Fly Your Geek Flag High

Let’s start with a riddle:

  1. If you see one, it is safe to assume there are dozens you cannot see.
  2. They can subsist on garbage yet grow to amazing heights and weights.
  3. The minute you outsmart them, they find four more ways around you.

The answer: Mice? Vermin? Pestilence?….TEENAGERS!!!

There is some form of instinctual survival skills that causes adults to cross the street, or hallways in the mall, when a gaggle of teenagers looms closer. I have spent more than 20 years as the Jane Goodall of teenagers. I have been accepted in their tribe. I have learned to adapt to their unusual language patterns and ever-changing forms of communication. I have studied their behavior in the hopes of sharing this vital information with others.

Your Teenage to Adult Translation Guide

Every once in a while, I feel validated when a prestigious, well-researched journal documents their years of research only to conclude something my work in the trenches has already learned. Recently, there was an article in an academic publication that revealed the key strategies for working with teenagers in a therapeutic setting. I am admittedly “borrowing” the organization of the article (Holliman, Ryan P. and Foster, Ryan. (2016). Emodying and Communicating Authenticity in Adolescent Counseling. Journal of Child and Adolescent Counseling, 2:1. 61-76). These experts list 7 strategies for creating an authentic relationship with an adolescent client.  I’m going to shorten the list and give you my usual, humorous, everyday insights to help you manage the teenagers in your life. Warning: most of the experts cited in this blog will be directly from the real voices of my favorite fictional geeks.

  • Personal confidence: It is a teenagers job to win at “gotcha”. They look for inconsistency between what you say and what you do as justification for not trusting you. Your job as a counselor, or even a parent, teacher, or any role model for a teenager, is to demonstrate the strength in being yourself.  Nobody explains this better than Mr. Stand By Me, Wesley Crusher actor and nerd king, Wil Wheaton.
  • Modifying language and speech: You can easily make the mistake of zigging or zagging. This is not the time to throw out slang you’ve heard on TV. (Zig.) Please don’t answer the question, “What did you do last night?” with, “Netflix and chill.” You haven’t created a bond with your client; you have either revealed an intimate detail about your private life or your desperation to be liked and accepted. This is also not the time to demonstrate your expert vocabulary or practice your parenting tone. (Zag.) Conversation is the start of communication. An effective counselor is using these conversations to model healthy word choice. Start building your client’s emotional IQ by working together to properly identify emotions. This is an exceptional way of feeding into the natural tendency of teens to correct all of us ignorant, out of touch people who were birthed as adults.
  • Dissipating tension: Teenagers are similar to dogs and babies; they can smell fear. Maybe because they are fueled by trying to make sure nobody else detects their own fear. It is helpful to remember that teenagers are still children. Engaging their bodies will loosen their lips. I often play cards (which may or may not resemble Vegas tables) in my first session. The ease of the activity helps build what person-centered therapists call congruence, an overly academic way to explain that a therapist should be a person, not a caricature. Whether it’s board games, card games, or drawing, the activity that releases the tension is also the best to return to when therapeutic gains are released. Remember: the best salve for growing pains is childhood fun.
  • Investment in the process: Teenagers grant access to their thoughts and their feelings to very few people. Even then, the time you have access is limited.
    “You see just seeds, but I see the trees.” Photo by

    Therefore, the role of a counselor is to plant a seed. Create a relationship that serves as a fond memory for a healthy, trusting relationship with healthy boundaries. Make it easy for the next coach, life or sports, to continue the work you begin.

Spark Note Summary

Being authentic simply means being yourself. What is not so simple is embracing that self. When counseling, parenting, or mentoring a teenager, it is essential to have worked out your adolescent issues FIRST. We want our teenagers to LOVE who they are, not SHAME who they are. Especially if they grow up to be sci-fi fanatics who use sarcasm and wit to educate others about some lessons learned.

