"Sometimes the only power you have is to tell your story." -Evelyn Wilde

Saturday, May 2, 2015

You Don't Know Me

I finally went ahead and faced the fear. I gathered up the most personal and painful Blog posts from the past 15 years and entrusted them to a self-publishing website.

The result? Meh. My book looked more like the owner's manual of a Ford Fiesta with overlooked typos.

In my mania, I sent out mass emails to friends, mentors, basically everyone in my contact list. A week later I had to write back to sheepishly admit that, "Psych! That was just a test. If this were a real book, you would have been informed by press releases, not self-promotional Facebook feeds and web links."

As I wait for the final (I mean it this time) edits from my Editor and Graphic Designer (also known as my sister), I have read two memoirs just to assess the competition. I was intimidated by both but found only one worthy of the reverence.

After finishing the first I was feeling something close to cocky "That chick has a TV show?@!" The other author, however, put me firmly back in my place; humbled by the wit and insight of one of my favorite women (Amy Poehler's book, Yes, Please, is fantastic. I gotta give it to her. I loved it.).

My memoir is flawed, redundant in the over-sharing zeitgeist I straddle, but it's mine, and despite the impulsive retraction and resubmission, I still want it to be known.

When I'm not writing about myself and the view from my subjective window, I am a Psychotherapist, in the last few months of a bloody long road towards Licensure. I've been working and studying for this career since 2007.  I could be a Nurse at this point, have a kid in first grade, or at the very least be tens of thousands of dollars richer. Yet, I've pursued my passion for Psychotherapy because I believe in the process.

In traditional Psychoanalysis the Therapist/Analyst was unknown to the patient, a tableau rosa, blank slate, sitting behind the reclined species while scribbling away on a notepad. Modern theory has focused more on the Therapeutic Relationship, as years of research have shown that it is actually in the connection between patient and professional where the conditions for healing can truly be conceived.

Yet I wonder just how much we should share with our patients. When I have been a patient I left Therapists for sharing too much of themselves, speaking about their "faith" or taking up my therapy hour with anecdotes about their dogs. I'm not there to chat, I just want one hour a week where I don't have to take an interest in another.

As a result, I try to limit my disclosure with my patients because I respect their time and space, and usually recognize their enquiry as deflecting, projecting, getting uncomfortable, or just harmless nosiness. I'm not militant about it but I don't believe my opinion is relevant to their growth; it blurs the line, dilutes the concentration, and takes the focus off what they entrust me with. Nevertheless, a Google search could connect anyone- patient, friend, foe- to the deepest places of my heart and the details of my life that I willingly share with the world.

So how much of myself am I allowed to share outside of the therapy office? It's a lonely field to work in, spending my days focusing on other peoples stories. I deserve a space apart from the patient/practitioner alliance that can be seen. But I have my doubts.

I wouldn't be friends with a patient on Facebook, I wouldn't even approach them in public (although if they approach me I'd welcome the interaction), so I acknowledge and value the boundaries we adhere to but also recognize the grey space that can exist between them.

I wonder what Jung or Freud would think of our Twitter feeding, status updating, self-publishing, modern world? Actually, I think I'd rather not know.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Bad Words

I didn't follow Lisa Adams on social media. I only heard about her when the news of her death from breast cancer appeared in my newsfeed. What drew me to Lisa was not her life or her story (although from what I have read since she seems like an amazing person) but her stand on the language used when someone is diagnosed with a terminal illness.

In their article on Adams the New York Times wrote about the "Pinkwashing" of breast cancer "...which painted a pretty picture of early detection while ignoring the ugliness of deadly metastasis." The "...disservice to the cancer stricken fostered by “fought to the end” battle metaphors as well as the concepts that a positive outlook or religious devotion could outwit cellular biology."

I would go further to say that the language we use in numerous contexts is that of battle and aggression. We "fight" and declare "war" on everything from terrorism to tweets. We "battle" and "confront" our illnesses, neighbors, strangers, pests, carbohydrates, moods and habits. Whether its drugs or Iran, the Senate or the Schoolroom, eczema or HIV, we are "waging war" in the most basic, everyday, examples.

