What happens when a meat-loving father has his diet (and his morality) questioned by his animal-loving daughter? He gets a quick lesson in veganism. Click to read the full article at Alive.com:
What happens when a meat-loving father has his diet (and his morality) questioned by his animal-loving daughter? He gets a quick lesson in veganism. Click to read the full article at Alive.com:
You're expecting 15 guests around your holiday table. Your “to do” list includes:
You could have asked for help, or simply accepted when it was offered, but for you, hosting is synonymous with accepting burden. The Food Network makes it look so easy. Besides, you have Friday off work (your first recess since Labor Day) that should be plenty of time.
For the 48 hours before the feast, not only are you struggling to execute, but you are also walking a tightrope threaded with the symptoms of anxiety: fatigue coupled with an elevated heart rate, impatience towards both the task you are racing to complete as well as towards your family members, distraction which just exacerbates inefficiency, and feelings of helplessness. Yet, somehow you manage to post a photo of a holiday decoration, or of a completed recipe, or of a wreath. Your post is tagged with "Can't wait's," and "So excited's," and "Only a few more hours!!!" Maybe you can hashtag your way to happiness? After all, it feels so good, being liked...being shared...being tagged. Online, who doesn't want to be "It"? When praise is an addiction, its absence creates a vacuum filled by self-blame, self-criticism, and shame.
Those feelings are not criminal. The crime is that, with all that is shared in cyberspace, our true selves are tucked under the bed. The dopamine of "like" supercedes the bruising of being honest.
Online does not tolerate "Can't handle it." Social media doesn't retweet "I wish I had more time." Facebook doesn't like "I'm not sure I'm ready for this." Your exhibition has become fake news.
Depression loves dishonesty, and online profiles reward cosmetics. That is why unearthing a peer willing to share stories of holiday stress is such a bijou. Anxiety is no longer a subject with a public face. When it is discussed, it is referred to as a disorder, a state which requires treatment.
Apprehension and loneliness during the holidays are not afflictions, they are symptoms of everyday humanity.
Perhaps a resolution this winter should be to begin sharing more than our Instagram lives; to not rely on Facebook posts to be pillars of a masquerade; but rather to use social media to provide social solace, and to seek out true connections within the ether.
It was her makeup application that first made me think something was not right. Foundation that was a few millimeters short of her hairline, and a few more from her jaw.
Odd, I thought.
In hindsight, I recognize the irony—misapplied camouflage attempting to conceal a slow deterioration. A failed cover-up.
What gradually followed for my mother were lost words and mild disorientation.
As with addiction, when reaching out to someone with dementia one can only prod, and suggest, and hope. Often, however, there must be a bottoming out—a physical or psychological cellar, a darkness through which the ill cannot see without guidance and advocacy.
My mother fell into that cellar this past April.
The woman who had, after her own mother’s passing, assumed the role of family matriarch, was being crippled by the mysterious demons of dementia and delirium.
The transition was gradual: at first forgetfulness and disorientation, a solemn diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, and ultimately a terrifying psychosis triggered by the unforgiving combination of a urinary tract infection and slow cognitive decline.
Two weeks earlier she was misplacing keys and struggling to comprehend Visa statements. Now, her apartment betrayed a scene of violence: a chair strewn in the hall, food and Corningware on the floor, and stories of strangers creeping up the back stairs where no stairs existed. To her uninitiated children, it was a psychological supernova; a terrifying introduction to the enigmatic and sometimes violent world of delirium.
Emergency Room, restraints, antibiotics, examinations, time.
Seven months later, the urgency is struggling to be replaced with acceptance, balanced with fatigue; the responsibility of a child towards their parent is wrestling with the responsibility of a father towards his children, and that of a grown adult granting himself the gift of self-care.
ACCEPTING THE LOSS OF THE PERSON WHO WAS
In my experience, most adults have complicated histories with their parents, which inevitably colour any present day interactions. There are incidents which are both unforgiven and unforgotten. Our parents try to compensate for their own regrets by regularly offering course corrections on our own parenting voyage. Nearly every adult child / parent relationship is a full plate drizzled with appreciation and overbearance; with affection and exasperation.
