Dogs Love to Play

I turned 54 recently and my dog Jack, 14; that translates to 72 in human years. I am grateful we’ve had the last 14-years to spend together. He has brought an immense amount of joy to my life.

20170729_200806We are both growing older. Jack spends the majority of his time sleeping on the couch, rising and finding a different spot to sleep. We still go for walks but they have become briefer. Instead of inspecting the neighborhood and everything, and I mean everything in it; we cross the street where he does his business and returns home. Gone are the days where he would sit outside with me while I read or completed therapy notes on the laptop. He does remain excited about the “walk around the house” Sunday morning when we retrieve the morning paper.

It is a sad thought that at some point he will no longer greet me at the door with his nub tail wagging but we will all reach that point in our lives. Death is one thing which we will all encounter. What we are unaware of the when.

I have learned so much from Jack. He has been an amazing teacher. Like so many moments which take place every day, there are those pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the sea of life. Too many of us choose not to take the opportunity to see them as lessons.

Jack has taught me and then reminded me of the importance of “taking it easy” and gratitude for the things which I have

Life has a tendency to slow down as we get older. The things which we once saw as being on the list of “need to do” are often relegated to “maybe.” We begin to review our priorities seeing what is truly important and what no longer matters or matters as much. As a therapist, I feel sad for the individuals I see on a  regular basis both in my practice and simply traveling through life who don’t take the opportunity to slow down and reflect. We use this excuse “I don’t have any time” too much. We’re all busy but are we actually accomplishing anything or are we just busy?

One of the greatest gifts we have received in life is time and since we don’t ever know what our expiration date is, it behooves us to take every day and the see the beauty which it beholds. This morning as I was making coffee and getting ready to leave for work, my wife in the shower and my daughter had left already, I heard my grandson say, “Play with me Popi.” He was sitting at his little table and chair playing with his play-doh. I poured my coffee into a thermos and took a seat next to him playing make-believe with his play-doh. This ranks as high for me as sitting outside the other night watching the Notre Dame game with my son while enjoying a cigar.

Make sure you make time for those things in your life which are truly important. You’ll regret it if you don’t and no one likes regrets. Oh yeah, don’t blame others for the time you feel you don’t have and the time you don’t take for yourself.

 

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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!

Time

I greet you with hands clasped together in gratitude for being given another opportunity to grace this earth. For being able to take another breath and enjoy the things in my life which brings a smile to my face. For my eyes and being allowed to see my beautiful wife, children and grandchildren and whatever else graces my view throughout the day.

I have spent quite a bit of time in thought thinking about how I spent this past Sunday. I was on call for Crisis Services. Despite this and my usual Pavlovian response as I nervously wait for my phone to ring; I decided to relax and spend the day the way I wanted to spend it. When I’m on-call I make no concrete plans because a call can come in at any time. As I grow older I see less and less value in filling each day with concrete plans. There are things which need to be done, tasks which need to be completed. Those will get done for there is little which needs to get done at that moment. I found the world will not cease turning if something is left undone.

Jack and I rose and we went for our usual Sunday morning walk. Before returning to the inside of the house, we perched ourselves on the front porch and based in the solitude of the morning. There is, for me no other time of day which brings so much joy. The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit.

The morning paper was where it is normally tossed by the delivery person. It sat protected in its orange cocoon protecting it from the elements which may have otherwise disturbed my ability to read its contents with some modicum of joy. Jack watched as I ground beans for my morning coffee. As his eyesight fails at his age of 15-years, his eyes grow cloudy with cataracts, he thinks he is going to be fed again. I allow him to smell the freshly ground beans. he takes a quick sniff and turns his head away in obvious disgust as he realizes this treat is not for him. read and the CBS Sunday Morning News was watched. There remained two cups of coffee in my thermos. I chose to take those outside and sit. To simply sit. I have this new coffee an Instagram friend suggested I try. Don’t tell my friends at Death Wish coffee, but I really enjoy this smooth taste. All of the information if you’d like to find them on the Internet and give them a try is right on the bag.

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For those of us who reside in the year 2017, sitting and doing nothing is difficult. We all know this and many of agree using one of the excuses which make every hair stand on end; “I just don’t have the time!” First of all, this is Bullshit!!!! We have nothing but time. It is all in how we choose to spend the time we have. So, when done correctly, the ability to sit and do nothing productive, is, in fact, a momentous achievement. There are some people who see me doing nothing as defined in their terms because whatever activity in which I am engaging does not fit their definition of productivity. These are the people who would disagree with me. That’s too bad because I find reading, lying in my hammock, playing with my grandson, writing, smoking a cigar and drinking a couple fingers of a good whiskey are being productive.