The Happy Leopard (A Working Title)

lepardRight now, my biopic would be rated PG13. That’s a cumulative rating. Like most of us, my 20’s were mostly R-rated, filled with inappropriate behaviors that matched my intoxication with freedom by living a time zone away from my parents. As the distance grew, so did the level of responsible, irresponsible behavior. I was never arrested. I didn’t get fired from my job as a new teacher. I also didn’t treat my body with the level of care and respect that I should have…and I knew it.

A child is believed to be the 14th incarnation of the Dalai Lama, whom the lamas called “Kundun.” The boy matures in both age and learning, especially after his mentor dies.

Surviving those years allowed me to calm down and earn a PG rating of life. Life’s spotlight intentionally shifted away from me as my levels of self-care and self-love began to match the care and love I had for others. I became your favorite underdog biopic. Think Rocky or Kundun.

Now that I’m in my 40s, I am embracing the decade of f*#k-its. Like most of my compadres of the same age, my skin is stretched to the size that I’m comfortable in (metaphorically, of course) where attitude reign supreme whether deserved or imagined.  Just like Patch Adams, I celebrate the parts of me that caused the insecurity of my 20s and played up the sensitive side that brought me love (husband and son) in my 30s.

Your Identity Acronym

In order to help clients, I need to understand their biopics. Most therapists focus on one theory, cognitive behavioral theory (CBT), systems theory, just to name some popular ones. But, working with real clients means understanding how thoughts, feelings, biology, and relationships all factor into WHY they need help and HOW to help them. Thank goodness for Arnold Lazarus and his multimodal therapy acronym, BASIC ID.

  • BehaviorNo secret decoder ring necessary. Separate your thoughts from your actions. What are you DOING that is getting in the way of a goal? What can you DO to put yourself back on track? Basic Madlibs treatment plan: Give me a verb.

    I won’t lie. It is still a lot of fun using inappropriate words to fill these out.
  • Affect: This one is difficult because it is dependent on your emotional intelligence. Not only is the challenge identifying your feelings, but in order to understand and treatment plan for the conflict leading you into therapy, you need to work on the triggers for those emotions. You also need to put those feelings on a sliding scale, rage to irritation, sadness to depression, etc. The chain link of BASIC ID actually begins here by connecting the behaviors with the emotions; it’s the old chicken or the egg, psychology style.
  • Sensations: The focus is on the mind-body connection. Hands tingling, heart racing, limbs that seem to be slogging through a sea of Elmer’s glue just to walk to the door…Your feelings may be easier to understand by discussing their physicality. It’s important to focus on how your body responds when relaxing. Practicing mindfulness is essential to this aspect of therapy.
  • Imagery: I tend to think in pictures, so this one is easy for me. But, as you combine your actions, emotions, and physicality, memories will begin to stir. Before you flinch…GOOD memories are vital to any treatment plan. Connecting to past success in dealing with current stress is a major focus of my practice. It’s easy to lose sight of how many obstacles you have overcome on your own when you have to seek help from a professional to solve your current problem. Tapping into the memories of the “you” who can slay giants, at age 6 or age 60, builds up great momentum toward success.
  • Cognitions: Keep in mind, BASIC ID is not a literal, step-by-step process. It’s a clever way for therapists (and clients who want to learn) to conceptualize the presenting problem and create a treatment plan for A WHOLE PERSON. Your self-talk, self-image, and self-concept are words with immense power.
  • Interpersonal functioning: So many of my clients come to me because someone else told them they have a problem. Your support network is key. Learning who to have cheering you on and with whom a relationship has run its course is important to managing life’s stressors. How much those people have contributed to your overall mental health, or lack thereof, is essential to creating a path to a strong version of yourself.
  • Biological dimension: Horrible wife confession: I often tease my husband about having low blood sugar when he is a few items short on the “Honey Do” list. It is impossible to parse out the difference between the sensations of illness or medical conditions and those attributed to mental health illnesses. Are you tired because you caught the flu from your son or are you depressed? The beauty of this method of diagnosis and treatment is the permission for therapists to consider both with dismissing either.

