Joe Guse on Chris Farley

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dance like no one is watching

“We do not have ideology. We do not have theology. We dance.”
Shinto priest to Joseph Campbell

Come dancing,
Come on sister, have yourself a ball.
Don't be afraid to come dancing,
It's only natural.
The Kinks- Come Dancing

And we danced like a wave on the ocean, romanced
We were liars in love and we danced
Swept away for a moment by chance
And we danced and danced and danced.

The Hooters-And we Danced

It’s winter in New Zealand. In July.

I’m used to July being a fun month, it's not here.

So what’s a gal to do? Think outside the box a little. So that's just what I did this weekend. I found a Neil Diamond impersonator who was playing a show way out in the sticks. I was sold!!

But that’s not the most interesting part of the story.

Just after a glorious version of “Coming to America,” a little lady wandered up to the singer and whispered something into his ear. She gestured towards her friend, who was in a wheelchair, and the singer nodded.

I was intrigued.

A moment later the singer belted into “Sweet Caroline” and the little lady pushed her friend onto the dance floor. She loved Neil Diamond and had loved to dance as a healthier woman, and wanted another tour of the dance floor.

And then the nicest thing happened.

The crowd, who hadn’t had quite enough alcohol to dance, all almost simultaneously joined her on the dance floor. Her face lit up into a huge smile and the singer eventually brought her up on the stage with him. Here is a picture of that moment.

It reminded me of what an extraordinary thing it is to dance. When I was younger I was “too cool” to dance and would hover around the back and look on in judgment.

There’s always a guy like that at every party. Don’t be him.

Nowadays, I’m often one of the first people on the dance floor. I don’t care if I look stupid. A part of me even knows I do. But who cares??

The music (and let’s be honest, the beer) moves me to express myself.

Later, I chatted with the woman and she told me all about her nights spent dancing as a young girl. It reminded me of the lovely song, “Come Dancing” by the Kinks quoted at the beginning of this essay. The song switches on my nostalgia button like crazy.  It’s fun. 80’s. Wistful

So later on, I had the privilege of sharing a dance with the lady in question.  It reminded me to dance while I still can. One day my legs won’t work anymore, I’ll grow old, and I’ll have nothing but memories.

So tonight I decided to make another one.

So for everyone out there that’s “too cool,” I urge you to rethink your position. Dance like no one is watching. If you can master that, you’re winning at life, I promise you.

So I will close with a little picture of me in Costa Rica. Me in all my sweaty, non-Spanish speaking glory.

I made a lot of new friends that night.. Despite not knowing the language. Music and dancing are universal languages that break down barriers of culture, class, language, and age.

And if you’re ever in New Zealand in July, give me a ring..

I just might take you on a tour of the dance floor to Sweet Caroline.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

You Don’t Understand! Some things people with Anxiety and Depression want you to know.

“Most misunderstandings in the world could be avoided if people would simply take the time to ask, "What else could this mean?”
Shannon Alder 

I’ve been a therapist for over ten years now. In a decade you hear a lot of things. A lot of the same things sometimes, but it’s also important to remember each person is a case study of one. A good piece of advice I once learned was to examine how a person was like all other people, how they were like some other people, and how they were like no other people. It reminds the person listening that every person you meet has their own unique story.

But there are also some common themes. Some ways people have been misunderstood in their lives. Some false assumptions others sometimes have about them. Here are some of them I’ve heard a lot.
  • When I cancel plans at the last moment, it’s not because I’m a snob or don’t want to hang out with you. My nerves have gotten the best of me and I had to stay home. You may be disappointed, but trust me that I’m even more disappointed in myself.

  •  There are things you take for granted that are incredibly difficult for me. Just going to the store can be a battle that takes me hours to prepare for. I pray I don’t run into anyone I know. Every word exchanged with the cashier is painful. For most, this is a mundane activity. For me it's a kind of torture.

  • Talking to other people can be really hard for us. We’re constantly thinking of the right thing to say, and that makes us say the wrong things sometimes. Later we will go home and think about every misstep in the conversation, and this will fill us with shame. We’ll have lot of conversations in our heads trying to make it right again.

  • We HAVE tried a lot of treatments. We’ve tried pills, doctors, and herbs. Therapists, yogis, and healers. We’re well aware of the issue, believe me. We appreciate you trying to offer helpful suggestions, but really they just make us even more self-conscious.

  •  We’re really not very uncomfortable inside our own skin. Think about how you felt on the day you took your driver’s test, or your wedding, or when you had to make a big speech in front of the class. Remember the racing heart? The cold hands? How you kept forgetting silly little things? That’s how we feel all the time. That’s why it’s hard to take advice sometimes. Our dials are turned way up all the time. When we’re physically that wound up, the smart, rationale, thinking part of our brain turns off. It’s called fight or flight.

  •  It’s totally different suffering with something that’s “invisible.”  When people can’t “see” what’s wrong with you they often think (and even say) “It’s all in your head.” That’s true to a point. But that’s a big place for it to be!! When people say they don’t “believe” in mental health issues, it’s really hurtful and makes us feel like we don’t belong anywhere.

So there’s a few. There are a lot more on the list, but those are some of the big ones. Each person’s individual demons might vary, but these are some of the battles.

