All posts by Dr. Mike

I don’t want to die so my daughter can have a new iPhone.

I am not a political person.  I am a truth, equality, and justice person. The stock market is the primary source of the money that I live on.  I am being hurt by the deflating economy, likely more so than many, as I am no longer in the paid workforce. Also, I am a medical doctor who has advanced training in microbiology; It is with these facts that I write the following.

I am 67 years old, and I have been horrified by what is being promoted by some politicians in high office, as well as popular conservative commentators. There are two prongs to their comments.  The first one is that the economy needs to be restarted in a few weeks. The second is that it is OK for high-risk individuals (those over 60 years old) to sacrifice their lives by returning to work early so that the next generation can live in a prosperous America.

The above statements are not only incredibly insensitive, but they are patently false.  Let me expand on this.

There are over 50 million Americans who are over the age of 60.  Many of us still do paid work, and many others do unpaid work. In this last week, I fixed my sister’s Mac (over the phone) and fixed my daughter’s Windows computer that had a Trojan virus. I shopped, made dinners, cleaned the house, offered support to those close to me via Facebook, Facetime, and the phone, and did countless other useful things.  My housekeeping work has allowed my wife (who is a practicing Clinical Psychologist) to continue to work with patients who need her support and counsel. I don’t see my 67-year-old life as being useless. However, because I’m older and a male, my chance of dying from Covid-19 is tremendously higher than younger individuals.

We have had other times in our history where we “sacrificed” others for what we claimed was the greater good. We enslaved Africans to provide cheap labor. We infected Native Americans with Cholera by giving them infected blankets. During the Great Depression, we forced Hispanics Americans to move to Mexico to open up jobs for whites.  Many of these individuals didn’t even speak Spanish. During WWII, we forced Japanese Americans into concentration camps and claimed their property and possessions. These are just some examples of how easy it is to devalue life, especially if that devaluation doesn’t impact us. Apparently, the secret is to take away from those who are most vulnerable as they are less likely to put up a fuss.

Dying from Covid-19 is not a peaceful and romanticized “Soylent Green” death.  In many cases, the virus, combined with an overactive immune system, destroys the lungs.  This results in a slow and painful suffocation death. When your breathing starts to shut-down, the only recourse is to use a mechanical breathing device to assist you.  In other words, a respirator. A respirator can’t save everyone, but it can save many. Naturally, it can’t resolve the lung damage that is resultant from the illness. Many who require respiratory support will likely have permanent lung damage, even if they fully recover from the virus.

We do not have a medication treatment for this illness, despite what you may be hearing from unqualified individuals. Medical professionals are exploring many options, but none have enough data to suggest that they should be used in treating this illness.  Promoting false information has resulted in shortages for patients who need medications to treat diseases that do respond to these drugs. A man in Arizona died, and his wife is in critical care after taking industrial chloroquine to “protect” himself from Covid-19.  It is easy to believe false information when it comes to an influential authority figure. No one made this couple foolishly ingest aquarium cleaner, but the seed of the idea started from those most high.

We can assume that those individuals who are promoting the “sacrifice” of an entire generation will be protected by their wealth and status.  They claim to be on the front line, but is that true? If they are working, it can be assumed that they are doing so in safe and shielded spaces.  If they somehow succumb to the illness, they will be guaranteed testing and hospitalization. If they need a respirator, one will be found. The same cannot be said of millions of others. 

There are also the utterly false assumptions that younger people are immune to Covid-19, or that Covid-19 is just another flu.  In situations where the health care system is operating efficiently, the lethality rate of Covid-19 is about ten times that of the flu. In countries where the health care system is overwhelmed (such as Italy), it is over 100 times more lethal.  Let that number sink in…ONE HUNDRED TIMES MORE LETHAL. This is NOT the common flu. 

We are told that more people die in car accidents than will die from Covid-19. This is probably false. Besides, the same statement could be made when looking at the number of people who were killed during the 911 crisis.  Should we have ignored that crisis based on a comparison to motor vehicle deaths? Of course not.

Since we have no currently known effective treatments for this disease, we are left with only two options.  The first is to reduce the number of active cases in the system. This is accomplished by reducing the number of infections, and we are all familiar with the drill… socially isolate, shelter-in-place, wash your hands.  The second is to provide supportive medical care to give our bodies a chance to heal themselves. This is where hospitalization and possible ventilator treatment comes in.

The above actions buy time to explore which of the many proposed treatments help (so that beneficial protocols can be established).  And the time to develop a vaccine against this coronavirus. Also, they reduce the number of patients being admitted to the hospital, which hopefully will keep the death rate around ten times that of the flu, instead of 100 (or more) times. 

To relax social isolation, shelter-in-place, and other epidemiological protocols early WOULD (not could) cause a devastating increase in the number of infections, which surely would overpower our medical system resulting in a many-fold increase in the deaths of not only seniors but all other age groups. 

To think otherwise is to ignore historical facts. During 1918 Spanish flu, the city fathers of Phillidelphia decided to continue with a war-bonds parade/rally despite the powerful objection of health officials. At the same time, St. Louis followed medical advice and shut down the city.  Within weeks of the parade, 4,500 Philadelphians were dead from the virus. This death rate was over twice as high as in St. Louis. Social distancing does work… why can’t we learn a lesson that was proven in our own country over 100 years ago? This is not a time in history where we should rely on a “hunch,” we have facts.  By the way, why are we not seeing the CDC… the Center For Disease Control being more active? They should be as prominent as our president during this crisis.

This is a challenging and trying time for our entire planet. However, I do believe that we will develop effective treatments and a vaccine for this virus.  Just as importantly, we will (hopefully) reinstitute the roles of science, logic, and common sense so we can contain the next viral outbreak, which will surely come. 

I am not willing to sacrifice my life for a temporary bump in the economy (and, most certainly, a crash when an exponential increase in Covid-19 cases crushes our population). We are not sheep; we need to use our minds and real data to make decisions that help both ourselves and our country.  And yes, it will be hard times.

So am I being selfish by wanting to live and to continue to contribue to our country?  Is having a consumer oriented country more important than 50 million older adults? I asked my daughter this question, “Would you rather have me around or the latest iPhone?”  Thankfully, she choose the former.

We are all high risk, but very much alive and contributing. Photo was taken well before the Covid-19 outbreak.
Me with my wife and two of my three children who are now back home. I’m doing most of our domestic chores so my wife can continue her work as a Clinical Psychologist.
A flower is seen on a recent socially-distant walk shows that life is resilient.
Celebrating my 67th birthday. Hopefully, more to come.

Our Covid-19 House Rules

Dear readers, last week I started to write a new post. However, its contents seem trivial based on the Coronavirus pandemic. I’ll finish and post it at some future date.

The pandemic has caused a significant change of all global societies, and just about everyone on the planet has been impacted. On a more personal level, there have been a number of documented cases where I live, and I assume that those numbers will rise when testing becomes more available.

My wife and I became empty-nesters this year, but that has all changed. Our two college-age kids are now home and will complete the final weeks of their semesters on-line. Another daughter will be returning from Africa next week. She worked very hard to have the privilege of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer, and now her dreams have been dashed by this viral outbreak.

Of course, it is wonderful to have our children back at home, but their influx also presents problems. When my kids were growing up they often heard me say, “There are no emergencies for those who are prepared.” This rule also applies to social situations, in our case going from a 2 person to a 5 person household.

Yesterday we had a house meeting to talk about shoring up some of our family expectations. The focus was on acting reasonably and respectfully. I thought I would list some of the points here, as you may find them a nidus to stimulate a family discussion at your home.


House Rules, Covid-19 Edition

1. Our house needs to stay as clean and organized as reasonable. We deserve to have a pleasant place to live in.
2. We have some food supplies, but we need to use them wisely. We need to waste less and reprioritize what we eat. The box of pasta that was formally used as a cheap snack has now become a family meal.
3. We need to live life as normally as possible. {Two of our kids are still in college and we have explored places in the house where they can continue their on-line college experience in peace.}
4. We need to practice “standard precautions” when it comes to general hygiene, safety, and health. {The term “standard precautions” is a hospital term relating to safety and sanitary procedures.}
5. We need to support each other.
6. We need to love each other.
7. We need to be kind to each other.
8. We need to practice the above behaviors to others beyond our family. The world is tense, we don’t need to make it tenser by our rude or entitled behaviors.
9. We need to pitch in and cooperate. All of us need to work together to keep our home running as smoothly as possible. There is no room for a prima donna.
10. We need to keep abreast of the real facts about our current crisis.
11. We MUST avoid buying into rumors, conjecture, bad science, click bate, and crisis mongerers. Theory or conjecture are not facts and can have negative consequences.
12. If we have fears or concerns we need to share them and allow others to comfort and support us.
13. We need to realize that tomorrow is another day. Our city, state, country, and world have gone through worse times and we have survived.
14. Together we are stronger, we need to always remember that. Be kind and helpful to everyone.


