The Great Perhaps

I’m tired of pessimism. It is the world I live in. It is the state of things around my chunk of the party. I have often said that by the time people get to be about 40 they have seen enough pain, been abused and slandered enough, that it’s hard to be an optimist anymore. Most of us have more than enough reason to be pissed off.

My dad is an optimist. It would be fair to say that he is “the optimist”. If you got in a car accident and lost a leg he would encourage you and remind you how much cheaper it’s going to be only having to buy one shoe. That’s my Pop. They don’t call him “Happy Howie” for nothing.

Annette likes to talk about how, no matter what news you give my dad, he somehow makes it sound like a good thing. He recently released his memoirs and named the book ever so aptly, “Life is Great. And It’s Getting Better”. My kids hold him in near-mythical awe. When I recently told one of my sons that I was buying my dad’s old CRV he turned to me with a straight face and said, “You’re so lucky, Grandpa sat in that seat.” It does not suck to be my old man.

I want to get better, getting old. So mature and wise that I think I understand the meaning of life. And cool. Someday I hope to be cool again. I think I’ll wear a fedora everywhere and put on suits again. And flirt with younger women. Give out sage advice with a wink. Have my first mint julep. Spend some time in California with my two buddies who live there. I’m going to float on a small boat in a hot place with the woman I love.

I go to seek the great “perhaps”. Perhaps the next part of our lives can be the best part. Perhaps this time we can deal with it and let it go. Perhaps there will be more time for good friends and food, more moments lying on the grass in the sun and swinging little children. And laughter.

One of the surest signs that a person is working through their depression, for example, is the renewal of hope. One day they come into my office and don’t talk the way they did in our previous appointments. They walked a bit more, talked a bit more, and felt a few more somethings. I am constantly surprised when this happens, and it happens around this office quite often. We can never identify the “when” and rarely even the “why”. It just happens. Hope can do that to a person. Allowing yourself to think about a different and happy future is one of the first – and always one of the most important – steps in any recovery.



What Do You Want?

You can pretty much do anything you want as an adult. The question is, what do you want?

Didn’t you imagine, back so long ago, that once you became an adult you would run free, drink deep, love long, and chase rainbows? I remember thinking that someday, someday no one will be able to tell me what to do. Someday I will make all my own decisions, someday. Someday I will have it all.

Someday is still coming.

I still don’t do “anything I want”. This is most likely because “what I want” isn’t what I usually need. I want to sleep late, eat chocolate, make love, get high, be lazy and become rich and famous in spite of all that. And sometimes, just sometimes, I want to burn my world.

We all have moments, don’t we, when we are tempted to throw everything away for a minute of guilty pleasure. The honest truth is, if it feels good I probably shouldn’t do it. Hedonism sounds fun on paper but I’ve been dealing with its effects all my adult life. And honestly, is that what I really want?

That’s the thing about getting all the candy you want – eventually you get sick and the vices you thought you could control end up controlling you.

Wisdom is understanding what you really want, not what you thought you wanted. There is a huge difference.

Working as a counselor has its big perks. I have the opportunity, every day, to think about my own life and mental health issues. As a result I no longer care as much what people think about me. I no longer feel the need to lead the parade, or steal the show. I’ve also learned that I am definitely not qualified to make all the right decisions in my life. Left to my own devices I have a tendency to grow lazy and become selfish. I continue to learn lessons about myself, my weaknesses, and my need for some form of accountability. When I am hungry, or angry, burned out, or tired, I am learning not to trust my immediacy. I recognize, better than I once did, that little evil voice inside me that wants to blow stuff up and eat at McDonald’s.

Right now I’m thinking about going to the drive-through on the way home. Apparently I still have a ways to go…

Men and Toilet Seats

We have a joke around here, though it’s not a good one. It goes something like, “Women make sure you put the toilet seat back up!” Like I said, not really funny, though the men tend to laugh.

Don’t get me started on toilet seat etiquette. Ok, now you’ve gone and done it.

