In The Beginning There Was Energy.

Sometimes I like to think about geek stuff, as my wife calls it. Flying from Lodi last night I was pondering the origins of the universe and quantum theory. I know just enough about those kinds of things to realize that if I had another life to live I would have become a physicist.

Everything you were taught in high school science class about atoms, about gravity, the limitations of the Speed of Light, and the perceived certainty of life on other planets, if you are over 30 years of age, is wrong. There is no nucleus with electrons floating around it like the rings of Saturn. The speed of light may not be the barrier you thought it was and Star Trek may have been right all along. You may wonder why there aren’t aliens dropping by and you should probably spend five minutes reading about the Fermi Paradox.

Even gravity isn’t what you think it is, unless you have a working knowledge of spacetime. The earth is pushing on spacetime like a bowling ball on a trampoline, and planets are warping the fabric of the universe. Gravity has nothing to do with that burning magma at the center of the earth.  Once again Science Fiction teaches us the value of physics when it is combined with creative imagination (disproving for the millionth time that being intellectually smart makes you brilliant person. But I digress, as usual.)

If you allow your imagination, or a decent YouTube video, to shrink you smaller and smaller you will soar eventually into the subatomic Marvel Universe.  This is Ant Man so its ok if you are wearing a cool outfit. As you grow smaller and smaller you will shrink to a tiny ant, than to a speck and then an arrangement of molecules, until you exist in the realm of the atom. This isn’t the Physics 12 Course you took, but a quantum micro-verse of strings and motion and your imagination. On the most basic level you live among trillions of element-level blasts of energy forming everything in the universe from your toothbrush to the rocks on the planet Cybertron. Go Bumblebee. Everything that ever was and is and is to be is formed by music and motion and little bursts of energy. Energy doesn’t need a universe to contain it, it is more elemental, more ethereal, less material. Try to find a description that actually tells you what energy is in the real world. You have 30 seconds to describe energy to me without using the word ‘force’ or ‘converted’ .

Here is the bullshit explanation from Wikipedia – “In physicsenergy is the quantitative property that must be transferred to an object in order to perform work on, or to heat, the object.[note 1] Energy is a conserved quantity; the law of conservation of energy states that energy can be converted in form, but not created or destroyed. The SI unit of energy is the joule, which is the energy transferred to an object by the work of moving it a distance of 1 metre against a force of 1 newton.”

It’s a property. Thanks for that. Not a tangible word about what energy is actually made up of or what it really is. It’s a property.

And when you think about it the Big Bang was nothing more than two strings of energy that went out of kilter. It’s easier to believe that energy always was – it is, after all, not really a physical thing. Energy does not necessarily need a precipitating event and we have really no idea how any of this stuff really works (although Physicists are much much closer than you may have heard).

Tell your kid to become a physicist. As Ernest Ruthford said, “Physics is the only real science. The rest are just stamp collecting.”

Energy is just a thing. Maybe it has always been there on some astral plane we don’t yet understand and those non-particles interacted and created more energy and that energy eventually became a thing; and like the Vidal Sassoon commercial taught us, they told two friends who told two friends and here you are today trying to figure out where that water is leaking from on your basement ceiling.

*thanks to Josh Clark and the excellent podcast “The End of the World With Josh Clark” for some of this information and the spark to get my philosophical muscles twitching.

Grabbing The Wrong Handholds

They made me watch CSI, Ginger Version. I don’t even know what the real name is but it’s the one with the redhead guy who tries so very hard to sound like the coach from Rocky. My youngest Matthew and I are forced to endure this for an hour and there has literally not been one line of dialogue that anyone would say in the real world.

At first we didn’t understand, how could it be so bad? Not one person used normal inflection or words that, when put together in a stringy thing called a sentence, would actually be spoken by a human who is not on a show about super cops who don’t know how to talk like normal people. It vaguely reminds me of when I did acid except the walls aren’t moving… yet.

I can see them speaking but nothing makes sense. Don’t get me wrong, a ferret could follow the dialogue. It’s just that the dialogue is so incredibly vapid, so devoid of reality and voiced by such poor actors who all believe they are on Die Hard, except it’s less realistic than those Christmas plays you have to endure when your kid is in grade five. No one can stop squinting and the dude who just said, “Have you considered the weather?” sounded like he was attempting to take a burrito dump. Not a single person had a spontaneous thought and the lighting is off and the dialogue feels like it was written by that weird kid who wore a cape to grade six and sat beside you in Socials. I keep looking around to see if people are laughing. My son Matt is laughing. So proud.

The real Shakespeare famously penned, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”. These players couldn’t act their way out of a wet paper nutsack. Rock stars and wrestlers and models can become actors so you know there is real art involved. And don’t give me your “but there are some very talented actors”. So what. I know some incredibly talented welders who can fix my CR-V. Actors are massively overpaid to do a job that everyone wants because they get treated like royalty and get to buy islands and large phallic boats. It says a great deal about our culture that people line up in their thousands to catch a glimpse of these botox clowns, inbred royals, and idiots on CSI who make twenty times the money I ever will.

Honestly, models can do it. What the hell.

