My dog has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. This is my day job and I have watched literally hundreds of human clients who have struggled with GAD so I feel qualified to diagnose my dog. Human persons with mental health issues are diagnosed primarily on symptomatology; you tell the doctor what is wrong with you and he sends you to a psychiatrist who will, after talking with you for a part of an hour or two, tell you what is wrong with your head. Don’t get me started on misdiagnosis. Continue reading “My Dog Has Generalized Anxiety Disorder. And He’s A Racist.”
I have three grandchildren. Young kids marrying young kids, marrying young kids. Now that they have spawned, I regularly tell my children they are redundant, sperm donors who no longer serve any other familial purpose. I am a counselor so I’m used to being honest with people for money.
Isaac is two-years-old and a force of nature. He is the one in the beer hat, although we would never do that and I get one first. Isaac and I are joined at the hip and he is definitely my little man. Continue reading “Go To Sleep”
Great insight on everything from mindfulness to Sartre to Isis.
Source: About last week…
The world feels like a terrifying place. People are dying in Paris while at a middle class concert. What if we are next?
Catastrophizing is normal, when we hear stories like this. Suddenly the world feels a little less safe. People in Mission, British Columbia are talking about not attending concerts in Vancouver because ISIS might attack. The world has changed.
The funny thing is, Canada is generally safer than it ever has been. Crime, thanks to DNA and technology and changing societal norms, is actually down in many areas. So why are we so afraid? Continue reading “Why We Care More About Paris”
In a recent conversation with a friend I accidentally referred to anxiety medication as “aspirin for the brain”. I meant it in a good way. Why is taking something for anxiety any different than taking the exact same thing for insomnia?
There is much stigma around medications and it is tempting to believe any number of ridiculous cognitive distortions we all battle, from time to time. As simple as it sounds, people generally push back when a professional prescribes a stupid little pill to cope with the uncopeable. We have been told that people with depression are emotionally weak and need to “snap out of it”. Anxious people seem skittish by nature and those panic attacks might just be a personality flaw. Taking medication for depression or anxiety or (insert name of mental health issue here) means that I have somehow failed or given in or given up. I shouldn’t need to see a counsellor to take an SSRI or go on disability. People who take meds because they cry allot are weaklings. Continue reading “Stupid Little Pill”
One of my best friends, intelligent and knowledgeable when it comes to psychological stuff, went to the doctor today. Something serious happened in her family and this has obviously affected her in very real ways. We have talked about her life for years. All I asked was for the doctor to prescribe something for anxiety. She has a history of anxiety. I know her extremely well, we’ve known each other close to 20 years. We talk literally every day. Just give her the damn meds. Continue reading “I’m Sorry I’ve Been Absent So Here’s A Rant”
from our friends at big think.
My wife and I had an argument. It took me some time to realize that I had absolutely no idea what she was talking about. I know I’m a man and that is typically how we define normal, but his was different. I mean, I understood the words, even in proper order, but I couldn’t understand why she was so into this thing. Looking back, Scott was incredibly confused but didn’t know it because, work with me here, I was confused. Continue reading “Empty Space”
I have voices inside my head. Not the kind where you take medications, the other one. The voice we all have, the whisper telling you to go pee right now. That constant inner conversation rattling around inside every head. Well, not all the time, I’m a guy.
There was a time in my life when my inner monologue was much more insane. Anyone who has ever gone off the deep end can tell you, things can get very scary inside that dysfunctional brain of yours. The constant feeling of tension , the weird thoughts, the nattering stressful boredom sometimes makes you nuts. Sorry to get technical there. You may become so engrossed in the internal soap opera it’s virtually impossible to remain objective. Scary thing is, it’s all so… rational.
Only it isn’t.
Did I say it was a monologue? Maybe it is more accurate to describe the experience as a wave mixed with an emotional rush; broken words and feelings all tumbling towards the unknown. I pitched this idea to one of my editors, Lori, and here’s how she responded:
I’m thinking about the movie Constantine. Cynical chain-smoking John Constantine, the weird androgynous Gabriel ~ and how Constantine went down to hell to find that girl who’d committed suicide at the psych ward. That place of monologue or trauma is a lot like hell. Constantine was loosely based on a comic called HellBlazer. I think once we know that ‘place’ we can never unknow it. Kind of like how once we become awake, we can never become asleep again. But knowing it, I think this makes it so we understand the depth of its agony. I think that’s maybe why you counsel and I feel like I need to ‘go there’ with people. I’m drawing some possibly unconnected analogy to the movie, but it makes me feel better about it all. Hell blazers.
That’s why she’s one of my editors.
The quote says it this way, “If there wasn’t a hell we would invent one”.
Here’s Lori again.
I think it’s almost reductionist to call it trauma or cognitive distortion or monologue. It’s a ‘place’. A virtual rendering of hell. In some way if I can look at it as a place, I can leave it as well as revisit it. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality.
Immanuel Kant spoke of dueling alternate realities. There is the world as I perceive it, and the world as it really is. They are different. Right now you may be worrying about something completely irrational. You may even know it’s cray cray but continue to worry, nonetheless. What if that worst-case scenario thingy happened? We all are young enough to believe in the worst. Very bad things can happen to very good people. Maybe that person really doesn’t like you.
There’s the rub, as they say. A lifetime of experiences, often bad ones, disappointment and heartache and pain and unrequited love and low-fat products which went to your hips have convinced most of us that we need to micromanage our internal head space and believe the madness pouring through our defences and threatening to invite us to start cutting or drinking or checking out, one more time. Lori was absolutely right – there are times when we need to be reminded that this is a fantasy and you need to wake up.
She stole my ending. And if I have a hell blazing friend, they can remind me it’s an imaginary place and not a reality. I aspire to be that person, when I am able. Chances are this is something you could also get behind. We all need someone who can take our hand when we lose our way. Thanks Steve.
