A Merry Christmas Card Tribute: The Perfect(ly awful) Family Update

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human experience / Humor

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Happy holidays and Happy Hanukah, Merry Christmas, Happy Kwanzaa and so forth and so on to my dear, dear friends and relatives!

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It has been years since we have communicated, let alone exchanged a Christmas greeting to anyone. With that in mind, our family decided it would be thoughtful, and frankly the least we could do, to give back to you all a “teeny” morsel of the joy we have received from your cards over the years! So here is our update on how well we are faring during this holiday as well as during the past five years in general!

I’ll start with new family members! As some of you know, we purchased a beautiful puppy four years ago! He was brought into our family to give our geriatric mutt some company and hopefully add some fire to the geezer’s butt to quit lying around and go catch a damn ball or something.

Back Camera

We named him Moose, and he has brightened many a day around our home. To date, however, he hasn’t stopped growing and there is a fear he may attempt to take over the world one destroyed stiletto after another! There isn’t a carpet he hasn’t ripped up (or peed on) or a stuffed animal he hasn’t pulled the eyes out of, but as you can see, he is a darling animal.

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Sadly, we had to say goodbye to our other boy, Lucky, who was diagnosed with some horrible blood disease, either that or Moose ate him too.

Six months after Lucky was cremated I asked my lonely (miserable actually) sister to please get Lucky at the hospital for me. I was too overcome to do it myself. She appeared surprised, but supportive nonetheless. And the good news is that I’ve got him back home safe and sound in a wooden box  (at least we think that’s him!). My sister, on the other hand, is having fun proudly pronouncing “I got Lucky!” whenever someone asks her what she’s been up to. That’s a win-win if I ever heard one!

Lucky "before"

Lucky “before”

RIP old friend! But enough of that , let’s think of “merry” news!

My eldest child has competed his six month stay in detox! We are so jealous too, as a judge sentenced him after the multiple car accidents to a beautiful rehabilitation center in, can you guess? Sunny Miami! Yes, in Florida! So not only did Boyce come home clean and sober, but TAN! Can’t wait for him to wake up Christmas morning to his new car! SHHH, don’t tell!

Our “middlest” child, Eugenia, is thriving in her new high school studies now that the baby is born. Did you catch that bit of news friends? I’m a GRANDMA!!!! Won’t I just spoil that little angel to pieces too! After all the paternity tests have been doled out we’ll, of course, need to sue for child support, but that’s for another day! Until then Eug knows what she’ll be getting for Christmas and birthdays…diapers!

Our youngest son is the creative one. He’ll be in heels gracing a stage in no time at all! I’m kidding about that, he’s way too young, but Maurice is the one who actually looks better in Eugenia’s dresses then she does! Oh those boys these days! He’s still enjoying his tap and jazz lessons and playing the violin – the delight of all our parties, we don’t leave home without him!

And of course Lyle and I are doing fairly well. Between his losing his job and the legal fees we’ve paid to get Boyce out of the clinker, it’s been a bit of a struggle. We’re just trying to scrape enough together right now to pay off Lyles hemorrhoid surgery. It sure is nice to be able to see him sitting down again though!

So friends, while you’re living your perfect little Christmas card lives, just know that other’s of us are out there in the real world finding joy in soothing and effective anal repair creams. It’s all relative!

Sincerely,

The Hubdinker Family

Lyle, Demigloce, Boyce, Eugenia, li’l bitty Bernice, Maurice, and Moose

Eugenia's tattoo! Isn't it marvelous?!

Eugenia’s tattoo! Isn’t it marvelous?!

Good thing I did't quit my day job!

Good thing I didn’t quit my day job!

What if you forget me?

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cognition / emotional health / human experience / mental health / Uncategorized

Mom….?

What happens to you when I am no longer your daughter in your mind? When you don’t seem to know me anymore? Does it mean I no longer exist to you? Does it mean you no longer exist as my mother? Do I become, in essence, mother-less? How do I carry on then? How does ANYONE move forward when the cornerstone has been removed from the building they have depended on for shelter for all of their years? When YOU collapse…don’t we? When I subtract constant support in my life from the instability of my own spontaneity, what does that equal to? How is that even possible…unless it equals pain?

I watch as pieces of you fall away from my grasp. I hear how you struggle to make sense out of your life now when not all the pieces are there anymore and those that are don’t quite fit. The people and the places remain, but you don’t register them as before. Initially you fought the memory loss with anger, frustration and sadness. It was very difficult to witness. You got so impatient with yourself, going absolutely blank-faced when attempting to do something as you’d done without a thought hundreds of times before. Now, more often than not, I see you lay down with it. Almost as if you are giving in to the enemy – a new fragility of your mind. I don’t know which is worse. Watching as you fight an invisible and mighty force that ends up flooding your brain with anxiety and fear, or seeing you letting go of your faculties as if you didn’t know you had them to begin with.

 

I’ve just been mourning my father’s death from not even a year ago. Now I feel as if I need to mourn you, my dear, sweet saving grace. My mother. As you are not the mother who was a parent to me all of my years. It’s of no fault of your own. We are changing places slowly, but definitely. This is no surprise as I’d always assumed it would come to this; but not yet, Mom. You are the one who fought Goliath for your children. You endured the pain and suffering of Job trying to maneuver your girls to safety from the man I have yet to understand myself. You lost everything. Then survived to live another day with strength and courage.

If God were to bless you with long term memory loss I might actually be happy for you. I would see it as a gift, as it was in those earlier years that you were victimized – tortured beyond words…beyond even my horrible childhood memories.  Is it irony that puts both you and my father in the same box? Both of you done-in by your minds, through no fault or intention of your own. Seems the very thing that brought you together as kids in high school had torn you apart differently but with the same consequence, into your geriatric years. That punishment exacted on you both as well as for my sister and I, who didn’t get to know our father well because of his disease of Bipolar Disorder and through trying to understand  our mother, afflicted with yet another devastating brain disease, dementia.

Nothing tells me more clearly that these diseases, both medical, yet one called a “mental illness” and the other an illness of “old age”, are family diseases. We are all affected whether we love the persons or not, whether we’ve been born to the person’s or not, whether we’ve appreciated the individuals or not, whether we understand the diseases or not, whether we call them mental or medical. Families are affected. Families are in pain everywhere and need to be open about this. One illness doesn’t get to trump another, they are all devastating and potentially scarring to the one with the disease as well as those left in the background.

It’s my turn to be caretaker. To show compassion and respect to my mother. To put aside anger, sadness and painful potential for her loss…so young, so beautiful, loving and giving to us. I go forth and take my place among the remaining generations able to care, maybe even blessed to be able to give of myself to such an amazing woman – once an extremely strong woman, who has done the same for me over and over. I put on my brave face and move forward. She deserves a better me for the here and now, as that is what is left on her worse days.

Be ever present. Take in all of your moments, minutes, seconds. They are the last of their kind.

What is Dementia?
As many as 7% of adults aged 60 and older suffer from dementia—a decline in memory and other mental abilities that make daily living difficult.

Dementia takes a toll on those who suffer from it as well as on their caregivers. Along with problems with memory, language and decision-making abilities, dementia can cause other symptoms. These include changes in mood, such as increased irritability, depression and anxiety. They also include changes in personality and behavior.

Forgetting someone’s name, having trouble “finding” the word you want to use, or feeling irritable, however, does not necessarily mean you have dementia. It’s not unusual for people older than 60 to have mild, occasional, short-term memory loss. And a variety of health problems can cause some of the same symptoms as dementia. Depression, for example, can cause temporary confusion and memory problems. (healthinaging.org)

 What causes age-related memory loss?

  • The hippocampus, a region of the brain involved in the formation and retrieval of memories, often deteriorates with age.
  • Hormones and proteins that protect and repair brain cells and stimulate neural growth also decline with age.
  • Older people often experience decreased blood flow to the brain, which can impair memory and lead to changes in cognitive skills.
  • Older people are less efficient at absorbing brain-enhancing nutrients.

