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.”
…is not really a word. If you look it up on Wikipedia someone spits at you as you read the definition. Regardless, or irregardless, it is a powerful idea. Most of us like to live our lives responding to our world. It is tempting to drink the koolaid and let your dysfunctional world dictate the directions for dying of bitterness. Other people make us mad. It’s their fault I am this way.
“In spite of” is a very powerful saying. In spite of chronic pain, in spite of horrific abuse, in spite of a lack of parenting, or too much cocaine, or a mother-in-law from hell. In spite of all that, you did it anyway. Irregardless of the cost (I have no idea how to use this word in a sentence). Many have overcome immense trials and have strangled out a life in spite of. I am firmly convinced that we need to celebrate this, to brag about this so much more. There is nothing unhealthy in taking a few minutes to acknowledge the truth that you accomplished something which took an immense effort. Many have experienced moments when they prayed for death, or more likely for the death of someone else. You made it – survived. You are hereby given permission to crow. Brilliant.
It’s interesting, if you think about things in the same weird ways I do (god forbid), how often my in spite of has actually turned out to be my because of. Most of us have realized by now that it is exactly those experiences that we would not wish on our worst enemy which have defined and taught us. There have been situations in my life which have forced truth upon me precisely because of the misfortune, or the pain, or the lack of, or whatever. It is one of the truths of humanity that we are often defined by the hurt, not the happy. Adversity has burned in lessons about fairness and hardship and attitude that sitting by the ocean never will. I have come to the end of my rope and realized that I am still alive. You probably have as well. I had to be much broken before some lessons started to sink in. My capacity for self-delusion is epic and should be a marketable skill. At every point in my life I believed I was more self-aware than my friends. At every point I was unquestionably wrong. None of us realizes the depth of our own self-deception for a long time, often a lifetime.
Irregardless of the scars we choose to make our own lives. In spite of abuse, or neglect, even those other things that shall not be named, some people find hope. For some of you there is a freedom that only comes with completely losing your shit. You know how bad it can get, and that lesson I cannot teach you. Some wisdom is not for sale, it must be earned.
I am not sure, as I write this, that we can learn to be thankful for some of the tragedy in our journey. Most of us have a few demons that we will not learn to like, no matter how many Margaritas we consume. Some things become a part of our story, even if it isn’t a good part. What I am learning is that sometimes, eventually, a few of the nightmares lose their teeth and we can begin to see how we have become stronger… irregardless.
It’s very hard to describe to someone how grief feels. I remember when I was going through my own persistent hell I was taken to a doctor who flippantly told me, “you’ll be fine soon”. He was, not to put too fine a point on it, a condescending idiot. Doctors are not trained in counselling and frankly he was talking outside his pay grade. Comments like, “time will heal” and “just move on” are seemingly wonderful platitudes that are, frankly, usually useless or even harmful. No one who is not experiencing your grief has the slightest clue what you are going through. If you have ever been crushed by a failed relationship, dealing with saying goodbye, or working through your private hell, you know what I am talking about.
The longer I do this the more I have come to understand that grief is an oft misunderstood and pervading emotion, that is not confined to the death of a loved one. People grieve for a myriad of reasons, from the death of a dream to the break-up of what “should/could have been”. People can grieve the loss of innocence or a dream, the hurt inflicted by a parent or child, even the loss of a job or a hope for the future.
There are, of course, levels of grief. No one who has lost a child would appreciate this being compared to the loss of a job, by way of example. Some grief is overt, palpable, intense, overwhelming. As far as I’m concerned a parent who loses a child is given a “free pass” in my world for the rest of their life. Some hells are beyond comprehension.
Grief is not just an emotional state or feeling. Sometimes, when the waves come (and many of us describe grief as a “wave”), your body hurts. Exhausted. Finished. Grief can come in crests that are all-consuming. Your world is so consuming that you cannot understand why everyone seems to be able to go about their lives as if nothing has happened. You can’t stop crying, or you can’t start. Your heart races and you wonder if you are going to die. It never seems to end. Bad counsellors have told you that it will get better someday but you know it will never end. It consumes you. It defines you. You begin to wonder if you are insane. You can’t stop hurting, wave after wave after wave. You don’t care if you live. You often wonder about death, your death. Nightmares turn into daymares as each day, each hour and minute, seems to last forever. You are destroyed. Broken. Life has no meaning.
I’m not making this up. There are readers here who tell you that I’m not even remotely exaggerating. Quite the reverse, actually. People die from grief, and some people who survive never really recover. There is nothing that anyone can say that will make a difference today, but that’s ok. Helping someone who is grieving is about “presence”, not snappy advice. In that time that cannot be named there was nothing you could have said to me that would have “snapped me out of it”. Recovery was a series of infinitesimal movements that I probably had no idea were happening. Time and tears and waves and waves. Emptiness. Then one time, for reasons that escape you, you don’t have a horrible day. Maybe you didn’t cry today. Sometimes that is a huge win. Let’s not pretend, however, that you were happy. Happy? Not bloody likely. Little by little life was less horrible, though it seemed to take forever.
There is no magic pill at the end of this tale, no Prince Charming to swoop in and rescue us. There is only coping and learning and surviving in spite of it all. As we always say around here, there are some lessons that are only learned in pain. They still aren’t worth it, usually. Pain may have given me a measure of wisdom, but I still would have preferred to stay stupid and idealistic and unscarred.
Once again, there is more philosophy in psychology than many realize. These conversations bring up questions of mortality, and faith, and fairness. Learning to cope with a life you never wanted, in a world you never imagined, is a harder thing than most of us would have supposed; If we could have imagined it at all. I grew up in a world where right always triumphed in the end and cool guys never looked at explosions, they just walked away looking like Fonzie or Bruce Willis, Arnold and Clint. Real men ate red meat and drank martinis that were shaken and not stirred, for a reason I have yet to appreciate. Learning that life doesn’t end like in the movies is a painful lesson that we learn and relearn.
Maybe wisdom is learning how to live in a world that is unfair, and where everything doesn’t necessarily happen for a reason. Lowering my expectations, one more time. It has helped me a great deal when I realized that life offered me no guarantees, only days. Learning to find contentment in the moment has been an arduous journey. Learning to let go of things that hold me back has been harder still. I am still hoping for success someday.
I am often reminded of the second half of the Serenity Prayer, the line where it says “that I may be reasonably happy in this life”. Reasonably happy.
I might have a shot at that.
There is a great deal of philosophy in psychology. I don’t profess to be an expert at either but it feels like I am finally starting to wake up. I have come to believe that some changes are about timing, about distance, about learning. I watch clients go through this process all the time; and hopefully some of this yummy goodness has rubbed off on me along the way. I don’t do this job for the money, just ask my wife.
I get paid to be a full-time student of life. I can research to my heart’s content, as long as some of my paperwork is done. I watch the drama, the comedies and the tragedies, unfold before my eyes. Some of you know what I am talking about. I absolutely love my job. Back to our story. I have been learning recently about the events in our lives that change us. Books have been written about what I call “the event”. I have an article 80% done by that very name; I just can’t seem to end the story. Now it will probably end up being called “The Event (Redux)”. Briefly put, there are some events which are so catastrophic in their ramifications that they rip the fabric of our lives forever. These “events” have a permanent effect on our lives, our hearts, and our attitudes. They are game-changers. More later.