Spark Note Summary

People are beautifully complex. The treatment models that try to disqualify thoughts and amplify feelings or focus on relationships without figuring out real sensations are limiting. The healing process truly begins, and lasts, when you can understand and accept all parts of you and your life. It’s not magic. It’s pretty basic…

A Reason, A Season, Or A Lifetime

I have a crew. We have been a dance crew, a tailgate crew, a movie crew…you name it, we have banded together to laugh and cry for the past 22 years. But, we didn’t start that way. "Hey! I'm not just a fair-weather friend. IWe met in college. (Go Cats!) To bore you with the backgrounds would sound like a logic puzzle: 2 of the crew were from NJ, all but one of the crew were roommates at one time, 2 of the crew majored in theater, 2 spent a year abroad in France, blah, blah, blah. We spent four years getting to know each other. At any given time, some were closer to me than others. The magic happened when the cocoon college years were over; that’s where the work began.

It should not come as a surprise that psychologists have studied the art of making friends. It should also not be surprising that their tips for making friends are eerily similar to dating tips. Like most topics, my take on friendships is a mixture of common sense and humorous practical tips.

First, There is a Reason

Mommy friends are a hot commodity. Once you become a parent, you develop an incredible need to find out if YOU are normal, THEY are normal, or LIFE will ever be normal again. The same can be true when you are starting a new job, moving to a new town, or starting a new hobby. Transition is the best chance to start a new friendship. Just be careful not to fall into a few pitfalls:

  • Self-deprecation will never make it out of a friendship’s honeymoon phase. Healthy adults celebrate themselves and their accomplishments,
    Fishing for compliments

    like rewards for surviving the teenage and twenty-nothing years of “ooops”. You are not looking for a cheerleader; you are looking for more a teammate.

  • Strangers don’t know where you’ve been or what it took to get where you are now. (Thank goodness!) New meetings with new friends act like a snapshot of this version of you. This is your chance to become the version of you that has been exiled to “what if world.”

Then, It Has Been a Season

After the reason becomes less urgent, you have accepted your role as a mistake-making, best-intentioned parent…or employee….or neighbor, the NEED for friends also becomes less urgent. You need to decide who you want to know better. You need to ask yourself if there can be more connection with your new friend than the context of your initial meeting. It’s also ok if your new friend becomes a new memory.

  • No more first date rules. You need courage if you want your new buddy to become a real friend. Religion, politics, past relationships…all topics are on the table. When we were younger, our views swung between the ones in line with our parents and those in complete, rebellious opposition. pile-of-shoesThe gift of cultivating friendships as an adult comes from living in the Big Gray World. Your ability to be close to someone with different views is a sign that you have a tremendous capability for empathy. After all, you have had more time than your younger self to wear more shoes…

With Enough Time, Friends Last a Lifetime

I have nothing fancy or funny to say about the depths of love I feel from my crew. It took time. Time together AND time apart. Those days, months, and years let you know if the friends you have made can be responsible with the most precious thing you have to offer…yourself. You cannot measure your friendships in secrets kept or capers completed. Frankly, it is not even important how often you see each other or talk on the phone. You have earned lifelong friends when the time apart has no effect on whatever time you steal together.

Spark Note Summary

Part of life’s roller coaster is choosing who is best to join you on the ride. As you change, you need to find new friends and reconnect with old friends. Accepting that is okay for friends to come and go gives you permission to have fun by meeting new friends. There is always a reason to grow your support network that will carry you through a rough season and become part of the family that you rely on for your lifetime.

“Take Care, TCB”

When I was in elementary school, my best friend and I shut ourselves up in her basement to beat Super Mario Brothers. super-mario-brosWe spent hours listening to Beatles albums (yes, albums…there was a fantastic turntable in that room) while entering secret rooms for unlimited lives to rescue Princess Toadstool from King Koopa. Double whammy of disappointment for my poor mother: I was becoming a gamer and singing every Beatles song I learned. As my mother said, “I didn’t like them when I was a kid; I don’t want to listen to them, now!” Her punishment was my education in Motown. Well played (literally), Mom. Sorry, dear readers, Motown is way better than the Beatles.

aretha-franklinAs I grew into my sassy teens, my mom responded with sassy Motown. See also: Aretha Franklin. Interesting fact: legendary Motown artist Otis Redding wrote one of Aretha’s greatest hits, “Respect.” More interesting fact: Aretha vamped some additional lyrics to put her own stamp on the song, including the oft-misspoken “Take care, TCB”.