We have given our allegiance to actors playing gurus and trusted in Bill Cosby to be our television dad. Some of us honestly believe that the top 1% gives a rat’s ass about the struggles you are going through. They can’t remember, or never knew, what it was like to be an ordinary bloke. They live fictional lives.

A few of you know what it is like to take LSD (remember Purple Microdot?). I work in the addictions field while doing several other things during my week and in over 12 years of doing Intake I have never met an addict who identified Acid as their drug of choice. You can get seriously messed up for only a few dollars, but still it is rare to talk to anyone who thinks this is a good idea every day of the week. Hallucinogens allow you to step outside your own body and observe yourself from a very surreal and often screwed up perspective. This family of drug use has become increasingly popular, yet again, among predominantly younger adults who read somewhere on the Internet that you could eat mushrooms and become a philosopher. There is some interesting research with hallucinogens, especially in the psychological arena, but you rarely read that “Kierkegaard got totally wasted on shrooms and wrote Fear and Trembling”. Many of us solved the world’s problems on cocaine but couldn’t read the chicken scratch when we woke up later that same day. That is literally a true story. I was so sure.

And a bad trip on Acid will scar you forever.

Contrary to what the internet is telling you, you are probably not going to find the meaning of life if you do MDMA, although you might love everyone for a few hours. Smoking a blunt may temporarily take away the angst but this place is way too complicated for easily blazed answers to your problems.

The 21st Century is ridiculously complicated and fraught with information that is completely new in the history of primates. Coping skills which have worked for millennia are suddenly obsolete. Even as recently as the Dark Ages hundreds of years could pass for our ancestors with little discernable change. Most humans grew up, lived and died within a few kilometres, and went to bed when it got dark. There was no constant bombardment of new and confusing data unless you were being chased across the highlands by the bloody British. More than half a millenia separated Attila and Genghis but they still killed people from the back of a horse with relatively the same range of weapons. Just think how much the world has changed since World War Two, or even the early Sixties. You have had more world shaking cultural changes in your lifetime than people would have seen in hundreds, even thousands of years.

I haven’t even mentioned the Internet, perhaps the biggest game-changer since the Enlightenment. Sometimes I become so entangled in the sheer absurdity of our existence that it’s tempting to feel like I’m in a bad episode of CSI Miami. Nevermind, they’re all bad. My parents lived in homes where you had to throw coal into the fire every morning. My son, who still lives at home part-time, loses his mind if I turn off the router at 11 p.m. Our ancestors could beat the living crap out of us without breaking a sweat. 21st Century problems in a world moving so fast that no one has a clue what the answer is or how we are going to deal with our growing cultural addiction to stimulus and response and Instagram and sugar.

Few of us trust our local churches to provide solutions for life and you can’t trust the government anymore because they really are spying on you. The Catholic Church is in freefall. Google and Facebook are actually messing with your mind, and I’m not talking in some groovy metaphysical way. They are literally reprogramming your brain. Your phone is apparently tracking you even when Location Services is turned off. Institutions that we have trusted for generations have let us down and it feels like we are losing our handholds.

Our worlds are filled with information and most of that data is mindless drivel. Is coffee good for me or bad for me this month, I can’t remember. Is Pluto a planet again? Was that dude from Making of a Murderer guilty or not? Is gluten still the Antichrist? We can no longer trust our grade 11 math class to make sense of this augmented reality, and after what seemed like twenty years of enlightenment and walls falling and peace treaties, the world is suddenly scary again; full of regimes with small penises and very large guns. We’re in a pissing contest with our neighbouring country over milk. Seriously, milk. How do we make sense of it all?

How do you end an article like this? Oh ya, I remember now.

Handholds.

Any rockclimber can tell you that running up an indoor climbing wall has very little in common with climbing an actual mountain or rock face. In the real world there are few perfectly formed nubits to grab every 2.5 feet. Rock faces are often wet, smooth, filled with vegetation or bird crap. So much bird crap. There are often no obvious routes and the ones that appear straight and narrow consistently prove to be unclimbable. In the real world the handholds are far less exact, less climate-controlled, and less exhilaratingly obvious. It’s incredibly easy to lose your way in this world.

You need to be reading. I’m not screwing around anymore so listen because I’m not making this up as I go along and any counselor worth their bread will tell you that if you aren’t growing then you’re going backwards. For years I’ve told clients they need to read and study and take their emotional growth much more seriously, and the numbers of people who actually listen to this obvious advice is underwhelming and tragic. If you absolutely refuse to write then watch documentaries that are outside your comfort zone and subscribe to some mental health podcasts. Cooking shows and escapist novels don’t count unless you are actually going to make the friggen recipes. Oprah and Deepak and Tony Robbins are not really philosophers, in spite of their witting aphorisms, and can only take you so far. They are paid millions to peddle philosophic pablum and that’s fine, but it’s not really the same as studying your life. Don’t get me started on Oprah Winfrey.

