Check Up From The Neck Up

I’m going on vacation today. Right now that seems so far away, in the distant haze of a much later today; but by the time you read this I will be zen.

My wife keeps booking me appointments at the dentist. Like, every year. When I was single I could go forever without going to the dentist but of course I would never admit that in a forum such as this. Apparently people go to the doctor, for no apparent reason, just to check in or check up or whatever it’s called. I go to the doctor when I need something fixed, gouged, or medicated. I happen to break allot so why would I go again just to have him take my blood pressure? They don’t even give out candy at my age. My wife seems to think this will keep me alive longer so I asked her, “what makes you think I want to live longer?” So controlling. Continue reading “Check Up From The Neck Up”

Freaks

From my office window I can just read the bumper sticker on the back of one of my colleagues cars. It is a quote from Laurel Thatcher Ullrich, “well-behaved women seldom make history”. There may be wisdom on that Honda. History is replete with this magical tale – the misunderstood hero who, against all odds, finds true love/kills the dragon/beats the English/champions a lost cause/stands up against oppression, etc. etc. etc.

People who had never heard of Enigma or advanced mathematics now love Alan Turing because of The Imitation Game and it’s sympathetic re-creation of a maltreated genius with bonus Asperger’s diagnosis. Who among us cannot weep with the downtrodden, the marginalized and the underrated; especially if they happen to be as pretty as Benedict Cumberbatch? Everyone loves a Cinderella ending, or a sad clown, or a misunderstood genius.

David and Goliath. How To Train Your Dragon 1 and 2. Brave. Frozen. The Santa Clause. Robin Hood. Zombieland. Die Hard. The Graveyard Book. Terminator. The Princess Bride. Dracula. This Is The End. Every Tom Hanks movie except the stupid one where he played a gangster. Stop me. Such narratives are played and replayed over millennia because this is the human story, or at least the antiseptic and idealized version. Against impossible odds our everyperson throws off her library glasses, grabs an AK-47 and wastes the terrorists. A little girl finds the ruby slippers and, aided by an unlikely band of friends and against all odds, defeats the flying monkeys and finds her way home to Kansas. Gag.

In the real world people often get ahead and win the hand of the prince or princess by doing things for themselves; and usually in an office, not on a battlefield. The modern First World is virtually devoid of actual adventure and we are forced to live out our violent and voyeur fantasies in video games and at the Cineplex. If you stop to consider the fact that for thousands of years young males were off hacking limbs by the time they were in puberty; this can cause one to question the efficacy of constricting these evolutionary primates (I mean teenage males, sorry) to a classroom with a desk that you can throw, a buzzillion volts of testosterone running through their veins. I’m not a sociologist but I’m just saying.

We were raised as children to experiment with our individuality, only to grow up into a civilization which does not value non-conformity. Some of those arrogant rock anthems by rich babies bemoaning having a real job may be right. Many of us, especially once you’ve ripened a bit, wake up one day only to realize that we have not been happy in years, and are sick and tired of uncomfortable shoes and an ugly spouse. The real world’s default setting is “boring”. Fitting in is tedious and mind-numbing and soul-destroying. There is no balloon ride back home and it is interesting that in the classic Wizard of Oz her real life was monochrome and her fairytale was alive with colour. Cream_of_Wheat_1895It is possible to live in incredible splendor and still be as predictable as Cream of Wheat, way down inside. Drab. Beige. Get in line. Pay that bill. Cut that lawn. Wash, rinse, repeat. By the time we hit forty most of us feel done.

We lie to kids, though innocently enough. This world does not honour its innovators, it usually rejects them until they are dead or in computers. In what I like to call the real world we were taught that to be different was wrong. You might be cool in elementary school or at the bar, but chances are you won’t make the oval office. Artists and weirdos and hippies, oh my.

Many of us found a few others in the wilderness; though often people who are outliers live a life of abject loneliness. Organizations are notorious for marginalizing the weird. In the real world the freaks rarely get to command a Mad Max Army of Liberation and Enlightenment and there is no way in hell Kirk would really get to fly the mothership unless his last name was Bush or Trudeau.

1850396It is at this point in the narrative when we can seamlessly slip into a rant about the unappreciated genius that we all know your mom thought you were. Not this time. This is about life, not a bumper sticker or cutesy poster that you read on Facebook about believing in yourself. In reality the flying monkeys would have killed Dorothy and eaten Toto on a fire made from scarecrow using a tin pan.

Some people are just different and will probably never hire Sherlock to play them in a massive biopic. The vast majority of us had better Saran Wrap our corpse if we want anyone to remember us after we are gone. For every Justin Bieber there are a million, far more talented and intelligent artists, who will never make the cover of The Enquirer. It is no surprise to most of us, then, that millions, even billions, struggle to find meaning and value in a world of five thousand virtual friends and no one to call when you are freaking out.

We have talked about learning to play a little nicer, and we have discussed what it feels like to live with a marginal personality, but here and now I want to remind us all that every single person I know is unique and strange and broken and weird and worried and vulnerable. Some of us have a harder time than others, but no one gets out alive. You’re all weird. Welcome aboard.

By way of illustration, consider the average adult with undiagnosed ADHD. There are millions of them. People with ADHD often have difficulty looking like the rest of the citizenry. Some are prone to act in ways which are not considered normal, whatever the heck that is. Many struggle to concentrate or turn off the noise. Many, many of us struggle to turn off the noise. If you live with depression or anxiety, if your financial partner left you poor or broken, if you get handed a disease or a mental health issue, you are pretty much normal.

Imagine that, you might be normal. Most of those we deem marginal in personality have obvious and persistent character traits which piss society off; but some of us are trying to cope and cannot help it. It has taken most of my adult life to become comfortable in my own skin. The instant I write that line I begin to backpaddle in my head. My cognitive distortions are home for a visit. I can’t say that. That is rarely true. It sounds arrogant. I am so flawed. Blaah blaah blaah. I bore myself.

There are so many buts connected to that ridiculous statement. How can I become whole if I do not even allow myself the opportunity to believe it can happen? Can we ever celebrate a good day or a good week or a win? Go ahead, brag a little. It’s perfectly healthy. In the right place and with the right friend you should be able to crow away about the good things, the small victories, and the battle scars. We have been poisoned to believe that any form of self-promotion is arrogance. Total crap.

It’s easy to notice the freaks. We say that, “there is one in every crowd” or “one in every family”. If you don’t have an emotional black sheep in your clan then, as the cliché says, it’s probably you. How simple it is to marginalize those whose behaviour would not fall within what eggheads call normative. Wikipedia describes this as “normal or correct way of doing something”. You may not be normative, whatever that means.

We have things we cannot change. Try as you might, you may always be a bit of a pessimist. I know, I know, you’re a realist, I just have a cold. Trauma may have taken things that nothing can bring back. Illness can do this as well. If we are completely honest, some of us have personalities which are constantly a work in progress. We get mad too quickly and often, or are hurt far too easily, or talk too much or too little, according to someone with an opinion. There are those who have difficulty assimilating into a culture they don’t seem to understand or thrive in. If that last statement made you think of the Borg, then you may just be a nerd. Some of us are just a little strange. Let’s be ok with that, just for a moment.

You may have read my recent article entitled, This Is How I Was Made. I was cognizant, when I wrote it, that some will think it should be amended to read, “This is What Is Left After Life Kicks You In The Figurative Cojones”. Much of what we are, what we have become, has been influenced by the bucket list of experiences you have under the hood. You may look like your dad but you act like your life, that old nature/nurture dealio. Part of the reason you are always mad may be a coping mechanism to deal with an existence rife with insecurity and disappointment. People become control freaks for a reason. Perhaps you have difficulty committing to relationships, or you check out emotionally or you cry at the drop of a hat. The question is, why?

The porridge that you know as Scott is a complex and highly biased combination of amino acids, a military upbringing, education, hurt, experiences, Dr. Pepper, and mechanisms for coping with a life without a parachute. I have written of this often; our childhood may shape us, but it does not provide us with the necessary tools to emotionally and intellectually navigate our dysfunctional world. It is not unlikely that several of your most prolific coping mechanisms may no longer add value to your life.  One day you wake up with twenty extra pounds and no freaking idea how to have a happy or contented life, myself included.

There is no instruction sheet for living with rape or OCD or a parent that raised you in a purple haze of good weed and bad life choices. A passive-aggressive influence, a narcissist, a predator, they all leave their scars. Neglect or poverty or a mom that freaked out at every single thing and raised her children as a fashion accessory can all lead to dysfunctional coping mechanisms and a screwed up understanding of reality and maturity. So can any bad parent. The list of potential detours for which you have no prior skill set is virtually endless.

So maybe you could cut yourself some slack. While you are doing that, try to remember that every one of us is having a bad day, once in a while.

It’s really hard to make peace with who I really am. If you are still reading you may understand by now why this piece would inevitably land here. This wasn’t intended to affirm your psychosis, merely point out that it’s ok to be different; just don’t be a jerk about it. I want to affirm your uniqueness, because most of us have no idea what it is like to live with the stuff you have going on right now.

In the end we must, with Dorothy and Toto and the crew, come to grips with our own unlikely personality and pull away the curtain from the self-loathing and the lies and the constant attacks on self-esteem and personal worth. You cannot change your essential character without years of therapy so you may as well get comfortable in your own skin. If you are fat or flabby or balding or scarred, who cares! Go scare the kids at the beach and suntan a Happy Face on your back. Try bacon ice cream. Be as healthy as you can, workout if you want to, but when are you going to see beyond the flaws? How can we do this if we continue to hate ourselves?

You can do this – with a little courage, a little heart, and a brain in your head.

(I ran this past one of my readers and she commented, “lol, it take a lot more than a little courage, a little heart and a brain in your head! It’s more like being flayed and dragged through the streets naked and skinless! But I get your point. wink emoticon)

The Valley Of The Shadow Of Death

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Psalm 23:4

I have seen darkness in people which defies comprehension. We’ve talked about this before. There is a time in many journeys when our lives completely break. Type “swerve” into my search bar to find out more. or “The Event”.

Most of us grew up believing our lives would somehow turn out just fine. The weight of the truth can be devastating, at first. We are shocked when the ugly truths sink in.

Not many people walk through my door because they want to. Reality has punched us in the face and it stings. Few of us imagined we would have a lifelong battle with anxiety or depression or the fact that your Uncle Tom was the tomcat people said he was. A divorce or a death or the death of a dream can take you places your World of Warcraft account never could. Dark places. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

People kill themselves in this place, and call it what you want, but I could make a good argument against the notion that only a coward would take their own life. They aren’t selfish people and they are not necessarily even weak. Every rope has an end.

