I crashed my car!

Dear Readers, we have had a mild winter in upper Illinois.  In fact, this is the first time in recorded history that there was no snow in January and February.  March started out similarly, and then there was last Tuesday. It didn’t snow a lot on Tuesday, but enough to create icy and slippery roads.  

As some of you know, I get up very early, 3:50 AM to be exact.  Because of this, I have my morning schedule down to a science.  I stumble out of bed, clean up, throw on my gym clothes, eat a simple breakfast, drink a cup of coffee (a must!), pack my car, and head off to the gym.  Not too exciting, but exacting.

Last Tuesday started like any other workday. With my wake-up routine completed I headed out the door and into my Ford Flex.  I really love my Ford, it is roomy and very comfortable.  However, the anti-lock braking system does not seem to work very well on snow.  

I drove the 15 minutes to the gym and pulled into the parking area.  The gym that I belong to is located in an office building with an attached parking tower that is accessed via a down ramp.  I turned onto the ramp and started to brake.  Instead of slowing down the brakes locked and I started to slide forward.  Moving ever faster, I had one of those “movie moments” where time seemed to advance in slow motion.  I could feel my panic rising as I realized that I was going to crash my new car, and there was absolutely nothing that I could do about it.  

Crash! Jolt!… Silence.  My car crashed into a high curb on the side of the ramp. The computerized panel on my dash flashed to inform me that one of my tires had deflated.  I was in a perfect spot to be hit by another car coming down the ramp, and so I decided to back up and drive the 50 feet or so into the parking garage.  I put my car in reverse, but nothing happened.  I checked the front-end of the Flex and saw that the left-front tire was perpendicular to the fender.  The force of the impact had severed the connection between the tire and the axil.  A sick feel welled up inside of me.  My panic feeling amplified.

Dear reader, as a doctor for over 30 years I have learned how to compartmentalize my feelings.  In a crisis, I can usually push them aside and attend to the business at hand.  For some reason, I was having trouble doing this on Tuesday morning.  Thoughts rushed through my head. Do I need to call the police?  Where is my insurance card? Will State Farm call a tow for me?  It is cold!  I am cold!  I have a full day of patients, will I have to cancel the day?  Where will I put those patients, I’m already booked out for weeks?  Will my staff be upset with me for causing them all sorts of inconvenience? On went my thoughts, as my heart rate ramped up. I started to force myself to pull myself together.  For many reasons I have trained myself to be self-sufficient. It has always been hard for me to ask for help.  Dear readers, I have earnestly been trying to change that behavior.  I have been actively erasing childhood tapes.

My friend Tom comes to the club at the same time that I do.  A quick text message to him, and a return phone call to me, and he was parked behind me.  A minute later and I was sitting in his car calling State Farm.  In many friendships one person is the leader, and the other is the follower.  This is not the case with Tom and me.  We are equally comfortable leading and following.  Our roles determined by need.  On Tuesday Tom jumped into the leadership role… “Don’t forget to ask for a tow.  Make sure you get the operator’s name. Don’t worry, it can be fixed.  It is only a box on wheels.”  And so on.  I know I could have done it on my own, but it felt comforting to know that I didn’t have to.

After I had made the proper arrangements Tom drove me back home, as I still had to shower and change for work.  At that point my wife Julie took over.  She was able to drive me back to the crash site so I could wait for the tow truck.  In her warm car I was able to call my office and alert them to the fact that I may have to cancel out my morning (which I dreaded).  At my office Lynn, our accounts person,  picked up the phone and reassured me that she would do whatever was needed.  “I’m glad that you are OK,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of it.” Around that same time I got a call from my personal trainer.  He somehow heard about my incident.  “Are you safe?”  He texted.  

The tow truck arrived and the driver assured me that I would not have to go with him back to the dealership.  Julie checked her schedule and told me that she could drive me to work and pick me up at the end of the day.  The timing worked out so I didn’t have to cancel any patients, I arrived on time for my first patient, who ironically failed his appointment with me.

In my driveway sits a little Ford Focus, the rental paid for by my auto insurance.  Rosie, the Ford Flex, waits to be repaired. Life goes on.