We don’t have the luxury anymore of putting this stuff off until it’s too late. If you think you will just grow out of your anxiety or chronic depression or immaturity or naïveté you are literally the definition of that word. By the time people are adults we have a shitbarge of pain collecting in our subconscious and if you don’t do something about it, and I mean it, dammit, you are going to fall miles short of your potential. I’m talking about you Mr. Anger Problem. Deal with that stuff because you are ejaculating your attitude all over the rest of us and using anger to bully people. You passive-aggressives need to talk to someone who can hold you accountable for all that bullshit you are spreading. Just tell me what you want, for the love of god. I know you aren’t mad, you’re just disappointed that everyone seems to let you down but have you ever stopped to consider that being passive-aggressive is dysfunctional and everyone around you knows what you’re trying to do? Most of us can smell a PA a mile off and we talk about you behind your back. Use your words. Are you easily offended? The rest of us are on egg shells around you because we don’t know if or when you are going to pout and make a scene. Is that really how you want people to think of you?

If you are one of those people that constantly needs others to feel sorry for you, then I actually feel sorry for you. Grow the hell up. You have a hole in your heart that you are trying to stuff full with sad Facebook and IG posts that tell us you’re having a bad day (sad emoji) specifically so that we will all tell you that you’re awesome and we believe in you. Believe in yourself, you’re better than this. See someone and talk about your incessant need for approval because that crap is handcuffing your life.

Anger, passive-aggressive behaviour, taking offence, acting pathetic, they’re all about power and control. These dysfunctional handholds keep us immature and miserable. These are learned coping mechanisms that you developed when you were a kid or after an abusive relationship and they may have worked at one time but they are handholds that are holding you back. Wouldn’t you rather be happy?

We all need better handholds. If you spend your whole life trying to be pretty and petty you are going to end up dumb and bitter. Don’t be dumb. Spend 3 years working on your anxiety every day. Don’t lie down and give in. Get serious about your anger problem and get control of your emotions. Work on that crappy impulse control until you can win. Seriously. This stuff is very hard and the percentage of people who die happy is lower than we want to admit. You are worth it. Say it. I am worth it.

Stop trusting in other people to make you happy, Scott. Stop being decimated when our cultural icons turn out to be rapists. Everyone is going to let you down, that’s called life. Everyone is petty and selfish and a little bit broken so get over it. You’re right, people are stupid. Some people think the actors on CSI can act. Don’t be one of those people, pick up a book or listen to an audiobook or an intelligent podcast or documentary and learn a little psychology. Talk to someone about philosophy. Don’t be dumb.

I don’t care what you say, CSI sucks.

 

Dating After You Break-up: Why No One Ever Listens

This conversation is a part of my world, almost every week. People who are breaking up often wander into my office, and inevitably it comes down to the conversation that no one who is freshly single really wants to investigate too thoroughly, with someone as brutally honest as yours truly. When you are in my clutches I do not filter. Ever. Any of you who have worked with me are welcome to share your stories in the comments section.

Some counsellors will ask you “and how does that make you feel”. Every class in Master’s level psychology assumes the role of a counsellor to be that of empathetic and boring mirror, paid to help you realize you already know the answer deep inside your precious heart. I don’t do that. I’m getting older and I’m sick and tired of pretending I’m normal so clients either like the process of they see someone else. This sounds like the height of arrogance but I’m wearing my counsellor hat as I write this and some of you know what I mean. I’m not filtering for my ego as I write this.

It works for some people. People do not pay me to play with my gloves on, and it was never my wheelhouse to begin with. Those who continue to let me buy them coffee are a particular bunch. I am not for everyone. That comes off as self-glorifying but I mean this, and those of you who know me know what is coming next, I mean this in a purely “Counsellor Scott” kind of way. Normal dude Scott would not usually invade your space so fully, I am even shy in some social settings. Counsellor Scott can be a dick. Counsellor Scott, when working with teens, is just plain weird.

There are times in life when it is important to have someone who isn’t afraid to pull off the bandaid of your subjective reality, someone who won’t judge you. Practitioners in my field are all about that liberal mushy crap. When people tell their psychologist, “here’s something you haven’t heard before” they really don’t know what society’s secular priests hear on a daily basis. We are paid to hear your worst nightmare.

As usual, I just went on a tangent. Back to our original conversation. Let me set this up for you.

You come to my office, and you’ve been separated for 2-5 months. You’ve met someone, and nothing has happened, but you are definitely getting ready to rumble. In every single one of these conversations people, hundreds of people, eventually get around to the question we’ve all been waiting for – Is it too early for me to date?

I’ll save you a ton of words and tell you that the end of this paragraph is going to end with the words “damn straight”. With few exceptions, it is too early. There are exceptions (to literally repeat what I just said but in a way that tells you I’m about the say the exact opposite) but that only reinforces the truth. Ending a relationship that has been your whole world for 10 or 25 years has profound emotional consequences, though those consequences differ wildly depending on if you are the leave-r or the leave-e. That’s an entire article on its own. Any of my colleagues can tell you that people are far less objective in those first months, and yes, years than they believe at the time. Damn straight.

