Friendship + Talking

I had planned to meet with a friend for the past two months. Something always came up which caused us to cancel and reschedule. We finally had the opportunity to sit, have lunch and talk. It is out of her respect that I do choose not to share her name. I do not wish to bring unwanted attention to her and I know she would be happy with my choice to leave her anonymous.

This friend, a daughter, sister, wife, mother, friend, social worker & Captain in the United States Army had returned after spending a year in Afghanistan. We had met once since her return several months earlier. I decided to give her space to be with her family and make the necessary readjustments to civilian life.

I have a tremendous amount of respect and admiration for this friend. She did something I’m not sure I would have been able to do. She’s strong like that. Her husband, also in the United States Army is readying himself to also ship out overseas. Together they make an amazing couple who in the midst of everything, are also raising two young boys.

During our lunch, she shared several stories with me. I was left with tears in my eyes shaking my head and with a newfound sense of respect for the men and women who leave their family’s to protect our family’s. As a social worker myself, I have a newfound respect for the term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was these stories which brought me to tears. These tears straddled sadness that the things which have been seen and experienced had to be experienced and of happiness for knowing there are people such as this who are willing to put their lives on the line to protect our way of life.

Her life has been disrupted tremendously. The courage to move forward against all odds, the willingness to persevere remind me of what I try to do with the clients with whom I work every day and is an inspiration to continue to move forward when I struggle with depression.

Thank you, Captain, for your service.

Namaste

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Things no longer necessary in my life

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about change. I think about this process a lot; as it pertains to me as well as to my clients. One day I began jotting down things I don’t need/want in my life anymore. The items on this list have outlived their stay and so I’m showing them the door.

Negativity – I recently deleted my Facebook account because of the negativity.

Shoulds, Woulds & Coulds – These are the assessments of others. There was a period of time in my life where I made choices based on what other people thought I “should” do. No more! No one knows my life and what I/it needs better than myself.

Gossip – see negativity

Empty promises – see negativity. If you think you’re going to make it to my “friend” list, I have news for you. By my “friend” list, I am not just referring to Facebook (I have a new account under an assumed name) but my personal, life list of friends. There are two people on that list and I’m not looking to grow it anytime soon. My acquaintance list on the other hand has grown over the years and like I said, it takes a lot to get on my friend list.

Lopsided friendships – This falls into the same category listed above.

Poor sleep – I’m pretty happy with the quality of my sleep…most of the time. I have a nighttime routine which I stick to with quite a bit of diligence. When I adhere to this routine, my sleep is pretty solid. When I don, not so much.

Cheap underwear – My wife, I’m Polish, what can I say, has always purchased underwear for me. It’s not that hard…boxers with a bright print. I love her frugality but when it comes to finding a new home for “the boys” it can’t be a low-rent district. They need a comfortable place to call their own. There’s other areas on which to skimp…

Bad coffee – Not here, not now, not anytime. I look forward to my one pot of coffee every day. I don’t buy expensive coffee because to have good coffee is more about how it’s made (the grind, water temperature, etc.) than the price of the coffee. I don’t drink Starbucks because it’s expensive and frankly it just doesn’t taste very good.

Guilt for things I shouldn’t feel guilty about – This one was always a tough one. I am grateful for my Mindfulness and meditation practice for helping to keep me focused and traveling down the middle path.

Excuses – Please!!!! Don’t waste my time!! If you have an appointment an you really want to make changes in your life, then be honest with me about any struggles you may be experiencing. If you, for whatever reason feel like you can’t be honest with me, please don’t insult me by lying to me. It all comes out in the wash.

Other people’s shit (unless they are paying me) – see excuses.

Anything that doesn’t line up with my truth or purpose as per my moral compass.

Fear – another waste of time.

Think about the things in your life which you are holding on and think about letting them go. If they’re not helping you, they’re more than likely holding you back.

Namaste

 

Vacation + Busyness = No time for me

I like my vacation time. I enjoy my vacation time, when I allow myself to enjoy it.

I started writing this post June 10th and here it is June 29th…what does that say about allowing myself to enjoy the passing of time?

I work a lot. 40 +-hours at a job where I get paid to work 35 and an additional 15-hours each week in my private practice.