I always try to learn from every life event.  This is what I learned from Tuesday:

  1. I have people in my life who genuinely care about me.  They will be there for me if I need them.
  2. It is OK for me to ask people to help me.
  3. Even though I can usually do things without help, it feels so much better to have help.  It is terrible to be alone during a crisis. A little bit of kindness and concern goes a long way in troubled times.
  4. I don’t need to turn an inconvenience into a personal disaster. With a little thought and a little time, most problems work themselves out.
  5. Material things can always be replaced.  Invest in people, not in “stuff.”

-Today my goal is to remember the above.

-Today my goal is to be grateful that this old and crusty introvert has some wonderful people in his life. We introverts don’t need a lot of people, but we do need people.

The Sawzall

You are never too old to grow.

Dear readers, I firmly believe that we are not predestined by our past, but I also believe that our past does have an impact on our present.

I was a late in life surprise for my parents, and my siblings were significantly older than me. They were in the phases of their lives of personal discovery, and the attention of a little brother had little charm. My always busy mother was always busy: cooking, ironing shirts and doing other 1960s mother tasks. I believe my father felt that his family had completed 7 years before my birth, with the birth of my sister Nancy. There simply wasn’t a lot of investment in shy, poorly coordinated, always thinking, fat me.

In such a setting it was difficult to find or even know my place, which would lead me to wishing that my place was elsewhere. Out of my 1920s bungalow in the city, and into an imaginary contemporary ranch home in the country… but that is for another post.

An imagination is great for a temporary escape, but reality deems it necessary to have a more practical life plan. I did not have the luxury of a mentor to show me the benefit of the crescent wrench, or the secret of the curveball. Yet, it was not uncommon for me to be given complicated tasks, like painting the garage, without training or instruction. When the inevitable poor outcome occurred I was painfully made aware of my inadequacies. This made me pull away from such activities and pursue interests that were unique, and therefore couldn’t be criticized.

I was, and am, fortunate to have an abundance of interests that range from the arts to STEM activities. Science held a particular interest for the 1960s me. In those days technology was in vogue, the space race was on, and it seemed like my talent in science could serve me many purposes.

Science was the path that I chose, and I am both happy and unapologetic that I did. With that said, the 10-year-old boy that still resided in me felt a bit cheated of the experiences that most 10-year-old boys would normally have.

Like most 10-year-old boys, I loved handtools, power tools, and building stuff. We had a supply of various tools in the house, but they were locked up in a giant oak workbench that sat at the far end of our unfinished basement. They were mostly off limits. There were no offers to show me the proper way to use them.

As a homeowner, I have acquired some simple tools, and with the benefit of the Reader’s Digest Complete Home Repair Guide and YouTube videos, I have done a variety of small home projects. They typically turn out OK, but only with much trial and error. The satisfaction of a completed project marred by the agony of uncertainty.

If you have read other posts in this blog you understand that I’m on a journey, and part of that journey is to rediscovery myself. Remember that 10-year-old boy in me? Now imagine that he had a friend who was a general contractor and that contractor was in possession of all of the coolest tools and building gadgets. Power tools of all types, neat rows of various drivers, laser powered gadgets… even a real Bobcat!… and so enters my friend Tom into today’s post.

I see or talk to Tom almost every day, and so you will see his name mentioned in my posts now and again. Tom not only has all of the best building toys, but he also knows how to use them.

I often ask Tom if I can help him on projects, as I not only get to spend time with my good buddy, but I also get to learn a thing or two. I understand my limitations, and I have no problem taking off my “doctor hat” and offering my services as a gopher grunt.

Recently, I was helping Tom on a project in his basement. During one session I managed to get adhesive on my shoe and then onto his area rug. Bad.

The next time around things got worse. Tom showed me how to use a handheld cutting saw called a Sawzall. An amazing gadget, I must say. He had a board that had to be removed from his basement ceiling and I would have the honor of cutting it out. Tom is a little OCD (like me) and he actually did a little pre-cutting to make sure that I cut it at the exact right spot.

With focus and determination, I climbed the ladder, powered up the Sawzall and pushed it into the board. Zip!, went the Sawzall through the wood, and clank went the Sawzall when it chewed into a copper water pipe behind the wood! I didn’t cut through the pipe, but I nicked it. The nick was bad enough to require replacement.

Tom was kind about my misadventure, but I see Tom almost every day and can read his body language pretty well. The best way that I could describe his posture was one of sadness and weary reflection. “What’s going on Tom?” I asked. “You cut through about ½ of the tubing wall. I’ll need to replace that portion of the pipe, and I’ll need to drain the water from the entire house to do it. It will be at least 2 hours of work.”

