Tag Archives: self-care

Freedom and modern day slavery

 

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted.  Perhaps I’ll start again- time will tell.  I love to write in this blog, and yet a million other things call my attention away from doing so.  And that is part of what prompts this post.

Let me start before the actual content in saying that this is not in any way intended to be a political blog, and would appreciate there not be any comments of the same.  Politics is a very volatile subject these days and I prefer to keep that out of my therapeutic realm.  I also want to state clearly that my use of slave and its derivatives that follow are in no way intended as a comparison to historical slavery.

So today is the Fourth of July.  It’s our national celebration of our freedom from the British.  We have pool parties, eat good food, watch fireworks and socialize.  Perhaps we fly our flag and spend a few minutes thinking patriotic thoughts.  We celebrate what it means to be free.

But despite my own recent efforts with some points in the win column, I am aware of how easy  and prevalent it has become for us to enslave ourselves.  We become slaves to our jobs, our commitments, our homes, our families, cultural trends and while the list can go on, most of all, slaves to our fears.

Words that define slave:  owned by another, works excessively hard, forced to obey.  Certainly my assertion doesn’t meet that definition in the literal sense.  And yet, I see people every day (and sometimes myself) working very hard to meet the demands of someone or something that is not me.  An “other” be it a job one stays late to work at when they wish they were with their family.  A socially inspired trend that requires spending outside of one’s comfortable budget.  A body that is punished beyond reasonable limits in order to maintain a culturally identified ideal.

But unlike true slaves, we do this however unknowingly by choice.  We put ourselves in the small box like prisons of behaviors and repeat them day after day both because they are familiar and because they are so often unexamined.  This jail has no lock on the door, but we so often go years before we wander over and give it a tug and discover we could have walked out all along.

Fear is perhaps the most insidious of our masters.  It keeps us faithful and in check.  So often, our fears began a very long time ago and are tied to circumstances that no longer exist.  Yet our actions which support them continue to persist.

So today is Independence Day.  Brave people of long ago and soldiers still today die for our right to be free.  Are you brave enough to light a sparkler to begin your own emancipation today?  Here is a quote I recently came across:

One of the  most courageous decisions you’ll ever make

Is to finally let go

 of what is hurting your heart and soul

Bridgette Nicole

 

That’s The Way The Cookie Crumbles

No you didn’t fall of the email list.  I just didn’t do a blog last week.  I decided to try my hand at decorating sugar cookies instead.  Why?  Why not?  My son was performing in a cello recital and I wanted to bring some fun food.

I watched a video and thought, Hmmm this looks easy enough.  So I gave it a try.  Wow, was my experience a lot different than the one of the woman in the video.  My entire kitchen and my body were covered in flour, icing, icing dye, utensils.  It was a major mess.  As of this writing, I still haven’t mastered the skill but I haven’t given up.  I heard Mark Cuban say the other day that he spent 10 years becoming an overnight success.  So if and when I achieve cookies designs that are magazine worthy beautiful, I’m going to tell everyone it was easy. 

Years ago I used to give a lecture with a slide show that contained a slide of a young woman sitting on the back of a lawn chair at the beach.  I used to ask the audience if they wished they could look like the perfect model featured and many said yes.  Then I let them know the model on the magazine probably wished for that as well, because the photo had been digitally enhanced to make her look the way she was portrayed.

Despite knowing this, so many of us deplete ourselves by trying to achieve the look that we feel someone else has, even if we have no idea how authentic their success is or isn’t.  Is it any wonder that we are a nation functioning in large part due to antidepressants?  How can we foster happiness when we live in a perpetual state of feeling as if we are incapable of achieving what we believe others have, in a system that is basically rigged?

I’m not playing the victim card.  Anything but!  I’m playing the “use your critical thinking skills” card.  I’m not suggesting that it’s a bad idea to try and achieve a goal.  But the goal should be realistic and personal rather than as a way to mimic another that you hold in unrealistic esteem.  Even if that person has genuinely achieved a particular goal, you can’t possibly have all of the same predispositions and life conditioning experiences to achieve exactly what they have done.  And they aren’t you.  You have gifts that they can’t or won’t achieve.

So here is what really happened since I started this blog post.  The first batch of cookies looked really horrible.  Picture a kind of “Picasso” cello where none of the parts line up quite right.  And they didn’t taste very good.   So I gave it my best shot and made a second batch.  And they looked well, slightly less horrible, but they tasted really good.  So I took those to the recital.  They were to be eaten, not hung in a gallery and thus, I deemed them “good enough”. 

I’m still planning on taking a live class this weekend because I still want to learn.  But I don’t feel badly about not knowing how to decorate beautiful cookies.  I’ve had no practice, I’m not particularly artistic, and frankly, I have virtually no idea what I’m doing.  The woman in the video made beautiful cookies, but I’m going to guess that she wouldn’t make a good therapist.  And even if she would, I suspect there are still other gifts that I possess which she does not.

This week, instead of looking at something that someone else has that you don’t, try focusing in on your gifts.  This may require that you look at yourself a little differently than you do normally.  If you want to take a real risk in growth, tell someone else about something you do really well.  Celebrate yourself!  And if you need any decorated cookies to help you celebrate, call me.  I just can’t guarantee you’ll recognize them as what I say they are.

Enough is Enough

Someone asked me yesterday how a person ever knows when they are enough.  I thought I would use this post to try and tease out a more thorough answer.

This much I think I know.  I know that for a long period of my earlier life I did not think I was enough.  I thought I wasn’t smart enough, rich enough, pretty enough, thin enough, and probably a whole host of other things, had I thought about them for very long.  How did I know this?  Because there was always someone around me who appeared to be enough and I was different than them.

Today I’m still different than people around me in a variety of ways.  That much hasn’t changed.  But what has changed, is both how I interpret and measure others and myself.  In fact, the gap itself is no longer the measure of anything except difference.

When a person is pretty, they simply are pretty.  It doesn’t make them better or more, it just means they are pretty.  Being more pretty is not a measure of their enoughness, or mine.  Even if they are extremely pretty.

But to disassemble a system of measurement, something else has to take its place.  I think the new system is based on truth, acceptance and having a much wider lens than I previously used.  Let me try and take these one at a time.

Truth:  So often I deluded myself into thinking that acquiring something, be it a physical item like clothing, or less tangible like an achievement would afford me a sense of completion and grant me permission to whatever status group I wanted membership.  Of course every acquisition only left me more depleted and feeling still more illegitimate.  So truth means to see symbols for what they are and to not chase them at the cost of authentic self- development.  Truth also means to search inward to determine whether or not I have truly put forth an honest effort with pure motives.  If I have, it is enough.

A wider lens:  Maturity is largely responsible for adding this tool into my toolbox.  Like many people I too was prone to what I call snap shot thinking.  I only saw life in small snippets, a moment in time.  When I see a beautiful person and think their life is beautiful based on that moment in time, I am severely limiting my view point.  I don’t know if that same individual has financial, emotional, spiritual, physical or relationship challenges.  I don’t know how much effort went in to achieving that beauty and at what cost.  In fact I know nothing about the person.  But if I give them a winning score and compare myself to that winning score, I am not enough.

To widen the lens does not mean to find fault with the other person.  It means to find humanness within both that, other individual (or circumstance) and my own.  Otherwise, it’s like measuring two things, one with English and the other with metric.  They won’t match.  Widening the lens also means for me, to include faith in something much greater than the constraints of this world and my own humanness.  The dilemma with relying only on this world is that it is all so fragile and fleeting.  It’s truly like building a castle in the sand knowing the tide’s arrival is but a few short hours away. It is easier to see one as enough when you strip away the layers of triviality and build on something wider.

Finally there is acceptance.   To accept that I am enough is an active act of willingness.  It is a willingness to ACT.  It means to live with that knowledge and to make choices accordingly.  If I am enough, then it means to live as if that is true.  It means to no longer invest all of my energy into the pursuit of what I think will make me more.  It means to speak more kindly of myself and to not withhold rewards until I reach some higher earned level of wholeness.  And it means to not hold back my efforts with the excuse that they are not important or won’t matter.  They matter. 

This is personal and based on my path.  And please let me be clear that I have no illusion that this is a static and fixed level, but is rather, a work in progress that I need to frequently remind myself about.  I hope there is something useful for you to take while developing your own sense of enoughness. 

 

Forgetting to Remember

Forgetting to Remember

In case it isn’t obvious to you already, let me confess that I am in fact a Pinterest Junkie.  In addition to my craft interests, I also enjoy the funny entries and quotes.  One I’ve seen with some regularity of the latter category is: “What would it be like if you woke up tomorrow with only the things you thanked God for today?”

On more days than I care to admit, my life would be pretty awful if this happened.  Like most people, I seem to forget to remember often enough to take stock in what I have to be grateful about.  The end result of this is probably not that, God will open the heavens with a lightening curse and take everything away.  That doesn’t make the result any less dramatic.  Because what happens when I forget to remember is that, I distance myself from the joy of truly embracing all that I have.  It’s there for me to experience and when I fail to recognize its true value, I get less joy.

There is a pretty funny old episode of the TV show Friends in which Alec Baldwin plays Phoebe’s new boyfriend Parker (you can check it out on YouTube).  He is over exuberant about everything to the point that it drives everyone in his path crazy.  His need to comment jubilantly about every small detail and experience causes Chandler to utter “Somewhere there is someone with a tranquilizer gun and a huge butterfly net looking for that man!”  I’m not suggesting we all become a slightly less annoying version of Parker.  But I am thinking that there is a substantial impact on our mood when we regularly remember not to forget what is around us right now in our lives.

I also have a word of caution.  Sometimes I notice that people remember to appreciate what they have by way of comparing their lot to what others don’t have.  An example of this is “Well, at least I’m not like that person I saw in the wheel chair.”  Another is “There are people starving in some third world country and my belly is full.”  While I appreciate the effort to be grateful, it comes at the cost of finding value only as a measure against someone else having a worse set of circumstances.  This approach is more likely to produce relief at best, guilt at worse, and in either case, not much joy.

It’s admirable to notice the less fortunate but not as a means to bolster one’s own circumstances emotionally.  The way to feel good about what we have is to simply focus on what we have whether or not anyone else has or doesn’t have the same.  Authentic value comes from owning the voice that bestows it, as opposed to temporarily renting it from an outside source.  As long as we depend on something outside us to determine what we find valuable, our happiness is subject to whether or not that outside source wants to continue to validate our need.

The new year is for most of us, off to a robust start.  We are back to our routines, normal schedules and responsibilities.  To avoid having the conversation with yourself in December of 2016 about how much of the year seemed to escape without your notice, this is a perfect time to begin incorporating some “taking notice of what is around you” time.  All it takes is the willingness to remember that this is all you know that you have- right now.  Acknowledge it and if possible, be grateful.

Let the Wobbling Begin

Let the wobbling begin.

I’m going to attempt to create a visual experience for you.  Try and imagine yourself in this scene as you read along.

You are a toddler about 12 months old.  You are used to crawling around when you want to get to somewhere other than where you are.  Your view of the world is predominantly at ground level looking up at everyone.  While this has been fine for a while,  you now realize that others around you are doing things differently.  You also notice that your hands and knees are getting sore.

