This is the season when not all of us can look forward to hearth and home. The fires don’t burn in every livingroom. The family is not always happily gathered if gathered at all. This is a time of year that many dread, with no one to turn to and now no sense of security. It is an even more stunning blow to so many that our world is a bit in disarray. We have endured one of the harshest Presidential campaigns in history and one of the most unexpected outcomes ever. All this dislocation is rattling the very emotional fabric of so many.
You are not alone. Yes, the holidays are tough enough, but take solace that we stand together as a nation of those unified for what is right and moral and that we will never compromise our values for anything less.
It is a sad comment to any female that a man could be elected who thinks so little of us to disparage us with “locker room” talk and think that is OK. It is a sad moment for all Americans to hear a person laugh in the face of laws that require us all to pay taxes. How “smart” he is for finding the loopholes. It is a very sad moment to find that his implied supremacy of the white male allows for the now rampant bullying and disparaging of so many in our communities. It is sad moment, but it is not an eternity.
No, I am not the kinder, gentler therapist and never have been. I am one who speaks the truth, always. I believe in beliefs. I believe in moral character. I believe in value systems worth valuing. And I bring all that to my clients and more. I bring the idea that anything worth having is worth fighting for. I am not calling for physical altercations, but bring voice . . . actually loud screams, to the causes that guarantee rights for all my brothers and sisters. We cannot fracture into race and religion and sexual biases. We are together. With this passion, I encourage all to know that you are not alone.
You are not alone in your November “surprise” nor are you alone in the a day of giving thanks. You live in a country where you can speak your mind and where you will be heard. Be noisy! You also live in communities where you can make a difference. Are you alone for the holiday? You don’t have to be. Try volunteering with a church or other establishment and help prepare a Thanksgiving meal for the homeless or for those too ill to leave their homes. Try giving back and realizing that no matter how sad or alone you might be, you are better off than most. I assume you are reading this on a computer so you are already heads and tails better off. Do something and be of value and prove that your values will always win out. Walk away from this holiday and feel better knowing you have done something for someone else.
Why do people who seem to have it all take their own lives? We ask that as we mourn the death of the brilliant Robin Williams. He had a loving family, a great, but shrinking career, and more than enough money. But addiction and depression do not discriminate among the haves and have nots.
I’ve had the amazing experience of producing TV shows where Robin Williams was a guest; always beyond funny, self-effacing at times and the consummate showman. But behind the curtain lived a man who faced demons none of us could imagine existed.
Celebrity pundits contemplate the level of depression Mr. Williams may have lived with. Depression is a killer unless the victim chooses to get help. It is an equal-opportunity disease that affects many in varying degrees.
Robin Williams was a master at self –deprecation; making fun of his heart disease on talk shows, his earlier rehab treatment (stating that he chose a facility close to wine country so he had options), saying his GPS took him to the Golden State Bridge on it’s own, questioning whether his car had seen has most recent films? But depression is never funny and not easy to share. No one wants to hear that his or her favorite funny man is depressed. It is also not true that comedians are all depressed behind the scenes as alluded to by various TV shrinks. The true fact is that they may just not be funny in their real lives. That does not mean they are “sad clowns, laughing on the outside while being devoured on the inside by insecurity and self-destructive impulses.” Many are creative comedic writers who just like the stage. Remember, they are performers. They have an act and most pretty much follow a script. Williams’ genius came in that he could make anything funny. I remember on Good Morning America when he decided to displace one of our camera operators and took over for the morning. He was spontaneous and hilarious for two straight hours. That was his game face. Afterwards, he became Mr. Williams.
Having worked in rehab facilities, I found that, unfortunately, some therapists are not looking at the depression that brings on the addiction. They focus purely on the addiction and help the client maintain sobriety for 30, 60, sometimes 90 days in a safe environment. But it is the depression that knocks one out and could be the reason for the high recidivism rate.
Alcohol is a major depressant and therefore causes depression. Depression leads one to try to self-soothe with alcohol. It is a vicious cycle. And now let’s add the early onset of Parkinson’s disease. Sounds like Mr. Williams was carrying around a 500-pound sack of horribleness. But those with Parkinson’s can often live a relatively healthy existence for more than 20 years. With three children in his life, were they not worth living for?
