Monday, January 28, 2013

The Myths of Happiness and Life Hacks

Sonja Lyubomirsky
Does this woman look happy?  She would probably say, "Happy enough."

I mean, who's really happy all of the time?

We'll get back to how to be happy, and the myths about happiness in a second. This is the positive psychology school that passed me by. Six years ago you heard me question it, seriously wonder how far people can fool themselves. After all, we can't just dismiss the throes of depression, can't not grieve death. And you can't ignore your worries.

It turns out that you can grieve, surely, without making a sad event a life-defining event, life absorbing. And worries, well, we all have them, but we can ignore them for a little while. If we want to be happy we have to experience life, travel maybe, not invest it all and wait to live. We have to reframe positively, see the best of our past, we have to keep our relationships new, and yes, we have to be frugal.

But a quick word from 50 Life Hacks to Simplify Your World.
Life hacks are mini ticket to happiness, so why wouldn't we take a detour here? Someone sent me the link, and I had to know, naturally--What are they?

Twisted Sifter's Life Hack
According to Twisted Sifter,
Life hacks are little ways to make our lives easier. These low-budget tips and trick can help you organize and de-clutter space; prolong and preserve your products; or teach you something (e.g., tie a full Windsor) that you simply did not know before.

The thought of that bagel in the CD spindle worked for me, a person who nibbles between patients. Like they don't know. The point is that little things, like new solutions to things, do make us happy.

But about worrying. A patient texts me in the middle of the night, just as I'm about to turn in: Things aren't good! Can you suggest something I can do to control my freaking anxiety?

She wants a psychology life hack!

An Edna Foa groupie, I've got a few dozen of her cognitive behavioral life hacks in my head, and supplemented with a few dozen more over the years. Anything you read by Dr. Foa is worth the few bucks she charges (as long as we're doing book reviews instead of blogging about Perfect Pitch.)

Adapted from STOP Obsessing: How to Overcome Your Obsessions and Compulsions). I text back: Whatever you are worrying about, accept the worst, but tell the worry to wait five minutes, you have to do something right now. Then do something else for five minute or longer. If you can postpone for another five, do that, and if you can keep postponing, keep postponing. In the interim do anything, watch TV, call a friend (don't talk about the worry), get on a treadmill, read the funnies-- anything.

The therapy works because the intensity of the obsession diminishes over time, so if you can push it off, even a little, you are golden. Stay home and worry, you are somebody's patient for life.

The Myths of Happiness
Now let's move on to Sonja Lyubomirsky and her new book, The Myths of Happiness.

What if I were to tell you, after reading it::
If you only have enough money to buy one good self-help book this year, The Myths of Happiness is up there with the top reads! 
I have been paraphrasing Dr. Lyubomirsky all week (forgive me, Sonja).
You know, people who stay single are just as happy as people who marry. You have a heck of a lot more time to enjoy your money, nobody steals the remote, you can do what you want with your time. You can get to know your nieces and nephews.
 (I just noticed I had some when my kids became teenagers, they are now in their late twenties.)
You know, you might not like that job, but you didn't like the last one, either, and that one sounded pretty fabulous. It could be that your expectations are too high. The happiness experts tell us that if we keep our expectations fairly low, and we don't aspire to too much material glitter, we'll be happier over all. 
 (Readers know I've spleened about high expectations on this blog for years. High hopes translate to reality blues.)
You know, it isn't at all weird, that now that you've had that Lexus a few weeks, that it doesn't make you happy anymore. This is your hedonic adaptation talking. If you buy an even better car the same thing will happen. Happiness isn't something we get to keep, it is momentary, we get used to that higher standard of living really fast.
(Your therapist will tell you, as does Dr. Lyubomirsky, that it is having meaning in life that makes us happy, and learning new things, new skills, striving, (shteiging, in Yiddish, rhymes with styling). Working towards something, even if we never reach our goals, keeps us content, even happy-- not money. Not that money ever hurts, just that the thrill of whatever it buys  wears off.)
You know, we all prefer the romantic phase of a relationship, but that feeling, predicated on the newness, the thrill of a new life together, only lasts so long (not very long, for most). It's up to you to work to keep it new. It's up to you not to be boring. It is why I keep telling you to speak in code.
Me repeating things in therapy that I find in a book, even if the ideas are constructs I've known all along* (but now hear validated) only tells you that the book made me happy, stretched my skill set. If my telling over Dr. Lyubomirsky advice doesn't sound particularly new, rest assured, she is the real thing, has her own laboratory at the University of California (Riverside) with an army of research assistants and over 400 literature citations in the back of her book to back up her up.

