Sunday, June 29, 2014

Working/Not Working 1

Now, I’m not working.  I have closed the practice, had the party, climbed the mountain, took care of the grandchildren, and now we have settled in down at the beach house.  We have been coming down here on this week of July 4th, not working this whole week, for many years now.  Some of the family come when they can – we have a daughter and granddaughter here now-- and friends drop by, and I watch fireworks.  None of that is new.

What is new is that we are not going home, and we know that.  So it doesn’t feel as if we have to take three days to de-stress, and then two days to gear back up again.  I am not thinking about how many people I will have to see and what shape they are in while I am gone, at least not in the way I did while I was actively seeing everyone.  I still wonder about many people.  I still get messages from several, which is nice, although a bit confusing.

But now this not working thing seems very real, and basically, it is very liberating.  If you look back on this blog two years ago (7/26/12), you will see that I was taking a vacation and that I was tired.  It was clear then that the profession was falling apart, and that it would be difficult for me to continue to work in the manner that I had been. 

Now, I don’t have to care.  I do care, but it isn’t about me.

It is very early for me in this new phase. I have worked with so many people who have had to make changes in their lives; for most of them it was not their choice.  I have seen how difficult changes can be, even if they seem to be what people want.  For me, my underlying feeling is one of freedom, relief, and energy.  But on top of that is a feeling of being  disoriented, unstructured, and a bit of anxiety.

The anxiety is that I still feel healthy, strong, and capable.  I should be doing something.   I believe that I will be doing something, and I think I know what it is. But the actual goal is still kind of vague, and the methodology is a complete mystery.

So we were talking tonight with some friends.  They asked how I was doing being retired.  I said I wasn’t retired,  I just closed my practice.   So, they asked, are you still working?  I said no, I’m not working now.

My wife chimed in and said, “He’s just unemployed.”

So that’s what I am during this time of transition.  I’m unemployed. But I know that if I’m offered a job, I won’t take it.  I have to make my own.

As I used to say at the end of so many of my patient’s notes, after a session in  which someone thought he was ready to do all the right things: “we’ll see.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

People on the Mountain

I want to thank Forsythia for the story about Feynman and the rabbis she posted as a comment to my last post.  That story represents so many of the things I’ve been writing about here. Also, I know many people who are rabbis, and others who are physicists, and they certainly do see the world differently

I think she meant it as a good example of showing that things are not always as they seem, and how much that doesn’t matter; you get to choose your own reality.  And that is sooo true, and the reason for so much conflict.  Conflict that comes from the clashes of people’s realities; from people’s experiences.  This is what I was talking about in my post on 6/16/14.

I experienced a perfect example of this yesterday.

As part of my “next stage” I set out to do things on the days that I am now not working that I could never do when I was working.  So I drove two hours, across the state line to NH and climbed Mt. Monadnock. The path I took was about 2.7 miles long, with about a 2400 vertical rise, and a very rocky climb.  It is so difficult I think the summit was only reached by less than a hundred people that day. Actually, I have been told that next to Mt. Fuji in Japan, it is the most climbed mountain in the world, although that may not be true. But hey, it’s still a mountain and this was not a paved path, these are big rocks to climb up and over.

On the way down I spoke to a family from the plains of Texas, who were happy to find a mountain to climb.  Some of them, ages 14 to 60, had never been to New England before.  The younger ones told me how they came to New England with some trepidation.  They had heard that everything here was fast-paced and crowded, and that most people were rude and angry.  But they were visiting in New Hampshire and they found that it was full of beautiful small towns, and the folks were very nice.

I told them that since they had come this far they should go all the way to Boston.  They will find it’s a beautiful city, and that most people are friendly and helpful, but probably a bit more reserved than they are in Texas.

I imagine this is kind of a red state – blue state thing, where the image they get is one of the crowded Northeast Corridor, with everyone making deals and paying high taxes.

I hope that travel is a broadening experience. Perhaps one of those girls will now decide to go to college in North Hampton.  That will certainly expose her to different ideas.

I don’t have too many prejudices about Texas.  I’ve only been to Austin, so that doesn’t count.  I do have some ideas about folks in the Florida panhandle. But I’m probably wrong.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

inexact metaphors

A year ago I planned that I would close my practice this week.  I announced my decision to the people I worked with, and I slowly, slowly worked my way through the year. And, just like everything else that is set for a designated time in the future, it came to pass. I had planned for this to happen on the solstice; that seemed somehow to make it all be a part of the natural flow of things.

