LIFE’S LOVELY LABYRINTH

I stumbled upon this labyrinth last week and decided to walk it.  Oh, what temptation there was to head straight to the center!  But as I took the circuitous route, passing places I’d been but now from a different perspective, I realized how well it parallels life:  There is only one way in and one way out.  What matters is what you make of it along the way.  Lucky me, I’m still making it.   

In Australia, where I was born, I turn 70 today. Having spent years putting down roots, I now want to shake them loose.  I don’t want things to dust, just people I can trust; the freedom to change my mind on a dime; to travel so lightly that you can blow on me and I’m gone.  My body has begun its slow descent.  What doesn’t ache (and what doesn’t ache?) accepts its’ stiffness as if it were always this way.  I think of myself as much younger for surely this face can’t be mine? It’s not the one I remember.

What I remember, of course, makes stories to tell and I’ve yet to tire telling them.  (Just ask my friends).  I no longer tolerate idiots but have developed a soft spot for fools.  No one can guilt or goad me into doing anything.  Obligation, familial or otherwise, has long gone to the dogs.  Yet, I’ll do most anything for a friend.  Love itself means nothing that it did before.  It is high on laughter and low on anything less–for anything less is nothing at all.  Connection is everything.  Eye to eye, face to face, hand to hand, heart to heart.  Everything.    

I’ve grown less confident in the future—not because of the environment, politics or the economy but because I have so much less left of it.  Today, when I got my pneumonia shot, the pharmacist said, “The best part of this shot is that you won’t have to get another one for 10 more years.”  ‘Yikes,’ I thought, ‘By then I’ll be 80!’  

There are many things I still want to do.  I used to have 70 years ahead of me to do them. Not anymore.  Fortunately, my many failures and disappointments have made me tough enough to carry on.  And my tears, which happen often (and even writing this), remind me I’m not dead yet!  So, picture me going round and round life’s circle with a big smile on my wrinkly face.

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I WANT WHAT SHE’S HAVING

Recently, I asked one of my teenaged clients, “What do you think almost everyone I see has in common?”  

“They’re all crazy?” he replied. 

“No,” I said.  “They all compare themselves to someone else who has something they don’t.”  

“Even you?” he asked. 

“Yes, even me.  I would love to be young and strong again, like you.  But I have to remind myself that I already was young and strong once.  Now it’s your turn.”

I have clients in their 60’s who still envy their siblings; men and women who starve/surgically alter themselves to resemble Instagram photos; and others who want to be anywhere but ‘here’ because ‘over there’ looks infinitely better.  It turns out that envy is physiologically bad for your health.  Neuroscientists say that envying others stimulates the brain’s anterior cingulate cortex, which is associated with both physical and mental pain. In the 2018 journal of Social Science & Medicine, scholars studied 18,000 randomly selected individuals and found that their experience of envy was a powerful predictor of worse mental health and lower well-being in the future. 

Ordinarily, most of us become psychologically healthier as we age but envy can stunt this trend.  Although some studies have shown that a little envy might briefly spur our ambition, ultimately, it just makes us sad, anxious or depressed to be who, what and where we are.  Here’s the problem for my clients:  because they don’t want to be where they are, they expect me to teleport them somewhere else.  Unfortunately, no drug or amount of talk can do that.  

So, in this season of giving and getting, let me encourage you to be happy with whatever you get even if you don’t want it.  Try to find peace wherever you are even if you don’t want to be there. Experience has shown me that there is someone out there who wants exactly what you have.  Whatever you do, don’t emulate the 70 year-old client I had last year.  She rushed into my office highly distraught and said:

“I feel so guilty.  I’ve been dating this man for over a year.  He wants me to move in with him and I don’t know what to do.”

“Do you love him?”

“Oh, yes,” she sighed.  “He’s kind, warm, affectionate, super supportive and the sex is amazing.”

“I, see,” I replied.  “So, the problem is?”

“He’s 15 years younger than I am!”

“Go home,” I told her.  “Enjoy what you have while you have it and don’t come back.”

 So far, she hasn’t.

Merry Christmas to her wherever she is. . .and to all of you!

URGENT CARE?

A recent Harvard report says the U.S. spends more on health care than all the other wealthy democracies in the world. We pay almost four times as much for pharmaceutical drugs as citizens of other developed countries.  Hospitals, doctors, and nurses all charge more in the U.S. Interestingly, in spite of all that spending, life expectancy in the U. S. lags behind that of its peer countries.  Recently, I discovered firsthand just why that is. 