You won't get that here, friends, over 400 citations. I've always told you to keep your expectations low.

therapydoc

*The adage from the Wisdom of the Fathers, or Ethics of the Fathers, the mishneh, Pirkei Avot (rhymes with dear-play ah-vote) Who is happy? He who is satisfied with his portion, is surely somewhere to be found on this blog. It doesn't mean you can't strive for more, only that stewing over not having more won't make you happy.



Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Snapshots- The One I Forgot


Sorry about that. This one was intended for the last post. I hate to overburden people with email.

My kids had the incredible fortune of suffering through those nine months of pregnancy that lead to having babies, if a couple is really, really lucky. And they were, as we say, poo, poo, poo.

And the other night I dropped by, as one might, to take a peak, because these guys are very little. And one of them is in my son's arms, very quiet, very peaceful, and my son perks up when he sees me and says, "Will you take him? I have to go . . ."

My pleasure.

He hands off the baby who immediately wakes up, looks at me as if I am an alien, and begins to cry. I look left and right, no one there to tell me what to do. This being Chicago, the coldest day of the year, I project and wrap him in a blanket. He continues to cry and search with that little mouth. There are bottles around but they are capped, these little two ounce bottles.

I make the executive decision to wait for instructions on that, don't just feed. After all, maybe he just fed!  We do the walking, the cooing, and it all feels natural, but he's still fussing. Then he turns his face into the blanket, a beautiful homemade blanket that my daughter-in-law's mother made for him, and immediately falls asleep.  Boom. He's out.

This is the inevitability of sleep, I'm told by his grandfather. Inevitable at any age, when that moment comes, there's no resisting.

therapydoc

Monday, January 21, 2013

Snapshots: The First of 2013

The patient knows there's something going on Monday, January 21, 2013, but can't remember what.  "Oh!  The Inauguration!"

We don't schedule for today.

(1) Patriotism

I'm pretty sure I blogged about the last inauguration, too, four years ago. It doesn't matter to me, Republican or Democrat. Where there's poetry, rhetoric, good writing, and music. If it's free, I'm there.

Kelly Clarkson belting out America (My Country Tis of Thee) is worth watching for those of you who love this idea, hope. In psychology it tends to be what keeps us all going, even if it feels irrational sometimes.
Kelly Clarkson at the 2013 Inauguration

The look on the President's face. Why didn't I capture that?  I'm sorry.

Richard Blanco reciting a poem
Then that poem by Richard Blanco, his recitation. Had me in tears.










Rev Dr. Joseph Lowery






Reverand Dr. Joseph Lowery, an old Southern Christian Leadership guy, delivering the benediction, quoting the bible, adding his southern flair,
"Help us to work for that day when . . .nation shall not lift up sword against nation . . .when. . .none shall be afraid. . . . When black will not be asked to give back. When brown can stick around. When yellah, will be mella', when the red man, can get ahead, man. And when white will embrace what is right.  Say Amen."
Amen.

(2) FD and Exercise

I've had more opportunities than ever to take snaps this year. But let's just start with FD, a primary care doctor, my still intimate partner.

FD with ski gloves and bicycle hat
Would you let this man look down your throat?

You say no, but most people he knows do.  This is what it is like being a primary care doc.

With the advent of dozens of new types of flashlights, primary care doctors are at the same risk as dermatologists who go to dinner at fine restaurants, only to be visited at the table by a patient who literally lifts his shirt to ask, "Should I be worried about this?"

Don't think it doesn't happen.

