. You might even want to take a sweater or jacket. (And I am never without the muffs, I don’t care how many people laugh!) You can fire up the grill and actually enjoy the glowing coals. Nothing beats toasting a marshmallow when a warm puff of sugar in the hands is a pure delight.
And then you start thinking about the Holidays. Sure, you’ve seen Thanksgiving and even Christmas wares in the stores for months, but they just don’t seem important when you’re in flip flops and short shorts. Now that it’s cooler, the anticipation (or dread) begins to build and people start to panic over what has become the biggest commercial event of the year – Christmas shopping!
Every year I tell people that Christmas is not about money, but no one listens. A few wise ones have been working on homemade gifts for months. Others have been hitting sales and squirrelling things away. They smugly announce that they have all their shopping done before the Thanksgiving turkey is plunked down in the sink to defrost. (Makes you want to smack ‘em in the snoot with that frozen bird!)
But planning is a good thing, especially saving. I’ve never had anyone come to me and say, “Gee, I wish I hadn’t saved all that money”. Try for small and thoughtful rather than extravagant and expensive. Choose meaning over money. And please try to enjoy all this lovely cool air!
Last week I had what I hope will be the last reconstructive surgery of my breast cancer treatment. For about a week prior, the ambulatory surgery center and I played phone tag. They wanted to let me know what to expect on the day of my procedure. When I finally got her on the phone the first thing the nurse wanted to know was whether I had ever been to their facility before.
“This will be my fifth surgery there in 15 months,” I answered dryly. It didn’t exactly fill me with confidence to realize they didn’t already know that.
“Oh.” There was a pause. “Well I guess you know what’s going to happen, then.”
“Got a pretty good idea.”
Not that everything went without a hitch. First my surgery was delayed two and a half hours. Seems the implants were late in arriving. Then my bank card would only charge $2,000 of the $3,658 which made up the last of my deductible. (My husband had to charge the rest and I wrote him a check later.) In the next few months I’ll be getting bills for the remaining 20%. Oh joy!
But I’m actually very lucky to have health insurance. Having that little card in my purse is like finding a Golden Ticket to Mr. Wonka’s chocolate factory. With it I get in the door. Without it, I’d be left outside staring through the fence. As it was I got excellent care and three medications to keep me comfortable while I healed up – a pain pill, a muscle relaxant and something for nausea.
About a week ago, my husband’s leg went out from underneath him when we were chasing donkeys out of the yard. He could barely stand the pain and, it being Sunday, I took him to the ER. That magic card got him a shot of Dilaudid, a CT scan and a prescription for Tramadol. Without it he would have gotten a cursory exam, a few Tylenol-3 tablets, and an escort out the door.
Despite having the ACA forced upon them, the majority of my clients still lack adequate care for their pain. Ridiculously high deductibles and a rapidly shrinking pool of providers means they still use the ER for the bulk of their health care. There they are treated like drug addicts looking for a fix and referred to expensive specialists who don’t take their plan.
In its wisdom, our country has responded to the abuse of pain medication by heavily restricting it. (Because prohibition always works so well!) Now people with chronic pain who properly used their medications for years – decades – are reduced to raiding their relatives’ medicine cabinets or, heaven help them, searching the streets for heroin. It’s insane!
The men and women who founded our country believed that we, the people, were uniquely qualified to decide what was in our own best interest. Why did we ever allow our current government to take that freedom away?
I have the physique of my Eastern European ancestors. Short and stocky, big-boned, heavily-muscled and able to pack on prodigious amounts of fat in order to survive punishing winters, we tend to be just about as wide as we are tall. Therefore, I've spent a lifetime fighting my weight.
Thanks to my enlightened mother, who was into health food before it was a thing, I wasn’t overweight as a child. And thanks to walking two miles to school (in the snow, uphill both ways!) and summers spent biking and swimming, my weight problem didn’t really get into gear until I went away to college. I put on the Freshman Fifteen and then some.
As I got older, a decreasing metabolism and increasingly sedentary lifestyle had my weight creeping up every year until I was pretty doughy. Then I got my big break – nine days in the hospital during which I ate the equivalent of about one day’s worth of calories.
Sure it was a scary, painful time but I came home having lost the 20 pounds I would have never been able to get off any other way. I’m ashamed to say that 10 of those pounds have found their way back on and I’m struggling to keep the other 10 from joining their friends.
Lots of my clients have same problem. Becoming disabled means that most forms of exercise are impossible. And lots of psych meds list weight gain as one of their primary side effects. So I regularly go through the tips I have gleaned over the years to avoid weight gain.
1. Portion control. In this country what we think of as “one serving” could easily feed a family of four. I remember the scene from Blazing Saddles when Gene Wilder’s character SHARES a container of movie house popcorn that’s smaller than the small soft drink cup we have at movies today! Take a small amount of food (it helps to use smaller plates) telling yourself you can get seconds if you must. Then don’t.
2. Built-In Cheats. If I tell myself I can’t have a certain type of food, that’s what I’ll crave. Instead I go with having just a little bit of it. Ice cream used to be my nemesis then God blessed me with violent lactose intolerance. Now it’s chocolate.
3. Fat-Free House. The best thing to do is to not bring that stuff into the house at all. No candy bars, cookies, chips, oven-ready deep fried vegetables. If I want any of that stuff, I have to drive back to the store. Thankfully, I’m usually too lazy for that.
4. Cook At Home! Buy healthy food and immediately process it for easy access. That lettuce is going to rot if you don’t wash and chop it right away. Cook large vats of healthy soups and roasts, then freeze single serving containers and take them for lunch instead of going out for that burger and fries.
Good luck in your war against weight! (You’ll need it.)
Front page of the Dallas Morning News trumpeted (again) the deplorable lack of beds for patients with mental illness, especially those who have committed serious crimes. With no space for them in “forensic mental institutions”, these prisoners languish in regular jail for months with only rudimentary treatment for their disorders.
More and more we task police officers and prison guards with the “care” for our mentally ill as hospitals close and funding dries up. And you don’t need to be caught wielding a machete to be affected. A typical traffic stop might reveal an unpaid ticket you forgot about and off you go to jail. Even if you bring your medications with you in the original bottles, chances are good you won’t get them.
I don’t understand this. I have personally pleaded with the staff of “correctional facilities” to let my clients have their meds and been told that they don’t do that. The typical answer is that the prisoner will see the jail doctor in a few days and he or she will decide what, if anything, is needed. Three days in jail is stressful for anyone. Imagine going through it when you have a panic disorder! And no meds!
So the newspaper prints yet another story about this sorrowful situation and, after an acceptable period of hand-wringing and pledges for change, the public forgets all about the problem. Again. I assume that our state will handle this as competently as they’re handling the CPS crisis. (“Case workers are over-worked and under-trained. Let’s hire more administrators!”)
So we’re down to three months and counting before the end of the NorthStar system. This program provided medication and counseling to thousands of indigent people who can’t qualify for Medicaid or the ACA. Despite many emails and phone calls to those in charge of the “change-over”, I still have no answer as to what is going to be done for these people. I’m pretty sure the answer is “Nothing”.
People hear that and become incensed. “How can they just drop people out of services like that?” they bluster.
“I guess my clients aren’t making big enough campaign contributions,” I answer with a shrug. "Maybe they aren’t attending enough $500-a-plate fundraising dinners. Maybe they don’t do enough lobbying because they’re trying so hard to survive. Why should the millionaire politicians in charge of the state’s purse strings care about them?”
Why indeed! The thing we all seem to forget is that it’s OUR money. If we are going to make treatment for our mentally ill a priority, we have to let our representatives know about it. I encourage everyone to contact your State Senator and Congressman to ask just what is going to be done to help.
(And if the answer is to spend millions of dollars on another study, I hope you tell them just what you think about that!)
Counselors are just like other workers. We want to do a good job, see results, be appreciated for what we do. But our profession contains many paradoxes that make it hard to judge “success”. For example, I may complain about managed care, but I do agree that someone should be checking to see if treatments are necessary and effective. The tough question is how do you measure that?
An insurance company auditor might ask for proof of a client’s improvement in the form of answers on standardized surveys of depressive or anxiety symptoms. If the client doesn’t show improvement within a certain amount of time, the insurer is likely to conclude that the treatment is a failure and should be discontinued.
But if client does show improvement, the insurer is just as likely to conclude that the treatment has been a success and is therefore no longer necessary. You’re danged if you do and danged if you don’t!
Another paradox concerns couples counseling. Couples don’t come into my office because their relationships are just great. They come in because there are some very serious problems that have usually been going on for years. Sometimes they’ll even tell me that they’re trying counseling as a last ditch effort to see if their relationship can be saved. No pressure there!
So we counselors start with a deck that’s severely stacked in favor of failure. Given that the divorce rate in this country is somewhere between 50% and 60% anyway, chances are we will see many of the couples we counsel opt to split up. Does that mean what we do is useless? Again, it depends on how you measure success.
Most couples counseling comes down to improving communication – both between the partners and within the individuals. Yes, the messages we give ourselves in terms of expectations play a huge role. I like to think that even if the couple does break up, I’ve given them tools they can use to make their next relationship better.
Then there is the issue of chronic mental illness. Sometimes there is no cure. Sometimes you have to help people adjust to a “new normal” which may be much less comfortable and satisfying than the lives they had before. Again, trying to convince an insurance company that continued treatment is necessary can be rough.
What if “success” means that the client hasn’t self-harmed, attempted suicide or been hospitalized this year? What if “improvement” means that the client cleaned his room, made a friend or joined a support group? What if “progress” is measured by the fact that the client gets out of bed, takes a shower and comes to the session once a week? Insurers typically want to see more.