Dementia unplugs the pool of personal history. All that was is drained away, one day at a time, and is replaced by a new iteration of a being who is not quite whole.
Reconciling one’s self with that, means learning to find an escape route through which you can permit yourself to be free of that history. It becomes a frank exercise in acceptance and objectivity: those arguments unresolved, and those wounds unhealed, can no longer be allowed to demand your energy, or your time, or your impatience.
Your parent, in almost every definable fashion, has become your child.
It suddenly became necessary for me to re-centre my thought process. I found it often useful to imagine my mother a stranger. How would I care for the elderly mother of a close friend? Which version of myself would I want to present to a septuagenarian in crisis on a street corner?
Those answers were simple: patience, kindness, and advocacy.
A relationship with acceptance, and absolutely no sense of a shared history.
Those touchstones of my relationship with my mother forty-five years in the making—my parents’ divorce and its consequences; personalities in conflict; disapproval and debate–must be buried in a grave alongside what used to be the healthy psychological profile of my aging parent.
Alzheimer’s and dementia: the ultimate arbitrators of any relationship.
DAD, WHAT’S HAPPENING TO BUBBY?
As a child, I have become responsible for my mother’s well-being. As a parent, I am constantly standing on a teeter totter’s fulcrum, trying to credit my children’s intelligence by keeping them informed, while balancing that against the preservation of their memory of their grandmother who used to be well enough to host them for sleepovers and lead them on subway trips to see the Nutcracker.
Protectionism was my first instinct: euphemize recent stories of screaming, physical restraints, and terrifying hallucinations by replacing them with, “Bubby’s okay, and she sends her love.”
Much of that language trots alongside the timeline of the disease. During the first weeks, diagnoses are uncertain, and prognoses are hopeful. Time, though, slowly absorbs equivocation. Now, in early December, it is likely my mother is as improved as she will be. Throughout these months of treatment, bevies of conversations with physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, with my sister, my wife, and my mother’s lifelong friends, have helped me become comfortable with my own understanding of this disease. The result is my being more able, and more comfortable, being truthful and straightforward with my children.
They are old enough to understand that if I am not bringing them to visit their bubby, it is probably best they are not exposed to what lies on the far side of that hospital door.
My answers to their questions have finally become frank. We speak of depression, and dementia, and Alzheimer’s. At a psychologist’s request, we send videos of the grandchildren. I explain to my children that bubby becomes agitated and sad, and seeing them, even though a tablet’s screen, brings her great comfort.
It is one of the cruelest dimensions of this type of psychological disintegration: there is just enough residual intelligence and understanding for my mother to recognize the grandchildren, and to ask after them, and to be comforted by their image. However, enough logic and dimension has been stripped away that every day brings with it bursts of fear and anger, and outbursts of tears and confusion.
“How is Bubby?”
She’s not well. She gets very sad. But she misses you. She loves hearing stories about you, and seeing pictures of you.
And she probably won’t get better.
GUILT VS SELF-CARE
Summers, for me, are a period of lighter workloads and more flexible hours. If there was good fortune to be found in what was transpiring with my mother, it is that the crisis was born in late April.
This resulted in my sister (a school teacher with similar flexibility during the summer months) and I were in a temporal position of being able to become full-time advocates during an emergent situation.
Each of us was on-call either daily or every second day at the hospital, asking questions of the medical staff or being bedside attempting to digest a prognosis. We were able to be present during her UTI diagnosis and treatment, and then throughout the decision-making and healing process of a double craniotomy. We were there to provide recognition and comfort when she was moved for a short period into a residence, and then researched on her behalf and advocated for her readmittance to the hospital when her cognitive and behavioral condition became once again unstable.
Summer’s end brought with it the fall of our flexibility, and the onset of not only real life (school for my sister and my children, and my more demanding workload), but also with it the complicated logistics of my mother no longer being at a residence down the block from me, but rather in a hospital which would demand extra hours of weekly commuting were I to attempt to maintain my previous visitation schedule.