I don’t need the money. I mean we all NEED money but I don’t need the extra money. I like the extra money because it goes into my retirement account. I make a good salary at my day job. I am, like a lot of people my age concerned about retirement. There is that question you see on the commercials asking “How much is enough?” I can’t answer that question and I would think the only ones capable of answering that questions are the ones who never had to worry about money to begin with.  When I began cutting back my hours at my practice, I’ll be the first person to say it was a struggle. What am I going to do with my extra time? I admit it has been a luxury. Sure the first paycheck from an insurance company which was a third the normal size was a bit of a shock, but it felt good. I felt happy. Sitting outside and working on the book I had neglected writing the past two years was amazing. I had renewed energy.

So if it’s not about the money then why do I do the extra work. There are a lot of reasons or perhaps reasons is not the correct word. Perhaps excuses is the correct word.

I mean c’mon it’s a little about the money. I enjoy the feeling the little extra security brings as I am able to put more money into a retirement account. It’s also about being or keeping busy. Busyness is a great thing if we don’t ever want to face the things in our life which lead us to unhappiness. Busyness doesn’t leave time to be unhappy or to even think about being unhappy. We have been brainwashed to believe the ability to “multi-task” is a good thing. How is that even possible? I want to do two or even three things very well, not six or seven things poorly.

The flip side of being so busy is identified by all of the above and leaves me no time to spend with my grandson, my wife or the myriad of activities which I so much enjoy. Sitting outside in the fading light of the day with my journal, my kindle, a good cigar and a glass of scotch happens all too infrequently. My cardiologist might agree, especially as it relates to the infrequent cigar, that this is a good thing.

I begin, toward the end of winter to look forward to traveling to the warmer and sunnier climate of the Gulf coast of Florida. As May and June approach my still very white body, still relatively depleted by Vitamin D even with the addition of a daily dose of Vitamin D look forward to this thing called a tan. More importantly my brain looks forward to the ability to shut down for one week. This vacation I was proud of my ability/willingness to complete three books. I am able to sit and  walk on the beach with sunglasses and hat in relative obscurity. No one knows who I am and for that brief period of time, I am free. Depression, at least for that period of time is also gone.

As I pack a carry-on bag, I look forward to boarding an airplane which will magically transport me to those warmer climates within just a couple of hours. The door to the plane will close and latch and create a vacuum against what remains outside.  When I remain busy, it creates an impenetrable vacuum. Nothing lives, for long in a vacuum. Happiness also goes here to die.

Yes, I remain connected to the outside world via computer and cellphone. As an Introvert, I have few friends who call. My phone can go for days with not even a text message being received. I recently deleted my Facebook account. I found symptoms of depression  growing and these symptoms being denied by my incessant busyness. I have since created a new Facebook page using an alter ego and friending the people with whom share my desire to be relatively drama free. and away from the fake news and political bull shit which has become so much of our world today.

I write one-month post vacation. It does not seem like a month has passed. It does seem as though six-months has passed. When did we become so busy? When did I become so busy?

This past week, now even later, saw the untimely deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Bourdain’s death for me was and remains a particularly troubling and difficult death. He never knew me but like many others I traveled vicariously with him every Sunday night to locations I will more than likely never see and eat the foods which again more than likely I will more than likely never have an opportunity to eat. Rest in peace Kate and Anthony. I guess I’ll have to travel without you Anthony and experience the things which seemed to bring such a smile to your face.

Namaste

Tomorrow may never come

Tomorrow may never come. It is important to make sure we are living our life today.

Since what my wife kindly refers to as “the incident” I have continued to spend time being reflective of my life and the impact which I have had in this world. I have experienced much gratitude secondary to some of the amazing teachers which I have had in my life. Some have been outspoken and others have been quiet, so much so one might not recognize their presence in this world

I became a social worker hoping I could be part of the process of change for the better for those individuals who have sought my council. Money, while important to some aspects of life, has never been a primary motivator. For this I am also grateful. I enjoy giving away as Jim Weigand once told me “pearls of wisdom without being the anchor around someone’s neck.” I feel I have achieved this goal and hope I have been as successful in this endeavor with my wife and children as I have with the clients with whom I have worked. God only knows on more than one occasion I had to ensure my value system  was in correct alignment to allow this to happen. There have been jobs which I have held, one for less than one year because on more than one occasion I have felt my value system so badly out of alignment it had begun to negatively impact my mental and physical health. Jim used to remind me of how easily the needle of a compass can swing away from one’s “true north,”

As more time and space is conjured between “the incident” and this current day, I continue to have others in my life who have continued to reach out with questions about my health and continued wishes for good health. Some of these people who while separated by great distances have ensured the survival of even the most basic of relationships. One of them, Jim who I had the luxury of spending many days for several years kayaking on Lake Champlain. Jim and I had the privilege of engaging in outdoor therapy with kids who had the misfortune of growing up in households where their parents struggled to keep their familial moral compass oriented toward a true North. Despite the several years and many miles since Jim and I spoke face-to-face, I recently received a text message from Jim. Jim shared he had also “been reflecting a lot about people who have meant a lot to me.” He completed the thought by adding “You made the list.” I paused and my eyes filled with tears. It is the times and statements such as these which cause me to stop, think and remind myself that I am a kind individual who does his best to ensure the needs of others are met. This is easy for me to forget.