Perhaps there was a time when people could bear this load alone. I am fascinated by the strength and the sheer badassness of those who served this country in war, often many years ago. The man who could survive the soaked hell-traps in the trenches of The Great War. People long dead who simply would not lie down in front of oppression and hate. Frightened teenagers who cried “We shall overcome, someday”. Children crawling through the jungles in the name of a cause they neither understood nor cared anything about. Countless women in history who were raped and decided to continue living. I am not that person.
I desperately want to be that person.
When you are crazy it doesn’t hurt to have someone in your life who is further along the journey or is in possession of knowledge they need to teach you. I have those people in my life and this is the primary reason I am so passionate about learning. Some of us need to figure this out and if it isn’t me than it sure as hell better be you.
This is going to hurt but you should probably do it anyway. Give someone permission to call you on your crap. Take the time or pay the money or scam a priest if you need to, but just do it. I cannot tell you the numbers of people who have walked through the doors I haunt. We have six counselors working today and they are all very busy. It’s trendy to have a shrink so come on, you hipster.
There are periods in our life when we no longer possess enough information to make an informed choice about something very pressing and stressful. It is at these times when some of your friends come to see me, just to punch something that doesn’t punch back. I may as well be air-freshener (and if you know me you have probably heard me refer to myself as exactly that), you just need a place to unpack a lot of poop.
Lose long enough and it becomes impossible to think clearly; when your reality is someone’s definition of purgatory. Most of us just roll with the punches and pray that our Lottery Ticket will hit big.
That may be living but that is not a life.
Talk to someone. Those who are humble enough to be taught will usually find their way.
Lori: I read a good thing, I think it was on Psychology Today. They asked people about their fondest childhood memories, and invariably they were stories about screw ups. The listeners would smile knowingly and they’d all have a good laugh and share war stories afterwards. But people really valued others who would point out where they went off.
In retrospect of course.
“The true measurement of a person’s worth isn’t what they say they believe in, but what they do in defense of those beliefs,” he said. “If you’re not acting on your beliefs, then they probably aren’t real.”
― Glenn Greenwald,
Edward Snowden changed the world, and like most revolutionaries, the machine is trying to kill him. Believe what you want about Mr. Ed, his revelation was a game-changer. I’m on holidays (because we sometimes call it that in Canada) and right now I’m looking at the lake and watching Terminal F. This is a documentary about the events around the events of Snowden’s recent life. As far as documentaries go, it’s less biased than the mainstream, and less sympathetic than my virtual friends who live in the world of anonymity would appreciate. I study subjects like cultural engineering and the other side of the web and cybersecurity for the same reason I look at most things – everything is so incredibly interesting.
One day nerds will look back on 2013 and have conferences about how the world changed that spring. They will talk about the world of 9/11 and the cultural precursors to what went on; the decline of the nuclear family, the end of religion as a cultural force, the wars and the unrest and Anonymous and the growth and power of the virtual insurgency. After literally the entire history of humanity a fifteen-year-old kid from Nairobi suddenly has a voice and a forum and potentially a gun, if she learns how to use Bitcoin. And everytime she turns on her computer or texts a friend that information is recorded by people who may not have her best interests and freedoms at heart. What are you willing to give up to live in a safe world? Are you willing to give up your freedom? These are very important and complex questions.
No one knows how this is going to shake out, but several intelligent people are fairly adamant that Snowden may have just stopped 1984. It’s entirely possible that a 29-year-old computer geek singlehandedly changed the course of human history and stopped A Brave New World. It’s every cheesy youth dystopian movie you watched in 2014. Phrases like “surveillance state” started popping up on YouTube and on Frontline. The journalists who broke the story did not work for The National Enquirer, they worked at The Guardian, a real voice that wins Pulitzers.
Edward Snowden may just be the most valuable person in the world.
Snowden smells more like a brilliant Gavrilo Princip than a rich politician. He is normal, not beautiful, maybe even an idealist. Like Gavrilo he may have changed the course of human history forever, this time with a few SD cards instead of a gun or sword or bow. Many of us are convinced that there were some very disturbing things going on in cyberspace, and I’m not talking about buying cocaine at Silk Road. We are finding out that people were watching, developing programs and advertising and spyware and it was beginning to look like those conspiracy freaks weren’t as off as we all assumed they were. With Stephen Hawking now prophesying the invasion of our robot overlords, things just got freaking weird. Terminator weird.
Not everyone thinks Edward Snowden is a messiah, however. Many people who wear blue suits and red ties believe he has put us all at risk. It is a scary world, and anyone who has ever stumbled on the Deep Web can attest that there are evil and vindictive people out there, and many of them have a platform. The internet is a potential nightmare and someone needs to stand up for what has been right for so very long. You won’t be a raging liberal after someone rapes your wife in the name of some cause they joined online. Stop screwing around. Spooks in Washington and Ottawa and redneck politicians want this man dead because he has shown all their cards to the bad people and that is bad enough; but now the Proles are waking up. It’s all bizarre and apocalyptic and even the American government freely admits that Snowden’s documents were completely legit. Strange.
Edward Snowden was subcontracted to the NSA, arguably one of the most sophisticated surveillance and intelligence networks in the world. Such agencies have, probably by their own admission, arisen as a necessary evil to combat very dark forces that will, not in theory, hurt people you love for money or power or a radical cause. This does not seem debatable and has been going on since life was mould. One little nerd brought the surveillance state and many gigantic companies to their knees and changed the world forever, for good or evil, depending on which couch you are sitting in. If you are not up to speed on this issue you owe it to yourself to become educated. This is very important stuff.
This young man is now hiding in Russia, which plays beautifully into the political narrative wherein ES has put American interests at risk and he’s working for the enemy, on purpose or not. Regardless of who is right his name will be in history books, hundreds of years from now. How weird is it if you feel just a little bit jealous?