So I use the example of diabetes. You can treat people with medication and they’ll get better, but if you stop, they’ll just get sick again. But then diabetes is a “real” disease and, unfortunately, many people still think mental illness isn’t.
I don’t know what judges have to do to get elected. I presume that part of the reason they stay “seated” is because the hundreds of people they sentence to prison every year never again have the opportunity to vote for anyone else. I know it must be a hard job and I certainly don’t want it. But my experience testifying for clients in court has left me wondering just how anyone gets “justice” in this world.
Now I know that courts are about the law, not justice. And I know that judges have to follow the law even if it’s arbitrary, unfair or just plain stupid. And I know that they’ve heard every excuse in the book. I don’t blame them for becoming a little bit jaded. What gets my panties in a twist is the fact that, overwhelmingly, whoever has the most money wins.
Rich people can afford high-powered attorneys who can file motion after motion on their behalf, keeping a case going on for years until the poor person they’re fighting against goes broke and gives up. Sometimes it isn’t even the cost of an attorney. It’s having to miss work and spend all day hanging around the courthouse only to be told that the other lawyer asked for a continuance. That happens too often and you just might lose your job.
I don’t think it should be a requirement that you have to have a lawyer to stand before a judge. And I think our system should provide lawyers for people who can prove they’re too poor to afford one on their own. They do that in criminal cases, but when someone is trying to take your kids away from you, you’re on your own. That’s pretty criminal.
Most of the cases in which I testify are over custody. I remember pleading with one judge to consider the feelings of a child who was being fought over like a piece of meat in a dog pack. That judge had to remind me that, in the eyes of the law, minor children are property to which the parents have, or don’t have rights.
“What about the rights of the child?”
He doesn’t have any. That blows me away. Exactly what happens between the ages of 17 and 18 that changes everything so significantly? Of course the same thing goes for many psych diagnoses. One minute after midnight on your 18th birthday you go from being a child with ADHD and being allowed the benefits of drug therapy (overwhelmingly methamphetamines) to being a drug-seeking adult just trying to get a fix.
People often come into my office for the first time thinking I’m going to judge them. I’m happy to report that most leave thanking me for not doing just that. It isn’t my job to judge beyond trying to get a clear picture of what the problem is. Even then I’m sometimes dead wrong. Thankfully my clients keep me on the right track.
“Home” is a word that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. The majority associate “home” with safety, comfort, belonging. But for many people, their actual home is a war zone with daily battles inflicting emotional and/or physical injury. They don’t even have the relative security of knowing who the enemy is as alliances shift and substance abuse transforms nurturers into torturers.
In this country, we share a general fiction that the “best” homes contain two biological parents with one staying at home to care for the children. We are told that “fatherless homes” and “latchkey kids” are the reasons for our decline. We are urged to return to the “natural” setting for the good of our society. What a load!
History clearly shows that, unless you were the heir to the throne, your childhood was mighty bleak. Average parents didn’t invest much emotion in their children, who had little chance of living to see their fifth birthdays. If they made it that far, they were quickly put to work on the farm and, later, in the factory.
Even the children of wealthy parents were pawned off on ignorant nurses and handed over to sadistic tutors who definitely believed in the rod as the proper tool for effective education. You were expected to be self-supporting while still in your teens. No hanging out in your parents’ basement well into your 30s.
Now I’m not saying that we should go back to all that, but we need to understand that there is no “right” way to make a good home. The children of poor, single mothers can become experts in their fields, while the children of wealth and privilege can become lawless sociopaths.
So while there is no one “right” way to rear children, there are a lot of wrong ways. It all comes down to balance – not too much, not too little. For example, being a stay-at-home mom isn’t much of an advantage to your kids if you spend the day watching TV then go out for fast food.
On the other hand, hovering over your child can be just as bad. The kid becomes the center of the universe to be eternally entertained, always on display, always expected to perform. Kids, like grown-ups, need alone time and time with their peers in order to be mentally healthy.
A kid needs to feel wanted. You would be shocked how many are told “I wish I’d never had you!” A kid needs to feel useful. You don’t want to turn them into servants, but they should definitely get the idea that they need to help out. A kid needs to feel heard. Such damage is done when children are told their ideas are stupid, their fears are ridiculous and their pain is imaginary.
Above all kids need routine – dinner time, bath time, story time, with a little laundry and housework thrown in. These are the building blocks of sanity in a crazy world!
Life is a series of actions and reactions. Cause and effect. Like billiard balls, we bounce off the bumpers, and each other, and take off in directions we never imagined. Control is just an illusion. When it really comes down to it, the only things you control are what you think and what you feel. The rest of it’s pretty much a toss-up.
So I get really tired of people who just have to assign blame in each and every situation. For example, my husband won’t accept the fact that he’s losing his hearing. When he can’t understand what I’m saying, it’s because I’m not speaking loudly enough, I’m not facing him, I’m in the next room, I don’t have the volume up high enough on my phone. Take your pick. Anything except that he can’t hear.
It’s exhausting dealing with a blamer. Nothing can pass their scrutiny without them helpfully letting you know it’s all your fault.
“Sorry I’m late, but there was a wreck on the highway.”
“You should have left earlier. You should have listened to the traffic on the radio. You should have taken the back roads.”
“I think I’m going to have to divorce my wife.”
“I TOLD you she was a floozy. You shouldn’t have rushed into that marriage. You should’ve left years ago.”
Maybe that’s all true, but exactly how does it help anyone right now?
With this latest round of terror attacks, we are again hearing about how we can blame it all on mental illness. The news reporters inform us that the shooter/knifer/bomber had been seeing a therapist, was on psych meds and/or had a long history of mental instability. They might as well be noting that the killer was suspected of having two arms and two legs.
While I do believe you have to be a little bit crazy to ram a truck full of explosives into a crowded marketplace, study after study has shown that the mentally ill are no more violent than the general population. The effect these news reports have is to make it even harder for someone to take the terrifying step of getting some help.
The worst part is that you’ve just given all the blamers in your life a ready-made excuse to pin every negative turn of events squarely on you. “The problem is, you’re just nuts!” (This one ranks right up there with “You can’t do anything right!” and “You’ll never amount to anything!” for the “normal” people.) Again, not helpful.
We therapists cringe every time the headline screams “Killer Mentally Ill”. It just means our poor clients are going to face even more prejudice and our potential clients are going to wait even longer before calling for an appointment. I’ve even had “friends” ask me how I can stand to work with “those people”.
“Aren’t you afraid?” they ask.
“Just of government-controlled healthcare,” I answer.
And so they walk away thinking I’m crazy.
Lots of my clients, past and present, have tried to get their Social Security Disability started. This program allows people to claim their retirement payments early if they become permanently disabled. It’s supposed to be a shining example of how well our society cares for our incapacitated citizens.
In truth it’s a humiliating bureaucratic nightmare that requires people to endure up to three years scraping by on the (grudging) support of their family and/or friends while they crawl through increasingly tangled masses of red tape culminating in an appearance before an overworked judge in a court of law where you have to pay $10 to park.
Once there, a helpful Social Security Administration representative will tell you about all the (non-existent) jobs you can still perform, even with your disability. I remember when one of my clients was told he could be a paperweight tester. Lots of demand for that these days, right along with buggy whip quality control tech and typewriter repairman.
As we cede more and more control of our healthcare to the government, we are going to find ourselves pleading for care from people with no medical training and a vested interest in keeping costs to the minimum. Thanks to Obamacare, the governmental body overseeing our nation’s health will be the IRS, an agency well-known for excellence in the healing arts.
What this means for people with mental illness is that the burden of proof is getting more and more, well, burdensome. The government wants to see results. Their agents want documentation (reams of it) showing that counseling achieves success. In the “medical model”, that means a cure.
Well that would be great! I’d love to be able to slap someone on the back and say, “That’s it! You’ve beaten bipolar disorder!” Then I’d escort him out of my office, never to see him again. In reality, mental illness is something you learn to manage, like being blind. You can definitely get better at dealing with it, but it seldom just goes away.
Governmental intrusion continues with demands that I “consult” with all the other medical professionals my clients visit in order to gain consensus for an “individualized treatment plan”. Again, that would be great, but when was the last time you were able to get your doctor on the phone? It’s no easier for me! And getting a consensus among a dozen medical professionals? Forget about it!
What will actually happen is that your precious, confidential medical documents will be spread around to dozens of pencil-pushers who can read them at their leisure while they wait for their bosses to sign off on that treatment plan, which will end up being about as individualized as “take two aspirins and call me in the morning.”
Oh yes, and I’m supposed to do counseling from an approved, “evidence-based” workbook with which I’ll teach you a “skill” and send you off with homework to complete. Well I won't do it! They'll have to pry my steno pad out of my cold, dead fingers!
You’d think being right all the time would be great. But let me tell you, it isn’t! The problem is no one believes you. They argue incessantly, get angry, call you names, unfriend you. I take solace in all the scientists who had to be long dead before people finally took them seriously and named some discovery after them.
I’ll be long dead before my husband gets on board with the proper way to trim trees. He insists that the correct way to trim a young tree is to lop off the tops of all the branches. Consequently, all our trees are stunted. I’ve told him not to do it, my brother (a consummate gardener) has told him not to do it. I even got the guy at the nursery to tell him not to do it.
But there’s just no changing his mind. One day he butchered a tree I was gently nurturing and that was the one time in all the years we’ve been together that I was ready to pack up and file for divorce. I made him promise he would never do it again. But he did, just a year later, with another tree. His excuse? It was HIS tree and he’d butcher it anyway he wanted to!
Recently, however, I’ve noticed a change in his attitude. Just last Sunday he commented that the grass was getting pretty high, but he wasn’t going to cut it because we were heading into a hot and dry period and we “need as much ground cover as we can get”. I nearly fainted. For years, YEARS, I’ve been begging him not to chop the grass down to a quarter inch during the summer. “It just dies back,” I pleaded, “and then we have dust blowing everywhere!”