TCB, Taking Care of Business

Respect becomes one of the most important values in the life of tweens and teens. Respect, or lack thereof, is the reason venom seeps out of your sweet child’s mouth and anger drips out of their noncompliant bodies. Moms and dads, what are our responses? Show some respect”  or “Respect your elders.”  My response? Take care, TCB:

  • Two-way street: Like all parenting, you have to model appropriate behavior.
    My boys walking, talking, and filling my heart the same way.
    My boys walking, talking, and filling my heart the same way.

    You have to show respect to your tweens and teens by starting to see them as their own, growing individual, separate from your husband’s sense of humor or your facial expressions. You have to shed all stories that start, “When I was your age,” and end, “I did the same thing when I was your age.” It is important to start talking and listening to your tween and teen to meet the new person they are becoming. This will deepen your relationship and earn respect, a necessary step when you have to play the “Mom card” or “Dad card” to prevent your growing child from making a life-changing mistake.

  • Consistency: Respect is a feeling of admiration for someone based on general behaviors or achievements. Becoming a parent is achievement enough to elicit respect from your children, your family, strangers, animals, etc.
    Definition of trust
    Definition of trust

    It is a hard job. Parenting tweens and teens means living your life under a microscope powered by your children. It becomes your job to say what you mean, mean what you say, and behave in a way that is consistent with those words.

  • Boundaries: Don’t get mad, but somehow in showing your child you are a person and learning who they are as a person, you have to maintain clear boundaries. You are still the parent. You are still the top dog, head honcho, and benevolent dictator of their lives. While your tween and teen is behaviorally toddling around, they need your no-nonsense rules and expectations to stay the same as they were when he was a toddler. This is no time to be friends.

Spark Note Summary

As a mom, I give myself a daily medal for keeping my son alive and happy. I am stockpiling all unused treasures to create a monument worthy if I achieve the next level, helping nurture a young man who is kind, observant, empathetic, and respectful. Because these values are crucial to the goodness of our children, it is really hard work. Using these tips to take care of business will help the job.

In Gut We Trust

I’m not sure when it became standard operating procedure to tell the story of how you met your spouse when you first meet people. My snarky retort for “how did you and your husband get together” is ALWAYS: “It’s an awful Nicholas Sparks novel, and I don’t look good in it.” It’s true. thI have known my husband since I was 19, dated him briefly when I was 21-22, but didn’t marry him until a decade later. We stayed friendly over the decade between “it’s not you, it’s me” and “I do”. He came for a visit in 2010. I cooked dinner. We laughed and were ridiculous until he left to return to his primary reason for the trip from Tucson to Chicago, a family visit. The second the door closed behind him, I called my best friend. “I think I just let my husband walk out the door.”

What!?!?! I didn’t know until….I knew!!

Common Memories and Legacies

I spent most of my 20’s learning how to trust my gut. I had spent the previous two decades relying only on my intelligence. I had lost touch with my instinct, my gut. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone. There is so much focus on HOW you know WHAT you know, we have let our instinct diminish.

