Monday, February 29, 2016

Concentric circles 2

We live our lives in concentric circles.

I was talking to John the other day in my office.  He was having anxiety attacks, mostly about money.  He and his wife have four children.  He knew exactly how much was in his bank account.  He knew exactly what he would have to pay in five days when March began.  He knew when his wife got her paycheck and how much overtime she had worked this month.

In addition John knew how well his kids were doing in school.  He and his wife, Kathy, were very familiar with their teachers.  He had even spoken to the principal once or twice.  His three daughters were doing well, his son was charming. He was active with all the kids with their sports.  He and his wife were friends with the parents of the other kids on the teams.  They were all from the neighborhood.

Kathy was very friendly with four of the women on their street.  They knew everyone's children and tried to share carpools and after school supervision.  They also went out, either with or without their husbands, once or twice a month.  It was a good neighborhood.

That really was a far as their time and energy carried them.  John was an engineer and worked with lasers.  He had a couple of friends from work.  His wife worked in the office of a construction company.  She got along with everyone, but didn't socialize with them except at company events.

They also had extended family they were close to.  All of their parents were alive, although  Kathy's were divorced.  She was the only one of three children who kept in touch with her father, and he was not easy to get along with.  John's brother had gotten hurt at work a few years ago.  He was now living with their parents, so John was now visiting more often, but his brother's slow recovery bothered him.

The four kids, the extended family, their jobs, the homework, the sports, the house, that's a little bit more than they could really manage emotionally.  When the money got scarce they would get snippy with each other.  They were able to work most of the out in my office.

If I had asked they probably could have named two or three of the nine city councilors.  They knew who their Congress person was. They knew they would never vote for Donald Trump, or probably any of the Republicans, but that was more from their general outlook on life  and less from any deep knowledge. John knew much more about the Red Sox than any politician.

They also had extended family they were close to.  All of their parents were alive, although  Kathy's were divorced.  She was the only one of three children who kept in touch with her father, and he was not easy to get along with.  John brother had gotten hurt at work a few years ago.  He was now living with their parents, so John was now visiting more often, but his brother's slow recovery bothered him.

Life is full of many things like that.  Most people have to take care of what is closest to them first and work their way out, in concentric circles, into the broader world.  There are some people, mostly men, whose inner circle consists of just themselves.  it allows them stop skip the next one or two circles and just focus on their work, or being a bigger force in the larger world.  These types either have a strong family support system, that fills in all the gaps close to home, a lot of money that pays people to take care of those things, or they skip the family and community part and just take care of themselves.

What is happening in the world today, which causes lots of anxiety and stress, is that  everyone, everywhere  is more interconnected.  That makes all the circles are much more porous.  What happens in China can suddenly have an effect on John's work.  The coal plant in Ohio blows  carbon into the atmosphere and rides all the way to New England.  The price of oil affects so many people in different ways.  Fanatics in the Middle East still affect the price of oil. Shrimp from Thailand  is cheaper that shrimp from Louisiana.

All this makes people more anxious because they know they don't have control of these things.  No one does.  No one really can.

So you go back and try to just focus on your family, and then your community, and you hope that doing good there will spread outward to the other circles.  But now, with all of these constant sources of information, it becomes almost impossible to keep your head in the sand.

It forces people to pay attention.  It should make them think, but many people are just too tired, or too scared to take the time to think it all through ....If I do A, then B happens, and if B, then I can do C or D, and what would be better for me? For my family? community? country? world?

We need to think it through.  We need to talk to other people; people who think differently and find out why.  Then decide.   It's a very difficult task, but it pays off.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Concentric Circles 1

Within ten minutes of returning to work, I am immediately struck by the amount of difficulties that surround the people with difficulties. It is always hard to sort out cause and effect when so much is always descending on a person or a family.
I also have been reading and talking to colleagues, and I see that my profession is now touting their new successes, especially with “evidence based therapies” such as CBT and DBT and their spin-offs, as well as the re-discovering of “mindfullness.” And yes, these are good things, but when I look at the actual evidence, I see limited success, although there is often major successes with specific symptoms.
By that I mean, if you are phobic about driving on the highway, or about going to the dentist, a psychologist can help a lot.  If you are wondering about the depth of your fiancĂ©es love, then a psychologist can help you both sort our your feelings.  But if you are  like most of my patients then your list of difficulties is a bit more complex. You are in your 50s and lost your job. You feel pain from your joints and your parents are falling down.  One of your kids is taking drugs and the other is taking out another $45K to pay for college.  These are not different cases; this is always the way it happens in life. Just because you have one problem doesn’t prevent you from having another.  No, it actually increases your chances.

