Revisiting the Why of What I Do

My Manhattan Office

How my New York office looked from where I sat for many years

Reposted from August 2016

[The panorama above of my Manhattan office shows so much of what has been important to me. The watercolor over the couch was painted by my mother, an accomplished artist, may she Rest in Peace. The stone Buddha head was a cherished gift that I gave a colleague when shlepping it home on the subway proved too daunting. The glowing shape near the far window is a Himalayan salt lamp. The green mid-century modern chair is the only furniture I brought with me to Florida where I now live and work. It sits in my garage awaiting refurbishing, its woven tape faded and badly snagged often and enthusiastically by the cat after I brought it home.]

In New York City where I practiced for over twenty years, it seemed as if everyone knew what psychotherapy is, even if they hadn’t ever experienced it personally. Occasionally I’d meet with an older patient whose primary physician or psychiatrist had referred them to me for treatment, and they’d say something like, “I don’t know why I’m here or what I’m supposed to do.” A discussion would follow, and soon we’d be “doing psychotherapy” every week. But many elderly people are psychotherapy-savvy, a case in point being a ninety year old woman in New York who had undergone a lengthy psychoanalysis fifty years before she came to me to address a current issue.

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So these days, I’m explaining psychotherapy a little more often, and helping shed a light on experiences that have baffled, frightened, confounded or annoyed my patients. I’m describing how certain medications treat depression and why they aren’t good for people with the mood swings of bipolar disorder.

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I’m cataloging symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and helping patients gauge how much those symptoms interfere with functioning and their overall quality of life. Sometimes just asking a question about obsessions triggers access to a deeper emotional issue never before spoken to another. As I was psychodynamically trained, I enjoy helping a patient explore a dream for its value in clarifying issues, past and current. I take my role as therapist and guide along this most challenging journey very seriously.

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Flatiron Building, Photo by Kai Pilger on Pexels.com

As we prepared to move out of New York, I considered retiring. For about five minutes. I got a late start on my career as a psychologist so there’s a practical, financial incentive to continue, but there’s an even more important reason I am still actively working as a clinical psychologist who provides psychotherapy: I love the work. I enjoy meeting new people and sitting down with them to see what we can do together to alleviate their distress, resolve their conflicts, arrive at healthier alternatives to their problematic habits and behaviors, and find greater and deeper meaning in their lives, both in terms of the past, the present, and into the future.

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I find it to be a great blessing helping people traverse very intense points on their path, such as dating, marriage or divorce; pregnancy, miscarriage, or birth; seeking, losing, improving or getting new jobs; illness, accident, treatment, death and grief, and as the late death and dying pioneer Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross taught us, acceptance. Acceptance of what has been and of what is, even when we wish it were different. Acceptance of what we’ve done and who we are, and acceptance of our ability to learn and grow and change despite the past, even though it can be extremely challenging and a lot of hard work.

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I alway have ended these posts with the Sanskrit word namasté, which basically means, “The goodness in me bows to the goodness in you.”

And so it is.

Namasté,

 

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Getting to Cloud Nine

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I’m not sure where to start with this. So I’ll start where I think it begins. We moved from New York City to rural Pennsylvania last summer. We eventually got a new MD locally. Then in May I was hospitalized with diverticulitis, a very painful intestinal infection. I was given excellent treatment in our local hospital and I was out the next day.   My primary doctor had been concerned about a serious abdominal condition other than diverticulitis, so in the ER they did a CT scan with contrast and found a couple of possible problems while confirming the diverticulitis diagnosis. I was discharged with referrals to cardiologist, colorectal surgeon, and pulmonologist. The pulmonologist referred me to a neurologist due to migraines. I saw them all.

I was off asthma meds for the first time in many years while in the hospital. I imagine they were waiting for me to complain of breathing problems to give them to me, but I didn’t have any, even with the gorgeous, big floral arrangement my colleagues at work sent me. Time was when I would have been sneezing and wheezing with flowers in the room.