I was also beginning to understand the toll of caregivers’ fatigue. I was short-tempered with my family, not sleeping properly and was slinking back to fast food and potato chips as dopamine delivery systems while I was stuck in rush hour traffic. (It became a ritual that I meet my sister outside her house prior to hospital visits with a McFlurry for each of us. What she never knew is that, when I was alone, I upsized my small to a medium. Here lies the confession, sis.)
Therapy helped. Although guilt is the world’s most sensitive hair-trigger. Every call from the hospital elicits a churning of regret. My ability to overcome and assuage my guilt is directly related to the nature of the conversation.
The calls I have learned to most easily recover from are those from the nursing staff informing me my mother has fallen, but is unharmed (a several times weekly occurrence), or the necessity of hiring someone to care for her toenails, or the connection or disconnection of the television.
Conversely, guilt perverts itself into shame and sorrow when my mother calls asking if I have any room in my house, even for just a day or so, so she can live with her family while she obtains a new credit card and shops for a condo. The pleas are tear-filled. I can hear my mother fighting to sound as rational as possible, as though she were aware that her psychological health was tenuous, and under constant evaluation.
(Even in relaying these details, my guilt coerces me into justifying that, during those same conversations, she will confide in me that there are men chasing her, that she had been out for a drive earlier that day, and that she has been caring for her cat. All this while not realizing she has not left the hospital for months.)
Many people who visit a counselor for their marriage or other relationships are told: you cannot love others unless you learn to love yourself.
That seemed to me the mantra of ethereal hipsterism until a few months ago.
Now, I accept it as a truism.
My mother is in a place where she is being cared for. We are fortunate that, despite the nurse’s salary she earned throughout her career, she was a careful and steadfast financial planner and we are thankfully able to provide companions for her.
I am learning to give myself permission to be my own first priority. Who do I want to be? How do I want to feel? What kind of energy do I want to reserve for my own family?
Finding the answers to these questions is far easier that implementing their solutions.
My mother’s friends and more distant relatives, who are satellites to her predicament, grasp for news and explanations and understanding. Helplessness can be excruciating. I have learned to answer only when it is convenient for me, and only truthfully. I have accepted that, if my mother’s condition has worsened, or improved, or stabilized, it is not because of what I have not done. It is because this is the nature of this disease.
No amount of my attention can scrape away plaques and tangles, or frighten away hallucinations, or defeat depression.
Her bedside will welcome me when I am available, and will wait silently during my absence. All the while, dementia will creep in through the cracks, whether I am posted guard or not.
The gifts of a long-term illness such as Alzheimer’s are as few as the memories the disease leaves in its wake. However, its lessons can be ironically abundant and fruitful. Discovering those lessons, and drawing meaning from them, is the slog.
I relentlessly try to remind myself that each day offers rewards in some form. A hug from my children, my wife’s humor showing up in a text, driving in the middle lane while absorbing an hour of my favourite podcast.
Forever in the shadow of those moments lurks the awareness of the life my mother is “living,” a grey room in a geriatric hospital. Sadness. Fear. Loneliness. Confusion. The cruelty of a disease which strips away not only mental souvenirs, but with them wedges of personality and understanding.
Since beginning to speak aloud (and write) of these circumstances, I have met many peers and friends who have been affected by dementia in those people dear to them. Many who suffer from Alzheimer’s are left docile and accepting, even from within their cognitive blindness. Others, like my mother, are treated more cruelly. The remaining aspects of their personality are darker embers, sediments not deglazed.
Why? What determines one’s experience with dementia? Genetics? Personality profiles? Environment?
The only certainty seems to be all the things which will forever be uncertain. And acceptance seems to be the only state which allows us, the satellites to the disease, to continue to function from a place of patience, and gratitude for ourselves and for our own families.
It is a mental exercise of daily personal challenge and learning. Should I ever become afflicted by Alzheimer’s intellectual invasion, I hope that—at the very least—I can remember a life lived without regret.
The "heroic" takedown of Harvey Whinestein et al has perhaps destabilized the house of cards. However, only the most notorious kings and jesters have been toppled. A vast secret society of misogynists and harassers still support the lattice work, leaning shoulder to shoulder and foot to foot within the full house below.