Placing the needs of others before mine will ensure that my life remains out of balance and my true north is always out of reach.

Namaste

I lost my way

I’m sitting here waiting for a client, a client who despite the free text message reminder and the appointment card from the appointment two weeks earlier, never arrives. and I’m thinking about what it is I’m doing. I do social work. I do therapy which is what I love. It makes my day when I can provide knowledge and support to someone who is struggling and watch them take the newfound knowledge to heart and make the necessary changes to improve the quality of their life. I love what I do so much, I’d do it for nothing. What I’m not doing is following the same self-care advice I provide to my clients. Next week I am one week post TIA.

In the last year I have found myself giving and giving and while the receipt of payment, a smile, a thank you can go a long way, it is in no way a substitute for taking good care of ourselves. I amaze myself sometimes because I preach self-care to others and I forget how important it is to ensure I take care of myself.

When the people in my life who I have defined as important begin to sound like the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon, I know I’ve surpassed that indicator. By the time I come to this realization, it’s too late.

There is a week in Florida which is coming up and I am in the process of downsizing my practice. More self-care is on the horizon.

Namaste

Memento Mori

So this post has been rattling around in my head for the last week. I wasn’t sure I knew how to write it or more accurately where to start. I had thoughts possibly of not writing it. Denial, as I am sure you are aware is a wonderful thing or can be a wonderful thing until the thing which we are denying comes back to bite us in the ass. I also realized if I wanted to continue to live, I couldn’t continue to live in denial.

The long and the short of it is this; the evening of Thursday, April 26th I suffered a mini-stroke. Also known as a TIA or Transient Ischemic Attack. There I was finishing the first therapy session of the night and I felt numbness from the top of my right jaw which extended to the right side of my mouth. It freaked me out! Because it lasted about 2-minutes, I decided after telling my wife that I would also complete the second therapy session of the night.

I finished the therapy session and my wife drove me to the hospital. I say this like I was a willing participant in this decision. My future daughter-in-law, also an RN completed a quick neurological assessment and despite everything looking positive, said, “I’m calling a friend at the hospital and you need to go.” At that point, I became a willing participant.

So, here I sit at my keyboard and attempt to put these thoughts down on paper. It isn’t any easier a two weeks later. I wake up and put on a happy face which is a thin veneer covering the fear below.  I completed my first week back at work and see things a lot differently. I notice I have less tolerance for whining and complaining. Less tolerance for people who don’t accept accountability for their life, their choices and blame others for the consequences which are a direct result of their own actions.

When I was in the hospital, my wife called me every morning and asked me if I needed or wanted anything. Beyond being discharged and coming home, which wasn’t in her or my realm of control, I wanted for nothing. I had thoughts of having her bring my journal and a fountain pen since this has always been my emotional release, but I didn’t ask. I wanted those things, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure I wanted to document this event despite its importance in my life and the fear which it struck in my heart.

I wasn’t ready to face the suddenness of the attack and now that two weeks have passed, I’m not sure I want it anywhere in my memory other than a healthy “remember when.” I know, in order to continue to live a happy and healthy life, I need to make changes.

The word curmudgeon comes to mind. The Urban Dictionary defines curmudgeon as somebody considered to be bad-tempered, disagreeable, or stubborn. Curmudgeons are usually defined and cast as grumpy old men. I can be grumpy but I’m not. I just hate stupidity, laziness and those who refuse to accept accountability for their behaviors. I take pride in being an independent thinker. I don’t take popular or easy positions and I’m not afraid to go against the grain. If this makes me a curmudgeon, then so be it. I’m happy to be in the club. Anyway, not to get off on a tangent, but I know my personality can lead to increased blood pressure, which in my case is not what I need. I try to see the viewpoints of others, but often they’re just too stupid and I find my blood pressure getting even higher. Better to just avoid these folks.

hospitalbed1

Coffee or perhaps the coffee which I was drinking, “Death Wish Coffee” will have to go. I went to the company’s website and cancelled my monthly subscription. I thought I heard a collective groan coming from the company as I’m sure my decision will have a negative impact on the companies budget. For now, it’s half-caf and caffeine free tea. The transition has been surprisingly easy. The caffeine is not something I ever needed, but damn, the taste of that coffee!! Delicious!! That, I will miss.