We are an aggressive people by nature but the language we use, and is used on us, definitely gets into our heads, into our psyches, and encourages the worst in us. We are not told to "negotiate", "discuss", "contemplate", "disagree", or "struggle"- those are words used by the weak or worse even- the fucking French!! No, we are Americans; with enough faith, 5k walks and ammunition we can defeat ISIS, stage four cancer, and the weather.

Yet, if we are so casual about our language of aggression how can we appreciate the actual wars that are fought, and lives lost to them?

I read that Elton John and Dolce&Gabbana are in a "War of Words"  over differing views on babies. Luckily I can't afford any of their clothes because I am being cautioned by every mouthy celebrity with an "untraditional" family to #boycottdolcegabbana because of an opinion.

Lao Tzu is credited with saying "Watch your words for they become your actions." I would say that being more mindful of the language we hear and say is actually essential, not just for our happiness but our survival. Unlike much of what is written, I don't think that's even close to hyperbole.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Liars and the Dirty, Dirty Cheats

Did you hear? A dress, The dress, brought us to our knees last week. A need for certainty in an uncertain world was rocked by the realization that two people can actually view objects from very different lenses. Blue can be white. What the!?

We can't even trust Brian Williams.

Bill O'Reilly, well, come on, we expect Fox News to distort the truth- a fish gotta swim- but Brian?! What the double fuck?!

It would appear that in our ever increasing evolution of ADHD and Mood Disordered living we are unable to process the big issues like ISIS or climate change, so the color of a dress or llamas on the loose are what we digest instead.

The bigger issues seem out of our hands, too divisive. A movie about a soldier can create enemies on the home front so of course colors and cat videos are where we seek safe debate. Especially as confrontation on-line is far less anxiety inducing.

My Granny used to say: "When it comes to taste and smell no one is right." Wise words indeed and that lady knew about the dangers of dogma. She was born in Palestine, well before the 1948 version of Israel. She also said that the Bible was made up of folk stories. The parting of the Red Sea, for example, "...any idiot could recognize that was just a metaphor for low tides." Although proud of being Jewish and Israeli she never lost the ability to recognize hyperbole.

Misrepresenting the truth is clearly not ethical but neither is it shocking. Especially in a 24 hour, ratings driven, if it bleeds it leads, exclusive, only, and most accurate news industry. People lie and embellish. Always have, always will. Children start the moment they can communicate. We aim for better versions of ourselves and know the destruction lies can wreak, from affairs to wars, yet we persist-- maybe we can get away with it-- for the Dopamine rush if nothing else.

Can there be honesty in a world without truth though? That question was asked at a lecture given by Fred Newman, Ph.D.  I attended in Manhattan back in 2003, just as the war in Iraq was launching. The Middle East conflict was used as an example: Israelis have their truth, as do the Arabs. Each 'truth' is as accurate as their experiences of the world.

Therefore, Dr. Newman concluded, debating the veracity of the truth is futile. It is in 'honesty' where peace and compromise can be found. In other words, the better response is not "I am right and you are wrong because..." but "I think this because...and realize that is influenced by..."

The need to be right leads us into Twitter arguments with strangers at best and deadly conflicts at worst. Truth is subjective; influenced by bias and memory. Honesty, however, is found in our better natures; in our ability to empathize and speak from a place of vulnerability, not certainty.

You want certainty? Death and taxes are certain. Everything else is a construct; a mixture of timing, privilege, culture, choices, attractiveness, power, money, diet, luck, etc, etc, etc.

As any long-term couple will attest, being right is not nearly as satisfying as being happy.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

African American

When my sister applied to college in 1996 I cajoled her into an experiment: choose one application, keep every detail exactly the same but one - check the box for 'African American'.

My sister never stated that she was black, just African American, which she, well we, are. Both of us were born in Zambia and moved to America as children.

My parents thought we were terrible people for lying on official papers. They made her refuse the school's myriad offers (scholarships, housing, clubs) and she went to the same average, commuter school as I did.

I wasn't trying to make a point about Equal Opportunity back then. Just the limitations of political correctness. Especially in the mid to late 1990's when we as a people were still struggling to accept Madonna much less Obama.