Dear reader, during this time I send you my warmest thoughts and most positive energy.

Dr. Mike

My neighborhood streets are empty.
No traffic on a normally busy street.
A popular breakfast joint is closed and dark.

Who Is Stopping Me?-Me!

What is stopping me?  Me!

Despite all of my efforts, I can still be a victim of my own imposed limitations. My personal flaws bother me.

I have been reasonably busy during my retirement year, and have grown in a variety of ways. I have been fortunate to use my photography skills to do work for others, and I wholly enjoy the challenges that those opportunities have presented.  Every time I create something for someone else, my photography grows a little more. However, I am bounded by the expectations of the client. The constraints of the job limit my creative vision. There is another area of photography that I am drawn to.  It is an area that has little commercial value. 

I walk early in the morning, and sometimes I’ll spy lights on in houses that I pass.  I always wonder, “Who is up in that house? What are they doing? What are they having for breakfast? Are they getting ready for work or school?  What kind of work do they do?” The questions continue in my mind. I ask myself similar questions when I drive through small towns and villages. In each, lives are moving forward, some successful, others less so. 

In the Midwest, many small and medium-sized communities are failing. Factories are abandoned; residents have moved to larger cities. Stores in the downtown areas are frequently closed or occupied by resale shops and bars. Houses are often in need of repair. These realities are especially evident in places ignored by interstate highways.  Once vibrant communities slowly die, a process fueled by decreased populations and reduced city revenues. Each house, storefront, and building tells a story, and every one of them is fascinating to me.

There are other discoveries to be made on rural roads.  Great barns, some shiny, others in ruin. Majestic parks, historical markers, and hidden vistas dot the landscape. All you need to do is to pause and look.  Sadly, few do.

There is a little boy inside of me who is full of wonderment. I have been fortunate to have a few people in my life who share similar excitement when discovering those things that most others would pass on.  These individuals have an inner child in them, and I am so very grateful that we have found each other.

However, I know of no one who has both the “wonderment quotient” as well as a love of photography. No one would find it interesting to go on a photo-taking adventure with me. Years ago, I joined a photography MeetUp group.  However, the group expanded so rapidly that it ignited my shyness, and I stopped going. I much prefer more intimate experiences. 

Who is stopping me?  Me!

I want to visit small towns.  I want to explore the countryside.  I want to photograph images as I see them.  Why have I been ignoring this need?

I am aware of how fear impacts my ability to do new things.  I tend to overthink, and this can lead to “what if” scenarios, which can be immobilizing. However, I refuse to let fear stand in my way of doing anything rational.  I will push past it. 

Guilt also plays a factor.  I have to admit that I feel guilty that I have so much free time.  I feel guilty that I can do an activity on days when my wife works. Going on a day trip requires a level of self-indulgence. 

Who is stopping me?  Me!

I scanned a road map and determined that there were several towns on Route 64 that looked interesting. I could drive to them and back in a single day.  I mentioned my plan to Julie, and she was OK with it.

I traveled last week, and I wholly enjoyed my explorations.  Here are some of the photos that I took:

A few of the many doorways that I photographed.  They all could tell a story.

A huge grain elevator in the middle of nowhere.

Old houses in need of some TLC.

An abandoned college campus.

A magnificent county courthouse.

Mississippi Palisades State Park.

I faced my fear and guilt and accomplished my goal. However, the experience wasn’t perfect.  I was once again aware of the loneliness that I felt. A feeling that I wanted to share my experience with someone.  “Look at that cool building!” “What do you think of that view?” “Would you shoot that barn from this angle or that angle?”  A travel companion would have been icing on my exploration cake.

I am planning more photo day trips, and I’m also considering pushing my comfort zone further.  I’m thinking about reaching out to strangers to see if there is someone who would like to go with me on a photoshoot day trip. I can’t be the only retired guy with both an interest and a camera. An additional bonus would be the sharing of travel expenses. However, the exact same barriers are preventing me from moving on to this new idea.

What if I’m not compatible with a new travel buddy?  What if they don’t like me? What if they are an ax murderer? -OK, that latter point may be a stretch. I understand that if I experience a terrible match, it is only one day of my life. Indeed, a reasonable risk. 

The second barrier is more significant for me.  I am an intense person who forms emotional relationships. If you can deal with me, you will be rewarded with a true friend who will stand by you no matter what. I value a few strong relationships over dozens of weaker ones. I like relationships where I can be myself and not fear that I’m “too intense” for the other person to handle. These kinds of connections require a lot of work, effort, and time from both sides.  If I developed a strong relationship with a new photo buddy, I would feel guilty that I was taking time away from my established connections. This may seem illogical to you, but it is an honest concern for me. Two good friends are not the equivalent of one best friend. 

It is interesting that common themes stand as barriers from me to being completely true to my needs.  Fear does play into my decisions, but I’m used to pushing past that feeling. However, guilt plays a more important function.  Guilt that I’m having fun when someone else is not. Guilt that I’m being disloyal to those who I care for. Guilt that I don’t deserve to have as much success as I’m having. I can surmise why I have these feelings, but that doesn’t eliminate them.  However, I believe that I can work through them on a case-by-case basis. It will be an interesting growth journey.

I can’t say if I’m going to try the photo buddy route, but I can say that I will absolutely go on another photoshoot day trip.  There is so much to see, and with each discovery, I feel that I grow. I have never wanted to be determined by someone other than me.  With that said, I don’t want to be determined by my self-imposed limitations. I want to base my life on what I can do, not what I can’t do.

How do you limit yourself? 

Peace

Mike

On Being 67

Last week I wrote a review of my life after one year of full-time retirement.  I left the paid workforce right after my 66th birthday. My retirement and birthday will forever be linked, but they are still separate events. When I blogged about my retirement, I structured the post to focus on functional things, like my hobby life.  Today, I would like to focus more on what aging has brought me.

My 67th birthday was a shock to me.  I was the “surprise” in my family and was born 7 years after my next closest sibling. When you are in such a position, it seems that you’re always younger than those around you. However, time marches on, and it will eventually catch up to you.

The average life expectancy for a man in the US is 78.69 years or roughly a decade from my current age. This is a sobering number that I hope to exceed, but it does give me pause.  When I was in my 20s, it seemed that I had an infinite amount of time to determine my destiny. When I entered my forties, I realized that half of my life was over. During my 50s, I convinced myself that being 50 was the new 40.  I am now 67 and much closer to 70 than 50. It is difficult to find a slogan to soften that fact.

I am not a person who spends a lot of time looking at myself in the mirror. I will glance at myself when I’m washing my face or brushing my teeth, but I don’t pay a lot of attention.  However, sometimes I’ll accidentally see my reflection when I’m out and about. During those situations, I shock myself. “Who is that old dude?… Gads, it’s me!” I’m grey, bald, and something strange has happened to my skin, it wrinkly! When did that happen?” 

My 67th birthday cake.

I am very grateful that I’m healthy, and I try to be active.  However, as you age you are not as strong or supple as you were when you were younger.  When I’m sitting for a long time, I become stiff. I get random aches and pains that seem to have no other purpose other than to aggravate me. I find myself hunching over and have to consciously force myself to walk more erectly. I can no longer sleep without a pillow, as my neck refuses to lie flat.  

I find that I multitask less, and I’m more inclined to “take a little break” after I do an activity like grocery shopping. I’m more cautious when facing novel situations. I worry more about ice when I walk. It takes me a bit longer to learn something new. Also, I’m aware that I’m at an age where “stuff happens.” Men in my decade develop serious illnesses, have heart attacks, and get cancer. This is sobering.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. I have more unstructured time, which is something that I have not had since my teens.  I love to ponder random things and expand my knowledge. I enjoy exploring. The other day I spent several hours trying to find something that I had not used for years.  In the past, I would have given myself 15 minutes to search, and then moved on. However, I took my time, and in the process of hunting, I discovered a few other fun items.  This wasn’t 15 minutes of “I don’t have time for this” torture, it was two hours of fun and discovery.

I am doing more win/win activities.  My recent cake decorating class got me thinking;  I’m pretty sure that I can duplicate fancy bakery cupcakes (think “Molly’s”) at a fraction of the cost of buying them at a cupcake boutique. Tomorrow, I’ll make some lemon/poppyseed cupcakes with a lemon curd filling, and a zesty citrus frosting.  If they turn out, I’ll give them to Julie, and she can take them to her Bible study group. I avoid concentrated forms of sugar, but I can still have fun learning this new skill.  