Executive function

Your executive function controls decision-making, planning, and organization. To combat potential confusion, simplify your choices and get rid of clutter. Clear out your closet to limit your clothing choices, pare down the number of cooking utensils and pots and pans in your kitchen. Label doors, cabinets, and boxes if you can’t remember what’s inside.

Visuospatial cognition

MCI often impairs your ability to interact with your visual world, which may include finding your way home and judging distances when you’re driving. For early MCI, you can use GPS in your car and avoid driving during high-traffic times and in unfavorable weather conditions. For more advanced MCI, an on-the-road driving evaluation with a driver rehabilitation specialist can help determine if you have the skills to continue driving.

Language

Your ability to recall words and use them properly may become impaired. But continuing to chat with family and friends is the best way to keep language skills fresh. When you can’t think of a word figure out another way to get the meaning across—or just say that you’re having trouble finding the precise word. Getting anxious will only inhibit recall, so pause to allow for the possibility that the word may or may not come back to you, then move on in your conversation.

Social cognition

More effort may be required to recall someone’s name, remember shared experiences, or hold up your end of a conversation. However, it’s vital to regularly stay in touch with friends and family, beyond the telephone. Maintaining social interaction is beneficial for preserving cognition, and many of the most pleasurable experiences are those you share with others. Regularly schedule any activity you enjoy—dancing, a visit

Harvard Health Letter: November 2013, a special health report published by Harvard Health Publications.

The same proactive  regimen that contribute to healthy aging and physical vitality also contribute to a healthy memory.

  • Exercise. Regular exercise boosts brain growth factors and encourages the development of new brain cells. Exercise also reduces the risk for disorders that lead to memory loss, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Exercise also makes a huge difference in managing stress and alleviating anxiety and depression—all of which leads to a healthier brain.
  • Socialize. People who don’t have social contact with family and friends are at higher risk for memory problems than people who have strong social ties. Social interaction helps brain function in several ways: it often involves activities that challenge the mind, and it helps ward off stress and depression. So join a book club, reconnect with old friends, or visit the local senior center. Being with other people will help keep you sharp.
  • Eat healthy foods. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables and drink green tea as these foods contain antioxidants in abundance, which can keep your brain cells from “rusting.” Foods rich in omega-3 fats (such as salmon, tuna, trout, walnuts, and flaxseed) are particularly good for your brain and memory. Eating too many calories, though, can increase your risk of developing memory loss or cognitive impairment.
  • Manage stress. Cortisol, the stress hormone, damages the brain over time and can lead to memory problems. But even before that happens, stress or anxiety can cause memory difficulties in the moment. When you’re stressed out or anxious, you’re more likely to suffer memory lapses and have trouble learning or concentrating.
  • Get a good nights sleep every night. Sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, the process of forming and storing new memories so you can retrieve them later. Sleep deprivation reduces the growth of new neurons in the hippocampus and causes problems with memory, concentration, and decision-making. It can even lead to depression—another memory killer.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking heightens the risk of vascular degeneration, which leads to memory loss due to constricted vessels. This can mimic alzheimer’s disease.

Resources about memory loss and aging:

Confusion, Memory Loss and Altered Alertness – Q & A about memory loss, what to do if you’re worried about losing your memory, and what to expect as you grow older. (University of Michigan Health System)

Understanding Memory Loss – Uses case-study examples to show different degrees and causes of forgetfulness and other lapses in cognition, with advice for diagnosis and ways to compensate for memory loss. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: National Institute on Aging)

Forgetfulness: Knowing When to Ask for Help – Discusses the distinction between memory lapses and dementia. (National Institute on Aging)

Symptoms of Alzheimer’s – Lists the ten warning signs of Alzheimer’s disease and differentiates them from normal, occasional forgetfulness. (Alzheimer’s Association)

Authors: Melinda Smith, M.A., Lawrence Robinson, and Robert Segal, M.A. Last updated: December 2014.

Visit the Alzheimer’s Association’s website for a list of 10 possible warning signs of Alzheimer’s. 

To Question the Sky

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human experience / mental health

Too hard, she whispered, this life.

It had borne down with such force as to suffocate the hope, eradicate the joy,  extinguish the scope

of what she believed she could handle.

Where are you God? she whimpered, her vision fueled by sorrow…(more a cry for help than a questioning of His divine marrow. But would she even make herself follow?)

Let me help you stand. She heard it softly, yet stronger than a whisper… she questioned His demand, began to answer but words came out as a whimper.

Maybe it came from her own mouth. Always, she doubted, she questioned her brain stirs. The ones that convinced her she was sane, even when she wasn’t so sure

anymore.

Why would you question me? He said softly, What have I done to disprove my love? You were silent, I feared you had gone, she responded looking up above. I thought you were angry when I went out on my own path; seems I went the wrong way and ended up feeling your wrath.

That wasn’t mine, He stated clearly. I have been patiently waiting.

I’ve forever loved you dearly, I would never expect you to repay me.

There is nothing you could do in this life to make me go away.

I am present. I am here. That is where I commit to stay.  

With a look that again questioned her own thoughts, she said out loud, yet to herself, You mean you love me anyway, even with all my doubt? 

 I am unworthy, I am so wrong, I live for myself only, I am not strong. I want to appreciate you. I want to love my life, but I often can’t think straight, my feelings just take flight. I seek out who to blame for the sadness that I feel. For the injustice and the madness and the envy and the zeal. I forever wonder if I’m even normal, or if I’m grounded here on earth

just to die a miserable death due to this illness, or for no other reason than that I am lost, or maybe just cursed.

Let go of your troubles and allow me to take control. Let me hold you up by believing I’m here and I’m whole. I won’t let you fall, you don’t have to fear. Faith is what it means to close your eyes yet feel I’m near.

Your humanity was my greatest creation. I made you different  from others. You are each your own masterpiece with gifts to give your brothers. 

I want  you to stand up. Use your courage to speak to a nation – let all people know that being kind is their obligation. Tell them that life on earth is often hard, but worth the pain; it grows them in such positive ways that they can never be the same.

They will be better than most, having felt so lost. When they seek my help it is all worth the cost.

There are those who have received other gifts in this life here on earth. They’ve been blessed with patience or beauty or mirth. Unfortunately, and quite sadly for them, they are unkind toward themselves.  They use drugs to escape or people to condemn.

You have a special gift, combined with others you have accrued, to make a difference to so many others and most especially to your own brood.  It begins with you and ends there too.

Wear your scars proudly, they mean you have lived. Learn from them daily. That’s the legacy you give.     

A trail of voices

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acceptance / cognition / emotional health / human experience / mental health

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SHE goes to sleep right beside you. SHE thrives on remaining close and reminding you of who you are and what you are made of as the last thing you think about before nodding off. In your heavy sleep SHE sometimes belongs to that dream state you wake up from when the alarm you set for work abruptly goes off. Lifting your head off the pillow you shrug and wonder what it was that you were just dreaming about. Why your generally uniform blankets are in a disarray, your hair sticking up in strange places as if you actually took some kind of journey during the night. You wonder where you went and who was with you and why you’d dream with such emotion involved. Your arms automatically reach out to no one as you stretch, hands toward feet. As you hear a cracking of bones connecting to align themselves in your spine, your brain goes through the various memory cues that might shake your thoughts awake, only to be interrupted by HER whiny voice commenting, “My God you’re getting old!” After several seconds of truly feeling your age, you say hell with it and get up with a blank expression. You aren’t sure how to feel.

It’s no surprise that SHE’s right there with you at breakfast. SHE suggests that “you shouldn’t eat the French toast, they go straight to your already cellulite-laden hips.” Of course you already knew that but didn’t really want to care this morning. You block HER out and put extra butter and syrup on your toast. SHE’s an annoyance, always criticizing you anyway. Do what you want, you say to yourself defiantly, and shut up! You say to HER. SHE is always within hearing range.

You stuff yourself. SHE says SHE told you not to do that, adding that “You are a pig and must be pretty stupid if you can’t follow simple directions. You must want to be fat since you refuse to try hard enough!” You now feel your body physically flinching at this summation. Not true. You think to yourself, I passed my licensing  exam yesterday so I must not be stupid! “Barely,” SHE chimes in automatically, “Everybody knows you are lazy and barely study. You could have done better.” Is SHE still here? You don’t counter, hoping SHE’ll just go away this time. Who asked HER to join you anyway?