Our part of the story has to do with timing. As someone says somewhere, “timing is everything”. I was speaking with a friend lately about this very thing. We talked about our “events” and the ways in which life has turned out differently then we imagined. Not everyone has one, I’m sure. This isn’t something you would need to feel regret over. It’s not like a tattoo of your 14-year-old girlfriend. Some people’s lives probably go by quite swimmingly, I simply do not know too many of these. I think I know a few. This is a good thing. “Events” are rarely, in my experience, good things. I know a few people who know a few people who won the lottery, but I never will. I guess that could be a game-changer I would like to embrace. Won’t happen in the real world though.
I’ve written about this briefly in the past. I don’t want to talk about ‘the event’ right now. I want to talk about another ‘mini-event’. One day things started to change. It took years and rivers of tears and pain and pain and pain. We aren’t fooling around here. People who know what it feels like to be clinically insane. People who actually believed suicide was the best option. Lives that have been broken. You know, the big stuff. Let’s move on. Things began to change. Since that time I have come to understand that the journey back into some light was more about accumulation than about one-time events. The road back was way, way longer for most of us than we believed we could bear. It seems impossible not to be profoundly affected by the knockout punches. I often hear people say, “There are lessons I’ve learned in this process that I would never have learned otherwise. Still, it wasn’t worth it.” That seems like a reasonable assessment to me.
I have known many people who have chosen to define their lives in terms of ‘the event’. This is not the time for speaking about the potential for dysfunction here, let’s look at this from a different lens. There are those people who see these events as such deal-breakers that a very real part of them died or was altered on that day. Life is before the incident (BI) and after the incident (AI). There would be a me that thought his life was one thing (BI), only to find out it became something altogether different (AI). If you don’t think people can change… you’ll see (AI). Don’t get me wrong, not all people change for the better. These things scar you, is all (AI).
As Santayana reminds us, don’t forget the things you learned there. It may not have been worth it, but that doesn’t mean it cannot transform your life. Busy people forget to read psychology, or counseling stuff, or philosophy. We get so profoundly caught up in our crazy lives that we tend to repeat cycles without learning anything of profundity while we were in the Freak Show. Some of us remember promises that we made ourselves when we were broken; promises we made to God or our spouse or our future. I get paid to remind you of that crap. I personally recommend to my clients that they take a few months every year, for the rest of their lives, and come back for a visit for a month or three. I may get paid to research, but most of us don’t. I mean that in the most empathetic terms I can conjure. Life is nuts here too. I talk about this stuff every day and I forget. A few months a year to keep things on track cannot be a bad idea. Just think about it.
I want to dedicate this article to a bunch of you I work with who inspire me not to give up. Your capacity to triumph in suffering humbles me. I have no idea if I could endure what you are going through, I only know my story. Timing is everything. One day you’ll walk in the room and I, or someone like me, will look at you and ask if anything has changed. You look marginally better. There will probably not be any “ah ha!” moment wherein you suddenly realize your problem and phone Joel Osteen. I truly hope there is, but I never had one. Somehow, in spite of the agony, you were able to build just enough momentum, get the right meds, start eating differently and get off the couch. And it really sucks, but I couldn’t fake myself healthy.
I told someone this week, “This may not be bullet-proof but it seems like, for many people, you just have to ride that ‘wave from hell’ for a while before it starts to cool down”. I could be wrong, I often am, but shooting from the hip I would say that I have not been able to do much for many of my clients for a seriously long time… at first. Either I’m really bad at this or something is trending. Maybe a little of both. In my little office I could feel heart-broken if I thought too often about how long it really takes for qualitative and quantitative change to happen in a life. We don’t talk to clients about this very much but sometimes my job is more about the process than the results on a weekly basis. A few of you have spent years in counseling and groups before there was significant change, and then it wasn’t all good change either. Sometimes I feel like an emotional air freshener until some of the intensity wears down. There goes my buzz…
I have some friends I’d like to introduce some day, even though they are all so very shy. They are mostly women, with a few males scattered in the mix, who could tell you their story. A few have done so already on this site. They make my job super cool. I first met some of them many years ago and they are warriors, every one of these crazy, courageous people. Some have significant mental health issues, huge personal stuff, and usually a lot of grief somewhere. There were so many issues we basically threw darts and waded in. You think I helped you, but you did 99% of the work and I had a great time hanging out with you and getting paid. These friends are the reason I can write so confidently – I watch people who overcame insurmountable odds and refused to quit and somehow, after a very long time, there was a bit of hope. And let me tell you, in the beginning – they would be the last people in the world to tell you they could do have survived and moved on… I might have just had an “ah ha” moment.
I have a very cool job.
check out this related article – The Speedo
In my ongoing quest to possess the world’s largest private collection of audiobooks, I am reading/listening to an amazing book called Rock Breaks Scissors.
The book is a meandering collection of scientific beauties that most of us have never heard about. How to use science to win the lottery, or at cards, or when betting on tennis, football, baseball, and especially soccer. This book is part of a genre of popular science books written to beguile the amateur. I read as many as I can get my hands on. I have names if you want in.
So let’s learn something new about soccer.
In this little known study scientists studied soccer penalty kicks between the years 1994 and 2010 during the FIFA World Cup. What they found was incredible. Scientists have studied professional soccer goalies and found that when their team is trailing they will choose to jump to their right side 71% of the time. That is a huge statistic for a game built on seconds and millimetres. It only takes 1/5 of a second for a kicker to put a ball in the net and it is statistically impossible for a goalie to know which way the kicker will kick. Or is it?
If you knew which way the goalie would jump, seven out of ten times you were faced with a penalty kick while your team had the advantage, this would be statistically important information to have. Science tells us (and here’s where they start to suck you in to their cult) that because of millennia of conditioning and probable biological predisposition, humans will look to the right when confronted with a precarious situation requiring their attention. You look to the right first when you enter unfamiliar room, for example. Test yourself if you can somehow not prejudice the experiment because now you know what is supposed to happen.
All this is to say that knowing this information may win you games. If your team plays forty games and has, say, 40 penalty kicks a year, occasionally you would be facing a goalkeeper who is wondering which corner you will pick. This may not be a frequent occurrence but consider also that in most soccer leagues there is the occasional infamous “shoot-out” where you can have up to ten penalty kicks in a single match. Knowing this information could mean three or four goals. And in soccer, 3 or 4 goals is everything.
Knowing the statistical likelihood of anything will vastly increase your ability to make good decisions. Suppose I were to tell you that 80% of people with depression got better after one year of good counselling (this is a theoretical question only). Most people who suffer with depression would surely put in this time, right? After all, 80% is a very high number and you have at least a decent shot at transforming your life.
I’m not so sure.
I have seen hundreds and hundreds of people who were only months away from radical transformation, but were simply unwilling or believed they were unable to do what needed to be done. Most mental health issues, for example, can be much better managed with a modicum of effort. Most people still do not put in the time.
Therein lies the nugget of hope. Good things come to those who don’t give up. I have had a front-row seat to many hundreds of changed lives. To a person every one of them undoubtedly told me at some point that things would never change. I have listened to them describe in great detail the impossibilities they were forced to endure. Every one wanted to give up, sometimes every day. Most though I was lying when I said that they could be whole. They were the ones who didn’t quit.
I have known more than a few people who have spent time in prison. Talking with them while they were doing time was often very difficult. I could not convince them that one day they would be free. While you are in the trenches all you can imagine is the war. It is only looking back that they believed things could change.
There was a time I believed I would always be broken. I instinctively knew I would always carry that backpack of pain. It defined me. It absorbed me. I would never be well. I could not understand how other people could go on with their lives as if nothing had happened. I cried every hour of every day. Every hour of every bloody day. Usually much much more.