We accidentally became a 2-car couple when my daughter left town and left us her Volvo (just pick me up from the airport, please!)

We both have a car!  In the winter, the only time we drive, except to shop.
 FD! Don't ride your bike to work!  It is supposed to get down to ten degrees today.
He tells me that this is the best way to warm up so that he plays well for his team tonight (basketball). Riding in the cold is a really good warm up, especially if he is dressed for the North Pole.

Doctors are crazy.

(3) More on primary care doctors, perhaps why they seem crazy.

When asked, What's the hardest part of primary care? FD would probably say, "Why, mental illness, of course. Nothing makes me feel more powerless than the patient being a danger unto himself, or unto others."

Pressed, he would say that it doesn't even have to be mental illness, particularly. Anyone under the influence of negative emotion that compromises judgment is likely to make a bad decision, something he, the doctor, would have vetoed, like taking the wrong medication, or the right one, but too much or too little.

Thus it is depression and anxiety, paranoia and mistrust, that the pri-care fears most.

So they often refer out for this. Don't be afraid to ask for that referral.

What makes family practitioners (a type of primary care doctor) special is that they are trained to look at everything that concerns the patient's health, every organ system in the body, every part, not only the specialist domains, the parts with the presenting symptoms, but the family history, the work environment, whether or not anyone else in the family cares enough to help, and who, for it is sometimes the case, wants the patient dead.

I don't blame him, in other words, for seeming eccentric about exercise, and nagging you to get some, too.

(4) The Friends of Our Children

Parents worry that these natural species will corrupt their babies, turn them onto sex and drug.

But kids and friendship  prove the data on social support to be true. They realize intuitively that connecting, being liked, adds up to a feeling of worthiness, not just being okay, but feeling fabulous.

All we can do is raise our children to be discriminating consumers of friendship, to surround themselves with the kindest people around, and learn what to do when they aren't all that kind, all that healthy.

Not easy at every stage.  Watch the movie Mean Girls to see the perversion of friendship. I saw it on MTV. Difficult, those MTV commercials. Mute them.

But being patient as a parent, especially when it comes to the friends of our children, has unexpected pay-offs. It should never happen to you, but here's a fairly common example.

A friend of mine recently lost a friend, a fire fighter, in a fire. His experience reminded me of my own, when my brother passed away, an untimely death, well over forty years ago.

My friend visited the fire fighter's family, but worried that he might be intruding. Nobody knew him except the deceased.  The fire fighter's father and mother. however, didn't let him go, wanted him to tell them everything about their son, their friendship, how long ago did they meet, under what circumstances, what did they used to do together. Tell me more, more, more.

The mourners need to keep it all alive for years and years to come.

So surely, friends of friends, continue the friendship with survivors if you lose one. Don't visit them once, stay in touch. They need you.

therapydoc






Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Aaron Swartz

Can we put a suicide watch on everyone who suffers from depression and talks about it? Should we? What's that even mean, suicide watch?

We were just talking the other day about suicide and someone mentioned that MIT students (maybe graduates, too) have a higher than average suicide rate. Something about the smarter the student, the greater the risk. Don't be jealous of the smartest kid in the class.
ThoughtWorks/ Associated Press, Aaron Swartz


Aaron's family and friends are blaming MIT and an overzealous prosecutorial system for refusing to let his stunt, stealing nearly five million scholarly articles, go unpunished. Facing up to thirty-five years in prison, Aaron couldn't take it. He hung himself by a belt in his bedroom.

He probably would have got off altogether. He had a case of psychotic depression (you won't find it phrased quite this way in the DSM) or he would be with us today.

He intended to upload the articles, among them recent findings of scientific inquiry, to an open access website. From there, people like you and me could research whatever we like, and we could do it for free.

Good intentions, an ideologue  sure. But bet your life, it is mental illness that killed the young man, not a prosecutorial zealot or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Before his death, Aaron Swartz had lived many of his 26 years in a different kind of prison. Depression. He talked about it, wrote about it. If you read Aaron you can feel his disease.  He related to Alex in the short story below.