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In the past, I had struggled with sitting quietly alone. I felt like I need to be in perpetual motion. It seems as though the minute I sit my brain begins to wander. My eyes also wander. I begin to see things around the house which may or may not require my attention. Most certainly those things do not require my attention at that time. My son joined me. We both noted it had taken him 4 hours to clean his car inside and out. It’s not that the car was that dirty, it’s that he stopped several times, sat and we talked.

I have a salve for my spirit. It comes in the form of silence, of solitude. When I am physically able to run, it comes in the solitude which I feel during a run and which accompanies my spirit for some time after the run has concluded. It also comes in the form of reading, journaling and smoking a good cigar. My entire professional life I have found myself chained to a calendar and a clock. Questions abound such as “Do I have enough time to do this or that?” These things have resulted in a perpetual feeling of anxiety; of being on-edge. When I apply the salve, which ever one I have chosen, the grip which anxiety has had on me begins to weaken. The difficulty arises when I do not apply the salve as often as is recommended. When I neglect an application, I feel out of place. My mind wanders and guilt, self-imposed guilt reenters or should I say I allow it to reenter. I regret now not doing more in my work life to disrupt that configuration.

Try it sometime. You might actually become addicted to “not doing anything productive.”

namaste

I stood and walked toward my office door. I lingered for a second before gently pressing it closed. I heard the gratifying click signifying it would not open under its own power. I returned to my desk, removed my glasses, placed my head into my hands and vigorously rubbed my forehead. The left side of my head humming with pain. Rubbing my forehead briefly allowed the pain to go away knowing it would not return until I left the office. That time would come but not soon enough.

I sit at my desk and my back remains fixed toward the large windows which adorn my office. I am happy to have windows but on this day, not being able to see the sunshine might have been a better option.

The phone rings and I am made aware my next patient awaits. I stand and walk toward the window and see my Vespa through the window. For a split second I am lost in thought; daydreaming about the ride home which will be the most relaxing part of my day. Before I leave to usher my patient to my office, I call one of our nurses and ask for another “cocktail”, the medication which I know will help this throbbing headache go away and will allow me to hobble through the rest of the day.
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After my patient leaves, I begin to think about this session. I realized I have not consistently done the things which I have asked him to do in his recovery. I open my journal to reveal I have not written in it since June 20th. I felt like I had nothing to say; obviously, that wasn’t the case. My meditation cushion has been obscured from view, lying under a pile of opened but unread magazine and newspaper articles. I reached for one of my fountain pens only to find out the ink has dried from lack of use. The pen needs to be cleaned before it can be re-inked. I sigh and walk to the bathroom to clean the pen. As I am flushing out the old, dried ink; I become mindful of my need to flush out these same thoughts which are keeping me tied down. I have allowed myself to dry up and become unusable.

I re-inked the pen, my favorite; a Visconti Homo Sapiens with a nib which writes unbelievably smoothly. I touched the nib to the absorbent paper of my journal and watch as the ink and the words the ink has become, fill the page. Thoughts and feelings are pouring out of me like a water faucet which has been turned on high. I stop momentarily, in disbelief as I previously thought there was nothing there to come out. The clog has been removed. Thoughts and feelings begin to flow again, unimpeded.

Namaste

The walk

I rose, my legs needing to move; feeling restless. I could not stand to sit any longer. I walked to the picture window, parted the drapes and watched as the sun began to slowly inch its way toward the horizon. I asked her if she wanted to go for a walk. She said “Yes.” We reached for our jackets and met at the car.

We drove silently for the Niagara River and the river walk which snakes its way along the contours of the river’s edge.

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We walked, hand in hand. Words were not exchanged; none were needed. I felt the pressure on my hand increasing as she gently squeezed it. I gently squeezed back. this was all that needed to be said. We walked the path, the setting sun warming our shoulders. It would be dark soon. I stopped and she took two more steps before our hands strained at the pressure. She stopped and looked at me. She smiled and asked, “What?” I said nothing as I pulled her to me, held her by the hips and kissed her on the forehead. I pulled back slightly and gazed into her smiling eyes. Every care in the world melted away in those few moments. The world could have collapsed around us and it would not have mattered. We were together and that was all that mattered.