Everyone around you seems to be getting around on their feet instead of their hands and knees.  Hmmm you think, perhaps I can do this too.  You inch your way over to a table or chair and using all your might, you pull yourself to an upright position.  “There! You exclaim. “That wasn’t so hard.”

Full of confidence and wonder you lean towards the direction you want to go towards.  First your right foot, followed by your left and boom!  Down on your bottom you land.  It looked so easy when you watched others complete the operation, but it doesn’t seem easy now.

Of course you eventually learned to walk, but not without a few good drops to the bottom and perhaps your head as well.  It’s the natural evolution of learning to walk without the conscious processing that I describe above.  Yet, if we were conscious, I don’t think my description would be too far off base.  It might include varying degrees of excitement and fear depending on our nature and our success rates. And of course, there are many other milestone achievements of which we partake as developing children that have a similar structure.

I submit that, to some extent, we retain our childlike approach to change and development throughout the life span.  The differences however, include that 1) we are often more conscious and 2) we are often filled with judgment and fear, both of which, are founded on information we have collected over the years.  That information not even need be accurate, but it still influences our decision making capabilities.

In application, this means that if I had to learn to walk today, I might say to myself “No, I’d rather not, because I don’t want to risk falling.”   Or “I don’t think I’ll take up playing the piano because I don’t ever stick with things.”

Thinking about this topic reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because the trust is not on the branch, but on its wings.  (author unknown).

Perhaps my argument is lost if your position is that you don’t trust your own wings.  But even the most confident will at times lose faith in our selves.  It is during those moments that we can trust that even our baby selves were once brave enough to take the risk towards change.  We can know that sometimes we have to fall a bit to make progress and our boo boos and ouchies will heal.  Wobbling is a sign of progress towards success rather than a prediction of our failure.

The baby in us has the desire for something more.  It remains focused on the goal rather than the limitations.  It is not necessary to recreate a state of unconsciousness to achieve this skill.  Because we now have the ability as adults to exercise choice and reason,  it is a matter of prioritizing the goal we want over indulging the fears, some of which are irrational, so that we might move towards the direction of our goals.  We need not employ denial or ignorance, but rather the confidence that we are strong enough to tolerate the necessary wobbling and sometimes falling as a means to our achievement.  And  to consider that wobbling isn’t a sign of our failure, but is evidence of our willingness to grow.

One Small Step for man… and Woman

Yesterday I had a session with someone I’ve known for quite some time.  I’ve watched her grow considerably from a few years ago.  I originally met her shortly after the dissolution of her first marriage.  She was young; the marriage had been brief.

She began working on her career, knowing all the while she also hoped to remarry at some point and have a family.  Her career has taken her to places near and far.  Yet, despite her attractiveness both physically and psychologically, she hasn’t met another suitable mate.   She understandably finds this disconcerting.  It’s not that she hasn’t put effort into it, because she has.  Although she has met people potential suitors along the way, none, seems to be suitable.  And in case you’re wondering, she is not being too picky.

I sat with her, wishing I could wave a magic wand and produce a perfect candidate, or at very least look into a crystal ball and tell her when it will happen.  Unfortunately, my wand is broken and my crystal ball is cloudy.  I also cannot resort to some text book prescription that will instruct her on exactly what to do to insure her desires will be fulfilled.

Sometimes there is luck and fate to contend with.

What I did do is ask her “If I could tell you without a doubt that, it’s not going to happen, what would you change in your life?”  I wasn’t attempting to be prophetic or pessimistic.  I was relieved by her answer, which was simply “Nothing”.  And I appreciated that she was certain about it.

I was relieved because it said to me that she wasn’t missing any of her life by waiting until it was “Right” in order to live it well.  She was instead, getting up every day and moving towards the things that she could control.  She had settled on living in a place that made her happy.  She had recently changed jobs to find work she felt more authentically aligned with.  While she would like a mate to join her world, she is no longer looking for one who will build it for her.  She is a smart girl in addition to being beautiful and charming.

Sunday I finally got around to seeing the movie Martian by Andy Weir.  I mentioned the book in a recent blog.  As I was leaving the theater, my friend mentioned to me that Weir had originally self -published the book as blog entries.  Intrigued I looked up more information to better understand the story.

Weir, a computer programmer always had an interest in writing, but took a job in programming to earn a living.  After reaching some financial independence he took time off to try his hand at writing.   According to an article in the Washington Post “His first efforts weren’t very good, as he freely admits. He couldn’t get an agent, much less a publisher. He decided that his childhood ambition of being a professional writer was unrealistic, and he went back to computer programming.”

But he kept writing.  He loved writing and it made him happy.  Eventually, he self-published it on Amazon and it was later picked up by Crown Publishing.  The rest was, as they say, “History”.

 

Many people give up on their dreams when they aren’t validated by the outside world quickly enough.  Weir obviously did not.  My client is continuing to do what makes her happy without any evidence that a book deal is in the works.    And others may wait for the life to feel “right” until after their dreams are sufficiently met by their own standards.  The ideal circumstance is to push towards living the life you want, while experiencing the one you actually have.  It is possible to dream of more and live in what it is currently.

Are there any paths you are waiting to take because someone or the world has not given you a clear map?  Are you living the life you enjoy even if nothing else changes?

Happy Hallowthankmas

Happy Hallowthankmas

This weekend is Halloween.  And the next day begins the official time where it’s legitimate to start the barrage of holiday ad campaigns.  That’s not to say that others haven’t already intruded into the not really legitimate time to begin because they have.

Come Saturday night doorbells will be rung by ghosts and goblins scarfing up as much candy as they can carry.  They will take home whatever doesn’t get eaten along their route.  Tired, and wired they will drift to sleep and awaken to parents who realize that it’s November and game day is in sight.  Short sight of only 7 ½ weeks and a mere five weeks for my Jewish friends.  Thanksgiving is just a means to an end; a kind of speedbump on the route to holiday shopping.  And with more stores opening on Thanksgiving Day, it’s not a very big speed bump anymore.

Maybe you are one of the wise men who have already done your shopping.  I doubt this makes you immune to the hustle and bustle which lies ahead.  There are outfits to buy, decorating to compete, parties to attend and a whole host of other unplanned for activities including family dynamics to wrestle with.  ‘Tis the season.

I’d like to propose an idea for you (and me) to think about this year.  I’ve noticed in the past that when I try to plan better I don’t get particularly great results.  For example, if I buy my kids gifts early, I usually end up buying a lot more because as the time grows close, their list gets longer.  I feel compelled to get the thing they now know they “really want” in addition to the things I thought they wanted back in August.   If I plan out my schedule, it often doesn’t include all of the spontaneous things that pop up. But there is also an element in my traditional approach to planning the holidays that contains the inherent quality of building expectations that will ultimately yield disappointment when they, are inevitably, unfulfilled.  I might picture in my head the perfectly decorated house because I’ve planned it.  Only to find that the light bulbs for the tree need replacing once it’s all done and putting new ones on after the fact doesn’t give me the look I had imagined.  Or the gravy turns out lumpy.

So my proposal is simply this.  Use this week before the insanity sits in to take a few moments and think about what you want the holidays to mean to you and how you want them to feel.  Write out a different kind of holiday list this year.  Here is an excerpt from mine.

I want to watch a great movie or two with my family over our time off.

I want to spend at least one lazy morning sleeping in and hanging out with my (3) boys in our pajamas.

I want to look at some old photographs from holidays past with them and share stories about their childhood and reflect on how much they have grown.

I want to try and focus more on remembering to be aware of the millions of things I already have to be grateful for, instead of looking towards what I don’t yet have in my life.  I especially want to try and practice this when I want to purchase things.

I want to celebrate that this is the time of year when I met my husband and started down this path of the life I so love.

My list doesn’t include shoes, or jewelry, or even a new toaster.

My list is still in progress.  What I want may be very different than the things you want and I encourage you to make your list a true reflection of your wishes.

So before your dreams of ghosts and goblins turn into sugarplums and fairies, take a little time out while time is still available.  Unplug from the cultural madness that is ready to pounce upon you and armor up with thoughts of a life designed by you rather than a marketing agency.

I’d love to hear some excerpts from your lists.

 

 

 

Time savers

My son asked me today what blood is made of.   Of course, I didn’t know the answer so I did what I always do.  I went to consult the great wizard known as google.   In case you’re curious, the answer is plasma, red and white blood cells, and platelets.  But as I went to find the answer, I thought about how if I had needed to know that answer when I was a kid, I would have had to get someone to take me to the library so I could consult an encyclopedia.  Boy, have times changed, and it’s amazing how many time saving tools we have available today.  These gifts are not just limited to information gathering.  We have modernized and improved every aspect of our world right?

So that got me thinking about the things I now have available to make my world improved.

After I got divorced I lived in a 560 sq. ft. apartment.  Now I live in a 4K plus sq. ft. home.  Of course it used to take me about 45 minutes to clean what now takes about 4 hours to achieve.  But I have a lot of sweepers, cloths and specialty products to make it “easier and faster”.  And each of those gadgets needs batteries or filters or bags that must be replaced from time to time but…

Transportation.  I can’t imagine how people used to get around in a horse and buggy, much less on foot.  Obviously they didn’t travel often or very far.  But we are so lucky because we have jets to go around the world if we choose.  On a smaller scale I have a car that will take me anywhere very quickly.  Now that is a huge time saver over walking to the grocery store.  The interesting twist though is that I seem to spend a LOT of time in the car.  I pick up kids; drop off kids, tote kids to and fro a variety of places.  I pick up food, dry cleaning, household items.  I make a lot of trips to Starbucks.  I drop off a prescription at Walgreens and then go back to Walgreens.  All because I can.  I have a car to save me effort and time.  It just seems to use a lot of that time.

Communication.

It must have been astounding when the Pony Express began delivering mail.  People who had been cut off from loved ones and even substantial news information now finally had a systematic way of being able to communicate from afar.  My maternal grandfather came to America and wrote letters to his future wife to keep her abreast of his plans for their ultimate reunion.  It must have been grueling for her to wait for his words to finally reach her.

In contrast, I can communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world instantaneously with only a click of my mouse.  Sometimes, I have to wait a few hours because of the time zone differences, as someone in Russia may be sleeping when I send my email, but that is about the limit to my hardship.  Since I no longer have to spend time waiting for replies, I can often make plans or decisions much more timely.  However, I have begun trying to reduce the amount of email I receive because I get overwhelmed by the abundance.  I find myself becoming slower on replies, to even important requests because, there is often more in my inbox that requires my attention than there is attention I have available.

Food

My kitchen is well stocked with pots, pans and utensils for faster and improved baking and cooking.  I also have no shortage of gadgets that I’ve never used.  These are for foods I was going to make, but haven’t had time for.  Mostly these days we eat a lot of take out.  That of course, is why it’s so great that I have the car I mentioned above to help me save time.