  • What Is It?: Our instinct is actually the primal part of the brain, commonly referred to as the subconscious, that kept us alert and alive during caveman times. Despite being ignored, your primal brain is responsible for your automatic responses to stimuli. Our brains have been hard wired over centuries to be afraid img_4029of some objects while understanding and accepting others.Here’s an example of (cultural) subconscious. While visiting my family in NJ, my son picked up a phone (that was not ringing) and said, “Hello!” Let’s do the math: I haven’t had a land line in 15 years, and my son is 4 years old. How did he know that was a phone?
  • Where Does It Come From?: Carl Jung would attribute that knowledge to archetypal memories, or a collective unconscious, that exists as the combination between instinct and archetypes. Consider how many people have a fear of snakes. Their instinct tells them to be wary of this creature as a potential sense of harm. Jungian psychologists trace that instinct to the snake
    "Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?" - Indiana Jones
    “Snakes, why does it always have to be snakes?” – Indiana Jones

    as a common character in world religions and mythology that deceives others. In fact, most of you probably took some form of the Myers-Briggs Personality test designed by Jungian psychologists; they are often disguised as employment surveys. Intuition is the second letter of your four letter personality profile.

  • How Is It Helpful? There was a comprehensive study documented by Kelly Turner in her book, Radical Remission, which recounts amazing stories of terminal cancer patients who survived by making decisions based on their intuition. The belief that a strong intuition can create positive situations and outcomes has even made its way into the world of business. Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink uses the term “rapid cognition” instead of intuition. (I assume he wants to get the connotations of hippie-belief and mysticism away from his best selling books.) Card tricks, car buying, and marriage have all been researched through the lens of intuition. The results don’t change: people who are advised by their brain but decide with their gut are happier than those who out-think their instincts. 

Spark Note Summary

Your instincts are primal. Your primal self is emotional and relational. It will be easier to trust others when you trust yourself, trust your gut. The best way to nourish and nurture your gut is to disconnect from our devices and reconnect with our friends and family. (After texting, tweeting, and sharing this blog, of course…)

Just Your Typical Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich

This is the millennial version of a "doozy"
This is the millennial definition of a “doozy”

This week has been a doozy. While dancing at a wedding, I broke my foot. Nothing special there; apparently, it is called a “dancer’s fracture.” (Side lesson to be learned: keep your heels on because flip flops give no protection against missteps.) My crew took care of me with ice and Advil, and we all finished the night still smiling and laughing. I’m now in a fashionable boot hobbling around for the next 4-6 weeks.

Normally, my paramedic husband would have swooped in and triaged my injury. But, he was on Daddy Duty at home. We were supposed to sneak away for our first weekend, child free in four years. Unfortunately, we were unable to import our go-to babysitter, my mother. She was sidelined due to a family history of high blood pressure that decided that this very weekend was the one that no medication or exercise could decrease to an acceptable level for airline travel.

So, I’m hobble-chasing my toddler in between check-up calls to my mother. Hold your applause and sighs, my beloved readers. This snapshot of caring for a child AND a parent has become common place. Welcome to the Sandwich Generation!

Feeling Squished?

I cannot take credit for the term, “sandwich generation.” A social worker named Dorothy Miller first used this moniker to describe women in their late 30’s and early 40’s who were taking care of aging parents at the same time they were raising younger children. sandwich-generationA poll conducted by the  Pew Research Center in 2013 discovered that 15% of people from ages 40-59 provide some financial support to an aging parent and a grown child. My concern, and newest focus for my private family counseling, is for the 38% of those same men and women whose grown children and parents rely on them for emotional support. When gifted with the opportunity to provide intergenerational counseling, here are some of the key concepts I hope I leave behind:

  • The Earlier, The Better: Conversations about aging have a terrible reputation for being morose and pessimistic. That is because we all wait too late to talk about any life change until we are in reactionary mode. Flip the switch! Be proactive by talking to aging parents before they are elderly. Don’t waste time talking about living wills or advanced directives, either. Spend every conversation laughing and smiling about the quality of life your parents have developed and take mental notes (if not physical notes) about how to preserve that quality of life. There is a fantastic card game created to start the discussion by the non-profit organization, Aging With Dignity, perfect for a family game night. I played it with my husband (similar to a game of Go Fish) and learned his top priority for aging is to be kept clean. It’s more important to him than trusting doctors or being with friends. He wants to be clean so he can always be touched. Lesson learned: 50 years (I hope) before this becomes a medical directive, I spend more time holding his hand, rubbing his arm…and I’m teaching our son that newfound family value by modeling what makes Daddy feel loved. How’s that for intergenerational counseling?
  • The Answer to Every “Why” Is “Once Upon a Time”: There are so many questions that crop up when one generation sits with another. Often, it is the younger parent asking why their childhood turned out a certain way in the hopes of not repeating the outcome for their child. (Give it a minute — intergenerational counseling is only complicated when I try to explain it in the abstract.) These questions get more uncomfortable
    "Maybe it's not about the happy ending. Maybe it's about the story."
    “Maybe it’s not about the happy ending. Maybe it’s about the story.”

