Is it ever OK to be selfish?

When I was a boy my parents and teachers taught me right from wrong, how to behave. Essentially, all the “rules of the game.”

Some of the things I learned: Share. Be kind. Don’t steal stuff. Study hard. Work hard. Do your best. Don’t be selfish.

That last one was drilled into my head. Not only by parents and teachers, but by everyone! Friends, neighbors, society…as if the message is: “to be selfish is to be a bad person.”

GoFundMe campaigns. American Cancer Society fundraisers. The SPCA commercials with matted and emaciated dogs and cats. Morning Boosts, compliments of Hoda Kotb on NBC’s Today show. Billboards urging us to give until it hurts.

I’m ok with all of that. Would you agree that we have been programmed to believe that we should always put others first? That in order for us to be considered “good people” that we have to be second, third, or last in line?

Single moms will get what I am saying. You brave warriors awaken at 5:00am, make breakfast, finish a load of laundry, get the kids showered and dressed, clean the kitchen, put away toys, and dispense OTC medicine to the sniffly-nosed baby….all before 5:30am. The kids come first! Maybe, just maybe…you will have time to throw on some rouge and comb your hair before whisking them off to the daycare and school. On your ride to work you hope to hit a couple red lights so you can apply a little mascara.

So that gets you to 6:30am…when most of the rest of us are just getting started. You have a full 8 – 10 hour day ahead of you. That’s the easy part. At 5 you get to pick the kids up from daycare and after-school programs…on your way home. Start another load of laundry (the laundry never ends!), get some food on the table, help the kids get their homework done, clean up the kitchen, finish the laundry you started earlier, bathe the kids, dress them in their jammies, read em a bedtime story, prepare for the morning meeting at work, collapse in bed.

Next day, start all over.

It took a lot outta me to write that. I need a nap.

Is it selfish to want some relief? Is it selfish to expect some help? Is it selfish to request a break once in a while? Is it selfish to want a nap?

Yes.

I believe we need to be selfish…we need to take care of our own needs…so that we are able to take care of others’. As a therapist, I see people struggling with depression and anxiety…and often their story is the same. “I have been taking care of everyone else in my world but me. I am exhausted!”

Is it possible to keep up that pace for the rest of your life?

No.

Compassion

Seems like evrywhere I look these days, I am reminded of the importance of taking care of ourselves.

We are pretty self-centered in many ways. When something happens, we tend to think about how it will impact our own lives. When someone is upset we think “what did I do to make him angry?” When we plan for retirement, we think about what we will need.

Nothing wrong with taking care of self. I’ll get back to that thought in a minute.

Many of us are “other-focused”, therefore we put the needs of others ahead of ourselves. Sometimes to the detriment of our own mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health.

Maybe I’m thinking of social workers, doctors, nurses, firefighters, therapists, mom, teachers, co-dependents…you know, those people that we count on to be there when we need them.

Not a thing in the world wrong with people who are willing to be there for us. After all, what would we do if there were no firefighters to run INTO the blaze. How would we learn our ABC’s without dedicated teachers? And mom…dear old mom. No one has life without her.

My mind just wandered back a few decades to my boyhood home in suburban Detroit. My parents raised nine of us hellians. I was number seven…the number of perfection, completion. See? I’m thinking of myself!

My mom is famous for the fact she has done at least one load of laundry (usually several) every day of her adult life. Mostly out of neccessity. Yes, that includes 66 Christmases. It also includes 66 Thanksgivings, birthdays, Mother’s Day, Yom Kippur…I think you get the picture.

I remember coming home from school every day to find her lying on her side, asleep on the living room couch. I was sure she had been eating bon bons while watching General Hospital or As The World Turns. As soon as we came thru the door she popped up off the couch, blew kisses to us as she raced to the kitchen to prepare dinner. Little did I know she had been lying on the couch for two or three minutes at the most.

