Tag Archives: psychology

Rationalizing Death

Have you ever noticed how we try to rationalize death? It’s as if we can control it somehow if we can explain it away. If I can understand why it happened, I can somehow avoid it happening to me and mine. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really work. If you read my post from a few days ago you know that a little girl who was competing at the same dance competition as my daughter, Charlie, passed away suddenly after suffering an asthma attack at the competition. (https://psychobabblechat.com/2015/01/27/a-little-girl-died/) Her passing has impacted my daughter, her friends, and our family in a variety of ways, not the least of which is my daughter’s current awareness that children really do die. This made me think about my own somewhat similar experience from my own childhood. When I was in junior high, a classmate was diagnosed with some form of cancer. I don’t remember what type, but within a year or two, Jackie (Hebeka, I think) had passed away. From what I can remember, she had been out of school for some time before she died. I went to the visitation with some friends to pay our respects and I remember it being a surreal experience. It was an open coffin and she was just a kid. But I also remember thinking, “Well, she had cancer and I don’t have cancer, so I am OK”. It was really important to me at the time that I know I was OK and not going to die.

My daughter had the same reaction. See, Charlie has asthma – an extremely mild form of asthma, but asthma nonetheless. You should have seen her face when I explained that this little girl had passed… from asthma. She immediately asked if the little girl had severe asthma (I assured her she had) and asked for reassurance that her own asthma was mild (I again assured her it was). Isn’t it amazing how it is our natural inclination to try to explain death and, often, try to use that explanation to provide comfort that we (are our loved ones) are safe.

How many times have you heard a conversation like this?

Betty:                    “Did you hear about Ben?”

George:                               “No, what happened.”

Betty:                    “He died on Monday.  Heart attack.”

George:                               “Wow. That’s terrible. I just saw him last week and he seemed fine.”

Betty:                    “Well, you know he didn’t take very good care of himself.”

George:                               “That’s true. Poor Judy.”

We are always looking for a reason people have passed away as though this somehow protects us from sharing the same fate. They died because they smoked or drank or sped or didn’t exercise or ate like crap or had cancer… or had asthma. Maybe it is a way for us to focus on the logical side of our brain rather than feel the emotions related to the loss (sadness, fear, anger, etc.). What do you think?

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Challenge for Challenge Sake

When I was much younger, a teenager really, I would seek out relationships with men who were unavailable. I don’t mean they were taken already (I was not a total bitch), but these were guys who didn’t want relationships or were just really bad risks. Now that I am much, much (quiet, you) older, I realize I was seeking out these relationships for two reasons:

  1. I was not emotionally ready to be in a “real” relationship and dating crappy people reduced the likelihood of anything serious ever happening. The guy known as a player, the one who is drunk all of the time and the guy who is a borderline criminal are unlikely to settle down anytime soon.
  2. I was excited about the challenge. If I could “break” them and make them change then they must really be into me. The sad thing is I broke a couple, but then I didn’t want them anymore. This is the danger of being after the challenge – once the challenge is gone, so is the spark.

Fortunately, I reached a point when these reasons were not the way I chose my relationships. When I was ready, I chose for much better characteristics – fun and friendship, attraction and chemistry, loyalty and passion. What I am realizing, though, is the tendency to focus on things only because they are a challenge – not just relationships. We do things just to prove we can. In and of itself, not tragic, but it is important to know why you are doing things. I ran the LA marathon in 2004 just to prove to myself that I could. There was no other reason. It was a challenge, I faced it and I never need to do it again (it was hard). If I had approached that marathon expecting some other outcome, I would have been terribly disappointed.

Know why you are acting. If it is a challenge, for challenge sake, know it and accept it. If you want there to be a higher purpose behind it – identify that goal and determine if it is a realistic one or not. If it is – great, if not – it is time to reassess and change your game plan.