Then one day I didn’t anymore. One day I had a good day. One day I didn’t feel sorry for myself. It started with a few minutes, then a few more. Little by little. Digging yourself out of depression, or anxiety, or trauma can be unimaginably hard. Some of us can barely get out of bed. People who struggle with mental health or addictions, past traumas or abuse must spend hours and years doing and thinking things that are uncomfortable, difficult to endure, and incredibly demanding of us emotionally and relationally. It is far easier to self-medicate, check out, or get bitter.
Like many of us I still bear the scars of that time. Other scars too.
I remember hearing the song, “Waiting On The World To Change” and thinking, that’s not going to happen anytime soon! Things tend to get worse before they get better, or so the maxim goes. What I have found is that things get ridiculously old before they change. Most of us spend day after day, month after month, even year after year desperately praying for change, until things slowly move. And we’re talking slowly. I don’t have any recollection of when I got out of my all-pervading, soul-stealing, life-draining, ‘who gives a crap about anyone or anything’ depression. There was no “ah ha!” moment, no prayer meeting that turned the corner, no epiphany, no medication, no counselling appointment that finally turned the tide. No conversation seemed to help at the time, though later it was obvious looking back that small change was beginning.
I remember, when I was grieving, going to see a really terrible religious counsellor. I went religious because I could get it cheaper. Mistake. Some religious counsellors are undoubtedly fabulous, but they never met this guy. I should have saved the money and bought a milkshake. NOTHING he said helped. But then again, nothing anyone could say at that point made much of a difference. He was extra pathetic inasmuch as he couldn’t keep confidences and literally ratted me out, exacerbating the situation exponentially. Long story short… he sucked. Sadly, many counsellors do. They go into this occupation to save the world and somehow fix their own dysfunction. They are rarely successful. By way of example, hundreds of addicts I have worked with, and we’re talking hundreds, are convinced six weeks into sobriety that they want to be a drug and alcohol counsellor, or work with youth. People love love love theoretically working with youth… until they work with one and realize that adults actually listen, most youth in counselling have no longer than five minutes of attention span (thank you every adolescent male for the stimulating conversation), and adults won’t attempt to give you a wedgie during your coffee time or fart out loud and blame you at Starbucks. These are, of course, only theoretical examples and I’m not really upset with that little puke who blamed me at the coffee shop I frequent almost daily by yelling and holding his nose, pointing and gagging. Completely theoretical.
Anyway… what were we talking about? Oh right, depression. Happy times.
Coming out the other side of depression seems to take forever. By the time someone lands in my office to actually deal with such things they usually are so far gone it can take months just to talk them into getting up in the morning. I never start by asking a depressed person to do much of anything. The key problem with depression, as I oft recite, is the lack of motivation. The number one thing you need to get out of depression is… motivation. So how do you get motivated to get motivated? Certainly not by going to a doctor who prescribes an hour or walking, journaling, or going out socially on dates. Such goals are laughable, in the beginning. Unfortunately doctors are left to diagnose and prescribe such maladies on a daily basis, while having little understanding of psychology or mental health in general. It simply isn’t really covered all that much in medical school. But again I digress.
I cannot point to a day when I felt better because there wasn’t one. Coming back from the living dead took years of reading and crying and praying and talking and talking and talking… and not a little bit of drinking, much to my chagrin. I don’t recommend taking a depressant for depression. It’s similar to smoking pot for your anxiety – short-term gain, long-term pain. Doctors recommend that too!
It is the same with trauma, anxiety, and much of the mental health spectrum. There is no fad diet or cleansing that really can make you whole again; no magic pill or medication that will solve your problems. Some of us desperately need to be medicated, but with an understanding that medication alone is rarely sufficient. What really needs to happen is time. Time to move beyond the raw beginning. Time to let all that good stuff you are learning congeal and begin to take effect. Healing takes time. Real healing always does.
I tell this to patients all the time. Even with the best counsellor change rarely happens overnight. I find, and this is not even remotely scientific, that my clients usually take about three months of intense therapy before stuff starts to vibrate. Six months to a couple of years to deal with trauma, or anxiety, or serious depression. Sorry to say but a combination of co-morbidities could require longer than that. Some of us know this, though it’s counselling suicide to speak of it out loud. “Short term interventions” that we were all teethed on in college are only relatively short, when compared with how long it takes to not get better. Consider then, if you will, that most extended health plans cover 5 or 6 counselling sessions. So why aren’t you better yet?
Depression is not necessarily a terminal illness. Neither is anxiety or trauma. What is true, is that they are not easy to overcome. It took me years, and I still bear the scars even today.
It’s very sad. I have watched it happen for years but it continues to haunt me, just a little bit. She quit. She had been coming for just over two months and she was frustrated. The change that she was promised has not happened and probably never will. Something inside of her suspected this would happen but she thought she owed it to herself to at least give counseling “a shot”. Two and a half months.
I’m very weird. When I want to unwind I love to strap on my ear buds and listen to cosmology or physics or history. Atoms fascinate me. So does the universe. Like most of us who endured Physics in high school I learned that Physics is boring; and the only people who became physicists were the kind of people who would never have to worry about things like having a girlfriend or being popular. Physics was cylinders and math and radiuses..es. Bill Bryson was the guy who introduced me to this alternate reality. There was a book I once read about a journalist who was on an airplane flight and he realized that he didn’t know why the airplane was in the air, didn’t know anything about geography or science or the stars so wrote a book about a bunch of cool things I had never really taken the time to appreciate. I can’t remember the name of that book but if anyone has read it, let me know.
It was Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History Of Nearly Everything” that really rocked my world. I have read it cover to cover four times and will probably destroy it when I eventually read it again and again. Bryson helped me imagine 10,000 billion billion stars. He wrote about how on the very smallest level, far tinier than atoms, the basis of life is music. I am naturally a storyteller and this book has provided hours of fodder. It has helped me understand how precarious and unlikely life is, while showing me that there could possibly be a million worlds that could support intelligent life, though probably nothing like us for many reasons that I have learned from books like this. I met people like Michio Kaku and actually read Hawking. I am listening to “The Magic Of Reality” by Richard Dawkins but he is bitter and is killing my fascination with the magic of reality so I may listen to the original BBC radio dramas of Sherlock Holmes next to cleanse my palate.
So what do trilobites and neutrons and anxiety have to do with each other? I almost forgot… quitting.
I never took that second Physics class that Bryson talks about, the one that introduced you to real physics – the universe, the atom, the amazing. I was stuck with the volume of a cylinder and boredom and the pledge to never read physics again the rest of my life, so help me God. So close.
Apparently the next year you were introduced to the meaning of life, the beginnings of the universe and the mysteries of existence, so all-in-all I probably didn’t miss much.
I have mentioned in other articles here, here, and here that most people do not really change, especially if they are dealing with anxiety or trauma, because change is very hard and takes a long time. We have been sold the lies that promise to transform us with little or no effort. We are in love with shortcuts and our brain in neurochemically wired from an amygdala level on up for novelty. Many of us have also helped evolution along through our excessive use of drugs or alcohol, maybe our parents drank a bit when we were in the womb, perhaps we have inherited the douche bag gene, etc. Whatever the situation you can bet your 1984 Klondike Days Commemorative Coin Collection that you won’t be over your mental health issues in two months… or six months… or probably a year or two. It just takes however long it takes. There is no epiphany day for most of us. After three months of intense introspection (literally a few weeks after she quit) most people begin to notice something happening, though they are hard-pressed to describe it or even understand what “it” is.