Filling cupcake liners
Coloring American buttercream frosting.
Filling the cupcakes with lemon curd.
The final product was given to Julie for her group.

I’m available to help my friend, Tom, with any task that he may come up with. It has been great fun to spontaneously do things with him. 

Julie and I put together a care package for my daughter, who is currently living in Africa. I was able to spend the time to find my old “Seal-A-Meal” and vacuum pack the items for safer transport. I avoided a “here’s one more thing to do,” mentality. Instead, I imagined the smile on my daughter’s face when she received items that weren’t broken or stale.  

I think that the life experience that comes with age has allowed me to better enjoy doing these things.  I have come to believe that small things can be just as rewarding as significant events. An expensive trip is incredible, but so is helping someone you care about. 

With age, I have become happier with what I have.  When I was younger, I was more likely to associate happiness with material possessions. The car that I drove was important, as were other physical trappings. These desires lessened years ago, and now things appear to have little value beyond their actual utility.  I am grateful for what I have.

I feel that I’m good enough. I think some may assume that I’m a competitive person (being a doctor, and all of that).  However, this has never been the case. I have structured my life so that my trajectory falls squarely on my abilities alone.  My successes are not fueled by someone else’s failures. I believe that it is irrelevant if my life is better than another person, it is more important that I’m improving who I am.  However, I do want to be on an even playing field with those around me. I live in a town that has frequently been cited as one of the best places to live in the US. I have a beautiful house, but many have much larger homes.  People talk about their exotic trips and expensive purchases. Fancy cars, like Teslas, are commonplace. I had intellectually distanced myself from envy a long time ago. However, with age, this denunciation has been embraced by my emotional self. 

I indulge myself in random interests. I now have more time and less responsibility. Soon I’ll take a day trip to rural Illinois to photograph small-town landscapes. I want to take a few days to travel in Violet the campervan to Southern Illinois to visit a National Forests. I’m considering a solo trip to see my kids. I’m thinking about taking an adult education class. And much more.

Massive grain storage on the prairies.
The county courthouse in Oregon, Illinois.
A doorway at an abandoned college campus in Mt. Carroll, Illinois.
Storefront in Savana, Illinois.

I have become more frugal. It should be noted that my retirement celebration cake from Genesis was in the form of an Amazon package. A nod to the many packages that I would receive at my workplace. Therefore, the above statement may seem shocking to my former co-workers. I am attempting to make do with less. I’m trying to prepare foods that I purchased, and eat the foods that I prepared. I’m asking myself the question, “Do I really need that?” when I’m at the store or looking on-line. It feels good to use less.

A retirement cake in the shape of an Amazon package.

I cry easier.  I was recently watching a documentary on TV that had a happy ending, and I found myself tearing up with happiness. I genuinely feel sad when I read about people who are suffering. I’m more likely to be overwhelmed with love for those close to me.  An emotional barrier has broken inside of me, and I’m not complaining.  

I feel a greater need to spend time with people who I care about, and less time with obligatory connections. I want to be with people who I love, and I don’t want to waste even a moment.

Things that excited me as a child are exciting to me again.  A snowstorm no longer means a lousy commute, it is a wintery adventure. A walk in the woods isn’t just exercise, it is a discovery opportunity.  From decorating cakes to home construction, I celebrate activities and experiences.

Snow on my morning walk.
Snowy covered bridge on my walk.
A snowy path along my walk.

It has become easier to say no.  I have always been good at setting limits, but I would still succumb to doing things that I didn’t want to, as I didn’t want to disappoint people.  I still want to extend myself, but it is easier to pass on things that I really don’t want to do.

I savor every day. Each day can be as fantastic or miserable as I choose to make it. I find myself making a conscious effort to enjoy every single day. I don’t have time to place my life on hold.

Every phase of life has negative and positive realities.  Being freed from the burden of a 60 hour/week work schedule has opened up new opportunities, and has allowed me to revisit old interests. Each day is a new beginning, and I want to take advantage of every moment.

Retired One Year, A Review.

At the end of February 2019, I fully retired from the paid workforce. After working my entire life, I was ready for this move, but I was uncertain of what my future would hold.  In preparation, I developed goals and objectives similar to what I would have done in my working life, but I was unclear if these tasks would be enough to keep me busy and happy. As an exercise to myself, I thought I would write about this first year of being a full-time retiree.  Perhaps it will guide me as I enter into year two.

Some of my initially planned activities worked, some failed, some were revisited, and new ones emerged. Surprisingly, things that I didn’t place on my list turned out to be more critical than some of my planned activities.  So, let’s get started!

Organizing my life

I am a person who likes to discover and compare things; I have acquired a lot of stuff.  Also, my home housed my wife and our four children. When we faced the dilemma of what to do with things that we “might use someday,” the items typically found their way into our basement. For me, the thought of cleaning out this mess has always been entirely overwhelming, and to combat this, I have been tackling the cleaning project one garbage bag at a time.  After one year, I have cleaned out a utility room and a considerable crawlspace, but I have much more to do. Yet, I’m satisfied with my progress. I don’t have a timeline for this task, and every item that goes to Goodwill or the junkpile is a personal victory.

The crawl space finally cleaned out…one bite at a time.

Health

Five years ago, I started a radical change in my behavior in anticipation of my retirement.  I began to exercise regularly and changed my diet, most notably avoiding concentrated forms of sugar.  In the process, I lost quite a bit of weight.

I continue to exercise and avoid sugar.  However, my eating has increased. I do try to eat healthy choices. However, my weight has crept up, which is discouraging, but not unexpected. 

I have never been able to maintain a stable weight. In other words, my weight has always climbed.  I understand this, and I am much kinder to myself around this reality. However, it does have negative consequences.  For instance, I’m reluctant to go to the doctor as I absolutely don’t want the “your gaining weight” lecture. (“Really?  I didn’t know that. Thanks, so much Dr. Obvious.”) I rarely let my feelings impact my sound judgment, so I know that if needed, I’ll force myself to seek medical attention.  Luckily, I’m pretty healthy at the moment. And yes, I’m working on my pride issues. 

Creativity, Learning, and Teaching.

We all have things that turn us on.  For me, the trinity listed above is at the core of my feeling happy and productive.

I am pleased to say that I have pursued many of my planned interests as well as some unplanned ones.  There are so many different things that I’m doing that they could be the topic of their own post. However, some of my highlights include:

Writing

I love to write, which is why I started this blog.  Initially, I had grandiose plans, but I now understand that my purpose for writing isn’t to change the world.  My blog has turned out to be a written history of who I am and what I believe. It is my hope that this will serve as a record for my children and beyond.  I don’t want to be a forgotten footnote to those people who are most important to me.

It is common for me to think, “I have nothing to write about this week.” However, I always seem to come up with something.  I find that most of my writings have a message or lesson. This is not planned, I think it is just the way I think.  

Visual Arts

I love photography, and I have recently turned some of my photos into my own personal “works of art.” My photography has changed a bit over the last year as I seem to be doing more work for others.  Since I enjoy helping people, this has been a win/win.

My biggest “client” is my best friend, Tom.  I have taken countless photos of in-progress and completed construction projects, and this has forced me to learn an entirely different type of photography.  Also, I have been shooting everything from portraits, corporate shots, school dances, and events. I love the combination of creativity and technology that photography allows. I want to continue to expand and enhance my photographic skills in the next year. At the moment, I believe that my future expansion will be in landscape photography.

Photos make your story alive.
Doing architectural photography has been a new learning experience.
My homemade “Loo Art.”

My Podcast

In 2006 I started a reasonably successful podcast called “Psychiatric Secrets Revealed.” Earlier this year, I abandoned it, as I thought it had gone stale.  A viewer on my YouTube channel suggested that I use YouTube to read my blog posts, and this served as the perfect opportunity for me to reactivate the podcast as a forum for a reading of my weekly blog.  Where this will go, I have no idea.

YouTube

My little YouTube channel (“Saving Savvy With Dr. Mike”) has always been a project designed to help others by disseminating honest, if opinionated, information on a variety of topics. 

In the past, I would do a lot of camera reviews, but I’m retired now and can’t buy the “camera of the week.” However, I still manage to crank out videos.  However, they have shifted focus, and they now challenge YouTube influencers who seem more interested in selling products than helping people (my personal opinion). I have found an audience of like-minded folks who have become their own little community. 

Other creative pursuits

I’m cooking more and doing a variety of cooking-related things. I will often post my meals on Facebook, and this seems to inspire others to cook (how cool is that ?).  My kids gave me a one day cake decorating class at the Wilton school, and now I’m trying to hone that skill. Making dinner for my wife, baking with my kids, or making a fancy cake; it all has been great fun for me. 