My head sank to my chest. It was the sinking of both the adult me and the 10-year-old me. I can tolerate not being good at everything I do, but messing up two for two made me feel terrible. I really wanted to help my friend, and even doing simple gopher tasks would take some burden off of his job. However, any benefit that I could have possibly given was wiped out by my unintentional and foolish actions.

The 10-year-old in me was also devastated. I resisted the initial panic that I felt. It was the panic that took me back to all of the times that I didn’t do things right growing up. I flashed back to the looks of disgust, the name calling, and the humiliation from my past failings. A terrible and sickening feeling.

I sincerely made my amends to Tom, but inwardly I felt bad. I have spent much of my life being good at things. Here was something that I wanted to be good at, but I simply wasn’t. No one was yelling at me, no one was calling me names, no one was humiliating me… I was doing all of that to myself. An old and forgotten tape was playing in my head, and frankly, I hated it.

There are some benefits of being a psychiatrist. The same understanding and techniques that I use to help patients can also be applied to myself. Cognitively, I knew that Tom wasn’t angry with me. He showed me that by his actions. Mentioning my misadventure would instantly have Tom holding up an imaginary Sawzall while making a loud buzzing sound. “You didn’t need to Rambo it Mike.” He would laugh. I also knew that I was inexperienced. I may not have it in me to became a master builder, but I certainly would improve with practice, and making mistakes is part of that process.

In the past I would have retreated and returned to my comfort zone, doing things that I’m good at. However, I am in the present and not in the past. That 10-year-old boy needs to be heard. I need to be heard.

I also realize that as an adult I am not limited in the ways I was limited as a child. Not only could I try again, it was also OK for me to ask for help from Tom again. My past doesn’t have to be my present. I don’t need to be perfect for others to like me. I can be imperfect and still have worth and value.

Tom is good natured, and he has agreed to have me help him with the next phase of his project. I am excited about the prospect of sweeping a floor, and perhaps doing a real tasks or two. I can’t guarantee that I won’t screw up again. I will honestly try to do my best, and I will continue to strive and learn with each task that I do.

I don’t have to listen to the tapes of my past, I can create my own new MP3 of who I am. There is a certain joy and there is a certain freedom that I feel by not having to be perfect at everything. I can’t wait until I get my hands on a power tool again. Why? Because I love that 10-year-old in me, and I want to nurture and take care of him. As he grows, so do I.

Today my goals are to face my fears, move forward, accept my imperfections, and allow myself to be helped by others.

20 Characteristics Of A Good Relationship: Forgiveness

Most mistakes are trivial.

As a human, I am guaranteed to mess things up now and again. I am an imperfect creature.  I miscalculate.  I misjudged.  I plan poorly.

Even with the best intentions, things can go awry.  Sometimes my errors are trivial, and sometimes they are near catastrophic.  Sometimes my mistakes impact me, sometimes my mistakes impact my relationship, sometimes my mistakes impact the connection between me and my relationship.

If a pattern of problems occur I need be willing to admit that pattern and do my best to correct it.  If my mistakes are due to carelessness, I need to be more careful.  If my mistakes are due to errors in judgment, I need to slow down and think before I act.  I am imperfect, but I should still strive to be the best that I can be.

Some mistakes can be so significant that they overpower my connection, and end it.  

Most mistakes are trivial.  They are like an annoying swarm of gnats that distract from the true connection that I have with my relationship.

It is easy for my relationship to focus on my trivial mistakes, and to turn something small into something large.  It is easy for me to focus on my big mistakes, and turn something large into something small.  Either polarity can strain a connection to the point of breaking.

How much better it is to acknowledge my error and to genuinely ask for forgiveness.  How much better it is for my relationship to forgive.  By doing so we join together instead of pull apart.  Our connection becomes stronger, not weaker. We grow wiser.

As important it is to forgive, it is equally important to allow myself to be forgiven. As I allow myself to be forgiven, I also learn how to forgive.  Connections are dynamic,  today I may need to be forgiven, tomorrow I may need to forgive.

My goal today is to genuinely ask for forgiveness when I make a mistake.

My goal today is to try to correct my mistakes honestly and fearlessly.

My goal today is to forgive with compassion and kindness.