Unanswered Prayers

I’ve talked about my daughter before – her name is Charlie and she is almost 10 years old. She is awesome and I love her, but she has recently taken a turn for the dramatic (could it be teen hormones already?). Anyway… I was tucking her into bed the other day and she looked at me and asked, “Why doesn’t anything ever go my way?” (Like I said, a flare for the dramatic). We had a long talk about what it was that was bothering her and resolved her current crisis as best we could at 9 PM. I even added a little reality check about using words like “never” and “always”.

Everything seemed good, but it got me to thinking – we (all of us) have a tendency to assume not getting our way is always a bad thing. We assume if something else had happened, everything would have been better. Let me give you an easy example- a client was recently in a car accident. It wasn’t anything too traumatic, but there was car damage which is always a hassle. My client was in my office complaining how she keeps getting screwed by life and if she had only left 5 minutes later (or earlier) the accident could have been avoided. I think it is perfectly natural to feel this way, but it is important to remember things could have been actually worse. Maybe a different, more serious car accident would have occurred. It is impossible to know. We can waste so much time focused on what “might” have happened.

There is even a song about it. Do you know Garth Brooks’ song “Unanswered Prayers”? Here is a peek, if you aren’t sure (http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/the-13-greatest-country-songs-for-thanksgiving-20141125/garth-brooks-unanswered-prayers-1990-20141125). It’s all about a man who goes back to his home town and sees his high school girlfriend with whom he had so desperately wanted a future. The relationship had not worked out and both had moved on. When the singer looks around, he realizes how not getting what he wanted actually helped him to get what he really needed after all (wife, kids, happiness). The ways that not getting what we want actually serves us is not always so transparent or direct, but it is important to try not to spend too much time on what might have been at the detriment of what actually is.

My stepdad died about 12 years ago after a painful bout with pancreatic cancer. I was living on the West Coast while he and my mom were in Michigan. I got a call one day I should come home because the doctors determined he did not have much time left. I booked a flight for the next day, but he passed before I got there. For a fairly long while I was torn up about not having had an opportunity to say goodbye. I had this dramatic vision of a Hollywood deathbed goodbye where we shared our feelings (all good) and he peacefully went to “sleep”. I felt cheated of this. Over time, I became aware that his deathbed was likely nothing like this. He was not conscious and communicating. I was spared seeing him so ill. My last memory of him is not him sickly and weak, but up and about and teasing me. I was not cheated, but was spared. I did not get what I wanted, but it was for the best.

So, here is my takeaway – if you get frustrated about something that happened (or didn’t happen), remember it may have been in your best interest. Even if you can’t see how it is good for you, try not to dwell too much on what could have been (or should have been) and, instead, focus on what is. Try to make your “is” as good as you can.

You are a Survivor

I’ve noticed something lately. I used to think people were “playing the victim” to be manipulative or to get attention and/or sympathy, but I think there is more to it. When you are the victim, you don’t have to change – you are doing nothing wrong. The bad thing is happening to you because someone else is doing something mean or evil or wrong or mean to you. They are the ones who need to change their behavior or be punished. You just get to be you.

Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of times someone is doing something to you that is horrible and undeserved and you did absolutely nothing to bring it on. That sucks. I get it. But, and here is the big but, you decide what you are going to do about it and how you are going to recover. You get to decide if you are a victim or a survivor. There is a lot more power and control over your life as a survivor than as a victim.

If a man beats a woman – that is terrible. He is a reprehensible human being and deserves to be punished within the fullest extent of the law (and maybe a little bit more). This woman has experienced something tragic and painful and, undoubtedly, feels scared and betrayed. Labeling her as “the victim” means she has no power over what happens to her next. It limits her. If she views herself as a victim, she may feel vulnerable. If she is a survivor, she can stand up and get out of the relationship. She can heal her body, mind, and spirit and rebuild her life.

If a child grows up in a home rife with abuse, he or she can be a “victim of child abuse” or a survivor of child abuse. Can you imagine how people selecting those two different labels might view themselves and their experiences? One is empowering while the other seems to minimize their power.

