You're Not Alone

So maybe, as an anniversary celebration, I'll pick one or two posts of the past that teach you what I feel are the more important things I learned in school. I'll edit (make FD and all you other obsessive compulsives happy out there) and add a little.

This one is about empowerment, assertiveness, sensate therapy, eco-systems, and love. If I forgot something, let me know.

The original running title for the academic paper read:

Being a Part of a Cultural Ecosystem

But I could have also called it, Biking and Making Friends, Not Necessarily in that Order.

Have we talked at all about social ecosystems? I don’t think so.

A social ecosystem is your social system with the cool word "eco" in front of it. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the green movement.

1. There's you.

2. There's your immediate family, the one you live with, could be friends or just your cat or a fish (I forgot fish on the original post. Can you believe that? Crazy.) Immediate could be you and your partner, spouse, significant other, or step-son, niece. Whoever is immediate. Whoever's gonna' call 911. I'm loose when it comes to immediate family. (don't start)

3. There's the family of origin, the people who raised you and your siblings, it’s possible you don’t live with them any more.

4. There's extended family, includes all blood relatives, step-relatives, even people who've married into the family. I'm very liberal with family trees. Some people aren't. You could say I haven't been tested yet.

5. There are your close friends, both near and far, some on the other side of the world, perhaps. That kills, doesn't it? It used to be that we had to shout into the phone to make sure we had a good connection. Now we talk through our computers, can see our friends with our web cams. Miraculous. I knew there was a reason to look left, then right, when I crossed the street.

6. There are acquaintances you see in your neighborhood on a regular basis This would include that little subculture that you see hanging around in Starbucks or Borders. Maybe all you do is smile or nod, comment on the weather. But they're your people.

7. There are the people you know from work, school, or place of worship. Also your people, like it or not. And there's the barking dog next door. You might actually get more out of your relationship with the dog next door, sometimes.

8. There are people from the bar, sports center, work-out club, church, local government. You might call them acquaintances. Sometimes you use them. Sometimes they use you. But they're there and you can tap into them if you need to.

9. There are the people you connect with directly via your computer or telephone, annoying sometimes, but there. Even telemarketers are a part of your ecosystem.

10. There are those people you watch on television, the talking heads at night, the ones who make you laugh, the William Shatners, the Ellen's, the Oprah's, the Gilmore Girls. And the columnists or authors who divest of their words so that you get all of that information you get from television, newspaper, and radio. Media expands our life experience, colors our world.

11. If you're an astronaut, then space might be part of your eco-system. I'd imagine the galaxies talk to astronauts.

12. There's your Higher Power/powers/karma/past lives and the eco-systems of past lives.

Maybe I left someone/something out, hope not. You get the idea. The ecosystem consists of all of the people and all of the information that has a direct influence on how you feel, think, and behave.

Sometimes people feel VERY alone, even when their entire world is VERY big. They
They don't feel connected to their ecosystem, not intimately.


F.D. and I make a big deal about riding our bikes. Getting around the city this way has worked for us on a lot of levels, but these days when I personally talk about my bike it's generally to complain about how people in cars seem to have to swear at me or blast me with their horns.

They act as if I should MOVE OFF THE ROAD. Like roads are for cars, not transportation.

Truth is, I’d have given up riding my bicycle years ago were it not for F.D.'s nagging. I’d have succumbed to the lure of potato chips and television, effectively, perhaps permanently, locking the serotonin in my neurons forever, wondering if I should start Paxil or Zoloft, knowing I'd hate them both.

The bikes, our original bikes, are a common thread with F.D. and me. They’re a link between us, one of those historical reminders reaching back to the first day we met. We were buying bus tickets at the student union to go home before a Jewish holiday.

“Come out with me for a Pre-pesach beer?” he asked. Beer has malt, so you can’t drink it on Passover, the 8 day holiday that was coming up on us.

“I’m in.”

That day, or was it the next, he won his Raleigh ten-speed in a raffle for the North American Indians, I think that was the cause.

I didn’t have a bike at the time. My original red ten-speed, a bike I had used to explore my world throughout high school, had been stolen freshman year and I hadn’t replaced it.

The bike I ride today was our first big pre-marital purchase at a little under a hundred bucks. So you could say it’s a piece of our marital history.

He would say we keep the stupid bikes because we’re too cheap to get the newer more fancy ones with all 36 to a thousand speeds. I would say we're sentimental. But the truth is we've kept them because they FEEL good and we don’t trust the new ones. And they remind us of a very romantic time. Keeping stuff like that alive is key in marriage, in case you're wondering.

Oh, and the new generation, now an old generation, the mountain bikes, were always just plain silly for Chicago, a very flat town.

So before we even had children we were that young couple that took out the bikes at the first sign of spring to shake the lead out, feeling better about having cheese cake or ice-cream when we got home.

But even during pregnancy F.D. would nag me to go out riding with him. “Come on,” he’d say. “You know you’ve never fallen off a bike in your life, let’s go, you need the exercise.” He needed the exercise.

Being a doc he was also afraid I’d throw an emboli and have a stroke during pregnancy. He was always afraid of things he wouldn’t tell me about but I could tell from that far away look in his eyes that he was thinking something very scary.

So I’d go with him well into the pregnancies, nauseous, fat, get on the bike and tool around in the suburbs late at night when everyone else was tucked away in bed or watching a warm TV.

Because he felt the need to exercise. Face it. I could have done yoga if it was about emboli. There are simply some things one does for a relationship. This would go under "recreational intimacy."

When my excuses started to mount (the seat feels too hard, the handle bars are too narrow, I’m bored, bored, bored and want to throw up) he’d work on my bike and make it friendlier. The wide seat, wide handle bars, the perfect high stem that gave me the leg length and stretch that I needed-- all thanks to F.D.