Personal care-

Boy I shouldn’t even start on this one.  There are 3 products for my hair and an anti-frizz towel, two different contacts, glasses, hearing aids that require frequent batteries.  I have products for softer feet, smoother skin.  I own anti- wrinkling cream and I don’t even wear makeup.  That would require another whole bathroom vanity.  The current one is filled with mouthwash, toothpaste, a rechargeable toothbrush and charger, a water pick.  It also has a magnifying mirror, hair dryer, assorted tweezers, and nail files and…

So all of this is to say that life is what life is.  We can try and “solve” problems, streamline and minimize efforts and there is nothing “wrong” with that approach.  The problem comes in with philosophy of solving or rather illusions of solving.  Some things simply can’t or don’t need to be solved and its okay to live with them the way they are.  Often our efforts to “simplify” a process results in a far more complex system of maintenance our “solving tools”.  Another approach is in learning to let some things go.  There are some areas of life that can’t be made simpler.  They are difficult and we may need to accept that the effort required to have them in our world is significant.  It’s okay if we choose those things, but we have to become willing to let something else go to achieve a balance in the amount of energy required.  In other words, we can’t give 100% to two tasks simultaneously.  The math just doesn’t work.  I know this, because I looked the answer up on google when I couldn’t find one of my three calculators that purchased.

 

 

 

High Tide

I got divorced in my mid 30’s. I moved out of the house I shared with my then husband in January and hoped by my birthday in March that, my life would look magically like I dreamed it could. That of course,  did not happen. There were times when it was hard to see IF this adventure was going to work out well, much less how it would work. And it was sometimes hard to sit in the period of not knowing while my biological clock ticked loudly drowning out the sound of comfort.

Eventually, however, I met my wonderful husband, married and had two children. At around the same time, I also completed my doctorate. Over a couple of years span, I went from being an unhappily married woman, to a divorced woman, to a happily married mother of two with a doctorate. Talk about identity change!   And despite the odds, I was 40 at the birth of our first son and 43 for the second. Blessed is an understatement.

The other night I re-watched the movie Castaway with Tom Hanks which is such a great movie. I highly recommend going back to view it if you haven’t seen it in a while. What I was most struck by this time around was a soliloquy Hanks gives near the end. Upon realizing that his fiancé had married someone else after she believed him dead, he describes to a friend how he was dealing with the loss of her in his life now that he returned to civilization.

“I was never going to get off that island. I was going to die there totally alone. I was going to get sick or get injured or something. The only choice I had, the only thing I could control was when and how and where it was going to happen. So I made a rope and I went up to the summit to hang myself. I had to test it, of course, you know me. And the weight of the log snapped the limb of the tree. I couldn’t even kill myself the way I wanted to. I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew somehow that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing even though there was no reason to hope. And all of my logic said that I would never see this place again. So that’s what I did. I kept breathing. And one day that logic was proven all wrong because the tide came in and gave me a sail. And now hear I am. I’m back in Memphis talking to you. I have ice in my glass. And I’ve lost her all over again. I’m so sad I don’t have Kelly. I’m also grateful that she was there with me on that island. And I know what I have to do. I’ve got to keep breathing. ‘Cuz tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring.”

It can be excruciatingly painful when relationships end, and even more so if they are not of our choosing. They might be family, romantic, platonic or even loss of a job or other significant structure in our lives. In the aftermath of realization that we are now without that, which we once held dearly, it can be difficult to see into the future of how or if anything is going to work out for us. We are often so attached to what we lost that it is difficult to cultivate a vision forward of what might be possible.

What I love most about Hanks thought is that, he relinquished the need to know what or how and instead began to focus on the most basic of tasks in the present moment. He started with the baby step of just breathing. He stopped trying to control and insisting and instead agreed to live with whatever he had in the moment. And when the next moment brought him something new, he lived with that moment.

I’ve always felt when looking at my own story that something similar happened. After my marriage ended I dated a lot. I agreed to go out with people that I knew were a bad fit but I wanted to make something happen even if by sheer will and persistence. When I quit however, and decided that my life was pretty full just as it was, I met my husband shortly thereafter. He was indeed my sail. And now here I am, talking to you.

Are you on an island without hope? Remember, tomorrow the sun will rise and you never know what the tide may bring in. Until then, just keep breathing.

 

 

Even the Experts Fall Down

Last night was the final showdown on America’s Got Talent. The little guy who scales the tall ladders is clearly not going to win. Last week he took a nasty tumble off of the high ladder. He was saved on the show,  I suspect somewhat out of curiosity and mostly out of sympathy. Even though he was given another a chance to perform last night, he had a very mediocre showing that can’t possibly win him the grand prize. He did his best, but it turns out he was taken to the hospital last week by ambulance after the show. He obviously sustained some injuries that made it far more difficult for him to perform anything strenuous or risky in his final performance. Unfortunately, that pretty much sealed his fate on the show. He may be a professional, but even professionals fall sometimes. And they fall not just in practice, but during peak performances as well.

I describe myself throughout my life as someone who had a few hard knocks along the way, bummed or sad from time to time, but never as one who was “officially depressed”. Until my second pregnancy that is. I pretty much spent 8 months throwing up daily and in general not having a good time despite the fact that, it took me nearly a year of trying to get pregnant with Andrew. I very much wanted a second child and was elated when it finally happened. It also occurred at a wonderful time in our marriage and while I was enjoying toddler years of my eldest child Alex. However, the pregnancy itself was pretty miserable. And over a few months I became clinically depressed. I found it difficult to do anything except get to work and get home. I had to force myself to find joy in Alex at the time, and often would sit and cry for no apparent reason just to get it out of my system. I remember once watching a movie, putting it on pause, taking a bath and crying in the bathtub and then returning to the movie as if I could finally concentrate.

I spoke with my doctor about it at the time and he suggested I try an anti-depressant. He gave me samples that I brought home but elected not to take. I had hoped to nurse Andrew and the antidepressants would have been a no no. I decided to try and get through the remainder of the pregnancy and then decide but I was certain if I continued to feel the way I did after delivery, I was going to take medication. Lucky for me my mood lifted almost immediately after his birth. I remember having a similar reaction but to a lesser contrast, after my first delivery so I was more relieved than surprised.

But this experience taught me first-hand the difference between I’m unhappy and clinical depression. Since that time, in fact I have gone on medication. It seems that my hormones have a mind of their own and don’t always play nicely in my body. Heading into menopause I again talked with my doctor about my less than optimal mood. I didn’t feel blue that time, but I sure was cranky. Very very cranky even though again, my life on the outside looked pretty good to me. And while I’ve tried a couple of times to wean off medication, I think I’ve finally accepted that my body no longer makes on its one whatever it is supposed to, in order for me to not bite the head off of an inefficient bank teller without the help of a little jolt of Celexa.

So I would say for the most part I’m a pro at this mood thing at least certainly in comparison to my non-medicated (or untrained as the metaphor goes) self. But that said I still have my moments. This past week I had my days. I found myself feeling uncharacteristically blue for a few days. I didn’t want to talk to anyone outside of work. I had little motivation to do anything and subsequently got little done. I didn’t want to hear the radio or a book on tape. Ironically, I had been listening to Dan Harris’s 10 percent happier when it hit. And I slept a lot which is very unusual for me. I scanned my life and feelings to see if there was anything unchecked that might be dragging me down. I considered several possibilities and tried to assess if there was something that I needed to attend to. While my life isn’t perfect, I just couldn’t settle on anything specific that felt particularly out of whack.

So I went with it. I let my husband know that I didn’t think anything was wrong but that I was on a mental time out. I slept more, cleared tasks from my calendar and just tried to be as gentle with myself as I could be. Last night I stayed up ridiculously late and predicted I would pay for it with an even lower mood today. But to my surprise, while I did wake up deprived of enough sleep, my mood has clearly lifted. I am myself today ready to tackle projects and be with people. Apparently somewhere along the way I fell down, but I took time to heal and I’m ready to perform at my best again.

I will fall again. It might not be next week or next month. Perhaps I will fall because of something besides my hormones not working well and I will have to heal by taking action other than just time. What I have learned along the way however is that, when depression grips people, no amount of picking oneself up by the bootstraps can wriggle it loose. It’s kind of like Thor’s hammer. It takes the right arm, not the strongest arm to break it free. (Sorry non Avenger’s fans).

For me, the right arm is self-nurturing and self-care. It means to not beat myself up or push myself to do more than I can during those times. It also means to work harder at finding joy wherever I can and having a well- stocked tool box to choose from. Tools like classical music when I can’t tolerate voices talking at me. It means beading small jewelry projects to have a place I can focus and get a quick sense of the ability to complete something. These are just two examples.

What is in your toolbox? How do you behave with yourself when you fall down? Are you too embarrassed to let yourself acknowledge the injury and get it the treatment it deserves?

how will you Fall

This is an excerpt from the lyrics of “bring him home” from Les Miserables:

The summers die One by one How soon they fly On and on

I heard this the other day and it seems appropriate for this week’s blog. The kids are back in school (although one could doubt that if you note the plethora of TV commercials advocating the purchase of supplies). The pool is closing and college football begins this weekend. All that remains missing is, a nip in the air to set the tone. But even with the anticipated heat this week, it is undeniable that summer 2015 is ready for the memory book.

How did you spend it? Will you remember anything that stands out positively or negatively or will it blur into the stream of “summer memories” that meld into one vague feeling?

If the latter is true, then this is the perfect opportunity to think about welcoming in fall and the holidays ahead. Why not consider doing so with your eyes wide open and your heart ready to experience the days ahead, rather than to endure or conquer them with a checkmark of completion.

Digital cameras have become so prolific that we often take a million images never to look at them again. I’ve been guilty of hoping a photo will save the memory for me instead of taking the time to actually enjoy the experience in the moment. Try going on a family or personal adventure without taking photos. Consider instead imprinting the memory in your mind. Gather all the surrounding stimulus, sights, sound and smells to help cement a vivid film for future retrieval.

Make it a goal to try something outside your normal activities. Break a routine, check out a new path or route. You might consider taking on a new hobby or more importantly, ending some old practices that no longer serve you, but instead nibble away at all of your time. Facebook anyone? Last week a blog reader commented on the time wasted on funny cat videos. A few days later I caught myself watching a loop of something stupid, remembered his comment and immediately stopped myself. Thank you!

Another suggestion is to think about the company you keep. Are you spending the bulk of your time with the people you would most like to have in your life?  The people that you say are important to you? If not, what is keeping you from that fulfillment? Work, play? Other people? This is a great time to take inventory and reflect.

And last, but not least, is your health, or lack thereof, preventing you from truly enjoying your life at this time? Physically or mentally are you either disconnected from your body or your needs that you remain numb, or overwhelmed to the extent that it preoccupies your every waking thought? This would be a great time to awaken to the life that is yours and begin with one single step at a time to make changes towards greater fulfillment.

Here are two more line from the song that I’d like to share. They follow those listed in my opening:

And I am old And will be gone

So before you are, consider putting forth the effort so you will not only know you were here, but will have enjoyed the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Who am I?

Most of you know me as a therapist; some as a relative, a neighbor, to others; a friend. The people who spend the most time with me know me as a wife and mom.

When I’m working as a therapist, I have an uncanny ability to remember minuscule details of people’s lives and stories. I sometimes file a piece of seemingly innocuous information into some complex storage system in my brain and can readily call it to the surface without even trying. But, when my alter ego of wife or mother takes charge, I can’t remember where I laid my keys down five minutes ago or which names I originally designated for each of my children.

