8.26.2018

What we can see of the universe: 13 billion years to the outer edge. Sun at the center.


7.31.2018

My Teenager Does Not Have a Phone and He Got Lost

I recently had an experience that spoke nicely to the decision to NOT provide our child with a cell phone.  
I dropped off my 14 year-old to meet family friends beach on the Fourth of July. 
Due to traffic and impossible parking, I couldn't actually get him to the specific location of our friends so I was forced to drop him off a couple blocks away (don’t panic, remember he’s 14 years old).  
After I dropped him off, my plan was to come home and do some chores and then re-join this group of people. But after a bit I became worried that perhaps he didn’t find our friends. So I called my girlfriend, who didn't pick up until my third try: "Susan, hey did my son find you guys?" "No. Sorry. I will look for him."  
So mild anxiousness set in, butterflies in the tummy, but I soothed myself with this, "this is a nice beach, lots of family families out there today, close to our home… "
A long 45 minutes went by, until my phone finally rings: "Hi mom, I can’t find anybody. Do you know exactly where they are?"
 My heart momentarily collapses because now I am aware that he’s been looking for them for 45 minutes on a very crowded holiday beach day. I directed him to the exact location of our waiting friends, then more importantly, I say to him, "Who’s phone are you using to call me?" 
Now, all Moms know that we train our children to find another looks-like-a-sweet-mommy with children (as society has deemed these are the safest people walking the planet and the least likely to steal a child).
Yet, after years of this specific indoctrination, who does he ask to borrow a phone to make a quick phone call? "I found a young guy. He was smiling and maybe with his girlfriend, so I thought he would let me use his phone." 
And of course, he did. 
That learning opportunity is absent, while not ideal from the Mom perspective, when a child doesn't have to fumble about, get a little lost, walk up to a total stranger, assert his needs, and then navigate to his destination, but instead grabs his own cell phone and calls mom, "Help!"
Those mini-moments towards adulthood are full of growing opportunities - for all of us

7.24.2018


Suicide is the Result of Severe Brain Dis-ease: The Brain is Diseased, Dis-eased (repost from 4/25/15)


The last two weeks have brought 5 suicides to my attention. Not my personal loved ones, but people and families that are facing this new and horrible fact. Their loved one will not ever return and they are stuck with the WHY's and the "I should haves" - even distant friends and family, maybe those pushed away earlier by the deceased, will feel somewhat guilty for what they could not do - the phone call not returned, the slightest tiff or huge argument - prevent the brain disease.
It is a tremendous pain in the brain that cannot, for the moment, be alleviated with medicine, exercise, drinking, sleep, or logic.
The brain, in its dis-eased state, cannot be reasoned with or cooled down.
It is searing fire. In its fight or flight mandate to survive, it will attempt to problem-solve, and herein lies the very misdirected thinking that leads to suicide. “If I end my life, I will fix (stop) my problems. I’m not helping anyone and this sickness is more than I can bear. It will never go away. I am a burden to others.”
Suicide is the decimation or domination of clear thinking, overpowering coping skills and pushing out any feelings of being loved or needed.
And, like many diseases, we don't understand where it originated, where it took hold, why such a loved one got it when others did not.
Diseases do not favor one person over another: we cannot say, "he was so talented, why him?" or "she had so much to live for, how could she have given in to ---."
Many narrowly escape this terminal ending of brain disease.
After more than three decades, I have been "close" to suicide more than the average person. I have spoken in depth to loved ones who have lost a family member to suicide (child, parent, spouse) as well as folks that have tried and failed, and then, a few who tried and ultimately succeeded.
Have you ever tried to solve a complicated math problem? If it's beyond your abilities, you will probably give up, knowing it’s pointless, saying something like "I will never get this. I don’t have the brain power, patience, motivation - to work it out. I can't solve it!" The fact is, there are math problems that I simply will never be able to solve, and I know it. Life is sort of a math riddle; lots of rules that nobody can ever accurately relay to us, we just kind of "get it" at some point, if we're lucky (luck is defined as the cocktail of  DNA, family, health, temperament, spirit, opportunity).
"I can't get this thing called life. Other people can. I can't and I never will. It’s just out of my reach and I give up," is the exhaustion and frustration speaking.
Those who complete their suicide have almost always tried it before, maybe once, usually several times. Suicide is the end of a long road. It’s physically painful. Air hurts. Not for a day. Not for a week, or a month, but years. Feelings of hopelessness, combined with impulsivity - mix in chronic pain, job loss, a recent heartbreak. Problem-solving experiments show that the first thing to go is creativity when pressure is increased. Creativity is an outgrowth of time, patience, clear-thinking, freedom, respite. Once creative problem-solving is squashed, ideas run dry and hope for the future is greatly diminished. Thinking becomes like molasses.
Finally, suicide is not meant to punish other people. That’s far too devious for the person buried under a mountain of ash, unable to gasp a full breath, racing heart, feeling of dread, terror, panic, shame…these are the words and feelings I have heard about.
Please do not refer to someone's suicide as a selfish BIG FUCK YOU. See it from their pinhole shaft of light. Would I be angry at another disease that takes a loved one’s life? Would I feel shame if my child or parent is taken by cancer or pneumonia? No...I would reason that an illness took his life.