How could someone let it get so bad? Why would anyone kill themselves over a situation? I’ll tell you how. Come down and play at the other end of the pool for a while and watch your life and everything you value taken from you. Witness your finances and family and friends abandon you, and then tell me how bad things can get. Wait until they take your children. Sane people don’t kill themselves; and that leads invariably to the conclusion that on that day when you tried to jump into the river or overdose or whatever private version of hell you sought to inflict upon yourself, you were kind of batcrap crazy. We don’t call it that anymore but Wikipedia still does:

Insanitycraziness or madness is a spectrum of behaviors characterized by certain abnormal mental or behavioral patterns. Insanity may manifest as violations of societal norms, including a person becoming a danger to themselves or others, though not all such acts are considered insanity. In modern usage, insanity is most commonly encountered as an informal unscientific term denoting mental instability.

Any chance that sounds like someone you know? I was almost expecting my picture to show up beside the definition. Sometimes things get so absolutely beyond our capacity to cope that we crack, just a little bit. I have been to the valley, and anyone who has been there knows what I am talking about. You can take all the psychology you want but that doesn’t mean you will be prepared for the death of a child or the end of a dream. I have stated on multiple occasions that, in my book, if you lose a kid you get a free pass… forever. I don’t know if I could endure that. There are a few things that no bible verse or medication or drunken binge can heal. Some people do move on but they weren’t using any tools I can teach. That stuff is called grace.

I’m not saying you are crazy, I’m saying some of us have undoubtedly camped on Insane Island at least once, and it changes you. I want to validate that. You have learned lessons and endured pain that could and does cripple people for life. When I was in darkness no amount of therapy or Patron could touch me. What did matter was knowing that I was not somehow “less” and it was ok to drownproof in the deep end until I was able to sort shit out.

Don’t believe anyone who diminishes the gravity of the emotional battles you may face. I preach this all the time – this stuff takes years, not months, to flush out and sometimes absolutely nothing changes for a LONG time. I’ve written about his often. If you are bored check out other articles hereherehere, and here.

Fast change is usually bogus change. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have informed me they quit smoking, drugs, yelling, medicating, and have joined a gym, all in one week. I generally label such radical intentionality a probable failure. You should probably start getting up earlier as well and stop drinking coffee and soft drinks. Throw in a few more broken hopes and live your life damaging your self-esteem as you invariably fail. Loser.

Doing a bunch of crap I didn’t want to do, with little or no motivation, didn’t really work for me. It began, slowly, when I allowed myself to do things I once loved and things I needed to do in order to get better, regardless of how I felt. I’m not even talking about therapy stuff, I’m admitting it can get so bad you can’t even get up to do the things you love. Every day sucked. I wish I could tell you it worked magnificently, but most change came unnoticed and for most of us there was not epiphany or religious experience. I’m not suggesting this isn’t possible, it just didn’t happen to me.

11541183_10204345272140927_242916198_nHere’s the thing – what do you do when you don’t even feel like getting better? It’s too much work. Change is exhausting. It’s like writing a book; great in theory. In reality, writing is often a grind with the added bonus of English 101 and days of editing. All for free.

So how do you get motivated when you aren’t motivated to be more motivated? I ate more candy and less parsnips. No parsnips. I started going to movies and laid in the sunshine and began to read. I listened to hundreds of books, many of them useless, until I cared about something enough to read on purpose. I have publicly stated, on multiple occasions, that I earnestly believe audiobooks saved my life, once a long time ago. I stopped lying to people about being too busy to hang out or talk. It took love and help and self-acceptance, and the capacity to hope once more. Like all of us, I am a work in progress, screwing up and muddling though this. I hope you are as well.

I salute the survivors, the ne’er-do-well and the battered warriors. I know some of you win just by getting up in the morning. You may never get a trophy for endurance but know that you are doing the best you can, right now. I believe the goal is for all of us, on both sides of the desk, to figure out how this life thing is done, before it’s too late. Hang in there, or as my old buddy Chris Anthony used to mock, “keep on truckin’.

(photo props to Brain Pickings)

This Is How I Was Made

Repeat after me, “This is how I was made”.

The word “cosmetics” is said to have a few origins but most believe it came from the Greek word “kosmos”, to make order out of chaos. A brilliant word. Eyeshadow, apparently, is intended to address an issue or enhance a feature. I guess. I’m not even sure what eyeshadow is. Which is the one where you use the Nazi torture device to pull on your eyelids? Reason number 127 why it’s great to be a guy. That peeing standing up thing is like number one through sixty-four. But I digress, as usual.

We all have parts we are not very proud of. If this hasn’t been your experience then just wait a year and get back to me. Gravity works. Even the beautiful people look like crap under fluorescent lights and north of forty. This is, sadly, referred to as reality. There are some things even Botox can’t fix.

I have worked with Fibromyalgia patients for a number of years now. Some of you who read here know me from that world. Fibromyalgia is a fascinating disease. It is literally true that, at least in my small piece of the pie, a majority of doctors still don’t believe in FM. I was once a skeptic; then did Intake for 5 years at a chronic pain clinic.

There are valid reasons why many do not believe in Fibromyalgia. We do not understand completely, and often this becomes a diagnosis of exclusion for many for whom the medical system has failed. There seems to be a myriad of causes and an internet full of “cures” which do not work. But that’s not why I am talking about FM.

I have patients, and some of you know who you are, who still struggle, often after a decade or longer, to even accept that they are sick. There is something insipid about this illness that, at least initially, seems random and normal and most undiagnosed Fibromyalgia patients tend to believe they may be “wimps”. Friends are often quick to point out that they “have pain too but still go to work so what is your excuse?”. In Canada we apologize before and after but it amounts to the same thing.

I cannot tell you the number of times FM patients have whispered to me that they secretly wish they had any other disease, even cancer. I am fully cognizant of how politically incorrect that sounds, but I am not actually advocating this position. I am only telling you what real people say all the time. So the question for the rest of us is, why would anyone wish for cancer?

No one really wants cancer, so a few of us can unbutton our corset a tad and just think about something we may not have considered. Cancer patients have Facebook Rallies and fundraisers and are said to be “courageous” and an “inspiration”. FM clients are often labeled as lazy or whiny or in the throes of a fake illness. I am in no manner seeking to diminish the terror of cancer, I’m just telling you a story. Families rarely understand, and I have watched spouses leave, and there is often a long slide towards immobility, a briefcase full of medications with side effects, and poverty. There are no parades for someone who has chronic fatigue, pain that changes almost daily, a labido that moved to Orlando, and looming mental health issues.

So when someone tells me they aren’t sure they have Fibromyalgia even though someone with a Mercedes told them, you can begin to appreciate how difficult it must be to accept something that no one understands, doctors dismiss as depression, displays symptoms which perpetually change, all with a spouse who is constantly disappointed in you.

You should be able to do more. You should be working or helping or horny or superdad or whatever. Who needs someone else to remind you of your shortcomings when you have the list memorized?

In counseling we come across Should Statements every day. I should be doing something else, right now. You should lose weight and you should go to the gym and you should eat more vegetables and less red meat. That’s super swell but you are still going to get old and die and I will be damned if I am going to go out without eating a few more KitKat Blizzards. Screw broccoli.

Body image is a little slice of that same pie. Umm, pie. But I digress.

I was never the eye-candy. When people who will never be the prom queen hear about the objectification of beautiful people it’s natural to secretly wish that someone would look at us like a piece of meat, as horrible as that may sound. I have had multiple clients admit this horrible secret when no one is there to judge them. Humanity spends billions trying to cover up stretch marks and crows feet and cellulite and baldness and facial hair and that unibrow your sister has going on. On television the hero is always beautiful and Steve Buscemi is never the leading man unless they want someone who is Hollywood ugly.

The only thing worse than constantly getting hit on is never getting hit on.

Most of us feel unappealing, from time to time. I have a growing list of things I do not like about my physical presence and you probably have one as well. I have spent years feeling ashamed of physical characteristics over which I have virtually no control. Time to give up, but not in a bad way.

You should still shower.

Give up the guilt and the pain and the constant need to measure up to standards imposed by Photoshop and duckface selfies. Give up the perpetual micromanagement of a battle you cannot win’ that most of us chase for all the wrong reasons. Antiperspirant, do not give up. You can still love your hair and buy Saxx underwear if you can afford it, that’s not the real issue. It’s not even about body enhancement or hair plugs or spray-on tans which look like you eat too many carrots, even if no one will tell you to your face.

Let’s all repeat together, “This is how I was made”. You can’t change some illnesses, injuries, or flaws. Sure, you can spend the money and do the stuff that makes you feel good about yourself, but perhaps it’s time to recognize that this is only a shell and I need to stop basing my self-worth on whether or not I look good in Lululemons.

I do not.

This is how I was made. I repeat it in my head, “this is how I was made”. I can either deal with this or live my life wishing I someone different. This is psychology, and psychology isn’t about words like “fair” or “should” or “someday”. We don’t learn to “wish upon a star” or base our retirement on winning the lottery. This isn’t about me pretending to have it all together or telling you something you haven’t heard a hundred times. This is about doing it, finally. Many of us have spent our lives caring far too much what random strangers and intellectual car bumpers think of us.

One of the sad truths you observe, sitting in this chair, is that most people do not learn this. It is tempting to hope that one day, when your ship comes in, things will finally line up for you, and the world will make sense, and you will get your much deserved reward.

In counseling we call this bullshit.

I watch people come back, year after year, and nothing has changed and they are still waiting for the world to punch their dance card (I’m not even sure what that means). Dr. Seuss sums it up swimmingly in his classic “Oh The Places You’ll Go”. I have referred to this psychological masterpiece on another occasion but these words continue to haunt:

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come,
or a plane to go
or the mail to come,
or the rain to go

or the phone to ring,
or the snow to snow

or the waiting around for a Yes or No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for the wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil,
or a better break

or a string of pearls,
or a pair of pants

or a wig with curls,
or another chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

Everyone is just waiting.

This is the way I am. Tall, balding, aging, deeply flawed, excited, passionate, unpretty, childlike in wonder, and addicted to learning. That (and my Canadian Tire pool) needs to be “enough”. Fibromyalgia or not, beautiful or not, rich or not.

Repeat after me, “This is how I was made”.
Some of my FM clients are shaking their heads “no!”.

Hammer, Meet Nail.

I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer,
to treat everything as if it were a nail.
Abraham Maslow

Every week I get to hang out with Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police and feel moderately badass by proxy. It is a strange feeling, when I visit a crime scene, as it dawns on me that I am the only person in the group without body armour and a Glock. Police have an arsenal of weapons, not all of which are deadly. My colleague is a female member who has never had to pull her firearm. She may carry a lethal weapon but she is a master at diffusion, distraction, and de-escalation. Not all members are as adroit as my friend, however.