This isn’t just about abuse. We can become so firmly entrenched in bad or unfair things that are happening to us that we don’t look for a way out. The weight of the “bad” holds us down and almost smothers us. It is important to look around you to see if there is any way to make the situation better and, if not, how to find an exit strategy. A client of mine recently told me about the difficulties he was having with his supervisor at work. He felt she was unjustifiably critical of him and often ignored his requests for assistance. He reported feeling trapped by her and saw no way to “make her change”. We began to explore their interactions (through his report, of course) and he discovered he has a tendency to be defensive, argumentative and passive-aggressive with this supervisor. We discussed how his style of communication might be contributing to her treatment of him. This was not all on him – at least it didn’t seem so, but once we could identify how he was exacerbating the situation, we could problem-solve ways to (hopefully) improve their relationship. My client had been so stuck in his self-identified role as the victim of his mean supervisor he had not been able to recognize his own behaviors. He could not change what he did not recognize. When we become so firmly entrenched in our position as the victim, we cannot acknowledge changes we might make to improve the situation.

Let’s sum this is – if you are in a problematic relationship, look for ways you might be able to make It better. If this isn’t possible, look for your way out. Life it is too short to be miserable. You are a survivor.

No Time Like the Present – that means NOW

I need you all to explain something to me. What is this magical power that “Monday” seems to have? Ah! Everything seems to wait until Monday. A friend will talk to me about reinvesting themselves in working out – going to the gym, running in their neighborhood, biking to work, you name it – I am, of course, slightly intimidated and incredibly impressed by their commitment and drive. Then they say those three little words – no, not “I love you”, but of course they do, but “I’ll start Monday.” What? Wait a minute – why wait until Monday? Dude, it’s, like, Tuesday…

I have been guilty of this myself. Somehow there is this idea what any new change has to happen at the beginning of the week or it isn’t “official” or something. That is crap, I tell you, crap. You want to start something new? Want to make a change? Well, there is no time like the present. Start today. Right now. This minute. Don’t even wait to start tomorrow morning. Now!

You may be wondering why I am being so pushy – well, a lot can happen between now and tomorrow morning or Monday. A lot can happen between now and then that will interfere with you plans. It is too easy to keep putting things off until Monday, next month, summer, after the holidays, etc. Procrastination party of one! If you are motivated now and have created a plan – do it. I don’t care if you ate the junk foodiest breakfast on Earth this morning, you can still start your plan to eat healthier now. Spent a crap ton at the mall today? Well, you can start being more “fiscally responsible” right now.

So, the next time you are going to make a change in your life, please remember – there is no time like the present.

Post-Holiday Slump

A frequent complaint of patients in my office this time of year is something they call Seasonal Depression. This is a very real diagnosis and many people suffer from it. What I find, though, is many people who self-diagnose as Seasonal Depression are really experiencing a post-holiday emotional slump. Regardless of whatever holiday you may celebrate (religious or otherwise) there are a number of celebrations that occur during November and December each year. Due to these celebrations, we are disgustingly busy during this 6-8 week period and are often running from one social event to another. By the time we get to catch our breath, it’s the beginning of January. Now, if you live anywhere besides the Southernmost states or California, it is also a time of bitter cold and related household lockdown.

For most of us, after the excitement of New Year’s, there isn’t much new coming up until Valentine’s Day (and the emotional whiplash THAT holiday causes). I call this the post-holiday slump. We have been so busy with November and December that we don’t know what to do with ourselves and all our current free time. There is also, often, little to look forward to. This is my recommendation. Create things to look forward to. Plan a vacation. Schedule a meet-up with friends. Put a massage on the books. Find something to give you some excitement.

Post-holiday slump is typically short in duration – a few weeks, a month maybe. If you find it is lasting too long or the symptoms are too difficult for you to manage on your own or if you consider doing anything to hurt yourself or anyone else – get help immediately. Do not walk, run to your nearest mental health professional – in a pinch, call 911 or go to the local Emergency Room so you can get immediate help. You do what you can to manage your symptoms, but there is never any shame in needing help.