We all want to be significant and that is not a bad thing. In counseling we talk about this all the time, the systematic devastation and crushing anonymity of this culture and it’s toll on every one of us. Many spend their entire lives looking for something that sticks out, only to die with a yearning sense of almost. I will probably never have the opportunity to engage a planet and chances are you may not either. So now to find out what is left.
We are tempted to lie to ourselves and thereby diminish our hopes; with internal conversations about how unrealistic our champagne wishes were anyway. Every time I give up a dream or lose a little more hope for a meaningful life a little piece of my idealism dies.
I know so many bitter older people. I get that. Gone are the pretty parties and the unquenchable adrenaline. Welcome prostate exams and vaginal dryness. Watching your life slip away while still trying to figure out what you want to be when you grow up really sucks. How many times have you wished for another kick at the can because next time you would somehow know all the lessons it has taken us a lifetime to accumulate? The truth is you will not get another kick at any can and I don’t know about you but I do not want to look back at my life and realize I wasted my one chance.
Call it a rationalization if you want but it is important to realize that you do not have to make the cover of Rolling Stone to live a life that matters. You may never be in a history book but you could write your story any time you wish. While you may never be rich and famous, you could invest in a broken life and bring hope to dozens of people if you wanted to. We all choose to succumb to hopelessness, and if you decide you don’t want to be around that is entirely your choice. If you don’t want to step out on the ice quite yet it’s not too late to turn the ship around. Bitterness is a choice. Choosing to be critical of everyone who doesn’t ascribe to your very particular criteria is a choice. Pettiness and negativity and continually talking about your damn sore elbow that no one really cares about is a choice. Fixating on your problems for fifty years is entirely a choice. The desire to one day wake up with a smile and a new dream is also a choice. So is getting up one more time when you struggle to find meaning right now. So is saying no to our raging self-indulgence.
I’m looking around the table and it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to realize that people tend to end up in one of two camps; the old and beautiful and the old and bitchy. There are a million reasons to end up a smoldering hot pocket but at the end of the day no one is going to give a crap why you are still angry about that guy who ruined you fifty years ago. Please don’t think I am diminishing the incessant grind of stress and hurt and disappointment. What I am suggesting is that it is up to me how this plays out.
I will never be Edward Snowden because every one of us is dealt a different hand and mine doesn’t look like it’s going to end up with a Gucci watch. Ed may wind up in a prison cell, this world loves to crucify its prophets. I for one am grateful that he had the courage to do what was right, and the cojones to pull it off. Many people disagree with me and I for one am glad that you have the freedom to tell me off all you want. I have the freedom to not give a damn.
At the end of the day I desperately do not want to become a petty and whiny old man who spends his life complaining about how the kids of today aren’t like when I was a kid. Someone put me out of my misery first. Please. This life is screaming by, and we are all going to be dust before too long; so for the love of God don’t give up.
I remember a moment captured in time. I was making breakfast at my restaurant, The Bad Dog Grill, and I realized I hated my life. It was 7:30 am and I wanted a beer. If I cut my hand one more time, maybe I can go home today. I just knew I would never get out of that kitchen. Then one day I was.
I have spoken with people in prison, or doing time in a bad relationship, who have been convinced I was wrong. This hell is never going to end. I will never meet someone who loves me. I will never want to live again. I can never move on from this. Then you do, though rarely like on television. We sincerely need to have a conversation some time about what recovery really looks like. God never sent me a thunderbolt and one day I didn’t wake up fixed. It’s gradual and tedious and most of us have no flipping clue what “better” really should look like.
Many of us grow up believing that we are supposed to move beyond, not just move on. Somehow we are supposed to forgive that monster or forget about that loss or magically get normal. Those are wonderful motivational posters but in the real world we usually become scarred by life and I’m not just talking about table saws and missing fingers. Life beats the hell out of many of us and it is going to take a religious event or a Canadian Tire pool full of good tequila for things to feel spanky. It is tempting to pine for the innocence or the waistline or the eyebrows of our youth but, and I hate being the one to tell people this, that ship has sailed, been attacked by Somali pirates and sunk by the North Korean military. You are never going to be who you once were and when you think about it, that may be a very good thing. I know you used to be able to run for miles and jump over fences and turn everyone’s eye but chances are you were way way dumber. Do you really want to be 18 and perky again? Willing to give up all that experience and drink the Koolaid?
When I was younger I was convinced I knew the score, and I was an idiot. Sorry to get all technical on you there. I could not give up what I know now for who I was then. That is difficult to write but it rings true for me.
Someday. Someday things will be different than they are today. Before the steam engine you could be attacked by the Huns in one millenia than the Mongols in another and the tactics would be similar because both armies used horses and bows and arrows. The world was defined for centuries by a single warrior, usually on a mount. The players may have changed but the world hadn’t. Time barely moved. The vast majority of the planet never travelled beyond their district. There was no Wifi. When the Mongols used gunpowder against the Hungarians no one even understood what that sound was, and why is there a hole in me? Generations passed with little noticeable difference.
This is not that time. I cannot promise you much, but it does appear self-evident that this culture is addicted to unstoppable momentum. A woman in a bad marriage is far more apt to leave than she was four hundred years ago. Heck, forty years ago.
It may not get good but it probably won’t stay the same. Fewer of us are willing to put up with monotonous misery anymore. There is no possible way soldiers would sit in trenches today, like they did in World War One, unless there was an Xbox and free Facebook. Two months of sitting in water and rats and dysentery and I don’t know about you but I’d probably go over the hill and let them shoot me, just out of boredom and from the constant itching. I hate itching. It may be possible that we are not the strongest generation that ever lived. Those old 90-year-olds killed people and it still would not serve to piss too many of them off, especially on a cruise when they race their walkers and gave me the evil eye. My grandfather left his family for over four years to drive a gas truck to the Front. Did he even have air conditioning? The times, they are a’changing.