Maybe people did know the intensity of his depression, and maybe he was in therapy, on medication. Maybe his partner did worry, every passing day, that he might do something extraordinary, take that leap from a tall building, play out some sort of bad dream, end his pain.

A dreamer in real time, he wanted to change the world, make writing that term paper easier.

But piracy, hacking, is a crime, a breech of privacy, and in therapy-speak, an invasion of boundaries. Not incidentally, some who suffer mental illness, especially severe mental illness, have boundary problems. Aaron didn't have to be sociopathic, didn't need to be a criminal, to imagine a different kind of world, one with different boundaries. He might Imagine all the people reading stuff in peace, like in the John Lennon song, except his people have their digital databases and don't even need a password. A better quality of life if you are an intellectual.

If we think about it, this isn't a new idea.  Remember your first library card?  Free.

Hopefully we'll come full circle one day, find what we need in that great big library in a the sky, on a cloud, surely, and it will be free. It should be at our fingertips, knowledge, for those who have the initiative, the wherewithal to find it. It isn't yet, but Mr. Swartz, being brilliant, had that wherewithal, and he stole with it, a modern day Robin Hood for the mind.

Except that intellectual property is still someone's property. Academic publishers are staffed with well-meaning, hard-working (if you have ever expereinced peer review, you know) grunts with PhD's. It costs money to put ink on paper and subscribers and students pay, as do occasional users, those of us who wish to read just one article. There's a price, no different than the one on the cover of Conde Nast publications like The New Yorker, or Time, Inc's People Magazine.

A crime, sure, and yet he did so much for us, is a martyr of his generation, up there with the founders of the Internet, responsible for the ways we link to one another, ways we follow. He co-founded Reddit, co-invented the RSS feed (at age 14). Rather than make money with a start-up, venture capitalists at his command, Aaron used his time and the Internet to  spread his philosophy.

He died at 26 on January 11, 2013, an activist.

So. What can we do to stop this sort of thing?

People tell us when they are depressed. And they tell us when they are under inordinate stress. From this we should worry, pay more attention. When we know that one of the topics a person is writing about is suicide consider a suicide watch, either a hospitalization or a partial outpatient program, certainly an evaluation for medication, and you go with him, find out the treatment plan. Read the suicide contract to do no harm.

And you don't let that person alone. When suicide is the option, there's no alone time, no privacy.

It might have made sense for a guy who didn't respect boundaries all that much, anyway.

therapydoc

From his blog, Raw Thought, on January 18, 2007:

A Moment Before Dying

There is a moment, immediately before life becomes no longer worth living, when the world appears to slow down and all its myriad details suddenly become brightly, achingly apparent.
For Alex, that moment came after exactly one week of pain, seven days of searing, tormenting agony that poured forth from his belly. Alex never liked his belly. Growing up he was always fat, surrounded by a family of bellowing, rotund Americans, who had a room in their house with wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling cabinets, all entirely filled with bags and boxes of various pre-processed semi-organic assemblages, which they used to stuff their faces at all hours of the day.
Alex had body image issues. He’d avoid mirrors because he couldn’t bear to look at himself, his large bulbous cheeks obscuring his fine features. He avoided photos, covering his face or ducking out of the way when the click of the camera came, for the same reason: he didn’t want to be confronted with the physical evidence of his disgusting nature, thought he could not go on living if he had to face the truth.
It wasn’t until he got away from his family that he discovered his weight was not an immutable characteristic, like the fingerprints he often mused about burning off, like the dental records which had caused him so much adolescent anguish, like the DNA he’d heard so much about in school. He would take off his shirt and stare at his stomach in the full-length mirror. It was there, of course, hideous as ever, but also appreciably smaller. Its size, he realized, could change.
So Alex starved himself. Cut down from three meals a day to simply two and then to only one. And even that became superfluous most days. Alex simply wasn’t hungry.
He watched his stomach dwindle, monitored his progress on the electronic readout of his at-home scale, charted the numbers on his computer, admired the plunging trendlines.
He was doing so well. He told all his friends. The secret to losing weight, he would explain, is simply not eating. You just get used to it after a while. He looked at the beggars outside his window and refrained from giving them change so that they too could experience this miracle. He changed the channel when the radio began speaking about starvation in Africa. “Starvation isn’t so bad,” he scoffed. “You get used to it after a while.” He wondered whether the USDA thrifty food budget could be further reduced.
He stopped going out. His friends always wanted to meet him for meals, or for drinks, events in which Alex simply wasn’t interested anymore. Before long, Alex’s friends were no longer interested in him.
Alex started eating in cafés, ordering a small pastry, sitting in a comfortable chair, listening to the music play over the loudspeakers. Soon he stopped doing even that.
Alex read on the Internet about death. There was a theory, increasingly well supported, that eating is what killed you. They found that rats on extremely restricted diets, rats who ate very few calories, lived impressively long. They saw the same results with other animals, up to and including chimpanzees. They suspected, but could not prove, the same was true of humans. Every little bite of food was another step towards death.
Alex started eating again. His appetite grew as slowly as it had declined but within months he was back to eating three meals a day. Food suddenly gave him pleasure again. He savored the tastes on his tongue.
One night he and his friends decided to try a new restaurant. But when the food came, Alex couldn’t eat it. He thought it smelled funny. He let it sit there, his plate lying on the table, his food seething, untouched.
The next night Alex couldn’t sleep. He’d wake up, feeling searing pains in his stomach, as if the food winding its way through his gut had spikes and was tearing apart the walls of his intestine.
He suffered like this for days, rolling on the floor in agony, unable to resist eating but every bite he ate causing him unimaginable pain. And still, he could not stop.
Five days in, it seemed like the worst had passed. The pains came less frequently, the pains were less intense. He actually slept that night.
The day Alex killed himself, he was awoken by pains, worse than ever. He rolled back-and-forth in bed as the sun came up, the light streaming through the windows eliminating the chance for any further sleep. At 9, he was startled by a phone call. The pains subsided, as if quieting down to better hear what the phone might say.
It was his boss. He had not been to work all week. He had been fired. Alex tried to explain himself, but couldn’t find the words. He hung up the phone instead.
The day Alex killed himself, he wandered his apartment in a daze. The light streaming through the windows gave everything a golden glow, which had the odd effect of making the filth he’d become surrounded with seem cinematic.
Alex wanted to go outside for one last meal, but he had trouble making the appropriate connections. Jacket, shoes, pants, wallet. Each lay in a different spot upon the floor. Alex knew they went together, he drew lines connecting them in his mind’s eye, but it didn’t see to fix anything, his eyes just kept bouncing from one item to another.
Finally, he summoned the intelligence to put them on. The world seemed funny afterwards. He noticed the way the key turned in the lock, like a hand rotating in front of his face, an interplay of light and shadow, objects in space. He noticed the packages sitting at his doorstep, begging him to open them, but their labels insisting that they were addressed to someone else. He noticed the frail old ladies who refused to obey the walk—don’t walk signs and instead walked slowly, backs hunched, across a major intersection.
He went to a new café across the street, the one place he hadn’t been to yet. Light streamed in through the huge picture windows, making the whole place seem bright and airy. So much light, in fact, that the outside seemed a glow, as if the café was suspended in the middle of a powerful white light. People held lowered, indistinct conversations. People on his left, people on his right, people behind him. But one conversation seemed to be coming from the ceiling. It might have been a trick of the acoustics. He looked up and saw two speakers staring back at him and listened closely.
The café was not playing music. It was playing a recording of two people’s lowered, indistinct conversation.
The day Alex killed himself, he had a sudden, powerful craving for a Key Lime Sugar Cookie. It was odd the power the Key Lime Sugar Cookie had over him. Alex did not particularly like limes of any sort. In fact, the idea of an actual actual, as with all fruits, thoroughly disgusted him. He hated how when he ordered sparkling water at fancy restaurants they would place a lime wedge on the top of his glass, how he had to confront the disgusting object every time he tried to take a sip, how touching the lime, even to remove it, was so digusting as to be simply out of the question.
And yet, here it was, this cookie, with the lime flavor baked into the center and large transparent grains of sugar embedded in the top, begging for him, begging for one last taste. The cookie was sold exclusively by a publicly-traded chain of cafés that tried hard to seem international, giving itself a foreign-sounding title and printing the names of major world cities on every door, even though it had not expanded much beyond the eastern half of the United States. Alex purchased the cookie.
He noticed the way he couldn’t quite form the words to request it, simply presented the cookie in front of the cashier and twitched his head, assuming (correctly) that in context the request would be understood. He noticed the way his hands moved haphazardly to remove the appropriate amount of money from his wallet. He noticed the way his change spilled out onto the counter as he tried to find the quarter with which to complete the transaction. He noticed the way he wobbled as he walked as he took the now-purchased cookie outside.
The day Alex killed himself, he savored his one remaining cookie, the sweetness of the embedded sugar grains, the bizarre flavor of what must have been lime. He used his tongue to wipe the remaining crumbs from his teeth, tossed the now-empty bag it had come in into the trash, and stepped out into the middle of the street.



