My six-year-old granddaughter draws a stick figure picture of herself running away from my son. In the picture he's counting down: Five, four, three, two, one. Bedtime. He posts that he has no recollection of doing this, counting down.
I remember it. He and his brother are six, their sister, four.
Me: Better be in bed at the count of one.There's a thrill to this intervention, despite the total lack of consequences.
The magic of counting down to bedtime is that it is a competition. Can I beat the parent? Can I make it to bed before he says, One?
And a kid needs a good reason to run, not walk to bed, because running is fun and walking is not, and it is much more fun jumping into a bed, feeling the fluffy pillows and covers receive you.
Probably the best reason for the countdown, however, at least from the kid's perspective, and maybe my son knows it, maybe he doesn't, is that the parent is going to slowly follow you to the bedroom, making this feel dangerous if you lose, and as soon as he catches up, as you dive into bed one step ahead, he'll snuggle his much larger face into your hair, and then your neck, and say,
"I love you. Now go to sleep."
(2) The Stinking Flu
The primary care docs are compelled to prescribe the flu vaccine, and why not, it is cheap and sometimes effective. When it isn't effective, that's when everyone is up in arms, or shall we say, dead to the world, useless in bed.
My brain on the flu:
|reading flu test|
The season is almost over, but still worth advising that if you have a fever and flu-like symptoms, go to the doctor, not that he'll be paid, a topic for another day, but he can't charge you more than your co-pay.
Certainly don't go to work to spread the joy. Or to therapy.
It is February so all my SADS (Seasonal Affective Disorders) patients have been coming in. We're all good sports in the beginning of the winter, those of us who live in the midwest. In the beginning, in December, our skies are blue.
Brain feels frozen, landscape dirty, dull, like a futuristic movie. People are saying, "It doesn't know if it should rain or snow" and our cars beg washing, not that it will last more than a day.
Oh! As Alan Sherman used to sing in Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, about the kid complaining about malaria, the poison ivy and the weather at summer camp.
Wait a minute, it's stopped raining. Guys are swimming, guys are sailing, playing baseball, gee dat's better. Mudda-Fadda kindly disregard this letter.
It IS sunny out there, and a toasty 50 degrees!
But since we've started, let's finish up.
SADS sufferers have to fool the brain. All that light therapy, do it, spend the money on electricity in the winter, turn on everything that holds a lightbulb, anytime you're home. Raise the shades, open the blinds.
And take up one of those health club offers to try the machines on the cheap for a month, even a week, if that's all they give you, but pay in cash so they can't keep your credit card. The fine print is blinding. Then quit when the weather gets warm, get outside and see what's green.
|Sledding in February|
Or take someone mud-sledding, now, before the snow is completely gone.
One more month to go.
(4) Annihilation Anxiety
|Not phallic symbols. Weapons|
Most people don't know this about me, but before I get out of my car, before I leave the office to head home, I peek outside and look around. Basically I'm worried that someone will want to kill me for no reason.
Not that the neighborhood is bad, it isn't. But if you hear enough neighborhood lore, or read the local news police blotter, you can become hyper-vigilant. Secondary trauma.
Last night, seeing the sidewalk clear of dangerous-looking citizens, my car dusted with new, wet snow, I reached into the back seat and grabbed a new retractible snow brush. When I flipped it across the windshield, the brush extended easily to the width of the car.
Snow drifting in my face, I felt I'd emerged from work victorious, waving the snow brush high into the air, daring the traffic or anyone on the street passing by.
Ditto, the selfie stick. On a vacation we rented bikes, stopped at the beach to take a picture. The stick whips out to three feet, maybe more. Light-weight, FD declares that a slap from one of these will hurt. He's reading my mind.
For sure. But still.
One more. This time it is a Soda Stream canister. The slim canister that makes the fizz has lost its CO2. I take it into my hand, really feel it before exchanging it for another at Target, my grip naturally testing the weight. The shape, the feel, it is powerful, wieldy.
In the spring, when we ride bikes to work, it will be the titanium lock that magically saves us. Something a coyote won't forget, is what I tell FD, who nods empathetically.
(5) Being Alive
|A new one from Colin Beavan|
Colin Beavan (he's been on Stephen Colbert, enough street cred for me), thinks that most of us merely go through the motions, don't live the life we want to live.
You could say that therapy is all about that, finding ways to live life, in a way that we feel it, feel alive. Nobody's happy all of the time, after all. We get a few minutes a day if we're lucky, and have to work at those (says your therapist). We know some of what works, what is tried and true.
You feel alive when. . .you finish a brisk workout. When a baby smiles at you. When the IRS refund is in hand. When you ask your adult kids on a random afternoon:
Hey, anyone want to come for potluck dinner?
and they say, Sure.