We meet and something about you is different. Maybe you decided to go for a walk this week after ten years of depression and guilt because your psychiatrist, who never took the time to meet you, told you that you needed to walk for an hour, every day. What an idiot. Don’t even get me started…
Don’t quit. You only have one shot at this and contrary to what I really, really really want I probably won’t find a time machine so that I can go back to high school with all I know now and rule! Being free of those demons that haunt us is something that must be earned, and comes at a terrible price for some. All I can say is, I know personally that it is worth any price. I’m not there yet, but to paraphrase Martin, I can see the mountain top.
Some of you know what i mean.
I work a great deal with people who are in the throes of an obsession. It may be a love or a love lost, a new hobby or a destructive coping mechanism. No matter what the cause, obsession can be a powerful and consuming thing. The longer I work with clients the more apparent it becomes that a manic state is in many ways as destructive as a depressed state. Some of that emotional energy I have seen during a relational breakup, for example, is very destructive. Checking your email or Facebook every two minutes, writing out dozens of extensive apology or spite letters, overdoing it at the gym or at the bar or even at your church – manic obsession is not healthy.
Jealousy is a great example of how manic behaviour and thinking can get out of control. It can be insipid, especially if it appears justified. Sometimes we are jealous of another for good reason, at least we think so. This often leads to excessive passive-aggressive behaviour, incredible neediness, controlling and manipulative relationships, and eventual emotional ruin.
I know a little bit about jealousy. There was a time in my life when I was convinced that someone I cared about was attracted to another. The fact that I was eventually proven right actually was worse than if I had been mistaken. Fuel for the fire, so they say.
I have come to realize that most often jealously is actually about me, not the other person. If I am insecure, or envious, if I am needy or convinced that I am unworthy, this has a tendency to exacerbate any legitimate feelings I may possess. Finding out your spouse is enamored with some other guy or girl is bad enough when you are healthy. If you are an emotional train-wreck it can absolutely devastate you and those you are in community with.
Jealousy, like rage or fear, is an exceedingly powerful and consuming emotion. It turns otherwise rational people into psychotic idiots, passive people into tyrants, happy people into pathetic messes. Some of you know what I am talking about. Objective thinking goes right out the window. Like other obsessions jealousy takes up most, if not all, of your head time and thoughts. You start to catastrophize everything, think with your heart and not your head, live in a constant escalated state of pain and anxiety. Jealousy is almost impossible to talk someone down from.
Those racing thoughts are not healthy. Letting yourself dwell on the possibilities only makes you sicker. Trust me, you don’t need to feel all your feelings. You don’t need to process your pain twenty-four hours a day. What you do need is to put the brakes on the insanity and eat some chocolate, get laid, go to a movie, take a nap, or spend some time in prayer or meditation. Find out about mindfulness. Look into distraction. Talk to a doctor about Ativan. Read or listen to a book. Get sleeping pills. Give other people permission to tell you to shut up every now and then. Dwelling constantly on what may or may not be is a great way to go insane. Talk to a professional. Learn STOPP Therapy. Work on those racing and irrational thoughts. Deal with your self-esteem and insecurity and childhood issues. Stop the train wreck.
Realize that no one else can make you happy forever.
- Coping Mechanisms (scott-williams.ca)
Not everyone can do it. I’m not sure I could, to be honest. Many couples choose to stay together after infidelity and I salute them. Remaining together is one thing, trusting ever again is another. So if you are in this situation, what can you do?
Earning trust back is a monumental task requiring an incredible amount of humility from both partners. It takes way longer than people want to admit. I have, however, seen couples who are committed to making things better, in spite of the horror and the obsessive thoughts, jealousy, and pain. Sometimes.
Working as a counselor I have, as you can imagine, my share of marital issues to wade through with people. Nothing comes close to the difficulty of rebuilding trust and safety. Trust and safety – two words that constantly come up when I talk to clients, especially female ones.
People don’t generally understand how devastating infidelity can be. For the partner who has been rejected (yes I said that word) the process can take years, if ever. There are nights and days of obsessing about the “why” of it all, about how they have failed as a lover and a spouse. There are hours and hours of anger and more obsessing. Even being touched by the cheater becomes loaded, and potentially volatile. The spouse who has cheated is often subjected to months and years of the “short leash”. They are forced to phone more often, report in more often, talk to potential attractions much less often. Sometimes there is punishment and condescension, anger and vengeance. The one who is on the short leash usually grows tired of the lack of trust. Why can’t your partner ever seem to move on?
Spouses who cheat, especially men, are prone to verbalize how tired they are of not being trusted. Many will, after some months, flatly refuse to jump through any hoops or even talk about the infidelity… yet again. They are sick of the same tears, the same logic, the same belittling. A surprising number of relationships break up a year or more after the actual incident. Things just won’t seem to go away and both partners are not getting what they need.
If you have been betrayed in this way the first thing you need to understand is that there is no template for how to respond correctly to such a nightmare. It’s so easy for counselors to give out prescriptions for happiness but the sad truth is that most of us are permanently damaged. There can be forgiveness, even reconciliation, but the relationship will change. For some of us leaving is the only emotionally healthy option.
If you or someone you love is tortured by infidelity, either their own or someone else’s, encourage them to talk to a professional. The most important part of moving forward is personal healing, no matter what the outcome. Learning how to process what has happened is the key to healing. Time doesn’t hurt either.
No one really knows what you are going through although some of us can understand that pain. Whether it’s your parents or your partner you owe it to yourself to do everything necessary to be whole again. You’re worth it, in spite of how you may feel right now.
I remember the first time I heard it. I was in, admittedly, a religious meeting, a youth meeting. The speaker asked various small groups around the room to talk about suicide. I was an observer.
As I walked around the room I heard teens and adults talking about killing themselves. Everyone knew a story about a loved one or friend who had either attempted or committed suicide. Then I heard it.
I did not grow up in an overtly religious home. I had no idea, until that day, that people who committed suicide went directly to hell. I remember much later watching the movie, “Constantine” wherein Keanu Reeves talked of his desire to earn his way back to heaven. He was hell-bound, you see, because he tried to commit suicide. Bizarre.
A few years after that small group experience I was talking to a bunch of Christian teens and offhandedly scoffed at the suggestion that their relative who committed suicide was automatically condemned to burn in hell for all eternity. As a psychology dude you can imagine what I was thinking. When the parents found out I told their children that suicide was not the unforgivable sin in Christianity, they proceeded to rip me a new one. How dare I tell this to their teens? What if one of them used this information to justify killing themselves. I tried to explain that if fear of hell was the only thing keeping their Emo brat from offing himself than maybe there was another problem that has been wildly overlooked.
It wasn’t even good theology. I have talked to several theology types and no one worth their salt gives any credence to this religious “old wives tale”. The only unforgivable sin, I am told, has nothing to do with this issue at all. The bad theology is based on the misunderstanding that a person who kills themself has no time to “repent” and therefore must go to hell for that sin. By that definition if I lose my temper once or pick my nose wrong just before a deadly traffic accident than I am hooped. Even the most conservative of my religious friends will not allege that, after a legitimate conversion experience, one outstanding blemish will deal you out. Such a belief would be incredibly fear inspiring and virtually impossible to adhere to with any level of confidence. Heaven only as long as you are perfect at the time of your demise – no outstanding sins, no active character flaws, no hidden accounts, no working under the table, no yelling, no little white lies, no swearing (apparently I’m screwed)…
Dealing with the horror of a loved one who has taken their own life is already unimaginable. Holding cognitive distortions that only make things worse (suicide as the unforgivable sin), is truly tragic. You have enough to deal with without some ignorant religious zealot convincing you that your loved one is doomed for a trillion years. If you don’t believe me talk to a pastor about this topic. Chances are he or she might agree with me.