Food served buffet style.
Trying to improve my cake decorating skills.

Adventure!

I am a homebody, and I never thought that I would be traveling as much as I have been.  With the help of my friend, Tom, I converted a Promaster cargo van into a camper and have done quite a bit of traveling in it.  It has been super-awesome (horrible phrasing, but wholly accurate)! I absolutely love the freedom of having a house on wheels… Violet the campervan has become a physical metaphor for my new found freedom .

My empty cargo van.
Empty van converted to Violet the campervan.

My wife, Julie, has also wanted to travel more, and she has been finding bargain flights.  We will fly into a city and then get a rental car to go to other places. What fun!

Congaree National Park. Beautiful, but we got soaked!

Some of my travels have been with Julie, some with relatives, some with Tom, and some solo.  That solo category deserves more comments, which I will do later in this post.

Hiking in Glacier National Park.
Rain and umbrellas. Camping with the cousins.
Tom building the fire.
Getting ready to watch a movie “in 4-D” at the Coke museum.

New Responsibilities

Julie is 10 years my junior, and she is still in the paid workforce. I have been trying to be a good citizen by taking over many of the household responsibilities. However, I know that balance is necessary.  I don’t mind doing a lot of the work, but I would be resentful if I had to do all of the work, or if her actions created unnecessary work for me. What I’m doing about this? I’m trying to be clear and direct with my needs and expectations.

Honesty

I have always thought of myself as an honest person, a reality further forced by the fact that I’m a terrible liar. However, I also am a person who likes to avoid conflict.  This latter fact has hampered me in personal relationships as I would often give in to the needs of those close to me under the guise that I was being a good person.

Such a position has unfortunate consequences.  First, it meant that I wasn’t getting my needs met. Second, it caused me to lose value to those close to me.  If you always get what you want it doesn’t have much value. Of interest, I have never had a problem being assertive in my professional life… so, go figure.

Several years ago, I changed course and started to express my needs, and also my feelings of disappointment when I perceived that those around me were being inconsiderate or not valuing me. This was not an easy change in behavior.  However, over time it has become more normalized.

When it comes to others, what is a reasonable expectation? What is excessive expectation? This is an area of personal growth that requires constant tending, and one that I continue to work on daily. I must be true to myself, so I can achieve authentic connections with those people who I love.

I am also trying to tell people that I love them. It is so easy to tell someone that you are mad at them, it should be just as easy to say to them you deeply value them.  

Spiritual Life

This is an area that I’m continuing to explore, and it goes beyond religion. I’m trying to meditate more and to open my mind in different, less structured ways.  I am also thinking more about spiritual writings. I recently did a 21-day modified fast to see what insights that practice would yield. This is a work in progress that I will continue to clumsily pursue.  

A bread only meal-fasting.

Unstructured Time

This one was a massive surprise for me.  I have always been a continually productive person.  In fact, it is how I defined my purpose in life. Much of my mission statement steamed from feeling unworthy as a child.  When teachers and other adults recognized my worth, it was because of my creative and academic abilities. These areas translated into how I saw my own worth.  I have spent my entire life learning, creating, producing, and teaching.

I now have unstructured time.  I can sit in a chair for an hour and look out the window.  I can meditate. I can read something that doesn’t have learning value.  There is a beautiful freedom in the above activities. I realize that these non-productive activities have just as much importance as focused learning times. Growth isn’t always about facts and figures.

Time to not be productive.

The builder

My father was reasonably handy around the house; we had many construction gadgets.  Unfortunately, he wasn’t interested in teaching me about tools and techniques. In some ways, this was a good thing as it “forced” me to move in my own direction… science. 

My friend Tom is a general contractor and can do amazing things when it comes to building. Through him, I have been able to learn more about construction. My inner 12-year-old emerges every time I discover a new power tool. 

I love building, even if my understanding of it is limited. Through construction projects, I have been able to revisit an interest in my life that I had psychologically buried. I believe that I ignored this interest in the past as I was told that I was never good enough, and any project that I attempted on my own was ridiculed due to its naive implementation. As an adult, I have been given a chance to revisit construction, and with guidance, I have discovered that I absolutely can understand the process of building.  The more I learn about this profession, the more I want to learn. I enjoy a creative process with a clear outcome.

Tom and I remodeled my powder room.

Relationships

This one may be obvious to the rest of the world, but it was surprising to me.  I am an introvert who can be a functional extrovert when needed. For instance, I have no problem giving a lecture to 100 people. I’m not shy; however, to re-energize, I need quiet time.

I have no problem being alone, and I’m never bored with myself.  However, during this last year, I have come to realize how meaningful relationships are to me. If you have read my other posts you know who most of my prominent connections are.  In essence, I’m trying to be a better partner, father, sibling, relative, and friend. In return, I’m finding both a sense of connection and significance. That significance goes beyond what I can produce, it is a significance anchored on who I am.

Beyond core individuals, I’m trying to expand my social horizons. This is difficult as I’m an intense person who prefers to devote all of my energy to a few individuals rather than having casual contact with many.  As in most things, I’m trying to find balance.

I believe that my awareness of the importance of relationships in my life has not only been my most surprising self-discovery; it has also been the most important one.  

We were full of excitement and anticipation at this breakfast restaurant in North Dakota.
Joining hands to give thanks.
A small Droby Fest

So, where does that leave me?

Has my retirement been as good as I had expected?  No… It has been much better. I want to continue to grow and explore.  I want to expand my creative skills and continue to be healthy.  

I desire to increase two areas in my retirement adventure that I didn’t realize would be important.  Those two areas? My spiritual life and my relationship life. How I will do this isn’t exactly clear, but I know that the answers will come to me. 

Yesterday I celebrated my birthday.  Friends and family reached out to me to acknowledge this special day. Once again, it brought home to me how meaningful connections are in my life.

I have always wanted to have a positive impact on the world, no matter how small. I have come to believe that this has been and will be on an interpersonal level. If I can make someone’s life a tiny bit better, then I have had a successful day. However, I also understand that I have value in just being me.  

Peace

Mike

A retirement reception at Rosecrance.

Here is the audio reading of this post:

http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/one-year-retired-a-review

My Simple Guide To Resolving Marital Conflicts and Work Conflicts

At dinner, Julie announced, “When Will goes off to school, I’m done.” The words stunned me, and I didn’t know what to say.

Julie has never liked to cook, but with my prior work schedule, she was the chief cook and always made sure that the kids had something to eat for dinner. After 25 years of meal preparation, she felt that she had paid her dues, and she was done.

For those of you who are also my Facebook friends, you know that I’m a competent cook. For years I have posted my weekly adventures teaching my kids to plan and cook a meal, which I listed under the byline, “Cooking With Dad Thursdays.” Therefore, there shouldn’t be a problem with me preparing my own meals once our youngest child was off to college. However, Julie’s cessation of making dinner was a big problem for me. Not because of the mechanics of meal preparation, but for issues more central to who I am.

We all have ways that we express love and concern to others, and we all have ways that we feel the love and concern from those around us. One of the most important ways that I both express and feel love is through acts of service. I think it is nice if someone tells me that they love me, but it is by actions where such claims ring true to me. For me, the act of making dinner was synonymous with love.  

Like most humans, I have an intellectual side and an emotional side, and these two personas are not always in sync. Intellectually, I knew that Julie didn’t like to cook and that I was completely capable of fending for myself. However, my emotional side felt differently. Every meal that she prepared was a tangible way of her demonstrating that she cared about me. My emotional side was hurt and confused.

In the past, I would overrule any emotional feeling intellectually. I would convince myself that my feelings were trivial and unimportant. I would shame myself into compliance. However, I now recognized that my emotional self is just as important as my intellectual self. Emotions are not logical, but they are valid.

I didn’t immediately respond to Julie’s pronouncement; I paused. I wanted to know if my emotional hurt would pass; it didn’t. I knew that I had to address my concerns, and these are the steps that I used to resolve my problem:

  1. I searched for my feelings. Why was I feeling the way I did? In my emotional mind, I felt unimportant. These feelings were countered by my intellectual self, which knew otherwise. However, since they persisted, I knew that I had to address them.
  2. I pondered what I needed. Did I need Julie to cook dinner seven nights a week? Certainly not. However, once in a blue moon wouldn’t cut it for me.
  3. What was I willing to give in return? I would be ready to return the favor by making her nice dinners regularly.
  4. How would I approach this problem?
    1. With honesty.
    2. By telling her how I felt.
    3. By not blaming or intimidating her.
    4. By moving towards a mutually beneficial compromise, rather than a win.
    5. By listening to her concerns, and giving her potential solutions equal weight to mine.
  5. I did the above when we both had time to talk and process. It would make no sense to have this discussion when Julie was walking out of the door or when she came home from a long day of work.

