Monday, November 21, 2005

…and please let me not be neurotic…

A question for those of us who came of age the 1970’s - the decade of personal growth - are we really at choice in our mental health?  Perhaps we are the first generation to even consider this.  Our parents just seemed to hold everything inside and “deal with it” somehow, but whether through music, philosophy, pharmaceuticals or psychology, we have been looking inward for the past 40 years.  

Morris Schectman claims, “The essential definition of neurotic behavior is behavior that's no longer in context”.  Another quotation, attributed to no one in particular, states, “the neurotic builds castles in the sky, the psychotic lives in them and the psychiatrist collects the rent.”  And according to another website I Googled, if I wonder whether I’m neurotic - suffering from anxieties, phobias and compulsions - probably I am.

In 1999, I had a realtor who had previously worked as a therapist.    She used to call my “file” my “chart”.  “HA HA”, I said, “not just yet”, although finding an affordable condo that met my standards was making me crazy.  We became friendly during our search.  She gave me a great article on the upside of an ADD personality.  The article, undoubtedly a fragment of her former occupation, claimed that those of us who suffer from inability to focus can often be creative multi-taskers, which is not all bad.  

What I remember most about this woman was her comment that she had made up her mind not to be neurotic.  I have thought about this so many times over the past six years.  The condo has been bought and sold, and in hindsight, I had every reason to be so picky, and run her ragged.  But that’s another story.

My personal quest for sanity has taken me down a number of different avenues - some scenic paths, some dangerous roads and some dead ends.  Sometimes I have felt that the ironic cliché “you can’t get there from here” has defined my evolutionary journey.   Outside of my current spiritual path, perhaps the single most effective way that I have managed my own mental health has been through what I call “cognitive therapy lite”.  I have made almost a game out of it!  There is little in life that is absolute; one can interpret events in many ways, so this is about choosing a way to interpret things that is not damaging to your self worth or anxiety producing.

A silly example that illustrates the basic principle of cognitive therapy is to imagine yourself walking down the hallway in your office.  You say hello to a colleague, who ignores you.  One option is to take it personally, to be offended, or feel some version of worthless or inferior.  Or, in “cognitive therapy lite”, you may simply turn that neurotic thinking around, and say, HEY, that person may be hard of hearing, lost in thought, or having a bad day.  It has nothing (repeat, nothing) to do with me.  Whew, a neurotic episode averted!

Being minimally neurotic and maximally mentally healthy involves more than just cognitive therapy, but in this game we can start where we are.  Sanity in our increasingly complex world is multi-faceted, and as we age, we have a larger gunnysack of baggage that we carry around with us.   Life tends to be kind of rough on most of us, even the most privileged.  Opportunities abound to feel “less than” or “not good enough”.   Choose, like my former realtor, not to be neurotic.   Study, reflect on and practice healthy thinking until it becomes a part of you.   Exercise, pray, meditate, commune with nature, and get help - whatever it takes.   Do not become fussy, a recluse, a curmudgeon - some of the many versions of those among us who may still be functioning, but suffer nonetheless.  Life as John Lennon said, is not a dress rehearsal.  Bad things will happen, not everyone will like you but you can choose to accept life on life’s terms, and choose not to be neurotic.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

New Friends

I need some new friends!  Friends who like the same foods I like, who want to go out when I’m available, who ponder and discuss things I like to think about.  These new friends will not aggravate me by having annoying little habits or life philosophies that disrupt my peace.

You see, my friends IRL (in real life) require so much tolerance.  For some reason, they don’t see things the way I do.  They think that people get colds from being cold or that aches and pains come from eating white flour.  They vote Republican!  They are on special diets and let me know two hours before arriving at my house that they won’t be eating the food I’ve made three trips to the store for and slaved over preparing for half the day.  And people who flit in and out of town, and ask me “what’s new?” knowing perfectly well I am chained to my household and caregiving responsibilities these days, outside of a very short leash that reaches only to the gym and the chain stores.  

Where are the perfect people who don’t drink too much, don’t go off the deep end with whatever it is they’re into?  I’ve heard there is not much difference between hobbies and mental illness.  Not my hobbies of course, other people’s.  Where are the friends who don’t cancel out last minute with some lame excuse?  The friends who are hip, but not obsessed with “hipper than thou” one-upmanship that makes every conversation as comfortable as a root canal?  Or how about people who watch TV shows and movies that make me pity them?  