If your only option is a gun, there is a temptation to pull your weapon and wave it around at a group of teenagers at a pool party. You may have all sorts of issues with tasers but I still prefer taking a few volts to a bullet in the center mass, but that’s just me. The fact that the officer has other tools in her arsenal can KitKat_logo.svgkeep me alive. Give me a baton to the head every time. I do, however, prefer a KitKat.

Though it is usually not referred to in such mechanical terms, counselors quite frequently talk about the hammer. If your ‘go to’ is heroin and your children are destroying your will to live, chances are you will eventually meander your way back to a dealer, in spite of best intentions. If all you have left is anger and yelling, then that’s the hammer you are going to employ when someone pisses you off. I know people who can cry at the drop of a hat, ensuring they never have to honestly address their dysfunction. Those who take offence, persons who run and hide, many who lie or control or freeze. For several reasons too convoluted to discuss here, much of society has a very limited toolbox; and for some of us, there is only a hammer.

I do not want to be your nail.

There are those who struggle with significant anger issues and love to swing their hammer around (I know, it works on two levels but we are pretending to be adults, so get your mind out of the gutter you perv). We all have that one relative who is overly quick to take offence. The chronically bitter, or negative, or just plain bitchy. A few of us find any reason to play the victim.  If all you have is a hammer, as Maslow and others have stated, eventually everything begins to look like a nail. People use anger because it works. Whining works. Controlling can also work, if only for a time. It is shocking how often some people complain. Bitterness will paint your entire worldview. So can chronic depression, or trauma, or a boring and meaningless existence. Time for drastic change. It’s all or nothing. Delete your Facebook page, join the gym and take too many classes. Hammer away. Sure it may be the wrong direction but damn it, we’ll just drive faster. Don’t take crap from anyone. Punch that loser out. Go ahead, make my day.

Hammers are rarely subtle. Even the perceived criticism, fault, or indiscretion is an opportunity to swing away. When one has the most limited of resources (tools) than it is almost certain they will default to what they already know.

One has but to interact with a teenager to validate this hypothesis. When I was in my late teens I knew everything; my world was incredibly finite. Ignorance is its own reward; you get a world you understand and can control. Self-awareness invites a universe infested with chaos, impossible to contain. I did not know what I did not know, so I believed I knew. Now I know.

Teenagers tend to believe they can diagnose the world’s woes solely based on their limited and vastly overrated understanding of the meaning of life. This is just one reason why many teenagers are as stupid as lawn darts. Yes I said that, but you have felt the same way and let’s not pretend a fifteen-year-old is just an adult with pants that will not stay up. It is an unfortunate factoid that we tend to abuse our bodies and minds so completely during a time in our life when we have only a partially connected frontal lobe. Teenagers are brain-damaged in the most literal sense of the word.

Adolescence is also a time of increasing independence and self-determination; the same self-determination which led genius over there to drink rubbing alcohol this past weekend because it said the word “alcohol” on the white part of the label (don’t ask), and no one was going to tell him he couldn’t drink something that could kill him.

But I digress.

It is not just your pimply sixteen-year-old who likes to hammer out his problems. Men often do this in relationships as well. My wife wanted to tell me a story about her messed up day. She asked me for input. I made the mistake, yet again, of believing she actually wanted my brilliant solutions to her problem. I do this for a living and I make that rookie mistake day after day. Hammer, meet nail. Problem solved. You’ll be fine, as long as you pay attention and do exactly what I tell you. Women love it when I say that.

There is something deep inside me that enjoys being in control. I am tempted to believe my own narrative, the one where I convince myself about my need to be right.

Moving forward can mean having to learn new tools, new ways of acting and even reacting. Perhaps there is also a piece in there about letting go of a bit of the intensity that I manufacture to keep my world sane. Like many of us I am endeavouring to let go of tools which have been in my box for years; words like insecurity and grief and immaturity and my need to fit in. From here on it is critical that we develop tools which work, not just ‘used to work’. Anger and grief may have defined your existence but they don’t have to become a terminal illness.

One more thing. Hammers usually find a nail to hit. If I think the world is a horrible place I will probably be proven correct. There are no end to the reasons why I should be bitter, or angry, or depressed. Now is the time when I need to adjust my default mechanisms, my biases, in order to move forward. Anger often works but you may need to redefine what you mean by the word “works”. It may help you win that argument even if you have to destroy someone’s character to do so. Changing my automatic thoughts has proven to be an incredibly difficult challenge. Learning to think differently is ultimately the most powerful, albeit difficult, personal achievement on my radar.

 

Here’s Your Mulligan

I stumbled into a porn recently. I am keenly aware, at this very second, of how that must sound so please allow me to explain. I was out for coffee with a friend and we decided to sit in the courtyard by a Waves Coffee. Above the courtyard were residences with balconies. On the balcony directly above us is where you are supposed to now engage your imagination. It is remarkable, the acoustics of a suburban courtyard. Loud, even. My friend is much younger than I. Much much. It felt like a nuclear explosion, “Oh look at that cool cloud formation”. Followed next by, “Wow, that cloud formation looks like a carpet coming towards us!”. Followed by screaming, things breaking, wind… silence.

At first nothing registers. Then, slowly at first but increasing in awareness, it begins to dawn on you what it is you are actually listening to. This is followed closely by growing recognition and an icky feeling you cannot quite yet identify. There it comes.

Just like a bad porno itself, our eyes meet, my friend and I, and we both have a seriously messed up expression on our faces. Screams. Things breaking. Wind. But no silence.

There are times in life for which you cannot really plan. I have seen things in the past month, bizarre things. I love my job. As random as that might sound, my life is a series of small adventures broken up by days of boredom and groceries and driving. It is precisely those ‘moments’ which give my life purpose, depth, meaning. So much of my existence is wasted trying to get out of doing things only to realize that it is those precise things I am avoiding which bring richness to the monotony. I may be going out on a limb here but I’ve probably watched enough television to ensure that I’ve milked all the wisdom it deems to spew on me. People text all the bloody time and I text them back. My Facebook is an imagination feeder but it’s still noise, noise, noise. Phone, computer, TV, radio, texting, communicating, noise.

It is time to get in your kayak, and I’ll get in mine. Screw Melanoma, get a tan. Have you ever stuck your entire face in watermelon and if not, when? Last weekend my wife and I got out-of-town because sometimes we forget what it’s like to be friends amongst the noise. I will consider it a personal failure if I don’t get into the water before the end of June. Stop being so old and jump in a puddle before you become a grouchy old fart. No one cares about your medical problems, or mine for that matter. Sunshine, lollipops and rainbows everywhere may be a figment of my imagination but I can buy a lollipop and it’s sunny out, so two out of three ain’t bad.

Here’s the thing. Sometimes you have to say “screw it” to your own mental health issues and crap life. There are days when you have paid enough, suffered enough, confessed enough, and it’s time to go out for a beer with a friend on a patio. I know life sometimes blows and I promise to spend more than sufficient time feeling miserable; but right now it’s sunny out and I’m going to give you a Mulligan. I don’t golf  but I know what the word means. Golfing may be great in theory, but there is enough frustration in my life without screaming bloody murder at a small white ball. I don’t like walking and they won’t let me go off-road with the carts so I quit golfing but I’m keeping the Mulligan.

Everybody deserves a do over, a day off, and a nap. Your problems are going to be waiting for you after you get out of the boat so you needn’t worry, you won’t miss anything. One of the principles that we teach clients in counseling does an excellent job of training my brain to move on, if only for a moment. I will teach it to you now and save you $90, or $275 if you think you need a medical person to confirm what your clinical counselor told you a couple of years ago. Like most counseling techniques this one is cheesy and only works for some people; though for more people than you would think if only we practiced this stuff enough to make anything work in the first place. Just saying.

One of the fundamental counseling tools clinicians teach is a variation on what I will call STOPP Therapy. STOPP Therapy is nothing more than learning how to stop yourself from having an emotional spike such as a panic attack, anxiety, or anger. STOPP Therapy is surprisingly efficacious, in spite of sounding stupid when you practice it. Learning to say “no” to my impulses may come very close to being the meaning of life, if not the primary way to rock at it. Just like listening to an accidental porno (I have probably never written those words before), learning to control my emotions is an insanely gradual process. Wisdom is the meshing of knowledge and experience, you simply cannot grow up without giving yourself time to grow up. This may not be the 10,000 hour rule but I can tell you from experience I was pretty dumb 20 years ago and aging may take many things but it leaves you with experience. And experience, when used correctly, becomes wisdom.

You aren’t alone when you discovered that, after all those years away, you did better in college than you thought you would. Unbeknownst to you, there was still an accumulation of time and learning and experience. Granted, many of us have squandered a bit of that time but what the hell, you’re here now so let’s get going.

Once I know a little more about STOPP Therapy it’s time to move happily on to our project for today, your “screw it” moment.

There was a time when, not so long ago as I would wish, I was very broken. I have written of this before and I’m not feeling self-indulgent so let’s roll along, shall we? In that time of my life it felt impossible to move forward, and even taking a few minutes off from my grief seemed unrealistic. After many many bad days I started to practice what I preached and gave myself permission to take 10 minutes off, then 20, 30, and eventually I went an entire day without crying because I forgot I was in pain. Just 10 minutes off. I would set my clock or microwave or phone. Bliss would last approximately 7 seconds then the nightmare would come knocking and I had to learn to say “no” to myself for 10 stinking minutes. Then 20. With time it got easier but not until I had failed first.

For some of us it is a struggle to control the chaos for 10 minutes or even 10 seconds. We have work to do. For others it’s the constant demands on our time from things we spawned or married or divorced or share life with. We all feel sorry for ourselves and sometimes feeling sorry for yourself is a very healthy thing. Other times not so much. One day I realized that no one really cared about my problems as much as I did; and most people went on their merry way and got a Blizzard, in spite of my life falling apart. Just the way it is. As Kant famously pointed out, there is the way I perceive the world and the way the world really is. For many of us that could include the cold hard understanding that there is a way we want the world to be, and then there is something called reality. The real world does not care if I am the hardest working person I know. It does not care if I burn out.

So one last time, please accept this Mulligan. You’ve definitely earned it. You have permission to take an hour off and go shopping or for coffee or perhaps something stronger. Play Catch with your friends or swing high at the park. I just realized that works on two levels. You may think you don’t have time for self-care but you are profoundly wrong. I’m sorry if that comes off as arrogant but on a philosophical level you can probably admit I’m right.

Screw it, I’m going kayaking. Somebody please tell my wife I was right.

Yeti Socks

I’m wearing them right now. They are grey with a big white yeti and the monogram, “Yeti or not, here I come!” in green. Classy. At a party, not so long ago, we stood in the kitchen and I noticed that virtually everyone were wearing the same old ugly boring white socks with the grey heel and toe. It occurred to me that there are indubitably other options besides suit socks and Superstore whites. I remembered making fun of my nephews at Christmas, they were wearing silly socks. I owe them an apology. Colton, you were right. This article is for you and your weird socks.