When we talked, I acknowledged that my feelings weren’t logical, but they were real. I told her how important it was to have her make dinner for me, and I explained to her that it was a way that demonstrated her love for me. However, I also stated that I was open and willing to hear her feelings and very ready to come up with a solution that was beneficial to both of us.

We looked at our weekly schedule. On Fridays, we always have delivery pizza, so that day was covered. Saturdays we often go out to eat. Also, Julie noted that she didn’t want to cook on the 3-4 weekdays that she worked. 

It looked like Sunday and Monday were open. Either day would support both meal preparation as well as time to eat together.

Julie said she would be willing to make dinner on Mondays, and I said that I would take over Sunday meal prep. Now that the kids were out of the house, I transitioned my “Cooking With Dad Thursdays” Facebook segment into one called “Simple Sunday Suppers.”  

Last Sunday, I made a tossed salad, pecan-crusted tilapia, fresh green beans, and rice pilaf. It sounds complicated, but it was straightforward. Last Monday Julie made a Trader Joe’s stuffed salmon loaf, roasted asparagus, and a salad. Both meals were delicious, but more importantly, we celebrated them as we ate together.

It is imperative to recognize emotional needs, even if they seem illogical. Sometimes it is not possible to have those needs met, and it is crucial to accept that fact. Often a compromise that meets both party’s objectives is better than a one-sided win. Solutions that benefit all individuals are more likely to be successful than options where one person has to “give-in” to the other. 

The best approach to solving an emotional need problem is to thoroughly search your feeling to discover what the core issue is. In my case, it was more about being valuable to Julie than getting a prepared meal. Once you know what you are dealing with, it is then imperative to talk to the other person honestly and respectfully. Always be willing to acknowledge the other person’s feelings and compromise.  

I like making dinner on Sundays, and it feels great to have a meal prepared for me on Mondays. I think Julie benefits too. Making dinner one night a week is not a significant burden on her, and she has the additional benefit of having me make her a nice Sunday supper.


I usually gather everything together before I start to prepare a meal.
Pecan encrusted tilapia, green beans, rice pilaf, and a salad.
Dinners don’t have to be elaborate. Here I made breakfast for dinner.
One-pot meals are not only great but usually, there are also leftovers. Here I made some red beans and rice.

Continue reading My Simple Guide To Resolving Marital Conflicts and Work Conflicts

What The Apollo Missions Meant To Me

“Do you want to go to Houston in January?”  Julie said. “I guess, but why Houston?” I replied. Apparently,  Spirit Airlines had a cheap fare to Houston, and Julie felt that it would be warmer than Chicago.  

I had forgotten about the trip, and then it was suddenly upon me.  We needed to leave the house by 3:30 AM on a Thursday and at 9 PM the night before I was frantically packing. Over the years, I have learned to pack both lighter and more efficiently.  I keep a Dopp Kit ready to go, so all I had to do was to transfer the liquid items into a quart ziplock bag for TSA. Also, I packed a hoodie, some shirts, an extra pair of pants, my sleep ware, and of course, socks and underwear. 

I have a camera case in the style of a backpack, which is my under-the-seat carry-on. Since I use the bag when I’m not flying, I made sure to dump out all of the pouches and pockets.  Thankfully, there were no banned items. Into my backpack went a fully charged iPad, a minimal first-aid kit, sunglasses, lip balm, a battery bank with adapter cords, and a few packaged snacks for the flight. The front pouch of the backpack is padded for cameras.  In it, I placed my small Olympus OMD EM10 camera with its kit lens, an extra camera battery, a 20 mm F 1.8 lens, and a few other camera accessories. I’m an avid photographer, but I don’t want to haul a lot of extra camera gear.  

I usually wake up early, but that is not the case for Julie.  Yet, she was a good sport, and we were soon on our way to OHare International Airport.  Our gate seemed to be in a different state, but that is what you expect when you are flying on a budget airline. Soon we were boarded and waiting to take off.  Surprisingly, the budget carrier’s customer service was pretty good. However, my legroom was terrible, and within about 30 minutes, I started to have leg cramps. I  focused on the fact that the flight was only 2 hours; it was a long two hours.

One place that we wanted to visit was the Johnson Space Center/Space Center of Houston, and after a light brunch, we drove through the gates, paid our admission fees, and started our tour. We were approached by a tall black man wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with the center’s logo.  “Can I help you?” He asked. And with that, he gave us a detailed overview of what to see not only at the museum but also at the adjacent Johnson Space Center. He strongly suggested that we board the two shuttle tours as both of them would take us around the Johnson Space Center’s campus.  One of the tours would allow us entry into the actual command center where the Apollo space missions were directed.  

I was flooded with childhood memories.  I grew up during the 1960s, and the space race dominated my thoughts during those years. That decade was a time of great American pride.  There was a feeling that we could accomplish anything, figure out anything, do anything. I watched every single space launch and always held my breath when the giant rockets rose slowly and somewhat crookedly as they traveled up and beyond the earth’s atmosphere.

The 60s were a time when Americans feared that the USSR was going to invade our country and make us slaves to communism.  Russia not only had launched Sputnik, the first satellite, it had also placed the first person in space. There was an honest concern that the US would be left behind.

However, on May 5, 1961, Alan Sheppard was strapped into a tiny Mercury capsule atop a Redstone rocket. He was sent on a 15-minute sub-orbital flight.  The Russians had already placed Yuri Gagarin into a real earth orbit one month earlier, but there was a sense that we were still in the game. However, it wasn’t until February of 1962 that we successfully sent John Glenn into Earth orbit on top of an Atlas rocket.

As a kid, it seemed that each new flight offered a spectacular new accomplishment, and in 1965 NASA launched the first human-crewed Gemini capsule, which held two astronauts. Where the Mercury capsules were controlled on the ground, the Gemini capsules were piloted by the crew.  The Gemini flights captivated me, and during these missions, astronauts walked in space, docked with other spacecraft, and did many other firsts (for the US) in preparation for an eventual lunar landing. 

In 1967 tragedy struck the US when three astronauts were killed aboard Apollo 1. Its pure oxygen-containing cabin suffered a flash fire. Suddenly, my hubris shattered. 

In future missions, NASA changed the atmosphere from pure oxygen to a less combustible atmosphere mix, and the number of flammable materials in the cabin were reduced.  In October of 1968, Apollo 7 launched with a crew of three, and the country was once again moving towards its goal of landing a human on the moon. Which, of course, happened in July of 1969 with the flight of Apollo 11.

When the first crewed Mercury mission launched, I was eight, and when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, I was 16. Only eight years and so much had happened.  In1969 I had a summer job that started early. However, I made sure that I stayed up to see the fuzzy black and white TV image of Mr. Armstrong as his foot touched the moon’s powdery surface. How fortunate I was to witness one of the most momentous events in history!

The impact of the space program went well beyond a lunar landing.  It was an inspirational program during an inspirational time. I had already been fascinated by the sci-fi B-movies. I had found a “mentor” in Don Herbert, the host of “Mr. Wizard,” which was a TV show that encouraged kids to do scientific experiments. However, the space program took me from fantasy and the ordinary to the extraordinary. Everything about it was real, yet it seemed unreal.  NASA had the coolest on-board computer, the most fantastic space food, and a mission control center that seemed right out of the future. It inspired me to think beyond myself and to believe that I, too, could do anything. I was an American, living during the most fantastic time in history. I thought that the only thing that could stop me was me.  

We boarded the shuttle and made the short trip from the Space Center of Houston to the adjacent Johnson Space Center.  The tour guide telegraphed some facts along the way. The land was used for grazing cattle before it became one of the most famous places on earth.  The buildings were designed to look like a college campus. The displayed Saturn rocket was the most massive rocket ever built, and so on. As we approached the Christopher C. Kraft Jr Mission Control Center, we were cautioned that the building was still in operation, and we were to remain absolutely silent during our time there.

We entered Mission Control and climbed over 80 stairs to the Apollo command center. NASA had spent millions renovating the room, which echoed a 60s vibe.  The space was filled with built-in CRT consoles and huge viewing screens. We stepped into the observation room and took our seats. This was the same room that dignitaries and the press used when the actual flights took place.  Even the burnt orange theater-style chairs were the original ones. Our guide started up a video that explained the significance of the room. Then it happened, the entire control room lit up. The computer monitors turned on and started to stream data.  The giant screens illuminated showing flight paths and the grainy image of Neil Armstrong as he took his first steps on another world. It felt like I had been transported in time. My heart started to race as I felt my excitement build. The same excitement that I felt on that July night in 1969 when I saw the first video transmission of a human being walking on another world.