As a relative to my husband’s family, I can often see things with a kind of clarity not available when viewing my own siblings. As an acquaintance, I’m more detached to various circumstances than I might be with a friend.

When I dress for work, I at least make an effort to put some thought into whether or not my shoes match, or if my hair has been at least touched within the past 24-48 hours. Going to the grocery store is another matter. If you run into whichever personality of mine that shows up there, it’s anybody’s guess. The best you might hope for is that I’m fully clothed and have shoes on as the store requires.

I suspect your many personalities have their own definitive characteristics as well, separating one from the other, and at times blending as beautifully as a Monet painting. I don’t imagine I’m all that unusual in my distinctions, nor do I suspect my own “ multiple personalities” as I describe them, would line up with the DSM. So my purpose in babbling about this isn’t to highlight the fact that these dichotomies occurs but rather to illuminate the notion of whether or not these personalities are congruent with a center core. And, to increase one’s awareness of what degree to which the balance of their presence or absence in the bulk of your day is satisfying to you.

I remember a time a few years ago that I found myself spending what seemed like an awkward amount of time in one of those cheap import jewelry shops. It seemed awkward in that I seemed to have a sudden need to buy a bunch of “bling” when I’m not really a bling kind of girl. Yet it seemed at the time, imperative that I get the junk so I went with the impulse. Upon further reflection, what I realized is that my mommy self had begun to obliterate my girl self. At that point in time, my boys were moving out of toddler stage to becoming, well… boys.  Meaning, there was a sudden surge of testosterone in my household, leaving very little hint of anything girlie around and I was feeling the absence. If I had figured out this need a little earlier I would probably have saved a few dollars and some closet space.

Life can often take twists and turns that result in some of our parts being thrown around carelessly, and in some cases, they are even sadly discarded. And the result can range from mildly disturbing to near terror. I’ve met people who were knee deep in relationships with others before they woke up and upon further reflection, realized that they had nearly suffocated some part of themselves at the first encounter.

Fortunately, our parts tend to remain intact—even when we try our hardest to obliterate them in the service of others. Almost like weeds that pop up through the cracks in the sidewalk, they yearn toward the light to be known to us. And they try to get our attention through behavior.

The next time you find yourself engaging in behavior that doesn’t seem to make sense to you, its time to ask the question “what part of me is trying to find a voice.” But it’s probably a good idea to have that conversation with yourself when others aren’t around. 😉

 

 

Break out the sparklers

It’s been such an odd weather year in St. Louis (and elsewhere), that it hardly seems that summer has begun. Yet, the fourth of July is nearly upon us. Hopefully the rain will enable a few safe celebrations ahead with family and friends for all.

The fourth of July is a time to celebrate the freedom in our country. The freedom that so many of us, myself first on the list, often take for granted.

We are a free nation. And while fifty percent of us disagree with whoever is in political office, we are still free to exercise our voice. I met a young woman from Bulgaria over the weekend who told me she had yearned to attend the camp she and my son were enjoying this year, but had not been able to obtain a visa for the two years prior. To send my son Andrew, all I had to do was write a check.

To camp or not camp is hardly worth dying for. But it is one of the many decisions, from how to educate our children to whether we can or will own property which, we have the right to decide, primarily because someone did die for our choice. Take an extra moment this weekend to thank those who have served and continue to serve for us.

There are many organizations that send cards to active service men. Others that send care packages to troops. These are easily accessible, and help let service men and women know that someone is thinking about them.  Consider passing out small gift cards, even in 5.00 increments at the airport or restaurants to those you see in uniform. At very least, openly express your thanks. Each time I do this (which is not often enough); I’m met with enormous gratitude. It should be the other way around. Whether or not you agree with wars we fight, it is always appropriate to appreciate those who are putting their lives on the line. They are the ones making a sacrifice to fulfill decisions made by the politicians you may or may not agree with.

And how about internal freedom? Are you living a life free to enjoy who and what is around you? Or have you bound yourself by arbitrary rules that keep you confined to a routine, a rut, an outdated self- perception of yourself? Worse still, are you condemned by an outdated perception that you believe someone else decided for you?

How about lighting a sparkler or two this year and taking a moment to celebrate with gratitude the life that is yours? Even if you are not living exactly as you hope to at this moment, consider gratitude for the fact that you have the option to hope, dream and make changes to get you to where you would like to be. Happy Independence Day.

 

 

Shhh I can hear you

Shhhh I can hear you.

My mother wore hearing aids. She got them when she was about 80. Her hair didn’t turn gray until about age 50. My hair started streaking at about 28. And my hearing started to slip a couple of years ago.

I was in good company. My sister doesn’t hear well,  nor does one of my brothers. But they are older than I am. A couple of years ago one of my nieces had to have surgery on an ear that she was having trouble hearing out of. And did I mention that I had an aunt and an uncle who were born deaf? There was no blasting of the jambox. I come by hearing problems honestly.

I was becoming painfully aware over the past year that I was often asking people to people to repeat themselves. “Darn mumblers”, I would tell myself. The TV had to be up extra loud to accommodate me. “Too much noise in the house”, I would say. I started to notice people who wore hearing aids. I wondered what it was like, trying to get used to the idea for some day when I would need them. You know, when I got older.

At Easter I sat with a group of women and noticed that I was really not hearing the conversation. I kind of checked out and smiled as if I was hearing, but just didn’t think what they were saying was important enough to chime in. Perhaps it might have been, if I had heard them.

And a few weeks ago, I realized in a session that not only had I not heard something someone had said, but I had just gone on as if I had. And an alarm bell started ringing in my head. I heard that: Loud and clear.

I went for a hearing test and came home wearing hearing aids the same day. The first thing I noticed is that I could hear. I could actually hear things I didn’t even realize I had missed. I had become so used to not hearing things, that I no longer knew they were there. The squeak of my shoe against the break pedal of the car. The rustling of a wrapper coming off of a piece of gum. The sound of my own chewing. Life is not incomplete if one can’t hear their own chewing, but there are other experiences of the same sound level that are awfully nice to be able to hear and I wasn’t aware of them until I got the aids.

The second thing I noticed as that… no one seemed to notice. No one began looking at me like I was either a Martian or in need of a handicap sticker for my car. I suspect if anyone who knows me was looking at me, it was only because they noticed for the first time in a long time that I wasn’t asking them to repeat themselves.

My husband is happy about the hearing aids because he no longer has to yell to me from upstairs, when I’m one room away from the kitchen that, the oven timer has been going off for 5 minutes. My kids are a little less thrilled because I’m now asking THEM to turn their electronics down a notch or 6. My youngest son asked me if I feel like an old person now. I told him I feel “older”, but I’m not quite ready to claim the title of old person. He said old people where hearing aids and glasses. I reminded him that sometimes young people do as well.

The only negative feeling I have at this point, is the regret that I didn’t do it sooner. I’ve been missing out on a lot of sound because my vanity got in the way. And the real irony is that once I put them on, the vanity piece disappeared as quickly as the speed of sound. It just didn’t matter.

Most people know the story of the boiling frog. It’s of course, the metaphor of how we often get injured by situations gradually because we fail either to notice changes as they occur, or fail to respond to them if we do notice. The latter is what I did with my need to hear better because I tried to compensate for my decreased ability to hear.

Are there any situations in your life where the water is getting hotter, or the sound is getting lower and you are not responding with the appropriate actions?   What are you willing to lose and what holds you back from taking care of what you need?

 

 

 

 

Welcome to my dreams.

Welcome to my dreams

 

A lot of people tell me they don’t remember dreams.   Personally, I think it’s a cultivated skill. I have always found my dreams to be rather instructive throughout my life and I have had a handful of recurring ones. Today I’d like to share one of those with you.

I find myself in high school. Usually in this dream I return to a high school reminiscent of my own or the community college, but last night I was actually in my son’s high school. It feels overwhelming. The kids there are nice enough to me, but I can’t get with the schedule. I keep getting lost while trying to navigate the various buildings and I can’t remember where my locker is or which class to go to next. Finally, I look around and say “I’m not doing this anymore. I already have a Ph.D.” Specifically in last night’s dream I went to the office and spoke to the principal. She said “Sure, you can quit, but there are certain types of jobs you won’t be able to get without your high school diploma.” She described the jobs to me and none of them were things I would ever want to do, so I left and never went back.

Now in real life, I did finish high school. But I finished at the semester rather than the full year. And I had just told that story recently which, most likely prompted the activity in my sleep. At various points in life that dream has meant different things to me. But last night’s version is, I think, the result of my contemplating something for someone else. Actually, for three someone elses: 3 women I am currently seeing in my practice.

Here is a quick vignette:

D- a very successful woman in the business world. She can pretty much count on getting 90% of the jobs she interviews for. In her last position, she worked 70 hours a week, and had to replace 75% of the team she inherited in under a year. Her CEO recently joined her on a sales pitch to a customer that if awarded would have raised her team performance considerably. The day after the sales meeting, without any indication of the customer’s decision, D was unceremoniously let go. She was told “It wasn’t enough.”

S- Another superstar. For her last position, she was courted by the employer. They stole her away from a competing company by promising the moon. They didn’t even know where to put her in their organization they just knew they had to have her. She joined them. Two years later, they still didn’t know where to put her. She never had an opportunity to shine at anything, because it was never really clear what she was supposed to be doing. She often felt like she was overlapping with others in their responsibilities, and they didn’t seem all that thrilled about the intrusion. Finally, the director told her he had made a mistake and they were eliminating her position.

N- Worked in a major institution for 20 plus years. She was the darling of the team. She was thorough and reliable. Not only did N do a great job logistically, but she was deeply committed to the people she served. N was called in to human resources and terminated without warning. Their reason: they claim N did not clock out before going to lunch. N often worked long after she clocked out in the evening in order to get her job done. She would never have gone to lunch on company time.  She was never asked about the incident at the time it supposedly occurred or given a chance to prove her case.

I heard each of these stories in about a two week time span which helped link them together in my mind.

In her discussions about entering the “dark night of a spiritual journey”, Caroline Myss says that anything that stands in your way will be removed for you by the universe. I don’t know if that was the case for any of these women, but I do know that each of them had been unhappy in their jobs and was thinking of leaving, but neither was sure what their next step would be. One could argue that their unhappiness produced substandard work which prompted their terminations. I know that was not the case with any of them however, as they are all hard working women with considerable integrity.

I think my dream was my own minds processing that these stories. For me, they are examples of being in a role that isn’t really right, but doing it because you think you are supposed to fulfill someone else’s rules for you. My declaration that I had a Ph.D. to the other students was a way to say, “I’m not supposed to be here. I don’t have to do this.” And to seal it off, the principal tried to give me advice of the importance of staying, but it was advice from her framework not mine. When I identified that, I was free to leave.

These women became free to leave. I am confident that each will land on their feet, and become stronger and wiser in the process.   Are you hanging on to a role or relationship that you don’t belong in, but one that someone else thinks is a good idea for you? Are you willing to take yourself out of the position or do you have to wait to be asked to leave?