How often do you suppose she treated herself to some time for herself? How may hours do you suppose she spent at the nail salon getting a mani/pedi? And how often did she make an appointment at the massage parlor to relax those worn out muscles. Zero. Free time for her consisted of the nine and a half seconds it took to walk down the steps to the basement. That’s where the laundry room was.

I’m not advocating for moms to spend their days at the nail salon or massage parlor every day. Sorry mom. Most moms simply don’t have that luxury. And dad…when you come home from a long day at work you want to plop down in the Lazy-Boy and nurse a brewski. I get it. Just know that mom probably would enjoy that too. But she is in the kitchen whipping up a feast. And I realize the day of the stay-at-home-mom is a distant memory…she works all day and comes home to whip up a feast too!

For some odd reason, I have singled out mom as the other-focused one that needs to put herself first sometimes. I’m not a mom but it’s important for me too.

When we give, give, give…we run out of stuff to give. We have limited energy. All I am saying is give some of that energy to yourself. Take time to recharge. Have compassion when you fail. Forgive yourself when you snap at Tommy for tracking mud into the kitchen. He probably deserved the rebuke as much as you deserve the forgiveness.

As we are filling everyone else’s cups, keep in mind: You cannot fill another’s cup with your empty pitcher.

Too much time on my hands

One of the biggest complaints I hear from my clients, family, and friends is “I don’t have the time to do what I want and need to do. I’m too busy.” My response is usually the same. I remind them that everyone, no matter how rich or poor or famous or important we are…we all have the 24 hours in a day. The ground is level here.

24 hours. 1,440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. 168 hours in a week. 8,736 hours per year.

Equal. Universal. No discrimination. No favorites.

There are three things you and I can do with our allotment of 24 hours. Three things we can do with our time. We can spend it, waste it, or invest it.

Today, California, USA, issued a “Stay At Home” order. In an effort to stop the spread of the Covid -19 virus, the governor made the decision to order 40 million people to grind their lives to a halt. Businesses, industry, travel, commerce….all affected. It is unprecedented. The last several days and weeks have been a blur of unprecedented decisions and events. I believe New York, home to about a third of the nation’s infections, will be next to issue the same order. Population, approximately half that of California.

We got our wish. Time. Some of us will have more time on our hands to fix problems at work and home. Let’s face it, without the interruptions of co-workers and the time commuting we should have a lot of time on our hands.

Forgot about the kids. They can certainly take some time to tend to their needs. Most of the millions of students in this country are home for an extended break from school! There are lessons they can be learning here too.

Allow me to list a few:

  1. Time to talk to one another. Texting and other electronic distractions have robbed us of this important activity.
  2. Time to read.
  3. Time to write. Maybe a note to grandma and grandpa if you are still fortunate enough to still have them.
  4. Time to take a walk. Maybe you will meet a neighbor while you are out. No harm in having a conversation on the lawn or porch. How many neighbors do you know by name?
  5. Time to Skype and old friend or estranged family member.
  6. Time to pray.
  7. Time to meditate.
  8. Time to help out an elderly neighbor.
  9. Time to listen to a friend’s fears without judgement.
  10. Time to read this blog.

We can spend our time. We can waste our time. We can invest our time.

1-10 above, I would argue, are some important investments that may just have some rewards.

Worldview

How do you see the world? Is it a safe place? Or is it full of danger and intrigue? Are you able to trust others? Too trusting? Do you feel like you “fit in”? Or are you lost?

Our worldview affects how we see everything and everybody in our lives. It affects relationships. It affects our careers. It shapes our understanding of spiritual or religious beliefs….or lack thereof. It informs our creation, enforcement and maintenance of boundaries. It shapes who we are as a mom, dad, son, daughter, husband, wife…citizen.

We are a product of our worldview.

We are not a prisoner to our worldview.

If I see the world as unsafe and not worthy of trust, I will enter every new relationship feeling unsafe and distrusting. If I see the world as fun and care free I may be in for disappointment when unexpected troubles come. And they will. If I see the world as chaotic, my life is likely to look like it is in the vortex of a large jet engine. If I see the world as a peaceful place, I am likely to be at peace myself.

