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Coping Skills

Adulting 101: Do I Ever Graduate to Adulting 102?

“This adulting thing is more challenging than I thought,” I sigh. “Do I have any clue what I am doing?”

At times, “adulting” is more difficult than I thought. There are work demands, dating expectations, and the overtaxed Nissan that is more temperamental than yours truly. There are mounting credit card bills (remember to cancel that Starwood Preferred card, Matt). And, of course, there is that ever expensive grad school degree just two single, solitary classes away.



General

Shutting Down Neverland: Defining Child Sexual Abuse For What It Is

I just watched Leaving Neverland--the sordid documentary about Michael Jackson’s sexual exploitation (and, yes, exploitation is the correct word).

In the documentary, two Michael Jackson accusers detail--in painstaking fashion--the sexual abuse they endured. According to the accusers, Jackson--their pop king idol--abused them for years. More than just detailing the horrific abuse, the documentary explores how Jackson skillfully manipulated the victims and their families for his own self-serving, perverse fantasies. Drawing on his fame and limitless resources, Jackson showered the victims and their families with attention--providing the pop star with unfettered access to the defenseless boys.


General

Pay to Play: The Real Education Crisis

Like many of you, I have been breathlessly following the pay for admission scandal implicating some of America’s best universities: Georgetown, Stanford, Yale (among other hallowed institutions).

A short summary: A number of affluent, well connected parents enlisted the support of an unscrupulous intermediary to fabricate their child’s athletic credentials (or cheat on admission exams). The scandal has ensnared well-known actresses--among other powerbrokers. The public’s reaction, not surprisingly, has been swift and critical--lambasting these parents for, essentially, gaming a purported meritocracy: university admission.

While I share your collective outrage at these powerbrokers’ flagrant abuse of power, this university scandal is a direct reflection of an unequal playing field--one that tilts ever so slightly to society’s most affluent, well connected, and powerful.

Let me further explain: We purport to live in a meritocracy--one that dutifully rewards hard work. We mythologize the American Dream--the sacrosanct notion that everyone has a chance to succeed.

The real world, unfortunately, contradicts our idealized world--and it starts with our education system. School districts’ financial health is, in part, based on property tax distribution. This article neatly summarizes the financial disparity between affluent and less affluent school districts. In more affluent areas, school districts have the financial resources to offer individualized instruction, catered meals, and the latest technology. For some very affluent families, selective private schools--and their astronomical tuition bill--provide an opportunity to co-opt public schools entirely.



Coping Skills

Lost in the Woods: Recovering From a Loved One’s Passing

I have been reading Cheryl Strayed’s acclaimed best seller, Wild. In painstaking detail, Cheryl chronicles the grief following her mother’s death. She recounts the heroin use, the seedy men, and the dissolution of her marriage--in deeply personal terms. On a whim--and attempting to make sense of her broken world, Cheryl makes the spontaneous decision to hike the Pacific Coast Trail. The book details her painful hike--both literally and figuratively--and how it, ultimately, precipitates her healing.

My story mirrors Cheryl--of course without her beautiful prose. When my mother passed away over six years ago, I was inconsolable. Her funeral was a blur--a procession of hugs and well wishes from family acquaintances. “Let us know if you need anything,” they murmured. I solemnly nodded--a shell shocked daze gripping my every fiber.

Following my mother’s funeral, I returned to the New Orleans law firm. I tried to put on a cheerful facade and meet the billable hour requirement. But, truthfully, I didn’t give a damn; I had checked out. My mother’s loss had gutted me.

“What am I doing here? I can’t do this,” I thought. Within the month, I had quit the law firm. My tentative plan: return home to Iowa. By returning home, there would be an opportunity to further my mother’s legacy. There would also be an opportunity to re-establish a relationship with my distant father.

Or so I thought--perhaps naively so.

Moving into an empty Des Moines apartment, the enormity hit me: I really am on my own. For my entire life, my mother had been my bulwark. She had been my sounding board; my trusted confidante; my keeper of secrets.



General

Not Always So Well-butrin

“Dr. N, I am not saying we should spike the football but I believe we are making progress!” I enthusiastically write.

Dr. N, who is equal parts friend and mentor, has been prescribing medication to me for the last five years. He has been the...


Coping Skills

(Some) Rest for the Weary

“What’s going on?” I wonder to myself--somewhat incredulous about my buoyant mood. “I mean, this is unexpected--in a glorious, life is 72 degrees outside type of way.”

You see, my mood vacillates between uneasy and depressive. When my anxiety/depressive symptoms tighten their grip, my stomach churns itself into an all-consuming knot. My face reddens; I feel like I am concealing (and not very well) a bubbling inferno of emotions.

For many mental health sufferers--myself included, our mental illness ravages like a snarling tiger. It distracts and depletes, consuming every reservoir of energy. To function--to preserve through the day, we have to muster every ounce of strength and willpower.