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When I went to the pulmonologist and told him I hadn’t used any steroids or rescue inhaler, or even any allergy meds, in a week, he was impressed, but he also ordered pulmonary function tests and a CT scan of the lungs. I went to see him yesterday for the results. He brought out copies of the tests and said to me, “You do not have asthma!” and he explained the numbers. He said I no longer need any asthma meds, not even a rescue inhaler.

I’ve taken a lot of medications, many very expensive, for asthma and respiratory allergies over the past 35 years, which is over half my life: albuterol and its newer spinoff ProAir HFA, Advair (at the highest strength), Breo, and Symbicort (also at the highest strength), Singulair, Zyrtec, and Flonase, and others both over the counter and prescribed. I’ve been to the ER with asthma attacks, although thankfully not for decades. I’ve been on inhaled steroids and courses of prednisone for about 15 years and other asthma meds since my son was in grade school. I have the skin of an 80-year-old, in that it tears and gets purple bruises incredibly easily, and about five years ago I sustained a spontaneous fracture of the femur at the knee, all probable side effects from long term corticosteroid use for asthma.

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So I’m on Cloud Nine that I’m so much healthier than I used to be, and I credit this to several factors:

  • Being vegetarian for the past 8 years and almost totally vegan for 5 ( two of my new doctors are vegetarians, so I have solid support to continue a plant-based lifestyle).
  • Meditating almost every day for the past 6 years, a practice known to boost immunity and improve health.
  • Following the spiritual practice of Buddhism that helps me cope with stress and keep life’s challenges and changes in perspective.
  • Having wonderful and supportive friends, many of whom like myself are healthcare providers who have stressed to me the importance of self care and getting answers.
  • Working out regularly in the gym and taking more walks over the past year.
  • Meeting a holistic New York medical doctor before we moved, who urged a healthier diet, exercise and supplements over prescriptions whenever possible.
  • Moving out of the city and into a less stressful, more rural life.
  • Closing my solitary New York psychology office and opening one in East Stroudsburg, PA where amidst wonderful colleagues and staff I thrive.
  • Getting a whole new look into my health with all new medical providers, including the very thorough medical work up I was given at our local hospital.
  • Having access to good healthcare, thanks to Medicare and before that employer-provided health insurance. At this time of uncertainty over affordable health coverage for millions of Americans, I am most grateful for this and hope that goodness and compassion for those in need will prevail.

So I do like to end some of my posts with a good tune. This one feels just right, and I choose it in part in memory of a good and soulful man I treated for nearly 20 years, a man who grooved to the Motown Sound and whose passing I sadly learned of today. Danny, this one’s for you.

 

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Serial Fiction, Chapter 5: Better Now

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Photo and graphic by Shielagh, copyrighted 2017.

She sat on the beach, a few feet from the water where the sand was dry, watching the waves as they slid in and out, their swish and sizzle setting a soothing rhythm. Being down here was so wonderful. Staying with Gramma was a little weird with all the old people she hung out with, but feeling safe was worth it.

Michelle hugged her knees to her in the cool morning air. She came here a lot, mostly because Gramma could see her from the big picture windows of the apartment. In a way it felt she wasn’t trusted, or like being treated like a kid, but she knew it was because Gramma cared enough to keep her in view. She had her cellphone on her all the time, and Gramma would call her when she wanted her to come home. She figured, too, that if Gramma ever saw someone unsafe nearby, she’d call her, and if, God forbid, anyone tried to hurt her, she’d call 911 in a heartbeat.

Besides, she knew she was helping Gramma just by being there, because her grandfather had died a few years ago, and now Gramma had lost her son. It must be hard, Michelle, thought, and she was glad she could help Gramma too somehow.

The last few months had been a blur. Amanda had told her mom that Michelle’s mom’s boyfriend had been “inappropriate.” The first night she spent over there was one she knew she’d never forget.