We believe what we believe about the world because we learned it. From someone. Maybe many someones.

Think about the important people that raised you. Parents, grandparents, foster parents, nanny…

What are their worldviews? Chances are good that yours are similar. Good or bad…you probably have the same or similar view of the world as they do…simply because they taught you what you believe about the world. I don’t mean they sat you at a desk and lectured (though some of them undoubtedly did just that). Most of us learn by our “teachers” actions.

Though many of us aspire to be everything our parents (and other teachers) are or were…others of us vowed at some point to be everything our parents were NOT.

Whatever the case…we initially believe what we believe about the world because we were taught. Ultimately, we CHOOSE to believe what we believe. We are a product of our upbringing…but we are not a prisoner to it. As adults, we are able to make choices. We get to choose a dangerous worldview…an unsafe worldview…a peaceful worldview. Our past, in many ways, shapes who we are. As such, we cannot go back and change the past. But we can start today to create a hopeful future.

I wonder if you believe that….

Ego

We all have it. Some tend to it more than others. Is it ok to believe we are the center of the our universe? I suppose so, because we really are. I mean, how can we help it? When something happens our first thought is naturally: “How does this affect me?”

The sump pump fails and the basement floods. “Did my stuff get wet?”

The stock market surges. “I wonder how much my investment is worth now?”

The traffic light turns yellow…red. “I’m running late!”

My initial thought is naturally focused on how these events will affect me.

You are no different.

This is a potential source of needless suffering. Here’s why.

I anticipate how things will go…sump pump will keep working, the stock market will trend upwards, the traffic lights will cooperate. If any of these things don’t go as I planned, I get angry because I have been inconvenienced or offended. I’ve lost property, money or time. How dare they!

At these unfortunate times, I have a choice. Accept the events as they are…or get angry (as if that is going to change anything).

My sister has traveled Europe extensively. On a recent trip to Rome, she and her husband decided to eat at a certain restaurant. Where better to have a meal than in Rome, right? My sister ordered a chicken dish. The waiter brought her order and set it before her.

“I ordered chicken” was her incredulous remark.

“Ah, yes, you get beef” was the waiter’s retort.

“But I ordered chicken”.

“Ah, yes, you get beef”.

From that day forward they have incorporated the following saying into their lives: Order what you want. Eat (enjoy) what you get.

If things don’t go as you plan, you have a choice: Get angry or enjoy. Your choice.

Bon Appetit!

Klonopin (benzodiazapine)

Klonopin, the name brand of the drug clonazepam, carries with it a high potential for abuse and addiction. It can even be deadly when combined with other drugs that suppress the central nervous system (like alcohol). Do I have your attention?

“But I am prescribed the drug for my anxiety”, you might say. Even people that follow the prescription to the T can become physically dependent and run a higher risk of addiction. Klonopin is designed to be used for relatively short periods of time. Your prescriber can tell you more about that.

The dangerous truth I want to bring to your attention is that Klonopin is a useful drug with a very dangerous set of side effects. Abuse of the prescription is more common than we might realize.

Some behaviors to watch: Excessive sleepiness (during the day), depression, poor coordination, increased saliva production, memory/focus difficulty, mood swings, hostility, erratic behavior. It is rare to see all of these behaviors together…and one or two may not be a sign of danger. The list is useful when taken as a whole to identify a problem.

If you or a loved one is struggling with benzodiazepine abuse, seek help immediately. There are treatment centers in every state. Google that shit. Get help!

3 reasons you should not take life so seriously

Ever meet someone who was really intense? Everything is serious. Everybody in their lives poses a threat of some sort. If they smiled, their face would break. In the name of those that take everything so seriously, here’s 3 reasons why you should not.