As the space program continued, people lost interest.  They grumbled that the cost was too high for too little.  However, the price isn’t only measured in the gain of scientific knowledge, the discovery of new materials, or political bragging rights. An entire generation of children became interested in science because of these programs.  They became computer designers, engineers, medical doctors, researchers, and pilots. I think it is impossible to determine the overall gain that our country made because of NASA and the space program.

The Johnson Space Center continues as a facility that now manages satellites as well as missions to the International Space Station. A new initiative, the Orion program, will return humans to the moon and eventually to Mars over the next few decades. 

On the shuttle to the Johnson Space Center, I saw young children.  I wondered if one of these boys or girls lives will change due to their visit?  A future scientist, engineer, researcher, or astronaut? NASA isn’t a waste of taxpayer’s money, it is a substantial investment in our future. Just like President Kennedy, we need to summon our imaginations to comprehend this fact.

Mike

Here is the audio reading of this post: http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/what-the-apollo-missions-meant

The tiny Mercury space capsule.

The Apollo spacecraft housed three astronauts.
The Apollo spacecraft housed three astronauts.
A real Saturn rocket, the largest rocket ever built.
A real Saturn rocket, the largest rocket ever built.
Mock up of astronauts on the moon.
Mockup of astronauts on the moon.
Massive engines from on the stages of the Saturn rocket.
Rocks brought back from the moon.
The real Apollo mission control.
A more modern control center used for the International Space Station. Note the ashtray loaded with cigarettes!
A more modern control center used for the International Space Station. Note the ashtray loaded with cigarettes!

What I learned From 21 Days Of Fasting

Last month I started a 21 day modified fast. The practice of fasting was mentioned in church as a way to form a closer spiritual connection. I wasn’t sure of the exact reason that I wanted to fast, but I felt that it was important for me to do so, and so I made a commitment to myself to attempt this task.

I journaled most days of my fast and I have decided to summarize those thoughts in this post.  I deliberately did my daily writings in a public forum (Facebook) as I thought that some of my discoveries could serve as a seed to grow ideas in others.  How successful that latter wish was is unclear.

Fasting was a strain on both my physical and emotional self.  I tried to use that vulnerability to access parts of my conscious and subconscious. My fast was accompanied by readings from the Gospel of John.  At times my inner self resonated with the reading of the day, at other times less so. However, the readings added another dimension to my process.

Here are some of my thoughts that occurred during my 21 days of fasting.

Day 1-3

I was questioning why I was doing the fast and hoping that I would have some sort of a major breakthrough, or gain a better understanding of my purpose in life.  My fast consisted of eating only bread for two meals and having a small simple meal for the third. What struck me most during the early days was that my fasting food likely had more calories that what many people in the world normally eat in a given day.  I felt fortunate to have been born in this country, but I also had a sense of guilt over that fortune. My sparse rations would have been someone else’s bounty. 

Day 4

The reading for the day was John, Chapter 4.  This is the story of the Samaritan woman who asked Jesus for help.  Samaritans were outcasts and Jesus showed her compassion and acceptance.

Our current world is divisive.  So many groups are marginalized and rejected.  We love to watch reality TV shows that humiliate the contestants.  We save our compassion for those who look and act like us and show hate and rage for individuals and groups that are different from us.  We sometimes do this under the banner of Christianity. 

Hate, rage, and damnation are not what Christianity is all about. Jesus accepted others no matter what.

Day 5

I was feeling hungry and I was examining the role of suffering as a vector for change and contemplation.  Certain groups have used self-punishment as a method that would give them closer relationships with God. I’m absolutely not one to self-flog or to wear a hair shirt.  However, I feel that a reasonable sacrifice makes me more aware and tuned in.

On a spiritual level, I was thinking about scripture and wondering what its true meaning was.  Most Christian believe that you have to be a Christian to have salvation. This is based on numerous passages in the Bible where Christ says things like, “I am the way… no one comes to God but through me.”  However, only 31% of the world is Christian. Does this mean that over 4 billion people are going to go to hell? This makes no sense to me. I believe that Jesus was really saying that his message and what he represented was the way.  What is that way? To love, to accept, to be compassionate, to help others, to forgive.  

Day 6

Day 6 was a rough day for me.  My eating schedule got all screwed up and by dinner time I was becoming hypo-glycemic. In my vulnerable state, I was feeling that my fasting was foolish.  I started to question everything, including the existence of God. I feared that my quest for a richer spiritual life was akin to wishing that Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny were real.  

Was I using the God thing as a crutch to get through life?  Yet, I had so many examples where it seemed like I was being directed and guided in my life by an external force.  In the end, I decided that is what faith was all about. I also started to think about something that I hadn’t thought about in decades, the Holy Spirit.  

Day 7

This was a weekend day, which allowed me to have two small regular meals.  On both occasions, I ate with people who I cared about. I was more aware of how important having others in my life is for my overall sense of well being.  This is contrary to the way that I have lived much of my life as an island unto myself. The pattern of behavior protected me from being hurt, but at a significant cost.  I know that I don’t need a lot of people in my life, but I do need a select few. Without them, my life would be empty.

Day 8

The reading today was John, Chapter 8.  This is the chapter where John retells the tale of the adulterous woman who is about to be stoned.  Jesus tells the crowd that the person in the group who is sinless should cast the first stone. 

It is easy to judge, but are we willing to judge ourselves?  We make excuses for our behavior, but we are critical of the behavior of others.  In many cases, their actions are not our business.  

This led me to think about my past behaviors and realize that I can’t change the past, I can try to improve in the present. 

Day 9

The reading was John, Chapter 9 and it explores Jesus healing a blind man, and his apostles asking him if it was the man or his family who were being punished by God. Jesus says it was neither.  

This really struck me as I sometimes wonder why things are not going the way that I would like.  What did I do wrong? Was I being punished? The answer is, no. Stuff happens, that is just the way that it is.

Day 11

I had to switch up my meals on day 10 and didn’t have a normal meal until the evening.  This left me not only hungry but also fairly non-functional. It made me realize that one of my responsibilities in life was self-care.  It is my responsibility to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, reduce my stress, exercise, etc. It is only then that I’m able to do my best for myself and others.

Day 12

I had a dream that not only woke me up but kept me up for several hours during the night.  This was especially bad for me as I typically only sleep around 6 hours a night. In my dream, my daughter was a young child and I had forgotten her birthday.  In a frantic gesture, I cleaned the house and found snacks for a party. The guest were about to arrive and I looked around the room. Everything was neat and tidy.  I looked at my daughter who seemed perfectly happy with the arrangements. Then I realized that I had not decorated for a party, and I was out of time. I felt terrible and like a failure.  

The dream made me realize how I could be my own worst critic.  I did 95% of what I needed to do, but I chose to focus on what was missing instead of what was there. 

I want people to love me for who I am, but I realized that I wasn’t loving to myself. 

Day 13

I was up early and had an early meeting with a friend. My thoughts gravitated towards feelings of being fortunate to have people in my life who I truly care about.

Day 14

I wasn’t hungry on Saturday and went to a cake decorating class that two of my kids gave me as a Christmas present. I greatly enjoyed the class, but I was confronted by a limitless supply of cake, cake remnants, and sugary frosting. 

I have not eaten concentrated forms of sugar for almost 5 years, but I decided to “taste” the icing.  In short order I was in a full binge. The result was I was not only disappointed in myself but I also felt physically terrible. 

Despite not feeling hungry that day it was easy for me to go back into a bad behavior as I was in the wrong environment. 

I admitted that I made a mistake and I committed to restarting my fast the next day.

Day 15

Yesterday’s sermon talked about the fact that the average adult is exposed to 4000 ads every single day.  Ads that generally make you feel bad about yourself or your life (in an effort to get you to buy something).  

If advertisements make you feel bad, what makes humans feel good?  Many things, most of which are free. Number one on the list was good interpersonal relationships.

Day 16

I picked up my daughter from a study abroad program and was overjoyed to have her back home.  Once again I’m struck with how relationships are the key to happiness.

Day 17

I was aware that most of my 21 day fast was behind me.  I started to question my usual problem-solving tactics. I realized that some things in life are just rough, and there is no easy way out.  If you can’t change things you have to accept them. Life is sometimes about getting through the next hour, or minute, or second. However, each one brings you closer to some sort of resolution.

Day 18

Despite being almost neurotic about keeping my distance, I caught a cold from my friend, Tom.   I was feeling lousy and I was sick of fasting. I thought more about my pondering from the day before.

It is easy to want the easy way out.  It is easy to not take responsibility and to blame others for our unhappiness. It is easy to cast general blame on an entire group.  However, such actions leave us powerless to change. I continued to commit to being responsible for my actions and behavior.