When my life fell apart I was categorically insane. Leaving a relationship messes with your mind, and your body. Moving in with someone, or throwing your heart at Mr. Fabulous No-faults, is typically a faulty decision, and I believe I have the data to back that up. Simply put, time heals and you are almost always more deluded about yourself when you are in crisis than you want to believe. Don’t do it.

This article is not called Great Advice That All My Clients Follow. The simple truth is that in all my years doing this gig I can probably count on half a hand the people who have followed that choice little piece of advice. Chime in here clinicians, we have seen thousands of patients who have been psychologically traumatized by the death of a dream dive into the heady world of romance and infatuation because, and this is the real story, nothing temporarily heals a broken heart like someone who wants to touch you in fun places and tells you that you are one in a million. Isn’t that the best thing in life?

There are dozens of reasons I could give you, but it almost never matters. Vulnerable people are just that, vulnerable. They are prone to impulsivity, eager to fill those holes in their hearts, indescribably susceptible to unhealthy relationships and emotions in a barren wasteland that has been their lives.

Here’s another hurtful tidbit. Sick attracts sick. Do you really want to attract someone who is as vulnerable, as recently broken, as emotionally dysfunctional, as you are? Healthy people are far less likely to date a deeply troubled and needy trauma victim than you might think. Take what is likely the most important decision of your life then rip your heart apart and mess with your feelings and cognition and grief and a hundred other painful words. Now go ahead and make the most weighted decision you will ever need to make. Don’t forget to mix in a bunch of broken relationships and hurt feelings and angry relatives. Add the incredible stress and poop storm that every break-up brings, those added bonuses called lawyers and fights about money and selling your house and kissing off half your friend. Recipe for a fruit salad.

When you look at this from the outside it’s a no-brainer.

But it doesn’t really matter, you won’t listen anyway. It’s not your fault, blame your neurochemistry. Those tortured neurons that you depleted for months and years are starving for some love, and you deserve to think of your own needs for once. How many of us have spent years without real intimacy and can barely imagine being in lust again. Bring on the dopamine.

You really do deserve to think of your own needs for once, and the best way you can do that is to spend that time with yourself, sans another person upon whom to focus your substantial energy. There are lessons that I learned single which are not available to those who move from relationship to relationship. I can just hear some of you saying right now, “I’ve always been in a relationship. I can’t be alone”. Deal with it. This is the route back to emotional wholeness. Spending time alone will teach you lessons you simply cannot learn when you are emotionally attached to someone you are attracted to. This is not really my opinion, it’s common knowledge that we all agree to in theory but have difficulty employing when we are horny.

You are better than that. As Milne said, you are stronger than you know. You deserve the time it takes to remember what it was like to be autonomous. You do not need to be defined or dictated to by something outside yourself. As I have often said, as cheesy as it is, don’t date until you don’t need to. Refuse to fill that hole in your heart with the emotional succubus that is rebound love. Realize that your amygdala is firing like a cheesy western and ask someone who isn’t afraid of you to be brutally honest; and hear them out without interrupting. Don’t inflict the mess that is your life on to another hurting individual or, god forbid, a healthy person who doesn’t deserve your dysfunction. Simply put, you will be attracted to different traits when you are unhealthy than you will be when you know who you are and what you want out of life.

Take a year. There I said it. Give yourself the time you need to become a better you. This is an amazing opportunity to redefine your life, and taking on the baggage of another person is not what you really need right now. I don’t care if this person is special, do you have any idea how many times I have heard that garbage? How can you know what you want when you don’t even know who you are? And if you are into dating guys you need to know that you have a big and obvious energy right now that is going to attract the wrong kind of action. I’m sort of a guy and I can tell you, we’ll became anything you want us to be if there is a chance we can wake up in bed with you someday. Men on the make are pigs and nothing says open for business like an emotionally needy potential friend. I care about how you feel. Really. Your last partner didn’t really talk about their feelings? Well let me tell you, I could listen to you talk all night. People tell me I’m almost too sensitive, I just really want to connect with you on an emotional level. You buying this?

Enough ranting, I don’t really mean it that way. We all know what that loneliness feels like, even when you are with someone else. Who doesn’t want to ravish someone again, or be ravished? There are few things in life that compare to that wonderful time when you first fall in infatuation and call it love, and before you realize how much of a moron that person really is. Romance is intoxicating, bring it on.

You are more amazing than you know. Most of us are. We are prone to self-criticism and overly hard on ourselves, and making you feel like crap isn’t my schtick. At the end of the day you really are worth getting to know. Have some fun. Go on some dates if you must but don’t give your heart away. Make more time for friends and kids and eggnog lattes and go do something crazy. Buy a kayak or go skydiving or visit Romania, and spend your dopamine on things that will build your self confidence and heal your soul. Spend the time, you deserve it.