His reasoning was that the shorter you cut it, the longer before you have to cut it again. “Just kill it off all together,” I yelled, “and you’ll never have to cut it, EVER!” Can it be that he’s finally beginning to realize the truth, or was he just feeling lazy? It doesn’t matter. This year I won’t be choking on dust all through August.
It’s tiring to note all the times I’ve been right about something and nobody paid any attention. When the day finally comes that I’m proven right, do I get any praise for it? Do people say, “Gosh, Susan, I guess we’d better start listening to you”? Heck no! They just tell me to shut up and stop being so smug.
I think back to the myth of Cassandra, the beautiful daughter of the king of Troy who was blessed with foresight, and cursed by the fact that no one would believe her. When the Greek army showed up, she told the Trojans to run for the hills, but they just had to drag that wooden horse into the city. Poor Cassandra died with the rest of them. I feel your pain, Sistah!
I had to give up FaceBook. I was spending WAY too much time fighting with people I didn’t know and upsetting my friends along the way. I lay awake nights wondering who was mad at me. Every morning I dreaded opening my email to another round of angry, insulting replies. FaceBook had to go.
Many of my clients share similar tales of their FaceBook “friends” endlessly bragging, stirring up drama and spreading dirt. It’s getting to be an old story. Relatively. Remember, when I grew up there was no internet. We had one phone and it was attached to the kitchen wall. Heck, there weren’t even faxes, and kids today have no idea what a fax is! (Was?)
I hear more and more people say they’re giving up media entirely. At least the NEWS media. They still watch their shows and play their games, but they simply can’t stomach the daily helping of disaster dished out by the news machine. I’m about to give up on it, too.
You might say this sounds a lot like the ostrich burying its head in the sand (which they DON’T actually do, but the metaphor still stands). You could say we’re all turning away from “reality” to snooze through our lives in comfortable little bubbles of TV, AC and fast food.
Certainly there’s a danger of that, but I see something else happening. To me it looks more like PTSD, daily news subtype.
It reminds me of how my grandfathers talked about trench warfare in the First World War. The opposing armies were dug in, sometimes just a few hundred yards apart, waging a pitched battle for the glory of their homelands. But as the days wore on, it became obvious they were more alike than different.
These were young men who’d been milking cows or sweeping floors only a few months before. Now they were tired, cold and hungry. And they’d been afraid for so long, it was beginning to seem unreal. Now and again, a man would toss off his helmet, climb up out of the dirt and march toward the “escape” of death. Many of those who survived had “battle fatigue”.
Today, as we hurtle toward the brick wall of the presidential election, people hunker down behind their political party lines, hiding in terror from the enemy across the aisle. Except that we really don’t disagree that much. We all want peace, freedom, love, happiness. We want order, fairness, and everyone doing their part.
The men in those trenches began to realize they weren’t as different from the men across the field as they were from the generals toying with their lives in safe bunkers hundreds of miles away. We have to wake up to the fact that millionaire politicians, whatever their party affiliations, have a vested interest in keeping us apart.
They divide us to conquer us. Then adjourn to their back rooms to divvy up the spoils and laugh about how gullible we are.
At one point or another, every kid asks his mother, “Which one of us do you love the best?” Wise mothers the world-over faithfully answer, “I love you all the same.” And even as the words leave our lips, we know it’s a lie!
Any woman with more than one kid knows they are all different. There’s the one you really connect with, and the one who tests your every nerve. As they grow, they move in and out of “favorable” spots. Some women really love the baby stage, others like ‘em once they can feed and clothe themselves. And there are those odd few who honestly enjoy the teenage years.
It’s important to be fair with the family’s resources. Sadly, I talk with people every day who tell of sorrowful upbringings where they got thrift store clothes while the favored one got designer labels. Some were even given nothing to eat but what the other couldn’t finish. That kind of favoritism is unacceptable and, thankfully, most parents know it.
It’s also important to be reasonable. You may LOVE your kids equally, but you don’t have to LIKE ‘em. If this is because of bad behavior, expressing your displeasure is appropriate. For example, you don’t have to approve of your son’s decision to make a career robbing convenience stores. But it’s not right to hate him just because he looks so much like his deadbeat father who cheated on you with your best friend. One the kid can help, the other he can’t.
Again, most parents don’t mistreat their kids. But many do just as much damage by spoiling them. When nothing is good enough for your kid, when nothing he can do will cause you to utter a harsh word, when punishment is rarely imposed and seldom enforced, you’ve created a monster. I speak today about that specific subset of the brat species, “Mama’s Boys” and “Daddy’s Girls”.
Any woman thinking about a relationship with a Mama’s Boy needs a quick slap of reality to the face. Any man who marries a Daddy’s Girl faces a lifetime of never measuring up. These “kids” have been taught that they don’t have to work for anything or do anything they don’t want to. The rules simply don’t apply to them. Life is about getting what they want, when they want it!
Just TRY getting a Daddy’s Girl to be responsible with the credit cards. And when you decide to cut up those cards, don’t be surprised if Miss Entitled runs to Daddy for what she wants. Same thing goes for chores. Ask a Mama’s Boy to help with the laundry or cook a meal and he’ll get his Mommy to do it (making sure she’s safely out of the house before you get home).
When you choose one of these two, what you’re getting a selfish child, so stay far away if you value your happiness. And if you ARE one of them, for heaven’s sake GROW UP!
You thought I was going to say “acts of violence”, didn’t you. But no, we’ve already heard quite enough of that, thank you. So rather than toss more fuel on the fire, I’ve decided to “go left” with this column and write about how I became a member of the Forney Arts Council.
(And to all my beloved “right” friends and family, I’m sorry but I can go left whenever I want to because I’m a grown-up and you aren’t the boss of me!)
Saturday, after demonstrating to my husband (for the thousandth time!) how to properly use the coin-op car wash, I saw a street fair and we decided to check it out. I bought a bunch of locally-grown produce and a sausage on a stick for my husband before noticing a booth for the Forney Arts Council which had, coincidently, put on the fair.
“I should join you,” I commented to a lady at the registration table. “I’m sort of an artist myself. I write a column for the local paper called Stranger Than Most.”
She frowned as she tried to make sense of the title, glancing over at her fellow FAC members who just shrugged.
“You don’t read the city paper?” I asked picking up an information form and pen.
“Well, we advertise in it, but…” she trailed off.
“What did you say the name was?” asked a man with a spiffy nametag.
“Stranger Than Most,” I answered, offering no further details.
Soon enough they would realize that the title was purely descriptive of what they were already witnessing – a short, plump woman in a straw hat (securely tied under the chin against the wind), a bright sundress, sunglasses and sandals with a shawl draped over her neck and arms, against the sun. (If my sons are reading this, they’re shaking their heads in recognition.)
I found out that there’s a literary committee that I might join that meets once a quarter and a Masquerade Ball in October. I was told there's an open meeting and election later in the month that featured a free dinner. “A little something in return for your dues,” said the lady taking my check.
“When do I get my nametag?” I asked.
“We don’t do nametags,” said the man with the nametag. Realizing the irony, he clarified, “Well, only board members get nametags.”
“You should do name tags for everyone,” I said, already envisioning mine. “It reduces social anxiety and facilitates interpersonal communication.”
Then it hit me. Would that man have shot those police if they hadn’t been “pigs” like in a video game? If they were real people, with names, families? An essay began to take shape in my mind.
But then a lady came over who recognized my column and so I stopped thinking about death and violence. Instead I turned my thoughts to my masquerade costume and just how I might incorporate the nametag.
7/4/16 A Permanent Solution
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2013, which was the last year I could find complete records for, 41,149 people committed suicide, equating to 12.6 people per 100,000, or about 113 per day. Contrary to what the media might have you believe, that’s nearly three times as many people as died at the hands of others.
Even so the numbers are lower than reality. They just include deaths “ruled” a suicide. There are no telling how many overdoses are judged “accidental” by grieving families. Or how often a car accident wasn’t really so accidental. And don’t forget the ever-popular “suicide by cop”.
Every day counselors treat those on the brink of suicide. Many clients have attempted. Some several times. And, sadly, most therapists can name at least one poor soul who succeeded in the act. It’s part of the job. You work with fire, eventually you get burned.
But why so many? In this world where people have more comfort and do less strenuous work than ever before in the history of mankind; in this land of AC, TV and the ‘fridge; where we have billions of dollars worth of entertainment and access to more information than was ever contained in the Library of Alexandria all right in the palms of our hands. Isn’t that enough to make anyone happy? Why so many suicides?
There’s no one answer for that. It’s complicated.
Lots of people tell me the story of the time they took all their pills, slung a noose, or got out the revolver in a fit of utter despair. Of course we wouldn’t be talking if they hadn’t later awakened at the hospital, sick, sore and confused.
Some are grateful for another chance. They come through with a renewed spirit and may have miraculous stories of their experiences between life and death. Now fully understanding how precious life is, their every moment becomes that much sweeter. To paraphrase Tolkien, Death is a gift that even the immortal gods will come to envy as the years drag on.
But there are also those who awake to the sickening realization that they’re still here, all their troubles are still here and now they have a big hospital bill to worry about on top of everything else. In the midst of their renewed grief, someone is bound to cheerfully comment, “God just must have more for you to do.” I wonder how many hear that and resolve to try harder next time.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can say or do to stop a person who is determined to end his own life. All we can be is present with them in their distress. I remember the story of a man who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. He said if anyone, ANYONE, had asked him what was wrong, he wouldn’t have done it.