Last week, after finishing my laps, I couldn’t quite reach my towel on the pool deck.  So, leaning my full, body weight against the edge on my left side, I reached out and dragged the chair with my towel on it closer.  As I did, I heard three, distinctive, crunching sounds come from deep inside my rib cage.  I held my breath, thinking I might stave off the terrible pain that was about to descend.  It almost worked– but then– I breathed. 

I had a work shift ahead of me that I didn’t want to miss, so I went.  A few hours in, I had to hold my side just to get a full breath.  ‘Maybe I punctured a lung?’  A few hours later, the pain propelled me straight to the nurse where I work.  She palpated my ribs and said, “You need to get to Urgent Care ASAP!  They’re open until midnight.”  At 7:45 PM, I arrived at Urgent Care.  “I’m sorry,” the receptionist said as I clutched my chest and gasped for air.  “Our X-ray tech leaves in 15 minutes and can’t see you now. But you can come tomorrow at 8 AM.”  So much for either ‘urgent’ or ‘care.’ 

The next morning, I arrived at 8 but was not seen until 9.  After taking x-rays, it took another hour until they were read.  Finally, I was told, “Well, you could have fractured your ribs or you may have torn the muscles or tendons.  Either way, it’ll take 4-6 weeks to heal.”  “So, you don’t know exactly?” I asked.  “No, we can’t see fractures in x-rays.” “Then why did you take them if they have no bearing on the diagnosis?”  “Protocol.”  In what world does it make sense for ‘protocol’ to take four x-rays that riddle me with radiation, cost a fortune and have NO effect on the outcome?  No wonder our medical costs are soaring.  Note to self:  I’m no longer made of Teflon.

GO FLY A KITE!

The story of the vegan mom who was recently convicted of murder for starving her toddler was sad but not as shocking as one might think.  She likely thought she was doing what was best for her child.  She’s no different than those parents who refuse to vaccinate their children against diseases like polio.  They all fall into the same, ignorant category.  Psychologists call it, ‘The Totalitarian Ego.’ That is, we are victims of our own confirmation bias.  In layman’s terms, we are victims of our own thinking and sometimes that ‘thinking’ kills.

Yesterday, an acquaintance of mine said that he thinks the huge increase in our mental health crisis is due to, “the legalization of marijuana.”  I wanted to laugh but he was dead serious.  ‘Thinking’ is often questionable, but rarely to the thinker.  It is true that due to our two years of isolation and alienation, people are starved for connection.  However, I think something else is at work; something more insidious and endemic.  I believe we have all become grossly, self-absorbed.

Consider the recent study that showed that more video meetings equal less brainstorming. That’s because (surprise) people spend much of their attention staring at their on-screen selves rather than letting their eyes and minds wander.  In addition, all that scrutiny has made people fixate on their perceived flaws and wrinkles.  Result?  Our society is more image-conscious than ever before!  Botox injections took a huge spike upwards over the last two years.  Plastic surgery is at an all-time high and luckily for those who get it, masks cover up the ugly, gruesome, healing process. 

As a therapist, I see about 30 new clients each week. They run the gamut from simply lonely to outright psychotic. But the one thing they all have in common is that they think they are thinking clearly.  (Yes, even the one who told me her smoke alarms secretly communicate with aliens).  Sometimes, when listening to a client in my plush, air-conditioned office, I wish I could transport them to a homeless shelter, a migrant camp or even a war-torn town in the Ukraine.  There is something about thinking about others that takes you out of your own, small-minded head.  Of course, If that doesn’t work for you, as my grandmother used to say, ‘Go fly a kite!”     

‘REAL’ LOVE

I saw this key next to a brochure promising, “Real Love,” sitting on a bench this morning when I took my walk. It seemed as if they were ‘planted.’ A little contrived, I thought. And yet? There was no one around but me. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could find ‘real’ love on a park bench? Walk up, read the tract and then. . . just turn the key?

Once, while counseling a couple of almost 40 years, the husband suddenly turned to me and said, “You know?  I just don’t ever want to argue with her.  I love her too much.”  Thousands of songs have been written about love and the platitudes are endless:  love is holding hands and not caring if the other person is holding too tight or not tightly enough.  It is not having to prove you’re right or prove anything at all because there is nothing to prove.  Love is not making the other person happy but sharing in their joy.  Love lifts you up.  It doesn’t break you down into your lowest common denominator as if you were a mathematical equation or squeeze you into a box.  It always has your back—because you matter more than any scale of justice. 