This morning, after a restful night, I completed my third post-stroke run. I don’t have any running goals at this time other than to help manage and maintain my emotional and physical health. My running was cut short last year because of knee surgery and a bout of depression which set in and which I ignored. My only goal in running, with respect to my health, is to keep getting up, enjoying the solitude of the morning and my plodding stride

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and journaling about what happened, my health, my practice and my family. I carry a coin in my pocket. On one side it reads “Memento Mori, Remeber Death. The opposite side of the coin reads “You could leave here tomorrow.”

While this may seem morbid, it is the reminder that at any moment often without notice, our lives may be snatched away. Death does not come to us and ask permission. It arrives slowly in the form of a debilitating illness or suddenly in the form of a heart attack or stroke. Regardless, it is there waiting for us all. What matters most is how we choose to live the lives we were given at the time of our birth and death. We can spend it complaining about the things we don’t have instead of feeling gratitude for the gift of life which we do have.

contemplation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namaste

Jack + Jackie boy + Man’s Best Friend + My Buddy

Yesterday we put our dog down. When I say “our,” I mean me, my wife and my children.

We met Jack 16 years ago. We had been forced to give away our three cats to other owners. Our daughter developed allergies which helped make the decision only mildly more palatable. One cat, also known as my cat, Jasmine was the most difficult to let go. She was the cat, who no matter where I was would find me, climb up my arm and drape herself around my shoulders like a scarf.

We didn’t waste much time seeking out Jack. Much to the chagrin of my wife, I needed him. There’s something about that unconditional love, that wagging tail greeting me at the door when I came home after a difficult day of seeing patients that were helpful.

Jack

Now we have said our final goodbye.

Yesterday we put Jack down. This, next to my grandmother’s passing, has been one of the most difficult goodbyes I have ever had to say. Last week I suggested to Nancy we call the vet and take Jack and have him examined. I guess, as I think about this decision which never materialized, I was looking for someone to make this decision for me. As a social worker, have this conversation, sometimes more frequently than I would have ever hoped. As I spoke with the vet, fighting back tears, I felt as though I had been having a conversation with myself. She was telling me everything I tell others in a similar situation. I knew the answer. I knew what needed to be done. I knew what the humane decision was.

Jack4

The night before, I spent the evening with him. I watched him nervously walk into the kitchen and stand in a corner staring into space. His vision gone, clouded by cataracts which have grown rapidly over the past several months. His hearing also gone. After several minutes he began to walk in circles around the kitchen. He found another spot of significance only he knew. This behavior has gone on for the last 2-months and more recently has grown worse. He grows tired after a half-hour and retires for a couple of hours when I rise and watch the rise and fall of his chest to ensure he was breathing. As I watched this behavior tonight, I was reminded of the kindness of our decision. This is no way to live. There is no longer any quality to his life and watching him struggle simply pains me.

Jack2

Today, our first without him ― feels so lonely, we ache without him. The silence is deafening, and we sometimes “hear” him, only to remember that sound is now gone. We’ll never again hear the jingle of his collar as he comes to greet us or look down at him as he sits by one of us at dinner hoping a scrap will either fall or the kindness of one of us will bestow him with a gift. I never imagined saying goodbye to such an amazing friend would be so difficult.

We returned home and with a bottle of Makers Mark recounted our memories. Listening to my wife and son I am reminded of the great gift he was in our life.

I slept horribly. I read and reread a poem sent by a friend. The grief and sadness I feel, commensurate with my love for him. The thought of falling asleep and waking without him being there to greet me was too much to bear.

Jack3

Jack has been an amazing teacher to me. He taught me the what it meant to live life unselfishly. He reminded me of the importance of caring for others when those emotional batteries had been bled dry.

Jack

I am grateful for the life lessons you have taught and for my willingness to learn. In so many ways I have become a better person as a result of those lessons.

Our future, I am sure will be graced by another canine but Jack will never be replaced. His memory, like other memories, will fade but he and the gifts he gave us will never be forgotten.

Rest in peace Jackie boy.