Colin will tell you these thing effect the world, your smile, the one inspired by the baby's smile, spreads a wave of goodness into the ecosphere. The potluck dinner, because there are multiple good vibes buzzing into the cosmos.
His new book is an attempt at debunking the myths most of us buy into, the ones that keep us (his opinion) from doing what we would really want to do. Whether it works for you will be a personal thing, because How to Be Alive recycles (appropriate for a book designed to help the world) what self and cognitive psychologists have said before. Yet he offers so many different stories, metaphors, and examples, that you have to learn something new. And he squashes irrational thoughts like gnats.
So this is a non-sequitur, but speaking of gnats, a year ago January I started my first herb garden ever, little pots on a window sill; the yield amazingly, shockingly successful, a jungle in the kitchen. But by summer the house was inundated with midges, little bugs that land on white shirts. They look and act like gnats. But we still had a lot of basil and dill, so could only complain so much, and handed out plants first come, first serve. That's being alive.
Getting back to that book, it could have titled Green Therapy. But How to Be Alive: a Guide to the Kind of Happiness that Helps the World has so many more key word.
You might remember a story somewhere on this blog, about the people in the park, and dogs off their leashes, me, and maybe you, too, on bikes, becoming a part of that ecology. It is one way to connect with the world.
Colin, on connecting:
Your life is equal to all of your relationships added together.
All of your relationships together are equivalent to your relationship to the world.
Therefore, your life is equivalent to your relationship to the world.
And, what you do in your life, affects the worldSo make a dent, he's saying. Or grow something other than roots and give them away, maybe develop a community garden. Or a community compost. Or both. There's a story on that.
And what happens in the world, affects you.
Therefore, you are important to the world and the world is important to you.
(6) Sheer Numbers
|NAMI APP for HELP|
We all have bizarre, irrational thoughts. See above.
NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has always been a wonderful resource:
Nearly 1 in 25 (10 million) adults in America live with a serious mental illness.
One-half of all chronic mental illness begins by the age of 14; three-quarters by the age of 24
1 in 100 (2.4 million) American adults live with schizophrenia.
6.9% (16 million) of American adults live with major depression and 18%, or 42 million have anxiety disorders
There are many more statistics like this. My friend, you are not alone.
The one that blows my mind is that nearly 60% of adults with mental illness had no services in the previous year. Did we notice? I think we did.
Visit to the NAMI website for resources and more stories. And write to your governor if you don't like how he's balancing his budget.
(7) Prison Isn't Good for Us
The Mental Health and Safe Communities Act , S.2002,or Cornyn Law is waking us up to what goes on in jails and prisons.
|Mary E Buser is a social worker|
We know about homelessness, that the chances that the woman in the park, the one in the sleeping bag, might be suffering a mental illness or addiction are high.
Most of us don't know, however, that a quarter of our prison population has a recent history of mental illness. It isn't all about sociopathy, which is what you would expect. They have garden variety depression, anxiety, and psychoses.
And being in jail aggravates it.
And naturally, we pay to take care of the treatment, which every prisoner wants, because it gets them away from other prisoners. So while the healthy but sociopathic fake it, resources are squeezed for the truly ill.
The Cornyn Law is a snapshot of the remedy, proposes training for police and first responders by way of the
National Criminal Justice and Mental Health Training and Technical Assistance Center.
Here recruits learn to recognize mental illness, steer future "convicts" away from federal custody, and divert them o community social services. In a perfect world.
Mary E. Buser's book, Lockdown on Rikers reads like a diary, what it's like to be a social worker at the famed Rikers Island, New York City's jail. Buser exposes the tragedies of the system, the pain of inmates who might be innocent but can't afford bail, who wait for months on end, sometimes years, for a day in court. A plea bargain gets them out, but with a record.
At the jail, waiting for the hearing, innocent men and women miss visits to sick relatives in the hospital, funerals. They can't help their families financially, too many cases for the system to process. You'e seen The Good Wife, Law and Order. You read about them and wish that the varied stories about Rikers are exaggerations.
But they're not.
Solitary, by the way, is hell.
As is the flu, but hey, wait a minute, it's stopped raining.
That was a lot, but March will be busy for me, and I forgot to mention Vessels, a love story I promised to review. You think it is a love between a couple, but the story is much more mysterious, more cryptic than that. Written like poetry (the kind you actually get), rich in paradox and metaphor, VESSELS is a story about art, an artist, and bad breaks, and keeping a marriage together under the most trying of circumstances.
I've already given too much away.
Daniel Raeburn teaches non-fiction writing at the University of Chicago.
Just one more thing, bear with me. For links to therapy experts, check out Social Work Careers.