  I find that the therapy I offer people is very helpful.  They seem eager to come and talk to me.  We discuss how to deal with one problem while three others get worse.  I try and help people see other options, and to prioritize.  Still I see that the resources, financial, physical and emotional, that are available to create a solution are very limited, and quickly diminish. And the short-term fixes, which feel so good for the moment, like taking another drink, finding comfort with another person, saying home from work, quickly make everything worse.
Even knowing this I am still struck at how many people out there in this prosperous, energized, entrepreneurial country are just not functioning.  Yes, that’s why my patients come to me, but they also go to their extended families and find that their brothers, cousins, aunts and uncles are also stressed and falling apart. So many people are hiding, in houses and apartments, surrounded by piles of stuff, unpaid bills, and broken furniture.  The TV is on to either Fox News, the Home Shopping Network or a show about people who weigh 400 pounds.  The cat is on top of the TV and the turtle is dead in the corner.  
Everyone is on their phone, sending text messages, pictures of naked celebrities, animal videos and conspiracy theories to their friends and family who are all pretty much in the same predicament.
Yes, there are also plenty of people who are “The Makers” of this generation.  They are the ones who design the apps that all those people use to send the texts, videos and pictures.  These apps help some other “Makers” to sell other stuff, real and virtual, that those people can’t afford, but it keeps them entertained as they try to get through a day and then a week of being broke, depressed and lost.

I am old, and perhaps somewhat cynical, but maybe it was better when it everyone had to go to some boring job that made real things, like shoes, coats, cars, pocketbooks, or cabinets.  These were things that everyone made, everyone bought and everyone needed.  People felt as if they are part of the world. Now, instead of six hundred people in a factory, there are sixty machines making those things faster and cheaper.
I don’t expect that things will ever return to those conditions. I don’t want to idealize them.  I know that in many ways they were boring, unhealthy, exploitive and unsafe. But we have to find a new way forward.  We have to find ways to help everyone feel useful, connected and purposeful.

We have to learn to share and care, or this “Winners or Losers” shit will destroy us all. 
Really, it’s not that difficult: a little kindness, a little trust, a little understanding  make a big difference.

Remember, no matter what we do, or how important we think we are, we are all united by our own insignificance.  What saves us is not when someone is impressed, it’s when someone cares. Be the one who cares.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


While I have a minute here, let me tell you some thoughts about Miami.
We drove out of the cold, even though it wasn't so cold this year, and all along the Eastern Sea Coast of the USA, down to the city of Miami.  We stayed there for three weeks.  We rented a condo on the 23rd floor of one of the many towers that line Biscayne Bay. We were on the city side.

Out place was not on Miami Beach.  We went to that side of the Bay a couple of times, but mostly that neighborhood is full of high priced hotels on the water, and lower priced, art deco renovations a few blocks from the beach.  They look great, and many of the renovations are very well done, but the place is a frat party. Now if I were single and forty years younger, opps, make that fifty years younger, I might have a good time on Miami Beach from 10 PM to 5 AM.  Seems like a lot of things can happen that could be fun for a brief time, and lead to heart-ache and hangovers later, and stories to tell for years after that.

But we are not in that market.  We went to Miami beach twice.  Once with my son and his family, including kids 2 and 4 years old, and once to swim in the ocean. We went in the morning when there was plenty of parking and the only folks around were either cleaning up from the night before, or asleep on lounges on the beach.

However, the city of Miami is the future.  The city is thriving. The building that is going on is amazing. The towers that were built on the bay fifteen years ago, rose to forty stories tall.  The ones built five years ago, next to or behind the first ones are sixty stories tall.  The ones they are building now are going to be eighty stories tall.  They are steel and glass with balconies.

I don't live there.  I go to visit, be warm and have some fun, so I don't spend much time thinking about where all the money for these places comes from.  Obviously, a lot of it is from South America. Money is safer in Miami  Who knows what can change quickly in Peru, Colombia, Bolivia or Venezuela, as well as Brazil and Argentina.  So people put their money in high rise condos in Miami.  They bank in Miami, they put their mistresses, the ones you see with the augmented breasts, walking their little dogs, into those buildings.