Someday’s coming, for all of us. To quote Mr. Smith, “that is the sound of inevitability”. Your depression may not be terminal and that kid may talk to you again, someday. Someday you will know things that you don’t right now and your situation will change just enough that you will look at life differently. What often looks like “things finally going your way” may have at least something to do with how much you change, and that is the best news I can tell you. Sure you are going through hell, but if you are keeping your head just above the waves you are undoubtedly learning important lessons that you would never understand without going through this Armageddon. You are reading a blog by a therapist, so you are probably wise enough to know you aren’t wise enough yet to handle the whole enchilada. Me too. I desperately hope I am not a finished product.
Overcoming your stuff has more to do with just getting in the ring, than it has to do with winning every round. I can’t tell you how many times I fail at almost everything, and my job is to keep getting up in the morning and giving a damn. That’s me, it may not be you. For people with ADHD just keeping your act together is often hard enough without all the gushy little rewards. The empaths suffer so very much, just being alive. Being the strong one sucks. The person who carries the weight of the world is often crushed. Most of us would self-medicate if we could get away with it, Scot(t)-free. We haven’t even discussed one of my favorite themes – the real world is often boring and relentless and stressful. Stir in a few mental health issues, and a loss or two, and you may be tempted to just give up.
Don’t do it. Someday’s coming. It may be years or it could be today (probably not) but change happens whether we like it or not. This is the one constant in the Twenty-first Century. If you are awake you may have noticed the global village is experiencing the most profound cultural revolution since the Enlightenment. The internet, combined with catastrophic cultural changes, has transformed the world forever. There is no way to put the rabbit back in the hat.
I am not going to launch into a diatribe on how we are all headed to hell in a handbasket. There is plenty of time for that. Lately I’ve wondered if there is not a pot of gold in this electronic GMO rainbow. I can remember, even in my lifetime, when you had to go to a library if you wanted to read about anything. The world was slower and if you are depressed or dealing with impossible situations, slow never feels good.
Hold on. Someday’s still coming. I just wish, sometimes, it would hurry the hell up.
All kids need is a little help, a little hope and someone who believes in them.
The internet is on fire over this past week’s discovery of a new earth. Stir in the recent news that just might signal the end of Einstein’s E=MC2 and that makes for some very interesting possibilities. We may, in fact, be entering the golden age of physics; a hundred years after Max Planck was told to skip physics and choose maths. Humanity could have a whole new world.
It is very likely, if we could somehow adapt to an ecosystem for which we would probably have no immune systems, to envision two amazing scenarios.
There might be aliens. Humanity begins to realize that Science Fiction has actually been our guide, not science proper. We could meet other potentially intelligent life forms who would undoubtedly have some of the same components we also possess, from an environment which uses the same Periodic Table.
It might be empty. Humanity could throw off this broken world, the world we have broken, and get a fresh start. We could have a colony. If science catches up with Gene Roddenberry, and we learn how to break the light barrier, it’s a whole new deal.
That may not rot your socks off but for some of us this awakens the imagination. C.S. Lewis wrote a trilogy based on this very idea, the opportunity to imagine living somewhere else in the galaxy. Hope. The chance to boldly go where no one has gone before. That blows my mind.
We get a do-over. I’m sure I’ll probably be against this idea after reading more and finding out we’re not supposed to like the idea of polluting another planet and I’m a raging liberal anyways, but right now I’m in the ignorant mist of imagination and I’ve read too much sci-fi.
Many people would never consider stepping into a rocket in order to move away from a world they have known all their lives. Some of us would. The idea of a fresh start is intoxicating. An adventure into something new and different and not nearly so boring as your mundane and ordinary life right now.
I’m at a friend’s house and I can see the lake from this porch. The rain is falling, the first day of wet in months. A parched earth smells like springtime, for the first time this spring. I live and travel in the most beautiful place this side of Germany and I’m sitting in pajamas and it’s 12:33. I just put them on.
When my life fell apart I could never catch a break. Every bloody day was work and toil and hurt and tedium. It took me a while but eventually I learned STOPP Therapy. It’s one of those cheesy tools I teach clients right after I apologize for the fromage. It took me longer than I would admit, but I eventually learned to turn off the noise, if only for 5 minutes. I remember telling myself, “you’re not going to grieve for 5 minutes. You can do five minutes”. I was wrong but I tried it again and then I was right. I started forcing myself to take 5 minutes every day. Then it was 10 minutes and you can see where this is headed. It took forever.
There are times in your crazy when you are going to go postal if you don’t catch a break. I see it every stinking day and it’s a part of the process, and we all go through it when the bottom drops out. No one wants to hear that it’s a part of any process but if you have endured such purgatory you can validate what I am saying. I did not learn this in any school and neither did you. There is no cheesy trick I can teach you for when someone you would die for goes ahead and dies on you. That stuff is called insanity and the goal is to not die.
After you live through that hell for a year or two you can’t take it anymore and you start to get better, even though I really mean four or five years and most of it sucked. There are some things you aren’t even expected to really recover from. I say it here all the time, the death of a kid or a spouse or a marriage, the news that you are terminal or can easily imagine being there, no therapy can fix that for a long time. I don’t hear many therapists saying that. Sorry but I have lied too many times to myself and others, just to fit in. I try to be kind but I don’t get paid to blow sunshine up your ass.
You need to take a break. I’m sick of hearing about how you do not have time and I don’t understand how busy you are. I’m busy too, perhaps the most busy I have ever been. I get it, it’s busy outside. I, quite frankly, no longer care how busy you say you are. You have to do this or you may just lose the only battle in this life that really matters. I’m not talking about who you marry or how you will end it all. I’m thinking about keeping your crap together, moving forward, and becoming a Jedi.
Wisdom, I learned in philosophy, is the biggest game in town. Learning how to negotiate your crazy life is the secret to winning at your crazy life. I know this sounds preachy but you need to understand, I don’t have this fully figured out either. Part of my process is writing about my process. Anyone who reads this blog long enough realizes it’s autobiographical.