And while there is truth in all of those, there is one sign that always resonates with me. I saw it in that couple.  ‘Real’ love is being with someone who smiles just because they’re looking at you.  

LIGHT IT!

As a mental health counselor, I’ve had my share of suicides, psychotics, schizophrenics, and a host of other tortured, lost souls:  Men emasculated by women.  Women abused by men.  Siblings that can’t stop fighting.  Couples that can’t stop quarreling.  Addicts that can’t stop addicting and an aging populace that has lost its’ purpose.  Recently, a teenager told me that she was ‘too old’ to start re-inventing herself.  ‘Too old?’ She has a lifetime ahead of her. If she’s lucky, she’ll reinvent herself many times over.

I know what I’m talking about.  In the last 5 years, I’ve changed cities and my entire friend group, taken up a new sport, learned how to play ukulele, had two knees replaced, two cataract surgeries and started working again.  Between podcasts, reading books and observing others, I’m not done learning by a long shot.   

Our brains start to solidify by age 25, when our neural pathways become well-worn into grooves.  Change is still possible but it takes work.  The key is to continuously create new pathways to break apart those stuck patterns in the brain.  The older you get, the harder it is to break free of them.  If you really want to change, you need three conditions:

  1. Focus on what you want to change. 
  2. Create the right environment (meaning eat healthy, sleep deep and move often).
  3. Repeat/ practice (meaning do the ‘new’ thing, like learning ukulele, over and over).

Often, my older clients are reluctant to leave the house at all. Some only go as far as the mailbox. It’s not just COVID. Sometimes it’s due to physical issues but more often than not, they’ve simply forgotten all their options. Even if they think of things to do, they’re hesitant to do them alone. They feel stuck. I get it. But you know the irony? I meet far more people when I’m out alone than I do when I’m out with others. 

Here’s the thing.  Unless you believe in reincarnation, you have ONE life.  There are no do-overs.  From my perspective, many people not only live lives of quiet desperation, they feel STUCK.  And the irony?  They are not stuck at all.  They just THINK they are.  Look, you don’t need to burn the candle at both ends—you just need to light it.

AN IMPATIENT PATIENT

I’d love to meet the brilliant idiot who first called a doctor’s client a ‘patient,’ because that’s the last thing I am.  Can you remember the last time your doctor was actually ON TIME?  I can’t.  This has nothing to do with the pandemic and everything to do with the endemic, habitual tardiness among those in the medical profession. Once, I sat in the stirrups waiting for my gynecologist for almost an hour.  Finally, I walked out into the hall, half naked with a paper around my waist, only to be told, “Why, we plum forgot about you!”  
 
Now my grandmother brought me up to “Never keep anyone waiting, dear.  Their time is just as important as yours.”  So, unless a sinkhole opens under me, I’m on time.  Yesterday I arrived at 1:50 for my 2 PM with the dermatologist and asked the receptionist: 
“Is Bozo running on time?”   
“Oh, yes, I believe so.”
“You ‘believe?’ Or is he actually running on time?”
“Well, you’re up next!” she replies cheerily.  (Not a lie—but not exactly the truth either).
 
I poll the patients in the waiting room just to be sure.  Three of us have the same doctor, and we’re scheduled 10 minutes apart.  What I don’t account for are the ones already inside waiting rooms.  At 2:20, I’m finally called back, and the nurse hands me a paper gown.
 
“Take everything off except your underwear and put this on,” she commands.
“I think I’ll wait,” I reply.
“What?” 
“Well, last time I sat here almost an hour wearing that flimsy thing and froze.  So, this time, I’m waiting until the doctor is actually coming in.”
 
She wasn’t pleased and left in a huff.  A full 25 minutes later, she returned.
“You can put the gown on now.  The doctor will be right in.”
 
I put it on, then waited.  I got up and paced until I found a warm corner in the room and stood there–fuming.  At 3 PM, he finally made his entrance.
“What are you doing over there?” he asked nonchalantly.
“Waiting for you,” I replied, “Our appointment was an hour ago and it’s warmer over here.”

No apology–nothing. Why would he? This is how he rolls. 
 