Overly dramatic? Perhaps--but as any mental health consumer in the throes of a depressive episode and/or panic attack will tell you, life--at least at times--can feel like cleaning the bathroom toilet. Something to be done--marked by a grim determination. Borrowing from a well-known college basketball maxim, we are just trying to survive and advance (to the next day).

So when those anxious/depressive thoughts suddenly don’t seem so suffocating, it is important to celebrate those days (weeks--if we are lucky).

Today--bless its heart--is one of those days. I woke up and felt reinvigorated; there was a joyfulness in my step. When I interacted socially, I relaxed--reveling in my newfound serenity. When I sat down and wrote, the words flowed. It was strange--borderline disquieting--to feel so (knock on wood) calm. Where are my anxious/depressive thoughts--those ever-faithful accomplices? It felt like they took an all-expense holiday to Puerto Vallarta.

The respite, more likely than not, will be short-lived. I am sure the anxious/depressive thoughts will return with a snarling vengeance--seeking to exact revenge on my mental equanimity.

But before they invariably return, this mind vacation (can we just extend it for a couple more weeks?) provides much-needed clarity.



Coping Skills

A Community of One: Bowled Over

“Do you bowl alone?”

“What?” you respond. “What do you mean--do I bowl alone?”

More than you ability to pick up the two pin, I am interested in your social support network. In his seminal book Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam describes the social ties that bind communities. Insert the beer frame at your local bowling alley (or the weekly Rotary luncheon).

While Putnam doesn’t directly implicate mental health in his seminal book (instead, he focuses on the steady deterioration of once thriving American communities), Putnam’s book prompts an urgent--and uncomfortable--question: What does Bowling Alone--and, more specifically, the loss of civic institutions mean for our collective mental health?

My answer: With “significant correlation” between social support and mental health, the loss of these community institutions represents a significant blow to our collective psyche.

In 2019, we live in a world of hundreds of Facebook friends, Twitter followers, and LinkedIn contacts yet, paradoxically, few close friends. We are more interconnected than ever before yet somehow more alone.

The statistics speak to our collective isolation. According to this Psychology Today article, 25% of Americans have no meaningful social support at all--not a single person they confide in. Half of Americans report having no close confidants outside their family.

Bowling alone? Try working alone, commuting alone, watching TV alone, and, sadly, dying alone.

Anyone nodding solemnly? I know I am.



Coping Skills

Building a Wall (Toward Treatment)

The language is insensitive--even incendiary: crazy, sicko, repeatedly pressing for more mental institutions like “the old days.”

The comments--and their innuendos--divide--and, in the process, further stigmatize mental health.

But, sadly, this isn’t the commentary of your crazy uncle at those dreaded family reunions; instead, these are the comments of Donald J. Trump. That would be President Trump.

For the Donald, mental health is a plague--something that needs to be confined. Even quarantined. He routinely conflates mental illness and violence--perpetuating the false narrative that violence and mental illness are intertwined.

When he isn’t peddling this false narrative, he is advocating for the return of mental health institutions. “You know, in the old days we had mental institutions. We had a lot of them. And you could nab someone like this, because they...knew something was off. You had to know that. People were calling all over the place,” the Donald informed/lectured.

Donald--a little history lesson. Mental health institutions were closed in the 1960s because of safety concerns and deplorable conditions. They were routinely likened to prisons; this New York Times article hints at their despair and cruelty (“the smell of caged humans”).

More than just lamenting mental health institutions, I find Donald’s disparagement of the mentally ill deeply disturbing. The President has the world’s most powerful bully pulpit--the ability to seize the day’s narrative with an opinion, quote, or tweet (however ill-advised). But instead of providing factual information about mental health, the President has used his bully pulpit to reinforce demeaning, damaging stereotypes. In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting, the President referred to the alleged shooter as a “savage sicko.” At Trump’s urging, his then attorney general, Jeff Sessions, vowed to examine the “intersection of mental health and criminality.”



General

Debunking the Caricature: Joe Q. Mental Health

Note: This post may get me in trouble at home (notwithstanding that possibility, the post needs to be written).

My girlfriend’s father is a thoughtful, generous guy. I have celebrated countless holiday with him, exchanging gifts and laughs. I genuinely enjoy his company--even when he shakes his head in disbelief at my fervent Democratic positions.

Not surprisingly, Bob is active in his community; he has specifically volunteered for the Salvation Army. Serving meals to the indigent, Bob interacts with the less fortunate during his weekly volunteers shifts. When asked to describe his Salvation Army clients, Bob will, on occasion, reference their mental health.

Or lack thereof.

“They are mentally ill,” he has stated to me unequivocally. In his tone, there is no disparagement or condescension--just a factual acknowledgment of his clients’ mental health. Underlying his seemingly innocuous comment, there is an implicit assumption: mental health looks a certain way. It is the disheveled panhandler dependent on social services (and, incidentally, not the writer/lawyer dating his daughter).

And, at some level, Bob’s assumption may be accurate. Among the Salvation Army clientele, it is reasonable to assume that a percentage of food pantry recipients battle mental health issues. Bob’s presumption is fair--even valid.