This isn’t really about me, it just seems that way when I insert myself into the narrative every now and again. What is important is whether or not we figure out how to live a life that matters, with a few smiles and good jokes along the way. You need to schedule mental breaks or you may just lose it. I know you have no time.
I finished back here on purpose. I’m convinced that people who learn how to carve out a little bit of space for themselves get wiser, faster. Learning is basically growing, in this business, and I’m not talking about surfing mind-numbing entertainment or fixating on media. Many us us don’t take care of our mental health near enough. I need to keep doing things that bring me back to life.
Start with 5 minutes and read a book that matters. Ask me for an audiobook. Buy that special edition of National Geographic. Pick up a travel magazine. Get a sunburn. Buy a Blizzard. Watch a documentary. Sit on the patio with a glass of wine. Right now I’m reading my friend Lori’s book, How The Irish Saved Civilization, just for fun.
A whole new world.
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”
I must admit, American politics baffle me. I am cognizant that many readers live in our sister to the south and it is not intention to disparage a system with which I am only acquainted because of cable television and a three-year stint in Denver. I am baffled because I am a foreigner, and as such, only possess a modicum of understanding of a culture that is not my own. Canadians like to believe we understand all about the USA. After all, we get their cable and they like our oil and water. They make sure no one screws with us and we give them Maple Syrup and Michael J. Fox.
Living in the Fraser Valley it is easy to imagine that it didn’t snow anywhere in Canada this winter. Life in the valley is more like Canada’s greenhouse than any representation of actual Hoser life. I remember the first time I came out here I was struck by how different it was than the rest of the country. People in Surrey don’t really think about gay marriage the same way they do in Camrose, Alberta or Steinback, Manitoba. Different cultures. The Left Coast is more liberal, more urbane, more frantic, more moist. We are our own little rainforest, just north of Seattle.
So when I say I do not understand American politics it is from that complete ignorance of another culture, not from any sense of disdain. I have never been a part of the strongest and richest country in the world, although they did give me a free Master’s Degree because I qualified as a foreigner. It is tempting, though wrong, to believe that Canada and The United States are like two siblings who share a quirky little border where the temperature magically changes from 72 degrees to 22 C.
The United States is a profoundly different experience and culture. Canadians have grown up in a dual world of British colonialism and the need to apologize for everything, every day. I say the word “sorry” at least ten times a day and I am just average. We are a culture forced to get along, surrounded by multiculturalism and peoples who believe they should be given expansive personal autonomy. We are hemmed in by giants, powerful neighbours to the North and South and East. Canucks have been raised on Tommy Douglas’s socialized medicine and most of us have no idea why Obamacare was even a vote. Canadians secretly believe they are superior to Americans while most Yankees simply know they are the best country in the world, even if they can’t win at hockey. Americans are good at other things, many other things. I apologize if that is even mildly offensive because I am a Canadian.
For perhaps the first time in centuries Canada may elect a Prime Minister on name recognition and looks, money, and a political machine with untold resources. We never understood how people like Arnold and Sonny Bono and Jesse the Rock Ventura could get elected to politics, and don’t get us started about Reagan. Most Canadians actually wondered if the most powerful son to ever get dad’s job of running the world was truly of average intelligence, at best. We like Clinton and think he should hook up with Geddy Lee for an album. We have tried and tried and tried to give you Celine Dion and Justin Bieber and hate the fact that you know better.
Recently I was trolling a religious forum and an American (and we don’t really think you are all like this) mentioned in a comment something to the effect of, “well we saved the world from Hitler in the Second World War and we can do this too”. As an amateur history buff whose library is 20% World War One and Two books, I find that statement profoundly hilarious. I’m sorry, I meant interesting. Why wouldn’t a country believe itself to be special when it has been raised on stories of conquest and apple pie and justice? Who wouldn’t want to be powerful and expansive and wealthy and have lots of airplanes? Canada has a beaver and a canoe and two submarines. At one time half our submarine fleet was in the West Edmonton Mall.
So we say sorry a lot.
Donald Trump symbolizes, at least for me, much of the caricature of Americans that we, your friends and foes alike, tend to adhere to if we are ignorant and believe in alien abduction. I have never met better people than the folks I hung out with in Denver. People are people and most Americans are good people. Cartoon characters like Trump portray Americans, and particularly those to the south, as racist and libertarian to a fault, with something going on in that beehive that I do not understand. There is a perception of arrogance based on the notion that money and power somehow translates to wisdom and understanding and entitlement. In Canada, most of our politicians are lawyers. I’m not saying that’s any better, but at least you can be as ugly as Chretien and still be Prime Minister.
I am basically a liberal, too lame to hunt anymore, won’t kill a worm in the garden, kind of lightweight that loves martial arts; but even I was shocked at Trump’s statements regarding John McCain’s heroism while a prisoner in Vietnam. Say what you want about the Vietnam War; but if you have spent five and half years in the hell of a Viet Cong Prisoner of War Camp, been tortured countless times, spent two years in solitary confinement with the rats and the lice, the dysentery and the constant humiliation which broke thousands of men whose shoes we are not worthy to fill, than you are a hero just for not dying. Prisoners died of starvation and flees and cholera and any manner of disgusting bowel diseases, abuse or torture. Only an idiot would pronounce judgment on something so completely removed from the experience of the rich and pampered. It is fundamentally impossible to even understand an iota of what Mr. McCain went through, in spite of his political viewpoints. If I had endured what he has I might be a little pushy too.
How can any of us even begin to understand the nightmare of Passchendaele or the sheer terror of being rounded up by Nazis and sent off to an extermination camp? How can we even pretend to relate to the absolute personal holocaust that went on inside their heads and through their starved and beaten and profoundly emaciated bodies day after day after bloody day, in soaked trenches that decimated countless hopes and lives in so many wars. To watch everything you are and everything you love stripped from you, to be violated countless times by racist pigs amusing themselves at your expense, to hear bullets blow the brains out of comrades you would have died for; we have little context for understanding what McCain endured.