A few months ago Target went bankrupt in Canada. They had their ridiculous socks on sale for a month and I bought twelve pair. I have never purchased more than a supermarket 5-pack before so this was a step (get it? step). Red socks with a huge pencil down the outside. Canadian moose in blue and red and brown. A bulldog on a skateboard wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses, smoking a cigar. I defy you to find anything cooler than that, it simply cannot happen. Oh, and they are loud green. You only go around once.

I dress weird for someone who is supposed to be all grown up. I have pierced ears and I let my sons dress me. I have recently acquired a pork-pie hat. I don’t even care what people think anymore. One of the benefits of not being good looking is that you cannot base your self-esteem on your looks or you will eventually take up Fentanyl. I’ve started wearing suit coats with the hat. I dropped into Rex Cox and purchased clothing that had never even seen denim. For some reason I find that I enjoy dressing up, this late in life. When I’m eighty I plan to wear a pork pie hat and dress like a pimp.

Someone recently asked me if I was worried that “people” might think I was having a midlife crisis. My theory has always been that if you are weird all your life than people won’t notice when you have go crazy. My wife has commented, on more than one occasion, that she is worried if I lose my mind that she won’t notice any difference. That’s from the one paid to love me.

There is a great freedom in caring just a little less what everyone thinks about me. Again and again, amidst the noise and the noise and the noise, something whispers “Stop giving such a damn about everything!”. Most of us have lived our entire lives seeking acceptance from people who don’t understand loyalty or selfless love. We have been afraid to offend those whom we now realize were not bulletproof, and a few of them really weren’t even worth all the effort. It really is true, the few who have proven loyal and true don’t need me to impress them; they already know what a tool I am and they are still here.

Many of us have thrown away far too much of our lives trying to live up to the expectations of persons we would never trust alone with our children.

And that’s an important psychological tenet that we all know but few of us really know – we need to stop ruining our few good years to impress people who don’t matter. Most of my closest friends has surfed alongside me for decades without flinching. I can posture and bluff all I want, they can see right through it. If they tell me that I need to address something in my life I try to listen. Everyone else can screw off. If my pal Sue takes me aside and sticks her finger in my chest I do not flinch because she has earned it. Living my life to impress everyone around me is a treadmill to hell to which I am no longer willing to subject myself. Anyone who knows me understands how poorly I have done in this arena at the best of times. I am endeavoring, as are many others on this journey, to live my life for something more than the shallow approval of people who are broken and often incapable of being an authentic friend.

I once heard a preacher say, “When you get to heaven God isn’t going to ask you “why weren’t you more like Billy Graham?”, he’s going to ask you, “Why weren’t you more like you?” I’ll take wisdom from wherever I can find it. My clients consistently struggle with self-care because self-discovery is an undervalued commodity in our culture. We are allergic to selfishness and have canonized a dysfunctional historical narrative, the belief that all selfishness is evil; and become a society of insecure and misunderstood people absorbed by false modesty and an addiction to external confirmation.

If you get nothing else, chew on this. I am no good to the many people who depend on me if I am sick. It is imperative that we understand how awesome a deal this really is, once you get your head around it. I’m ordering you to spoil yourself, take care of yourself. Self-care cannot be optional in a world this crazy and painful. The more I invest in my own holistic health, the better I am as a husband, father, professional, and ultimately authentic person. I absolutely love the idea that my mental health is so important that I must eat more KitKat Bars and spend time kayaking when I should be doing renoes. Can I get an amen?

One more thing. None of us has time. I cannot exaggerate how many people have come into my office and, when challenged to dedicate more time to self-care, have unequivocally informed me that they are not like my other clients. They have kids and soccer and career and money and stress and anxiety and SSRI’s and the constant grind of responsibilities and a life that cannot remember what fun looked like. Blah blah blah. Sit in this chair long enough and it dawns on even the stupidest of us that for some reason most of our lives are far too busy and many of you are one wet toilet seat away from punching a baby. Every single one of us is trying to stay afloat in sea of caca.

Counselors tell you this crap because it isn’t only theory. We get paid to hear 20 or more clients every week tell us the exact same story and so when I tell you to take care of yourself I’m not telling you as ‘friend’ Scott. I get paid to take care of my emotional health and I haven’t figured it all out either but this one thing I know, people who don’t take care of themselves can blame anything they want, but at the end of the day everyone else will move on with their lives. “I have no time” is easily the most frequent excuse, I mean reason, that I hear every week.

It’s a holiday, here in Canada. This morning I woke up in Redmond, Washington where they are already prepping for Memorial day next weekend. So enough with the heavy stuff. As your online therapist for a day I recommend you find a place in the sunshine with a cold drink and a hot book. I plan on making “American Iced Tea” tomorrow in the sun and maybe play Catch. All that noise in your head will be waiting for you when you get home, don’t worry. Mindfulness can mean washing out my kayak tomorrow and putting on the roof racks. I may need a therapeutic Kitkat Blizzard as well.

Doctor’s orders.

Welcome My Little Goldfish

Many were surprised when Microsoft, the people who brought you the digital world you live in, announced this week that they have conducted extensive studies and to virtually no one’s surprise who has been paying attention; we now have a poorer attention span than a goldfish.

The 54-page study sought to understand what impact technology and today’s digital lives are having on attention spans. The researchers collected data from surveys of more than 2,000 Canadians over the age of 18. They played games and interacted online to help scientists determine the impact of smartphones and other digital media on everyday life. Participants’ brain activity was recorded and behaviour was filmed while they interacted with different social media platforms across .

By now you should be at least a little suspicious of media surveys but this particular study has a ring of truth to it. Many of us in the psychology game have been noticing something of this ilk for years. Society in general has become addicted to instant and now. I consider the Tap option on my credit card one of the greatest inventions since the wheel. This week a small vendor made me sign an actual Visa bill and I was almost offended. How quaint. Recently, while at an automated teller the person next to me complained that the little machine that gives you money was taking too long. This reminded me of the brilliant sketch by Louis C.K. called Everything’s Amazing and Nobody’s Happy. If you haven’t seen it, it will become a classic. I’m old enough to remember when the first debit card came out. You put your card in and apparently a monkey or one of the staff that no one liked pushed cash out of a window for you. At least that’s what I remember thinking the first time I tried this new technology.

LOUIS C.K.: Yea, because everything is amazing right now and nobody’s happy. Like, in my lifetime the changes in the world have been incredible. When I was a kid we had a rotary phone. We had a phone that you had to stand next to, and you had to dial it. Do you know how primitive – you’re making sparks – in a phone. And you actually would hate people with zeros in their numbers because it was more – you’d be like “uh this guy has two zeros in his number, screw that guy, why would I want to-uh!” And then if they called and you weren’t home the phone would just ring lonely by itself. And then if you wanted money you had to go in the bank, when it was open for like three hours.

My in-laws had a “party line”.

It is impossible to foretell the devastating impact technology will have on the future. The global village has changed everything from how often I have to talk to people I thought I ditched twenty years ago to the exacerbation of cultural morality and the decline of religion in the western hemisphere. The internet has literally transformed the world forever. We take for granted technology that would have been considered witchcraft only a few generations ago. Again Louis hits it on the head.

LOUIS C.K.: Well yea ‘cause now we live in an amazing, amazing world and it’s wasted on the crappiest generation of just spoiled idiots that don’t care, because this is what people are like now – they’ve got their phone and they’re like “uh! It won’t…” Give it a second! Give – it’s going to space! Can you give it a second to get back from space!? [laughs]

I was on an airplane and there was high-speed internet on the airplane – that’s the newest thing that I know exists. And I’m sitting on the plane and they go “open up your laptop, you can go on the internet.” And it’s fast and I’m watching YouTube clips – it’s amaz – I’m in an airplane!” And then it breaks down, and they apologize the internet’s not working. The guy next to me goes “phff – this is bulls%$^!” Like how quickly the world owes him something he knew existed ten seconds ago.

Flying is the worst one because people come back from flights and they tell you your story and it’s like a horror story – they act like their flight was like a cattle car in the forties in Germany – that’s how bad they make it sound. They’re like “it was the worst day of my life. First of all, we didn’t board for twenty minutes, and then we get on the plane and they made us sit there on the runway for forty minutes we had to sit there.” Oh really what happened next? Did you fly through the air incredibly, like a bird? Did you partake in the miracle of human flight you non-contributing zero?! You’re flying! It’s amazing! Everybody on every plane should just constantly be going “oh my God! Wow!” You’re flying! You’re sitting in a chair, in the sky!

But it (the seat) doesn’t go back a lot. And it’s not really –

The impact of everything from texting to Facebook to your new Smart TV has yet to be determined. Society must grapple with the psychological, spiritual, and socioeconomic impact of such a monumental swerve in the history of civilization that some day historians will look at the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the Nihilism and impact of Two World Wars and then the textbook will open to a chapter on what the world looked like when you were alive. It is impossible to exaggerate how different the world has become from even your grandparents time. It has been an amazing time to be alive.

Unfortunately they will not only write about all the wonderful things you could do with your smart phone. Psychologists will better understand the incredible impact that carrying around a personal computer while texting 150 times a day will have on your neural pathways. Have you not noticed that the world around you seems to have become more frantic? I don’t remember feeling the need to speak with all my friends every day when I was younger. I am uncertain as to what benefit my cell phone and laptop have brought to my life. Here’s what the article said about the conclusions they found:

The team measured their attention levels and activities to view how attention varied by screen, task, content type and structure. The findings revealed human attention span has fallen from an average of 12 seconds in the year 2000 to just eight seconds today.

The decrease was seen across all age groups and genders in the study. Those in the age group of 18 to 34 had a 31% high sustained attention span compared to those age 55 and over at 35%. Meanwhile, males (33%) had a better attention span than females (31%).

Call me a Luddite but there appears to be a correlation between the increasing invasion of technology into our lives and the overwhelming stress that pounds in many of our brains. I tease many of my female clients that it must be scary to have a brain like theirs. Always going, always spinning and thinking, processing and worrying. Many, many of my clients complain that they do not know how to shut their brains down.

I am convinced that learning to wrestle back control of one’s impulses and attention span may well be one of the most important and arduous psychological disciplines that no one is teaching. Most of us are convinced that our brain is out of control and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. Most of us are wrong.

Any counselor worth their paycheck can teach you how to stop that runaway train from going off the rails. There are skills, very cheesy skills, that you can practice until the demons are at bay. I’ve been using one method for six years and it works about 40% of the time. By learning one methodology I have been able to decrease my problem 40%. That is a staggering success. I learned it on the internet, in spite of the fact that I am in school and working as a professional counselor full-time. Professionals who tell you that there is nothing you can do about your mental health issue are tools.

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.