At fault is not only the genetic nature of these misanthropic sexists, but also the unforgiving success equation which is the lifeblood of fruitful careers in media and the performance arts:
Sycophancy + Shame = the possibly of Unimaginable Success.
I have worked within electronic media for more than twenty-years. Prior to that, my focus was on becoming an actor.
Ultimately, I have become comfortable in my resignation that success adopts many forms: family, a thriving household, friendship and personal health.
My chickens have been counted, and they are happily roosting in my nest woven of a mainstream career and upper middle-class life.
I still experience pangs of "what-ifs" and "if only's." However what I do not grieve is that pitiful feeling, that nausea, and that sense of helplessness which seems to permeate many workshops, auditions and readings which are "necessary" should one hope to achieve even the smallest success as an actor.
How do the Whinesteins get away with it? Actors are trained to let them.
Like a cult, actors from the youngest of ages are taught to be in touch with emotion. Every workshop is a family. You must be free to share, hug, kiss, cry, laugh, and bare yourself to strangers. Each class incorporates trust exercises: stand on a window ledge, close your eyes and fall into the arms of your "partner" - i.e. the person you met twelve minutes ago.
Stand face-to-face with your acting partner and recite your first thought. Should that thought be, "Your body is beautiful," it behooves you to say it, lest you allow dishonestly to encumber your acting. Should your partner respond with, "Don't say that to me," they are close-minded, and perhaps not prepared for the emotional grind of Hollywood.
Most of all, when improvising with a fellow actor, the golden rule is:
Year after year, audition after audition, hundreds of times over, an actor continues to "hone his or her craft," and works with "wonderful people." Self-doubt is something one must overcome if you are to "make it." Distrust must be banished and replaced with a communistic sense of belonging, accessible at a moment's notice in the event one is called upon to audition a death scene, or love scene...or sex scene.
With millions of actors all pining for the peak of the pyramid, it becomes an excavation of one's own pride and self-worth to determine: what are you willing to do that others may not.
In Season 4 of "Game of Thrones," Emilia Clarke added a "No Nudity" clause to her contract.
After three years on the show, she decided enough was enough. She had also accumulated enough clout to be able to dictate terms.
Imagine being an actress, a decade in to auditions, workshops, and feather-duster commercials being offered a lead role on a HBO series.
"You'll have to be naked a lot," the producer says. "You're a beautiful girl, and we're going to showcase you and your beauty."
Who would say no? Especially realizing with absolute certainty that turning down an opportunity which presents itself literally once in one's lifetime may mean a career in the service industry versus one in Hollywood.
Add, now, the pressure of thousands of actresses pushing against the door, hoping your weakness (i.e., self-worth) results in just one more call back for a girl ready to bare it all, because, in acting, they were taught, you NEVER...SAY...NO.
Clarke has since reversed her no nudity clause. More importantly, she chose to reverse it. Why? Because she can. Because her capacity to earn a profit for a production company empowers her with enough clout to decide whether to flaunt her body.
I have auditioned for weird agents, one of whom asked me to remove my shirt for my audition, another who asked me to read for him - from a soft-porn script. After both instances I felt queasy. Worse, I felt worthless for feeling queasy. I guess I just don't have the stuff, I told myself.
It was possible I didn't have the talent, or the opportunity, or the grit.
None of that changes the fact that these guys are creeps. And, these were two agents from my hometown, whose names were atop an agent search list. Why?
Your job is to tell producers how wonderful the project is, how lucky you are to be attached to a project, and then to thank them for the opportunity.
"I'd rather not take off my shirt."
Thank you for coming.
"I'd rather not do nude scenes."
You're in the wrong business.
"You won't believe what Harvey did to me."
Oh, that's just Harvey being Harvey.
Local radio and television - which has been vocation for more that twenty years - does not fare much better. Scantily-clad pinups on walls, Maxim covers as computer wallpaper, and boys-being-boys whistling at waitresses and female co-workers over beers after work are still not unusual.