How dare we demean the sacrifice of millions throughout history in the most hellish nightmares humanity could imagine. Twenty thousand young Frenchmen wiped out in a single day, Russian Roulette in a Viet Cong nightmare, millions upon millions of innocent Russians and Poles and Slavs murdered in the name of a political viewpoint. The genocide of whole races, even today. Facing gun batteries and certain heinous death in front of you and political officers behind to kill you if you dare turn back. Villages of children and innocents beheaded by ISIS. Charging blindly, if still heroically, atop your horse into machine gun beds in the name of honour. Countless youths butchered in the name of an ideology and on battlefields soaked in blood and urine and shit. You must not agree with the reasons but we cannot belittle the sacrifice. Shame on you Donald Trump.
As a clinician I deal with the unresolved and relentless fallout of PTSD and Trauma literally every day. Blaming the victims because you are a rich comedian, or downplaying the personal hell of a bona fide hero, only hurts us all because it devalues the nobility of those, people like Romeo Dallaire, who have been thrown on the trash heap of politics, maimed and scarred both emotionally and physically because their sacrifices of love, or stories of horrific abuse, have been minimized and therefore never dealt with. Every time a rape victim is belittled or a child with autism is devalued, every time someone of another race is slandered because of the colour of a pigment, every single time a rich or famous or powerful narcissist is allowed to exploit the poor or rewrite history, we are all smaller for it.
John McCain seems like just another rich conservative to many of us, but to even call into question that unspeakable horror is reprehensible; and maybe John should be allowed to spend a few minutes alone with that trumped-up idiot without the cameras running, just to remind him of the sacrifice of millions and the meaningless death of innocents.
Try and use your bone spur for that, Mr. Trump.
People ask me how I could believe in an afterlife when I am a huge and daily fan of science; and the reason is, because I want to. Call it cowardice or pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die and I can take it, but know that I have spent my entire adult life studying and I am still such a complete idiot I’m waking up to the fact that I may not be qualified to discount the supernatural, just because it seems ridiculous to my puny ADHD brain. I have, of late, begun to understand how completely little I know about existence. One thing that happens when your drug of choice is learning is that many and varied worlds begin to open up in areas you didn’t even know existed. The more I learn, the less I know.
I had no idea I was this ignorant. There were five or ten ideas I convinced myself I had my head around, and life was predictable. I liked to believe I was an expert at something, but then I started reading and listening to audiobooks. Don’t get me started about audiobooks. It felt as though everyday I was hearing about things I had no idea even existed. Philosophy and history and literature that blew my mind. I started to collect books and didn’t need cocaine. It sounds ridiculous to even write about this without a few shots of tequila, but I had no idea how fascinating String Theory was. My wife may call me a geek but some of that crap is seriously cool. Universes of the very small and books about the profound expanse and majesty of the profoundly large.
How can I dismiss things which may be beyond my capacity for comprehension when I cannot begin to understand something so obvious as the expanse of the universe or the fact that if you move a photon in Boston its partner will know instantaneously in Los Angeles? That may not rot your socks off but it may just disprove Einstein and prove that you can travel faster than the speed of light. Exceeding the speed of light is impossible. Gene Roddenberry was apparently a very smart dude.
Maybe there is a god.
I gave up trying to fit in a long time ago, but one thing you learn when you have 190 gigs of audiobooks is that it is perfectly fine for philosophers and eggheads and earnest seekers to talk about the meaning of life. Many people smoke weed or cut or stay depressed because life can lack meaning; and if someone or something takes away your hope then it’s pretty hard to cope with the day-to-day crap that is foisted upon us endlessly without a reward or a gold watch to look forward to at the end of this god-forsaken grocery line.
At the end of the day it’s important to talk about the end of the day. Philosophy was my first love and like all first loves it’s very hard to shake that first kiss. I have watched clients transform once they had hope and a purpose and a reason to wake up every morning. It always takes far longer than we can imagine, and it doesn’t sound like an inspirational meme on Facebook, but opening your mind to experiences and stories outside of your well-worn mindset can be incredibly enriching.
No one knows, at least at first, when they go insane. I have sat across from dozens and dozens of people who were slowly succumbing to the demented hell they are forced to endure; and you can watch people deteriorate, almost before your eyes. Counselors are paid to help people get better and it is a maddening thing to watch someone who is looking to you for hope begin to unravel. I recently confessed in this forum that I have, because of a once-in-a-lifetime random seizure, been gifted a brain injury which shows up primary through memory loss and brief moments of confusion. It is a fascinating journey to watch yourself learn to deal with this curveball from a clinical perspective. I find the phenomenon interesting enough that I study it… myself. As soon as I know it has happened I journal and think and research exactly how, why, and what just happened. It is almost enjoyable. Almost. But we digress, as usual.
Here’s the thing – it’s very difficult, at first, to know when you are losing it. I have a forthcoming article on this, whenever I feel like finishing it. It takes a while before you know what is happening. Nothing seemed different. It was not as though you suddenly knew your melon was wonky. Life continued on as before until someone or something or somehow it begins to dawn on you that you are not making any sense and that person is looking at you funny and you have absolutely no clue what you were talking about. For those who suffer with such things this can scare the shit out of you if you let it. How do you realize something is wrong when it is your entire reality? Now that is an important question.
People who leave cults have difficulty explaining how they could be so fooled because it happens gradually and in tiny increments. No one stands up on the first day and confesses that you are about to worship an intergalactic warlord named Xenu who imprisoned souls in a mountain in Hawaii. Little by little we have our truths altered until what was once deemed crazy now, for some reason, appears perfectly reasonable. Desirable, even.
Reality is malleable.
So when I think about alternate universes or quantum mechanics or cosmology or god, it has become apparent that I do not yet possess all the information that I will need to prove conclusively that I am meaningless. I am cognizant, as a therapist, how incredibly self-indulgent and subjective that may sound, but I don’t care. I want a cake and I want to eat it too. So there.