I have been told there is lots of money coming in from China too, and probably lots is smuggled out by some of the Russian oligarchs, and sheiks from the oil countries.  Not my problem.

But being in Miami is seeing the people of the future.  They come from everywhere, and they live, work and play together.  The first language of the city is Spanish.  There is Puerto Rican Spanish , as well as Mexican, Cuban, Haitian, and dialects from all over South and Central America. There is a lot of Brazilian Portuguese.  There is Moroccan and Canadian French.  Almost everyone speaks English, and there is still a tiny bit of Yiddish left, but that is almost gone.  Moved up to Boca. People switch languages in the middle of their sentences, using whatever word fits best.

The people range in color from whitish, to very Black, but most are some shade in-between.  The money seems to be distributed almost evenly among all of the colors, but not the neighborhoods.  Along the water there is money.  There are Maserati, Lamborghini, Bentley, and Ferrari, zipping along those streets.  Five blocks to the west, there is very little money.  There are lots of twenty year old Honda Civics driving slowly through the streets.

So many different  restaurants.  So many kinds of foods at all kinds of prices.  Our favorite serves food that is a Haitian/Asian fusion. So many different kids of music, all over the place. And while there are still many that play the music of the old culture, most of the newer stuff is a blend of three f or four cultures; Spanish,/hip-hop,/rock.  Jazz/Cuban/soul/Beethoven

It's all coming together down here and the rest of the country will follow.  It will make America a wonderful place to live, an whoever gets on the Supreme Court won't be able to stop it.

And soon all the buildings in Miami will be connected by beautifully colorful skywalks, as the first four or five stories will all be under water.

But as long as the kitchen is dry, things will be fine.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

These times

We were away.  We drove home.  It was warm there.  It was cold here, but now it's warmer, and raining.

I had a great time in Miami.  It is the city of the future.  I will tell you why when I have the chance.

We had an interesting ride home.  We stopped in new places.  We also visited with good friends who live along the way.  They were all going through different things in their lives.  It was good to see them. But they were very busy, despite trying not to be.

We returned to mail, email, the kids, the grandkids, preparing for the work i had to do today, and then for next week.  Trying to do taxes, to deal with the neighbors, with other sick friends, with friends who are well, who are getting divorced after 42 years of marriage.  Others who want to get together, and have great idea of what we can do, but we can't find a common time until the end of April.

There is also the rest of the world, the crazy election, all of the changes going on in my profession, in the other sciences related to human behavior, that I want to have time to think about, but don't

and then it snowed
and then it rained.
then the two year old had trouble breathing so he went to the doctor and the doctor was worried so they sent him to the ER and that took three hours. We had to take care of his sister and worry about him, but he's ok.
Now the five year old is out of school, so we have to watch her, and then cover for the two year old whose day care is closed for the week.

And i am beginning to say goodbye to the rest of my patients as I will stop the direct clinical part of my work in June.
That's good and that's bad, but it's finally clear, but it's not easy.

And my life is good! and I am healthy!  Yet it is overflowing, and too much and too fast, with no time to reflect or draw conclusions or feel as if I am running my own existence.

Just running downhill, too fast, on top of wet leaves, hoping to to crash.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Set Free!

Yes, I promised my few dozen followers that in this new year I would have the time and the intention to set the record straight, and do so with regular blogging at this site.

So, I didn't.  Not yet.

No one has expressed too much disappointment, so I don't feel to guilty.  Especially since I believe that most of my followers are bots.

But I have been set free!  Set free by rejection.
If you remember, I think I wrote about how I presented some of my ideas at our the State Psychological  Conference.  I received such a mixed reaction to that, at the urging of my Division's program co-chairperson, I submitted a more extensive version for the national conference.

I guess she urged others also, because I was informed there were many, many submissions and mine was not chosen as one that the members would most want to attend.

Of course not!  That's why I submitted it.  They need to hear what is really going on.  They need to stop being so insulated and praiseworthy of group-think.

But now I'm free.  I no longer have to alter my thinking to be acceptable.  I no longer have to submit to any committees and try to follow the rules and submit the forms.

Now, when I get around to it, I start telling you all how it is.  A Psychological Memoir --Past, Present and Future.

But right now, we have left the not so cold weather of New England and tomorrow I am going to the beach.

Like always, the truth will have to wait.

Take care of yourselves until then.

Or, if you're a bot, unplug and then plug back in a minute later.