Personally, I like the phrase: Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
As I mentioned last time (and I’m SURE you remember) I have been doing my required ed-ja-ma-CAY-shun (education) units and along with taking online classes, I’ve also been buying books. (Me?! Buying books!? Shocking! SHOCKING!”) One was on Jungian dream interpretation. And I must say, it’s fascinating!
I’ve heard of Carl Jung’s theories before but never went beyond noting that they were an offshoot of good ol’ Freud and his sexed up notions of consciousness. A couple of times colleagues have accused me of being “Jungian”. I always denied it. How could I be something I didn’t even understand? But since reading this book, I guess I can say, “Yep. I’m a Jungian!” (Or is that “an” Jungian?)
In this work, I’ve discovered abundant validation for my typical clinical techniques. (And to think I could’ve been advertising this all along and maybe even charging more!) But then, it’s never been about the money with me. What is absorbing is the theory of different “ego states”.
Basically, “ego states” are levels of consciousness that range from what we experience in our daily lives, to what we dream up when we’re asleep. And nested within each state are other, deeper levels of consciousness, or should I say UNconsciousness, that feed into the overarching theme of our individual lives. Jung thought we are all just trying to become who we are meant to be, but the world keeps getting in the way.
We get parents who may abuse us, or simply not accept our natural tendencies. Our culture tells us how we should act, what we should value and strive for. Our physical limitations also push us away from our true selves. (For example, being dyslexic, I was never going to be a ballerina no matter what! Left? Right? Who can tell?)
And so our dreams compensate for the frustrations of the real world. Sometimes in a way that is easy to understand. (In my dreams I sometimes dance.) Sometimes, however, the purpose of the dream is clouded, even diametrically opposed to what we really want. (I have a recurring dream that I can’t walk and must crawl down the sidewalk on my hands and knees. Hmmmm.)
Interpreting a dream is like peeling back the layers of an onion looking for hidden meaning. People can be who they really are, or they can represent universal themes like Power, Love, Knowledge, Evil. Objects become symbols. Actions become rituals. Nothing is as it seems and yet it is all designed to push us toward being who we are.
I must admit that in my therapy I usually go no further than the objective nature of dreams. That’s because when clients mention a dream, it’s usually a recurring nightmare about some past trauma. I work with them to resolve the trauma, change the outcome and take power over the dream with the idea of stopping it.
Now I’m going to take my new book to class, I mean session, and look a little deeper!
I come from a bookish family, by which I mean that, all things being equal, we are usually off by ourselves with a book in front of our faces. We inhale books the way others inhale cigarettes or donuts. For us, going off to college was considered as much a part of normal development as learning to walk and feed ourselves.
Of course being bookish does not necessarily guarantee success. Other qualities can make a bigger difference, like leadership, perseverance and street smarts. Successful people don’t need to be educated, they just need to hire educated people, generally for a pittance compared to what THEY make. So it is that after six years of college and three years of internship, I now command a salary roughly equivalent to that of the night manager at the Taco Bell.
To be fair, I’d be making a lot more if I were willing to work for someone else but I’m not. Having my own business has been my dream since I started hawking homemade pot holders up and down the street when I was five. To some, working for yourself means unlimited ease and freedom. Those of us who really do it know it means you just get to pick which 50 hours a week you work. Still, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Part of keeping up my little counseling business is getting my required continuing education units. I’m supposed to get 24 hours every two years. I usually do this by attending four six-hour seminars. I pay roughly $200 a pop to sit in some hotel conference room and watch one of my colleagues talk his way through a PowerPoint presentation. Lunch is NOT included in the price.
But being in private practice can be lonely. So I like rubbing elbows with other practitioners, swapping stories and tips and being part of the (sometimes fevered) exchange of opinions. Of course these last two years I’ve had to spend all my free time taking chemo and having operations so no seminars for me!
That’s when a colleague introduced me to online learning. For less than the cost of one seminar I can get all the credits I need from the comfort of my own couch! Basically, I just READ through 50 to 100 pages of material and then take a test over it. And I was BORN to read and take tests! It’s like asking a fish to swim.
And the reading wasn’t exactly challenging. I found that I could take the classes without having to miss a single episode of Animal Cops or The People’s Court. I’d just hit mute during the commercials and read half a dozen pages. In a couple of hours I’d be ready for the test. They even give you five tries to pass!
So during this last week of recuperation I was able to get all my continuing education hours. It’s a relief knowing it’s taken care of, but I still miss my seminars.
Something strange happened when I was driving to work one morning last week. The sky started to clump up revealing eerie patches of blue. Suddenly a dazzling yellow orb broke through nearly blinding me. I pulled over to take a picture of that amazing UFO and then realized it was just the sun.
Yes, it has been raining a lot lately and so the breathless pundits on the news outlets are again tossing around the phrase “worst EVER”. What they really mean is the worst they can remember. And since they can’t remember what they had for breakfast, I guess it IS the worst, for them. I, however, have a much longer memory.
I remember back in the early ‘90s (1990s, not 1890s!) when it rained for three months straight. I was working in an office building that overlooked Turtle Creek as it exited the golf course. Day by day I watched that tiny ribbon of water turn into a raging torrent. Eventually it came over its banks, swamping low lying buildings and closing roads.
Every day I drove over the Trinity River which had turned into a borderless sheet of water. It flooded all the ball parks, topped the levees and closed businesses along Irving Blvd. It was during that period that I saw my first nutria walking along the gutter near my office. It was then that I first heard the term “training” to describe storms that just sat in place, dumping water.
What I didn’t hear back then was “worst ever”. It was a rainy season. That’s all. And after the drought of the 1980s, it was a welcome change. Fast forward 25 years to another rainy season, that’s not even as bad as that one was, and it is the end of life as we know it. Not only that, it’s all our fault!
Despite all our learning, we are right back to thinking we can control the weather - by dancing, sacrificing goats or instituting carbon taxes. How much better things would be if it were only true. The fact is, rainy seasons have been following droughts for as far back as you care to look. The geological record gives us evidence of droughts lasting centuries and floods powerful enough to carve out a Grand Canyon.
But, as the AGW crowd is quick to whine, we are talking about CLIMATE, not WEATHER. Like there’s really that much of a difference. Climate is just the prevailing weather wherever you happen to be. In Siberia it’s really cold. In Death Valley it’s really hot. Whenever the opposite is true, we humans look up at the sky and heave a collective “Huh?” That’s when all the trouble starts.
We’ve made the dangerous step from ADAPTING to the weather, to thinking we can CONTROL it. And once you believe you control something, you sort of have a moral obligation to do it. Well, okay, let’s haul out the grill, roast up some goat and dance for sunshine!
I spend a lot of time talking. (Ask anyone!) It’s an integral part of my job, along with all the listening. When I’m not talking, I’m frequently writing, which I consider to be pretty much the same thing. So where does this obsession to communicate come from? While it’s a universal human desire to want to be heard and understood, few people bother to preserve their thoughts for the ages.
Some modern writers I’ve talked with are on an eternal quest to “find their audience” and cash in with lucrative multi-book contracts and movie deals. They succeed at a rate approximately equal to the numbers of high school football heroes who go on to make it in the big leagues. But in my opinion, a REAL writer will always be committing SOMETHING to paper whether anyone cares to pay for it or not.
MY audience pays for nothing, and they react to my posts with a mixture of obligation and embarrassment. I imagine the phrase, “Oh God, what did she write NOW?!” is tossed about whenever a new missive appears. They dutifully read at least SOME of it because they know I might ask them what they thought. I’m sure what many of them think is, “Why does she keep embarrassing herself like this?!” My sons come right out and say it.
Well screw them! At least I took the time to drop them a line which is more than they ever do for me! SOME people even like my stuff. (And then some ask me to take their names off my email list.) A lot of people tell me I should write a book. When I point out that I have and no one seems to want to publish it, they wander off. What they don’t do is beg for a peek at the manuscript.
That’s because we’re overwhelmed with messages these days. Gone are the times when people waited weeks for a letter. Now it’s so very easy to tap out a message and send it halfway around the world that no one bothers to put much thought into it. It reminds me of how people used to talk into tape recorders when they were new. “Hello? Hello? Does my voice really sound like this?”
And who wants to listen to that? So people approach my blog post with the same enthusiasm as the American Idol judges setting up auditions in Nowhere, Ohio. They’re already wondering about what’s in the next town. I feel ignored, my feelings get hurt and for a while, I have absolutely nothing to say.
But it never lasts for long. All too soon I’m scribbling things on one of the dozens of note pads I keep at hand. Soon enough I’m transferring that into a word processing program and honing it down to a tight and eloquent 500 words. And with the press of a button, it shows up in your inbox. You’re welcome!
Knowing how difficult it is to convince my beloved husband to drive me down to Austin, my younger son bought me a bus ticket for Mother’s Day. But this was no ordinary Greyhound. This was Vonlane, “the first-class cabin on wheels”! Only 18 seats, no center seats, free food and drink, free (second-run) movies, free noise-cancelling headphones and did I mention the free drinks?
Strangely enough, even with having to drive down to Love Field and pay for parking, it was still faster and cheaper than airfare. Sign me up! So in less time it takes to argue with my husband about the most efficient lanes to use, I was there, rested and relaxed. My son picked me up and I let HIM know which lanes were most efficient for the 15 minutes it took to get to his house.
Then I got to spend an idyllic weekend with my precious grandchildren doing “the trail”, playing in the park, shopping at the HEB, eating at Whole Foods and watching endless episodes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, who have apparently taken the place of the My Little Ponies as the cartoon characters of choice.
Seeing as I didn’t have to shepherd my husband around, I had more time to notice that I was the only old person in Austin, TX. I already knew that most of the people I saw were under thirty, clad in bicycle shorts or yoga pants and tiny, racerback T’s. Still I had assumed there had to be SOME older people around. I found myself searching for grey heads the way birders hope for a glimpse of the rare California condor.