Want to be an anchor, or bureau chief, or travel with the team? Learn to take a joke; learn to look the other way; MAN UP.
"This is a tough business."
It's not, actually. I imagine being an EMT is a touch business. Media is a competitive business, not a tough one.
Media, like acting, offers the promise of glamor and stardom (even within a local framework). Among those competing for positions in front of a camera or a microphone (and often even for the higher profile positions behind the scenes), jealousy and politics play crucial roles. It is a daily audition.
Even in 2017, a twenty-four year old intern is not going to ask his fifty-year-old boss to scrub the office of offending materials. An intern won't tell his boss his jokes aren't funny. An intern won't tell his boss that, perhaps, the waitress doesn't appreciate being whistled at.
Just ask Billy Bush.
Whinstein may have regrets, but the actor on his or her way to an audition is probably still willing to do (almost) anything for a career like Gwyneth Paltrow's.
A young reporter will probably still do (almost) anything to cover the Red Carpet.
It's not the house of cards that needs toppling, it is the legs of the table supporting the stack of knaves which needs reinforcement, and assurances that they can walk alone, and still consider themselves successful.
Teaching your children responsibility is one of the backbones of parenting. Why, then, is it so difficult to know how much is too much, and how soon is too soon? Sometimes the hardest thing for an adult to do is to let their child grow up.
On BT Montreal, we discuss some tips for helping your pre-teen transition from elementary school to high school.
This can be a challenge for both parents and children who may be nervous and concerned for what lies ahead :
I no longer perceive smartphones as being monsters under children's beds.
Progress has triumphed, as it always does. My sense of realism has allowed me to accept that communication is no longer what it was. It is what it is, and, one day, will be what it will be.
When I watch my kids text their friends—their necks strained toward the floor, giving them a profile of a lower-case "r", like a lamplight with a loose shoelace—it no longer makes me grit and spasm.
"Why don't you just call them?!" I used to shout.
"What the difference?!" They would answer.
I didn't really know what the difference was.
Perhaps it was through watching reruns of Downton Abbey I realized that, in 1915, even the simple telephone was a modern horror.
Present day, when it came to texting and "Facetiming" (that word still evokes images of something one gets done at a spa), I was the problem.
What was it then? Why, despite meditation and a determined sense of acceptance, did social media habits still drive me crazy?!
I pondered that question.
And here are the answers :
You can't leave it alone.
You forget it's on.
- The alarm is set for school days. But, today, there was no school, but we were awakened anyway. That is why I didn't want a dog - because sleep-ins.
- The battery is low, and it is calling to us at 3am from somewhere under a sofa cushion. Which cushion? We don't know. However, in the middle of the night, it is mostly likely under the cushion furthest from the bedroom, necessitating a series of shin-bruising stumbles into ottomans and doorways.
- You promised not to answer your device during a meal. But, you didn't actually turn it off. So:
"This steak is delic-" bleep!
"Remember I said I would speak to my boss today? Well I did. She said, 'If there is one thing I want to make absolutely clear, it's-'" blap!
"I took the pregnancy test and shockingly I-" zing!
People reach out, with nothing to say.
- How does one answer a text which reads "Hey! What's up?!"
Do I write "Nothing." Or, do you really want the whole story?
- Or the Facetime call (do we call them "calls?", or are they "connections?" or "digitizations?") so that we may witness the cat curled curled up next to the bird, who is asleep on the dog, who is asleep on your Ugg, which you just Pintrested. Ugh.
Having something to say should be a prerequisite for any Facetime/Skype/Hangout interaction. Your snoring husband doesn't count. Even a "hysterical" snoring husband loses his pizzazz after I've been watching him for thirteen seconds on my thirteen inch screen.
"Say something," as the song goes, or, "I'm giving up on you."
You can't figure the thing out, so they end up texting me.
I fault no one for not understanding technology. I fault no one for choosing to avoid technology. The fault lies with the person who understands tech halfway, but chooses the deadly-tech-combo of not being curious to learn more, and yet still using it freely.
It produces weird tech math:
1) You reach out to them.
2) They respond to you.