So he'd have someone to ride around with late at night.

But at the end of the day I got pretty addicted to the feeling I’d get from riding, much more than he did. I had the longer ride to work. The fresh air, the visuals, the sounds woke me up. I liked that it was me who KNEW the geese were back in the city in the early winter. Because we talked. “Yo geese.” “Yo back, watch what’s on the bike path. Don’t look up so much.”

Well, one day a group of dog people were out enjoying a summer evening and their dogs were off their leashes. The dogs saw me, a red speeding bullet flying through their park (they had marked it) and of the same mind this pack of dogs thought, “Deer.” They were off to the chase. A pack of dogs. Domestic dogs.

I saw them coming and got an adrenaline rush that helped me out-distance them in seconds. But it was thoroughly terrifying. I shook for days after thinking about it.

The next night, as I approached the park, I stopped, looked around, saw the dog people and their dogs way ahead of me. I slowed it down to a crawl until I was close enough to get their attention and explained that it wasn’t safe, letting their dogs run around unleashed. This wasn’t an official dog park.

What if I hadn’t been able to out-distance the dogs the night before? What then? What if I was sixty-five?

“It’s because you have that flashing light in the back of your bike,” I was told.

Thanks. In other words you’re not leashing them?

“No, turn off your light when you pass through.”

I don’t think so.

I wrote a letter to the Chicago Tribune and the editors published it! But still, the dogs sniffed and roamed and I was stuck slowing down to a halt whenever I passed through. Didn’t seem fair. It's at least a half-mile of park we're talking about.

Then one night I saw a police car parked at the very end of the park. I pulled over to him, casually mentioned the problem.

He cruised on in and fined them all $500 bucks a pop. That's what it'll cost you if you don't leash your dog in Chicago, unless you're in a designated "dog park".

Should I have felt bad that they were fined? It's not like they didn't know the consequences of breaking the law. So no, I didn’t, still don’t. I worked that ecosystem to my advantage and in the end the advantage paid out and I could brag about it at parties.

The system even worked for the dogs who are less likely to be impounded for eating the flesh of the bikers or pedestrians who invite their jaws to nibble. It's not the people we put in jail when dogs bite. It's the dogs who are confined.

So the dog people have leashed their dogs in the park by the river with the bike path.

The interesting thing is that now when I see them? Things are different. The dogs have been on 30 foot leashes since that day, and when their people see me they're very friendly. We have this strange genuine bond going. We smile and wave. Sometimes I’ll even stop and talk for a couple of minutes, just comment on construction or the weather.

It’s like I’m a Park Person, if not a Dog Person, I'm a part of the culture.

They must not know it was me who worked my ecosystem, right, to get them in trouble?

But I've become a part of their world, the person on the red bike. I’m ONE OF THEM.

People like familiarity, being in the same place at the same time with the same people. This is why I tell single people to become a part of a mini-culture, a system within the ecosystem. Become a regular at the library, or at a bookstore or a coffee shop. Go to a church or join a political organization. Meet people or not, if they see you they get comfortable at the thought of you, like you are comfortable with certain checkers or baggers at your local grocery store.

Being lonely is a state of mind, you know. You’re never really alone.

Oh, and don’t be afraid to work your system. If one thing doesn’t work (direct communication, assertiveness, the things we’ve talked about in this blog) then something else will. Just maybe don't brag about how you get things done.

Copyright 2006, TherapyDoc


Anonymous said…
I really like your blog, I just have two questions about this post. 1. how do you help people tell the difference between being assertive for your needs and being self-centered to a bad extreme? 2.What if a person starts to become comfortable with their favorite waitress at the coffee shop and favorite check-out person at Jewel, but still feels lonely becuase they don't know how to ever go beyond that? Thanx.
therapydoc said…
Thanks RZ

1) You can acknowledge the other while still expressing your needs and wants. i.e., "I understand that you feel. . .(or think). . .but I guess I kind of disagree and need. . . (or think). . .

2) This is a social skills thing. I'm sure there are self-help books on it, but honestly, in therapy it takes 3-6 mos., minimum for a person to learn to make friends.

It's not easy. Trust gets in the way, anxiety, all kinds of stuff.

But well-worth the effort. Friends can change a person's life, always for the better.
Karen Putz said…
I enjoyed reading this one, especially since my social ecosystem suddenly expanded at the age of 19 when I became deaf. I was able to connect with a whole new world of deaf and hard of hearing persons.

I'm off to read more of your blog. :)
You Go Girl! Hardcore Dog People can be obnoxious. Hardcore Anything People can be obnoxious, LOL...
Anonymous said…
Hmmm, this might be one of the things I really, really need to work on.

I don't have any friends. All my extended family live at least a 6-hour drive from me. Including my grandchildren. I do all my shopping on line. Including buying postage and UPS/Fed-Ex (they pick it up on the porch so no interaction).

The only places I go are Starbucks (once a week - there is only one here) and to the grocery store.

I only have my spouse at home, except for the summertime when my daughter is home from college.

Pretty lonely? Not really. I like to keep a really tight control on my life. The fewer number of people I have to deal with, the better.

And trust me, I know why. I don't need 3-6 mos. of therapy to tell me that it totally eliminates two things (1) being rejected and (2) making a fool out of myself.

But I also know this is not healthy.

I'm going to work on that.

Great post. Thanks.
therapydoc said…
Tee, take it slow. Just become an extra. No need to be a star. Extras get paid, too.
frumhouse said…
Great story! That does sound scary with the dogs - good for you! You had nothing to feel bad about.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for the updated post-this is one of my favorite TD posts ever
I wish you would talk more about dealing with people you have trouble with and the ecosystem!

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