 I wanted to say so many things: “Do you think I have nothing better to do than sit in a cold, claustrophobic room waiting over an hour for you?”  “Given your superior education, why can’t you schedule your patients so you actually see them on time?”  “Do you realize that in the last five years you have NEVER been on time for our appointments, not even once?”  Instead, I smile politely.  After all, he holds the hypodermic and scalpel.  I’m just a PATIENT who plans to send him this blog.

Now ask yourself this when it comes to the remuneration we provide to those in other professions. What would happen if a cop showed up an hour late to a 911 call? Or if a kindergarten teacher left a roomful of 5 year-olds on their own for an hour? Those are the professions that deserve our greatest support.

LAST CHANCE

What does this look like to you?  Me having fun with some longtime friends?  If that’s your guess, you would be very wrong.  I had just met the six people pictured here less than 15 minutes before this was taken.  I wandered up to their pickleball court and before I could even ask to join them, they asked me in. Do your acquaintances bring you that kind of joy?  Your friends?  Family?      
 
A woman who recently turned 100 was asked her secret to long life. “Keep Going,” she replied.  While on the surface that seems apt advice it’s also a bit cavalier.  Imagine the millions whose lives were cut short by disease, murder or accidents.  Surely, they would have loved to ‘keep going.’  Truth is we can only ‘keep going’ for so long then we won’t be going anywhere, period.
 
Today, I read that Tom Petty has been given an honorary degree from the University of Florida, posthumously.  What’s the point of that?  A little ‘buzz’ for the school?  He didn’t even attend there but was merely their groundskeeper once.  It certainly won’t mean anything to Tom.  
 
And there’s the rub.  All this stuff that comes ‘after’ we’re here is meaningless.  I watched part of Bob Dole’s funeral today; a lot of stiff, pomp and circumstance—nothing like the man himself.  Did the folks who spoke at his ceremony tell Bob these things while he was alive?  No wonder that woman in India staged her death.  She wanted to know what others really thought of her.  Few tell us while we’re here.
 
Don’t let that be you.  Make your life sparkle now.  Start that bucket list today.  Draw someone new into your circle.  Laugh with abandon.  And while you’re at it, tell someone who may not even know, just how much they mean to you. Don’t let your first chance become your last one.  The folks in this picture didn’t.  They know what real joy is and how to share it.
 
  

WATER WATER EVERYWHERE?

As a child, I was lucky to have a very, disciplined stepfather.  He was in the military and commandeered the four of us children as meticulously as he shined his shoes. He even timed our showers with a stopwatch.  He firmly believed that one could soap up and rinse in under three minutes and he was right.  It became a habit with me.  To this day, I clean up in under three minutes.  I figure any longer would be a gross waste of water in a world where that precious resource is dwindling.

We’ve seen the oil spills and plastic permeating our oceans.  Now, after 20 years of drought, even the Colorado river is disastrously low.  40 million people depend on it.  It grows our avocadoes, sterilizes our dishes and fills our glasses.  Mandatory water reductions are the only way forward as there will never be, “a return to normal.”  Seven states now have water restrictions but the infighting has begun with Utah insisting on building a major, water pipeline despite the impending crisis! 

Utah is acting like the woman in my gym who takes inordinately, long showers. Once, she stepped into the shower just as I headed out to swim.  After I finished my laps, showered, dried off and dressed, she was STILL in the shower!  The average shower lasts 8 minutes and uses 2 ½ gallons per minute.  You do the math.  Does running water while you shave (or just stand there) or use scads of bath products necessary? Does it make you any cleaner or more attractive?  

Four billion people experience water scarcity at least one month a year.  UNICEF says that half of the world’s population could be facing water scarcity by 2025.  The earth is 70% water.  Our bodies are 60%.  That alone tells you how precious H2O really is.  Your shower is just as important as your vote.  It DOES make a difference.  I wish my step father were still around to admonish not only our water squanderers but our politicians.  Because you really can’t squeeze water from a stone.

SOME TIPS:

  1. Take shorter showers
  2. Rinse dishes quickly and put in the dishwasher.  Run it on express cycle when full.  (Washing them individually uses gallons more water).
  3. Wash clothes on express cycle.  Gets them just as clean with less water.
  4. Don’t run the water while you brush your teeth or shave. 

Roots and Wings and Pretty Things

“One should hear a little music, read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day of your life in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.” –Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One is roots, the other is wings.”–Van Goethe
“Everything has beauty but not everyone sees it.”–Confucius

P. S. Check out Peter Alsop’s song: “Roots & Wings!”

https://youtu.be/LodtoW3WQUY