3) You are unaware of, and/or cannot retrieve the text/voice/email message.
4) So they reach out to me.
5) I am now in charge of this project.
This is where old tech trumps new tech.
Just call them.
Use the wall phone and a pen and a wall calendar.
That way we techies are left out of it.
You're at my house...to see me.
Don't know much about history.
Don't know much biology.
Don't know much about a science book.
Don't know much about the French I took...
- Sam Cooke
...And you don't need to brush up on all of that while I'm offering you homemade dates wrapped with bacon, pesto bruschetta, and a glass of that 20 year port you love.
We see each other semi-annually. Put. It. Down. And...
...please talk to me
Won't you please talk to me
We can unlock this misery
Come on, come talk to me
- Peter Gabriel
"Why aren't they answering?!" Anxiety
12:04 pm - Text sent.
12:08 pm - Check for response (while pouring coffee)
12:10 pm - Check for response (while ironing with one hand)
12:16 pm - Check for response (while sitting on the toilet)
12:41 pm - Check for response (while driving)
12:50 pm - Check for response (while yelling at your kids to put down the iPad and go play outside.)
12:56 pm - Check for response (and become angry that they are not answering.)
13:04 pm - Check for response (becoming worried now.)
13:08 pm - Send the follow up, "Hello??!!" text.
13:14 pm - Send a text to another friend asking, "Have you heard from Rachel lately? I'm worried"
13:22 pm - Begin to imagine scenarios when you have wronged Rachel, giving her cause to unfriend, and generally hate you.
I love my phone. It is my communications tool, my research tool, and a tool for entertainment and diversion.
The difference between the land line and the smart phone—the difference between then and now—is: the "now" device has become an unabashed dictator.
It dictates the user's behaviour, often in countersense to the user's wishes or intentions.
It behaves similarly with the...usee (pronounced yoo-zee), the person with whom the user is supposed to be interacting.
I cannot recall a previous innovation which, along with pleasure, brought so much imbalance, anxiety and unwanted distraction.
Of course, we humans created the machines. There are no ghosts, only programmers and users. If there are phantoms within these pods and pads, they exist only to create the illusion that we will be somehow disadvantaged if we cut the tether.
We are worried that, if we walk away, not only will we no longer be part of an important social media collective, but the device itself may whisper to us from the dark,
"Where are you going? You're not leaving me alone, are you?"
The apparatus is the clown on the chair during heat lightning. It smiles when the lights flicker. And, when it suddenly goes missing, we become frightened.
We spend so much time searching online for what we might be missing, I worry we miss too much by not lifting our chins and searching for what was there all along.
By the way, feel free to take 2 minutes away from whatever you're doing to share this link.
My teeth have begun to fall out. The medicine cabinet is now the Brundle Museum of Natural History. You wanna see what else is in it?
- Seth Brundle, "The Fly" 1986
My night table has become my museum of natural history. It is a display table on which my children witness my slow progression toward old age. As with all life forms that have come before me, I am barrelling towards extinction.
My most recent reminder of this came courtesy of my dentist:
"Do you grind your teeth when you sleep?" he asked.
Maybe I do, I thought. I do a lot of things is my sleep; I fly, I play a key role in abolishing slavery, and I beat Mr. Boitano to win the battle of the Brians and give Canada Olympic gold in 1988.
"Maybe. I don't know. Why?" I respond.
"I see evidence of grinding. There is considerable wear here...and here. I recommend a night guard."
So, now I have one. Another apparatus (in the same family as dentures, I think) that I must add to my daily routine, which is becoming a preparatory school for old age.
Shall we start from the bottom, up?
I'll bundle together my ankles, knees and back; like a cable package. I do this for you, Dear Reader, as an ode to brevity. I'll also bale my joint issues in an effort to attribute them all to my athletic youth: a glorious amateur career in figure skating.
I have degenerated disks and lumbar arthritis, my left knee feels like a melon in a vice when I assume a crouch position, and my ankles...hurt. I don't know why they do, and, as part of the enduring male tradition of denial, I don't seek a resolution, lest I be told I can no longer jog - the only exercise I get.