There just weren’t many out there. And it was humiliating to have the few of them I did see zipping past me on the walking trails in their pedal-pushers and vintage rock ‘n’ roll T’s, arms and legs pumping like tri-athletes. I felt like I needed to wear a sign reading “Just had abdominal surgery, suffering from incision-site hernia”. But it wouldn’t have done any good. I would’ve still heard their snickers as they passed.
My older son is constantly pressuring me to move to Austin. He says we’ll have more time to visit, but I know that’s a lie. I’ll still just get a few stray phone calls from some international airport when he has a lay-over. But maybe if I do move down there, I can discover where all the old folks hang out. I image there’s some secret lair, heavily guarded and passcode protected, where we can all get together and gripe about young people these days.
Maybe if it doesn’t exist, I can create it. Image the ads I’d run. “Wanted: Mature adults in age-appropriate physical condition. No crystal-gazers need apply.” Think I’d get many applicants?
Those of you who believe that ObamaCare has been the salvation of our healthcare system are advised to press delete right now, or turn the page and read something else. You aren’t going to like what I’m going to say. But it’s time someone told the emperor that he has no clothes. And given how much experience I have putting my foot in my mouth, I figure that person is me.
First of all, most people don’t even understand what “insurance” is. It’s a money-making business. The easiest thing to understand is life insurance. If you’re 20 today, odds are you’ll live at least another 60 years. So a company wanting to wager that you won’t die before then (to the tune of $1,600 a year) has a good chance of getting all their money back when they insure your life for $100,000.
You die the day after your 80th birthday, they break even, and they’ve had your money to invest for decades. You die before that, they lose out. But the odds are in their favor and the house always wins. Still, it’s a good investment if you have a spouse and family who depend on your income.
Things get messier when you look at disaster insurance. Sure, anyone will write you a policy for flood damage if you live in the Mohave Desert. Just try getting it in coastal Florida. Likewise hail damage is much more expensive here in tornado alley than it is in, say Southern California. Is it still a good investment? Depends on how much risk you’re willing to take.
Things get downright murky when you talk about health insurance. Originally, this was an extension on life insurance - to help you deal with life-changing illnesses or injuries that were going to permanently deprive you of an income. It was a pretty good investment when you looked at it that way.
Recently, however, people have come to feel that “insurance” means “I don’t pay”. Get the sniffles and need a decongestant, you don’t pay – for either the doctor’s visit or the prescription. Ruin your lungs by smoking three packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years, insurance means you don’t pay for that oxygen machine and all those visits to the ER with “breathing trouble”.
This is no longer insurance, it is free healthcare. And like anything that’s free, people don’t value it. Why should they bother taking care of their own health? That’s what doctors are for! And insurance is to pay for the doctors! Now we’ve taken it a step further to the point where we think we shouldn’t even have to pay for the insurance! No matter what we do to ourselves, we should be able to get it fixed… for free!
Sorry. Despite what all the “democratic socialists” believe, there is no such thing as a free lunch. I think Margaret Thatcher said it best. “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”
My mom and I never got along. There were no raging fights or icy silences. She was too decent and intelligent a person for that. But she did let it be known that I was not growing into the daughter she wanted. Thankfully she was kind and patient enough not to try to force me into a mold I just wouldn’t fit (country club debutante). Still I grew up fully understanding that the woman I wanted to be (Sheena of the Jungle!) was neither a reasonable nor an acceptable choice.
So there was always a coolness between us. We almost never got together unless I was willing to make the nine-hour drive up there to see her, something I did with increasing frequency as she got sicker from the cancer that eventually killed her. I cried a lot during those drives. I cried when she died, and I cried at her memorial service. But then all the tears dried up. As the weeks, months and finally years passed, I began to wonder if I had ever really loved my mother.
Then there came the day I was in the tub and the flood gates opened. For nearly an hour I sobbed like the lonely little girl I had always been. I remembered all the things my mother had taught me, all the things she did, not because she wanted to do them, or even approved of them, but because they gave her daughter joy. And I realized that underneath it all, we had always loved each other.
The other day I filled up a bath of really hot water, drew the shower curtain and sobbed like a baby. I was worried about some family members, angry at others. I was facing another surgery with all the physical and financial uncertainty that entailed. I was missing my grandchildren and bemoaning the fact that my sons never call.
To top it all off, it had been a very bad week for some of my clients and I felt like a total failure as a counselor. Intellectually I knew that most of them were doing just fine and told me all the time how much I’d helped them (even though they really helped themselves). But I still felt useless and hopeless.
I wept for all the need and pain and misery in the world. I wept over how people can be so hateful, cruel and unforgiving to each other, especially their own families. I wept because everything we build will eventually fall and everyone we love will eventually die. Something about all that hot water really pulls out my tears. Hydrostatic homeostasis?
So you might say I had a good, ol’ pity party. But sometimes, that’s just what you need. You just can’t make a habit of it. Eventually you have to dry off and get back in the game, cleaner in body and mind.
When I was a tween my mother put me to work doing laundry. (I still have nightmares of her marching me down the basement stairs to piles and piles of dirty clothes.) When I was that age I naively thought that the saying “it’ll all come out in the wash,” was about erasing stains and smells. Then there was the incident with the heart-covered silk boxers I found in the guest room sheets.
We’d just had an uncharacteristic amount of company so there were multiple suspects. I wasn’t even sure which set of sheets they were in. I had changed the bed for each wave of guests and when they were gone, washed all the linens together. The boxers showed up in the drier.
“Who do you suppose left these?” I asked my husband with enough accusation in my tone to suggest it just might have been him.
“I don’t know,” he responded, snatching them from my waving hand to get a better look. “One of your kids?” He tossed them back at me. “They sure aren’t mine.”
For a while I kept those shorts by the back door and I questioned every guest we had. But nobody copped to the crime. (And SOME of them were downright offended!) Eventually I just threw the boxers away. I figured that someone recognized them but was too ashamed to admit it. Or maybe my husband’s secret is STILL safe.
At any rate, I now know what the expression really means - that no matter how hard you try to hide something, it will eventually come out. Why don’t people realize this? And, more to the point, why do they expect people to lie for them?
In a lot of relationships there is the implicit understanding that we just aren’t going to talk about “that”. “That” could be substance abuse, an affair, a crime, a sexual orientation. To let anyone else know about “that” is an unforgivable sin. Airing the family’s dirty laundry, to take the wash day metaphor for another lap.
While I agree that not just anyone need know the horrible truth, I still think that keeping secrets can turn them into something toxic. They no longer just taint the offender, but also those keeping silent. They become unwitting accomplices who stand to lose no matter what the outcome, being portrayed as either betrayers or enablers.
So why deny it? (Honey?) We all have dirty laundry. The only way to keep your clothes pristine is to never wear them. (Then that becomes a whole OTHER problem.) The only way to keep your life perfect is to not live it. This world being a messy place, you’re bound to dirty up both life and clothes multiple times. When that happens, you just have to wash up.
(Or make your kid do it. Or when those boxers come out of the drier, deny, deny, deny!) Okay I’m just kidding about that last part!
Okay, this is the last column for a while that will deal with religion, I promise. But I just wanted to tell this story while it’s still fresh in my mind.
Whenever I can cajole my beloved husband into driving me down to Austin to visit my precious grandchildren, we have a standard schedule. We pack Thursday night and leave the minute he gets home from work on Friday, about 2pm. Then we fight traffic, and each other, for four and a half hours until we arrive at my younger son’s house, angry and exhausted.
Of course that’s quickly forgotten the minute my little granddaughters run into my arms and I sing them the special Gram Gram song they’ve been hearing from me since birth. (Little bird, little bird, fly through my window.)
We try to schedule a couple of meetings with my globe-trotting older son, his wife and my grandson, usually at a trendy downtown restaurant. This being Austin, there is no lack of those. And, of course, I have to sing the Little Bird song then, too. Those kids will know that song until the day they die and they will think of their grandmother when they do. (Darn right!)
The weekend is a rush of walking the trail around Town Lake, visiting kid-friendly parks, attending piano recitals, grocery shopping and eating, eating, eating. I had forgotten how often kids want to eat. In between it all are endless replayings of Frozen and My Little Pony episodes.
At the crack of dawn on Sunday, my husband loads up the car. We have a hurried breakfast and get back on the road “before the traffic gets heavy”. So it is a quick visit. A sort of hit-and-run. Which wouldn’t be so bad if I could do it once a month, but with all my operations and recovery periods (and the fact that my husband refuses to drive me that often) it just hasn’t been happening. I’m supposed to be looking into airline tickets.
When we make these micro-visits, we miss church. But not really. We found a radio station that will preach to us and sing with us throughout the entire trip. There are even programs about reconciling evolution to the Bible, how to have a Christian marriage or business, and just good ol’ stories about one man’s walk with Jesus. (JA-EEEEE-sus!)
There’s something about being trapped in the car that makes us pay more attention. I have to admit, there are far too many times when I’m in my “real” church that I find myself thinking about lunch. (Or that I still need to write this column.) In fact we get so into these programs that we’ve decided we need to buy a designated “car Bible” so we can follow along, chapter and verse.
The trip home is always calmer and shorter. I think the preaching has a lot to do with it. If only we could find these programs for the trip down.
Every so often someone will show up at my office and describe a bad experience he has had with another counselor. I hate to hear it. I like to think that we are all professionals doing our best to help our clients within the confines of accepted practice and ethical considerations. But then I remember, not everyone who SAYS he’s a counselor actually has any credentials for it.
As I have said many times (MANY TIMES) you really have to shop around for a counselor the same way you shop around for a doctor. The first thing you should ask is, “Do you have a license to provide services in the state of Texas?”