Almost 20 years since, the system is still flawed. Some areas of the country have achieved huge gains; a child born (in a major city) in the 90's probably sees the world as far less divided, albeit through a screen, than I do. Yet my sister could apply for Grad School today and still receive far more benefits as an "African American" than she would on most well paid job applications.

While some areas of society bend and shape shift to accommodate minorities, mostly in education; from gifted programs with a different "under served population" criteria, to colleges, desperate to meet their diversity targets. The world around us, however; still sees a black man as a suspect, a mixed race president as foreign, and a white lady with a passport stamped from Africa as a "Missionary or something?"

African American in title alone, I will never know the experience of driving or job seeking while Black. I won't even pretend like I do. But I do know that opportunity and equality are not found in polite language.

I am African American: I moved to America from Africa when I was five. Trayvon Martin was from Florida. It's time we stop using African American as a polite salve we place over a wound that has yet to heal.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Even Therapists Get the Blues

Depression for me is a window film, clouding the light from getting in. It's a mean girl, pointing out my flaws. Depression is a predator, patiently stalking for the right conditions to strike: stress, fatigue, lack of exercise and too many carbs. Somehow it always knows.

Ruby Wax understands. She is an American who has made her success is Britain as a Comedian and Writer. Like many funny people, the laughter comes from a dark place which she recently wrote about:

...Some part of your brain is trying, as it always does, to find a reason. For other illnesses when you feel sick there's an explanation - you might say to yourself, "Of course I feel terrible I have an infection, a virus, cancer" (pick one). With dementia at least you might be the last to know that something is wrong, but with depression you're completely aware and cognisant that you're gone and what's left of you is on auto pilot that tries to steer you into the bathroom and find food and that's about it.

I'm a trained Psychotherapist. I know the patterns, chemistry and treatments yet it still catches me off guard once I've realized Depression doesn't care about a wall of certificates and diplomas.

Sometimes I sit across from clients and want so much to say "Me TOO!" Of course I don't, but when I feel this way I resist the same insight I give to others: meditation, medication, exercise, gratitude, volunteering, support. I try to deny, numb, or diffuse the symptoms just like everyone else.

In Addiction treatment this idea gets turned on its head; the majority of people in Recovery will only trust a therapist who has their own addiction. A "normal" person is often viewed with suspicion.

While our own experience does make us more relatable to others, if we insist upon shared experience (as a condition for accepting support) we would certainly exhaust much of the help that is offered.

A professional doesn't have to experience something to know about it-- many male doctors have delivered babies. We all have our version of struggle though, even those who help and heal.

All this is to say: I'll never tell you in our sessions that I really know how hard it is. I also know it gets better and how to make that happen. I just don't always follow my own advice.

Get help:

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Who Do You Think You Are?

One day...one day...I will be in the WHYY studios in Philadelphia sitting across from Terry Gross. I will be there because my clever, disarming, never knew a memoir could be like this, first book has peaked her interest enough to discuss everything me. 

I've been listening to Fresh Air on National Public Radio for so long that I've lost count of the interviews that have made me laugh, cry and learn, all thanks to Terry's perfect combination of insight, wit, and empathy.

But back to me. This is my moment. The moment all the hours of writing into what has often felt like a vacuum are finally validated. Terry (not Dave Davies. No disrespect Dave, you do a fine job but it has to be Terry) and I are getting to know one another and she asks me the obvious first question.

It has always been tricky to answer without coming off as pretentious, convoluted and/or like I might be a Spy. That is why I must put it all out there before we meet so Terry has the information she needs to craft her masterful questions.

In preparation for that moment I will attempt to construct here the honest, albeit complicated, answer to that one question:

"Where are you from?"

Well, Terry...I was born in Africa. In Lusaka, Zambia in 1974. Ten years after Independence from the British Crown, when the country had been known as Northern Rhodesia.

I was the first of two daughters born to Dan and Rosemary.

My mother found herself in Zambia after her father, my grandad, took a contract with the government. He and my grandma left England in the early seventies and lived for a few years in Southern Africa. They were both Veterans of World War II so spending extended periods of time in far away lands did not faze them. After Zambia they lived in Spain before finally moving to Australia.