I find atheism, like fundamentalism, a tad arrogant. Perhaps I am jealous of someone who is convinced that they possess all the information available about reality and know enough to prove something which has, thus far, not been conclusively rendered. I’m just not that smart.
Bill Bryson (read Bill Bryson) relates the story of the incident wherein Max Plank asked his professor whether he should go into Physics or Mathematics. He was advised to pursue Mathematics because all the great scientific breakthroughs in Physics had already been made. This conversation took place before Einstein even took a job as a patent clerk. Physics was still in its terrible teens and academia was already warming up the funeral durge. To be so sure, this astounds me. Even Christians talk about faith as belief in something you hope for, not necessarily something you never question.
I’m not really interested in a religious debate, those days are long over for me. What interests me is the power of hope and the realization that the pursuit of wisdom can be a powerful part of my toolbox when I am stressed by a life which is long on commitments and short on happy buttons. Change your mind and your butt will follow.
Is there life after death? Few of us live to tell. In this moment perhaps we can at least entertain the possibility that mental health and wisdom may be cousins. Hope and understanding can be profoundly empowering. As that counseling cliché says, “you either hurt enough you have to, or learn enough you want to”.
I’m sick of hurting.
(Creds to the amazing Tony Ortega for that photo)
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. It 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.
It 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)
When I was a kid, living in suburban Winnipeg, there used to be a forest behind my backyard. A land of wonder and adventure. To my 10-year-old eyes it went on forever, or at least as far as a kid would dare venture. If you saw it now, it’s smaller than it once was. My mother is sitting beside me as I write this, visiting from their mountain village paradise. She could only see the back lane through the eyes of an adult; and to someone who was big the back lane was only thirty or thirty-five feet from the neighbour; a man we children imagined was scary and old and didn’t like kids. To a ten-year-old this was Narnia.
When I was a kid my parents, in retrospect, didn’t seem to give a crap about how long I was out or where I was. I spent my childhood watching the creek flood and helping where I could. I rode my Pursuit 5 bicycle and life was pretty good. I know my parents read this blog and wow, you either trusted me way too much or were smoking something; but thanks for the memories! It was a different time.
When I was a kid.
My world got smaller, somehow. Life and hurt and age and experience and bacon have changed me (I consider myself a vegetarian on humanitarian grounds but still eat bacon and sausage if you make me because, come on, it’s sausage and I go to a butcher). Many patients complain that they don’t know how to have fun anymore. I have known parents who dropped off their kids at Grandma’s, on multiple occasions, just so they could go home for an 8 o’clock bedtime. Party on. Raves and benders give way to tantrums and naps, and I’m not talking about the kid.
It is freaking hot here. You are forced, by the sheer weight of the heat, to slow down. I have a killer tan this summer. Between building a fence with five neighbours (more next week) and drifting away in my beloved Canadian Tire pool, my face is brown.
Summer holidays were once filled with creek water and forest magic and skateboarding behind my bike. Playing touch football on the piece of grass in front of my house in Winnipeg they used to call a boulevard. I knew nothing about abuse or war, stress or broken hearts. It always makes me laugh (sardonically and to myself) when teenagers tell me their life is worse than anything anyone else has ever endured, ever. Just wait muffin, reality is going to be a bitch.
Enjoy the sun. Life is far too infested with commitments and responsibilities and stress and bills and whiny people we love who drain away our will to live. I still believe in summer holidays. Practice mindfulness by sticking your head under the water and relaxing. Allow the presence to envelope you. Buy a kayak or plant some basil, it’s all zen. Drink in the heat and let it warm you up in all the right ways. Have a fruity drink or pay two bucks and creep everyone out at the local outdoor pool when you swim alone. Who cares. Tan those stretch marks or love handles and be free. I have a few little people who should probably go to the water park with Papa soon. You can see where I’m heading.
No one has time for selfish delights, so do it anyway. Sit on your porch under the moon with someone who stimulates you. Take your bag lunch under the tree beside a good coffee shop or a park, and have a picnic. For the love of god, go to a lake. I’m not really trying to tell you what to do and it’s all fun and games but seriously, spoil yourself a bit. Have a banana split. Cheryl, have something that is gluten-free, you hippy.
I’ll be in my Canadian Tire pool.
I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer,
to treat everything as if it were a nail.
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 keep 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.
I was raised Italian Catholic and on church on Sunday. Before I realized that boys could be fun, my goal in life was to become a nun. At some point, our old church minister was traded for a younger model with modern thoughts and long hair. People talked. A lot. I wasn’t there, but one day he had had enough and he delivered a sermon on compassion and understanding then cut his hair off in front of the congregation.
We never saw him again.
I never went to church again.
Courage can come with many faces, many small decisions, many fear filled moments of strength. And sometimes you just get tired of the lies.
He came from a middle-class family, or so it can be imagined. We don’t know who his first love interest was or why he decided to become a priest. These sorts of tales often have a mentor or a spiritual uncle that had taken the cloth. Perhaps he knew uncertainty and desired something secure, complete. We must fill in the back story ourselves; but like many good yarn this isn’t about where you came from, this is about what you did.
Don’t tell me what you can do, show me what you will do.
In his book, The Wisdom of Psychopaths, author Kevin Dutton relates a conversation he had with a psychopath who refuted the notion that he was somehow more inherently brave than others. He was fearless, a military Seal with a reputation for a daredevil spirit and courage under fire. This patient argued that something cannot be considered an act of ‘bravery’ if it does not involve fear or any of the other myriad of negative emotions associated with facing certain death. How can you be brave if you have nothing to fear?
For much more than a millennia the pontiff of Rome (and occasionally other places but that’s a history lesson for another day. And yes there was once three popes) held life and death sway over virtually all of the European world and parts further askew. The supplicant must contend with a millenia of ritual, obedience, and unquestioning loyalty. Becoming a priest is a holy thing, superior even to a doctor or lawyer, and only slightly below an end table on Friends.