My Anger, Myself

Living with someone who is always angry can be one of the most difficult relationship entanglements one could endure. Few problems in this life have as immediate and devastating an impact as anger. If rage is your thing you are probably hell to live with. Just saying.

As pedestrian as it may sound, I often compare anger to an orgasm. There is a point of no return and the house can burn down, you are going to finish. I have witnessed angry persons spewing hate while screaming with astonishingly high degrees of emotion and intentionality. Most angry people feel better after they have “gotten it out”. They have just ejaculated their negative energy and mental health problems on everyone around them and it’s time for a nap. I have written about this before, and graphic this may be, but I’ve known many angry people. Anger is often violent and it’s far easier for the object of wrath to check out than try to match that energy. Some people are much too emotionally invested in obviously trivial matters. You get insanely pissed about tomatoes and I’m not committed enough to vegetables to ruin our relationship over root veg, but apparently you are. Yes I know it’s technically a fruit but as David Mitchell says, don’t get me started. If you put it in a fruit salad it’s a fruit. Next thing you know someone is going to tell me that cucumbers are a fruit. Maddening, but I just remembered that I don’t care about that kind of thing anymore. Mostly.

It is very difficult for me to exaggerate how important it is to deal with unrealistic anger. If you are a person who is easily angered and would admit, after a few shots of tequila, that you might have an “anger issue”, than as a therapist I want to encourage you not to beat yourself up or give up hope. Rage is an extremely palpable emotion that slams you with all manner of intense brain chemicals. 01_BERAGE_2298426aAnger is intoxicating, orgasmic. There is an instant and physical reward for such emotions and as an added bonus you get to feel like a real badass. Angry people win arguments and get what they want, at least right now. Cut me off in traffic and I’ll follow you home and wave a chainsaw at your children, or something like that.

There are a few people I would like to talk with about their anger but they are scary when they get mad. We owe it to ourselves to be brutally honest and recognize that life really really really isn’t fair and it’s not my job to go Punisher on that moron who didn’t wait at the 4-way stop.

If you are living life with someone who is angry, the bad news is there is very little you can do about it. You can never love enough or give enough or sacrifice enough to fix that cancer in someone else. Chances are, living with someone with this issue has changed how you cope or even who you are becoming. The angry person is always willing to take the argument beyond where you are comfortable.  The only recourse that gives lasting results is fixing myself first, until that person can no longer drive me crazy or they die from an aneurysm they so justly deserve.

This always sounds like bad news when we first hear it. We want that other person to change, they are the problem. There is no way you can cope with them as they are. They literally have to win every argument. They are willing to hurt me in places where people who love us should never wander. It is impossible to cope with what is going on around me right now… I hear the words almost every day.

You might be right. There is no way you will ever be able to cope until you do it on purpose. I’ve counselled hundreds of couples and I know the smell of abuse when I hear it. Fear is a powerful emotion as well. For some reason where there is anger, there is usually fear not far behind. Why else would she stay with him or he with her after what that person has done? Fear. Anger is a very useful tool if you wish to control. Violence has always worked, for a while. That’s what that outburst was, when you consider the options. Angry people seem violent, in spite of their constant protestations to the contrary. Screaming is violent control-seeking and is never ok unless you are yelling at a puck or a racist.

I have recorded couples fighting and most are clearly shocked when they watch themselves give in to anger and blow their load on someone else. It happens almost every time; they will turn in their chair and ask their partner, “Am I really like that?”

“Do you really think of me as a violent person?” Pretty much, but none of us are going to tell you, it’s just not worth the fight. See how that works there?

Spouses of angry people are often passive-agressive, or struggle with anxiety or depression or cutting or fatalism. They are often the sweetest among us, those who find their fulfillment in giving everything to a man or a woman that they believed charming and passionate. Passion is a wonderful thing when they are amorous, it’s another thing altogether when they get mad. Violent people tend to be attracted to nice people who will take it and tell their friends, “He just had a really stressful week” for the four-hundredth time.

If you know that you struggle with anger in an unhealthy way, it’s completely appropriate to talk to someone. Tell your partner and family that you acknowledge you have an issue and wish to do something about it. Don’t shut this down; don’t miss out on the good stuff because you can’t free yourself from this impulse-control issue. I do not seek to make light of this problem, quite the contrary. We all need help, from time to time. Anger is nothing more or less than one of the dysfunctional coping mechanisms many of us learn in childhood, or in our first marriage, in order to help us cope with a crazy and dangerous world. We have done the best we knew how but it is important to keep morphing. The more I learn the more light I am given. This is a critical psychological principle which most people will never understand. We must not stay ignorant, or broken, or miserable. Yes I acknowledge that there are times when such thinking not only seems foolish, it feels dangerous. It is in those times, when I was convinced that the situation was hopeless, that I learned the most. I was stronger than I imagined.

If you are living with someone who is angry, you are not alone. Many of us are seeking to understand the sheer magnitude of our addiction to coping mechanisms which have not worked in years. I need to stop trying to change my partner and learn to invest more diligently in my own reality and the need to unlearn my past.

I hate that I can only change myself, but I no longer live in Narnia.

I Don’t Give A Crap

The Princess Bride is, unquestionably, one of my favourite movies. I own the novel. There is something about a magical story, with giants and accents and the Dread Pirate Roberts with which we resonate. A great story can take us to places in our imagination that playing Minecraft simply cannot. Reading matters. My clients have all had the lecture – you don’t read, you don’t grow as fast as you want to. It doesn’t matter how you get your fix, I listen to 90% of my books. What matters is that you are constantly exposing yourself to good ideas.

My wife thinks I actually like Facebook. The truth is, and I’ve written of this in the past, I really do “like” Facebook, in spite of hating Facebook because I want to be a hipster. I have unsubscribed to most of your updates and I really don’t care if you take a selfie on your next trip to Red Robin. My Reader looks nothing like it once did; it’s my daily source for archeology, psychology, philosophy and spirituality and religion and English comedy and Scottish history, Brain Pickings and Cracked and Mental Floss. Most of us on this journey are reading constantly, though some have not yet discovered the thrill of an old book. A surprising number of us start thinking about science, eventually. Some begin to dream about going back to school, though most eventually convince themselves that they are too old or too stupid or too pragmatic. As usual, I digress.

Some times in our lives define us.

My boys and I communicate primarily with media quips and movie quotes; it’s hard to explain if you don’t know what I mean. I was a single dad for the majority of my children’s lives. We had a foosball table, not a dining table. Black couches. As the boys got older, quotes from The Simpsons and Family Guy found their way into many conversations. We began to communicate in prose. We tried to talk like The Boondock Saints and memorized classic children’s literature and Die Hard. People were lost in conversations when the Williams boys were around. Quotes from Descartes and Homer, Simpson. Samurai Pizza Cats and Recess and Roger Miller singing, “Robin Hood and Little John running through the forest”. My guys know history and philosophy, psychology and how to ignite methane. It was the worst time of my life. It was the best time of my life.

I would not wish a life of single-parenting on you, but cannot begin to describe how much I have learned, through it all. My kids are, if I think objectively, way better than your kids. I mean nothing by this, they’re simply amazing young men. We still talk in Simpson’s quotes and share a closeness for which I am daily thankful. We all know that we are so tight because of the tears, not in spite of.

I listen to many speakers in the course of a month or a year. I have my favourites, most of whom are dead. Great speeches, like great comedy, is usually born out of pain. When discussing a preacher or poet or prose-master I am prone to comment, “he hasn’t suffered yet”. There are lessons you can learn only from the dark side. Being a single parent for all the wrong reasons was easily the most difficult and transformational time of my life. There was before The Event and there was after, and this is definitely after. I find it difficult to listen to those who have never bled.

If I’ve learned anything, doing this for a living, it’s that most people suffer far more than they let on. Many have experienced hardship on a level we could never have imagined. People who have been broken have wisdom that others simply don’t have. Some of us have issues as well, to be perfectly honest. Becoming bitter is the easiest thing in the world, north of 40. Many describe themselves as “realists” because they like pink clouds and unicorns. Truth be told, the older I get the easier it becomes to wear my damage like a badge of honour. Being happy becomes something that I have to work on. You may not have noticed but there are some nasty folks out there. Some of us live and love very negative kin. A few of us are a tad more sarcastic than we really need to be.

Most of my readers know I love my old man. If you broke your leg he would convince you that having a cast was the best thing ever! Women feel the love, my dad totally has game. He thinks your zit is charming. You’re beautiful just the way you are, have that bagel. His nickname is Happy Howie. He inspires me to not give up on idealism, on choosing to be happy in spite of all the crap. His life has been anything but easy. Growing up as an orphan, living as an adult while still in middle school, no one handed him anything. Ever. If you visit the Home Hardware in Invermere just stop and listen for his whistle. Everything is wonderful, wonderful.

There are people in my life that cannot seem to stop complaining. Life is difficult for them. I no longer wish to live in that world. Sure Isis may attack or that damn government needs to smarten up, but frankly I am learning not to care quite as much anymore. The research is in and it all points to giving less of a fart about the daily junk that I won’t remember in a week anyway. Most of us spend the majority of our lives stressing about toothpaste and taxes and hoping we won’t die alone. So boring. I no longer care if my neighbour likes my lawn, it’s all crabgrass anyway. I don’t give a f5620a2a175f04d1f254d9ff542541e8tinker’s damn about so many things that used to drive my mania, though I still have a long way to go. I have been challenged to practice this mindfulness exercise, caring less. I need to figure out how to lower my expectations of life.

As my dad always says, “If it doesn’t affect my pension or my grandchildren, I don’t give a crap.” He’s no idiot, my old man.

 

You Suck

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity and an understanding of life that fills them with compassions, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
– Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

So I was sitting in the tub this past week (cue disturbing visual image) and reading an article about “fun with semi-colons”. I’m not really a tub guy but I had a busted wing and it was either that or stink. If I had a dime for every time I’ve started an article with the line, “so I was sitting in the tub”. I have become a nerd who reads psychology and philosophy and Mental Floss. I can live with that.

My wife walked in the bathroom and upon hearing what I was reading, sardonically announced, “I have never been less attracted to you.” If I had a dime for every time…

Making fun of myself is easy. I have plenty of ammunition. I’m an expert at self-abasing, most of us are. I was birthed in Canada, where false humility is a national preoccupation. Growing up we all believed that self-promotion was sin, and bragging was something you only did if you were an American (it’s not you, it’s us) or hung out with people who had really good hair. In grade ten I had an afro so had little reason to brag. Ok, I was prone to self-promotion and I secretly miss the Fro.

It is common, although often incorrect, to assume that people are arrogant when they brag about themselves. This seems to have little foundation in any real psychology once you exclude the narcissists and the psycho/sociopaths and your Uncle Bert. For the rest of us, isn’t it true that (I got that line from a lawyer who kept putting words in my mouth during a trial I was called to testify as a counsellor at)… Isn’t it true that for most of us we tend to brag because we are actually insecure and generally feel bad about ourselves? I can sense, somewhere deep inside me, that when I lean towards self-promotion I am usually trying to convince myself and others that I am not the secondhand turd that some people believe me to be. I’m just saying, for me.