My mother, at 21 and the youngest of three sisters, was working in Hospitality in Brighton on the south coast of England but had plans to emigrate to South Africa. While staying with her parents she took a temporary office job in Lusaka and met my father. They married in 1971.

Her middle sister had already emigrated to Australia by then and her eldest sister had married a local farmer in Hertfordshire. My Mum and her family had settled there, north of London, but were originally from Sussex, in the South of England. My granddad, Cyril, was born in 1910 to a large family in Hastings. His father was a policemen.

Her mother, Doris, was from the North of England, from a town called Doncaster in Yorkshire. My grandma's father was a Solicitor and her mother had died of unknown causes when Doris was a young woman. Doris was asked to be her father's Hostess for social functions until he remarried. When he did remarry Doris was asked to leave the home by his new wife and she joined the Royal Navy. My grandparents met in their thirties while serving on a British Naval Ship in Kenya.

My grandma died when I was a little girl. At that point they were living in Perth, Western Australia. I don't remember her as a happy woman. She used to drink in secret, according to my mother, who only realized that herself as an adult.

After my grandma died, my granddad moved to Miami and lived near us. Unfortunately, a hurricane blew his home away in 1992 so he moved back to Australia, closer to his middle daughter, which is where he died at the age of 90.

I have four cousins, two from each Aunt. Three live in Australia now and one is still in England. In my entire life I have probably spent a week in total with my mother's family whom she only communicates with a few times a year.

They are not close but not acrimonious either. They come from a time and a place where distance was not an obstacle; an Anglo-Saxon model of family, defined by heritage not obligation.

My father, however, comes from the Jewish Diaspora. A family born from blood, sweat and many tears. He was the second of two sons. My granny, Devorah, and a man I never met, Jonatan, divorced when my father was a baby. That was kind of a big deal back then.

Jonatan's family were Russians who left Moscow for Palestine in the 1920's. Wealthy Industrialists who settled in Tel Aviv, his younger brother died fighting in the 1948 war.

My Granny was born in Palestine in 1922, to Zionists from Poland and Romania. She was the eldest of three and her brother, Dani, would later become an Ambassador for Israel.

My Granny has a large extended family that span Israel from Haifa to Ashkelon but their roots are in the wine growing hamlet of Zichron Yaakov. In her youth, my grandmother worked for the Hagannah; smuggling Jews out of Czechoslovakia during World War II. Jonatan built his family's successful business and was known to be quite the ladies man, even after marriage. They had a son, Yossi.  Four years later, in 1949, my father came along.

During the War of Independence in 1948 a young Zionist came to Israel from South Africa. My granny fell in love with him. She petitioned Jonatan for divorce not long after their second child was born. She was granted her freedom on the condition that her eldest child stay with his father, while the youngest, who was still breastfeeding, could move with her to South Africa.

This event, like a horrific car crash, has many angles from which to cast judgment. I went to Israel several times to try and uncover "the truth" but was only left with more questions. Did she abandon her son? Did she fight for both or suggest the compromise? Was she willing to leave them both? Did she commit adultery or did he?

Whatever the facts were, it left a scar across the hearts of all those effected by her choice: her choice to love, her choice to leave.

In 1951 my father, his mother, and his new stepfather, Toby, moved to Johannesburg. My father was two. He and his mother would continue to travel back to Israel every year to see family. My father's family moved often; after South Africa they lived in Zimbabwe (Southern Rhodesia), until they settled in Zambia in the 1960's.

His brother, Yossi,  had a new stepmother, Ruth. Both boys came to love their adopted parents but the vitriol and resentment between their mother and father was nothing short of Shakespearean. Until I physically found myself in Jonatan's home as an adult, at the gracious invitation of his widow, years after his death, I had never seen a photo of him in my life. My granny had cut his face out of every piece of evidence in her possession.

My father showed signs of entrepreneurship from an early age. His father, Jonatan, recognizing that his eldest son, Yossi, had a kind heart but a lazy disposition wanted to bring my dad, Dan, into the family business, in Israel. He promised my dad, by then a handsome, confident, teenager, the Trifecta: women, money and power. My granny was having none of it.

At that point, her eldest son was already in the Israeli Army and she knew if my father were to move to Israel and join the family business she would lose him. He knew that moving to Israel would involve mandatory military service.