So… Your Friend is Transgendered – Now What?

I have gotten a number of emails, phone calls, tweets and general comments over the past couple of days about the tragic suicide of a transgendered young woman, Leelah Alcorn (born Joshua Alcorn). Much of the focus of discussion has been on this young woman’s suicide note (you can link to it here if you haven’t read it or want a refresher http://lazerprincess.tumblr.com/post/106447705738/suicide-note), her transgender status and/or her Christian parents’ refusal to accept/acknowledge that transgender status. I’ve been listening to criticism of her parents and debates over whether or not transgender is real. I don’t really care if you think transgender is legitimate or not (though I can tell you as a mental health professional it is), but what I can tell you is this young woman was in immense pain.

We need to do a better job of taking care of each other – especially our children who may not have adequate coping skills to manage life’s challenges. I am not going to jump on the bandwagon and rip her parents apart. If what has been has said about them is true, I do not agree with their parenting choices and wish things had been managed differently, but that isn’t what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the need to keep an eye on one another.

What can you do if someone in your life is dealing with transgender identity (even if the person isn’t talking about suicide)?

  1. Talk to someone. I am not saying “out” them, but if you need to process through your own thoughts and feelings – talk it out. You can maintain their confidentiality while working things through. You may not know what to do to help. Ask for help! Talk to a teacher, a parent, a school counselor, a priest, I don’t really care who, but talk to someone until you get guidance. All too often, we avoid things that make us uncomfortable – you can’t do that here. This is too important.
  2. Be there. Talk with your friend or family member about what all of this means for them. Even, as in Leelah Alcorn’s situation, you are not “supportive” of transgendered identity, there are still “safe” topics of feeling lonely, sad, and isolated. This is still the same person they were before you learned they are transgendered. If he is a good friend, she will be, too.
  3. Refer to support groups (not just for your loved one, but for you, too). Knowledge is power!
    1. http://community.pflag.org/transgender
    2. http://www.glaad.org/transgender
    3. http://www.transgender.support/
    4. http://susans.org/
    5. http://www.iamtransgendered.com/SupportGroups.aspx

These are but a few of the online, national organizations available to provide information and support, both to the individual and to their loved ones. There are also countless programs available within your own community. When I worked at Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles (CHLA), I became acquainted with their amazing program (http://www.chla.org/site/c.ipINKTOAJsG/b.7501767/k.5FBA/Transgender_Services__Adolescent_Medicine__Case_Management__Health_Education.htm#.VKSWvCvF_EY). Check out what might be available in your town.

  1. No matter what you might think or feel about transgendered individuals, do not make fun of, attack verbally or physically, or shame them. Doing any of these behind their backs still sucks – it’s just more cowardly. Remember life is hard enough for each of us without some jerk making worse. Don’t be that jerk.

Did I miss something important? What else might you recommend? As always, I am open to suggestions.

Drama only Belongs on the Stage

We’ve talked about toxic people in the past, you and I, and the toll they can take on you and your relationships. But when I asked my daughter for suggestions about this blog, she asked that I write about drama and the people who seem to enjoy creating it. It is kind of sad, really, that my 9-year-old is already picking up on this in others, but maybe that’s because she seems to enjoy creating it herself at times and that helps her to recognize it in others.

There are a number of different types of drama queens. (I use this term non-gender specifically, as there are just as many male drama queens as female – maybe more):

  1. The attention whore – This drama queen needs to be in the center of attention at all times. She always has an exciting story to share at the top of her lungs, so you couldn’t ignore her even if you tried. She is often extremely entertaining, so most of the time you don’t mind at all. She can be tiring over long periods of time, though.
  2. The chronically ill – I don’t mean people who are legitimately sick. This drama queen always has a headache or an upset stomach or a hurt foot or a sore back. You get the idea. There is always a complaint and she loves sharing it with you. It gets to the point where, instead of saying, “Hi”, you want to say, “So, what hurts today?”
  3. The pot stirrer – Ooooh, this queen is a sneaky one. She creates the drama behind the scenes. She tells Person A something about Person B and then tells that reaction to Person C. She then sits back to watch and see what happens. She doesn’t want to be involved in the fireworks, but sure enjoys the show.
  4. The exaggerator – I don’t think this drama queen even realizes she is doing it, but everything that happens to her is HUGE, at least when she tells the tale. Every date is epically good or bad, all disagreements are explosive, and all successes deserving of a parade. Her life is one of extremes which is exhausting to all involved.