You very consciously shrug HER off, clean your dishes and go up to your room to take a shower and get dressed for work. On the way to the shower, you catch a glimpse of yourself naked in your bathroom mirror. Out of the clear blue you hear. “OH. MY. GOD! YOU HAVE LIKE FIFTY POUNDS OF BACK FAT!! YOU’RE LIKE CARRYING AROUND A FAMILY OF FOUR – JUST ON YOUR FRIGGIN BACK! WHAT A SLOB! Have another piece of French toast, why don’t you?”  SHE mocks you. Doesn’t SHE know how hard this is for you? And yet still SHE chastises. Once in the shower you do what you normally do and wash your body thoroughly. “Stop it!” the voice that surprisingly sounds  like your mother’s says. Stop WHAT?  You say as if you are accustomed to authority figures criticizing you in your own private bathroom. “Stop touching yourself like that! It’s dirty! God is watching!”  Wait, what is my mother’s voice doing here?

You hurriedly finish rinsing, very consciously ignore the mirror as you dry off and dress; all the while attempting to ignore the voices that suggest your “thighs resemble that of an elephant with its sheer mass and wrinkly texture” and “that if you would exercise in your free time you could really work on that.” But “that you probably won’t because you are too busy being lazy.” Dabbing on a hint of makeup, brushing your teeth and hair all come rather automatically. Today you see a tooth that has been chipped for months. It glares at you. Is it that obvious? “Yes,” SHE answers. Another flaw you think and rush downstairs to go to work.

While at work a peer smiles, waves at you and states matter-of-factly, “You look nice today!”

You look up, smile weakly and say a barely audible, “Thanks”, while still moving toward your office. Actually, I look like shit and you must be blind, you think.

Your boss calls you in her office and suggests that your work with a client needs more of your time and investment. You are pissed. You are embarrassed. Your pants are too tight. You ate too much breakfast. You are a pig. Your tooth is broken and hideous. You are stupid and now you can’t do your job correctly. All morning “people” have told you how slovenly you are and this is just the pinnacle of it all. You nod like you understand what your boss has just said to you, though you are still in your own head fighting yourself. You immediately get back to your office. Shut the door. Put your head down on your desk. Then taking note that tears are flowing and mascara is bleeding down your puffy, wrinkly face, you grab a tissue and wipe your tear-stained “Midnight” L’Oreal mascara off, which takes with it your Revlon “Light Brown Haze” eye shadow, and Minerals “Plum Fantasy” eyeliner. You suddenly feel naked.

What’s it going to be? It’s merely 10:00 a.m. and life is still moving forward while you sit stuck with yourself in a room with a door shut and hundreds of negative voices telling you what you are; who you are; why you are; what you can and can’t do. There’s just one very important voice missing.

Yours.

Make your words mean something positive. You don’t have to live with the recordings from your childhood. Nor do you need to send those messages along with your children. You do have to work to rid yourself of them though and there are ways to do that. If not they will attack while you sleep. Do it. Today. Now. Life is too precious to hear anything but what you can do. feel. love. help. be. live. strive for. enjoy. create. marvel at. pray to.

  • Forgive. yourself. You didn’t realize you were putting that kind of burden on you or your loved ones.
  • Make your words count. The ones you tell yourself and those that you share with others.
  • Love yourself enough to practice positivity. Yourself first, so you can share it genuinely with others.
  • Sarcasm is that which is not genuine. It is angry and often hurtful. We use it to stifle people when what we really want to say may be angry, hurtful and counterproductive.
  • Deal with your feelings. Feelings turn to words…the good, the bad and the ugly. Feelings just are. Stop judging yourself and others for their feelings. If not dealt with they end up flowing from the top downward. Our children end up flooded with words coming at them from parents, grandparents, great-great grandparents and so forth.
  • People might think you are funny. So was Robin Williams. At the core of funny can be hurt and pain. Get to know you. Accept who that (you) is or make changes, but do it with a loving  and open heart. Start with the words you tell yourself.
  • Many thanks are in order to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Can I get an "Amen!"?

    Many thanks are in order to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Can I get an “Amen!”?

Getting “buy”…

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emotional health / human experience / kindness / responsibility

IMG_3630     With each new day of the holiday season people find themselves either, a.) simply overwhelmed at what they haven’t completed yet when they foolishly compare themselves to their neighbors, b.) joyously overwhelmed by the lights and the beauty and the magic, or c.) agitatedly overwhelmed at the sheer magnitude that a new year brings regarding responsibility or “fresh starts” with unknown resolutions due to life not lived as they’d promised the year before.

Then there are those who, like me, are so emotionally scattered (brained) that the time required to think isn’t utilized to it’s greatest potential. That overwhelming feeling of grace and the awareness of the beauty isn’t often seen in this case, though it could be and has been and needs to be. It’s all a flash of madness and yearning that bring up all scenarios and feelings of  past, present and future at once. It’s extremes…highs and lows. The relief I get from beginning a new year of possibility is still too far away for me to count on.

So I say to myself….be present.

For those of us not familiar with or affected by mental illness, an umbrella term for the many diseases of the brain, I can tell you that as overwhelmed as we are with shopping, friend-visiting and preparations for one of the largest celebration seasons in the world, there are those who cannot manage even that well. They will and do require more of our time, attention and prayers. This goes for those with any and all difficult conditions that they must manage when times arise that are supposed to bring together family and friends. There is some significance to it all; and for too many, these are one of the years greatest challenges.

So I say to myself….be kind.

Tensions may arise, old unresolved feelings get brought back up, and family not present for whatever reason can cause a myriad of personal difficulties, either real or imagined. “Merry Christmas” isn’t always merry and “happy holidays” together with “happy new year” aren’t necessarily happy either. Too many of us suffer in silence on these occasions. The very pressure to feel light hearted and optimistic can just exacerbate a source of sadness or frustration already somewhere in one’s subconscious. It is not for us to judge.

So I say to myself…..be gentle. 

Ideally, everyday should encompass the holiday spirit with which we see and treat people, all people; however, that might be a bit exhausting for the givers in the world. As just as there are the overachievers in our children’s lives (Scout Leaders, Homeroom Moms, Coaches….etc…) these givers are a minority.  The remainder of us sit back in awe and praise them for the magnificently decorated cupcakes, for example, which have somehow captured all religions and races so beautifully as to warm every students heart at the “holiday” party; all in one fantastically sweet treat! We wonder where on earth they came up with the idea and the resources to set up an actual planetarium in the school cafeteria during “Mars Month” and we encourage their heroics by feeding them praise and offering to send in a bag of whatever our grocery store has to offer to help them better teach our children for us.

So I say to myself…..be supportive.

And it’s not until one of them suggests innocently, “Yes, please send in some marshmallows shaped as stars! Oh, the kids will love it!” That we smile and nod, thinking to ourselves, WTF?! I’m not the overachiever, SHE is! Kids are getting plain, spherical shaped marshmallows; who cuts marshmallows into star shapes?? Who has that kind of time? (and yet you know she’s right…the damn kids would love them!)

So I say to myself…..be patient.

Maybe that is how come we have these seasonal celebrations. The weary can gear up for a time when giving is not only appreciated but expected…we even get tax write offs if money is exchanged! A two-fer! Feel good about yourself for ten minutes and fill your quotient of tax grace! What if the only thing we had as incentive to give was the actual act of giving?

So I say to myself…..be generous.

Where would you place yourself in the spectrum between giver and taker?

What is close to your heart that could use your time and talent?

If not now….when? Causes…people…dream fulfillment can use us anytime of the year. We can be the marshmallow-retrievers or the planetarium-creators. We could be the family member who educates herself on her mother’s diagnosis of depression, or we could visit that relative in the hospital or nursing home.

So I say to myself…..be aware.