Insecure people brag. Secure people rarely feel the need. To be candid, the more I learn to accept myself the less my detractors matter. It is a testimony to this problem that at this point in the article I feel obligated to include the detraction, “I don’t mean that in an arrogant way”.

There is a measure of psychological sense to the religious confessional. When clients are trapped in the cycle of emotional self-abuse I often ask them, “Do you feel you have done enough penance yet?” There is something in most of us that is prone to continue the self-blame cycle forever. When will the day come when I have punished myself enough? Shame is a powerful and pervasive sickness that can trap a person and convince them that they do not deserve a rich life. At some point in the journey it is time to say enough is enough, forgive ourselves one day at a time, and scratch a little happiness out of life.

“Your problem is you’re… too busy holding onto your unworthiness.”    Ram Dass

This is not a self-help piece that ends with a parade and hot chocolate, although I highly recommend both with a splash of irish cream. In the real world, it is up to me alone to learn how to move beyond my own insecurities and learn to become comfortable with who I am right at this particular time. I will never be “good enough” until I learn to settle for good enough. Many of us can agree that we are sick and tired of feeling bad about ourselves.

Bragging can be a very healing and affirming thing, when done with someone who is safe and gets it. I have a few friends who really encourage me to feel good about myself. You know who you are and thank you. There is a time and a place for everything, apparently, and when was the last time you really bragged about something that matters to you? We need to be cheerleaders for our friends. In a world that constantly reminds us how we do not measure up we all need someone who is wise enough to give us a chance to crow. Everyday and in every way we are given the message that we do not measure up, we’re too ugly, too fat, or too old, or too whatever. And always not enough – not enough education or maturity, not enough love or health or understanding from a world that appears to take delight when you wipe out and they can get it on tape.

So go ahead, brag a little. You’re pretty awesome.

Some People Are Finished Products

I like to tell people who I come from a family of hillbillies. It’s not true but I to never let the truth get in the way of a good story. What is true is that I come from generations of humble peasants, usually of the military persuasion. We didn’t lead in war, we probably dug latrines. There was no family money to inherit. My kin were never afraid to pick a fight or yell at their spouses.

I was raised that you won’t just die for your family, you would kill for your family (and I’m a pacifist). I remember hearing a preacher tell that story about the bus driver whose breaks were out, and there were only two options. One road would drive over your son, the other a group of strangers. Apparently ditching it was not an option, which makes me wonder as to the veracity of the tale but what can you do. He sacrificed his son and that was what God was supposed to be like if he was in the transportation industry.

This is undoubtedly an urban legend if for no other reason than that most parents would kill the strangers.

I would mow down a city before I would sacrifice my child. I’m not admitting I’m a psychopath, I’m just saying your chances, in a strictly mathematical sense, are not good. There are three toddlers in my family that I would storm the gates of hell to protect. I have a few close friends who are my family by choice. Friends will help you move, good friends will help you move a body, or so the joke goes. Chances are a few of you know how I feel. Loyalty and familial love are not character traits for which one must ordinarily apologize.

We all have a mental list of the people for whom we would storm the castle. My friends, and by friends I do not mean the mass of acquaintances with whom I have a peripheral relationship, are those who have been tried by fire but refuse to walk away. Friends are those few I love and will protect, if I am able. Friends and family give my life meaning, even if more than a few of them are absolutely bat-crap crazy.

My tribe, because I live in what I like to call the real world, come in three categories: those who enrich my life, those who are neutral, and those lovelies who are emotional succubus, the vampires who take away my will to live. I love them, but a few of them could use Cipralex with a tequila chaser. Three kinds of friends; three types of people when you pause to think about it.

I am endeavouring to become keenly aware when I begin to weigh down the hearts of those I care about the most. It is much easier to live a life of self-absorbed pedantry so I may continue to take selflies and be easily offended. No one really gives a damn about my medical problems, if I have to bring it up. If you talk for twenty minutes and do not say one thing that makes someone smile, unless you are in crisis you may just be a negative person. There is no right way to tell someone they are a negative person so few people recognize this particular character trait. Other people know but usually no one is talking. I am becoming aware of my own propensity to complain and it is something I may have to address in myself.

We all have times in our lives when we desperately need to get help carrying that burden. I am here for you and you have been there for me. There was a time in my life when if it wasn’t for a few people like Susan and Steve and a handful of others, I might have taken my own life (I cannot put any more names for fear of missing someone). Persons slept on my couch for a couple of weeks at a time. People fed me and looked out for me. When everyone else walked out a few of you walked in. You know who you are, really. I would never disparage reaching out. That is literally my day job. This article is not about that.

I have spent several months conducting an informal survey of people in my life that are finished products. without their knowledge questions have been asked and unknown interviews given. I have little fear of offending them here because they would have no impetus to read my blog about psychological and emotional health. They don’t talk about philosophy, they argue about it. They don’t grow.

By labelling someone a finished product (I can freely admit I could be wrong) I mean that, for whatever reason, there are those individuals in my world who have decided that they are not going to change anymore. They believe the exact same things they have seemingly always believed and they are done. Some immerse themselves in popular culture and drop-kick their brains out the window. Others become consumed by their children or fashion or menial politics or sports and stay dumb. I can’t help you with dumb, it’s often terminal.

I can’t help you with dumb, it’s often terminal

Finished products are difficult to live with. Many wives or husbands sit in my office and admit that even if we come up with a jim-dandy plan of attack for their marriage their spouse will never seriously engage in the process. This is the session in counselling when I begin to subliminally prepare you for the eventual death of your relationship, even if you do stay together. Few relationships can survive when one partner is trying to become wise while the other is in love with their boat or  shoes or hobby or daytime television. I do not need my spouse to be my intellectual equal but I do need that person to still try at life. Nothing is harder to watch than a partner who has given up or thinks learning is dumb. I can put up with almost anything if I know you’re trying.

One further thing. I don’t want to be sick forever. My mental illnesses should probably not be an inheritance to my children. I’m not trying to make anyone feel bad, quite the opposite. The good news is that if nothing else, the more we know the faster we grow. I just said something cheesy. I’m deadly serious about this topic because people who are reading, unceasingly engaging in meaningful activities, diligent about moving forward, these individuals always get better faster and move into wisdom. That has to be worth it. I still want to be a Jedi.

Happy birthday Albert Einstein, may we never give up the quest for a grand and unified theory.

Apparently I’m An X-Men

I’m like Wolverine except without the muscles, the talent, the looks and the pokey knuckles. And only in a tonsils way (that’s obviously a real word). Oh, and I can not be killed.

I don’t believe in Karma or fate but I’m not actually stupid enough to announce to both my readers (you see what I did there) and the Interweb that I cannot really be killed. I may not believe in Karma but I don’t want to piss her off, even if I know superstition is dumb. As the philosopher Homer (Simpson) once cried, “Jesus Allah Buddha save me!” Just covering my bases.

Here’s where I’m headed: Many years ago I had my tonsils out. Fast forward a decade or two and I had my tonsils out, again. There are medical records to confirm this but this isn’t rage journalism so I don’t have to provide transcripts. It is true; and very weird. I am almost certain I have tonsils right now.

The few readers who visit here may not have noticed, but I didn’t write for a few weeks. I do this when writing begins to bore me (this is, after all, my hobby) from time to time, so there is nothing remarkable in such a break. On this occasion, however, I had a martial arts fight with my table saw, obviously believing that my black belt skills would stack well against a 20-year-old piece of crap I purchased at Canadian Tire. I was wrong. The table saw really only has one good move, but it is a doozy. I’m almost certain ‘doozy’ is a word. We sparred briefly and I lost, in a fairly substantial way. I give the table saw’s performance ‘one and a half thumbs up’. I am also, as a super awesome side bonus, now intimately familiar with how tendons are supposed to work. I won the Silver Medal for the match.

My thumb appears to be, at least in part, growing back. I haven’t attempted this with any major organs or parts but based on my extensive and definitive research thus far – I should be able to cut anything off and it should rejuvenate. I am not a scientist but I’ve been 100% spot-on thus far. I have not tested this hypothesis but my wife told me the insurance company would have paid me substantial money had I not been such a pansy and done a decent and thorough job. No one likes a half-assed effort. After getting off the phone with my office manager Annette actually said, “Slam some Oxy’s, I’m warming up the table saw!”

So here at home I sit, watching daytime television and practicing my superpower. Why couldn’t I get invisibility? If this doesn’t happen faster I may need to find a radioactive spider. I hate waiting. I consider the ‘tap’ option for paying with my credit card perhaps one of the greatest inventions, ever. I am literally too lazy to put in my pin number. I am not, therefore, amazing at waiting.

One of the recurring themes on this website is clearly my fixation with the misconceptions people have when it comes to personal change and growth. Automated Tellers now take too long. There is a good chance that this is not your only internet window open right now. Three people have texted me in the past three minutes and I’m old and have few friends, or so I once thought. We seem to be on our phones all the time.

There is evidence to suggest that our growing dependence on instant technology is fundamentally changing us on a neurological level. This makes a certain degree of sense if you are a geek like me and think about it behaviourally. I have already changed the channel on my television three times while writing this article (although to be fair I am typing with one hand while attempting to soak the other in saline and daytime television is of the devil). Everyone now knows that we are undoubtedly, at least in part, a product of our history and culture. It is not necessary to exaggerate or even debate this issue, it is an established fact.

The vast array of bombarding technologies and choices are influencing you right now. I do not remember having to compulsively text everyone while engaging in Facebook and Google chats, email and internet searches all day, every day. Texting has emerged as a significant behavioural issue, if not a neurochemical one. Millions literally put their lives at risk so that they may chat about meaningless drivel LOL, LMAO. I never used to talk with so many people, every stinking day. I am vastly more social than I have ever been… or am I? We want it now,  We want it faster, better, more instant, more, more. I want to be able to get ahold of you all the time and be offended if you do not respond to my text for more than ten minutes. In a recent study people admitted they would rather lose their wallet than their phone. That’s bizarre considering how little actual phoning most of us really do. (I kind of lied, the study was done way back in 2009, which is significant when you consider how hard my phone sucked back then)

telephone-gonflable-geant_2.jpgTechnological bionomics needs to be something with which philosophers seriously contend; as we continue to integrate technology into our hard wiring. There are, without a doubt, ramifications for a humanity that carries around a personal computer which screams at them constantly through text messaging and the various other social networking tools. (I was tempted to list actual a few popular ones including emailing, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram; but I knew I would read this article again in five years and exclaim, “Facebook? Did we really still use Facebook way back then? What is emailing?”)