It’s not all bad news on the mental health front. More and more laws are being enacted around the world to ensure mental health is treated with the same respect as physical health. These kinds of laws aim to take some of the stigma away. Give people permission to talk about their battles without fear of disbelief and ridicule. They are a good start.

But if you do have a person struggling with mental health issues in your life, be patient. They know something isn’t right, and sometimes they need a little understanding even when they’re not being very nice. They want to talk about it but it’s very hard. Embarrassing even. 

But they're trying…

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Today is the greatest day I've ever known.

Warning, this essay might not be about what you think it’s going to be about.

Unless maybe you like 90’s music.

But let’s get started.

It was the 90’s in Chicago and I had moved there to take the world by storm as a comedian.

It wasn’t really working out.

I was working as a doorman at a bar and not even doing that very well. I didn’t like taking people’s fake Id’s. Those things were hard to come by.

One cold spring night I was walking home from work in a funk. I walked passed restaurants and bars and people having fun with their friends and wondered if I made the right move coming to Chicago. Everyone seemed to have it all figured out but me. 

It was a dark night of the soul.

I walked past a place and head a song that caught my attention. It was a sad sounding song but the lyrics seemed kind of light and happy.

‘Today is the greatest
Day I've ever known
Can't live for tomorrow
Tomorrow's much too long
I'll burn my eyes out
Before I get out’

I felt strangely uplifted by the strange contrast between the song's music and lyrics and went inside. 

It was The Smashing Pumpkins, and they were fronted by a guy named Billy Corgan.

I didn’t realize the significance of that night until much later on. For one, I was seeing a band that was going to become one of the voices of a generation in a small little venue.

But to me, it was much more than that. That song was stuck in my head and became my new favorite tune that summer. It got me through some tough days and long nights.

Eventually, I learned I wasn’t crazy. The song was about someone going through crippling depression. Corgan wrote it about his loneliness, isolation, weight gain, depression, and the suicidal feelings he was experiencing in the wake of a life that wasn’t working out the way he expected. In his own words~

“I reached a point in my life where I felt like I was living through some old character. It's like you assume some character and you take that as far as it can go and then it doesn't work anymore, so you shed your skin-and that's kind of what happened to me. I had become something that I probably am not in order to succeed and at some point I realized that, whatever I was, was hurting me, so I needed to go through the process of getting rid of that person. I had to kill off one part of me so that I could go on, and some of that started in the writing of the songs."

And also.

“It's sort of a wry observation on suicide, but in essence, the meditation behind the lyric is that every day is the best day, if you let it be."

As for me, I grew a lot that summer in Chicago. I made new friends, got a better job, and did a few shows around the city. I used to walk by this purple house that was about a block from my own. It was owned by?

None other than Billy Corgan! He may have written those very lyrics there that got me through that first tough year in Chicago. He was rich and famous and I was broke and aspiring, but it seemed like he was going through a lot of the same things I was.

The lesson was something that stuck with me. I had been operating under the assumption that when I just “made it”, that I would no longer have dark days and depressing nights, but perhaps I was wrong. Maybe I was chasing all the wrong things?

Years later, I made a little name for myself discussing why people who have achieved fame and fortune are so prone to depression and self-destructive behavior. It was a bit of a strange twist, all things considered. I used to feel so down because I didn’t have all those things, but I’ve learned along the way that all of those superficial and external rewards like fame and fortune don’t do much to mend a fractured psyche or a broken heart.

But I also think a lot about what Billy later said about the song, “every day can be the best day if you let it be.”

It speaks to how we do have some say when it comes to our moods and our attitudes, despite the difficult circumstances we might find ourselves in. I’ve learned the hard way that depression plays no favorites and recognizes no measures of social status.

But I’ve also learned that it is within our power to be proactive about our response to depression. One of the most compressive books about depression is called, “I never knew I had a choice” by Gerald Corey. The book is a behemoth, and well worth reading for a master class on depression.

But in many ways, the whole point is right there in the title.

Personally, when I’m having one of those days now I think about it like going into battle. I play my favorite music and watch funny movies that make me laugh and am a little more generous with myself than I normally would be.

I know these days pass though. They have passed every single time I’ve had them and I know they will continue to do so.

But I’ve also learned to have some gratitude for the good days, because they pass as well. Great days with friends and wonderful days on vacation and long Sundays that last forever also slip quickly away. That’s the tradeoff. As C.S. Lewis said, “The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That's the deal.”

But in the meantime, we have today. And maybe it will be the greatest day you’ve ever known. But probably not. It probably won’t be the worst either. The odds don’t favor it.

In either case, we can greatly increase our odds of improvement by taking notice of the little moments. By being kind to others. By slowing down. Tasting our food a little better. Appreciating our friends a little more. It is my experience as a psychologist that people suffering from depression and anxiety have both lost sight of the little moments, often for very different reasons.

I’ve gotten better at noticing the little moments living in New Zealand. There are beautiful things everywhere. As Kurt Vonnegut says so well, “And I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.”

I’ve got that written down in a lot of strategic places.

But today I’m feeling a little down about going back to work tomorrow after four days off, and I’m listening to the Smashing Pumpkins. I’m thinking about that kid walking the lonely streets on a cold Chicago night searching for something I’m not sure I ever really found.

But I have found something I do have control of all these years later.