The Business of Marriage

The Business of Marriage

Imagine this if you will. A guy named Joe opens up a restaurant near your neighborhood. Not only is it your favorite food type, it’s absolutely fantastic food. Joe is a phenomenal chef. The prices are fair and the service is good. You try out the restaurant, enjoy it immensely and decide to go back on a regular basis.

Joe is a great success. So much so, that he decides to open up a second location and a third. You’re happy for him. On the other hand, it now means that Joe isn’t spending quite so much time at the first location. You can’t count on him coming out to the table each time to ask you about your meal. But when he does, he promises you that the place still bears his name. “You can trust him,” he says.

And at first, everything seems normal. But after a while, you start to notice that the servers don’t seem to be as friendly as they used to be. They aren’t familiar since many of the more seasoned crew have gone on to the other locations. The new staff doesn’t know you. You have to tell them what you want each time, unlike the original team who used to bring you your drinks as soon as you sat down because they already knew your favorites. You start to feel resentful for having to leave a tip for unexceptional service.

Sometimes when you go in, they are even out of your favorite dish. They don’t seem to be as prepared for the crowds. You try and alter the time you eat getting their earlier and earlier in hopes that you can enjoy your meal. Sometimes it works but usually it does not.

And the more time passes, it doesn’t even seem like you get the same quality of ingredients or consistency of preparation. It’s almost like you don’t even know this place any more.   You begin to patronize Joe’s place less frequently until you stop going all together.

You entered into a contract of sorts with Joe. And when Joe stops delivering what you felt you had agreed to, you are ready to pull out of that contract. Who wouldn’t?

This metaphor very closely resembles many of the stories I hear about marriage. I see relationships very much like a business contract that two people enter into. They make agreements based on their individual desire to receive certain benefits of marriage. As long as things stay exactly the same everyone is happy. The only problem is nothing ever stays exactly the same. Especially marriage.

Kids come along. Jobs come along. Extended families, illnesses, deaths, financial challenges, purchasing homes, relocations and the list goes on, comes along. Not to mention the fact that what we desired originally also changes. And some years into the marriage, people find themselves frustrated that they aren’t getting enough benefit for the price they feel they are paying. Sometimes they feel blatantly ripped off.

It’s easy to look at your partner like “Joe”. How he or she is no longer keeping their end of the bargain. And perhaps that is accurate. If that is the case, are you justified in just dining across town without bringing the problems to the attention of the owner to see if they might be resolved? Joe may not be aware of the issues and while that’s not your responsibility, it is impacting your dining experience. Perhaps some honest but constructive feedback could help Joe maintain the success he strived for from the beginning.

But its also worth considering that you might be the “Joe” in the relationship. Have you lowered your standards because you are taking for granted that your partner must be okay with the changes if he or she is still hanging around? Do you make justifications of why you no longer have to give your partner what you used to? You may be a whole lot busier than you were in the beginning and have less energy, but simply assuming your partner doesn’t want or need the same level of interest in him or her that they used to get, could be a very unfortunate path. Even if you can’t keep that pace up, it still requires a renegotiation of that original contract and some empathy for your partner, rather than, putting in substandard ingredients and hoping they won’t notice. Or worse still, not caring if they do.

 

This week, how about taking a look at key relationships and ask yourself if you are giving what you agreed to when you said “I do.”

 

 

 

Reflections from a theme park part 2

Reflections from a theme park part 2:

Last week I discussed looking at amusement parks as a metaphor of life. That entry dealt primarily with the idea that we spend most of life in the “waiting, anticipation” phase working towards the much shorter time of “pleasant experience” portion.   I got a lot of great comments- thank you! I so appreciate your feedback and especially your insights and stories.

In this post, I’d like to take it a step further. How prepared are you for the ride to be over? Could you do it with the feeling that you got your full four minutes of fun and willingly turn your seat over to the next incoming group? Or do you want to keep yourself strapped into that seat demanding that you get another turn because you’re either not yet satisfied, or you weren’t ready to fully participate in the experience when it began. And even if you could have a do-over or second turn, would it give you the same thrill that it did the first time around?

I remember when my children were babies; they were the center of my universe.   I’m sure I was guilty on more than one occasion of sharing their every achievement with the rest of the world.   My boys are older now and I hear similar stories from other younger mothers about their babies. My boys are equally important to me as they once were, but their day to day moments are not share worthy. At least not in the proportion they once were. Now it is someone else’s turn to take the floor and highlight the achievements of cooing, smiling, and going on the potty the first time.

We are a nation obsessed with youth. If we inject enough Botox into ourselves will it let us stay on the ride longer? Does looking 30 when we are 40 make us 30? While age is in many respects just a number, there is still a passing of time that occurs. And in that passing of time there are experiences both positive and negative that accumulate into making us who we are. Is stretching the skin to erase the lines meant to erase the effects of that accumulation as well? If you continue to ride the ride at 40 that you did at 30, does it give you the same sense of thrill?

Kudos to the 90 year old that lives on their own, drives themselves about town and still shovels their own driveway. But I’ll take the risk of being called judgmental when I notice the mature woman dressing in a mini skirt and boots with enough cleavage showing to leave little to the imagination. Sexy at 40 isn’t the same as sexy at 20.   How about the guy with the comb over who is willing to be asked if his date is his daughter? I can’t help wonder what either of these two examples are trying to hold on to or avoid. A man told me once that he stopped dating younger women after a date where he took one to see the movie “Apollo 13”. Upon leaving the theater she asked him “You mean that was based on a true story?”

How about when the ride is really over and its time to leave the park completely?

I have sometimes described life as a game of musical chairs. For now, I can still hear the music playing and I usually feel agile enough to grab a chair when I hear it stop. That said I realize there will come a time when I won’t be the person who gets a chair. I can only hope I will have the grace to let someone else have the chair and step aside. I don’t have a particular need to die anytime soon, but I do hope as I age my way to that point in time, that I will feel the same sense of fulfillment that I do about my life now. The only way I can imagine that being true is to live well now. To live as if this is all there is and ride with my eyes open, taking in every curve and twist as if they are all part of the fun. And if I have to wait in the lines in order to get my 4 minutes…. So be it. It’s all part of the ride. And all part of the fun if I choose to see it that way.

 

 

My Brilliant Audience

A big part of blog writing motivation for me is the comments that you guys make. They challenge me, gratify me, and most of all inspire me to think. Last week was no exception and this comment from “K” in response to “more spring cleaning” got me thinking: “When you say it could be interpreted as cold to withdraw from some people, a lot of people will agree and dislike that advice overall. But when you spend a lot of time and energy on a person who is wasting those resources of yours, how much time are you taking away from others in your life? Time is a much more scarce and precious asset than money after all.” I think in part this struck a nerve because I’m a little guilty myself. My job is in the helping profession. And while it’s easy to look at my schedule in terms of the hours I sit in my office during any given day, there is a lot of other work activity that can easily fill my day from returning phone calls and emails to writing reports… and even blogging. Yes, blogging. All of these are things that are necessary, not because I have a boss standing over me, but because I feel like they are part of what enables me to feel like I’m doing my job to the best of my ability. They are important to me. But these are the tasks for which there is not a billable hour attached to them. And without that, it means there is not a clear start and stop time. I have to monitor this effort from within. When I’m successful at doing that, life hums along pretty well. But despite what I know in my head, I too can get backed up on obligations and I have to make choices I often don’t like in order to work my way out of overload. A client I haven’t heard from in a long time drops me an email. And days go by before I respond. I owe someone a follow up to a conversation and I take much longer than seems reasonable. A colleague or friend asks me to participate in an event that will take a considerable amount of time with little or no payback. And when I don’t manage it well, the people who suffer are primarily my husband, my kids and ME. As K so wisely pointed out in the comment “Time is a much more scarce and precious asset than money after all”. And time, once passed, can never be made up or recovered. You can do better going forward, but you can’t get back what you gave away.   While fortunes can be made, lost and made again, the clock only moves in one direction. I’m not suggesting that you or I should neglect our responsibilities in order to spend more time with people we love. I am however, floating this as a reminder to myself that sometimes the job, social or even family tasks are things we often assign to ourselves with arbitrary standards of acceptability. Sometimes, those standards are such that while each individual task may seem reasonable, the weight of the whole is unbearable and undoable. The most logical way I know to address this is of course mindfulness. It’s Steven Covey’s Sharpening the Saw. It’s taking stock. Look in the mirror, look at the people you believe you care most about. Are they (and you) getting enough of you compared to that which you give to others? I hope you didn’t find a lot of typos when you read this post. I’m not going to proof it. I could, but I think I’ll go say goodnight to my kids instead.

and More Spring Cleaning

In my last blog I talked about spring cleaning. Hopefully you had a chance to either get started, or at least think about things that you hold on to for perhaps less productive reasons than is useful. In that same vein, I’d like you to take this thought process a step further and think about the clutter more broadly. Cleaning out closets is useful in making more room, either to find stuff, or for different stuff. I’d like to propose that there are other ways that our lives can get significantly cluttered and could use attention. The two that come to mind most quickly for me (from personal and professional experience) are time wasters and unproductive relationships.

The easy bandwagon to jump on is electronic drains. Whether it’s a night lost to Facebook, Pinterest, others social networks, video games or merely web surfing, people can lose a lot of time and receive little if anything back for their time. But those are obvious. What is more subtle, yet equally if not more insidious, are the things we spend time on that, fail to add real value to our lives, and rather, suck away precious time. What makes these items harder to identify is that it usually isn’t the “task” that identifies it as a problem, but rather the way we feel about the task. For example, if I made pasta from scratch because I loved doing so, I was putting healthier options on my table, saving money, my family felt valued when I did so, or any one of these reasons, then it might be time consuming, but there is a payoff. If on the other hand, I made fresh pasta from scratch for my toddler, who was going to eat 3 bites, and my husband could care less about the quality difference, then I should question whether or not this was a good use of time and energy. I’m not sure this is the best example, but I’m pretty sure that we all engage in some pretty questionable activities, and often they have a smell of “perfectionism” to them.

The other category of relationships is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve noticed that a number of my relationships have changed over the past few years and it has largely been my own doing. I’m not feeling angry, but rather more willing to let people go then I once was. That at times, has also included some pretty terrific people. But at the end of the day I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that every day is limited by time, as is the entirety of my life. Out of that awareness, I accept the responsibility and the opportunity to make the most of what is available to me. So, terrific or not, I’m more willing to let people go in favor of spending the time with either other people or activities that are helping me to create the best experience of this thing I call my life.

Personally, I would tell you that if someone had said the paragraph above to me 10 years ago, I would have thought that person to be cold, friendless and void of the capacity to have meaningful relationships. So please, don’t think as a result of one reading, I would expect anyone to make such a radical change. It has been a work in progress and still continues for me. But that said, I find that the quality of relationships I do keep, continues to improve, because I come to them more available, more willing to honor the work of maintaining them. It’s because I know they are mutual, and with less resentment. In turn, I feel more rewarded and valued by the people in those relationships, as well.

I hope you’ll take another look at clutter in your life and see if there are mental closets that need a little combing through as well.

 

Happy New Year

Well look what the cat dragged in….. I’m back!