What if we faced our fears and opened ourselves up to embracing a loving heart…people who have died and left us with sadness…people who have wronged us somehow with conditions they didn’t ask for…people who simply need acknowledgement, a caring touch, validation, genuineness, kindness.  All of which no amount of money can buy.

So I say to myself…..be forgiving.

Stretch Yourself. Today, tomorrow, the next day. Give a shit. Make something matter to you and work it. You are bigger than that which holds you back.

Go make a difference in your world.

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 ~people. all people. not things. matter~

Peace Be With You: A Letter

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emotional health / mental health

Thanksgiving Day, 2014

Dear Dad,

This year is the very first year that I remember not avoiding your phone call. Every year of the past forty I have avoided what most consider a mundane task; and admit that I did this in several not-terribly-clever ways. All of which I was reasonably certain you could see right through, as you had the unfortunate hypervigilance of an individual with the brain wiring of a coyote. Always alert. Always defensive. Paranoid. Added to the delusions of power and grandeur, you could see right through my  lame excuses for not calling you, in fact, avoiding you. I never gave you my cell phone number so that when I would spend the holiday somewhere other than my house you would not be able to get to me; or I would make the phone call when I knew you would be visiting your dementia-riddled mother in the nursing home.

At the sound of the “beep” I would happily leave a message full of “disappointment” that you were unavailable and suggest that I may not be available later myself if you decided to call me back, in which case I’d add a cheerful, “Happy Thanksgiving” or “Merry Christmas”, or “Happy Birthday to you” and “have a great day!” As a last resort I would cold call, always praying for that answering machine to switch on as quickly as possible so I could get through a message without you hearing my voice throughout your tiny state-subsidized apartment and rushing over to pick it up.  There was only one other way it was even remotely tolerable to have our obligatory holiday chat. It was with a stiff drink in my hand and very low expectations, or an internal dialogue to ‘face my fears’ fresh in my mind prior to dialing the numbers. In which case, I preferred calling you, so I could be in charge of the time and day and what kind of hard liquor to consume prior.

And then there was this nauseous sense of foreboding I consistently got in the pit of my stomach. Like a sort of visual hell, I imagined you all alone. My dad heating up a chicken pot pie in the microwave for his Thanksgiving meal, topped off with jello cup that came prepackaged from the grocery store days ago. “Soft foods, please, my teeth have been giving me trouble and I need dentures made”, you’d suggest to us when we’d ask what you wanted for a treat in the monthly box we would send out of guilt. I dared not ask if you had company for the holiday. I knew the answer most times. You used to tell us (my sister and I) matter-of -factly that you had no where to go, but maybe you’d run into one of the residents in your apartment building. We already knew that most of them had tried to get you evicted on several counts prior, however, so I couldn’t imagine that happening. Do you even remember throwing chairs out of your second floor window in a manic phase one year? What if I was there? Would that have happened? We used to thank my mother for getting us out of that mess.  I remember that it was in middle school when she remarried and we moved 24 hours away from our home state. But what if we’d stayed in our small town in Maine and been a source of motivation to keep you going? Could we have helped to keep you stabilized?

What if it wasn’t you that abandoned us, but us that abandoned you?

My dad, how you hopelessly tried to reach out to me for a connection that I didn’t feel like I wanted or even could embrace. However, you would  accept and be grateful for the  monthly boxes I’d send as a filler for any warmth or compassion from me. Thank you. It was all I could do. And I’m sorry that it was all I could do. It was so sad to me that you generally had no one in your life to share these stupid holidays with. That left me feeling responsible for your happiness somehow. An obligation that I never wanted. In response to this I would send a bigger box of candy or Hickory Farms savory goodies. I will never be able to atone for the guilt I have felt for a lifetime of dismissing you.

The phone call. The least I could do for you I couldn’t do well. I knew that if I didn’t keep the conversation moving on something as interesting to you as baseball or football stats, players, or games, you would enter in extraneous information about my mother leaving you forty years ago or how lonely and depressed you are and how we (my sister and I) don’t visit you so it is our fault that you are alone and miserable. I would take pause and pray that I could keep my mouth shut and stay calm.  I teetered between the intense pain I felt and the need to protect you, and immense anger that you never fought the adversity you ended up in together with your reliance on alcohol to numb your pain. The sickness put you at odds with all people. Especially me. On those occasions I couldn’t depersonalize you as “a client” in my private psychotherapy practice, and I ended up feeling hurt as I’d been as a child with you as my role model for what dads do. Don’t take the bait, I said to myself. Again.

You and I danced to this argument on numerous occasions when the obligatory call took place. You would mention something about how come I never made the effort to be at YOUR house on Thanksgiving; or that (your) mother got all the time with me because I probably didn’t care about you anyway. Victimhood was a connector, you knew I hated it. Negative attention is better than no attention though. You were quite good at that. You’d had years to perfect it.

Eventually, as per usual, I took the bait, even encouraged you to some extent, by spitefully shooting back at you the fact that you were the adult back then, not me. I continued to batter you with how small children lacked the control to make the decisions you had made regarding things like medication-taking and job-keeping, “little” things like that. Had you made an effort to follow your medication regimen you could have kept at least one of your jobs, your family and your life in tact. And since you couldn’t, the least you could have done was to show an attempt to spend time with me as an adult. I knew you would never argue the facts on that. I wanted to feel better having bested you; however, I have always left feeling so much worse because the reality was just so frigging sad.The truth was that for the past thirty years you were hospitalized each holiday season.   This happened between us over and over with absolutely no resolution. That’s how we connected. That’s how come I couldn’t get myself to answer that damn phone.

All I ever wanted was to be validated by you. I’d always felt that it must have been me that was the “crazy one”. You were so convincing. You made me doubt myself constantly. Did I just hear you say you were recruited by the Red Sox in college? You were a boxer? Really, you met John Kennedy? Mom had an affair? She’s alcoholic? I started this argument? I am the one who convinced you to wait on that doctor appointment? What?! Your stories were THAT GOOD. I think even you believed them.

What I needed was for you to just simply say, “I should have taken my medications and gone to my therapy appointments and encouraged you all to join me so you could understand my bipolar 1 disorder diagnosis.” That’s all. Nothing more.

The fact remains, Dad, that you didn’t understand your diagnosis yourself; nor did you ever accept it. Mental illness was taboo – so stigmatized back then that it was considered a weakness or character flaw. People didn’t understand that your brain was just not wired in the same way as most other people’s brains. It was no fault of your own. It was nobody’s fault really. Your illness was something you needed to come to terms with in order to manage it as well as you could. I saw you trying to run from it by switching jobs and locations and starting over constantly; or by drinking heavily while ignoring psychotropic medications which would only work to spiral you back into a manic-depressive cycle. But you weren’t the only one spiraling. You took us with you into the chaos, creating a surreal quality to our lives.

And then suddenly you died. We shared a most sobering three week experience while you were in the hospital. And then you gave in to the grace of God. I never got my apology. I didn’t even want it at that point. In fact, it was I who apologized to you as you lay comatose in that long, narrow hospital bed. I grew to understand your tortured mind. I knew you couldn’t control certain compulsions and that denial was a large part of your disease. I knew that you would’ve been a really great dad if your mind had been clear and you had more information at your disposal, like we do today. I know you didn’t want to be the town homeless, crazy guy. You always had too much pride for that. I know that you would never have put our lives in jeopardy with your manic driving and alcohol-induced delusional stunts.

As an adult myself, how much did I do to help you understand your medical disease,  your set of genetics and circumstances? Given that I chose mental health as my life’s work, I still wonder, how much could I have actually helped you to accept who you truly were? The fact is, while you were busy running from your truth, eventually succumbing to death; I was also busy running and I’m not sure I ever stopped.

Was I ashamed of you for even a minute? No. Never. Was I angry? It wasn’t until adulthood when I realized how much I’d repressed from childhood. With a sudden trigger, I relived my life through the eyes of that vulnerable little girl who just wanted her dad to be “normal” and her parents to stop yelling and for the nightmares to stop. Most importantly though, I was hopeful. I was a believer that something would change. I’d assumed that meant you, Dad. I thought that over the years the psychosis that took over would mellow. You’d be a tired elderly man who somehow understood the value of life lived from that point on. No more looking back only to stumble over the baggage. You would get to know your grandchildren, and you would be proud of the adult I’d become despite it all.