Namaste

Pavlov on-call

I’m sure most everyone knows who Ivan Pavlov was. If you don’t recall the name or perhaps have never heard the name, certainly you recall the experiment he did with dogs. The experiment is often and simply known as “Pavlov’s dogs.” During the 1890s Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov was looking at salivation in dogs in response to being fed, when he noticed that his dogs would begin to salivate whenever he entered the room, even when he was not bringing them food.

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As a designee on the crisis services team with which I work, I am required to be on call one week approximately every other month. The on call time period begins at 5 PM Friday and goes through 9 AM the following Monday. It then continues throughout the week at 5 PM and expires the next morning at 9 AM. The last day is Friday at 9 AM.

During this time period, I become one of Pavlov’s dogs. Every time my cell phone rings, I am overcome by a sense of dread. I am afraid to look at the caller ID. Minimally it is a response to one of the phone aides and at its most involved It involves me going into the community to meet with the person who made the call to Crisis Services. This means the thought of making any plans become tainted by the thought that “I have to be anywhere in the county within 30-45-minutes.” Dinner in a restaurant is out. If we attend a family gathering I need to drive separately from my family. Movies in a theatre are out of the question. The other day as I was walking into a store with my daughter and grandson to purchase a bike for him, my phone rang. Before I even pulled it from my pocket, the thought of “Oh Fuck!” crossed my mind. After pulling the phone from the depths of my pocket, I tentatively looked at the screen and found it was only my son.

It’s Thursday evening and I finish this on-call tomorrow morning at 9 AM. I don’t mind the on-call but I’d be lying if I told you I’m happy to have it completed. There have been periods of time earlier in the week when there have been no calls and I have wondered if/when the phone will ring. The same will be true tonight until 9 AM tomorrow when I can breathe a sigh of relief.

What sometimes surprises me is I know all of this. As a social worker, I know about anxiety, how to respond to it proactively and what I do myself to increase anxiety. yet, like many other people, I can find myself neglecting what is important and going on autopilot. I have written about auto pilot before and while it can be a good thing, it can cause tremendous stress when we fail to look around us and keep tabs on our speed, direction, etc.

It’s that time again. I return to “on-call” status this Friday. Wish me good luck.

Namaste

Anonymity & being Anonymous

I woke this morning with a heart full of gratitude for so many things. Today I feel gratitude for having the time at my job to take off and enjoy this beautiful summer weather we have been experiencing.

I woke this morning ready to start my day.

I was aware yesterday the NYS Office of Mental Health would be in the office today to review our program. Been there and done that. It doesn’t mean what it did in my career 20-years ago. It’s important, don’t get me wrong but I’m not in that top position anymore and I have to say, I enjoy not being in that position.

They came they saw and they reviewed. Today they’re in the office during which I spend the majority of my time and I’m off today. My boss is more than capable of managing what needs to be done, so the little bit of guilt which I have has been pushed to the side.

I was watching the Tour de France last night and I received a call from my dad asking if I was off Friday. I lied and said I wasn’t and he asked, “I thought you said you were off the next three Fridays?” I knew what was coming and I was right. I’ll be heading there sometime Saturday to “fix the computer.” Unfortunately, my dad is 79 and he often touches things he should never touch. I asked him what was wrong with his computer and he said: “there was a paper jam and when I tried to fix it a spring popped out.” Now we all know there aren’t any springs in a computer. Did I forget to mention my dad’s memory is beginning to fade and I am watching him become more and more confused. It’s sad. There are three kids and I am the only one who is ever called on for assistance. It’s not that I mind but there’s that anonymous thing again.

I thought about being anonymous. What a joy I think that would be. Not that guy in the mask anonymous but anonymous as in no one knows I’m there. No one knows I’m around. No one knows I exist. I want to do the job I enjoy and fade away into the quiet solitude of the night. My friend Henry Thoreau had quite a bit to say about solitude as did his counterparts John Muir and Ralph Waldo Emerson. One of the things I really enjoy about going on vacation is the fact that for all intents and purposes I am anonymous; at least for a short while. U2 wrote the song “Where the streets have no name.”

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I’m done. I’m going to cut the grass with my headphone listening to some Pearl Jam and enjoying the solitude of my relative anonymity. I’m hoping you enjoy your day.

Namaste