Day 19

Today’s reading was John, Chapter 19 where Jesus is judged by Pilate.  Pilate doesn’t want to have anything to do with sentencing Jesus to death but gets manipulated by the Jewish leaders to have Jesus crucified.  They tell him, “If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar.”

By using social pressure they get their way.  How many times have I been swayed by social pressure?  How many times have I gone against my own principles to avoid being criticized or ostracized?  I need to be true to myself and my convictions.

Day 20

Not a great fast day, but I did my best.

My thoughts centered on trying to be a better person. On trying to think beyond my normal, and to be aware beyond my usual. More thoughts on the fact that things are neither good nor bad, they just are. 

Day 21

Last day.  I had to drive my daughter back to school (around12 hours, round trip) and knew that I couldn’t fast for a variety of reasons. I tried to focus on my spiritual life, with only a small degree of success.  I decided to listen to a podcast and found a lengthy one on Jeffrey Epstein, the serial pedophile. 

How many people turned the other way despite obvious evidence?  How many were swayed by his money and power? How many children were sacrificed to meet his insatiable needs? We live in a world where we often look the other way if we think that our own interests are at risk.  This made me sad.

Summary

What did I learn from 21 days of prayer of fasting? I learned how fortunate I am to have been born in a country with so much while also living in a world that does not have enough.  

I explored the reasons why I am a practicing Christian. My religion is not about rules and regulations.  It is not about belonging to an exclusive club or having a golden ticket to heaven. It is about being kind to others, loving others, being compassionate towards others, giving to others.  My Christianity is a religion of caring, and that was emphasized to me during my fast.

I also became more aware of myself.  How I need to have people who care about me and love me in my life. In turn, I need to love and care about them. I must be freer about telling people that I love them, and not worry that such a statement may make me too vulnerable or sound too weak.

I learned that I can be very critical of myself, but I need to love and forgive myself in the same way that I do this for others. 

I found that despite effort and ego I can still easily screw up and fall flat on my face.  However, I can gain an understanding of my mistakes and recommit to change. 

I know that happiness does not come from things or money.  Rather it is achieved by connecting and caring for others, loving myself, and doing my best to connect with something greater than myself. I call that something, God.

So, was fasting worth it? What do you think?

Mike

This is the link to the audio reading of this blog post

http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/what-i-learned-from-21-days-of-fasting

I made some 100% whole wheat bread, which should be more nutritious than the store bought stuff.
Soaking beans for a basic bean soup.

4,000 Ads A Day; 9 Ways To Be Happier

Have you ever been lied to? Has someone manipulated you to get what they wanted from you at your expense? Has someone broken a promise to you without regard to your needs or feelings? How did that make you feel?

What would you think if I told you that you are being manipulated over 4000 times a day? That is the number of advertisements that the average person is exposed to every 24 hours.

Advertisements have been used for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The majority of ads have one purpose, to get you to buy a service or product. And in the new millennium, we have reached a higher level of social intrusion with the advent of customized ads designed to target individuals based on their personalities and weaknesses.

If I want to sell you something, I need to convince you that what you have is not good enough, and I then need to offer you a solution. “Your teeth are not white enough; I have something that will make them look better.” I also need to give you a reason why white teeth are essential. This can be done in a variety of ways. For instance, I can show an unhappy, rejected person with yellow teeth. I can then show a beautiful white-toothed person hanging out with other beautiful people. Now white teeth are associated with youth, beauty, friends, and happiness. 

You may think that you can ignore ads, but the evidence suggests otherwise. A researcher had subjects purchase one of two pens. Of the two writing implements, one was superior. The researcher had the subjects watch a video, and in that video was embedded hidden ads for the inferior pen. At the end of the experiment, 60-80% of the subjects choose to purchase the inferior pen, despite objective evidence to the contrary. 

Adolescents see up to 30,000 TV commercials every year, and it has been shown that they negatively influence teens to eat more, drink more, and (in the day) smoke more. 

There is surprisingly little research on the impact of advertisements on happiness. However, a study was published in 2019 that tracked overall societal happiness compared with total ad money spent in a given country. There was a negative correlation between the two. In other words, more ads mean a less happy society. 

I have long been convinced that advertising, in general, makes people unhappy. Many ads make you feel inadequate personally, professionally, or socially. If the ad is convincing enough, you buy the product or service, and in most cases, you find that you are either not happier or only temporarily uplifted. The latter situation is worse because you get a positive jolt that quickly fades. Our brains are wired to identify these good feelings and to seek them. Your brain sees the problem and comes up with a solution.  What is that solution? Buy something else!  

The average person can continue to buy unneeded things because of another unhappiness maker, easy credit, and the credit card. Some people assume that the “money” that they have on their card is “free cash.” However, banks don’t give out free money. Forty-one percent (average group) to seventy-three percent (higher risk group) of credit card holders don’t pay off their balance at the end of the month. When these individuals use their credit cards, they are taking out very high-interest loans. 

The following pattern can emerge. An ad creates dissatisfaction and offers a solution. You buy into the message and purchase the service or product using your credit card. The product temporarily makes you feel better, but that happiness quickly fades, making you buy more items or services. Repeat the above. This leads to an additional problem, unnecessary debt, and all the stress that that brings. That stress leads to unhappiness, so what is the solution? Buy more!… and you are now in a purchase-debt-purchase cycle.

Many want to believe that there is an easy and painless way to feel whole and happy, and advertisers play on that desire. This rapid reward followed by quick removal of reward is a classic recipe for addictive behavior. The shorter the cycle, the stronger the addiction. However, you don’t have to be a compulsive shopper to deal with the negative side of purchasing unnecessary things. Let’s say that you need a car, but you really can’t afford a new one. However, with a little creative financing, you can have the luxury model of your dreams. A sensible used car would indeed transport you to your destination just as well. However, car salespeople don’t just sell cars; they sell fantasies. 

When I was younger, most buyers took a car loan that ran three or four years. Now the typical car loan is six years (72 months), and seven-year loans (84 months) are also very popular. Bigger cars are now widespread, and massive SUVs can cost $40,000 or more. I recently looked at new Ford pickup trucks and their sticker prices were in the $50,000 to $70,000 range. According to Experian, the interest rate on a 72-month car loan is between 4.9 and 6.7 percent. The average of those numbers is 5.85 percent. If a consumer borrows $45,000 for 72 months at 5.8%, they will be paying around $740 a month for the next six years. 

It was challenging to come up with hard facts, but the articles that I did locate suggested that many cars start to break down when they are around five years old. If you have a 6-year car loan or 7-year car loan, you will likely have to deal with both an expensive car payment as well as car repair costs. That car that made once made you feel happy is now a significant contributor to your unhappiness.

So is stuff the cause of unhappiness? No, stuff is just stuff. You may choose a minimalist lifestyle, but someone else may prefer more luxury. The critical thing to realize is that the buying of unnecessary items will not give you long term happiness, and may have the opposite effect.

So is lack of money the root cause of unhappiness? An often-cited 2010 Princeton study examined the correlation between money and happiness. The bottom line is that if you can’t meet your basic financial needs, you are more likely to be unhappy. As your income increases, you will become happier (generally). However, this effect tops out at around $75,000/year. People who made more money than $75,000 were not happier. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that wealth may have the opposite effect.

Our society also tells us that stuff and money are the sources of happiness. Wealthy, successful people who possess all of the right “toys” are portrayed as happy. However, scientific evidence says that these factors are not the secret to happiness. So what does make us happy? Luckily, there has been quite a bit of research on this topic, and the news is not good for advertisers. Why? Because most of the things that make humans happy are FREE.

Nine totally free ways to become happier

Healthy lifestyle

Your mother was right; If you get enough sleep, exercise, reduce your stress level, and eat well, you will be happier. 

Attention!

If you stay more focused, you will be happier. Practices such as meditation can help you focus.

Time

Having free time makes you happier than having lots of money but little free time. No one on their deathbed wished that they would have worked more.

Stop racing

People who slow down and experience their surroundings are happier than those who rush through life. Smell the roses.  Check out a sunrise.

Acts of kindness

Volunteering, being a good friend, and other acts of kindness benefit not only the recipient but also the giver. Evidence suggests that the more personal the act, the happier it will make you feel. Volunteering at a soup kitchen will make you happier than writing a check to a random charity.

Spirituality/Religious life

People with a rich spiritual life and those that belong to a religion are not only happier, but feel more fulfilled.

Fun!

Will an expensive vacation make you happy? Possibly, but only if you can afford it. However, there are many other activities that you can do that are free. Have a picnic, go to a free concert, take a hike in the woods, have a friend over to watch a movie. Have fun, and you will feel happier.