“Let’s call your mom now,” Amanda’s mom had said, and Michelle got on the extension so she could listen. After a couple of moments of small talk, Amanda’s mom, Gloria, had told Michelle’s mom, “Michelle isn’t safe at your house, Donna. Your boyfriend has been touching her, and you have to do something. Get him out of there, and report him to the authorities.

“You little liar!” her mom had screamed. “You’re just making that up! He wouldn’t do anything like that!”

Michelle had sobbed, “It’s true! He comes in my room!”

“I don’t believe you,” her mother had said in a weird, quieter voice.

Gloria had spoken to her mom calmly and clearly, continuing to say that the creep had to go, or Michelle would be staying at her house. It had only gotten worse. Her mom had shoved her clothes into a couple of black garbage bags and dumped them on Amanda’s front lawn the next day. Thank God she’d taken most of her personal stuff and school books to her locker and had the rest in her backpack. Looking back, she began to feel as if she’d known she’d be getting out of there fast.

Gloria had helped Michelle tell the police what had been happening. The policewoman who came over had been really nice. She took a lot of notes, and she said a social worker would come see her, too. That had been okay. By then she’d told Amanda and her mom, the police and now this nice lady who reminded her of her English teacher, and the more she told it, the easier it was, especially when they all seemed to believe her.

“We need to find a better place for you to live. I’m sure you can’t stay here at your friend’s house indefinitely,” she’d said, looking at Gloria. Gloria had said that Michelle was welcome as long as she needed to stay, but they’d talked about a lot of other things, and it was decided that staying with her dad’s mom, her Gramma, in Florida, was the best thing, and the social worker had called Gramma right then.

“Oh, baby! I am so sorry!” Gramma had said, and in a few minutes, it was all arranged. The next week she’d flown down to Florida and in a few days was registered in a school with a lot of smart and creative kids. Gramma had been a teacher and she knew all about the Sunshine Academy. A friend of hers had taught there and she said they even had a school psychologist that kids could go see for free if they had problems. “It’ll be good for you to talk to someone,” Gramma had said.

So here she was, on a beach in the morning before school, mentally tossing her problems into the water as her therapist had suggested. Math test, sadness over not seeing Timmy anymore, not even getting to talk to him because her mom wouldn’t let him, missing Amanda and other friends, and some of the boys. The creep was gone. He’d gone to jail for a little while, but Gramma said his lawyer had gotten him out, and he could stay out as long as he went into counseling and did community service, but he wasn’t allowed to be near kids. Her mom said she would never forgive her for this. Michelle didn’t care. Not really. Like her therapist said, it was complicated. Mom had problems she needed to work out. A tear slid down her cheek and she brushed it away with her sleeve. Yeah, she cared.

She watched the seagulls wheel overhead, mewing like cats. A big brown pelican suddenly swooped down and scooped up something in its bill. Probably a fish.

Her phone pinged and she looked at it. “Time to come up and get ready for school,” was Gramma’s text. She got to her feet and brushed off the sand. She realized she really did feel better now.

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For the Daily Post

Practising Listening with Empathy, by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thay’s words on compassionate listening and the blessings of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Please take some time to listen to the Plum Village monastics chant Namo Avalokiteshvara.

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Mustang girl and prayer flags. Photo © Lisa Daix

Yesterday, Sister True Virtue

talked a little bit about the fourth precept concerning speaking and listening. This is a very deep practice. Listening is an art, and many people do not have the capacity for it, especially in the case of listening to the suffering of others. One reason for that is that in the listeners themselves, there is also much pain. The store consciousness is filled with pain and grief, and that is why it is so difficult for such people to listen to others. In order to be able to listen, we need to learn how to transform the suffering in ourselves.

Talking is also an art because if we have many internal formations within us and if we do not know the art of mindful breathing, then while speaking we shall be carried away by our feelings, our anger, and what we say may hurt people deeply…

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