If you see a queen, you don’t necessarily have to run screaming in the other direction – remember, sometimes they are fun. What you do need to know is with whom you are dealing. Know if someone in your life is a drama queen. It will help you to decide how best to interpret what she shares with you. Do you take it at face value or do you need to translate it through some anti-drama program to get the real deal? You may save yourself unnecessary time spent in an emotional wringer.

What do you think? Did I miss anyone? I’d love your suggestions about any underrepresented drama queens.

The Pressure that is New Year’s Eve

Here I sit, just one day away from New Year’s Eve, trying to figure out what I want to do that night. Now that I am “older”, I can look back on a wide variety of New Year’s Eve experiences – the high school events where we pilfered booze from our parents or hit up older boyfriends to buy for us; college where I worked in a bar (and therefore worked EVERY New Year’s Eve for five years); grown parties where we could buy decent food, good wine and a decent night out; and, finally, as parents where we celebrate with other families with kids in the under-10 crowd. With all of these diverse experiences, there is one thing that stands out – the less expectations I put on the night, the more fun I had. The amount of time I spent agonizing over what to wear, where to go, what to eat and who to hang out with was negatively related to how I good of a time was had. (Am I the only one who has been through this?)

Have you noticed this? When you expect it to be “the best night EVER”, it rarely is. Every little letdown becomes huge somehow. So here is my advice to you. Make whatever plans sound fun to you – game night with friends, night out at a club, quiet evening at home – I don’t really care what it is, but plan it because it sounds fun as is. Don’t create this perfect fantasy full of perfect moments. You are only setting yourself up for disappointment. You evening doesn’t have to be perfect. Your outfit doesn’t have to be perfect. Your friends don’t have to be perfect. Your date doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be.

Someone may be rude. The food may be burnt. The bar will probably be too crowded. You could spill on your dress. Your friend may puke (gross). And you know what, you will have fun anyway. So, what am I going to do this New Year’s? I don’t think I have fully decided yet, but whatever it is – it will just be.

The Danger in Making New Year’s Resolutions

I am not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. Typically, we set ourselves up to fail and then use this failure to beat ourselves up. “I suck.” It sounds like I speak from personal experience, right? Here is why I think they are horrible for us – somehow we have established an arbitrary date on which we are going to begin to change our lives. This unfortunately means we wait until that date has arrived to begin to make these changes. It becomes like a light switch, prior to January 1st we don’t have to change and BAM January 1st happens and now we have to change. We are not perfect people. Most of us will not be perfect in our New Year’s Resolutions either and, often, as soon as we are not perfect, we give up. Go to any gym on January 5th – it will be filled to the rafters. You will find ridiculous numbers of people lifting and running and spinning and stretching. Go visit that same gym three months later – 50% of them will be gone. Studies show that 88% of New Year’s Resolutions are broken.

The ten most commonly broken New Year’s Resolutions:

How can you survive the New Year’s Resolution trap? Don’t wait until January 1st. If you want to eat healthier, exercise more, get out of debt or spend more time with your family then there is no time like the present. This is not something you wait to start, start today. If there is a day where you are not fantastic at this new lifestyle, shake it off and start again. You can do it. Just remember these are all things you keep working on – these are long term goals, not accomplished within a day, week or month. Establish an accountability partner – someone who will help you to keep trying to meet your goals – they will meet you at the gym, talk you off the ledge when you want to do unnecessary shopping or will call you on your crap when you give up.