I am now also one of those middle-agers at whom I used to giggle. If we plan an outing during which we will be walking more than a kilometre, I must wear sensible shoes. Sensible; even the word connotes tedium and decrepitude.
My physical tenderness fosters a complimentary sympathy from my kids: "Can we wrestle, Dad, or is your back sore?"
They used to just tackle with abandon.
I feel I am 45 years-old with a fossil's fragility.
There is one other joint that may soon require attention. Pain killers and anti-inflammatories are now nestled next to my eye glasses on my night table. When I am too lazy to fetch my specs from the place I last forgot them, my elbow performs diligently as a hinge, searching for a focal point as I read four pages before nodding off.
Oh, long live the night-life!
(I also cannot fall asleep without a knee pillow. That's right, like rival siblings, even my patellae can't lean next to each other without being irritated.)
If ever I forget my knee pillow, I'll have to look for it in the middle of the night. No worries, though. I'll have time to do that when I get up to pee, at 1:20, 3:15, 4:50, and when the alarm goes off around 6.
Truthfully, this is not entirely a consequence of waning years. I have bladder sphincter dyssynergia (just click the link if you're interested, I'm too old to explain it to you. Time is life.)
This condition, too, is medically treated. My daily Myrbetriq vial stands next to the anti-inflammatory like a bishop guarding a rook.
My lifestyle is also...aging...but, in a good way, like blue cheese. Stephen King has lost his spot to historical non-fiction (oh, please, I'm not that heady. Historical non-fiction still loses the war to Grisham and John Sandford).
I recently introduced my son to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band with the obligatory, "This is when people still wrote great music." Typical. Nothing other than what existed during my youth is worth anything.
When "Billy Jean" was on the radio the other day, I told my daughter, "When I was your age, this was the biggest song on the planet!"
She replied, "You say that every time an old song comes on."
An old song. That's me, now.
Yes, yes, I know. Perspective. Decades to come. I still have my health. Grandchildren to look forward to. First World problems. I know, I know.
But this is my blog. So, shut up. Give me twenty minutes to whine.
There. I feel better.
I'm just saying, aging awareness is a new phenomenon for me.
I am, "by the time-ing" a lot:
"By the time my kids have kids, I'll be retired (I hope)."
"By the time my kids are my age, I'll be almost eighty."
"By the time I finish this post, I'll be ready for a nap."
I love napping. What's with that?
What I don't love is waking up from my nap and dealing with a knee pillow, a night guard, a full bladder, a sore back, and lost glasses.
It is what it is, but I don't have to like it.
By the way, when did I start using the term "night table"?
As a kid, I just threw my shit on the floor. Now, I hate when my kids throw their shit on the floor.
Discussions about women's biological clocks are fairly routine. Interestingly, studies have begun to pop up showing that men, too, experience decreasing fertility sooner than we first thought. When asked, men also admitted to feeling deep regret about choosing career over parenthood.
This was the topic of my most recent visit to Breakfast Television:
I often quote the late Roger Ebert's mantra, "It's not what a movie is about, it is how it is about it."
As a writer, after years of wondering whether I should address any given topic, I finally have come to enough terms with one subject in particular that it was time to ask, "Why am I not writing about this one?"
Why am I not writing about my mental health?
S-T-I-G-M-A: noun, "A mark of shame, or discredit." (Merriam-Webster)
I have been seeing a psychologist for nearly eight months. At first weekly, then bi-weekly, and now every third week. I would prefer to go no more often, but mental health care is not inexpensive.
Why, just a couple of weeks before Christmas 2016, did I decide things had gotten so bad that I needed psychological therapy?
The answer to that question is at the very epicentre of what ails our understanding of mental health: Things had not gotten so bad, and I wanted them never to deteriorate to that point.
I wasn't depressed; but I was occasionally sad. I wasn't suffering from anxiety; but I was anxious.
I wasn't right.
I wasn't looking forward to most of what a week would bring.
I knew others who did suffer from serious anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia. What business did I have thinking I needed therapy?
It was one friend who asked me one question that convinced me to call a psychologist: "Wouldn't life be better if you did look forward to things?"