At 16 my father made his choice. He changed his last name to honor the man who had raised him and he never went to Israel again. His father disowned him, his country of birth declared him a deserter, and that part of his life began to fade away.

Having rejected Judaism, his father and Israel, at 21 my dad fell in love with my mom; a very pretty, English shiksa who refused to convert, much to my granny's objections. When I was born, the first grandchild, she became slightly less awful to my mother but their relationship would always hover somewhere between contempt and disdain.

My granny would continue to visit Israel and see the family that still spoke to her. She and Toby had a son, Tamir, ten years younger than my father. Her eldest son had married a very glamorous Israeli woman and they eventually had two children together.

From memories and stories about my granny, she was a fierce, vibrant, creative woman probably suffering from a serious mental illness. Both my grandmothers suffered; my mother's I would think from Dysthymia and Alcoholism, my father's from either a Borderline Personality Disorder or Bipolar II. As both women were undiagnosed in their lives, sadly, neither received the compassion and care they deserved.

My dad only saw his father once again in his life, when my mother was pregnant with me. He called once, years later, and I answered the phone. I was probably fourteen but I remember the moment I heard his voice like it was yesterday. He was in New York and told my father that he wanted to visit us. He never did and died not long after.

My father had become involved in a professional organization in his twenties, Jaycees International, and was elected from hundreds of candidates from around the world to become the CEO at their headquarters in Coral Gables, Florida. This is why, in 1979, my immediate family, which now included my baby sister, relocated from Zambia to Florida when I was five years old.

My granny and Toby would visit us every year. It was on one of these visits, they were babysitting us while my parents were out of the country, when another phone call was received that I will never forget.

The phone rang and moments later a cry, so deep and sad, filled our entire house. Yossi, my granny's eldest son, had died of a heart attack at the age of 36. He left behind a wife and two small children. My granny did not go to the funeral because she said she was looking after us. What family still spoke to her could not understand her choice. It would be said that Yossi had died from a broken heart; he never recovered from being abandoned by his mother, even in death.

A few years later, her beloved husband, the man she left her family and country for, would also die of a heart attack. The loss would be almost too much for her. She moved from Zambia to Miami where both of her sons, Dan and his half brother, Tamir, were now living with their families. She died in 2004, just before her 82nd birthday, with both sons by her side.

Jonatan's fortune went to his wife, Ruth, whom I eventually met in Israel. Although she acknowledged my father as Jonatan's legitimate son, all of her money when she died went to Yossi's widow and children. I have met them on a few occasions. They too have their version of my granny and our family. While they may have the money, which I have admittedly felt the injustice of on occasion, my sister and I still have a wonderful father in our lives.

I grew up in a Miami which at that time was starting to become the epicenter for Cuban exiles, Columbian drug trafficking, and German modelling agencies. Miami has changed so much since I left in 1998 that I have no sense of place there. The idea of "home" continues to evade me.

By the time I was six I had travelled to more countries than most people can locate on a map. After I graduated from University I travelled around the world, moved to Spain, and have friends across the globe but almost none where I currently live.

I've moved every few years as an adult but while much of my time was in Europe, my parents and sister have stayed in South Florida. Which is where I live now.

South Florida is not like Los Angeles or New York, where people move for something. Florida is where you go to get away from something. Despite my objections, I have roots here and can't seem to escape.

My answer to your question has to be this, Terry: I am an African American. I find affinity in Jewish culture yet reject Religion of any kind. I have European blood coursing through my veins. I can speak Spanish and love Cuban food. I am a Socialist who craves fame and fortune. I have a British Passport yet I feel more American in England than I do anywhere else in the world. If one place were to make me feel more like myself it would be New York City but having only lived there briefly many years ago that is not where I'm "from" either.

So, I guess you could say: I currently live in Palm Beach, Florida...but I can't wait to move again.

I hope one day I can answer in five words or less.

Next question?

Election Depression

It has been a week since the 2014 mid-term election. Any good Psychotherapist will tell you there is no fixed time frame to the processing of grief. I've passed Denial and Anger and am hovering somewhere between Bargaining and Depression. Acceptance is still a way off.

