Sunday, April 29, 2012

Snapshots: Moving

If you look closely, you can see where the headboard came apart. And you can see the box.  This is why hoarders hoard.  You never know when you're going to need a perfectly good box.

I haven’t moved in 32 years.
I moved.
I’m glad I work out.

Oh, we've taken a year Sabbatical to a foreign country. But that isn't moving. That's not downsizing. Downsizing, divesting of your belongings to get out of your house, is mental and physical torture. And I'm a sixties kid.

It's the work, the constant rearranging, reorganizing, revising, rethinking, more than anything, that kills you, and the thought of the shlepping.

Not that we didn’t hire movers; a wonder, these professionals. You sign on the dotted line, agree to pay for their time and effort, and for the bubble wrap, the wardrobes, boxes and tape, if you're not careful. Then you watch, spellbound, as they pack your cherished possessions at lightening speed. You feel you’re on a reality TV show, keep looking at your watch.

People tell you to make three piles, but you knew that, learned that lesson moving your mother to her retirement home: one to donate, one to pitch, another to sell. Your piles seem very high, your trash overflowing. You can’t believe that you can really live with a third, perhaps a quarter of the things you thought you needed to live a quality life.

You forget things like extension cords, your jacket, coffee filters, the 1/8 measuring cup for the beans, travel mugs. Your partner keeps asking you where questions, and you shrug, have no idea. The loss of control is fun. Your attitude about these things is positive. In other circumstances, having no idea where your travel mug might be would unravel you, send you into a finding frenzy.

When the van gets to your new destination, and the men begin to haul things inside, you have to make the big decisions-- what goes where. You change your mind a few too many times, in your empathetic opinion. At some point feel sorry for the guys, stop asking them if they wouldn’t mind, just one more time, moving the bedroom dresser, the armoire, even the dining room table to yet another spot then back to the original.

You remember measuring several times to be sure everything fit. When it does, you feel brilliant. But your calculations aren't 100%, and when you can't cram a nightstand into the corner you are up late at night with your partner, working a new solution.

It is something you didn’t think you really needed, but then you decided you did need. He disassembled then reassembled it hours after the movers have come and gone. Together you attempt to move the bed so the piece will fit, but you are moving it on thick carpet, not the wood floors you had at home. The screws holding the headboard together (a three piece monstrosity) disengage. Things get crazy. The headboard is too heavy, reattaching what has now perhaps permanently detached is going to be impossible tonight, if ever.

No marital conflict here. You look at one another, the panic in all four of your collective eyes. You are both very tired. You do your best, use the box from the new microwave with the annoying flashing clock to support the part of the unit that might otherwise crash, wake the entire building in the middle of the night, perhaps kill you. Tomorrow you will get a better box.

The apartment lets in more sun than your old house ever did, and for this you are grateful. Because the heat is paid for in the assessment, it pours into the bedroom and you can sleep with the window open, even though it is in the forties outside, so you sleep like a rock.

You would anyway, of course.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Yoda and Columbo

Therapy is whatever people want it to be, and the therapist is, too. Some are looking for a spiritual/behavioral guide, others a detective. Some want a therapist to dress up and play the consummate professional; others are more comfortable with the cargo pant look. It is the difference between Detective Joe Fontana of Law and Order, who wore expensive shirts and asked pointed questions, and Columbo, an average guy in a crumpled hat and raincoat, who asked unassuming questions to solve the crime. Columbo even seemed a little slow. Therapists act like this, too, a little slow, like we’re just not catching on. We want the patient to tell us more, is all. The patient knows the answers, so we put a lid on our own thoughts and poke around in his.

Whichever methodology, no matter our school of thought, we are out to detect sources of pain and anxiety (diagnosis) and relieve it (treatment). It’s not all about the money (a little professional humor, here, a disarming tool, meant to relax the patient).

As are many detectives, we’re married—to some theory or another, perhaps several. There are many such theories; some even explain why therapy works. One builds upon the genre of relationship therapy, only that it is the relationship with the therapist that matters, or the therapeutic relationship. A weekly or bi-weekly schmooze with a nonjudgmental, wizened, objective, empathetic guru never hurt anyone. We all need a Yoda in our lives.

Not that the guru has to be your therapist, of course, but if you can kill two birds with one stone, why not? The force, any self-respecting guru will tell you, is within you. Therapists are only one cloth available to help you not only find it, but use it.

Whether the patient needs guidance for the present, or a fresh eye to the past, therapists who have had any professional training within the past twenty years see everything psychological as biological, too. That means our experience is in the here and now, which is why a visit back to the past to solve the mystery isn’t quite enough, even when the past is clearly riddled with trauma. A trigger may have originated in childhood, but the patient is suicidal today, and the family will certainly look at us as accountable if we don’t prevent it.

Whether it is the past raising its ugly head, perhaps the anniversary of the death of a child, or the memory of a sexual assault, or the thought of father pounding mother, or a nasty confrontation with a pit bull last week, therapists are quite worried about the state of the patient’s brain in the moment, the organic variable, or organicity—no matter our theoretical preference. Or we should be. The crime may be old or new, but the imprint is relevant today.

Thus the patient walks into therapy, for the first time maybe, or for the first time with a new therapist, and he is aware that he has issues, perhaps really old ones, or maybe new ones, or some relatively new, hoping to find experience and wisdom, at least one of the two, preferably both. It would be unnatural not to be skeptical under the circumstances, at least a little, and reticent, reluctant to spill the most intimate details of life, past and present, to a perfect stranger.

That perfect stranger’s ability to dispel anxiety quickly will influence the entire process, even if his skills are otherwise lacking. This explains so many bad therapeutic experiences: a prospect of great therapy, come to find, the therapist doesn't quite cut it.

And yet, to put a new patient at ease from the very start takes skill. Personality does matter. The relationship with the therapist matters, but training matters as much, perhaps more, in the end. Which is why we have consultants.

The goal remains, no matter the style, whether ala Columbo, unassuming, open, clueless at first, eventually annoying (like most good parents), or like Yoda, wizened over the years, to establish a safe, drama-free setting. And we want you to want to come back, naturally. Nobody likes to stop in the middle of a good story.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Family Reunions

I'm always a little reluctant to post about myself, but when there's a teaching moment, I can't exactly resist.

We've talked plenty about holidays and how horrible they are for so many, many people. And because we do this, the emphasis on the good takes a second seat, no seat at all, probably.

But when you reach an age that your children (most) are married (some still do this) and have children of their own, your focus is upon that new generation of young people, the grandchildren. You so want them to be healthy, in every single way, and to follow your traditions, if at all possible, and be the best people they can be.

When they are all together, under your roof, and the noise decibels compete with a good residence hall party, perhaps run away with the prize, there is nothing better. It is an ultimate high, and this is why holidays, for some, have the potential to be truly wonderful.

And in the middle of all of that, feeling quite good, the brain spinning with things to do and, let's not not say it, is filled with joy, you know that this is rare, that many people don't ever have that, can't ever, and it absolutely grieves me.

It is an experience my rabbi would say is perfectly normal, this switching from happiness (he refers to weddings), to sadness (a funeral) all in the same day.

Somehow we have to be able to switch it on and off, all in a moment, to be real people, not animals. When we're happy, we have to temper it, remember that so many are not.

So happy, and sad, holidays to all.