It wasn’t you that changed, however. It was me. You were only doing what your illness dictated.  After a time, I knew that. I gave up on you well before I can comfortably admit though. And I’m sorry. I pray that you didn’t suspect that. It would  be unnecessarily hurtful.

I love you and I know you always loved me. I’m so sorry our world was not a better, more welcoming place for a once ambitious, hardworking man with an illness he never asked for and didn’t deserve. Nobody does. I’m also saddened that there were no programs for people like you to be able to work and grow in confidence, even with your illness as a possible setback at times – especially with this disease that stripped you of your dignity because the world wasn’t ready to deal with something they didn’t understand.

Please help me help others to understand.

Peace to you, Dad.

A Mirror to the Self-Absorbed

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emotional health / human experience / mental health / relationships / responsibility
...one of the many...

…one of the many…

MIRROR, MIRROR ON WALL, WHO’S THE MOST AWESOME ME OF ALL?

Narcissism: nahr-suh-siz-em,

-n 1. Inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Synonyms: self-centeredness, smugness, egocentrism. (dictionary.com)

A dedication in the book Trapped In The Mirror: Adult Children of Narcissists in Their Struggle for Self by Elan Golomb, Ph.D. (1992), goes as follows:

“To my mother, whose last words before an unexpected death were, ‘I have to learn to assert myself.'”

The dedication first gave me a chuckle, then almost as quickly as I’d been inspired to laugh, I took pause. How awful an illustration of a lifetime with your mother  – it all boiling down to a single sentence that espouses one’s own need opposed to giving out something of herself at her last breath for others to hang on to. She continued, into her death, to take. As horrible a picture as this is to me, it is also a true characterization of what Narcissistic Personality Disorder can look like.

An estimated 6.2% of the US population has been diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), meaning they meet five or more of the following criteria according to the DSM-IV:

-A grandiose sense of self-importance, exaggerating their abilities, talents and achievements with expectation for being recognized as superior
-A preoccupation with persistent fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
-A belief that he or she is “special” and unique and could only be understood by and  associate with those people and/or institutions of the same status
-A constant need for attention, affirmation and praise
-A strong sense of entitlement and an expectation of special treatment, as with unflinching compliance with his expectations
-Is interpersonally exploitative of others, taking advantage of them for personal gain
-Lacks empathy: is unwilling or unable to identify with the feelings and needs of others
-Is often envious of others or believes others are envious of them
-Shows arrogant or haughty behaviors and/or attitudes

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STORY TIME WITH JULES:

Once upon a time there was a young man named “Sam”. He grew up as the eldest male in a family of three. His two younger sisters were around, but according to his recollection of childhood, they added very little to the table. Sam thought of himself as “the man” of the family, not because his father was away much of the time, but because he deserved that right. In fact, when he looks back, if he had been born fatherless, he would have had more freedom and responsibility to be “who he was destined to be”. His father just tended to “get in the way” while his doting mother gave her only son the strokes that he needed. She fed him literally and figuratively. “Not because she was a particularly giving person”, Sam would add, “as much as because (he believed he) truly deserved to be treated differently (than his siblings).” This was “a matter of fact, dammit, not (him) just talking out of (his) ass”, he informed me as we sat in my office many years ago.

Sam had been referred to me by his girlfriend, “Sarah” who had come in to see me hoping to keep their relationship in tact. Sam was the puzzle piece that I needed to see in order to help them decide if their relationship could ever get to a two-sided place.  Sam believed he was sitting in my office with his girlfriend of seven months in order to convince Sarah that she was the problem.  Within several minutes of our first meeting he’d made it clear that Sarah had “self-esteem issues” and was “too needy”.

“Where did that confident, beautiful blonde go?” He whined. “Man, my friends wanted her so bad! I HAD HER! HA!”

He’d suggested that perhaps I could “toughen her up” as he was on an upward ladder and hoped that Sarah could be his partner (read: eye candy) as he made his climb up the gold stairway to success. Initially, Sam believed in his mediocre athletic abilities. His goal being an NBA ride to infamy. He was scrappy and hard working for the most part, but lacked the height and the athleticism to be that college star or later, that professional athlete that he’d always thought he was meant to be. Instead of pouring that determination into other ventures he accused coaches and even school athletic administrations of failing him somehow. They chose not to see what he could bring to the table because they were “too busy looking at the taller players or the more celebrated players, or they just plain were threatened by his obvious talent and good looks.” He believed in himself to such a large degree that he screamed “discrimination!” “Injustice!” “Prejudice!” “Foul Play!” all at once. Everyday. Until he was dropped from the program.

Years later, as a father, he created a family that was both imperfect and infallible. He created a beautiful home that always needed to be better and nicer than his neighbors. He had boatloads of “faithful” friends who he stroked and was able to manipulate with his favor until they questioned him, at which point they were scum. Worse than scum. They questioned him? That was deplorable. A chink to the ego only meant that the “friend” was in need of humiliation and a swift kick out to the dumpster. Unless of course this “friend” limped back bleeding from the humility he’d acquired after the brutal beating he’d deserved for questioning Sam’s integrity. At this point, and because he considered himself a compassionate kind of guy, Sam would forgive the offender while demanding loyalty from that point on, and he’d add that redemption came with a price. So Sam’s “friend” got demoted on the rather large list of “friends”.  Instead of being fed the filet mignon at the grand dinners, this “friend” got hamburger and he would like it.

Sam created a world of expectations for others that may or may not be parallel to that which he placed on himself; as he naturally saw himself at a higher level than most anyone else. He did this “only because it was true.” That’s what he’d tell his first wife, Sarah, who bought his success story and accommodated his whims until she could no longer sell out and live without validation, empathy or respect. At some point years later she returned to me in therapy hoping I could help her find herself again. She had a young son closely resembling his father in genetics. She feared he might end up like his father and swallow her up. She didn’t know if she could sacrifice herself again like she had before. She wondered if she could love this child anymore than she already did, but how could she condone him behaving like his father had? Could she be the best mother to a son who adored and idolized his father? Could she teach him empathy and humility or was this a genetic deficit that she couldn’t tangle with environmentally or alone?

When Sam looked into the mirror he saw strength and good looks, an incredible ability to achieve all he would ever want, along with superior intelligence, which went without saying. He didn’t see all these positive traits because he was arrogant or self-centered, as he’d been accused; He saw them because they were just there and, in his mind, he was a realist. He would tell himself with a chuckle, “Sometimes a banana is just a banana, baby!” and ease on down the road.

When Sarah looked into the mirror she saw premature aging under her eyes. In perhaps her only act of rebellion while married to Sam, she’d refused to get a “tuck” for her aging lids and Botox for the wrinkles. They were her war scars. She had endured what seemed a lifetime of giving-in to get along. It was now time to take something back.

Her life.

* Sam and Sarah are fictional names for real clients. Specifics have been altered.

**Sam and Sarah’s son came to therapy with Sarah for several months, periodically throughout the years. Both are doing very well and have an understanding of Sam’s diagnosis. They are able to work around it so that their son can also spend small amounts of time with his father, when Sam avails himself.

***Sam has not been seen by me or any other therapist, that I am aware of, since our first series of meetings “for Sarah”. He is reportedly with his third wife, raising a fourth son.

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FYI IN CASE ANYONE IS WONDERING:

Not surprisingly, a significant portion of the US population are diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder. Many more people do not meet all of the criteria for NPD, but may still exhibit narcissistic personality traits from time to time. For this reason it is difficult to know for sure how many people carrying such traits might be out there.

People diagnosed with  narcissistic personality disorder can easily slip by undetected because they don’t appear to be sick or stereotypically carrying any mentally illness, unlike people with other personality disorders or behavioral problems. People diagnosed with npd appear to have an over-inflated sense of self-importance, an insatiable need for attention and a lack of empathy. When you first meet them or get to know them it seems you are enjoying time with someone that has a high level of self-esteem. That can be attractive to a reserved person, like Sarah. Sam seemed fun, energetic, outgoing and just a little egotistical initially. Not a red flag raiser probably. Unsuspecting people can be easily lured into their inflated self-importance and grandiose schemes and before they realize it, they’ve become involved with someone who is toxic to their wellbeing.