Let’s continue to address the misconceptions around this most tragic act of madness and pain.
Most of us will probably be touched by a suicide in our lifetime. In a world that fancies itself evolved, suicide remains a leading cause of premature death and is more popular today than ever before. There are groups and chat rooms dedicated to the promotion of suicide and it is not uncommon to hear of suicide pacts and self-inflicted copycat deaths. Some cultures create cultural myths and mores which promote, even glorify, the suicide act. Rock stars do it all the time.
There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding around suicide that it is difficult to know where to begin. I regularly meet clients and patients who have been devastated by the suicide of a loved one and subject themselves to self blame, recrimination, and second-guessing on a pathological scale. Sons are still mad at fathers who killed themselves twenty or even forty years ago.
How could someone do that to themselves? How could someone do that to their family? How could a sane person have ever convinced themselves that their children and family would be better off without them? Isn’t that insane?
You know it.
I thought of taking my life once, or rather, constantly for a single period of time.
I can look back at that Scott and see that he was an incredibly sick little boy. He was completely and totally off his nut (sorry for the clinical terminology). I look back at that Scott and I can see clearly how he could believe that he should take his own life. I can re-enter his mind and see what he sees, taste what he tastes. I’m back there right now as I write. He’s crushed, broken, deeply wounded and unable, even unwilling, to lift himself up. He’s insane with grief. Is he capable of believing that he should end it all?
I did a lot of things I regret, once a long time ago. It’s easy to wallow in the guilt and the muck and actually believe that this insane, crushed, broken man was fully responsible and incapable of being forgiven. If health has taught me anything it’s that I need to be more gracious to myself when I was sick.
Back to our topic.
I have no idea how you are reading this article but it was intended to bring healing to someone out there who still cannot let go of the anger and the pain. Maybe it will help someone else become more empathetic, more understanding of those who are battling mental health issues. They were insane, and insane people do insane things. It was never your fault. It wasn’t even really their fault. People in their right mind do not take their own life. I know.
I thought I would take a break from the professional jargon for one day and share a personal reflection. Please forgive my obvious self-indulgence.
When I was insane, all those years ago, I rarely understood what I had. I was overwhelmed by grief, drowning in my own head. All those years ago…
I have already written, in fact just recently, about my visit this summer with my mate Steve. Many things have changed in my life but he never did. While we were visiting my wife and Steve’s wife, Susan, talked about those bad days so many years ago. Susan may be forgiven her tiny betrayal, if perhaps because it was a small sin done in kindness and compassion. Annette asked Susan if Steve ever talks about that time and she said, “Steve never talks about it and the one time he did say anything it was only, “She left us.”
“She left us”. It staggered me when I heard it. A friend so close that he felt the sting of betrayal as only family could, and took it personally. Far from being offended I was humbled. That’s loyalty. I realized, probably for the first time, that there were friends who suffered beside me, in spite of my feeling so very alone.
I can recall, with vivid detail, the faces of those who had told me they were the most faithful of friends. People who, when the going got tough, bailed because it was too messy. Steve wasn’t one of those people. I’m thinking of a few friends locally as well. A few friends in Alberta and Saskatchewan and other points much farther away. Friends who aren’t easily frightened by my fallenness and not shocked when I have failed.
“She left us”. Three small words that have changed my life. Again.
A couple is in the shower and he is brushing his teeth. Lately showering together has become routine and he is feeling playful. On a whim he spits his toothpaste onto his wife’s back. Playful. Fun. Spontaneous. Funny though admittedly gross.
Not so much.
Most guys would find that hilarious. We have a deep and intrinsic understanding of gross stuff you can do to your friends without needing bail money. Farting is hilarious. So are wedgies. Flinging poo – no I haven’t done that but it’s not funny! Seriously.
Ha ha… poo.
What could be more funny than getting your best girl with fresh tooth spit? Hilarious. So why isn’t she laughing? Granted, at the right time and place I know lots of women who can be much grosser than this. Hilarious. In this particular case, however, she was looking for a little intimacy, a little steamy assistance. Shocking as it may seem, some women don’t get off on being spit at. I know, I’m only talking hypothetically, but apparently it’s true. Even your innocent peeing down the drain doesn’t seem to amuse her. Go figure. Girls are weird.
No one told me that I would have to spend the rest of my life trying to understand my partner. I earnestly had no idea that I would be donating so much of my time learning to interpret someone else’s words, emotions, body language, and intentions. I do this for a living and I am only now beginning to understand even the most obvious aspects of a female’s psyche. Relationships are ridiculously tough and anyone who is not growing in their understanding of their partner is doomed, in my estimation.
Negotiating a good relationship is damn near impossible some days. Moving forward when you are angry or feel misunderstood, and live with someone who is not willing to be humble enough to learn, well that’s another thing altogether. Throw in passive-aggressive personalities, emotional immaturity, money problems, neediness, addictions, chronic pain, mental health issues, family problems, entitlement, insecurity, past trauma or sexual abuse, unresolved conflict, lack of sleep, misunderstanding, or someone who is angry or emotionally unavailable, and you have a recipe for conflict, confusion, and potential misunderstanding. Compound this over several years and it is no wonder, then, that couples grow bitter, interpret every issue as confrontation, or build their own little damaged worlds.
Relationships are hard. Many are worth it. Do the work. Reap the rewards.
- An Open Letter To The Men Who Date My Clients (scott-williams.ca)
Your brain contains more than 100 billion neurons that flawlessly work together to create consciousness and thought. It is an astonishing marvel of evolution and adaptation, and it is also a huge dick.
What do we mean by that? Well, everyone wants to be happy, but the biggest obstacle to that is the mushy thing inside your skull that you think with. Evolution has left your brain with all sorts of mechanisms that are heavily biased toward misery. We can’t guarantee that reading this article will help, for your brain is as crafty as it is sadistic. But at least you’ll understand it better.
#5. Your Brain Latches onto the Bad Stuff by Design
At some point in the last year you’ve spoken to a woman with supermodel looks who would not stop talking about how horrible it was that she had gained half a pound or had a faint pimple on her forehead. You realized that this was a person who somehow could look at her fashion-magazine face in the mirror and only see the pimple. It’s so annoying — why can’t she just focus on the positive?
But of course, we all do it to varying degrees — you might pass 5,000 cars on your morning commute, and 4,999 of them might be perfect, polite drivers. But then you pass that one guy in the SUV who literally stuck his buttocks out of his side window and took a flying shit on your hood. When you get to work, are you going to talk about the 4,999 good drivers or the flying hood shitter? You’re going to focus on the negative, because your brain is hardwired to devote more attention to the misery in life.
Researchers have found this in a laboratory setting: They can show participants pictures of angry and happy faces, and the participants will identify the angry faces much faster than the happy ones. How much faster, you ask? So fast, we answer, that the participants had no conscious recollection of ever seeing the faces. That’s right — your brain already identified the shit parts of your day before you even knew it. You have a sixth sense for misery.