 

 

 

 

Leave No Path Untaken

“Sleep my little baby-oh
Sleep until you waken
When you wake you’ll see the world
If I’m not mistaken…

Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…

Face your life
Its pain,
Its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.”
Neil Gaiman, The Graveyard Book

Most people aren’t really sure what they are getting themselves into, when they come talk with someone like me. What we do at that coffee shop, or while walking by the river, has little in common with what happens on television or Netflix. You are not Tony Soprano and I am not that horrible psychiatrist who sucked at counselling and committed ethical violations on an episodal level. You won’t spend the whole time complaining, and I am intrusive when it comes to the nitty gritty details. I get paid to act as a professional and you can go home and talk to your cat for hours about your medical problems or how much that person makes you mad at work. People want ideas and conversation and help, that’s why they make the appointment. Most counsellors are sedentary by nature and I am a screaming ball of ADHD and philosophy and other words that they offer at universities for those who don’t really want to earn much money or get their teeth cleaned on a regular basis.

Most of my clients have tried it their way, and life has a way of humbling the most stubborn of us every once in a while. I have written extensively about this topic and you can read about it here, here, here, or here. Moving forward in your life is usually more complicated in the real world, and we rarely get to live on Saturn or have a robot maid like on The Jetsons. Life is hard and they don’t post the rules on a website, and lets be honest, I usually did things the hard way because I’m naive and idealistic and not as self-aware as I thought at the time. For the love of god, don’t write your treatise in your 20’s. We shouldn’t have to review the reasons, this one is rock solid. I am startled at how dumb I was when I was 25. I’m not telling your story, I’m just speaking to those of us who have had to admit that we didn’t know what the crap we were talking about and some of those opinions we yelled so loudly, back when we knew everything, were utterly moronic.

At the risk of becoming a Hallmark Card, it really is true that most of us don’t live at our potential. I’m not talking about you.

I am working on another project or two with a few friends, and there is this feeling (and if you’ve had it you know what I’m talking about) at the beginning of a new adventure that is cocaine for me. The entire entertainment industry seems designed solely for the purpose of providing adventures which allow us to live lives in ways and places not connected to my grinding job or upset partner. We are neurologically wired for novelty. This has a profound impact on everything from our relationships to our addictions to our sexual satisfaction. I go to movies to be alive, but maybe it’s just me. When I am inside a great audiobook or an old fashioned paperback it triggers parts of my brain which include those yummy juices bouncing around in my neurons. Unlike many, I am blessed with primarily pleasant dreams, and I may be a child inside, but under countless moons I have been a secret agent or kung fu legend or somewhere warm drinking foofy drinks on a beach. I do this for a living and I know what living in a fantastical dream state suggests. The real world blows when it does.

Kiss a lover
Dance a measure,
Find your name
And buried treasure…

Face your life
Its pain,
Its pleasure,
Leave no path untaken.

Here’s to you making that trip to Europe. A good one on those of ya who have decided to go back to school, or go on a road trip, or start to sculpture; just for the joy of getting your hands muddy. It is very easy to learn to play the bass… poorly. My wife just brought a 300 ton piano into our house, and her relentless pursuit of something that hard is inspiring (she doesn’t read my writing so I won’t get credit for that). In The Graveyard Book, Nobody Owens grew up in a graveyard, was adopted by ghosts, and mentored by a vampirish thing and a Hound Of God. With his life in danger, he was forced to spend the majority of his childhood playing with dead people, a witch, several nasty goblins, with only one friend who had a pulse and almost killed him, by accident of course. Those words, face your life, its pain, its pleasure, leave no path untaken, reminded Bod that his life was among the living, not the departed. It was his turn to have experiences and see oceans and taste coffee in faraway lands.

And how’s that working out for you?

That sounds so tiring, he said partly in jest. Life is ridiculously busy, and my freaking phone is becoming an addiction, and I dream of going to Kitts or a Balkan State or a castle in Scotland; but right now I’d settle for another hot day to float in my Canadian Tire pool. Everywhere I look, people complain about the pace of life in the 21st Century and the noise, noise, noise. It’s only 95 days until Christmas. See what I did there?

The good book says, without hope the people perish. Philosophers create theories to describe the meaning of life. Existential Psychoanalysis plays with creating meaning from meaning, or something nerdish like that. As Victor Frankl said, the person who has the why can bear almost any how. That sounds like a cheeseball meme until you find out the dude was in Auschwitz. Having a reason for staying alive another year is a powerful thing. Words like meaning and purpose, dreams, and hope, are powerful aphrodisiacs. Having that why makes this crappy how worth living.

…leave no path untaken.

One Bite At A Time

How do you swallow an elephant? One bite at a time.
Old Fable

This week I spoke with one of you about eating elephants. It seems more and more apparent, at least in my small part of the village, that at some point in any journey worth taking you are going to feel overwhelmed. The 20th Century has redefined the art of being busy. Remember when you thought you had no time in the 20th Century? Amateurs. The onset of the biggest culture shift since the Reformation is redefining who you are and what pounds into your head, 14 or 16 hours a day. The noise, noise, noise; the Grinch was right. Text messaging and Facebook and your constant web companions are literally rewiring you on a neurological level, and few of us have wondered to what degree the virtual world could transform world culture and what effect that will have on your brain and your psyche and your family in generations to come. I told someone today that the single worst mistake I made in my parenting was buying my youngest an Xbox. He used to play outside. He owns a bike. A good snowboarder. Too bad so many of our kids would prefer to stay at home and molt into the furniture if we let them.