Perhaps one of the most troubling things about narcissistic personality disorder is that it can be very difficult to treat with therapy because the clients are often in denial or completely unwilling to accept that they have a disorder. If someone truly believes that he or she is special, more talented and superior, imagine how challenging it might be for a therapist to convince him or her otherwise. It is for this reason that people with narcissistic personality disorder rarely seek treatment, and usually only agree to therapy at the urging of friends or family members, or to treat other issues (such as anxiety or depression) that result from the disorder. Many therapists  have to release their narcissistic patients when they reach an impasse and the patient believes they are fine and refuses to see the problem.

Narcissistic individuals enjoy talking while experiencing great difficulty when it comes to listening. Reciprocation is not in their vocabulary. Therefore it can be relatively easy to tell if the person you are with has narcissistic traits or tendencies. Ask them questions, check out their social media sites (pages, contents, status, input….revolving around them?)  Check yourself.  Do you feel manipulated? Are you getting yourself in too deep with another’s grandiose plans? Are you giving so much that you feel taken advantage of, or even exploited? Is your relationships admiration-dependent, in other words, you-stroke-me, I-stroke-me?

You may have to ask yourself: Is this banana JUST a banana?

Fishing for Answers: The Tolerance Tank in Hot Water

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acceptance / accountability / carassius auratus / emotional health / goldfish / human experience / justice / kindness / pedicures / responsibility / Stepford Wives / tolerance / Tolerance Tank

The Wives were restless. They desperately wanted to make a big splash but something was holding them back…Charmaine? She really was different than the other girls in her sorority. Clearly, she was too kind hearted, got along with any old fish that swam down the pike and seemed to enjoy spending her free time with that marshmellowy-white colored fish, Thor. He was clearly an outsider like the others before him.  It’s true.

Thor...he almost looks like a "Princess", doesn't he? That's why he appealed to my softer side.

Thor…he almost looks like a “Princess”, doesn’t he? That’s why he appealed to my softer side.

Among the girls remaining in the Tolerance Tank, Charmaine was the most adamant about possessing her own identity. Being called a “wife” among the other Stepford Wives relegated her to a follower position. This was not her style and, she decided, with guidance from her close friend, Thor, to make a break from the pack and swim toward shore with her identity in tact. She was going to take responsibility for her deeds once and for all. No more treading water behind the Wives. She resolved to be accountable for herself and her actions from here on out. She wouldn’t make waves, but would own what was hers; to include not sitting idly while her sister swimmers took advantage of those that swam innocently hoping to have finally arrived in a sacred place of peace and harmony toward all colors, sizes and shapes of sea life, most especially the main tenants swimming about, or Carassius auratus, in the Tolerance Tank.

Stepford Wives mingle with Pimp Daddy, Creamsickle and Maria prior to..."the event". I cannot go there.

Stepford Wives mingle with Pimp Daddy, Creamsickle and Maria prior to…”the event”. I cannot go there.

If you happen to see the ladies pictured here: Bobbie, Joanne, Claire, and Sarah...where's Charmaine?

If you happen to see the ladies pictured here: Bobbie, Joanne, Claire, and Sarah…where’s Charmaine?

You will remember, the Tolerance Tank had originated as a safe haven for justice and neutrality, where nonjudgmental swimming was the norm and a pet store 100 gallon tank teeming with tons of relatives was just a nightmarish threat akin to imprisonment to all life living and breathing underwater. It was the horrid den of iniquity that any swim-loving fish dreaded. There was so little respect for life at these places! A death meant simply that days later a small blue net would swiftly be dipped into the living space of thousands, scooping up the remains of someone’s loved one and periodically a living onlooker just passing by, who most likely would be dumped back in with the rest just after he’d been seen flipping around in the net like a hyperactive fish. Less likely the death would occur to a transient fish with no ties to friends or relatives, or one with a nasty drug habit.

No funeral service, no goodbyes…just a lift out of the tank and into a small plastic baggy, which most understood to be a transportation device…but to WHERE they all wondered? Some residents would suggest that the remaining group of thousands consider a candle light vigil to honor the buoyantly dead; however the logistics were baffling to say the least. No bother, within three weeks the tiny goldfish brain would have erased the sadness from their memory banks and all would be forgotten, unless there was yet another floater among them sometime in between – a common occurrence. In this case another few week memory period would keep this death alive in their heads as they prayed to be transported ALIVE out of this swimming hell and into a peaceful place  – a sanctuary of sorts – like they’d heard about in bedtime stories while smaller and more impressionable.

One time a crafty little spotted fish played dead in order to be freed from the tank’s confines, with the idea that once he had his body placed into the net he would hop out and flip around to the nearest sink, where he’d remain moist on a sponge used for washing pet paraphernalia until the young pet store employee, Ralph, came to work. Ralph had adopted many a fish from this very tank. This rebellious fish was confident that his plan would come to fruition. And it almost did. Except that Ralph was on vacation that week and the often angry Rachel was scheduled to work the fish and sea creature area. She scooped up this dramatic fish and without even a second glance, tossed him in the employee bathroom toilet. His flipping and turning did him no good. He’d been flushed and sent out into the sanitation pipeline where most likely he would asphyxiate from the gaseous fumes. Friends from the tank were awash with sadness and the revelation that if they didn’t get out of that overgrown tank of mass confusion, they were going to end up like that clueless martyr.

CHARMAINE!!!! LIFE SUPPORT! STAT!!!

CHARMAINE!!!! LIFE SUPPORT! STAT!!!

.

A nonjudgmental acceptance, kindness, understanding and respect were not only Tolerance Tank priorities, but Charmaine’s new mantra as well. After her brush with death from a suspicious blend of fish pellets mixed with what investigators termed, “The human sugary delight, Pop Rocks”, in her gullet, She would no longer follow the crowd of “wives” to garner the advantages of membership. Who cares if she didn’t get into the most trendy clubs? Why did she need to get her fins waxed and gills shined weekly? Thor appreciated her just the way she was. Goldfish who clearly had no conscience or goals in life except to be known as a “wife” was no more appealing to Charmaine than would be swimming in a pint-sized carton of chocolate milk or cliff diving from a toilet seat. Besides, where did the sorority name of Stepford Wives even come from? Charmaine didn’t know of any living husbands among them!

However, the mystery remained…how and why did Maria the Samba Swimmer, Pimp Daddy Gangsta and Creamsickle (is anyone else hungry?) end up circling a tornado of toilet water in someone’s loo? Charmaine realized that she herself had been one of the last goldfish to be seen with each of the victims prior to their demise. Was it because she was running for Miss Congeniality of the Tolerance Tank 2014 or was that just a coincidence? Would her sister wives be attempting to frame her after the suspicious breakfast of human candy didn’t kill her? Obviously, she was clearly not as pretentious as they all were and would therefore never truly fit in as a “wife”, but what could her sister wives’ motive be? So many questions yet to uncover. Law enforcement in the Tolerance Tank was dismal at best. If Charmaine needed her name cleared she was going to have to do it herself. How did she end up like this, fighting for her life, then her character and integrity?

She’d once dreamed of opening up her own spa in Rome, no less,  where her employees would come far and near to work in the pedicure department, eating dead skin cells off of weary travelers. Her goal was to hire out an entire 100 gallon tank of her friends from a nearby pet store and give them room and board as specialists in the art of human foot cleansing. It was a  win-win proposition any way she thought about it. The hoards of fish got to eat rather well and the poor, sore-footed people would have a gentle exfoliation experience in a relaxing environment where fish were in charge of providing a service to enhance peoples lives, one foot at a time. A pipe dream her dad said. A silly whim, her mom said shortly before she’d succumbed to a shark feeding episode of the most horrendous kind.