So ya, I may be an X-Man, albeit a minor warrior in the fight against Magneto. I just get hurt easily and take 6 weeks to heal, so I should probably let the chick with white hair go first. At the end of the day it may serve me well to unplug myself just a little bit more; in keeping with pretty much everyone’s New Years Resolution to get outside more, or exercise more, or pretty much do anything that earns me a sun tan. As they say (not exactly), it’s easy to talk the talk, but get the heck outside and walk the walk.

You Feel Me?

My friend Lori the art nerd, that’s her legal name, has to critique another student’s play. I would stink at that. As a psychology geek I would be all like, “but there’s too much criticism in the world already and I have no idea what kind of hell this person has gone through. How old is she, 30? That means she’s a senior student. Good for her! But wait a minute. A senior student, what went wrong? Why is she back at school now. Some bastard broke her heart! Good for her! How can I criticize Cheryl, she’s a hero!”

You probably don’t really need someone like me to remind you of your problems. You know your problems. You didn’t just pay me to tell you what is obvious to you, did you? You have a bead on your problems, what is missing are solutions.

Or am I wrong?

Granted, someone like me gets paid to help you look through another lens. Trust me on this one, you want that. I tell people who are going through something like grief or depression, addiction or anxiety, that they should think of themselves as insane. You heard me. Screen Shot 2012-09-18 at 12.19.55 PMWe simply need to put some heavy limits on our application of the word. When you are depressed you cannot think rationally because your frontal cortex is getting slammed by three greasy hippies on cocaine driving a Vega (I especially like the mini wagon with fake wood) spraying warm tapioca from your primal and basically cray cray brain. I like to impress readers with my technical know-how.

When things were bad in my hemisphere I am completely certain that I was absolutely and coldly nuts, much of the time. I was so entirely broken that it framed every decision in my life. Some of you know of what I speak. So yes, I was a little insane, thank you very much. Probably a great deal more than a little. You would never want someone in that mindset to walk your pet, let alone make decisions of any import. In retrospect I probably shouldn’t have remortgaged the house twice because I “didn’t give a damn”. You feel me?

(What does that mean, anyway, “you feel me?”. I would, frankly, prefer that very few people actually “feel me” so I guess I should say, “please stay appropriately behind the yellow line and I’ll greet you with a firm hand shake”)

It’s easy to wear our failures like a hairshirt. If you want a list of my shortcomings just ask me. Either I figured it out or it was driven into me a few hundred thousand times. Pointing out your obvious flaw may make you think I’m Kreskin, but chances are it will simply reinforce how useless you already feel. Thanks for that, best friend! I know I have problems, I made them.

relaxing-on-beachHey listen. You’re coping the best you know how, right now. Most of us live our whole lives never living up to our own expectations, much less everybody else’s. Sometimes you need to be a little easier on yourself. You are on a journey and you are making this up as you go along. Few of us figure this out at the same rate. Life is profoundly more complex than the poster promised. I am virtually a full-time student and I am keenly aware how stupid I was only a few years ago. Will I say that again in five years?

Wisdom takes time, unfortunately. No one gets a free pass and that means no one. My goal is to figure this out in my current decade and it is taking far longer than any of us imagined. We can only do the best we can with the light we have right now. That’s as good as it can get, short of a scholarship to Cambridge. What is important is to play the hand given me well and eat as much candy as I can. If you need a kick in the butt feel free with my compliments, but don’t forget to eat some kitkatKitKat ice cream and listen to a comedy. I just watched Trevor Noah: African-American on Netflix and finally learned how to correctly pronounce Zebra (it sounds like Debra).

I can be hard on myself tomorrow.

Selfish Lovers

*warning – Adult Content*

I talk with clients about sex all the time. It’s a cool job. You cannot live in my world very long without someone telling you the juicy bits. People who wonder if I can keep a secret assume I hear an average amount of gossip, and they would be wrong. I get paid to listen to your secrets. I gave up finding happiness through selling you out a long time ago.

It’s usually uncomfortable to tell me your story, at first. We have been conditioned to feel ashamed of our private functions, if not a little embarrassed. When it comes to sex, it is easy to feel like you are dirty, or kinky, or just different. This week, slightly tongue-in-cheek, news agencies released the stats on average penis length (5.17 inches). Reports called attention to the stigma around even having such conversations. It may sound disgusting but every boy has measured. Someone should have said it. We are products of repression.

It won’t as too much of a surprise to you that, looking out from my chair, there are a lot of problems in the bedroom. I hear the lists everyday, and it can be fun to be a fly on the wall of my office. You would be surprised how many couples, for example, don’t feel sexually compatible. That is a heavy thing to admit to a stranger. Lots of couples have issues with technique and I get paid to research that kind of stuff. Many people have plumbing problems, use your dirty imagination. Lubrication and miscommunication and a lack of vacations add to the discomfort. Couples often have a great deal of difficulty telling each other that this “doesn’t feel nice” because there is usually so much “water-under-the-bridge” and feelings are easily wounded.

Here’s one for free. No one taught me how to satisfy a woman except my occasional exposure to pornography. Talk about what you like, it can be a huge turn-on. I love learning.

Selfishness is largely a Math issue. When I critically analyze my Giddy-Up time, what percentage of my efforts go into helping my partner feel loved? Then subtract my selfishness. Disregard anything that is potentially selfish but mutually enjoyable. The Math works the other way as well. Do you feel loved? Safe? Living with selfishness can be a prison sentence. It can become difficult to remain emotionally healthy while living life with someone consumed with their personal satisfaction.

Now add the intriguing little tidbit that some of us find our sense of self-worth through helping other people. Those people attract selfishness and narcissism like catnip. I’m not saying it’s your fault, just the reverse. This does not negate the fact that predators seek out the vulnerable and if you live to serve others they are going to use that to use you. The spouses of narcissists, psycho or sociopaths, of the raging and the ragingly selfish, are some of the nicest people I have ever met. It says something of a society when selflessness becomes a liability.

Selfishness can be a much larger issue than just a problem with Mattress Polka. Many of us know the sting of life with a selfish and miserable spouse, or the narcissist, or the Drama Queen or King. It always seems to be about them, and not just in the bedroom. Some narcissists are great lovers, but for all the wrong reasons. Use your imagination. Living with someone who is self-absorbed is maddening.

g5MPb2BFlEC468oFxKvOWQGYFlZmJKvPED33WBpqoB5a7kF4OVMUSjzQywJzbY6bI wish I could tell you there is a fairytale ending, but I would be lying. Convincing someone to live more unselfishly, someone who has spent their entire life developing a value system with only their photo in the room, is an affront to their reality. The only solution that works begins and ends with me. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to change you but it won’t work. I hate that but the article isn’t over yet.

There is a mighty hope that we tend to forget in the drama.We can become more and more whole. As Victor viktor-frankl-quote-those-who-have-a-why-to-live-can-bear-with-almost-2Frankl and others have illustrated far better than I, no one can take away your ability to grow. That is very deep once you get yourself around it. Even in the most abusive of scenarios (and I’ve heard at least as many stories as you), some people learn to hope in spite of it all. I have to believe that anyone can learn, one minuscule step at a time. I have known that soul-crushing despair and wish for death but somehow, over years and years, things have changed. No, it wasn’t worth it, but life has a way of changing my paradigm whether I feel like it or not.

Then the day arrives when we talk about your dysfunction. We need to learn about next time. As the man said, if I keeping doing things the same way I can expect the same results. Most of us believe we learn from our mistakes. Most of us are wrong. It’s shocking, isn’t it, that both your current guy and your ex both like the History Channel? Huh. You’ve come from the bottom but it may happen again. Some of that hurt didn’t just float away. We have all learned entirely screwed up coping mechanisms, unless your parents were perfect, as mine are (Hi Dad). I have long whined that we graduate into adulthood with little or no emotional skills. I didn’t understand my feelings, much less my history, my dysfunction, and my unresolved issues. We were just big and dumb kids, more firmly convinced than ever of our own moral and intellectual certitude.

But that’s another article. I want to conclude by encouraging all of us, myself included, to keep looking after our mental health, and not just with gluten and working out. I work in an industry where everyday people spend thousands of dollars fighting off the end; but who give little or no thought to the only thing that really matters, my inside. And not just your bowel problems. We are all getting uglier, deal with it. But don’t forget to work on the stuff that will define and dictate the rest of your existence.

You may not prevent decay, but we all need to fight Stupid.

The Golden Ticket

There is a huge reward for all the work, I just can’t explain it to you yet. I lied all those times, there is a Golden Ticket, you just can’t have it. The Golden Ticket is curiosity. The reward is wisdom. This is an example of something called Philosophical Psychoanalysis.

For many of us, coming to the place in our life when we again embrace wonder is difficult and arduous. It usually comes from pain and loss, though not exclusively. It may happen in a person’s second-half of life and often after a divorce or death or mental health tremor. For one of my closest friends it just became, out of a lifetime of anxiety and self-medicating and living on the emotional fringe. Many of us end up there, feeling misunderstood or lonely or like a freak. I often ask clients at the beginning of this period of rediscovery, “Do you remember fun?” Look around you – few of us seem to be Jedi’s.

We talked for five years. We are still talking, but it’s different now. I don’t have as much to teach her as I once did. She is as motivated, more motivated, than I am. We talk about books and art and history, philosophy and psychology and politics. The subjects are as varied as the universe. Oh ya, we often talk about the universe as well.

If you come see me professionally I will ask you if you read. You cannot remain my client if you do not read. I’m sorry but I don’t have the time. That sounds arrogant and I don’t mean to be condescending. The simple truth is, it’s too hard to do this without continuous input; and if you aren’t filling the tank on a regular basis you are screwed. It may not be books but it should be a source that is teaching you. That glass of wine after work may help you wind down but won’t take you where you want to go. Good tequila, on the other hand… (thanks Kim!).

I gave her A Brief History Of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. She read about cognitive behavioural therapy and The Wisdom of Psychopaths. Paul Ekman. The Tipping Point and Heretics and Heroes. The Hunger Games. Buddha’s Brain. She learned how to place a deadly serious psychological game from the mockingjay (Real Or Not Real?). Michio Kaku. The Renaissance. Augustus and Genghis Khan. The list was endless.

“Getting better” may be more about wisdom  than anything else. The Twelve Step people are very correct – the wisdom to know the difference. Understanding the meaning and context for my life is probably the best and surest route to emotional wholeness. Don’t take this wrong, it is as Art Williams says, I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy – I’m telling you it is going to be worth it.

She doesn’t have as much time to be depressed anymore. She has, in her fifties, four university classes to get unrealistic marks in. Her little-o-bit of self-diagnosed OCD means that every morning the Byzantine Empire comes pounding in, not her anxiety and regular panic attacks. It is all about wisdom. It is all about curiosity.