Don’t make assumptions! People can CALL themselves counselors just because they like the sound of the word. Likewise for “therapist” and “life coach”. It doesn’t mean they went to school for it, or passed an exam to be able to do it. It doesn’t even mean they’ve ever done it before.
Unfortunately, I hear a fair number of complaints about people who describe what they do as “Christian Counseling”. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? I mean Christianity is all about love and forgiveness. How could this be a bad thing? Believe me, it can. (Do I REALLY have to talk about disgraced TV preachers and pedophile priests, or do you get my drift.)
But usually people haven’t been abused or “fleeced”. They typically say something like, “She was a nice lady, but she just didn’t seem to be helping me.” They were told to pray, to “let go and let God”, to get more Jesus in their lives. Nothing wrong with that, but how does it really address those panic attacks or the rage you feel when you think about your childhood?
I don’t mind letting people know I’m a Christian if they ask. I’ll also let them know that I went through a pretty lengthy period of agnosticism before I got where I am. AND that I find some of those Eastern religious concepts mighty attractive. But I am NO authority on Christianity. What I am is a seeker – after reason, after fairness, after balance.
If people expect me to give them all the answers, well, they expect too much. I’m pretty well-read, I have a wealth of experience and common sense and I’m not the dullest knife in the drawer. But as for pronouncements from on high, sorry, try the next name on your provider list.
That being said, a lot of “Christian” concepts are helpful in counseling, like the afore-mentioned love and forgiveness, as well as industry and self-discipline. But more important than even these is the understanding that we are all equal before God. It isn’t intelligence, money or even good works that makes us precious. We are worthy simply because we are.
Which doesn’t mean we can’t learn to take better care of ourselves ,the ones we love, and our community at large. That I CAN help with!
Personally and professionally I’ve known people who say God talked to them. For some this was a single powerful instance. Perhaps a warning. (“Something told me to check the back door.”). Or a deeper understanding of oneself. (“I knew right then that I was going to become a teacher.”).
Some people say they’re occasionally guided during their prayers, that an understanding comes over them, pointing them in certain directions, laying things upon their hearts. Still others experience God as a daily presence, chatting with them like a good friend or even thundering out His displeasure.
Over the years I’ve had some “religious” experiences. I’ve marveled at the connectedness of all things, and been awed by the mind that could create such dazzling complexity. And while I’ve had some profound insights, I’ve never heard a voice or what I would consider a personal message. I wish I would.
So I’m not discounting people who say they’ve heard the voice of God. I just have a problem with people who act like they know what God is thinking, and what He’s going to do. These modern day prophets are no more popular than their Biblical counterparts. Usually because all they do is helpfully inform people that God is angry with them. Some even suggest that others’ misfortunes are God’s punishments.
I consider this unhelpful at best, blasphemy at worst. Who but the most vain among us would presume to understand the ways of God? When these diviners tell their “loved” ones that they’re on God’s Naughty List, what they’re really saying is “I WISH” God would punish you.” With so many ways to spread hate around, why do they have to drag God into it?
Well, because it makes them feel powerful, important. It gives their pronouncements more weight. (It isn’t just me who thinks you’re worthless scum. God does, too!) And while they’re busy letting everyone else know exactly why they’re damned, our seers don’t have much time to look at their own faults. (Here’s a BIG one – acting like you can order God around.)
This is where they show themselves up for what they are – ungodly. The essence of Christianity, at least, is love. There’s that whole Golden Rule thing which the haters always seem to forget, unless they really WOULD like to be told repeatedly that they’re so hopeless even God has given up on them.
So beware false prophets. (Say! Where have I heard THAT before?) When someone starts tossing God’s name around like he's got His private cell on speed dial, ask yourself this, “Why would Our Lord waste His breath telling this clown what’s wrong with me? Wouldn’t the All-Powerful just tell me?”
Some of us have always been obsessed with perfection. Unlike MOST of us who are content to slog along in less-than-ideal circumstances. Ironically, we tend to be happier than those restless ones, setting the bar ever higher for themselves, and, consequently, for the rest of us. So just what IS perfection? Or, rather, what is a perfect human?
Well, if you look in the Bible, you’ll see that God created us perfect. We didn’t have to do anything! But then we “fell”, ironically for wanting to be wise. That would mean that when we were running naked through the forest, communing with the plants and animals, we were the pinnacle of humankind. That would mean those hippie communers had it right all along!
The problem with a commune is that people living in close quarters eventually start treating each other very badly. We lie, steal, fight, make a mess of the place. Since we can’t just wait for God to come walking through the garden and straighten things out, we’ve got to keep ourselves in line. So we made laws.
But WAY before we got to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, there were much more mundane wrongs to be addressed. Like where you throw your garbage and whom you can marry. Seems out-of-the-garden-variety homo sapiens needed a lot of cleaning up, physically and morally in order to just get along.
Even then the restless ones were not content. It wasn’t good enough to relax in front of the fire after a long day plowing with a bent stick. They just had to figure out a way to get the cows to pull that stick. And then a steam engine to replace them. But with every step forward came unintended consequences
That steam engine required coal, which tore up a mountainside, darkened the skies and condemned an entire population to miserable slavery underground. So we learned to replant, clean up the emissions, use machinery to dig. We even started using “cleaner” natural gas, except now we have that problem with fracking. It just goes on and on. Each new invention requires yet another fix.
And this is where the urge for perfection crosses into pathology. As I see it, the issue is control. If you control something, you’re responsible for it. When things go wrong, it’s your fault. (Unless you’re a politician and then it never is.) Stealing your sister’s identity? Definitely under your control. Making everyone “get along”? Being “the best”? Not so much. If you ever do achieve it, it won’t last long.
Lately we’ve been convinced we control the weather. We’re the reason all those polar bears have to swim! Not to worry. As soon as they can get it in the tax code you’ll be paying for your sins. And I’m sure our government will use that money to buy snow-making machines to cover the permafrost, thus dramatically cooling the planet. (And if you believe THAT, maybe you SHOULD still being running around in the buff.)
Every year in an unbridled spasm of hope, I put in a vegetable garden. And every year I dump hundreds of dollars’ worth of water on that God-forsaken patch of Texas gumbo in order to yield a few quarts of green beans, okra that I hate and more squash than either me or my husband care to eat. The tomatoes, the melons, the sweet corn. None of these ever seem to come to fulfillment.
The problem is that a garden can’t be sustained by hope alone. It takes action, purposeful and properly timed. My garden doesn’t seem to understand that I only get two days off a week. It doesn’t want to wait until it’s convenient for me to water, weed and fertilize. I can’t be sick from chemo or recovering from surgery or just plain lazy. I have to be at its beck and call 24-7 or no cantaloupe for me!
Many other parts of life require such devotion – parenting a child, sustaining a marriage, building a healthy body or a successful career. And yet it is impossible to attend to even these worthy goals all day, every day. First you’d go psychotic from lack of sleep. And while you were focusing solely on one, all the others would suffer from neglect. The key is balance.
Everyone can benefit from some downtime. For example, kids get tired of constantly performing at school and at home. Sometimes they need to get away from adult supervision and let their imaginations roam. In my day this was called “playing”, it was primarily done outside and it doesn’t seem to happen much anymore. All playing today requires an electronic device that, in my opinion, just causes more stress. Perhaps kids need some time away from that as well.
Likewise couples benefit from time apart. It isn’t necessary for you to both have exactly the same activities, hobbies and friends. A healthy relationship can bear periods of separation and be stronger for them. Of course the REASON for the separation is important. Substance abuse, philandering and criminal activity are NOT proper justifications.
Then there is that work-home balance we all hear so much about. Certain professions require more than average commitment. Police officers, ER doctors, fire fighters. These people have to take whatever home life their vital jobs will allow. The rest of us have it a little easier. But you always have to ask the question “Is it worth it to work more hours?” In my experience, time has always been more valuable than money.
But back to my pitiful excuse for a garden. Perhaps a little more time is in order? Or do I really just need someone else’s time? Much as I try, I simply can’t get my husband as involved as I’d like. He already thinks he does too much with the tilling and the putting up of the fence. (Just TRY getting him to water.) Looks like squash again this year!
It’s no secret that I sometimes become infatuated with unattainable men like actors. My extremely patient husband puts up with this to the point of letting me tape posters to the walls of our bedroom (but not on the ceiling therein). My “love affairs” last anywhere from a few weeks to several years depending. They are entirely innocent. I don’t even go so far as to write a fan letter. But I must admit that, at my advanced age, I still enjoy the feeling of falling in love
It is a powerful and potentially dangerous emotion and the frequent subject of discussion in sessions with my clients. To wit: Why do people stay in relationships that are so clearly abusive, whether physically, emotionally, verbally or some combination of the three? You might as well ask drug addicts why they continue to use their substances of choice despite losing their jobs, families or even their freedom.
There is an addictive quality to the sensation of falling in love. That first flush of attraction, the delight in meeting someone who so completely fulfills all your desires. It’s like nothing else in this world. But it is, in many ways, an illusion, a temporary sensation much like the effects of a mind-altering drug. Eventually you come down and thus begins the desperate search to recreate that first high.
When relationships go bad but the parties are unable to let go, that’s exactly what they’re doing. They know that they don’t get along, that they treat each other badly and spend most of their time being miserable, but they still cherish a hope that they might again experience that rush of falling in love. With each reconciliation they get a brief taste of it, and so they stay in the cycle of break up and make up.
Those of us watching from the sidelines can’t comprehend it. We console the injured party and help to forge a separation only to watch him or her run right back into the maelstrom. Eventually friends and family get tired of the drama and step out of the situation. That is frequently right when I step in.