I took a break from blogging but I am hopefully back to stay. I’m still working on some of the behind the scene changes so please bear with me while I continue to work out some of the bugs. However,  I absolutely welcome questions, comments or observations about changes.  Thank you so much for hanging with me throughout the year, and a special welcome to my new readers.  I am truly grateful for your time.

For starter, I’m uncertain of my timing. For now, I am committing to one entry per week. There may be more, but I hope not less. With that, I’d like to plunge in.

 

Happy New Year.

Even though today is January 7 and not January 1, today is New Year’s Day, meaning, today is the start of a year that is 1 year newer than the same Jan 7 of 2014. Tomorrow will be a new year starting one year ahead of January 8, 2014 and so on. This isn’t an attempt to be silly. I’m dead serious, so let me try to explain.

New Year’s Day is associated for many with New Year’s resolutions. In reality, these are usually not resolutions, or things one is resolved about, but rather New Year’s “wishes”. They are often things we wish would happen, hope will happen, would be happy if the desired action came about. But sadly, they are actions which, more often than not, fail to mature into consistent or lasting change. Some will fail within a week or two. Others may last a couple of months. A study from the University of Scranton found that only about 8% of the 40% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, actually achieve their goals. So, if by January 7 you have given up on your goals, you are clearly not alone.

There are two points I’d like to elaborate my thoughts on with regards to this topic.

First, If we drop the ball on January 7, or even February 7, why do we have to wait until January 1 of the following year to start again? As my opening paragraph suggests, every day is the start of a new year for us. We can choose to start fresh from where we are at any given moment. There is nothing more magical about 8:00 a.m. January 1 then there is about 8:00 a.m. on March 10th. The time to start is right now.   Start at the moment that you recognize you have the desire for a change in your life. Delaying until another time marking significance, is arbitrary and only means you are willing to live with the unwanted behavior a lot longer than you need to.

And that leads me to the second point.

There is a difference between resolutions and desires, wishes, hopes. A resolution to lose weight doesn’t mean starting a diet. A resolution to improve your relationships doesn’t mean scheduling a date night. A resolution to find a job you like is more than simply dusting off the old resume.

 

Here are some definitions for the word resolve:

Verb: to find a solution, to determine a course of action

Noun: Firm determination to do something.

 

If you want to achieve the goals above, chances are you have tried some of the solutions I listed above before New Year’s Day. Most likely, they weren’t met with lasting success, which is why they resurface year to year as a resolution for the next year ahead.

 

To make goals more than just a wish or desire, they require resolve. Resolve involves figuring out how you will get to the gym when you haven’t gone before. Resolve means finding ways to anticipate your pitfalls and have a “firm determination to do something” by having reliable support, structures and accountabilities in place to help you stay focused on your goals. Resolve means to search your heart and answer yourself truthfully about what has immobilized your efforts in the past towards these goals.

 

Resolutions are about what are you WILLING to make happen in your life. What are you willing to change, to give up, to work harder towards? Who or what are you willing to let go of in your life? What are you willing to stand up for, to be aware of and mostly to be vigilant about?

 

A posture of resolve takes thought and planning. It also takes dedication and perseverance. So, if you can’t get it all done by January 1, the good news is there are 364 other days in the year that you get to try again.

 

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback! Until next time… take good care!

Red Flags

 

(due to my need to take care of my overly tired self, there is no audio version at this time… but check back in a few days on the website…. no promises, but it might appear later)

He is gorgeous, and he makes me laugh, and we had so much fun. He is super smart, and he is working at McDonalds now, but that is only because….

I have been offered this amazing job. It pays 25.00 an hour, I can work from home, they told me that there is a ton of potential.   The only thing that is kind of weird is ….

I found this great deal on line. I can get X for Y, and the only catch seems to be that I have to set up a new account for them to …

Well, in looking back I did think he drank a lot, but….

I did think it was weird how much she had to talk to her mom every day but…

 

I hear these kinds of statements a lot….

I call them red flags. The problem is most of us hear them, and put them in a little “to be opened later file” in our brains rather than acknowledging them to ourselves when they occur as useful information in the moment.

One of my favorite all time movies is “The Spanish Prisoner”. It stars Steve Martin, but not in a comedic role. It’s a great film about a guy who is ultimately swindled by Martin. “Joe” is blinded by his desire for money and fame, and as a result is unable to see all of the signs that are in front of him indicating Martin is a hustler. What is so great about the film in addition to the story is its method. It takes the audience through the story, and then plays back some of the scenes where all the clues were present, but the audience and Joe have missed them.

I’ve been having some frustration with my new landlord at the office. He keeps telling me he will do some things, but then doesn’t follow through. After repeated attempts, I had to go to his other 2 partners. I recall the first time I met him. Our exchange went something like this:

Landlord: If you need anything, don’t hesitate to call

Me: I’m sure you’ll hear from me.   I’m not shy about that.

Landlord: I want people to call. I don’t want someone to let me think everything is okay and then trip me on the way out the door.

Hmmmm.   There it was. He told me in the first meeting, that he has experience with people tripping him on the way out the door. Why? Most likely because he doesn’t follow through. Unfortunately though, he thinks it’s because they just didn’t tell him.

This isn’t a rant about my landlord. It’s an illustration of the fact that people tell us about themselves right from the start, more often than not. Are you listening?

If you’re going to file the information away, at least make it in a brightly colored file, in the front of the file drawer so you can find it more easily when you’re ready to use it.

Do you have experiences where hindsight has illuminated the flags you “missed” before? If so, I hope you’ll leave me a comment.

 

Leap of Faith

 

 

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There is a movie from 1992 called Leap of Faith starring Steve Martin and Debra Winger. Martin plays a con man Jonas Nightengale, who poses as an evangelical preacher that goes from small town to town creating “miracles”. But what he actually does is use a crew, led by Winger to feed him information about the audience into a hidden ear piece so he can “appear” to know things about the people. Of course, everyone is impressed by his great capacity and gives him money. Then he moves on to the next town and repeats this scenario.

Jonas and his crew find themselves in the impoverished town of Rustwater Kansas after their travel bus breaks down. Jonas looks around and declares “A town this deep in the crapper’s got nowhere to turn but GOD!”   Among their many problems, the drought plagued town needs rain to survive. Jonas plans to run a show or two while he waits for repairs before being discovered.

Shortly into the movie however, he is intrigued by a young boy Boyd and the sister who cares for him. Boyd can walk only with crutches since an accident that killed his mother and father and left his legs dysfunctional. The sister warns Jonas to stay away from Boyd, explaining that once before a preacher tried to heal Boyd. When it failed, the preacher blamed the boy for not having enough faith. However, despite her cynicism, Boyd is mesmerized with Jonas and wants to be healed by him.

Jonas continues to prey upon the vulnerabilities of the towns people. Each time they suspect God has spoken to him on their behalf, they add money to his coffers. Boyd makes his way to the stage and seeks to be healed. Jonas tries to ignore his presence because he doesn’t want his cover blown. But Boyd actually begins to walk without his crutches and the crowd goes wild. They throw money at Jonas and shout one more miracle. They now want him to make it rain to benefit the town.

Jonas is angry, believing that Boyd was a bigger conman than even he presuming the boy faked his impediment. The next night the town gathers in a field to camp out waiting for the miracle of rain. Knowing he will be discovered as a fraud, Jonas slips off and hitches a ride on his own leaving his crew behind. Ironically, he isn’t very far out of town when the truck driver notices it has begun to rain. Jonas laughingly calls out “Thank You Jesus.

Okay, I ruined the movie for you I’m sorry. But I wanted to give you an illustration of something I think best illustrates a principle one of the classic theorists in psychology, Alfred Adler. He calls it the As IF principle.

Adler suggested that when we are trying to make a change, we need to behave as if the change has already taken place. For example, if you want to get promoted, wear the clothing of someone at the next level. If you want to improve your marriage, act as if it is already improved and treat the other person from that mindset. If you want to be more financially sound, live as if there is money around you and operate from confidence rather than fear or deprivation.

Please don’t confuse this as simple and easy. Actually, it is somewhat simple, but it isn’t necessarily easy. It requires clear goal setting, commitment to the goal, letting go of obstacles you may be holding on to (crutches), and the willingness to experience the discomfort of being in transition or even limbo between the self you have been, and the self you wish to be.

Even more than changes in behavior on the outside, acting as if, requires significant changes on the inside. It means to practice seeing yourself as successful. And, while many people have this desire, as the move suggests, it often requires a leap of faith.

While Martin is a clearly stated con man, Adler is not. However, in this exchange between Jonas and Boyd, Martin actually demonstrates in a crude way how Adler’s theory works:

 

Boyd: My sister says you’re a fake

Jonas, “Well maybe I am and maybe I’m not

If I get the job done, what’s the difference?

When we act as if, we begin projecting outward the image of us as having the capacity to live in the role where are seeking. Others, seeing us in that role begin to respond to us that way, which reinforces that confidence within us that we can handle the change. From that confidence, we continue to develop and strengthen the skills needed to make the change permanent and natural for us. Essentially what Jonas told Boyd is that whether or not it starts out as pure and legitimate, belief can make something become true.

 

Are there any areas that you could benefit from acting “as if”? How might you change if you took a leap of faith? I’d love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to be a Birdbrain

 

 

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The recent storms created a lot of fallen trees in my subdivision which is mostly wooded. In fact, one of my neighbors had a rather large tree fall across their driveway. It was a pain to remove, but it’s also one of the expectable hazards of living where we do. Trees get old; storms knock them down.

I’m not so much of a nature watcher, but I suspect when a big storm hits birds don’t hang out in the trees. I have to guess that if they do, they fly somewhere pretty quickly if they feel a tree starting to sway and tumble.

But on a regular day, I imagine birds hang out in the trees for the most part, unless trees are not prevalent. And it reminds me of a quote I like very much:

A Bird Sitting On A Tree Is Not Afraid Of The Branch Breaking Because His Trust Is Not On The Branch But On Its Wings .

I guess to be a bird means to have faith when it walks out on a branch that, it will either be fine or it will do something else. In contrast, as people, we tend to think in advance about the branch, look at it, research branches, finding out the statistics on how many branches will break per year and under what conditions, and then try and make a calculated guess of whether or not we should step out onto the branch. After that, we invest more time still discussing our findings about branch safety with others to try and validate our plan. Very often this results in either not going out on the branch at all, because we haven’t finished the analysis, or forgetting what we went there for by the time we arrive. Possibly, what we went out there for has already passed.

On the other hand, there are also some humans that will tromp on out to the branch before they learn to fly which doesn’t usually end well either. One could argue that real faith means not even worrying about the flying part- trust that God or the universe or whatever you subscribe to will simply take care of the falling bird.   And so when they inevitably fall, they use the bump on their head as justification that God doesn’t really care about them, or even that, there is no God.

Do we really want to live in a world where something other than us takes care of every single for us? While it sounds tempting in those moments that we feel overwhelmed, the truth is that we derive a vast amount of our satisfaction and esteem from mastering things. We learn from the struggles and to have them taken away from us leaves us without much purpose in living. Faith is to fill in the parts we don’t need to struggle with. Faith is the connective tissue between the parts we do, and the parts we don’t.