RIP: Kate Spade, June 5, 2018. Anthony Bourdain, June 8th, 2018

7.12.2018

Helping Your Adult Kid

The topic of dysfunctional young adult behavior is brought up in my office every day by loving and attentive parents (exhausted too).
I have broken the overall topic into three concerning behavioral types:
Failing to launch
Mental Illness
Addiction
In a simple format, understanding that I cannot and am not diagnosing someone that I have not personally met with, let me break down these three distinct challenges.

Failing to launch/Failing to Thrive: An under-earning, underachieving young adult. Perhaps a high school or college graduate that is working only part-time, being financially supported by parents or relatives, although he/she is intelligent, able-bodied, sound, and surrounded by nice people. What is going on? Why can't she/he get a job? Working in a pizza shop 25 hours a week at the age of 24, while mom and dad subsidize this lazy lifestyle is not thriving...
a) Who is paying for him/her? This includes their total cost of living, minus rent/shelter: car payment, health insurance, gas, money for fast food, phone bill. If this is you, the parent: STOP. If you must, get them a flip phone (no cell data!), remove your HULU and Netflix, stop bringing home delicious fast food and offering to rescue them. DO NOT provide an emergency credit card either. How emergent can it be while living at home with a well-running vehicle, AAA, unlimited cell data and all expenses paid? 
Do not do for your child what he can do for himself.
Make the nest very uncomfortable. Why else would anyone leave a cushy paid-for lifestyle? 

Mental Illness: This is serious work, navigating a psychiatric condition with a loved one. Usually the family of a loved one living with a metal illness has spent years trying to determine the underlying causes and conditions that are preventing someone from living life to the fullest. But, please remember that  psychiatric diagnosis (ADHD, PTSD, OCD, Depression, etc,) are never reasons to lash out, assault others verbally or physically, or blame others for one's predicament in life. 
It's often hard to know when to tolerate avoidant behavior ("He's too nervous to apply," "She has panic attacks when she drives,") - my rule of thumb is this: If you are refusing help, blaming others, and taking no positive action, there is very little familial compassion left for someone to continue to falter/stumble. At this point, the family/parents would benefit more from coaching and counseling than the young adult himself. Setting healthy boundaries and limits with professional guidance is the best beginning; job coaches can provide appropriate career goals and thankfully, support groups exist for every condition. There is something for everyone and we should encourage those with psychological instability to be as self-supporting as possible.
NATIONAL MENTAL ILLNESS AWARENESS

Addiction: This may be the hardest behavior to identify, as most addictions are kept secretive and the addict will lie to cover up his/her actions, after all, it's usually hard to prove! Furthermore, families are initially reluctant to admit that their loved one is engaging in such self-destructive behavior.  
Signs of addiction including: Lying, stealing, arrests, mysterious and unexplained behavior, long and dramatic hard-to-believe stories, job absence, extended illness, poor physical appearance, failure to complete anything, multiple failed relationships, and finally, blaming others. 
This family needs to attend an Alanon meeting (free!) to better understand the tenous nature of loving and caring for the addict. https://al-anon.org/


Blurred Lines: There are often overlaps between these three; we cannot accurately diagnose a severe mental health condition while someone is in active addiction, and we know that addicts will attempt to regulate their dysregulated mood with drugs (alcohol, weeds, pills). Life is a series of dominoes, right? If I feel badly about my future, I will work less efficiently, which leads to more stress and less success. How does one eat an elephant? One bite at a time.