So, this evening, I took a slow walk at a few minutes after eight, waiting for 8:23, which was the official time that the sun would set on this, the longest day of the year. It was a beautiful day here in Southern New England.  The temperature was in the mid-seventies, the sky had  few big white clouds, the air was clear, the greens of the mid-June flowers, grasses and tress were all bright and fresh and came in a dozen different hues.

The sunset did not disappoint. The sky turned a darker shade of blue, the clouds turned to pink, rimed with silver.  The sun was going down on the longest day of the year, and also on the longest stretch of my career.

Except of course, the sun isn't really going down. As you know, it just the earth, still turning on it's axis, and right then our part of New England has turned away from the sun and is entering into the shadows.  The days are all almost exactly the same length, down to the micro-second.  Today it was just that we got more sunlight than on any other day of the year. The earth continues to circle the sun; well, it's really an ellipse. The sun continues to move around the center of the galaxy, and the galaxy is moving in a gravitational dance with the other galaxies in our cluster.

To most of us on earth it really doesn't feel that way.  It really feels as if the sun rises in the morning, gets pulled across the sky by a chariot, and then sets over on the other side of the neighborhood. That's the way it is with a lot of things: they feel like they're something meaningful, metaphorical, and magical -- but they're not, it's really just the same stuff happening over and over.  It's really just physics.

Just like me closing my practice.  But that's not physics as much as it's biology.  I'm getting older and I don't want to do that any more.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Can't Follow My Own Advice

I am closing my practice, basically.  Tomorrow I go and pack some boxes.  Next week i head to the water's edge.  It will be my job to make sure the tide comes in on time.

My mind is just beginning to take a different shape.  Sometimes I wonder if I will ever stop thinking about the work I have been doing for the past forty-two years.  Sometimes I wonder if two months from now, I will think about it at all.

Briefly, and I am sure I will elaborate upon this many times, one of the things I have learned is that we are all a product of our genetic make-up, mixed with all of our experiences. We are shaped by those things to the degree that we can never easily become something else.  The forces that have shaped each of us, individually, are so strong and pervasive that we don't even realize what they are.  They are so much a part of who we have become..

Try these:
You like watching sports, or playing sports, or you really think it's a total waste of time.

You think Obamacare is ruining America.
    You think people who think that are morons and bigots.

You love to watch The Bachlerette.
      Why would anyone ever watch that show?

There is no moral justification for a woman to get an abortion.
     Why should a woman be forced to radically change her life just because she had sex and got pregnant?
             Or maybe you don't think about abortion much, and really don't want to bother now.

and even this one:
   Jihadists are all crazy. How can anyone ever get so co-opted.
            The infidels, with their new ideas, have insulted God, and they must learn to respect God and his laws or the whole world will suffer.

These are just a very few of the ideas about which many people tend to disagree, vehemently. Yet, I have learned from dealing directly with all sorts of people, that very few of the folks who feel any way about any of those topics are truly evil people.  Yes, there exits a small percentage of narcissists and sociopaths, but those are really very few.

The overwhelming majority of people are convinced that the world is the way they experienced it.  They have learned, mostly from their family and community, to think and believe as they do. They have learned that it seems right to be religious, or not religious.  There are Capitalists and their are Socialists, and there are a lot of people who don't know the difference, or really care.

There are people who believe all kinds of "crazy ideas."  Many of them think that what I think is crazy ( including this). They will continue to stick with their ideas and values, especially if doing some gives them some measure of belongingness, happiness and comfort.

So what?

So, my advice is this: try to spend some time with people who are different from you.  You don't have to agree with them, but you have to respect what they think and do.  Try to discover what forces made them this way.  Try to understand.

If you do this you will really learn how the world works.  You may learn something about how to make it better --- if you can decide what "better" is.

From my many years as a clinician I know this is true.  Can I do it?  Do I really live this way?
Of course not.
Although I rarely show it, I have very little patience for those who disagree with me.
I think they're idiots.

But now, I think I'll try; hopefully, sometime soon.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Last Day

            Last September I returned to work after a three-week vacation.  At that time I knew that right about now my life would be changing, that I would, for all intents and purposes, be closing my practice.  In many was this was one of the longest years of my life.  The only things I can remember that rivaled these feeling of waiting, day by day, and noticing time moving, click by click, was when I was working to finish my dissertation, and waiting for the birth of my children.
            It still amazes me that something can seem to impossibly far away, and then, here it is.  Time passes. No matter what.  It really does.
            I saw the last six patients today.  Some I will see again, briefly in a few months, and a few I will follow by email, but really, my days of being a practicing psychotherapist are over, after forty-two years. 
            That’s enough.
            There are so many different feelings that it is difficult to sort out. This time it is about me, which for a therapist that’s different.  I have just spend the last few weeks saying good-bye to people, and being very concerned about how they were dealing with the change; with the loss.  I think I had prepared people very well, and most of the folks did very well.  Only two didn’t show up for their last appointment.  They both left messages saying they felt it would be better to just not go through that.