Suicide has another side to it. Yes, it is pathetically and globally sad, but the real victims of suicide are those left behind. I have been one of those victims and remain both angry and sad to this day. I find suicide selfish. There is help for depression. There is help for addiction. There is help for Parkinson’s. In the case of Robin Williams, while maybe not on the top of the marquee, there were many roles still to be played and ways he could have given back by teaching or heading fund-raisers or lending his celebrity to any number of causes. And perhaps his biggest roles were those of spouse and parent. I am not saying he did not do all that throughout his personal life and career. But it did not have to stop. And neither did he. My heart goes out to his family and friends, his ardent fans and co-workers who sit stupefied by the loss.
WHY JUST ONE MONTH?
Really! It’s National Bullying Prevention Month. So why did they pick October and forget the rest of the year? Bullying goes on all the time, not just during this month or if it does, I need to write this very quickly. And while it is great for us to be reminded that bullying exists, especially for those of us with children, it is non-stop. I am sadly still drawn to a situation in my daughter’s middle school some years ago. An adopted child of a single, gay father was just tortured by the other boys in the class. The name-calling was non-stop. He was either ignored completely and had no friends or he was harassed by the herd going after him. It got so bad that finally a group of girls went to a teacher to report what had been happening. The teacher said, ”I’ll take care of it.” Apparently it was not important enough for her to remember to do something. The next week this boy brought a bunch of pills to school, took them and was found lying on the bathroom floor. For those kids who found him, I am sure it is a vision they will never forget. They caused this. Where he obtained the pills is another concern, but the very fact that a pre-teenage boy would be driven to take his own life – and to do so in a public arena so everyone would remember – promises to make everyone never forget. And this did not happen in October. A hospital stay, serious psychiatric intervention, which no doubt continues, saved his life. Once he had the inner strength to return to school, he changed institutions where one can only hope found a kinder, gentler, and more attentive approach to the tender lives in the school’s care. What about the teacher who “forgot” to mention this incident and who could have prevented this? One would think she would be relieved of her duties but that wasn’t the case. The bullying boys were suspended for a period of time, hopefully one long enough for them to think about their actions and the fact that even though they did not cause a death, they killed the self-esteem of another child.
It is not just children who endure this pain. I am currently working on a documentary about transgender adults and how they changed after their surgery. Note that their lives were changed long before the surgery as they slowly began to change, wearing dresses or pants, make-up or short hair, growing breasts or sideburns. Many were forced to endure not just the stares, but the insults from colleagues and even former friends who could not accommodate the transition in their relationships. Others, fortunately, worked in environments that supported them and had a no tolerance policy for any kind of in-office cruelty. This fascinating look at those who dare to become themselves is a reminder that we come in all different flavors.
Cassidy Lynn Campbell is 16-years old. She’s a beautiful and very typical teenage girl, who loves make-up, high heels, shopping,. This year Cassidy was crowned Homecoming Queen for Marina High School in Huntington Beach, CA. Cassidy used to be called Lance Campbell. She was born a boy and is now going through the long process in her transgender change. When she was crowned, the whole school cheered. Can you imagine this happening ten or even five years ago? She would have been bullied right out of the school and hopefully not out of her life. Cassidy’s success story is a huge victory not just for the transgender population but also for anyone who might be considered different. But aren’t we all different? I just hope we are really in a world where tolerance for color and gender, tall and short, skinny and plump, gay and straight, bi and transgender are just how we are and not some freak show to be put on horrific display. As parents, we still have an enormous job to do in teaching our children not that they have to love or even like everyone but they must have respect. As adults some of us have a tremendous job in teaching ourselves the same thing. No doubt many of us are a work in progress. We did not grow up in environments that welcomed everyone nor did a lot of us have unbiased parents. So may we learn from our own kids, many of who seem so much more at ease in welcoming difference and recognizing their own truths. And let’s mark every month on the calendar “National Bullying Prevention Month.”
