Monday, December 19, 2016

2016- Let's turn the page on that one

I don't like looking back. I'm always constantly looking forward. I'm not the one to sort of sit and cry over spilt milk. I'm too busy looking for the next cow.
Gordon Ramsey


“And Lot's wife, of course, was told not to look back. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned into a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

Kurt Vonnegut


I’ve been seeing clients, patients, people, in a professional capacity since 2006 or so. It makes me a middle-tier professional when it comes to experience. I WAS a bartender for a lot of years before that, and I think I should get to count that too. You hear a lot of confessions after three Jack and Cokes.

But I digress.


The point I want to make is, 2016, using the clinical definition, was a shit year for a lot of people. Certainly the worst I can remember. Terror around the globe, the death of Ali and Prince and David Bowie. Syria, race riots. The disgraceful tone of the US election (I don’t care who you voted for, it was disgraceful.) Not a great year in history by any definition you want to use.


But more than that, it was something I could feel in my conversations with my clients. Some years go by where nothing much happens. 2016 didn’t seem like one of those years for a lot of people. Maybe it’s a recency bias, but I know people reading this know what I’m talking about.

2016 was the Orange popsicle. The Lemon Starburst. The chocolate in the box with the coconut in the middle.


So a lot of people, including me, are ready to turn the page. You go into that new year with hope. Thinking about how things are going to be different this year. You’re going to lose weight. Be more loving. Save money. You know the routine. And the interesting thing is, we DO get a little emotional lift from anticipating how things are going to be different. We mentally see ourselves in the new clothes, the new body, the new relationship. But as we can see by this diagram, there always comes that moment.

This is bigger than I thought it would be.

In thinking about how to sustain change, I read a wonderful premise recently called “no more zero days.” No More Zero Days


The concept is, you don’t have any days where you take zero steps towards your goals. Maybe you walk around the block, or pay five dollars towards one of your bills, or write one small journal entry. But you make the deal with yourself that there will be no zero days. This is a great read and a great motivational tool.


But one thing I’ve learned personally is that the “be more loving" goal is really about the effort I want to make with people. Having lost another young friend too soon this year, I reflected on the following quote from Jorge Luis Borges,

I felt what we always feel when someone dies–the sad awareness, now futile, of how little it would have cost to have been more loving.”


I make myself read this several times a week. “Loving” is not necessarily my default mode and I need a lot of reminders about this.

The fact of the matter is, we all have glorious things to say about people when they’re gone.

But no so much while they’re living.

So, I’m challenging myself to be more generous with my time this year. That’s a start. I’m doing a bit of pro-bono work as a psychologist as a beginning. It occurred to me that my last 20 New Year’s resolutions or so, have been all about ME. “I’m gonna lose weight this year, “I’m gonna save money this year” “I’m gonna date a supermodel this year.”

I’m like O for 20 on those.

So this year I’m challenging myself to direct more of my energy outwards instead of inwards. The standard New Year’s resolution doesn’t really work for me, and I’m not sure it works very well for anyone.

So this year I’m going to try and change my thinking instead.

So for all you out there that would also like to bury 2016 in a deep bunker underground, please hang in there and keep some hope. Every day we’re drawing breath we have a chance to do things a little better. Remember, No more zero days!

Cheers to a better 2017!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Beating the Sunday Night Blues: My Prescription

Confession time. 

I’ve hated Sunday nights since I was a five-year-old kid.

Somewhere between about 5 O’clock on Sunday and Monday morning, I got this feeling of pending doom. Always have. My “fake sick” game has been strong since the first grade. I had the cough down and everything. 

And that feeling followed me into my adulthood. As many bartenders around Chicago can attest, I’ve spent many a day in the bar on a Sunday. I would do anything to ward off that feeling. That nagging, lingering sense that life was speeding up again. That strategy doesn’t work anymore, as I need to pay attention to people and can’t do that with a hangover. And really I’m not sure it ever worked. It’s at best a distraction and at worst a bad crutch. 

I’ve spoken to a LOT of people about the Sunday night blues, and know I’m not alone. In a 2013 poll from the career site, 81 percent of respondents said they get Sunday-night blues—and 59 percent said they experience them “really bad.

So what are the Sunday night blues anyway? Where do they come from? 

I guess the obvious place to start would be the idea that we as kids have school the next day. Kids live for the weekends, and the idea of classes and homework on Monday is a real drag. As a Catholic kid, I also had church on Sundays, which was yet another activity I didn’t enjoy. I was a squirmy kid to begin with, and that was the longest hour of my life. And God forbid you got one of the old priests. You could be there all day talking about Barabbas and Ezekiel…

Then we get older and have to go to work. It all starts up again on Mondays and we start feeling the old dread. Back to the grind. 

I suffered from this condition for a couple of decades or so. I was one of those who fit into the “really bad" category, and it really was a situational kind of depression. It was a strange mix of boredom, anxiety, and restlessness. 

Finally, I decided that I was sick of feeling like that and decided to do something about it. When I felt like doing nothing, I scheduled something I really liked to do, like watching a new movie or going to a great new restaurant. I made a special playlist with all of my favorite songs that I would play on Sunday nights. I’d hire a cleaner to come in on Saturday so I was living in a place that was clean and comfortable.

And this worked just fine. The idea was being more generous with yourself even when you’re not feeling your best. Good advice for anyone really. It’s not what happens to us as much as how we respond to what happens to us. Having a plan for Sunday nights helped with this a lot.  

But lately that hasn’t been enough, so I decided to try something else. I thought back to my early days as a fidgety kid in that church and did some thinking. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying themselves singing abut Eagle’s wings and shaking hands and saying “peace be with you,” and I felt like I was missing something.

So all these years later I’ve found my own kind of church again. Being out in nature. Finding someplace beautiful and enjoying solitude. Clearing my mind and taking a little stock as to where I am and where I’m going.

And the craziest thing has happened. Not only do I not dread Sunday nights anymore, but I actually look forward to them. In my job I talk to people all day every day. They need my full attention and I need to listen to people’s stories very carefully. Taking some time to myself while looking at that big blue ocean reminds me that I’m part of something a little bigger. That there is some good in the world. Some beauty.

All of us need to unplug and recharge the batteries once in a while.