Then there are the prospective suitors - I guess I should be grateful that they still flirt with me a bit.  Occasionally I still have some chemistry with a man, and I sort of fondly look back at what a fool I was to get sucked in to the drama of the chase, for what, probably 25 years.  I almost wish I didn’t know how predictable that whole situation is.  The flirtation part at first seems so interesting and exciting.  Before long you both realize that you fell in love with a side of yourselves that does not really exist, except at the superficial level.  This doesn’t even count the people who consciously or unconsciously misrepresent themselves, slightly or completely.  The same old crap that broke up your last relationship will probably continue to do its devious work.  We discover that our new love really works best as a “dinner and sex” relationship, once we get past that stage, we are looking for new friends once again, and the cycle repeats itself.  

So what to do?  Throw over all of these imperfect beings?  Or give them a lot of flack and attitude when they are so clearly in the wrong.  How can I, just a mere mortal, educate these poor souls on how to act?   Do they not read Miss Manners?  Were they raised by wolves?  No Internet access?  Luddites?  

The worst of the matter is that I still love many of these people.  Some I admit I can live without, completely.  Some I just have to pace myself.   I have in years gone by, thrown people over for what now seem like relatively minor offenses.  I still find that some friendships ebb and flow, sometimes it is just a click, sometimes a strain.  Some people just seem to be keepers, warts and all.  Almost like family.  At 55, I am looking to build an extended family, since my blood relative family is quite small.  

So it really is all about ME.  It’s all about how harshly I judge them.  It isn’t about them after all!  So bring on the new friends and I will practice this “all about me” thing and take lots of deep relaxing breaths as they do what people do, and I let them.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Tail Maintenance

Tail Maintenance

Anyone who has shared their life with a furry and adorable, yet sometimes annoying four legged creature can relate.  Pet-free people will not want to continue reading, since the details of this story would be considered Too Much Information.  Let’s just say one of the things on my very boring to-do list is to trim the feline equivalent of tail feathers on my longhaired cat.  The groomers call it a “sanitary cut” or some such.  For several years I have not been able to have him bathed and groomed professionally - he has become such a fighter when they attempt to bathe him, he needs full sedation and I can’t bring myself to do that.  During the 2003 firestorms here in Southern California, his white fur turned dirty gray during a roll on the sidewalk on his nightly walk around the house (on a halter and leash here in coyote country).  I tried out some of the dry and foam shampoos, which actually work pretty well.  He still hates it but we manage to do that occasionally without drawing blood.   Mostly we just live with the slightly scraggly look, outside of a weekly brushing.  

He is getting to be an old boy, around 12 (indoor cats can live to age 20) and is increasingly finicky about his food.  When he refuses to eat, the whole “body as a machine” thing is thrown off, and we have problems on top of problems, often at 4:30 a.m.  You cannot win against a cat on a hunger strike.  He has some sort of gastritis; a sensitive stomach and can only tolerate certain foods.  No Friskies or supermarket dry food for this guy.  He is now rejecting even the expensive healthy canned stuff I buy online, and the lightly sautéed ground turkey I cook for him.  Not to mention the frequent upchucking I have to deal with (enzyme cleaner, spray cleaners, portable carpet shampooer).  Hairballs, digestive problems, clawing furniture, shedding, just don’t let anyone say that cats are “low maintenance pets” which from my experience is an oxymoron.  

I have spent some time these past few days crawling around the floor, cleaning up the carpet, trying to give him his vitamins/hair ball stuff, and coax him to eat.  Insane?  Probably.  As a caregiver to an actual human also, I think perhaps the cat is my teacher.  My Dad actually is a bit better behaved in these areas, although there are some parallels.  From a woman’s perspective they are both sloppy guys to have around.  My Dad also has digestive problems, although he still does very well for his age, eldercare often entails some very similar considerations as I’ve been going thru with my little fur child.

Sometimes I think about walking out the door, and not coming back.  Both of them mess up the house, and don’t listen to me.  Even though I have fantasies of living alone in an ocean front condo, no meals to prepare on someone else’s schedule, no cleaning up messes I didn’t make myself.  I could just lock the door, head to the airport and travel to places that now I can just read about, but I’d miss them both.