Last week my son, my dad, and I took an eco-tour via sailboat to the Marietas Islands  Bird Sanctuary with Pegaso Charters, the coolest dudes you will ever meet. We spent an entire day on a classic sailboat and it was absolute nirvana. It will change your life. Eight-and-a-half hours of warm ocean swells, weird and cool facts about the local ecosystem, snorkeling and lounging at a private park beach; way out in the ocean. I wanted to go again the next day. I love to sail. For six hours I stood, back against the thinnest of insulated cables, dancing with the ocean. At first it is difficult to find your sea legs, though this passes quickly. For a time you hold on to the cabling and feel the rhythm, feel the rhyme. Later you begin to let go and move with the music.

Two people spent much of the day texting. What is happening to us?

Sailing is a very holy experience for me. Years ago my friend Julie had a sailboat in her family and we got to steer the 34 footer across the Vancouver Bay area. This was different. We were headed somewhere, a point in the horizon aboard a vessel with dimensions similar to Ragnar’s and Leif’s Viking galleys, 500 years before Columbus hired a better publicist. It is almost immediately apparent, aboard that beautiful sailboat, how sailors and fisherpersons and Vikings wrote about becoming one with the ocean. My daughter-in-laws family is filled with tugboat captains, they know what I mean. Swaying with the ocean for hours at a time is a deeply religious experience if you choose to pay attention. My geek friends know what I am talking about. Thinking about philosophy or being one with the great vastness of the ocean is very zen when you are catching the wind in those lily-white sails.

But I digress.

Life is very complicated if you look at it, all at once. If you are negotiating a tough present or future, if you struggle to feel like you give a damn, if you wonder if you will die alone, this world  can sometimes be too much to bear. Remember when we were talking about how overwhelming you life was? The only way to deal with that noise is to begin at the beginning. Days aboard sailboats are few and far between, and it is very easy to fall out of sync with the ocean. Problems seem enormous when we are tired out and fond of losing, when we feel like losers or when the situation is going on and on and on and there is no relief in sight.

One bite at a time. Parents ask me everyday how they can get through to that child who is lost, or consistently high, or struggling with body issues, or depression, or anxiety. When your baby is doing cocaine you want an action plan. It’s tempting to storm into that room and put that kid on an episode of Intervention, but that isn’t the real world and it isn’t going to work unless your kid is Amish. It’s time to listen to your counselor.

You need to sleep and eat something made of fruit. This may not be sexy but when lives fall apart people lose 24 pounds and go bat-crap crazy. I remember nights of absolute insanity, like really made-for-tv weird kind of stuff. You are going to be no good to anyone if you are freaking crazy. I know you need to tell me the story, one more time, again and again. I get that you want the world to change in one day and your spouse to know you have really really changed for good, but I’m not the one who is barking at the moon. Becoming a Jedi is about consistency, not climaxes. People who figure themselves out have spent thousands of hours living the program, one day at a time, one argument or heartache or anxious experience at a time. Everyone wants a golden ticket but complex psychological change takes years.

Start by taking better care of yourself. You are definitely worth it. Learn the tools you will need to cope with your spinning thoughts. Practice what you preach. Watch Midnight in Paris or The Razor’s Edge (1984) or the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I know it’s cheesy but that’s kind of the point. If what you are doing is not taking you there, than all a guy like me can tell you is to switch game plans. You have been programmed by our chemistry and our family and those stupid 80’s sitcoms like Three’s Company. Literally the entire planet is trying to convince you of something, and chances are your childhood didn’t prepare you for the crushing relentlessness of real life. If the horse is dead get off of it, don’t try to ride faster, or however that cliché goes. Counselor types constantly harp on self-care for a reason, and that reason is usually that  you aren’t doing it enough.

Most of us experience times when we really have no idea what to do. You cannot force that kid to stop smoking weed but you may be able to get them to talk to someone about their anxiety or why they need to self-medicate their crappy lives. A decent counselor can provide you with a few dozen strategies that you will inherently already know, but cannot think of, when your life is screaming in your ear. The journey to wholeness is a series of little life hacks and the discipline to keep working on this crap long after it stops being fun. STOPP Therapy and Neil Gaiman horror poems and obscure foreign movies. Dozens and dozens of cheesy tools that sound like they were created by a seven-year-old. Thousands of conversations and failed attempts and tiny victories.

My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.

My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”

The Wolf At The End Of My Lane

I had a wolf. Well, not really; I should back up. There was a huge grey wolf at the end of my drive.

I would see him, I assume it’s a him, every few months. He would suddenly appear in the culvert, at the end of my lane, as I drove by. One day I stopped. One day I got out. The big grey wolf at the end of my lane.

I have never shared this tale before, and I’m not entirely sure why not. Perhaps it is because such a claim is impossible to verify and reeks of hyperbole. It may not have even really been the same wolf. But I know what I remember, and since no money is changing hands and I will never be famous, let me tell you a true story.

Before coming to the Left Coast of Canada I lived in the north, Fort McMurray Alberta, to be precise. It’s a weird place where welders make $150,000 a year and everyone wishes they were somewhere else. I lived on a ranch.

