Don’t be afraid to be different!

As a therapist, I have found myself becoming increasingly frustrated with where this profession, the profession which I love is headed.

I was previously “forced” to be a member of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in order to get my liability insurance renewed. This was rescinded the following year I am hoping as a result of what I can only imagine are the numerous complaints which this organization has received. The last time I was a member of this organization was sometime in the early 90’s. I didn’t know what they did for social workers then and I still don’t know what they do for social workers. I remain on an email list and smile when I read the headings of the content. The majority of the content starts with “What social workers should think about…..” No thank you. I am very capable of thinking on my own and no I am not interested in who was identified as “Social Worker of the Year.”

I was raised to believe as Steve Jobs had said: “Think Different.” I love my approach to change as do my clients. It works. No fancy bullshit just real, honest feedback.

I was a fan of Charles Bukowski long before it was “cool.” I love Quentin Tarantino movies and other artists who are willing to risk thinking outside the box.

These people are/were game changers. They wouldn’t think twice about coloring outside the lines and breaking the rules.

Ya want to get better? Break the rules!

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Are you Living or just Surviving?

What follows is a letter written in 1958 by a then 22-year-old Hunter S. Thompson. Hunter wrote this letter to his friend Hume logan after Hume had asked him how one can find meaning and purpose in life.

I hear complaints frequently in my work as a therapist. People come to me complaining they feel ‘burned out’, stressed; that they cannot ‘find the time” to do the things they want to do, that their time is taken up by the things they ‘need to do.’

The majority of my clients do not want to hear my response. They want medication or another ‘quick fix.’ As Hunter says in his letter to Hume, there is no quick fix. Hunter talks about the importance of identifying a goal. This is another issue that the majority of my clients struggle to understand. They come to therapy with a vague goal of ‘wanting to feel better.’ Trying to ferret out a more in-depth response is often a difficult proposition which is precisely why so many of us struggle to find our way. We remain adrift throughout life like a sailboat lacking a rudder. Wind can fill our sails but lacking a rudder to ensure we are traveling in the right direction will get us nowhere.

I am going to let Hunter take it from here and share his thoughts on this question.

April 22, 1958
57 Perry Street
New York City

Dear Hume,

You ask advice: ah, what a very human and very dangerous thing to do! For to give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

I am not a fool, but I respect your sincerity in asking my advice. I ask you though, in listening to what I say, to remember that all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it. What is truth to one may be disaster to another. I do not see life through your eyes, nor you through mine. If I were to attempt to give you specific advice, it would be too much like the blind leading the blind.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles …” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called “Being and Nothingness” by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another little thing called “Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre.” These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.) But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors.WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors — but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires — including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal), he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN — and here is the essence of all I’ve said — you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather than a horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know — is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

If I don’t call this to a halt, I’m going to find myself writing a book. I hope it’s not as confusing as it looks at first glance. Keep in mind, of course, that this is MY WAY of looking at things. I happen to think that it’s pretty generally applicable, but you may not. Each of us has to create our own credo — this merely happens to be mine.

If any part of it doesn’t seem to make sense, by all means call it to my attention. I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life. But then again, if that’s what you wind up doing, by all means convince yourself that you HAD to do it. You’ll have lots of company.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend,
Hunter

I hope Hunter’s advice helps you find your way..

Namaste

“I’m depressed”

I’m sure I’m going to get some slack for this post…it is what it is. This post is meant to start a conversation but a conversation which should be had with your doctor and preferably with a psychiatrist AND a therapist. The latter two are entities which are often neglected and overlooked. Depression is in fact a disease what I will be discussing is the all to common way we use the term, “I’m depressed.”

This post is also not meant to be a diagnostic tool. This post is meant to cause discussion and hopefully cause some to look within at their lives and learn to control what they can, let go of what they cannot and as the Serenity Prayer states, “to learn to know the difference.”

True depression is no joke and should not ever be confused with the ups and down which are naturally occurring in life. There are stressors beyond our realm of control and there are those not only within our realm of control but often caused by our own actions such as posts we make on Facebook or the time we decided to drink too much and drive causing our arrest.

I’m depressed. I hear this stated several times each day, every day. Of course I’m a therapist and I’m supposed to hear this statement everyday. The problem is most people who make this statement are not depressed. Most aren’t even sad. They have on the other hand been perhaps dealt a bad hand but more than likely we simply haven’t received what we thought we were due.

I grew up in the sixties and don’t recall hearing this statement. To be fair, those individuals who were legitimately suffering from depression never told anyone and probably didn’t seek help. There certainly weren’t any television commercials touting the symptoms of depression and suggesting you go and see your doctor because you needed medication.

My dad was born in 1939. He was born with polio, retired for medical reasons in 1990 and today at the age of 76 is unable to walk. His legs will not support his weight and his only mode of transportation is a battery-powered scooter. I recall my dad telling me about a specific conversation his father had had with him. He said, “Don, you’re going to get up everyday and decide what kind of day you’re going to have and how you’re going to allow people to treat you. If you want to be treated like a victim then be a victim.” My father reminded me of this story when I complained about not wanting to go to school, how I was being bullied or the math test which I tried in vain to avoid.

Today we live in a society where the value system shared by many is one of complaining how bad my life is. There is no end to the support groups and self-help books which remind us how resilient we can be and how we all have the tools to be successful in life.

For my therapy career which has spanned almost 30-years, I have always referred to the self-help genre as “feel good” books. We purchase said books, read said books and we feel better…for anywhere from a few days to a few months. Because we usually change nothing but expect miracles to happen we are ultimately disappointed in the book and its author. We write a negative review on Amazon.com, tell others not to waste their money and go on feeling, in many cases sorry for ourselves. We visit our doctor and tell him/her we haven’t been sleeping/eating well and that we “feel depressed.” We leave the office with a prescription for a medication which often not only has side effects but does not work effectively because we do not have a true diagnosis of depression.

What is depression? Below are the symptoms of depression:
Sadness or depressed mood most of the day or almost every day
Loss of enjoyment in things that were once pleasurable
Major change in weight (gain or loss of more than 5% of weight within a month) or appetite
Insomnia or excessive sleep almost every day
Physical restlessness or sense of being rundown that is noticeable by others
Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
Feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness or excessive guilt almost every day
Problems with concentration or making decisions almost every day
Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, suicide plan, or suicide attempt
Five (or more) of the following symptoms have been present during the same 2-week period and represent a change from previous functioning; at least one of the symptoms is either (1) depressed mood or (2) loss of interest or pleasure.

If you have any of these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor AND a therapist. It’s important to address any underlying causes of depression. In future posts I’ll cover Adjustment Disorders and Major Depression.