It may seem hyperbolic to liken an election to the loss of a loved one but if the Republican Sweep- despite the current positive indicators- are representative of the town, state and country where I live I am at a loss, for words.

A few weeks before Election Day I informally polled acquaintances to gauge the temperature on various issues; which in Florida included Medical Marijuana, Children's Services, numerous State and National Congressional Representatives, and Governor.

The various reactions my selective sample garnered included three themes which, in my opinion, would seem to address the reactionary results and abysmal voter turnout numbers:

1. A woman who smokes Pot every day (just for fun) said she was voting against Medical Marijuana because she didn't want the price to increase.

2. I casually asked a young couple if they had voted yet- a week prior to the actual day- and they replied that they had "a lot on" so just couldn't get to the polls this time.

3. A client, who had spent weeks complaining that the Casino he worked for had cut his hours because of "Obamacare," wasn't voting in "protest."

Based on that kind of feedback a measured response proved challenging. Nevertheless; I have tried to qualify my results in the order they were received as follows:

1. Self Interest
Americans care about themselves, their families and maybe their friends. A celebrity telethon or 5k walk will elicit generosity among the lower classes, while a charity benefit usually gets the 1% to sign big checks, but I'm not sure how to change the chronic head-up-own-ass-ness of Americans.

One is branded a Socialist if raising taxes to support the less fortunate is even suggested. A new Republican member of Congress, the Lady Pig Farmer from the Great State of Iowa, Joni Ernst, has just illustrated that point to her Supporters:

 "We’re looking at Obamacare right now. Once we start with those benefits in January, how are we going to get people off of those? It’s exponentially harder to remove people once they’ve already been on those programs…we rely on government for absolutely everything. And in the years since I was a small girl up until now into my adulthood with children of my own, we have lost a reliance on not only our own families, but so much of what our churches and private organizations used to do. They used to have wonderful food pantries. They used to provide clothing for those that really needed it. But we have gotten away from that. Now we’re at a point where the government will just give away anything."
2. Apathy and/or just can't handle one more thing we "have" to do.
Americans don't even take all their paid vacation time because they are so stressed about keeping jobs, making student loan payments, avoiding Gluten, watching Bravo Marathons, picking kids up before the late fee charges, etc.
Election Day really needs to be a Public Holiday. We couldn't make it mandatory though. Come on now- unless we're talking about a woman's womb, Americans sure as shit won't abide without a choice.  

3. Ignorance
24 hour access to people just talking for the sake of hearing their own voice puts a lot of opinions into the atmosphere. Facts are difficult to debate but subjective ideas can be interpreted into our own frames of reference with much less effort.

The Affordable Care Act didn't demand that the multi-million dollar revenue producing Casino (my client works for) cut their employee's hours. That was a business decision many companies make, in one way or another, to skip out on paying taxes, providing health care and other benefits, because its a god damn job so shut up and be grateful!

Just a few days after this Election the 2014 Country Music Awards were handed out. The Song of the Year was awarded to a very talented young lady named Kacey Musgraves and her song Follow Your Arrow.

This catchy tune about loving who you love, kissing boys and girls- whichever you're into- and smoking weed must be pretty popular to win that award. Nevertheless, I guarantee the majority of people who listen to Country music elected Politicians who vote against marriage equality & cannabis.

Cognitive Dissonance is a Psychological term defined as: psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously. The American Psyche would seem to be suffering a wicked case of it.

Maybe it's far more basic. More fear based. Most people are scared of Hospitals, right? Maybe Americans hate Obamacare because now they have no excuse for not seeing a doctor who will most likely challenge their Big Gulp and pack a day habits and confirm what we all fear, our mortality.

Or maybe Americans, on a Jungian collective unconscious level, think Obama actually represents Karma? How can they trust him- after all the terrible things White people have done to the American Negro, how could they? White privilege has resulted in abhorrent behavior towards black people, historically and probably within the last hour.

(Obama) has to be looking for payback for all, or at least half, of black people everywhere. Hmmm...maybe...Health Care is really a Black Panther scheme for injecting us with Syphilis disguised as Flu Shots at CVS...yeah...yeah...it all makes sense! Vote Republican!!

I might still be at the Angry stage of grieving.