           Today, for the last tiem, I drove up and back in the heavy traffic that now fills the lanes between my office and my home during the three hours of rush hour that happen each morning and evening.  It was one of the very few times that I enjoyed the traffic.  Inching along, trying to get around the drivers on the phone or texting, who make things even worse.  This would be my last day of driving to work in traffic.  The lines and lines of exhausted, bored people wasting their time would no longer include me.

            Over the thirty-three years that I have driven to this small mill city the traffic has gotten much worse, much more tiring, much more aggravating.
            Won’t care any more.  I might get up early some mornings and drive two exits on the congested highway just to appreciate not having to go anywhere on time.

            Driving home, thinking about it all, what came to mind most vividly were the people who were the hardest to treat, who wouldn’t/couldn’t make the obvious changes that were necessary, but who continued to come back and frustrate me. I guess I am blessed with, or suffer from a high Zeigarnik Effect. And I really don't know what happened to them.

            So now, except for one or two more days of paperwork, I am very ready to see what is next.  I am sure that many reflections, ideas, and sentences that I never had time to finish will come floating up to my mind.  I have this delusion that I will now have the time to reflect on the last forty-two years.

            I hope to be writing a lot more in this very space.  So tell your friends and neighbors to come and join the discussion of a nameless psychological blogger with a pinball mind. If I don’t have to think about all the patients any more, I can begin to think about what I thought about all those patients, and what I really thought about the way I thought (got that?).
            Or maybe I won’t.  Maybe I’ll just do the shopping, do the cooking, take out the garbage and fix the sink.  But I don’t really know how to fix the sink.
            I’m sure it’s on YouTube. 

Friday, June 06, 2014

transition, part 11A


Feeling, or making somebody feel, a thoughtful or gentle sadness.

            I am in the middle of withdrawing from over forty years of practicing, and continually trying to learn and perfect, the art and science of psychotherapy.  I use the term “withdrawing” in the medical sense, of going through a strange, physical reaction. Withdrawing from work is almost as hard as getting off of Effexor, which I believe to be an evil drug that no one is properly warned about its dangers  Except instead of sweats, trembling and nausea,  the overwhelming feeling is one of melancholy.

I am in the middle of a process that I know it is ending and I want it to end already.  I will be seventy at my next birthday.  I have been doing this for over forty years.  I still find it complex, fascinating and challenging, but once I realized I didn’t have to be doing this any more; that I didn’t have to worry about people who might get out of control, or too depressed,  or harm themselves, or flunk out of school, or get arrested, or pregnant, or too drunk, or even stabbed or shot – this is urban America after all--it just seemed as if, for the first time, I realized how much I’d been carrying around, and how exhausting it had been getting.
Saying good-bye to so many folks in so short a time has been very difficult.  I realize that some people have come to see me to get cover.  By that I mean they need a letter to get out of work, or school, or for their probation officer, or even to apply for disability benefits.  But most of the folks I see have come because they are suffering.  They suffer from psychological, emotional, and often physical pain.  They suffer because of loss, loneliness, confusion, stress, illness, and mostly because they have drawn a rotten hand to begin with.
People say that you have to play with the hand you’ve been dealt, and most of these folks have been dealt a bad hand: bad parents, bad neighborhoods, bad genes, bad illnesses, bad brains, been addicted, been too poor, or even too rich. They had to play that hand.  Getting new cards is very, very difficult.
After forty years of this I really feel that I did what I was cut out to do.  I put in a real effort.  I tried to learn my craft.  I feel I did some good, even more than that sometimes.
But I am a real child of the ‘60s.  We were going to change the world.  Make it fair, reasonable, bring justice, equality, and freedom.   And why not?  It was clear who the good guys were and what needed to be done.  Everyone around me seemed to understand that.
I guess that’s what happens when you surround yourself with people just like you.  It’s difficult to realize that the huge crowd over there, those folks jeering and throwing things, really believe that we are the ones who are wrong and crazy.

Yet, in my own, still na├»ve, still idealistic, still hopeful way,  I am still waiting for the answer to the obvious question: (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”
Since I have not yet been given anything close to a satisfactory answer to that question, I am left, feeling