Monday, January 07, 2013

Police Foil Teen's Bomb Plot on School

That's the good news, a murder plot in Russell County, Alabama, foiled.
Are we surprised that the age of the terrorist is so young, seventeen?
Not anymore.

Kudos to the teacher who found Derek Shrout's journal, had the brains to read it. There, in the young man's hand, a plan to kill six students and one teacher. The weapon? Homemade grenades.

Derek is assumed to be a racist. There is nothing Caucasian about six of the seven potential victims.

The seventh he suspected to be gay.

Derek Shrout, ABC News 

The journal is dated back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, a few days after the event.  A little over three weeks ago, is all.

In his defense, Derek is saying, "It's fiction!"  Police doubt it, believe the young man learned how to make the devices on the Internet. But you know, there are excellent instructions on television shows. They could be wrong.

He apparently collected tobacco cans and liked to fill them up with shrapnel. Dozens of them. But before he filled them up, he punched holes in the cans, ready for fuses. 
I hear the clickety-clack of the writers at Burn Notice putting an episode together for next season.  
In a way, I'm glad this happened. Nobody hurt, and all's well that ends well. More exposure to a serious issue. 
We learned that when teachers (and parents, too, they are great teachers) pay attention, it pays off. There are a lot of angry, confused kids out there, and unfortunately, anyone can get a weapon. Gun control might help, but what will we do about templates on how to make a bomb?
Kids don't necessarily want to talk, but they do communicate. This kid left a journal out for a teacher to read!
So we could start by listening to our own kids, and to their friends, even the weird ones, especially if they only came over that one time and felt too socially inadequate, maybe, to ever come by again.  What ever happened to ____? is what we have to ask Little Joey.
Maybe he's in the garage with tobacco tins. That odd kid collecting nails? Check him out.
My slant on this blog, when it comes to mass murder, at least those we've witnessed in the past seven years, has been to diagnose the perpetrators as likely having suffered paranoid schizophrenia. Not everyone agrees, and readers write to tell me I'm seeing schizophrenia in my sleep, am overly diagnosing. After all, the kids do watch violence on television, and the video games, oy vey, totally encourage aggression. 
As if our culture, as if video games, no matter how violent, actually insert murderous impulses into heads:
 KILL PEOPLE IN THE PARKING LOT, AND THE SENATOR! 
KILL PEOPLE AT THE MOVIE THEATER! DRESS UP LIKE BATMAN! HE'S COOL! 
KILL LITTLE CHILDREN IN ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS, BE SURE TO GET YOUR MOTHER, WHILE YOU ARE AT IT, SHE'S EVIL.
KILL COLLEGE COEDS. DON'T FORGET THEIR TEACHERS, KILL THEM ALL
AND OF COURSE, KILL YOURSELF.
I'm the first to hate video game addictions, and agree that they do make kids aggressive. No question. But people who murder en masse are probably hearing voices in their heads that instruct them to do it. And yes, the slaughter is premeditated, according to this theory.