I didn't really think that was possible. But, what if it was?
What if it was?
I had spent years thinking my feelings weren't worthy of being addressed. But don't those who are further down the spectrum of mental illness begin at the beginning? Didn't they, one day, tip from being fine to being not-so-fine? Didn't they slowly teeter from unhappy to depressed?
Ultimately, for many who suffer, "not fine" went unaddressed and ignored, and became "unwell." This, in turn matured into "ill." Mentally ill.
A therapist was recommended to me by a close friend. She explained, "The psychologist begins with a half-hour phone consultation during which she will decide whether she thinks she can help you."
The therapist's website extolled meaningfulness, lasting relationships and self-healing. As men, we are taught to belittle what is perceived as daytime talk show language. We don't watch Oprah, though we may want to. We don't emote, though we should. We don't seek help, even when we must.
Ironically, my physiological reactions as I dialed the psychologist's number mimicked my behaviour under stress: dry mouth, palpitations, perspiration, tightness in my throat and rapid speech.
This, I would learn weeks later, is my body engaging its fight-or-flight reflex. It determined--while I was calling a therapist to ask for her help--that I was under attack.
That is how men have been conditioned to react to weakness: fight it, or run away. Don't succumb; don't seek solutions; don't share. Fight, or run.
"How can I help you?" She asked.
I explained how I didn't look forward to things. I could fake it, but, in almost all situations, I would look forward to just being home.
And I craved alone time, always.
It was not a question of whether this was 'normal', it was a matter of this psychological need being unhealthy for myself and my family. I am a husband, and a father of two, and a son, and a brother, and a friend, and an employee, and a school volunteer,
I want to be eager for the days ahead. I envy those who are excited about parties and barbecues and having a drink with friends.
Slowly, therapy is teaching me how to summon the strength to ask for what I need: an afternoon away, or half-an-hour of reading on the couch in the evening instead of watching TV with the kids. I have gotten over the prejudice I held towards meditation. I can lie on the floor of my bedroom listening to my meditation apps (Buddhify and Meditation Studio), and feel more rested and peaceful after only twenty minutes.
I am also learning that I can allow myself to enjoy things within my own framework. If I don't want to socialize at a party, I can sit and listen.
I have to change people's expectations of what I bring to a room. I am more of an introvert than an extrovert, and I have to give myself permission to behave accordingly.
There are rough patches as I work on myself. I am changing the person my loved ones and peers have come to know over decades. This is an adjustment for them as well. And that's okay. It is okay for there to be moments of strife and disagreement. This does not mean I am failing, or losing, or neglecting. It means I am human and am demonstrating qualities that many others have already mastered: self-assurance and independence from expectation.
Talking about mental health has become "splashionable." It is fashionable to splash around in a cause's puddle for a while, along with our "friends" on social media. There is Bell's Let's Talk Day, and the World Health Organization's Mental Health Day, and National Child and Youth Mental Health Day, and many other days of consternation.
But then what? Hundreds of days of advocacy disappearance.
I have written before about depression, especially in men, and how those affected by a family member's suicide have tried unique approaches to reach those who are reluctant to reach out.
The resources are in place. What is not established is a systematic change to the perception that psychological hardship should not be addressed in the same fashion as physical discomfort. When your joints are sore, how long before you pop acetaminophen and mention it to your family practitioner? Do you hesitate to mention to friends an appointment with a physiotherapist to strengthen your back?
Contemplating suicide is not the only gateway to picking up a phone. And S-T-I-G-M-A should not be allowed to shame you into keeping quiet. Worry about the perception of seeking talk therapy is valid, and it may not release its grip. Asking for help concerning your mental health is difficult, and uncomfortable, and is often dismissed by family and peers. But, wouldn't it feel good to feel good? Wouldn't it be healing to speak with a professional who brings with them none of your history, or knowledge of your habits, or judgment about your behaviour?
I spent years wondering whether I was a worthy candidate for therapy. Wondering wasn't helping. Thinking wasn't healing. Hiding was hurting.
So I talked. And now you know.