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People at the pet store who they thought they could trust since daily they served them breakfast, placed that blue fish net low and scooped her up just as she was reading Charmaine a bedtime fishtale. A mother torn from her young was simply outrageous and unfortunately, not unheard of. Another reason the Tolerance Tank was initiated. The tank motto: Live and Let Swim was proudly displaced at the reception area of the tank announcing that without a doubt all were welcomed. Until the three floaters that is…

Charmaine had a plan. She would need to enlist a few of her fellow pet store fish for this, but she promised the spirit of her three dead fish friends that she would find the answers to the question: Just who offed the minority fish in the Tolerance Tank? And was her all white friend, Thor, the next target in order to make it a tank of all orange goldfish? Would the majority win in this game of fools? Not if Charmaine could help it!

And the moral of this story is:

  • only the good float young;
  • see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil doesn’t apply to fish;
  • a thorough pedicure begins with a multitude of eager swimmers called fishmatologists;
  • if a net is lowered, swim away as fast as you can or yell “fire”, either way you’re sure to get attention;
  • though a thoughtful and sensitive gesture toward remembrance of victims, a candle light vigil is impossible to make successful if one is surrounded by pyromaniac fish, or water;
  • stand up for what is right, or swim tall and straight if you can’t stand. There is nothing worse than just blending when you know in your heart that a system is wronging innocent people with no advocates.

Transformation in just five (give or take fifty) easy steps.

comments 2
cognition / emotional health / emotional scar tissue / human experience / Humor / relationships / Uncategorized

See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me.

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See me. Feel me. Touch me. Heal me.

Listening to you, I get the music. Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you. I climb the mountain. I get excitement at your feet.

Right behind you, I see the millions. On you, I see the glory. From you, I get opinion. From you, I get the story.

~The Who, 1975

You know when you’re at that point when your life is shit piled high with another layer of shit and then mixed with some shit? You wanna just go home and you realize that the “home” you seek is not really a place built on a concrete foundation; but rather a place in your mind where inner peace might possibly be lurking? It’s this place where solitude is soothing and Rhapsody in Blue is cranked up just loud enough so you can feel it sway with your body as you breathe deeply into yourself. You are one with the universe. You are in sync with the past, present and future. You can see with eyes from your soul – that presence that leaves your body when you exhale your last breath, as one locked inside a body given you only temporarily.  Within the stillness something clicks in your brain and somehow the sky is more blue, the grass more green, gratitude is more genuine, music more meaningful, love more intense and each breath a miracle. THAT is where you long to be. At peace. Spirit, mind, body.

I’ve been there, you know; however fleeting…

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It seems that life got in the way and I got lost or caught up in things and people and drama and ego. I lowered myself to a place where I lost my breath shortly before I got burned. I took my eye off the greatest gift. The prize being moral integrity and sight of a bigger, life-affirming picture. I lost sight of my higher power. I was no longer any good to anyone – least of which, myself. And for that I humbly apologize.

Let me tell you what I’ve learned in the past month or two – as learning nothing makes it all for naught and I couldn’t bear that. I’ll even throw in a handy gift-giving guide:

  • A man’s ego is fragile and wrapped up in itself far too often with no room for eyes to see with any objectivity. Mirrors don’t help the mind that is blind.  (Tip for gift-giving season: nothing reflective. Perhaps a box of Band-Aids with cartoon heroes would suffice as “thoughtful” present if wrapped in something flashy to distract from the mundane.)
  • Greed is a powerful and destructive force. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It has no regard for, and in fact, kills relationships that attempt to interfere or question it. The cycle of madness continues with causalities in and among the wake. (Tip for gift giving season: no weapons, only fluffy stuffed animals that have the capacity, with a push of a button, to say “Hey! Let’s diversify our portfolio today!”)
  • For all that one gains in the game of soul selling, one loses a piece of his substance, character and integrity. (Tip for gift giving season: Operation Game for the Salvation-Conscious – – Can you find my soul and put it back in?)
  • Honesty is painful for all concerned. I almost wouldn’t advise it. (Tip for gift-giving season: Lie your ass off.  Stuff your feelings of right and wrong in a decorative stocking and hang it by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon will be there to soak it all up so you don’t have to share.)
  • Power is not to be taken lightly. It is a responsibility as important as bringing a life into this world. It goes hand in hand with potential for corruption and abuses of character. It changes people. It has the capacity to deaden souls with the illusion of grandiosity. Used with humility, however,  it can be a gift. (Tip for gift-giving season: Stay away from power tools. Instead, appeal to the softer side with a gift certificate to “Build-A-Bear” where one can place a heart into an object, wait for a moment or two, then check to see if there is a pulse and heartbeat, first on himself, and then on his new pet, who he has agreed to cherish til death do they part.)
  • If one cannot “play the game” then one needs to go somewhere she can live among those that also do not play mind games with others seeking to control their world. She is fighting a losing battle if she thinks she can be that kind of change in his world of high stakes and loose priorities, where kissing one’s ass is preferable to standing up for something. (Tip for gift-giving season: Puppeteer lessons for that special someone who needs to control “people” in their world in order to feel even a modicum of control over their own.)
  • People only want to hear what they want to hear – no matter another’s actual message sent. If one sits idly as an injustice is doled out, they are passively in agreement; however, they also win even if they lose a part of themselves in the process by appeasing the one doling out the injustice. As such, it depends on how important standing up for something is to the individual on a personal level. Most are not willing to stand up for what is right if it doesn’t directly pertain to them. And that is their right of course. So my dear right-fighter, be prepared to stand alone. (Tip for gift-giving season: a dog for the right-fighter and a parrot for the others so people can hear what they WANT to hear on command.)
  • Taking a risk is either careless, courageous, doomed to failure or liberating. (Tip for gift-giving season: the permission to try anyway and fail possibly; and a rubber room to throw yourself around in when the frustration gets too great and you feel the need to explode from kissing asses and tip-toeing around those who make rules that only enhance their bank accounts and/or egos.)
  • It does one absolutely no good to take bitterness away from situations. It hurts no one but the individual who carries it. (Tip for gift-giving season: “Let It Go” soundtrack from the movie, Frozen.)
  • Giving one’s opinion when one’s opinion isn’t asked for (and sometimes even when it is) may indeed be a form of self-torture. Check to see if you were abused as a child and need to relive the chaos. (Tip for gift-giving season: a gift certificate to Ancestor’s.com and two months paid individual therapy sessions as surely you are a masochist of some kind.)

My list aside, I now seek the solace of a dreamless sleep and a day of meditative reflection on life, purpose and getting back on track with the important work of caring for others. That is what is important in this life. That is where transformation can be found, not in victimhood, but in purpose, a life with meaning, and kindness toward those who also find themselves lost at times.

 

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WhAt iF….?!!

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anxiety disorder / emotional health / human experience / mental health
If she were actually me she'd have a mouth.  And it would be talking incessantly.  Am I right, friends?!

If she were actually me she’d have a mouth. And it would be talking incessantly. Am I right, friends?!

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“Feel the fear, then do it anyway”.

I love it. It sounds so darn simple, it might just work! I thought this for a good split second. And if it were to work, it would be the most perfect idea I’d ever come across when it comes to handling anxiety. Unfortunately, it’s way too simplistic for those of us who’s anticipatory fear is severe and debilitating. It’s almost like telling a coma patient to “just snap out of it and join us for dinner!”

For common everyday fears and anxieties among optimists and even pessimists, I get it. I’m scared to walk into that convenience store at night, but I’m really craving a Slushie and it’s not a bad part of town. I’ll just suck it up and go then! Easy. Done. No perseverating on what could happen to the point of feeling nauseous or faint. No dwelling on “could be” or “may be” or “what if” until you tuck yourself into your bed with the blankets piled high around you or you find yourself heading back home and drinking a bottle of vodka instead of that special sugary drink in order to settle your nerves and put you to sleep. No shaming yourself because you realize your fears are mostly unfounded and generally irrational and you feel like a freak and a wimp and an overall schmuck who constantly doubts himself.