The parts we do are simply “our part”. It means to develop the strength, skills, resiliency and in some cases, patience and understanding. And probably a few other qualities that I’m forgetting at the moment. So in short, it’s not about developing how to anticipate everything and account in advance for every unknown. It’s about developing a plan A to try and get down the right path, and a plan B for when A doesn’t work out. Plan B isn’t just a more developed A. Plan B is a strategy about how to be okay when Plan A doesn’t get you where you wanted and accepting that you have to live with the way things are now, at least for now.  Another way of looking at his is that Plan A is your willpower and Plan B is your willingness.

Thanks for stopping by– To leave me a comment, please return to the website if you are reading this through your email.

 

 

Salt, Ebola and American Idol

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Ebola, Salt and American Idol

 

I remember when American Idol first premiered. It came down to Kelly Clarkson and Justin somebody. I’ve since forgotten his name because he didn’t win. I didn’t actually watch the show, but I had a couple of clients who were very invested in the outcome so I heard about it through them. Kelly Clarkson went on to continue making a name for herself. But since then, it seems like there have been about 112 American Idol winners, and a nearly equal amount from shows like The Voice, America’s Got Talent, Britain’s Got Talent, Rising Star and many more that I am not even aware of. And that is only the music category.

This post isn’t long enough to list the rest of areas where contestants duke it out to be the star. The implication is that, If we aren’t the star we just aren’t. We are nobody, insignificant. So if we don’t have musical talent, or can’t juggle live grenades while walking over a tightrope crossing a sea of alligators, then we try to work the best, be the best parent, daughter, husband, runner, and this list too, goes on and on.

Recently I was having a discussion with someone. She wanted to have a more personal relationship with God, but felt that she couldn’t because she wasn’t “Christian enough”. Translated, she couldn’t allow herself to communicate with God because she wasn’t willing to end up becoming an Ebola infected missionary in some forsaken land. And if she wasn’t going to be a star then she shouldn’t join the contest.

There is a little visual I like to create for people and have done so in my office several times. In lieu of that opportunity, please try to follow along and create this scene in your head.

Take a packet of salt or a pour of a shaker, and make a pile on the table in whatever pattern it falls. Now look at the pile from the front and then from the top, each side and the back. Now look at the front again. In my experience of this exercise, I’ve learned a couple of things I’d like to illuminate for you now.

Every grain of salt is pretty much identical. So are we as people.

Some grains are more visible because they are on the outside perimeters. But every single one of the middle grains serves to push every one of the front grains into their visible spot. In other words, every one of them serves a purpose to create the entire picture. The front’s are only front because there is something behind them. The middles are only middles because something is in front and in back.

 

So what does salt have to do with Ebola?

Simply stated, you are as much the winner in the contest of life as anyone else is. Where you find yourself placed is only visible if the person looking happens to be standing at the right angle. But even when one person can’t see you, those around you do. You are never insignificant, even when you feel like you have the choice to pretend you are. And while some grains may be slightly smaller, larger, lighter or darker, those differences are too tiny to rule out the value of your contribution.

Take a good look at yourself. Is everyone else really smarter, prettier, taller, richer and whatever “er” you are judging? Or are they better at self- promotion or creating the illusion that they got to the front of the pile without the help of so many other people standing behind them? If you are going to consider all of your flaws, please take use an equal measuring stick for others as well. And at the same time, when you see their greatness, make sure that the lens used to capture your own strengths is not scratched as well.

 

I’d love to hear your comments. Thanks for stopping by. You can also share this with the social media buttons below.

 

Time to learn

 

 

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A young but earnest Zen student approached his teacher, and asked the Zen Master: “If I work very hard and diligent how long will it take for me to find Zen.” The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years.” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then ?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it. How long then ?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that ?” Replied the Master,” When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” — Author Unknown

 

I often think of this story when people tell me that they are working really hard at something and it doesn’t seem to be happening quickly enough for them.

A young woman wants to find a mate and none seems available.

Another is eating well and exercising but is unable to lose weight.

A man is trying for a promotion that is taking too long while others in the organization seem to be moving ahead.

I recall how badly I wanted to have a second child and found it hard to get pregnant, yet every female under 17 seemed to be turning up with child whether she wanted to be or not.

It seems so unfair when we are working so hard for something that seems logical and possible and yet, it still doesn’t happen.

Or at least it doesn’t happen in the time frame that we have deemed reasonable. The dilemma in most cases is that, it is not our unilateral decision to deem what the right time or right amount of work parameters are actually supposed to be. There is a universe around us that has to also consider the needs, wants and expectations of a gazillion other people as well. What if that perfect mate is saying he is looking for someone exactly like us, but not for another 6 months because he has some other things to finish working on first? What if the conditions for us to have the promotion and succeed are not yet all in place?

The thought process of the western mind is cultivated in an environment in which 1+1=2. There is a specific sequence to follow and you get the prize. But eastern cultures cultivate a different mind-set. For them it is 1+1=3. I’m not talking about common core here. But the Easterners acknowledge that when you put two things together something additional happens by virtue of that union. The sum is greater than the whole of its parts. When you put a match and paper together, you don’t get paper and a match- you get fire.

I think there is great value to both eastern and western thinking and that wise people use some of both.   In the examples I mentioned, western thinking teaches us the value of hard work. But eastern thinking helps us to accept that there is more to consider than only our own definition of the way things should work. And that sometimes we need to let go of working so hard and allow time to follow its own course. Some things can’t be accomplished faster, just because it’s what we want.

 

The Safe Appeal of Disorder

 

 

 

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Let me state clearly at the start that this blog has zero to do with a political opinion. It is merely a political event that introduced me to a thought.

In the recent news stories about the conflict in Gaza, I heard a quote that really grabbed me. It comes from former prime minister of Israel Golda Meier.

Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us. I thought it was such a powerful quote. And it got me thinking about other areas in life that it might be useful. Of course my mind naturally wondered to my work and the conflicts I see for people I work with. So I changed it to this:

Until you love yourself more than you fear imperfection, disorder will remain.

You can quote me on that.

A person with an eating disorder will abuse themselves to any length in order to achieve a body that they believe will gain them acceptance or legitimacy. The result is reliance on a chaotic system of eating and exercise that not only precludes any other area of their life, but often results in malnutrition, injury, and even self-abuse.

A person who lacks confidence in their ability at work will ignore their personal boundaries and work themselves to oblivion at the expense of their personal life or personal self in fear of having that inadequacy exposed.

A person who ignores themselves to help others in order to win status is forced to function at the mercy of everyone else’s beck and call. It is easy to get caught up in chaos and frenzy only to realize that one has little to show for all of their efforts. They may find themselves in middle life feeling empty of anything to measure their life by, especially if the people they have served have outgrown the need for them.

A person may remain in an unhappy or even harmful relationship with another because they do not feel deserving of happiness or peace. As a result such a person may deny their needs on any level in order to tolerate remaining in the relationship because they fear they are unjustified in the eyes of others to ask for more.

So what does it mean to love oneself? And how does that eliminate disorder?

Loving oneself means to make decisions based on self care as a priority over decisions that lead to approval or acceptance from others if the actions required for either are in mutual conflict. So, if I have to decide to eat because I’m hungry, or not eat because I feel too fat and unacceptable to others, self love means to eat- but eat well and appropriately for the highest level of self care- drowning one’s self in a container of ice cream is not self care.

It means if I have to choose between going to bed when I’m exhausted or reading email from my boss because I’m trying to get promoted, it means go to bed. Sleep well and then be prepared to work to the best of my ability tomorrow.

I’m confident that I’m not sharing any new earth shattering news with anyone here. We all know these things. But we get afraid. And then we get busy. Out of our fear we fill our lives with a million things that we think, or at least hope will make us happy and fit in. And then those things fill our time and our psyche to such extremes that we are too saturated to even think about what is good for us, much less find the time to implement those strategies. But as Meier so eloquently brought to light- we always have a choice. And until we value one thing more than another, change will not occur.

 

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Games people play

 

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Games people play

I heard someone talking about their life recently making it sound like a constant series of fires needing to be extinguished. Since I often think in pictures or imagery in my head, I started picturing the game of “Wac-a Mole”. If you aren’t familiar with this game, you get a mallet to hit moles that pop up quickly in a random pattern on a little motorized wheel of sorts. The goal is to hit one and push it down before it retreats on its own. Sometimes more than one mole pops up at a time.

It got me thinking about other familiar games to describe one’s life. I’m going to just list them out here and you can decide if any of them describe you or anyone you know.

Monopoly—This is a person who spends their time and energy trying to collect the best real estate. I don’t mean literally houses, but things they think have worth. Their primary pursuit is the acquisition of status and this is often prioritized over relationships. In fact, in the actual game of Monopoly, the goal is to use one’s assets to weaken the rest of the people in the game. While monopoly players in this metaphor might not have the intention of hurting others deliberately, that is often an outcome when acquisition is their driving force.

Twister: In the musical “Oklahoma”, Connie sings “I’m just a girl who can’t say no”. Twister people have undefinable boundaries. They are there for everyone all the time. Pick up the dry cleaners, watch the neighbors kids, volunteer for the PTO, work overtime. You name it, they are there. There is a saying ,” If you want something done, ask a busy person- they know how to get things done.” Yes they do, but at what cost? Twister is a game where you place a part of yourself on the mat that the spinner selects for you. It doesn’t take a lot of spins to have yourself so sprawled out that, you collapse on yourself or another.

 

Jenga The goal of Jenga is to lay the blocks one on top of the other to see how high you can build things. Similar to monopoly, the goal is to get higher than the next guy, but you aren’t as protected as you are in Monopoly. With jenga every acquisition puts you closer to a potential crash. Jenga livers are people who take risks without regard for the potential consequences. They push the limits again and again. There is little time to enjoy any single accomplishment because each is only a stepping stone to the next.

 

 

Candyland. Part of me envies the Candyland players. Except I have to remember that as delightful as it looks, the win is really not sweet and yummy; its only an illusion.   Candyland promises that, while there are a few setbacks here and there, for the most part everything is good and delicious, as it should be. And if you just hang in there long enough, you are guaranteed the promise of more at the end. Perhaps the electronic game Candy Crush, (which I’m ashamed to admit I got hooked on for a while and fortunately ultimately escaped) is a better choice. At least with Candy Crush, it becomes apparent at some point, that in fact, there is no end point. Life’s achievements always give way to the opportunity to grow towards something else until the day you die.

 

Pictionary- This game is less about a life strategy metaphor, and more about a communication style. I think of Pictionary players as the people who seem to find it difficult to speak about what they want or need from you in clear language. Instead, they give you hints, sometimes not clear ones, and then it’s your job to guess correctly so everyone can win. And when you don’t, it’s your fault.

 

 

Trivial Pursuit. These are the folks whose lives are consumed with everything trivial at the expense of never getting to where they would like to be. I’d like to change jobs, but I can’t get my resume done because I have to clean the house, change the kitty litter, water the garden, cut down some wood and make paper from the pulp in order to print the resume on before I can think of what I would say. They may be very talented, but few people will ever learn that about them.

 

What game best describes your life? Are you having fun playing it?

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Which Way is North?

