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

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

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.

Dad + the next step

Friday morning.

Dad celebrates his 80th birthday tomorrow.

I just got off the phone with my mom She’s tired, emotionally and crying. Dad is being moved to a nursing home at 4:00 PM because he cannot transition on his own from bed to wheelchair.

Twice in two days, mom had to call 911 to have EMT’s come to the house because he had fallen out of his chair.

My dad remains eerily quiet. If you catch him deep in thought a smile, however, forced will replace the previous countenance. I know he is concerned. I know he is scared. He does not wish to die but has also accepted this fact as inevitable.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2018-1-19,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

He like me is constantly thinking but we have a tendency to not show the rest of the world how we are feeling and of what we are thinking. Some people find this frustrating, I find solace in not wearing my feelings on my sleeve. My father and I have discussed before how we manage our feelings. We don’t believe we are stronger than others, we just don’t believe in what has become, as I call it, the “Art of Complaining.” If I need help with something, you had better believe I will be the first person to ask for help. If I cannot see an immediate way out, then I’ll keep chewing on it until I do. When I say “fuck it” and decided to let it go, it doesn’t mean I don’t care nor does it mean I have given up. It means there is nothing else which can be done or as I like to say, “It is what it is.” Thanks, dad for teaching me this statement. It has saved my ass more than once from becoming overly involved in something over which I have no control. I have signs in both of my offices which hang ominously projecting this belief to all who want to hear.

This morning I called my mom and the upset tone which was in her voice yesterday morning was now replaced by worry and fear, her words muddled by her tears. I will pick her up and we will go, together to the hospital to be with my dad and ensure he has loved ones around him as he readies for what will ultimately be the next steps in his life.

Memento Mori. This term was one which I saw scrawled in spray paint on an overpass under which I have driven God only knows how many times in my 54 years on this planet. I saw it and frankly never gave it much thought. Several months ago after being introduced to Stoicism, I was reintroduced to this phrase.

Memento Mori, when translated from Latin means “Remember Death.” We are all going to die…this is inevitable. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives thinking, believing we will magically live forever. We race throughout our day focusing on what we believe or have been told is important while leaving those things which, in the larger picture are often nothing more than a means to an end. The day after my father was hospitalized, my sister’s father-in-law, the proverbial picture of life and success and the same age as my father, was sidelined by a stroke. His fate remains in the hands of God as a prognosis is too early to formulate. He appears, at this time to be stable. This too is a reminder that our lives can be over in the blink of an eye.

Memento Mori

Death

Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the process of death.

Last week Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of the Cranberries died suddenly at the age of 46. That shouldn’t happen. People shouldn’t die at the age of 46 yet they do. People die every day. Despite knowing this, many of us choose to navigate through life thinking it will never happen.

While I myself am not sick, I am still dying. We are always marching forward toward what I have accepted as inevitable. I know death is inevitable, but it amazes me so that so many people think they can cheat death.

My dog Jack, who has been a faithful companion over the last 15-years has seen a rapid decline in his health. He has lost weight, his eyes are cloudy with cataracts and his hearing is all but gone. His vision is so bad that food placed directly in front of him cannot be seen. I felt guilty a couple weeks earlier when I watched him walk directly off the top step of our back porch. He was unable to see that he was on that level. He has been an amazing companion. When I have experienced a difficult day at work, there is nothing better than experiencing his greeting at the door. There is no judgment, only unconditional love. I would rather spend time with Jack than I would with most humans. Now, he is unaware of the comings and goings of others.

Jack

My dad, who will turn 80 on March 31st of this year has continued his march toward the inevitability of death. I visit him and my mom every week and every week I hear about another medication or another test. When my dad is not present in the room, her worried look returns as she tells me of another new concern, of another test received and another test where results continue to be processed. When my dad returns to the room, her smile, forced has returned. Anyone who knows my mom knows this is not a true smile for there is much pain behind it. I find myself becoming frustrated when I hear others complain about her complain. My words to them would remind them they had asked her how she is doing and if they didn’t want to her response, then don’t ask.

dad1

If you look at my dad, he appears healthy with the exception of managing post-polio syndrome. He is one of the 25-40% of the people who will have to manage these symptoms after having had polio as a boy. Dad sits on his powered scooter, his back twisted forcing him to sit to one side. He never complains. I mean even when I was small, no matter what the issue, no matter what the stressor, I never heard him complain.

On a recent visit, my mom explained how “it’s getting really tough.” She told me how it took him over an hour to sit up and transition from the bed into his chair; the chair that has been his home for the last decade. His feet, swollen and useless as his legs no longer offer him any support. Instead, they are appendages which than likely cause him more stress today than they ever have in the past.

His chair is useless in even the smallest amount of snow. This forces my mom to leave him behind when she runs errands or attends church services. I know he enjoys the time spent away from her as much as she enjoys the time away. Despite their love for each other, the stress on my mom’s face when arriving for a visit reminds me of the reasons why we are often afraid to age and ultimately die.

My dad and I have spoken of death on many previous occasions. He shakes off the thought saying, “It is what it is. It’s going to happen to all of us. The good Lord will take me when he’s ready.” While appearing superficial, I know there is much truth, much acceptance of these statements.

It the time I spend with him now as I approach my 55th year on this planet that reminds me of the importance of living each day as it arrives. I have done much work to make this process easier for me and for the clients with whom I provide counseling. I have long ago adopted my dad’s phrase of “it is what it is.” It is this phrase which has helped me to shrug off much of the insanity with which I find myself throughout the day. This world I live in today is one far more complicated than the world in which I was raised in the 6o’s and 70’s. Many times I long for the simplicity of those days and those times. I long for the different stress with which we all lived during that time.

Despite what I know about death and growing older, I continue to find myself also occasionally struggling with priorities. I see approximately 35-40 clients every week often leaving myself emotionally drained by weeks end. I have to remind myself daily to find the joy, which despite being ever present is often difficult to see through the crowded forest of life events and stressors.

I too will die one day. I work hard every day to ensure I am not one of the individuals who die having regretted the life they have lived.