As with drug abusers, there is just no way to make a person let go of his addiction. He simply has to get to a point where he’s had enough. Some say that you need to hit rock bottom, but that isn’t necessarily the case. I know people who have been able to let go long before that, as well as people who hit the bricks again and again only to get right back into the chase.
But at some point with a love addiction, you have to realize that what you want isn’t the person who’s making you unhappy right now. What you want is the idealized version of him you created when you first fell in love with him. But that just wasn’t real. You have to let go of the fantasy and move on.
These days people toss around statistical data like they crunched the numbers themselves. Maybe it’s the presidential race that’s got us obsessing over the percentages. And whether it’s increased taxes, or reduced employment, the growth of the deficit, or the extent of the polar ice cap, people argue up a storm about those percentages.
But why? Why should we get our collective panties in a twist about a bunch of numbers that don’t even amount to a full integer? Besides, we all know that you can make the numbers do whatever you want them to. I like the way Mark Twain put it. “There are lies, there are damnable lies, and then there are statistics.”
But there is one statistic I’ve been reminded of lately: That in any volunteer organization, there are 20% of the people who do 80% of the work. The question is, “which one are you?” Taking the middle way, as usual, I am sometimes the one, sometimes the other. Depends on how dedicated I am to the project.
Let’s look at some of the reasons why people don’t get more involved. Laziness is a big one. After a hard day at work you just want to lie back on the couch, not bake and ice three dozen cupcakes or sew up some Wise Man costumes. Time is another. If I’m working from seven am to seven pm six days a week, I’m not going to be effective as the soccer coach, no matter how much I might enjoy it.
Lack of information is another reason. Most volunteer organizations don’t have much in the way of an advertising budget so their activities seldom make the front page. If you want to help out, you sort of have to know where to go and when to show up. Then there are those groups that have been led by a central clique for so long, anyone who tries to get involved is quickly frozen out.
There are several other reasons that we don’t often consider: Poverty and fear top the list. Simple things like not having any decent clothes to wear or even gas money to get there can keep people isolated and uninvolved. Even those with the material means, often don’t believe they have the mental or emotional strength to stand up and take part. Imagining how badly they might screw up, they decide to just stay home.
The one time I was in charge of a volunteer organization was when my kids were in band. I headed up the Concessions Committee (the most important one!) for two years running. I had two objectives – to make volunteering fun and easy. And mandatory. I know, I know, but you get to pick the day you want to work, so just pick one. Or two. Buddy up with a friend for a shared experience.
But for God’s sake, do it! Be part of that 20% at least sometimes! Just do it! (Hey, nice slogan.)
Every now and then I get a client with DID. What’s that, you ask? Well it’s the new shrink speak for what we used to call Multiple Personality Disorder. Which is what most people think of as “Split Personality”. Confused? Maybe it will help you to know that the new phrase stands for Dissociative Identity Disorder. No? Didn’t think so. Think Sybil.
DID is rarer than hen’s teeth, and there are many clinicians who don’t even believe it’s a real thing. When a client says he has it, I’m always fascinated when he lists his alters (psych speak for other personalities) right down to gender, occupation and appearance. Amusing and insightful, but definitely not DID.
The truth is, if you have DID you almost never know it. What you DO know is that you lose time. It was a Friday night. You had more than a few drinks. Then you wake up Sunday morning in jail bruised and disheveled.
“Who’s Vickie?” the guard asks.
The sound of the name shakes you to the very core, but doesn’t bring up any information.
“I… I’m not… I don’t know,” you stammer.
“Well that’s who you said you were, despite what’s on your license. You’ve got PI, criminal trespass, destruction of property and resisting arrest. Anyone you want to call?”
And it’s not the first time. Over the years you’ve lost jobs, lost friends, lost the trust of your family. So they send you to me. And I have the difficult duty of telling you that your personality is shattered but nobody bothered to tell you.
Theories of why this happens vary widely. The common factor is abuse. The alters are frequently tasked with guarding and releasing the resulting rage and sorrow. The treatment is always the same. Bring the emotions into the present and the alters serve no more purpose. As with most things, easier said than done.
But what about those people who really don’t have DID and just want to believe they do? Usually they’ve been through multiple providers and are no better for it. Sometimes that’s because the providers don’t believe in DID. More often they’re just at a loss about how to treat what they’re seeing.
But this is it in a nutshell. “Forbidden” emotions – rage, fear, grief, sorrow – have all taken on lives of their own. Denied acceptance, they engage in “stealth expression”, coming out when you’re not really paying attention. It’s just easier to cope if you think, “It wasn’t me who slashed all my stepfather’s tires. It was Vickie!”
“No. It was you. At least that’s what the surveillance video shows. Now let’s talk about why you might want Mr. Stepfather to suffer.” Unfortunately, the smarter and more creative you are, the better you are at driving yourself crazy. Some people have invested a lot of effort breathing life into their alters. It’s hard to give them up. But really they’re just feelings. Accept them, then let them go. Bye bye, Vickie!
And no I’m not telling you to write a memoir. Trust me, the only way to get one published these days is if you’re already famous, or you knew someone famous. Intimately. No, I’m saying that we all need to be able to speak up for ourselves and that means having the courage to tell your own story.
It frequently happens that a client will have some deep, dark secret he wants to keep from the world. This can be something he’s actually done, but more often it’s something that merely happened to him. But somehow the news got out and now everyone is talking. He’s mortified, afraid to show his face outside the house. Naturally, this makes him very depressed so he (hopefully) ends up in my office.
I want to launch right into my speech titled “Not Giving a Flip about What Other People Think”, but that’s really more of an advanced, rather than an introductory, class. The fact is that we ALL care what other people think about us, even me. When everyone you know and/or care about is dishing the dirt about you, it can be tempting to just run and hide, but that is exactly what you CAN’T do.
The most important thing to remember is that silence implies guilt. Think of that guy who sits on the witness stand and takes the “Fifth” over and over. “What a weasel,” we think. “Why doesn’t he speak up for himself if he doesn’t have anything to hide?” Of course he’s dealing with the intricacies of the law and we’re merely addressing gossip.
The worst thing you can say is nothing. When faced with a really good story and not enough detail, people will always fill in the blanks. What they use depends more on their character than anything approaching the truth. Those who don’t like you won’t hesitate to bring you down a few notches. Those who love you will be more skeptical.
The trick is to be truthful, make sense and appeal to their better instincts. If you’re guilty, admit it freely. There’s something noble about saying you made some mistakes, got out of hand, or even “really lost it”. Only the most hypocritical can’t admit that they’ve gone wrong a time or two themselves.
Say how sorry you are, what you’ve done to atone for your sins and just how much you’re looking forward to getting the whole sorry business behind you. And whatever you do, don’t trash the people spreading the rumors. Be understanding. “It’s sad when she says all those things, especially in front of the children, but I guess I’ve really let her down.”
If you aren’t guilty, be sure to forgive people for getting it wrong. “I can see how it would look that way,” you assure them. Then launch into your version quickly and succinctly. It should take no more than a minute or two. Then get on with your day!
One of the many things I don’t like about my husband is the fact that he can eat 14 meals a day and still not gain an ounce. One Saturday morning we were going to go out for breakfast. Of course we can’t go anywhere until after “The Viewer’s Voice” is over, so that meant we would be leaving around 8:00 am.
We planned to go to IHOP, not a place known for skimpy portions and low-calorie fare. Nonetheless, my husband had to eat twice before we left the house. To go eat. Now if he would simply embrace his voracious appetite I could accept it better. But he hides it. He’s embarrassed to eat so much in front of others, especially strangers.
I remember one of the first times I took him home to meet my family. We had just had lunch, which at my Dad’s house means lots of bread and cheese. After the cleaning up, he took me aside and said we needed to go get something at the store. It wasn’t until I was in the car that he let it be known he was going out for a burger and fries.
“We just ate!” I exclaimed.
“Well I’m still hungry.”
“There’s tons of food left! Just make another sandwich!”
He had no answer for that. He just proceeded to buy a value meal and scarf it down. It’s been 15 years and he’s just getting to the point he can eat in front of my family. Not so at church pot-lucks. I have to heap my plate to overflowing and gradually slide items over to him because he refuses to fill his plate, much less go back for seconds.
Another thing he does is nag. Every month I hear about the satellite bill and how we could “get all the TV we wanted for free!” with an antenna setup. I tell him to go ahead and do it, but it somehow never gets done. Until last weekend. He got himself a little TV for the kitchen and hooked it up to the ugly wire gizmo that’s been sitting on the shelf so long I’ve started threatening to put it out with the trash.
Suddenly he was getting dozens of channels. Dozens of channels of old western movies, old western TV series and old western musicals. I don’t think a show on there was in color. And that’s when my husband moved into the kitchen on a permanent basis. There he can eat his 14 meals a day and never have to go a second without witnessing a gun fight or bar brawl.
Lying on the couch doing my crosswords I hear the sound of galloping hooves and whooping war cries drift through the bar opening. Those are punctuated with the sounds of the refrigerator opening and closing and the microwave humming along. And, of course, the homey clink of silverware on ceramic. Am I jealous? You bet! I get fat just watching him!
You want to get a bunch of counselors mad, just tell them what a positive change Dr. Phil has made in your life. We counselors just hate to be upstaged by the likes of Dr. Phil and his ilk – TV or radio shrinks who make it all look so easy. They’re kind of like TV preachers – lots of sound, little substance. And yet they garner the public accolades (and big money) those of us in the trenches seldom enjoy.
The problem with Dr. Phil is that he’s tailoring his therapy to fit into neat little 30-minute segments. He has to show results fast, hopefully before the final commercial break. And most of his interventions are just some variation on the theme, “Suck it up, buttercup!” That is NOT how therapy really works.