 

 

 

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This morning I had to run some errands before work. I tried to leave myself enough time. But I was day dreaming and I, unfortunately, took a wrong turn. I was actually on a familiar road, but that road had nothing in common with my first destination. However, since it was familiar, I drove pretty far down the path before I woke up and realized I had to turn around.

But turn around is what I did. It cost me enough time that I cut it close getting my tasks done while still arriving at work on time.

This is similar to the feeling I have when people tell me about their life not being on the right path. The dilemma is that, often they are afraid to turn around and take another direction. The road they are on may look familiar, so they stay, even when they know it won’t lead them to where they ultimately hope to go. They may stay the course because they feel safe knowing which twists and turns lie ahead. Another thing that keeps people stuck is the feeling that sometimes it may feel like it’s too late to turn around. They’ve lost too much time. So they concede to live the remainder of their life going where they don’t really want to go, rather than risk ending up some place else in between.

My first career illustrates this challenge. I fell into a line of work and then kept doing it because it fulfilled financial needs. I hated it, and knew my growth was pretty limited, but taking another path meant I had to get an education. For awhile, that seemed unsurmountable. I shudder now to think how miserable I would have remained, had I not turned around and gone in another direction. Now I love my job and have for 23 years.

When I contemplated a divorce in my first marriage I was scared of the unknown. I remember thinking what if I leave in hopes of something more and end up with everything less. I recall a friend who said to me , “It’s true, that if you leave, you might not get what you want. But if you stay, you guarantee that you won’t.” That advice helped me make the decision and I started down a new path.

Please be sure that as I describe these two major turning points in my own life, neither of them landed me on a shiny road made of gold with clear painted signs and beautiful flowers along the perimeters. Sometimes my car stalled, I got lost, it rained, sleeted and snowed on my journey. But each new day, the sun rose and I resumed my travel. I had to learn to remember that the sun is still present even when I can’t see it through the clouds.

One of the things that helps a traveler is having a good map. So often, we forget to ask ourselves at the start of our journey, where is it we really want to go. Many of us end up going where others suggest. Perhaps well meaning others, but in the end, no one can really know where each of us needs to go better than we will. It’s personal. The answer needs to come from within.

Another useful tool is the ability to stop and ask for directions. Though no two people will experience the same journey in an identical way, others can still help you seek out and recognize milestones.   They can let you know at least some of the pitfalls ahead to expect, or caution you about detours or construction. In non metaphor terms, this can mean someone with a lot of marriage experience teaching you that marriage happiness ebbs and flows. Another example is a career mentor who might tell you the pros and cons about a vocation with honesty.

But probably the most useful tool for a traveler is willingness . You have to be willing to stay awake at the wheel and not daydream like I did on my morning adventure. And in that state of attentiveness, be willing to ask yourself if you are going where you want. And if the answer is no, be willing to turn around, no matter how much time you have invested.  Because even if you don’t ultimately end up there, at least you’ll know that you were headed towards your happiness, rather than going further away.

 

Thanks for taking the time to read this entry. I’d love to hear your comments and I hope you’ll pass it on.   Until net time- take good care.

 

Life below the surface

 

 

 

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I took a fairly hard stance when Philip Seymour Hoffman died of a drug overdose. I tend to be somewhat unsympathetic about stars and drugs. And yet,  I find myself with a mixed reaction to the death of Robin Williams. Actually, it seems incomplete to say the death. It’s more accurate to include the phrase suicide in the death of Robin Williams.

After prolific musical artist Buddy Holly died in a plane crash, Don McClean wrote his classic melody “American Pie”. The chorus lyrics include “the day the music died”.   Given the widespread media coverage on Williams, it seems August 11 is a day many people will associate as the one the laughter died. Although I personally sometimes failed to appreciate his comedic talent, Robin Williams was truly a genius. He was also an outstanding dramatic actor. I wrote a post a while back that I will publish at a later date about his role in Good Will Hunting.

Robin Williams was also a man. One I know little about, other than what he puts in the public eye for us to interpret. He was vocal about his chemical dependence and struggles with depression. And despite what he now has taken away from us to enjoy, the reality is he never owed it to us. It wasn’t ours to keep.

Depression is a complicated thing that we sometimes over simplify. Many people use the word with an almost flippant regard. “Oh that was a depressing movie”. Or, “ I’m so depressed about this”. People that suffer from migraines understand there is an enormous difference between a headache and a migraine. People who have experienced clinical depression understand it is not like the feeling of being “bummed out” or sad.

I was a therapist treating “depression” for a number of years before I fully understood what it was. Or at least my version of it. I have had loss and less than optimal times in my life and always managed to “pick myself up by the boot straps” and move along. Until my 2nd pregnancy that is. I attributed my mood shift to my hormonal havoc, but I experienced a full fledged clinical depression. My intellectual functioning and emotional state simply would not line up. I was happy to be pregnant. I was relieved to be pregnant after nearly a year of trying. But I found it impossible to feel joy, or much of anything beyond a jagged numbness. Fortunately for me, the depression lifted almost immediately after giving birth.

Most of what I recall was the inability to feel motivated to do much of anything. Every action seemed labored and unworthy of the effort it required. The promised payoffs provided little to no incentive. Even my beautiful toddler at the time could not propel me to be excited about anything.

I once had a client who attempted suicide. Her description included a firm awareness that she would take her life at the end of a particular evening. She had dinner with a friend, and reported that, all the while she carried on a normal conversation, she was calmly thinking in her own head “only ___more hours until I kill myself”.

Depression hijacks your brain. The things you want to think, the things others tell you to think don’t have much impact. It’s kind of like the flight attendant yelling at the hijacker “You know, if you just put down that gun and take your seat, we’ll all have a much more enjoyable flight”. The hijacker isn’t interested in what the flight attendant has to say.

Medication is kind of like an Air Marshal. It can step in with authority that none of the other passengers have the skills to use. But even medication doesn’t help everyone. Some hijackers are resistant to even Air Marshals.

Therapy? Yes it helps. But not just the therapy that takes place in someone’s office. Depressed people often find themselves curled up in an emotional ball protecting their vulnerability from the world. Yet, what they most need is to be touched by as many supporting structures as possible. Ironically, the thing they feel least like doing, “talking” is the most helpful during depression. And they need to be “doing”, even if it just begins as going through the motions. At very least, doing, keeps you from drowning in the sea of one’s own negative sense of hopelessness.

Doing allows for the world to be a little larger than the black hole of one’s own depressed mind. And similarly talking provides not only an unburdening, but also a way to feel some sense of another person’s non depressed energy to remember what it feels like, during times you feel zapped of vitality. It can also be a way to see one’s value as worth more than a depressed person might be able to conjure up on their own.

Part of the dilemma however, is that non depressed people don’t usually want to hang out for very long with depressed people. This is usually painfully obvious to the depressed. And so Instead of seeking contact, they are more likely to retreat behind a façade or to their private hell where they can suffer silently.

Being with a depressed person doesn’t require us to solve their problems. Nor, does it require us to take their problems on as our own. More often than not, it harkens us to just be there in that space with them for a few moments without judgment or insistence that they change. Think of it as providing just one glass of water on a long path for a weary traveler. You don’t have to be an endless fountain and quench all of their thirst, simply provide enough for that leg of the journey. The traveler may still elect to end their journey prematurely, but they will do so with the knowledge that someone tolerated them as they truly are before they leave.  Sometimes that is the most needed and effective gift we can provide to another human.

 

Thanks for stopping by.  I’d love to hear your comments.  If you found this helpful, please pass it on and suggest someone you know subscribe.  Until next time- Take Care

 

Bad Hair

 

 

 

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I’m having a bad hair day. I pretty much have bad hair days through most of April and August because these are the months it rains a lot in St. Louis and the humidity makes my hair fat. And occasionally I have bad hair days at other times,  but I also have some really good hair days. Today isn’t one of them,  but I do know the difference.

I didn’t always though. When I was a kid I had this wild mound of super curly black hair. Actually it’s pretty much the same as I have now, just with no gray mixed in. I also didn’t have some of the great hair products I use now to keep my locks from oozing into the personal space of a person standing next to me.

Just about everyone I knew while I was growing up had silky straight blonde or light brown hair. But not me. So I felt like an odd duck. Okay I felt like an ugly duck. An ugly duck with bad untamable hair that had a mind of its own.

My mom, bless her heart, tried to do everything she could. I would lay my head on the ironing board while she tried to flatten it out. Not my head, just my hair. I can pick up the scent of singed hair a mile away. Over the years I tried every imaginable straightener on my own and professionally. I’ve spent a fortune on brushes, hair dryers, curling irons and OMG my retirement fund went entirely for creams, shampoos, conditioners, hot oil treatments and I can’t remember what else.

When I was about 4 my severely mentally retarded brother ran a wind up car through my hair. Cutting it out did not leave pretty results. Try picturing RoseAnn Rosannadanna with chopped out sections.

Along the way of my life, people would say “is it natural?” My answer was always “Who would pay to do this to themselves?” Others, (including my mother with baby fine poker straight hair) would say “oh you are so lucky”. I didn’t feel lucky.

But a few years ago,   I did what the popular movie Frozen says.   I “let it go”.   I let my curls be whatever they wanted to be for the most part plus or minus a little anti frizz stuff.

Ironically, or not so, it’s not that unusual when a stranger says to me, an adult, “I love your hair”.   And now I realize in fact that I AM lucky. My sister told me recently had left the house a couple times recently and realized once she was out and about haven forgotten to comb her hair. I can’t remember the last time I combed my hair. I don’t even own a hairbrush. I used to spend an hour a day blow drying my hair out. Now, my morning routine is pretty much limited to a 3 second glance in the mirror just to make sure no wild animals burrowed in during the night. We live on wooded acreage. It could happen.

Am I really writing an entire post about my hair? Nope. Stay tuned.

Recently, I received contact from a friend from about 30 years ago. Although we’re still trying to catch up on each other’s lives, one thing has become oddly apparent. Who she knew back then and who I knew her to be were two people that clearly did not exist. We both credited the other with possessing skills and strengths that were far from grounded in reality.

Perhaps we are simply blind or too inexperienced in our youth to see things of value properly. Maybe I will learn in 20 years that the things I think I see today are just as misguided. But what I now know is that my hair hasn’t changed much. I just have learned to see it from a very different lens. And similarly, the girl I was, back when my friend knew me, desperately wanted to live a life in which she could feel legitimate. The problem was that she took cues from everyone else to determine what that might/should be. It was only once I began to listen to my own voice somewhere along the way I created a life I recognized. I know today there are still people who see me as something they think I am, rather than who I really am. The difference is that i now understand it is their vision that is off, rather than whatever mask I have put forward.

I stopped wearing masks a long time ago. I found they messed up my hair.

Are there parts of yourself that you could appreciate in someone else, but fail to embrace within yourself?

Do people know you? Or do you let them know who you want them to see? Are you hiding your best attributes in fear that they won’t be good enough?

Do you try to mold parts of yourself into someone else or society’s criteria?

Are you judging yourself by a standard that is far more harsh than you would extend to another?

Is it okay to not be the same as everyone else? Or even the same as everyone expects you to be?

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog. I’d love to hear your comments. If you found this helpful, I hope you’ll pass it on to someone else.   Until next time, take good care.