It appears that 25 minutes from the downtown of a northern city is too far for most commuters so we lived on 85 acres, in a beautiful cedar home with 22 feet floor-to-ceiling windows. We paid a little less than the cost of an apartment in town.

People in Fort McMurray buy toys, but I’m not talking about the dirty thought you just had. Snowmobiles and boats for a lake that is only tolerable for six weeks in the summer. Big trucks and expensive trips to the West Edmonton Mall and debt that staggers the imagination. My old town. The thing about toys are, they take up space. I had a ranch and someone needed a place for four horses. I had a barn and a friend wanted a dry place for three snowmobiles, including the keys. Someone else needed a home for a motorcycle, then a minibike, then a tractor, then more and more things with motors. Not bad for the price of a condo.

In the winter I would come home most days and take out one of the snowmobiles for a run, just so it would not rust. I am very considerate that way. I forgot to mention that I lived off a lake, but not near the beach. By January you could drive a Semi on any lake in northern Alberta and have a trucker hoedown with little fear. I loved to surf the powder on the lake at the end of a day listening to people’s problems. I was practicing mindfulness, or at least that’s what I told my wife.

One afternoon after work, as the sun was already beginning to set, I nearly drove into a pack of wolves running across the lake. Though we came from different directions we seemed to be aiming for the same destination. As I neared the pack there was my wolf, staring at me as he ran, not a care in the world. Maybe it was the shock of seeing that very wolf, or maybe it was the meds, but I didn’t drive away that afternoon. Almost naturally I came alongside this group of predators and on that day they let me run with the pack. I slowed, and we ran, and it was… glorious.

Into every life a little karma must fall and on that day someone was looking out for me. I was given a gift and a casual nod and, in spite of the artificial cacophony of the machine, permission to play. I felt something that day – something old. The wolf at the end of the lane knew me. To run with wolves, that is something out of Tolkien or Lloyd Alexander.

I wish I could still run.

It appears my body is breaking down. Years of sports and abuse and frozen pizzas have left their tan lines; and all the colon cleansers in the world can’t stop the march of time. It’s the game everyone gets to lose.

Some of you have been pretty all your life. This was never a cross I was called to bear. People who are good-looking may seem to be getting a better deal on everything because chances are they do. As a general rule pretty people get preferential treatment and tall people make more money; there is science to verify this. Some of you still haven’t yet paid for a drink in a bar but hold on, your time is coming. You are getting uglier. Ya, me too.

As a Canadian I feel compelled to wrap that comment up in a beautiful bow and deliver it to you in a passive-aggressive little pile of bullshit, but I will leave that sentence alone (I deleted the line with “uglier” three times because at heart I really just want you to like me). We are all aging, at varying rates. Television shows seem more and more to feature children who barely shave and yet have somehow had time to learn eight languages, get a black belt in Karate, and a doctorate in neuropsych.

Anyone who reads this drivel knows that I frequently write about philosophy, along with the regular psychology menu. I am currently on the slowtrack to a doctorate in my own particular weird blend of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Existentialism. I was fortunate that in my undergraduate degree I met people like Dave and Dan who delighted in daily jettisoning my preconceptions about virtually everything. They were my educational mentors and I am in their debt. I was given permission to think, and this has had a profound and ofttimes negative impact on my life to this day.

Few of us get healthy by accident. There is simply too much going on in the Twenty-first Century for most of us to stay emotionally well and positive in outlook. The promised future, replete with free-time and pastel jumpsuits, never materialized and most of my friends are stressed out of their minds and one Koolaid spill from taking out the village. Everyone has mental health issues and if you don’t just wait a week.

I have mentioned this before but I find it hard to even listen to a client who isn’t learning. I’ll put that more gently. I cannot think of one client who is really rocking this mental health thing who is not either a student or a reader or a serious life-learner. Last week I spoke at a martial art and ranted, “if you don’t read, you don’t lead”. That may sound narrow-minded or condescending but consider for a moment the world we find ourselves in. We no longer have the luxury of being ignorant about a host of things we never gave a crap about before the internet and media age. For thousands of years people had no idea what was happening and seemed to survive quite swimmingly. Our lives are a bombardment of manic media sources, Facebook and texting and Google and Xbox and our friends informing us that they arrived safely at the Red Lobster on 38th Street like I should give a damn. Our world is complex and dysfunctional and we were not given the tools to understand the how, let alone the why. I honestly have no idea why people who are not learning don’t lose their mind. Some days I wonder if I am too stupid and I do this for a living.

I could be wrong but I know what works for me. I have convinced myself that I want to be smart and I fell back in love with learning, and so have my Jedi friends who put me to shame. My life was once filled with music and noise and traffic. Today I was listening to “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood & the Prison of Belief” on the drive to work. I drove slower than usual because I was on the part where they talk about the Sea Org and I have a sick fascination with cults. I had coffee with a friend this week and as she left she put on her earbuds. She was listening to “The Wisdom of Psychopaths“. I can virtually guarantee you that she is growing and moving forward.