And that was a great ability to have back when evolution was deciding which of us would reproduce and which would get eaten — we needed a brain tuned to spot threats. Giggling at the butterflies instead of running from the tiger puts you in the express lane through the tiger’s intestinal tract. We focus on the negative because it’s the negative stuff that gets us killed — there was no evolutionary advantage to stopping to smell the roses. But this has left us with a brain that not only devotes our attention to the bad stuff, but also makes us remember it a lot better. Think about the implications in your everyday life — you can wind up walking away from a pretty good job or relationship because you only remember the bad times.
If there’s a good side to it, the effect does seem to reverse as we get older, when nostalgia starts to set in and we focus more on the good memories. Unfortunately, for many of us the only effect of that seems to be that we can’t stop talking about how freaking great things were back in our day.
#4. Killing Negative Thoughts Only Makes Them Stronger
All right, you think, if negative thoughts are so powerful and make us so miserable, we’ll just force ourselves to stop focusing on them. After all, we’re conscious animals; we have control over our own brains. Now that we’re aware of the problem, we just won’t do it — we’ll look in the mirror and force ourselves to not think about the pimple.
Sure. First, let’s try a really simple brain exercise:
Imagine a white bear humping another bear. Try to get a really clear picture of them in your mind. All right, now stop thinking of the humping bears. Use all of your powers of concentration to eliminate all traces of them from your mind. You shouldn’t be seeing the white bears at all now, or their frantic thrusting, even when we repeat the words “humping white bears.”
Did it work? Hell, no! In fact, the more you tried to not think about bear sex, the more you thought about it. This, unfortunately, is the same thing that happens when you try to force yourself to not think about the pimple in the mirror: Suppressing negative thoughts actually makes them stronger. You read that right. Negative thoughts are like the Sand People: If you chase them away, they’ll come back in greater numbers.
It’s actually insane when you think about it — we’re constantly trying to banish bad thoughts from our mind, but the human brain simply doesn’t have a mechanism for doing it. After all, the only way to know for sure that you are not thinking about horny white bears is by monitoring your thoughts and “scanning” them for any traces of them. So the process basically goes like this:
“Am I thinking about humping white bears?”
“Well, I wasn’t, but now I am …”
Psychologists call these ironic thought processes. They are the reason why you only want the stuff that you can’t have, why trying to suppress laughter only makes you laugh more, why you fail at stuff when somebody is watching, and so on. Telling yourself not to be afraid of failure puts failure right at the center of your thoughts. It’s the difference between overweight people who are always counting calories and rail-thin people who have to be reminded to eat at meal time because otherwise they just “forget to eat.” The overweight dieters are constantly failing because staying under the calorie count requires them to do the one thing they should be avoiding: thinking about food.
This is the cruel irony of people who are chronic worriers. Brain scans show that people who are constantly worrying about every little thing have much more active brains than other people … but the extra energy is wasted. When worriers try to complete a task they worried about, they end up doing worse than non-worriers doing the same task. So much of their brain power is being used to try to foresee all the bad outcomes that they almost guarantee that one of those bad outcomes will occur.
Meanwhile, people who aren’t concerned about what will happen can dedicate all their concentration to solving whatever problem is in front of them, meaning their chances of success are higher. That’s right — you could say that some people succeed purely because they’re too dumb to know why they should fail.
#3. Grief Is Addictive
Think about how much of our entertainment is based around negative emotions. Why do we like scary movies? Or sad songs? Why do we watch movies about disasters or obsessively follow morbid news stories about sensational murder trials? If something horrible happens to us, why do we find ourselves constantly thinking and talking about it?
If you were trying to come up with some kind of logical explanation, you could maybe say that it’s because focusing on terrible things reminds us of how good we have it. But the science says that we actually take pleasure in the negative emotion itself. We willingly dive back into misery again and again for the same reason we willingly board a roller coaster or go bungee jumping: We get a rush from it. That is, the pleasure/reward centers of your brain light up and release dopamine. And you can get addicted to whatever causes your brain to release dopamine, whether it’s chocolate or fistfights.
And just as with any addiction, there are some people who can handle it better than others — we all respond differently. And what researchers are finding is that some people get addicted to grief.
They think this may be why some people can just pick up and move on after a trauma, while others never do. They just keep reliving it, refreshing that feeling over and over. Because of the jacked-up way your brain is wired, even the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to you gave you a rush. Don’t get us wrong — that chronically grieving person you know isn’t enjoying it, any more than the junkie “enjoys” being an addict. They just get trapped in a feedback loop because they’re subconsciously afraid to let go of the one strong emotion that makes them feel alive.
And when it comes time to try to break us out of that cycle, something else comes into play, which is the fact that …
#2. You’d Rather Be Unhappy Than Uncertain
To all the teenagers reading this: You are lovely people. Thank you for reading Cracked. But holy frijoles, you do some completely idiotic things. Don’t worry — it’s completely normal. Thanks to evolution, the teenage brain is all about taking risks, like attacking a woolly mammoth with flimsy spears and having lots of sex with multiple partners, all for the continuation of the species.
For that decade of life, young people don’t have a “NO” switch in their brains, and while it meant that a lot of them fell off cliffs while chasing the woolly mammoths, overall it has been beneficial to the species. In fact, you could argue that the people who are successful later in life are the ones who never gave up their lust for taking stupid risks.
But for the most part, as you get older, your brain wants you to stop taking those risks. You already did all your kid-having, now you need to settle down and stay alive so you can raise those children. Forget mammoth hunting; you’re picking berries. You are less likely to quit your job and start a garage band at 50 than you were at 17, and that’s a good thing.
The problem is that most people grow so scared of risk that they are more likely to stay in situations that make them miserable than take a chance at happiness. Sure, you only drew a three of hearts out of the deck of life, but if you ask for a new card, you might wind up with a deuce. You stick with the misery you know.
And even worse, it actually gets to the point where a change that works out for the better can be scary because it’s better. In other words, even if you take the risk and the risk pays off, if you’re not used to happiness, then it just feels weird, or phony. Studies have found that taking depressed, self-critical people and trying to make them think positively about themselves just confuses the shit out of them. Make them stand in front of a mirror and shout compliments at themselves and they just think it’s weird and pointless. “What is this? Are you making fun of me? This is stupid.” It actually takes a whole different type of therapy for those people, because they see warmth and happiness and can only think, “What the hell is this shit?”
Some of you think that’s absolutely bizarre, and some of you know that as your everyday life. Ask yourself: When you’re sitting in a bar or coffee shop and there’s a group of friends next to you just laughing and having the time of their lives, how do you react? Do you find yourself annoyed by that? Do you hate them just a little? There you go.
#1. Being Happy Takes Effort
Imagine a happy person in your mind. Maybe you’re picturing a kid diving into a swimming pool, or an athlete hoisting a trophy, or Richard Branson parasailing with a naked supermodel on his back.
Now imagine a depressed person. You picture him sitting on the sofa in the dark, maybe drinking alone, staring at infomercials at three in the morning. Maybe he just never got out of bed.
The primary difference there is that the former person is actually doing something. It’s ridiculous to imagine the roles reversed — there aren’t any sad ballads about people snowboarding.
So despite how much cocaine Sigmund Freud did, it appears he was right when he said that unhappiness was the default position of our brains — meaning that happiness takes effort. As one study put it, having the right genes and being surrounded by the right people are a part of the equation, but the rest is doing things that make you feel good.
And if reading this made you roll your eyes and say, “Well, duh,” then you have to stop and realize how many people never do this. How many people do you know who say their ideal vacation would be to just kick back and do nothing at all? All of the “doing” in their lives comes at the job or at school — all the stuff that they’re forced to do by other people. So they think that relaxing means doing nothing at all, rather than doing the stuff they like.