Stay in the present

I love the saying, “If you have one foot in the past and the other foot in the future, you are peeing on the present.” Are you always thinking about past successes or failures? Stop it! Are you living for the weekends? Stop it! You are where you should be right now. Stay in the present and celebrate the moment.

Spend time with others, connect with others, and genuinely love others.

For the last 80 years, Harvard University has been running a longitudinal study on what makes people happy. They followed both Harvard students and inner-city men over their lifetime. Also, the study is now tracking the offspring of the original participants. They found that happiness not only makes you feel better it also leads to better physical health. So what was the most significant factor in determining a person’s happiness? Was it wealth, social status, profession, IQ, genes? No, the most significant factor that makes someone happy is having close interpersonal relationships.  

Bill Murphy Jr cites some sobering facts in his 2019 “Inc.” article.

  • 40% of adults sometimes or always feel that their social relationships are not meaningful.
  • 20% of Americans consider themselves socially isolated.
  • 28% of older adults live alone
  • Being lonely is the equivalent of smoking ¾ of a pack of cigarettes a day on a person’s physical health.

A close interpersonal relationship is not a popularity contest. A person with 1000 Facebook friends is not necessarily happier than the person with 10 Facebook friends. 

Do you have someone in your life who has your back? Someone who you can be yourself with? Someone who is there for you during hard times? Someone who loves and accepts you for who you are? If you answer yes to these questions, you have a close interpersonal relationship. Who the relationship is with is irrelevant. Can it be your spouse? Of course. But it can also be a sibling, coworker, or friend.


We have a right to be happy. Sadly, we are often manipulated down a path that leads to unhappiness. If you want to be happier, examine the above list, and determine ways that you can implement some of the happiness points. Anything that you will do will move you in a more positive direction. Changing behavior requires time and consistency. However, the reward will be great.

Mike

Here is the audio reading of this podcast:

http://psychiatricsecrets.libsyn.com/4000-ads-9-ways-to-be-happier

Unnecessary stuff is nice, but it won’t make you happy.

Three Real Ways To Change A Dysfunctional Behavior

One of the most challenging things that we humans do is to change dysfunctional behavior. Yet, it’s something that successful people must accomplish regularly. If you want to move forward, it is imperative to recognize problems in your life, address them, and fix them.

I believe that most of us know this, but many contemplate the need to change without ever acting on making a change. Others force themselves onto a radical path of change, and like a flash fire, they burn brightly, and then they flame out. An example of this is the classic New Year’s exercise resolution, “I need to exercise more.” Drive by any gym during the first week of January, and you see that the parking lot is bursting at its seams. If you want to get a good parking spot, just wait a few weeks for the resolutioners to fall back on their old behaviors.

As a therapist, I often saw patients who claimed that they wanted to change. In some instances, what they wanted was for other people to adapt to them so they could continue their dysfunctional actions. They wanted the world to change for them (good luck to that). However, I also treated individuals who sincerely wanted to take responsibility for their lives and were willing to put forth the effort to make change. It was then my job to teach them the tools to accomplish their goals. Naturally, there are many ways to elicit change so that I would customize my approach based on the person’s needs, personality, and behavioral style.  

Today I would like to share with three “generic” change approaches that you might consider. I’m going to do this by citing some examples from my own life.  

Method 1

Pairing a new behavior with things that you enjoy.

I hated exercise. When I was morbidly overweight, I sought the help of a weight-loss specialist. She was a thin wisp of a young girl who appeared to be very physically fit. I wondered if she could relate to me and understand the plight of an old fat man. 

She did some quick calculations of my weight and BMI and then scribbled a few numbers onto a pad of paper. Her approach was to talk to me about my need to exercise. Of course, I knew that exercise was important, but any past attempts on my part quickly failed, and I explained that to her.

She was unmoved and told me that I needed to exercise for an hour and a half a day vigorously.  By vigorous exercise, she was referring to a cardiovascular gym routine. She didn’t stop there; she also wanted me to do non-vigorous exercise for several hours a day. The non-vigorous activity would include things like walking, swimming, and biking. I tried to explain to her that I had difficulty climbing even a single flight of stairs. I told her that I knew that I needed to exercise, but I hated it and just couldn’t get myself to do it. I told her that I was working 60-80 hours a week, and didn’t have hours to spare during my day. She was unmoved, and instead of understanding me, she told me an “inspirational” story of a client of her’s (a former athlete) who had adopted her strategy and lost weight.

If you are or have been a fat person, you will understand what I am about to say next. I listened to her and felt even more hopeless about my plight; I gave up. On the surface, it appeared that I was paying attention as I nodded in false agreement. I left the appointment feeling worse than when I went in. I never adopted her exercised advice.

Fast forward to 5 years ago. My friend Tom was on his fitness journey and mentioned to me that he would buy me a coffee if I walked to the local Starbucks the next morning. I liked spending time with Tom, and so I was motivated to attempt this request. Further, one of the few exercises that I did like to do was to walk. With that said, I was uncertain if I could withstand the trip, and so I walked the route the night before, just to make sure.

That was five years ago, and I now exercise on (almost) a daily basis. That exercise has varied over time, and for the last several years, I have resumed my early morning walk to Starbucks. I look forward to talking this 3.5 mile round trip for several reasons. First, I love walking in the quiet of the early morning. I think, pray, meditate, and problem solve during that time. It isn’t uncommon for Tom to surprise me with a Starbucks visit, and of course, I enjoy that. However, I now know other regulars at the shop who greet and chat with me, as do the baristas. I bring along a computer on my walks, and I write most of these blogs at Starbucks. Starbucks is where I also write letters and emails to friends and family. By combining exercise with several other things that I like to do, I have transformed a negative into a positive. I certainly can now climb a flight of stairs without feeling like I need to call 911.

Writing a blog post after walking to Starbucks.

Method 2

Learning from past mistakes.

If you read my last post, you know that I’m currently on a spiritual fast. I have been on many restrictive weight-loss diets, and I have also tried a couple of spiritual fasts in the past, and so I had quite a bit of data to draw on to explore what kind of a fast that I could do that would have the greatest success of completion.  

Before I started this fast, I did a mental review of what worked, and just as importantly, what didn’t work with prior attempts to modify my eating. Based on this information, I devised a fasting plan that I thought would be challenging but doable. I’m now at the midpoint of this fast, and so far, I’m reasonably on target. 

This technique goes beyond personal growth; it can be applied to all levels of a human’s life. Does it always seem that you are getting the short stick when it comes to relationships? Look at the data. Is your career not moving the way you want it? Look at the data. Are you feeling like others are always taking advantage of you? Look at the data… and so on.

Explore the weaknesses in your behavioral patterns and find workable solutions to change them. If plan A doesn’t work, find a plan B. Reassess both your behavior and progress regularly, and modify as indicated.  

My plan is to have only bread and non-caloric drinks for two of my meals.

Method 3

Eating the elephant

One of my favorite sayings is, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”  

The home that I have lived in for thirty years has both a basement and crawl space. Both have become “junk magnets” over the decades, with the crawl space being the more pathological of the two. Any object that we no longer used but still seemed useful was buried there. The only things that we did need to store there were our Christmas decorations, and these items occupied a small portion of that vast space. The rest was filled to the brim with boxes, bags, and loose items.  

It is difficult to get into the crawl space, and once inside, you have to stoop down and crawl on very rough concrete. The idea of cleaning the area out was not only overwhelming to me but also my wife. It was just easier to pretend that it didn’t exist.

However, now that I’m retired I have the time to tackle such a project, but I didn’t want to do it. I don’t like the feeling that I have something hanging over my head, and I don’t like feeling guilty. With that said, it seemed like an impossible task.

What I needed to do is to come up with a plan. What could I do to solve this problem? I wasn’t dealing with a deadline; I had as much time as I needed. My idea was to remove three significant objects from the crawl space every week. An object could be a big box, a large item, or a garbage bag filled with loose pieces. To make it easier for me to navigate the crawl space, I found my old knee pads and my headlight. I place these items by the entrance to the crawl space, so they were at the ready, making my explorations easier.

The purging process went on for months, but doing it was simple — one box per trip, three boxes per week. Since I only had three weekly items, it didn’t even add a lot of work to my “garbage night” haulings.  

Instead of thinking about how much more I had to do, I would celebrate that one less box was in the crawl space. I would pat myself on the back for accomplishing my job, which often only took a few minutes. Each “bite of the elephant” seemed trivial, but eventually, I ate the whole elephant.

Some changes in life must be done immediately and wholly. If you want to stop smoking, you need to apply total abstinence to increase your chance of success. However, many changes can be made gradually. Just have a real plan and direction. 

The crawl space finally cleaned out…one bite at a time.

So there you have it — three ways to change behavior. There are more ways that I may share with you in another post.

Cheers!

Mike