Those who embrace the experience, rock the experience.

Few of us realize, that first month of counseling, that becoming a wise person requires tens of years of work, not weeks. In time the discipline no longer feels like drudgery and you begin to surf a little more consistently. In time this stuff changes your entire world and everyone around you if you let it.

Racing Thoughts

The apple.

When I was in the midst of the manure, and sometimes even today, I have to get up and get an apple. It was always late at night. The demons usually visit when it gets dark. A Gala apple. So sweet it bites back.

You see, when things got bad, and they got very very bad, I could not shut my brain off. I often tease my female clients that they are cursed. I’m not talking about religion and I’m not mentioning your period, I’m talking about your big, glorious brains. I have often asked my wife, “what is it like in there?” She thinks all the time. All the time. I can’t imagine the hell that would be.

(what follows is a generalization)

In my experience, so you know this is super sciencey, women’s brains are far different from mine. While it is true I have a brain injury, I can clearly (as clear as I ever am) still remember being able to stop thinking. There, I said it. I have asked many different groups of people, men and women, a few questions that seem to indicate that most of the men in my life can literally turn to the wall and shut off for a few seconds. Imagine that, ladies. That is the reason television is the drug of choice for so many men. I am barely awake when I watch television. My wife can ask me a question (and why are you talking during the program?) and I can feel myself shake off the lethargy and reemerge into the waking world. I can stop thinking.

There I just did it again.

In counseling we talk about racing thoughts. Racing thoughts are… well you really don’t need an explanation now, do you? There were bad years when I could not shut down. I know now that my brain was acting on a more primal level than it should be as I write this article. My amygdala was pounding, my higher-end reasoning was drowned out in the waves and waves of pain. You know what I’m talking about.

In addition to size, other differences between men and women exist with regards to the amygdala. Subjects’ amygdala activation was observed when watching a horror film. The results of the study showed a different lateralization of the amygdala in men and women. Enhanced memory for the film was related to enhanced activity of the left, but not the right, amygdala in women, whereas it was related to enhanced activity of the right, but not the left, amygdala in men. One study found evidence that on average, women tend to retain stronger memories for emotional events than men. The right amygdala is also linked with taking action as well as being linked to negative emotions, which may help explain why males tend to respond to emotionally stressful stimuli physically. The left amygdala allows for the recall of details, but it also results in more thought rather than action in response to emotionally stressful stimuli, which may explain the absence of physical response in women.

Wikipedia

Even Wikipedia is hedging it’s bets…

amygdalaSome of us feel this way if we get cut off in traffic, or our spouse demeans us, or someone says something insensitive. Many of us have started down this road just by reading the news. Words like terrorism, or ISIS, or violence, are very powerful and can start your brain in a direction where all bad things tread. We emotionally react “without thinking”. Have you ever said that? I don’t know what happened, I just reacted. I did that without thinking. Amygdala. Limbic System. Throw those around at the next party you go to… nerd. (Technically my wife calls me a geek, but it’s in the same family. Any nerd would know that).

Basal Ganglia. I say it with a slight drawl on ganglia.

Contrary to the tone of this piece (it’s Monday), racing thoughts are no joke.

So I went to kitchen and grabbed an apple. It was hard to get out of bed, it’s warmy in there. I didn’t even need to pee – I like to work efficiently when the room is cold. I could lay in bed and wrestle with my thoughts forever but in that position I could not win. The physical act of getting up, of distracting myself with a sugary snack (that woke me up), pulls me methodically away from that inner battle. It takes me just over two minutes to eat an apple.

I’m not even remotely suggesting you should start eating apples in the middle of the night. You should have a Kit Kat. Counsellor’s orders.

By now you know where I am headed. There are times when I cannot remain in my head and win this battle. There are moments when we need to employ what we know, to battle what we fear. I put the apple in my cheesy toolbox, along with my chair, and my rock, my STOPP therapy, and a few other tools that occasionally work. This is not deep, but it does work.

There is no value in letting my thoughts run wild. I have heard those who believe that we should not seek to damper our emotions, that we should “feel our feelings”. While this is often good advice, it may not serve us well if we are feeling suicidal, for example. There are times when I need to shut the engine down, if for no other reason than I cannot continue to maintain this level of engagement.

There was a time when we believed that practice made perfect. We believed that we needed to “fight the good fight” and engage those thoughts, in order to develop our emotional muscles. We now understand that this is not necessarily the case. I possess only a limited number of “no’s” in my repertoire. Exposing myself to temptation does not develop resilience.

The more I say no to the cocaine, the more it takes out of me. This is not universally known. We have believed that the more I say no, the more I develop the capacity to resist. Research, unfortunately, does not support this premise. The actual truth is – the more I say no the more likely I am to say yes next time you ask. I only possess a limited storehouse of good intentions. If you are an alcoholic, being around booze does not make you stronger. In point of fact it makes you much weaker.

It serves no purpose when I let myself “go there”. There is no pot of gold at the end of that rainbow, just frustration and failure. Learning to stop the freight train is a skill that doesn’t come by accident, it takes practice.

I need an apple.