Priests are made, not born. A young child, virtually a toddler, learns to speak the words and dip and weave in time with the Service. This is a rich culture, and our young friend must have burned with passion for something wondrous, magical, something far bigger than this pitiful existence. Such a calling comes with a price; a life which will never feel the touch of a lover. No children to mourn your passing or keep you company when you are old.
Conformity on a scale unknown to most of society. It is not only the nun who is married to the church, the Bride. Religious Orders are not to be embraced lightly in a subculture with more than 1600 years of practice in weaning out the unworthy, the impenitent, the uncommitted. It can easily be argued that the Church has not always done an adequate job of straining out the deviation, but that is for another time.
So then, what was in his mind on that day when he burned it all to the ground? Why throw it all away to make a point? But alas, this is not really my tale to tell, I heard it from Candace. It is, after all, her story not mine:
I come from small coal mining community in the East Kootenays, Sparwood is a pretty small town. For most of my life, there were maybe about 3500 people in the entire place, most of them Italian Catholic, and first generation Canadians. They were tough, no nonsense people with coal dust and religion deep down engrained in them. Politics were a strong topic of discussion, often loudly, almost with militant enthusiasm.
The church, though, was a different thing. No one spoke badly about the church. That was hallowed ground. So I thought. Catholic nuns ran the only school in town, a big stone mausoleum of a building. I sucked in the religion like coal dust. I wanted to be a nun. I went to Sunday School and church every Sunday. I believed in the sanctity of the church. I was devoted, I as an idealist. I even had the habit. Full gear with the cross at 6 years old. I have the photo to prove it. Crazy stuff!
The minister in town had been around for years. I don’t remember much about him really except that he never really hung around us kids, but always kept an otherworldly distance, enough that I honestly thought he had an in with The Almighty. Some deeper, mysterious connection that the merely mortal would never know. He left town for retirement when I was a young teen, amid talk that he and the church secretary were doing more than typing up the Sunday sermon. I wasn’t entirely naïve, but this was my first experience with any real ’adult’ gossip, let alone about the church. I had been taught to respect my elders, and to mind my own business. Rumours spread quickly in a small town, and while I tried to ignore most of it, I remember feeling a little uncomfortable. I shouldn’t know this, and, even more, how could it be true. My world was black and white. I believed that a priest was supposed to be entirely above those kind of mortal faults. Reality was starting to set in.
Shortly after he left town, a new minister arrived. He was young, energetic, and full of new ideas. And he had long hair. It was the early 70’s. Everyone young had long hair and new ideas. But this was the church. The Catholic Church. In Sparwood. The nuns had only recently changed their habits from the full length semi burka of the old guard to a less modest version that relaxed the tight, white headgear that completely encased the head, and, heaven forbid, allowed a shorter skirt.
The new minister had a job ahead of him. Things went OK at first, but it wasn’t many months until the rumours began to spread; how this new guy was not what some members of the congregation expected, how his hair was too long, his ideas too at odds with the expected way things should go. I heard them vaguely, and dismissed them as people just getting used to something new. I was young and still naïve enough to think people would eventually get used to new ways and that the bad press would eventually dry up. I was obviously and sadly wrong.
The rumours persisted. In fact, they came with stronger wording, deeper passion than ever. I heard them more and more, as I often spent time with a new youth group the new father had begun as an effort to engage the young people in town. This was a first. It came at an important time for me, as I was a troubled teen, and badly needed a positive, caring example or two. I wasn’t the only one, as there was always a group of us in his home on a weekly basis, playing games and connecting, instead of getting into the trouble that could be easily had even in our small town. I liked this man as a human being. He wasn’t otherworldly. He really connected with his parishioners and I thought he really cared about us kids, beyond teaching doctrine. He really seemed engaged, and truly interested in people, more than almost anyone I had known in the church up to that time. I loved that he was approachable, compassionate, curious and human. I didn’t have to climb his pedestal to talk to him.
This was an entirely new type of priest, and I was excited to be part of this new, accessible church. I was late for mass the day he cut his hair in the pulpit, in front of the entire congregation. I came after the sermon ended. It was a very short mass. I understand that he gave a heartfelt talk on understanding and compassion. Most of all, I remember the congregation milling about outside after it was all over, speaking in hushed tones or not at all, lowered eyes, embarrassment and shame and concern in their voices. It felt like some kind of weird funeral. I was heartbroken. I never saw him again and I have no idea what happened to him after that. His actions may well have cost him his calling. I do know that I stopped going to church entirely.
My bubble had been burst, well and truly. Faith is a funny thing. I had placed faith in people –that they would be good and kind, that the truth would rise in the face of idle gossip. I believed that truth, my truth, would prevail in the end. I now know that these things are never just black and white. Good doesn’t always win over evil, positive over negative. It’s not like the movies. It’s never that easy. In my life, I am a conflicted character. I try to do what’s right, but I know that, often, I only succeed part of the time at best. I know I am flawed and I’m not entirely comfortable with that. I still admire those folks who bravely do the right thing, in spite of the cost.
Honour. I admire that. And, in spite of a decided knack to constantly screw it up, it’s something I still aspire to. And integrity. To try to do my best, even at my worst. I like to think that most of us are like that. But we get screwed up. We forget. We do stuff we don’t admire and often we don’t even see it. This guy, this man, he saw that. As a minister, but even more, as a human being. he chose to step up to the plate and show the rest of us what all those sermons on integrity, honesty, and truth really looked like.
Did his actions really matter? I can’t speak for everyone, but I can say that minister, whose name I don’t even remember – he left a lasting impression on me as a truly dedicated and real human being, and a genuinely loving and spiritual soul. I admire anyone who can forge a path against the tide, in spite of all it may cost. Those are the people whose actions renew my faith, inspire me, forge the path to the future. Wherever you are, thank you for that. In my eyes, that is truly the earthly and divine all blended into what is the best in all of us. And thank heavens for that.
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.