They fall into the trap of thinking that happiness is simply the absence of doing unpleasant tasks instead of actively doing pleasant ones … and the human brain just doesn’t work that way. And this isn’t going to get any better as time goes on; among seniors, their satisfaction with life didn’t correlate with the state of their health or anything else — it was based on whether or not they had friends and hobbies.
Of course, it’s never harder to go out and make friends or start a new hobby than when you’re in the throes of depression, and at that point, all of the above cycles that keep you in that valley start coming into play. Hey, when we said your brain was a dick, we weren’t kidding.
Many readers may not realize it but I was a single parent, raising two boys with no help or financial support, for six years. Not a single date. It was the worst of times. It was the best of times. My sons are my best friends, we are incredibly close. Grief will do that to you.
I remember vividly the first Christmas I was alone. I had never realized how many happy couples and two-parent families were on Christmas television and movies. I experienced loneliness on a level I cannot even describe. The whole world seemed to be happily cohabitating except for me. Loneliness will do that to you.
It’s Valentines Day, a happy day for young couples and established relationships. For some of us, however, there will be no flowers, no chocolates, no wet kisses. For many people Valentines Day is a screaming reminder that no one loves them, that they are alone. No Hallmark Cards or chocolate-covered strawberries or rose pedals on your bed.
It is important to remember that today does not define who you are. It is, and I know this sounds cliché, just another day. It may be a painful reminder but like most reminders, it will pass. You are fine just the way you are.
You don’t need someone else to complete you. It’s a lie. I found out the hard way that, as John Candy says in the movie Cool Runnings, “if you’re not enough without one, you’ll never be enough with one.” No one else can fill that hole in your heart, we’ll all let you down eventually. Wisdom is understanding that wholeness can only be found within. No human, no beautiful woman or man, can fix you. Date enough and you will find out the hard way.
As I tell my patients all the time, “Never date till you don’t have to”.
I have always been led to believe that in order to move on with my life that it is crucial to forgive other people. Many, many articles have been written about what that kind of forgiveness is. We have been told that forgiveness does not mean condoning, it isn’t forgetting, it’s not even really about the other person. This is all certainly true and I would ascribe to this view of forgiveness. But is forgiveness the only option?
I no longer think so. I have met many people who have been wounded by others so deeply that they cannot even imagine forgiving. Even after going through the list of what forgiveness is not they continue to believe that they may never be able to take that step. The pain is too deep. The sorrow is too real. The anger is too intense. Short of the intervention of a deity, asking a person to forgive when these emotions are in play may not be in their best interests and will most likely involve a high level of cognitive dissonance. Asking them to “fake it til you make it” may be asking too much.
So is there hope?
Absolutely. Good counseling understands that people need to make change slowly. Radical decisions and grandiose change is often not real or lasting. Everyone wants a magic pill but they eventually realize that deep psychological transformation takes time and a great deal of hard work. Forgiving someone who has raped or molested you is often impossible, given how you feel right now.
And that is the real issue, actually – how you feel right now. Staying hurt and bitter just prolongs your misery and keeps you in the cycle of pain and abuse. That person who wronged you actually continues to wrong you, over and over again. It is no wonder, then, that many of us believe we can never get over such injury. We have no teachers, no idea, no examples to follow. Few people who are not vindictive or idealistic seem to talk much about what to do when you don’t feel you can forgive.
It may just be possible that you are asking far too much of yourself. You are expecting that you will be able to “get over” this, even though the intensity has never subsided and you have not been able to glean perspective, even after all these years. Such an expectation seems highly unrealistic to me, too much to hope for.
There is another route. I have found that helping someone gradually separate from the emotion of the situation and gain perspective slowly, very slowly, allows them to move beyond the raw pain of what has happened. With careful and continued support and insight I have known many people who have been able to loosen the “grip” of their hurt on their heart. Once they have been able to start the healing than words such as “forgiveness” or “healthy” no longer seem so ridiculous, so unattainable.
It is the emotion of the hurt that keeps us stuck, not the event itself. With time and the right people you can begin to heal.
Begin to believe that life can be different.
Begin to hope that you may yet have a chance to live.
Begin to experience freedom from the bondage that has broken you.
It may take a long time. It may be painful. It starts with hope.
After I had my grand mal seizure last fall I was encouraged (forced) to see a neurologist for an assessment of my EEG. He was young, engaging, and when he realized where I work and what I do for a living let his guard down a little and we talked shop.
During our discussion he admitted to me that at least some of what he learned in medical school was information provided by the nazis in World War Two. Needless to say I was intrigued and pumped him for information. I have known for some time, being an amateur history and World War Two buff, that the experiments on the prisoners at the concentration camps had not been destroyed. I imagined that some of their research, no matter how heinous, must have worked its way into some form of science. I was a little surprised, however, to find out that a neurologist educated in Canada alleged that at least some portion of his understanding of neurology could be traced back to the Third Reich. Debate rages over the ethical ramifications of such use, though several credible sources, even Jewish sources, trumpet the pragmatic value of morally tainted data.
At this point it is tempting to look on the bright side and make platitudes about how “good can come out of bad” or something inane like that. Not going to happen.
No amount of understanding, at least in my mind, even remotely justifies what happened. I have seen some of the pictures, read about the experiments with altitude, cold, pregnancy, mutations, proposed medicines, poisons, etc. It’s just not worth it.
As a counselor it is tempting to try put a positive spin on pain or problems. I know personally that I am a much better person because of the emotional and personal breakdown I had over a decade ago. I realize that I have learned lessons and matured in ways that can only come about through pain. Trauma teaches lessons, if we are willing to hear them.
Was it worth it?
If you liked this article you might want to check out – Lowering Your Expectations.
My parents used to live in Germany and we were lucky enough to get to visit them on two occasions when they lived there. One of the most profound experiences of my life was when we visited Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. On the wall of the museum of the concentration camp at Dachau is a large and moving photograph of a mother and her little girl standing in line for the gas chamber. The child, who is walking in front of her mom, doesn’t know where she is going. the mother, who walks behind, does know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy. In her helplessness she performs the only act of love left to her. She places her hands over the child’s eyes so she will at least not see the horror to come. When people come into the museum, they do not whisk by the photo in a hurry. they pause. They almost feel the pain, I know I did. And deep inside of me I felt myself saying, “O God, don’t let this be all that there is.” Don’t let me live in a world that is without the supernatural, without miracles, without hope and a God and a future…
I admit it, I liked Sister Act. So when I heard that one of the members of Sister Act 2 was in the band City High I decided to check them out. CH was a one-hit-wonder band of the early millennium who got famous for their hit “What Would You Do?“, a tragic melody about judging a stripper because she was turning tricks to feed her hungry child. The song is dripping with pain, including the line “ran away so our daddy wouldn’t rape us.”
I remember spending a week looking for a friend who was suicidal in the worst parts of Chicago in the early nineties. Dive after dive, bar after bar, knocking on hotel rooms with fifteen people living in one room, talking to hookers, visiting crack shacks and sleazy strip clubs. It is an experience I have never forgotten, a naive Canadian from the prairies walking down alleys alone at 3 a.m.
About a year ago I was at Main and Hastings in Vancouver, checking out Insite, the legal injection site on the meanest four square blocks in North America. As I left the building and turned the corner I almost walked into a beautiful little girl, no more than twelve or thirteen, shoving a needle in her thigh. If you have never been on Hastings just past Main on three or four square blocks of hell it’s hard to describe what it is like. Oh ya, you can watch the reality show based in Vancouver but nothing can give you that feeling of being in a human stew of 1000 junkies and prostitutes, the mentally and physically ill, Canada’s unwanted. There is a sense of adrenaline mixed with a bit of yuppie fear and caution. It is a wave, a tsunami, that pulses with a stench and vibrancy that must be experienced to be really believed.