My first experience with severe anxiety came in the form of a reserved 3rd grader named “Bree”.  She was a beautiful little girl with a friendly, yet shy disposition. She was intelligent and quiet. While she was outwardly eager to please others, on the inside she was very tough on herself. Her mother said that she was so sensitive to what others may think that sometimes Bree got upset at little things she had said or done even before anyone else would have time to react to it. No one would ever suspect this as she didn’t tell anyone. This self-judgment was never really an issue that could be seen for what it was. For the time being it went compartmentalized somewhere in the nether regions of her fast growing brain.

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She was only eight years old when her mother was becoming more and more aware of her daughter’s need to please others.  What she didn’t see, though, was how much Bree depended on others’ acceptance for her survival in any peer-related activity. She got focused on this aspect of her daughters life so much so that she forgot to notice that Bree might have her own thoughts and feelings about situations and people, yet never expressed them overtly for fear that other’s might not agree.

Early on both Bree as well as her loving mother would never have suspected that if Bree didn’t speak on her own behalf than others would be more than happy to do it for her. And they did. And she found it to be easier that way. One doesn’t get in trouble if one hides behind others’ words and deeds. Blame comes even easier as well. You weren’t responsible for the damaging words your friend spewed forth toward that peer who just got a haircut and was crying in the corner because someone from your group said she had “a bad boys haircut”. Bree may not have liked what her friend said but a.) wouldn’t challenge her on it, after all, it hadn’t been she who had bullied this peer with the bad haircut; and b.) the bully was infinitely “stronger” than Bree, who wouldn’t dare to be on this bully’s bad side; and yet c.) a nonresponse is indeed still a response. Bree was grouped together as a “mean girl” simply by association. In reality she was a very nice, overly pleasing girl. Who was simply afraid. Of everything, it seemed.

“It was her idea!” She could say pointing blame at someone else (though in reality that only happened at home with siblings). And sweet,  sweet Bree could just slide right through childhood with her own opinions tucked away safely where no one could criticize them or disagree with them or even agree with them if they so chose. She was so far into her anxious self-protection mode, highly alert to potential judgment and ridicule from others that she didn’t use her own voice anymore. Maybe she didn’t even exercise her critical thinking brain enough to weigh out what she actually wanted or needed. It was safer to stay hidden behind those who would be quick to criticize.  That my friends, is called a secondary gain that Bree was experiencing, which only works to reinforce the behavior of hiding out behind stronger, more assertive peers. You see, it meant more to her to just “belong” in this group of angry ill-bred children than to be outside of them, where she, too, could be made fun of or left out by.

Life went on. Bree seemed so cooperative and compliant. The perfect little conformist. Teachers loved her. Friends liked to be able to boss her around. She found herself attracted to the “cool” kids that needed girls like her to control. Even as young as third grade kids get it. They know who they can manipulate and who will speak up against them.

It was also in third grade that Bree had a little sister who adored her along with two loving parents who were present and educated, loving and hopeful about each of their children’s futures.What was there to complain about? Since the family was expanding yet again, it was time to either add an extension to the home they loved or move. They decided to build on to the small family home before baby number three came.

Times were good, Bree was blossoming!…cheerleading for her school’s peewee football league…playing basketball…things her mother never imagined she’d want to do because of the social commitment contradicting her general shyness. This was a hopeful sign that her little girl was maturing. All of Bree’s friends were cheering as well so Bree was able to “belong” to something social and active. Mom was proud and excited.

In the meantime the house was steadily being built onto. Construction crews became daily reminders of change. It was inconvenient but the future rooms being built meant space to breathe to mom; a “man cave” to dad and a playroom for the kids. In the meantime a new refrigerator was replacing the old.

What happened next would open up a whole other realm to her. One that was not expected or welcomed. “It” was making itself known. “It” was a presence and would now need to be dealt with; but first they needed to find a name for this beast that had begun a slow erosion of a young person’s confidence level. This thing had sent second and third guesses running amuck throughout her brain waves; it had triggered false alarms to even the most mundane of experiences. “It” kept her awake at night with worry, brain humming with static. “It” told her she was not good enough or worthy or pretty or smart. “It” told her she needed to be afraid all the time. Of everything. “It” said the only place you’re safe is in your house and up the stairs into your room. And “it” said not to trust anyone. Among those ruminating falsehoods, she was told not to eat. If she were to eat she might throw up like a classmate did in math class yesterday. It was disgusting and kids laughed and made gross noises and kept making fun of the little boy even as he took his leave to the office to await his mother’s rescue.    IMG_3355

She went to sleep thinking of this moment…the smells and the sights…her classmates howling laughter and teacher’s urges to get someone healthy to walk this sickly little boy to the office; the maintenance man’s grey one-piece jumpsuit, mop, gloves, bucket of sanitizer. The way the mop slushed all the gross vomit-filled chunks around the small area before picking any of it up…her head spun and her stomach twisted and turned. She felt nauseated herself. There was no way she was going back to school. She too might throw up in front of the classroom of mean kids. She felt like she knew she would just die if that happened.IMG_3356

The next morning before school the new refrigerator arrived while Bree’s mother was finished cleaning up the old and getting it ready to remove. Bree was at a loss. She wanted to scream and cry and hurt herself because her head was still spinning and her old refrigerator was leaving their house. After a short period of observing crews sizing up the situation regarding the old one out and new one in, she’d had enough. Her brain flooded. She couldn’t breathe, her heart pounded out of her chest, she could feel her face flush and her body sweat, she felt like she was on overload. Without any warning whatsoever, Bree did something completely foreign to anyone who knew her quiet, timid nature. She opened her mouth and screamed a full octave highter than usual, while reaching for the old refrigerator door that hung open:

WHY? WHY MOM?! THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH OUR REFRIGERATOR! I DON’T WANT ANOTHER REFRIGERATOR, MOM! DON’T LET THEM TAKE OUR REFRIGERATOR!!

Everyone stopped. The crew set the new one down on that spot as if on command. The father who’d previously suggested it was time to get to the office, stood expressionless. The mother stood motionless beside the old refrigerator, wearing gloves still dripping with a cleaning solution onto the floor. IMG_3369

A cycle that would take years to understand and learn to cope with successfully would now begin for Bree and her family. Anxiety disorder, along with Depression, is a family disorder. It takes all hands on deck to support and reinforce healthy coping skills. The mother would later say how fortunate they were that “it” was caught early so that when Bree was a teen she would be better able to cope with her medical condition. A condition she likened to her own asthma in the sense that it can require medication to help stabilize to the point where better, healthier coping skills can be learned and utilized to possibly prevent future cycles from occurring, though not a guarantee.  IMG_3351

According to scientists, just as heart disease and type 1 diabetes, mental illnesses are complex and probably result from a combination of genetic, environmental, psychological  and developmental factors. They have actually been able to track anxiety down into several areas of the brain, however there are two distinct brain parts that show, through brain imaging devices, the key factors in the production of fear and anxiety: the amygdala and the hippocampus.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health (www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml) “the amygdala is an almond-shaped structure deep in the brain that is believed to be a communications hub between the parts of the brain that process incoming sensory signals and the parts that interpret response. The emotional memories stored in the central part of the amygdala may play a role in anxiety disorders involving very distinct fears, such as fears of dogs, spiders, or flying.

The hippocampus is the part of the brain that encodes threatening events into memories. Studies have shown that the hippocampus appears to be smaller in some people who were victims of child abuse or who served in military combat. More research is necessary to determine what causes this reduction in size and what role it plays in flashbacks, deficits in explicit memory, and fragmented memories of the traumatic event that are common in PTSD.”

Who is at risk?  Some facts:

  •  Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).
  • Women are 60% more likely than men to experience an anxiety disorder over their lifetime.
  • In a classroom of elementary school aged children roughly 1 out of 7 is clinically anxious (as determined by at least six months of excessive, irrational fear and dread).
  • A large national survey of adolescent mental health reported that about 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6. However, of these teens, only 18% received mental health care.
  • Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
  • More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
  • People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
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  • Does anyone you know sound like this? Do YOU? Get the help you need and pass it on. There is no shame in self preservation and being the best YOU that you can be!

Reliable sources (just to name a few):