Most people who show up in my office have a bunch of relatives and other well-wishes who have helpfully suggested that they “just get over” whatever problem is bothering them. If that worked I’d only have to see people once. They’d tell me their problems, I’d tell them to get over it and we’d be done.
In reality, therapy can be a long and painful process. Progress can be slow with frequent relapses. When people watch Dr. Phil they get a very skewed idea of what to expect from me and, frankly, I resent it. But it is my wont to study my enemies, to keep them close, as the Godfather wisely advised.
When I knew I was going to be out for several weeks with my cancer surgery I went to Half Price Books and got a double armload. Besides cleaning out the anthropology shelf as usual, I glommed onto a section where all the books were only $2 or $3. One of them was Dr. Phil’s Relationship Rescue, allegedly a New York Times best seller 16 years ago. Okay, considering how difficult couples counseling is, I figured it was worth $3 to see what the good doctor had to say.
It was difficult just getting past Dr. Phil’s grinning face on the dust jacket. The urge to punch was strong, but I fought through it and began at the prologue. I soon realized that it and the first couple of chapters merely told me what the rest of the book was going to be about and that it was going to be hard. I believe the phrase “get real” was used multiple times.
Plowing on I soon realized I had found my next “awake in the middle of the night and unable to get back to sleep” book, something so boring and repetitious that I get drowsy before I’ve gone more than a couple of pages. I’ll admit he made some good points that I intend to shamelessly steal, but they could have been summed up in less than one chapter. God knows how much money he got for that.
Am I jealous? You bet! But at least I have something guaranteed to put me right to sleep.
When I was in 5th and 6th grade, we had some very cold winters in Kansas. I’m sure it was worse other places. But we didn’t have 24-hour weather radar back then, so we didn’t really worry too much about conditions in other parts. We just hunkered down, kept a fire going and enjoyed the snow. The power might go off, sometimes for days. But we were cozy with candles and a gas stove and lanterns from our camping supplies.
We didn’t worry that winters were just going to keep getting worse if we didn’t do something RIGHT NOW. Bitter weather was nothing new for us Kansans. I remember reading tales of white-outs on the prairie when snow drifted over the barns and people got lost feet from their doors, freezing to death in the howling blizzard. By contrast I had it easy with no cows to milk or chickens to feed.
When I was a kid we didn’t have endless hours of breathless disaster coverage assuring us that circumstances had never been so dire. In blissful ignorance we made the best of every day, confident that eventually the streets would be plowed and the power restored. We were really in no hurry to stop sleeping in front of the fireplace and go back to school anyway. Soon enough we’d be sweltering under the summer sun, praying for a drop of any kind of moisture, be it rain, snow or hail.
When did we stop being a nation with a “can do” attitude and become a bunch of helpless victims? Even the civic leaders who were interviewed during “the WORST blizzard of ALL TIME” were grim-faced and pessimistic. They should have been giving everyone a rousing pep talk and assuring them that things would be back to normal in short order. Instead they gave the impression that the world truly was ending and everything was hopeless.
Give me a break! People need to have more faith in themselves. They should realize that they have sources of strength they will never realize until they are sorely tested. That’s a good thing! What’s that saying about gold having to go through the furnace to become a thing of beauty? We need to toughen up and stop being such wimps. Speaking of whom….
I remember one winter a few years ago when the power went off and I went looking for something to snack on in the refrigerator. My husband began to rage about how I was going to ruin all our food by “letting the cold air out”! I had to laugh. “Honey” I began, “if there’s one thing we’ve got plenty of right now it’s cold air. Shoot, my mother used our garage as a second refrigerator/freezer every winter. I really don’t think we need to worry about our food spoiling.”
But then he’s just a Dallas-born city boy who’s afraid of dirt and bugs.
Whenever an insurance company signs me into their network, they always ask me for my specialty. Truth is I don’t have one. I tend to welcome all comers. True, most of my clients are struggling with the one-two punch of anxiety and depression brought about by verbal/physical/sexual abuse. But I get my share of people suffering from grief, relationship conflicts and difficulties adjusting to life changes.
I almost never turn anyone away, but I have to admit that I am not equally effective with everyone. A lot of that has to do with what people expect from therapy in the first place.
Most of them are very reluctant to visit a counselor. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made an appointment with someone, only to get a call from a friend or family member who tells me that the potential client is refusing to come in. I always wonder what they’re afraid of? I mean what do they think I’m going to do that's so unpleasant?
First people worry that I’m going to pry into their personal lives. Well duh! I’m not psychic. If I’m going to help you deal with your issues, I have to know what they are and that means you’re going to have to tell me. But I am strictly bound by confidentiality rules which I take very seriously. I don’t talk about anything a client tells me without his or her express permission. Preferably in writing.
Second, people think I’m going to judge them. I don’t. I know that everyone (including me) has thoughts, feelings and impulses that run the gamut from angelic to downright evil. And I also know that everyone has done or said things they are not proud of. My judging you serves no purpose. Besides, you’ve already got plenty of people in your life who are judging you (badly). I’m much more concerned with how you see yourself.
Third, people think I’m going to make them do things that they don’t want to do – face their fears, drop old habits, atone for past mistakes. If only I could! One of the first things I teach in therapy is that you can’t make other people do anything. Me neither! It would be great if I could just lay my hands on you and shout “Heal!” and everything would be better. Doesn’t work that way. (Darn it!)
With counseling, as with most things in life, you get out of it what you to put into it. People who are ready and willing to work toward change usually achieve it. Those who just want someone to gripe to will be griping about the same things year after year.
But not everyone is at the same stage in their self-discovery. Sometimes, during the course of therapy, people figure out what they need to change, but they simply aren’t willing to do it yet. I can respect that. Nothing wrong with breaking off counseling for a while. Feel free to come back when you’re ready to try again.
When my second cancer surgery took a turn for the worse I realized just how little control I have over my life. My four-day hospital stay turned into nine. I was at the mercy of an endless parade of “medical personnel” who were all giving me shots, pumping me full of fluids and handing me pills, none of which I could identify. I was too weak and in too much pain to question any of it.
I guess it was all for the best because I began to recover and was finally able to leave the hospital. During my two weeks at home, I gradually began to regain some feeling of control over my life. Gradually. At first I couldn’t bathe or dress myself. I was dependent on people to bring me food and drive me to appointments.
Along with caring for me, my husband had to take over many of the tasks I usually did – running errands, cleaning house, getting and sorting the mail. As I observed him doing these things day after day, I watched closely for any signs of resentment, any hint that he thought I was just faking it and being lazy. (There were a couple, maybe.)
I had long hours every day to wallow in self-pity, feeling like I’d never get better, never get back to work, never recover financially. And I cried. Something I almost never do. But I was crying almost every day, usually in the evening when I had to change the dressings on my incisions and I could see what a horrific mess my body had become.
But along with the darkness, there was light. I prayed daily and praised God for each improvement, no matter how modest. And I made it a habit to count my blessings. It’s strange what made the list.
First and foremost were my washer and drier. Due to “seepage” I was forever soaking whatever I was wearing or laying on. But right there in my own home, just steps from my couch, were the wonderful machines that made it possible for me to begin and end each day with clean clothing and bedding.
Then there was my bed, that lovely, soft expanse of comfort I could snuggle into and, for seven or eight hours, forget everything that had happened to me. And hot water. Whenever it was time to bathe or clean my wounds I had an endless stream of clean, piping hot water at my disposal. Finally, there was my computer.
I generally look upon that machine as an extension of my job, but in my lonely hours it became a lifeline. It kept me connected to the world and to the people I love. It provided me with entertainment and a sounding board to voice all my anger, fear and frustration. When I get back to work, it's going to be really hard to quit the surfing and to turn my computer back into a business tool.
A lot of people believe that folks who go to a counselor are just wimpy whiners. They also believe that those who try for disability or food stamps are lazy and looking for a handout. In my experience this is patently untrue. My clients usually have to be coerced to start seeing me, and they are deeply ashamed to be taking any type of public assistance.
Typically, they’ve been working from an early age and have always been able to pay their own way. In fact they were often the ones who everyone else turned to for help. Now, suddenly, they’re the ones in need. It’s shocking and depressing. Many of them stay in denial, suffering in silence until some government agency is notified.
I spend a lot of time trying to convince my clients that they not only deserve help, they are actually messing up the “psychic flow of things” if they refuse it. The way I see it, help is a wheel that is always turning, sort of like the wheel of fortune or the circle of life. And in order to keep everything in balance, you have to be willing to play the part you are assigned.
Sometimes you’re on the “giving” side of the wheel, and sometimes you’re on the “taking” side. If you’ve spent most of your life on the giving side, there will come a time when you just have to settle down and accept the fact that you’re on the taking side now. And you have to have faith that the wheel will keep turning. Someday you’ll be back on the other side again.
I give this example. ‘Let’s say your friend had a horrible car accident and needed help bathing, dressing, getting around. Would you step up?” Usually the answer is “Of course I would!” “And how would you feel if you offered that help and your friend refused it?” “Well I’d be hurt.” “So why are you causing other people pain by refusing their help?”
That’s when I see the light bulb go off. “You’re really being very selfish,” I admonish, “by thinking it’s all about you and denying other people the opportunity to be the savior for once. After all, you’ve been paying into these systems for decades. Why shouldn’t you take some back if you need it? Trust me! If I qualified for food stamps I’d be the first in line!”
I know of what I speak. My last surgery didn’t go well. I was incapacitated for quite a while longer than I expected. Without the aid of my husband and church family, I wouldn’t have made it. I had to just lie back and accept the fact that I wasn’t going back to work when I planned, I wasn’t going anywhere!
What surprised and humbled me was just how many people offered help, (even insisted upon giving it). Because I follow my own advice, I took it. I know that, soon enough, I’ll be the helper again!