It is a complex problem. I heard a politician say this past week that if the government would do it’s job than we wouldn’t have a drug problem. What an idiot. The power of using is far stronger than political will and addiction and addicts are problems that no amount of money or politics or even social services can eliminate. And to be honest, except for the Salvation Army , the Union Gospel Mission, the street nurses, and a few Christian groups, the larger community is really willing to get messy enough to effect change. East Hastings is a war zone and anyone who doesn’t think so hasn’t been there. It defies explanation and description.
These days, four days a week I hand out rigs, condoms, cookers and swabs to people trapped in addiction. I talk to people who have endured things I never imagined growing up. As a counselor you hear the most hurtful and damning confessions and stories. The lineup of human misery never ends. Then I drive home to my happy home in the suburbs where my amazing kids, a supportive wife, and a new grandson wait for me to show.
I have a friend Trista who lives and works at the intersection of Main and Hastings and is far better suited than I to speak about what goes on in her neighborhood. When I hang out with her I am humbled and embarrassed. Embarrassed that I pretend to be where the action is, and I become keenly aware of the fact that I don’t really know what is going on in the real world.
It’s very easy to criticize from the suburbs. Why can’t these people get a job? Why do they choose to live on the streets, abuse their bodies, and make the decisions they do? Why should I give money to the bum on the street when he’s only going to use it for drugs?
Many people who have grown up in the middle-class world cannot understand the sociology of growing up in a home where welfare is a generational inheritance, where the culture of neglect and abuse is so pervading that children grow up with no idea how to function in a society they have only seen on television.
“What would you do if your son was at home
Cryin’ all alone on the bedroom floor?
Cuz he’s hungry, and the only way to feed him Is to sleep with a man
For a little bit of money and his daddy’s gone
Somewhere smokin’ rock now In and out of lockdown,
I ain’t got a job now
So for you this is just a good time but for me this is what I call life”
Then she looked me right square in the eye
And said, “Every day I wake up hopin’ to die”
She said, “Nigga, I know about pain ‘cuz
Me and my sister ran away so my daddy couldn’t rape us
Before I was a teenager, I done been through more shit You can’t even relate to”
What would you do? Almost every day I am reminded that before I judge the person in front in me I should realize that I really have no idea what they are going through, their pain, their challenges.
“Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”
― Mother Teresa
My dad was an orphan whose father fell off a skyscraper a few days before switching jobs. Howie was one year old. His mother died when he was eleven, after being hospitalized for over six months. Dad was not allowed to see her because of hospital policy. He lived for a time with his older brother and sister-in-law, but grew up on the streets. He worked to provide for himself since he was an adolescent and eventually joined the military. Growing up my dad never had only one job. I remember vividly how he would come home from the Air Force and change uniforms to go work at the Liquor Store, then later somewhere else. He was not content to stay poor and raised us in a middle-class family. He has never complained about his life.
This is his blog post:
Have you ever been emotionally stressed or disturbed about how other people provided an unhealthy influence about death and dying and it’s effect on you?
To share thoughts on such an a topic as this is a little dangerous. The subject touches on influences inherited from family upbringing, relationships, personal theological beliefs, and what you have or have not been taught.
Also in a day when it is no longer fashionable to share personal feelings which might offend anyone there is no easy solution. If you have such a topic to write about, however, then you must disregard opinion and be honest with yourself and the reader.
First I want to share my thoughts on “death” and specifically “funerals”, then finish I will finish off by sharing my thoughts on “dying”.
My grandparents were “old school – don’t let anyone know your personal affairs, children should be seen and not heard, and don’t ever read a newspaper on Sunday, as it is the Sabbath” types.
When it comes to death I believe it is a time of transition for the person dying and the loved ones left behind. For a person of faith some people, myself included, feel it is a graduation to a higher realm in heaven. For the agnostic or atheist it depends on the individual. On earth it is a time when a former life can turn into a legacy to be cherished by loved ones……or sadly in a lot of cases mean nothing.
Funerals is when it gets complicated. I really thought, and I still do think, that my relatives ideas for funerals was sick, inconsiderate, and almost retarded, when there were grieving children left behind. Tradition and “we’ve always done it this way” reasoning sometimes are a curse when it comes to planning funerals Of course children have no say in what transpires at a funeral because no one puts themselves in the child’s place or family tradition rules.
This is where I apologize in advance if I am offending anyone when I say that
The controversial tradition of having to have an open coffin for funerals is barbaric. It is thoughtless and can be very traumatizing and have lifetime psychological effects, especially on a child. I speak from experience. This was the case in both my wife as a little girl of 11, losing a grandmother, and in my situation as a child of 11 losing my widowed mother. My wife has several times shared her deepest feelings on this, and to discuss them with me again 61 years later still bothers her because her memories of grandma are as a cold corpse in a coffin, not a loving grandmother.
In my own life my memories of many nights at a funeral viewing and a lengthy funeral where I was seated 10 feet from my mothers open casket left indelible scars on my memory. I am still get bothered by this over sixty years later. It was one thing to suffer from viewing a cold grey corpse but the tradition of having to kiss the corpse sent shudders up my spine when I had to do this. Family tradition be damned…I will never subject my loved ones to remember me as a cold grey pasty corpse. I have already told my older brother, who was my guardian, that I will not participate in this tradition when he passes on and he totally understands, however his wife simply must follow tradition.
For me I want people to remember a smiling, youthful, mischievous, old person who enjoyed life to the fullest, loved taking risks, and believed family was everything.
I also do not want my loved ones to inherit an administrative nightmare as my brother and I did by my mother letting a friend be executor and a relative being her lawyer. This was a recipe for disaster. Being only 11 when mom died the estate had to be put on hold with the Provincial Supreme Court until I was 21 years old. Over the ten years the Executor friend, the relative lawyer, and the Supreme Court, literally financially raped our estate of 75 % of the value.
My wife and I have good wills – a living one , and a dying one. Both my wife and my funeral arrangements are paid for. I have ensured a trust company and my oldest son be co-executors. Believe it or not, and a lot of people won’t believe it, it’s cheaper that way than having Uncle Charlie or whomever take care of everything (who as Executor legally is entitled to 3% of your estate ) even though they do not have the skill or experience. It can, in fact, be substantially more expensive to have a relative assigned.
People do not realize the mammoth amount of succession laws and tax implications there are to deal with. An executor who is ignorant of this can cost your loved ones extra heartaches and money. If some children have loans from parents which are unpaid this can cause stress among siblings if no one like a professional trust executor (who gets paid the same as Uncle Charlie) is handling the finances. Nothing causes problems, divisions, and hard feelings more than inheritance money mismanaged.
As far as my attitude about the act of dying——–I would hope my heavenly Maker would tend to agree with me when I say I have a good relationship with Him. After providing several miracles in my life, two involving almost certain death I know he knows my name. I am not afraid of dying and I have a contentment about after my death, however I really don’t want to rush the experience or suffer. The only grief I have about leaving this world is the effect on loved ones.
As a guy who likes white water canoeing, roller-coasters, and who believes that age is just a number I would finish by saying I have had a blessed life and it has been a wonderful ride.
- Guest Blogging – Complex Grief (scott-williams.ca)