It is premeditated because delusions, voices that are heard in a sick person's head, can build with age, strengthen, become louder as the illness progresses, without medication or intervention,  until they sing/scream like a choir, a cacophonous one at that.  And to shut them up, yes, the sufferer does as he is told, kills others, or attacks, because he is a good soldier, under orders. And then, he rebels, is he hasn't been told to kill himself, too. Or his suicide is the very best way, at the time, to relieve himself from his pain and severe mental anguish. We don't call it mental illness for nothing.
Just my thinking. 
But what goes on with racism? What' is it about homophobia? What's with White Supremacy?  
Hitler found that if you scapegoat people for your problems, if you can point to an entire class of individuals, or classes of people, types, you might suggest, 
if only they were gone, all would be well! 
Tap into the unhappiness of  the unhappy masses, give them hope for a better tomorrow. They will believe you.
There are so many unhappy people out there.
So no, Derek Shrout probably has no mental disorder, although there will surely be discussion about depression, anger, maybe even borderline personality disorder or anti-social personality.
More than likely he's merely another follower, a believer.  A guy who can build himself up by putting other people down. 
If we watch the story closely, maybe we'll find out who it is he really wants to impress. Kids look for approval in the craziest ways.

therapydoc



Thursday, January 03, 2013

Why a Divorce isn’t Exactly a Divorce


I didn't think 2013, my 7th year of blogging, would begin with a subject most of us avoid--the D word.  Let this be a year of happy surprises, everyone, not sad. 

Happy New Year. 

Words that describe types of commitment, informal or formal, married, cohabiting, partnered, all indicate the status of a relationship. Break-up words, do, too. Separated, divorced, taking a break.

Divorce has an even longer and nastier word associated with it-- dissolution-- as if the relationship dissolve, like Fizzies* in water, or Alka Seltzer, when officially declared, Over.

When a couple is ready to end it, the words don’t really mean very much. They are only descriptions, other words for being apart. The actual relationship doesn’t disappear in a person’s head. We can’t divie up feelings like we divide a piece of cake.

The culprit, the reason people don't simply let go, is that we get attached. Attachment is the problem! The degree of psychological attachment is intangible, unfortunately, and immeasurable, invisible. No matter what a court of law might decree, psychological attachment won’t change with the swipe of a pen. Feelings of connectedness, feelings of love, need, even desire, remain.
 
Nothing changes, not over that difficult discussion at dinner when the decision is brought down to break up. Nothing even changes in the first few years, for many. TherapyDoc had to come up with an equation to help patients get a sense of what is to come, following that decision, how long it will take to get over an unhappy ending.

It takes a week for every two months together to get over somebody. 

That means that if a couple is married three years, or 36 months, it will take 18 weeks, or 4.5 months to really get over a break up, to emotionally detach from a three year relationship. (No, this has not been empirically validated, but everyone loves it.)

It is different for the dumpee than for the dumper, of course. Usually the person leaving has been upset about the relationship longer, has already psychologically detached. But for the dumpee, the news of the break up is tantamount to the beginning of the count. It will take longer for the dumpee than for the dumper, unfortunately.  Insult on top of injury. 

This is why breaking up, as the song goes, is so very hard to do.  Saying it, We're divorced, doesn’t make it so, not when you’ve been primary in someone’s life, not when you really committed to that someone, hoped that no matter how difficult, the two of you would work on it, would try.

The predictable pain of dissolution, to be sure, is why so many don't commit, like we did, say, in the twentieth century, to making that lifetime together work. 

No guts, easy enough to say that.  And we would be right.

TherapyDoc

*Parents bought Fizzies for children in the fifties. A thin, round powdery tablet, a Fizzy bubbled and fizzed while flavoring tap water, always a thrill for little kids, and easier than lugging Coke bottles home from the grocery store, for moms. No idea what happened to them.
 



[i] Parents bought Fizzies for children in the fifties. A thin, round powdery tablet, they bubbled while flavoring tap water, always a thrill for a little kid, and easier than lugging Coke bottles home from the grocery store, for moms.