For many, the decision whether or not to see a therapist seems monumental and scary, especially if it is the first time. Let me take the fright out of you. Seeing a therapist can be the most soothing of all processes IF you choose the right one. I always suggest to those who contact me that they shop around. First, make sure your therapist has experience in your particular concern. Second, It is totally necessary to immediately feel a connection with the therapist; feel that they are someone easy to talk to and easy to be honest with. Those are the two primary keys. You will know immediately when you have found the right person. . . you just know. Therapy is confidential, which should give you great confidence when talking to someone. Short of a court order, a therapist must keep your confidentiality unless they feel you are a danger to yourself or to someone else. If your own mother called, the therapist would deny even knowing you – that;’s how serious the bonds of confidentiality go. Information can only be released with your signed release specifying exactly what information can be shared and with whom it can be shared.
Therapy is not a punishment or cause to stick your tail between your legs. It is a treat you give yourself to solve the issues that need another set of trained ears. With the right therapist, you will find that you look forward to therapy, often holding in big pieces of information until your hour. Try to find a therapist who will bend the boundaries a little and take mid-week phone calls. Some things are just too difficult to hold and your therapist knows that. If they are a stickler for keeping all within your time slot – guess what – that’s the wrong therapist. No one can handle a daily client call, but no one who is in this helping business should turn a client away. If they do, guess what? Wrong therapist.
Being a therapist is not easy, but those of us who choose this profession do so because we legitimately want to help people. So put your skittish thoughts aside and make a few calls. There is no trade in for finding the relief I know you can get.
You can tell the state of the situation the moment they walk into the room. If they are sitting far apart on the couch or in different chairs, you’ve got your work cut out for you. Couples counseling is among the most difficult of processes for a therapist. While on one hand you want to be the glue that gets a team back together. You also do not want to encourage a toxic relationship. It is not our responsibility to make decisions for our clients, but to lead them down the correct path. Therapy cannot always fix relationships; it clarifies what is going on and that does not mean everyone walks out happy.
The first question I ask when confronted by a clearly out-of-touch couple is, “OK, which of you has one foot out the door and is just here to show you have made an effort?” And then I dive in. Recently, one partner just blurted out, “I never should have gotten married. I want an immediate divorce. I want you to move out now. This is over.” My other client felt like he was smashed with a baseball bat. He thought that after almost a year of marriage and three years of dating, things were going well. She was bored out of her mind and said so. What I find most interesting is that she said all this to me with him sitting in the room. It was easier to say with a witness who might interpret what was going on. This was fairly clear. He, an always calm, often silent partner, had no retort at all. Any questions about the relationship were answered negatively by her and got a shoulder shrug by him. He is currently packing up, preparing to return to Mom’s and still there has been no substantive conversation. Meeting with them separately she asked why he did not fight for her, even though she would not change her mind. Meeting with him, his response is that she was so definite and mean-spirited that he could not see a reason to “fight” for the relationship. He no longer wanted it. But neither could say that to one another. To stay together would have proven toxic for both which we discussed at a closing couples session. I felt it was necessary to get them to share their thoughts and see just where the relationship derailed. Again, they were not able to look one another in the eye, but talked through me. I was safe, unemotionally, only judgmental for noting that the initial demand was a surprise and really abrupt and perhaps unkind considering a 4 year relationship.
On a more positive note, I have sat with couples apparently estranged and got them to talk through me and say the things they could not say to one another. A lot of this had to do with sex. Somehow, it stopped. They had moved into separate rooms, apparently due to snoring issues, and never had sex again. The woman was suffering from the natural after-effects of being post-menopausal; symptoms where intercourse can be painful (while easy to remedy) and her embarrassment at bringing it up. He, a 65-year old still very virile man was unhappy. And rather than approach this situation with his spouse, went elsewhere for intimacy. Finally, through discussion, a visit to her gynecologist (I suggested he attend), the appropriate simple medication, and some lubricant, life was able to continue as it was. But the initial discussion was too painful for either to bring up with each other.
Asked often, so does therapy work? The answer is an overwhelming “yes.” It allows people to voice to a relative stranger what they cannot voice to one another. That is somehow more comfortable, less threatening or embarrassing and more honest. The triangulated discussion of speaking through a therapist and allowing her/him to then lead a circular discussion can work magic. Therapy sometimes can be that magic pill you never have to take. It is helping those give voice to what they can never say and helping them through that process.