Men, put down the damn toilet seat. Every time. It’s not rocket science and you aren’t a Neanderthal so grow a pair and quit being a child. There, I said it. Talk therapy does work… thanks for listening.

Nothing ruins a day faster than sitting in pee.  Can we all at least agree to that? That is not the primary issue with toilet seat etiquette but I have a teenage son and there are a few times when capital punishment has crossed my mind as that wet feeling hit. I may be a passivist but there are limits. It is beyond disgusting when a male decides it is too much work to put the lid up to urinate. We haven’t even gotten to the ‘put it down after’ part.

Toilets are ugly. Closing the lid just looks better. In fact, close both lids.

The primary issue, in my mind, is about chivalry. As a man I want to be known as a strong person who cares selflessly for my girl, for any girl when you think about it. What is wrong with ensuring that someone does not have to clean up after my messes? As a man I wish to retain my perk of being able to stand to pee but at what cost? Nothing irks me more than going into a unisex bathroom and seeing yellow on the toilet seat. What do I do now? If I leave it the next person will be convinced that I was the moron who was so inconsiderate. Now, in order to clear my good name, I am forced to clean up some other dudes ignorance. It is galling.

I was raised to believe that to be a man was a good thing; that things like strength and chivalry and honor were important. I don’t apologize for the fact that I am a male. I like it a great deal, to be honest. There are times, however, when it’s embarrassing to be labeled with those who are emotionally unavailable, or mean or cocky or, god forbid, pee on the toilet seat.


Five hundred. … 500 fights, that’s the number I figured when I was a kid. 500 street fights and you could consider yourself a legitimate tough guy. You need them for experience. To develop leather skin. So I got started. Of course along the way you stop thinking about being tough and all that. It stops being the point. You get past the silliness of it all. But then, after, you realize that’s what you are.
Taylor Reese (Vin Diesel) Knockaround Guys

It takes time to be good at anything of value. Working on my black belt, a few years ago, it became apparent that I was going to have to practice, practice, practice. Sure I could have bought one on the internet for twenty bucks, but somehow that just wasn’t the same. The sense of accomplishment, the joy of achievement, cannot be purchased for a few dollars. Recently I decided to work on my PhD in Psychology and, looking at the requirements, was immediately intimidated by the process. Again, for a few dollars I could lie about the accomplishment and get one online, but again…

Growth, real growth, takes time and pain. There are lessons you can only learn in battle, being shot at. The lessons I have learned have usually come through struggle and sweat, and sometimes tears.

I often write about the reasons why counseling usually doesn’t work. In case you haven’t read any of these posts it boils down to the fact that counseling is really hard, change is super tough, and it takes practice.

It takes a ton of practice.

I am fond of telling clients information that they already know, but have never practiced. As I find myself constantly saying, “I have seven years of post-secondary education so that I can tell you stuff that you can Google.” It’s true. Going to a counselor is usually an exercise in the obvious. I hope I have a few insights that my clients haven’t thought of, but most counseling tips are obvious – learn to live in the moment (mindfulness), practice stopping your racing thoughts, understand the systems that are shaping you, attack your cognitive distortions… that kind of stuff.

Most of you know this stuff. You could teach this stuff. The issue isn’t knowledge, the issue is practice.

It takes hundreds and hundreds of attempts before most of the concepts you learn in counseling “kick in”. Often people will come see me for a few months and realize that nothing has really changed. They become frustrated by the lack of movement, in spite of their hours of showing up. It is hard to understand, when you are frustrated and hurting, that you may be just on the cusp of something amazing, something that is in the process of happening. When you are in the midst of the battle it’s hard to see anything but bullets.

Counseling works. Don’t ask me why, but it does. I’ve seen it transform seemingly impossible situations. I’ve witnessed people who had all but given up find hope and healing. The problem is, it’s slow. It has taken years to get where you are and it may take years to dig yourself out. That’s the real truth, no sugar added.

Don’t give up. You have only one precious life and no one else is going to fix it for you. You know that. I know that.

So I got started.