Here’s a little secret to happiness – learning is a drug. Many of us are, however, only recreational users and merrily go about our lives, most days frantically absorbed in our petty existence. I mean no disrespect, I’m a professional at petty.

Einstein-talent-curiosityWe were talking and she suggested that I make up a Required Reading List. It would be the strangest list imaginable – physics, neuropsychology, science fiction (don’t get me started on Ursula K. Le Guin), obscure movies like The Razor’s Edge (Bill Murray version) and obscure books like The Myth of Certainty. Hundreds and hundreds of books. and graphic novels, movies, comedians and philosophers.

Then one day she wasn’t depressed anymore. That was years ago now. She’s going to be an art historian. The Golden Ticket is the narcotic effect of such momentum, this wonderful gift called curiosity. The more I learn, the more I thirst. The larger my understanding becomes the more I comprehend how ridiculously little I know. I am baffled by the certainty of zealots; I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I still see “through a glass darkly”. In my meagre experience I’ve found that learning about the big stuff, the thoughts that bring healing or hope or meaning, these occupations birth a feeling of awe deep within me. Wonder intoxicates. Times in seclusion become precious and thinking about your upcoming art trips to Berlin and Italy make you smile. She is not wealthy but she is passionately curious.  This week she discovered, really understood, the history of Constantinople. She’s writing a philosophical play for one of her classes. That need to spin her neurological wheels is slowly becoming an asset. Perhaps some of this is about making peace with the person who is Scott or Liz or Steve or (insert name here) and not running from who I am. It’s also a bit about timing. It’s hard to be smart with three or four rugrats incessantly baying for your attention. You people have a harder job, though perhaps more dire.

If nothing else, it won’t be boring.

She gave me a few books this week from a series called Mrs. Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children. It’s a wonderful tome for “young readers” so I could understand it. The tale is a mix of the X-Men for kids and fairy-tale magic. The moral of the story (for me, thus far) is to embrace your pain and turn it into a weapon. We want to run from our personal truths even though we know this will not work. Wholeness comes with something I have been preaching lately called radical acceptance. As I stop fighting my story and begin to look for grooves in which to surf, the demons from my past become a part of a powerful narrative. I relearned that today from a child’s book.

I have thousands of audiobooks and I’m not exaggerating, as some of my patient clients can attest. What started out as a distraction eventually became a passion, and it isn’t hard to read anymore. The problem is what to read, in a world of a million choices and limited time. This month I’m promoting Brain Pickings, a wonderful and profoundly insightful act of love from one smart individual.

And pick up Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, it’s a great read at any age.

The Triceratops

I was given a small piece of a backbone recently by a new friend. The backbone of a Triceratops. Wicked. You can see the marrow, or so I choose to think. It looks like a bone, a 68 million-year-old bone. For an amateur history enthusiast, this is very cool. I am becoming more of a geek all the time.

History is something I care very much about. It has been, along with a few other diversions, one of the passions of my adult life. I endeavour to read history almost every day. One of the reasons I love this so much is because it teaches me lessons that others have had to learn the hard way. The other reason is because I fancy myself a bit of a storyteller and I can mine history forever. There are literally millions of great stories I have not heard yet. Billions. Many are lost to antiquity and most, the vast majority, were never remembered in the first place. Life is story.

When Brian Williams got incinerated by the media recently for embellishing on his war correspondence I understood what he was doing. I try to never let the absolute truth ruin a great story. I still tell a few stories I know are not true, simply because they are amazing. I will often even start with, “This story is not true.” I don’t care, I’m interested in hearing a story, this isn’t church. Williams is guilty of losing himself in his own story. He forgot that he was supposed to report on the action, not be the action. He has told that story so many times he probably could convince himself that it’s probably half-true. I’ve done that. Once, while on a whitewater canoe trip with The No Tan-line Annual (NTLA) crew, my canoeing partner Don Hand caught a huge lake trout on a lake called Trout Lake. I told that story so many times I started to believe I was the one who caught the fish. I still prefer to tell it my way.

Stories have enriched my life in ways I cannot begin to fathom. By now anyone who reads this rag knows that I am a strong proponent of audiobooks. I have gone on record, many times, alleging that audiobooks may have saved my life. Every day, many times a day, I lose myself in a story. I have a tiny hint of ADHD in my psyche and audiobooks keep me placid and awake. They keep my mind from going places that it should never go. When I used to cry every day audiobooks gave me a break from the grief. See, I can’t stop preaching about audiobooks.

Where were we? Oh right, the Triceratops. Looking at that horn connects me with something far bigger than myself. That’s why I collect old books and newspapers and coins. Touching those French Francs from the 18th Century gives me a deep sense of connectedness with the bigger story. Yesterday, while on Lori’s blog, I looked at a picture of Napoleon’s gloves. That makes him alive to me, somehow.

I have a deep connection with my own story as well. Even with my memory I can feel a connection with my past. I can enter again into 15-year-old Scott. I can remember how it felt to paddle into that secret bird sanctuary on the Clearwater River. If I think hard enough I can develop a sense of mindfulness with my younger me and see how he felt and what he believed. Sitting here, I can connect with Scott on stage at the Clarke Theatre in 1999. He was ridiculously naive and immature but I can also see his heart and I know the truth. Try that on yourself, sometime soon. Get in that chair or that bed and spend 15 minutes intentionally going back. Remember how she felt that day, you know the one. I did this mindfulness exercise just before I started this article and it is powerful once you figure it out. Try it six times before you give it up. I learn new things about myself every time I wander.

There is a profound wisdom to be found in your own story if you allow yourself to look at it in a more objective fashion. The more you can develop a third-person relationship with your past, the more you can learn. As I recently wrote about, it’s again about radical acceptance. Radical acceptance of the truth about my personal journey. I desperately want to whitewash my own immaturity but that takes away, profoundly, from the story. As Kant said, you have two worlds. There is the world as you wish it to be and the world as it really is. It’s like a bad remake of The Matrix and it’s true. My failure to cope often defines the story. My ability to accept my own part in the dysfunction is crucial if you want to learn the truth. You were there too. Don’t worry, I’m not blame-shifting. It really may not have been your fault but we aren’t talking about blame. I have learned to deal with life in certain ways and some of these are dysfunctional. It may have been as a result of abuse or just because that’s the way things turned out with your particular strange porridge of DNA and family weirdos. The story is, after all, about me.

As Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember (learn from) the past are condemned to repeat it”.

 

How Do I Let Go?

I am asked this question all the time. How do I leave? How do I stand up for myself? How do I lower my expectations of this person? How do learn to be happy in the mess that is my life right now? How do I let go of the grief or the expectations or the unrealistic dreams? How do I forgive? How do I move on?

It’s a question as old as time. Letting go is something that I only learned through pain, and it wasn’t worth it. How do you let go of hopes and loves and connection? How do you let go of a dream?

No one wants to hear that it takes years and tears. We want to believe there is something we can do which will move the process forward, when we haven’t even accepted the real situation. In counselling we call this, magical thinking. We all believe in magical thinking, every once in a while. We want to believe if we rub our lucky rock we will win the lottery. Some of us believe the universe is punishing us, for some reason. If you wish upon a star your dream comes true. If I just want it hard enough… well then maybe I can pretend I don’t have anxiety anymore, or depression, or trauma. Maybe Oprah has a guest celebrity that will fix you. Magical thinking is when you believe that if you think hard enough you can move that coin with your mind. Or change your life with a gimmick. We all want change and we want it yesterday.
In counselling this kind of stuff takes a long time. The process you can probably guess – I begin to work through my own insecurities and the sick reasons I can’t move forward, including letting go of my need to stay stuck, my need for approval, my fear of the pain. We talk about lowering expectations and about assessing our relationships in the harsh light of objectivity. Once we understand the “why”, the “how” usually works itself out. It’s about acceptance and time and grief. Like most things, attitude changes everything. Once I change what I want, it’s easier to stop coping mechanisms I no longer need or desire. And that’s the key, though a very hard one to actually learn. How do I learn to change what I want (if I don’t want to)?
self-confidenceWhen you are in a situation that isn’t working I often recommend starting with the DBT concept of “Radical Acceptance“. I learn to see my situation for what it really is, no bullshit, no excuses, no insecurities, no lies or illusions or fake expectations. I usually need help from my counsellor/friend for that. It’s hard to be objective from the inside.
I pitched this article to my friend Lori, a fellow blogger and friend in the real world. We had been talking about sideways solutions, as I call them. Sideways Solutions are all about looking at things differently, through a new lens. I’m speaking at a gig next month about this very thing. I call the talk, “Going Rogue”. Simply put, I have long been fascinated by The Trickster in folklore and have endeavoured to incorporate that outside-the-box thinking in life. Apple, the most financially valuable commodity on earth, sold billions with the moniker, “Think Different”. I believe in going at things sideways. Creativity usually takes me where logic fails to go. Lori reminded me of this earlier today.
Letting go rarely involves telling your story again and again. It’s difficult, when our lives are ruined, not to fixate on the problems. Stress is consuming, so is debt or relational problems or chronic pain. When you are low there is a temptation to employ those Cognitive Distortions we talk about so very much. We are focused on the problem, overwhelmed. We make decisions based on emotion. We become trapped in a verbal and emotional feedback loop. We say the word “but” more than we probably should. We pretend everything is going to magically work out.
There are times when moving beyond is really about moving beyond. We need to focus on something, anything, rather than our grief or anger or pain or disappointment. We become outward focussed again. We begin to spend less time replaying the tapes. This last part is very important because there comes a point in the journey when you need to write new stories. I know you cannot let go of that thing, I couldn’t either. Ask anyone who knows me, they can tell you. Been there, done that, spilled hot sauce on the t-shirt. I wore my brokenness like a badge of honour. I was determined to go down with the ship.
Sideways solutions don’t feel natural. It’s normal to lay on the couch and feel hopeless. It’s completely normal, when you are depressed or grieving or (insert personal hell here), to lack motivation and get winded walking to the fridge. Many counsellors will tell you that in order to get “better” you will need discipline. I have a difficult time with this when I’m happy, let alone depressed. That’s why, when clients describe how stuck they feel or alone or hopeless I often talk about going to college. My pop is 76 and in university. The aforementioned Lori has become an art historian, and a bard, and a bunch of other things that she discovered at university. I like to talk about Europe, and philosophy, and science, and history. You might feel a great deal better from studying neurochemistry than you ever would taking an SSRI. Sideways solutions. I couldn’t stop crying once – so I started to listen to audiobooks. You should see my collection. That may not float your boat but it saved my life more than any counselling ever did. Some people garden. Shirley makes amazing quilts. Some of my other friends have become soul coaches or knitters or experts in the hippie arts.
As we say in the business, “too much head time is bad time”. If you cannot turn off those voices in your head maybe you need to go about it sideways.