1. Life is too damn short. No time to waste. Enjoy every minute. I lost my wife to cancer 12 years ago. She was 45. Life is short. The older I get the faster the years fly by. Life is short. So much to do…so many places to visit. Life is short. When we look back we will not regret the things we did so much as things we did not do. Have a good time. Life is short.

2. Life is precious. When my daughter was 5 and in kindergarten, her classmate died of leukemia. When I saw this little girl in her casket I vowed to live my life grateful for the time I get on this earth. Every person is precious. Every event is precious. Every moment is precious.

3. It’s better to smile. Smiles are contageous. Smiles are healthy. Smiles are free. Smiles are fun. Smiles are carefree.

Life is a trip. A good trip. Sometimes a short trip. Always a precious trip. Often a fun trip. Enjoy it while you can.

Do I have your attention?

Last year, around this time, I was laid up in the VA hospital. A nagging cough had become worrisome to my doctors. Oxygen saturation dipped dangerously into the 70’s. Once I started to cough, I simply could not quit.

I had been tossing around the idea of a book. I have had some unique experiences over the years and had always thought I would write a book. I never found the time.

As I lay in that dank, lonley hoispiatl room, I had a ot of time to think. I began researching my condition. I looked at sites sponsored by Web MD, The Mayo Clinic, etc. The more I read, the more I was convinced this was no ordinary disease. I could actually die from this disease. If it’s lung cancer, I could have a couple months to live. I really began whipping myself into a frenzy.

It’s not that I really thought I would die. It’s that I knew I could.

As I lay there watching crap on local television stations I realized this was the time. I had lots of time. Time to write my book. So that’s what I did. I opened my computer and began typing. I’m happy to say my first book is nearly completed.

What motivated me to start my book? The threat of lung cancer? A heavenly vision? A swift kick?

No. Simply, the realization that today is the only day we are guaranteed. At least this moment of this day.

In the words of Alexandra Bracken, “Let’s carpe the hell out of this diem!”

Hope

I recently met a man whom I will call Sam. Sam, in his younger years, was a semi-pro baseball player. He was offered a contract in the late 1950’s by the Detroit Tigers. He traveled to Lakeland, Florida for spring training. Sam was a golden glove second baseman. He was not as talented at the plate, swinging at virtually every pitch. He was cut before the season began.

Ordinary athletes do not make it anywhere close to the professional level. Extraordinary people do. Sam is extraordinary.

About 10 years ago, Sam began experiencing weakness in his muscles, particularly noticable in his limbs. His endurance waned. He eventually developed uncontrollable tremors in his right hand. Parkinson’s disease.

In a candid conversation recently, I asked Sam what he wanted more than anything in life. “Hope. I want to have hope that I can overcome Parkinson’s. I want a light at the end of this tunnel.”

Hope. An expectation that everything is going to be ok. Confidence that someone or something is in control when we clearly are not.

Is it reasonable to think that everything is going to be ok when you have an incurable disease? Is it silly to trust in a power beyond your own understanding? Maybe I am just an eternal optimist…but I believe that a positive attitude such as this is essential to rising above the despair.

What if there is no power beyond? What if this is all by chance? We don’t really know, now do we? Hope is the result of faith. And faith is not sight. I believe even though I don’t know. What I do know is that hope is better than despair.

In the movie Shawshank Redemption, Andy (a wrongly convicted banker) says “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

Sam will die one day. We all will. Hope is eternal so it will survive us. Will we embrace it while we live?

Control

We all want to control the world around us. Admit it! If I can’t control others’ lives, behaviors, attitudes…I get frustrated. That is, until I realize I have no control over them. We all share this frustration to one degree or another.

There is one thing over which I have 100% control. That is, I have control over my response to what is happening around me. I control my attitude. I like what Maya Angelou said. Something to the effect…”If you can change things around you, change them! If you can’t, change your attitude.”

I love the serenity prayer. “Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can…and the wisdom to know the difference.”

Just remember…as you think you should be able to change people around you…they are expecting you to change for them….

Think about it…