    when the plans for an aging parent are being discussed. Why do you want to stay at home? Why don’t you want to give up your driver’s license? The answer is in a memory from your parent’s childhood or experience about how it feels when they saw others growing old. Get used to listening to “why” instead of judging it; within the silence of listening comes the calm of understanding.

  • We Are Family…Still!: If you aren’t singing the Sister Sledge song now, you should be. And, pay attention to the lyrics. The family dynamics that existed when you were growing up, my brother is the favorite, Mom bakes to avoid conflict, Dad defers his opinions to Mom, etc., will return with renewed fervor when Mom and Dad need more help. It doesn’t matter which child lives closest or knows more about the family medical history. The way your family of origin was set up will dictate the dynamics of how caring for aging parents play out now.

Spark Note Summary

Intergenerational counseling is more than legal rights and medical decisions for your parent and more than detailed educational planning for your child. Talking about the quality of life you want as an aging adult sets up the values that will become the legacy for your child to inherit. Don’t BE a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…MAKE one for yourself…and your mom and teach your son to make one for you….and your husband…

Just A Skip In the Record…the Record…the Record

record-playerYes, the title of the blog reveals my age. It also reveals my love of my beloved 80s, and my ability to make those of you hiding your love for our decade of crazy coming-of-age smile.

I hope that smile continues as you read (or re-read) the first post that started it all. I’ve been out of town and out of time this week. So, my loyal readers, please accept my apologies for re-posting the first blog for Lessons Learned. Next week is going to be a doozy…trust me!

Validation in the Carpool Lane

Tuesdays are my market days. They are also the days my husband catches up on sleep from Monday’s day job before Tuesday’s night job. I try to sneak some quality time in with my husband by convincing him there will be a delicious home cooked breakfast lovingly prepared once I bring back the groceries.

First confession: although mostly true, this deal is to make sure I have help unpacking the car and the groceries.

Second confession: this week, I lied about breakfast. By the time I got home, it was much more like lunch.

I know, it was a white lie. But, this week, I’m not talking about the many shades of lies. I want to explain WHY I lied. You see, I was late with the routine of food shopping and breakfast making because I was chatting with the three moms I see at drop-off every drop off

You know the scene: the same group of parents (can be moms or dads) pulls into their usual parking spaces, can be overheard using the same pleas and cheers to get their children out of the car, and gives you the same nod or smile or quip of understanding. Solidarity. I wouldn’t call us friends. We don’t socialize outside of the few minutes we have after the kids go inside of school or while we are waiting for them to come out. Those few minutes, however, are not gabbing about recipes or weather. These mommies and I are engaging in group therapy about the trials, tribulations, and emotional upheaval of parenting special needs children.

Traditional Group Therapy

Group therapy is an essential part in the treatment plan for some mental illnesses. Struggles with addiction and anger, for example, depend on the dynamic of group therapy. In grad school, our textbook for group therapy was The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy by Irvin D. Yalom. Since there are not SparkNotes (believe me, I looked), I can sum up some of the major benefits of group therapy that are discussed:

group therapy

  • Hopefulness:Therapy groups contain members at different stages of the treatment process. Seeing people who are coping or recovering gives hope to those at the beginning of the process.
  • Universality:Being part of a group of people who have the same experiences helps people see that what they are going through is universal and that they are not alone.
  • Information sharing:Group members can help each other by sharing information.
  • Self-esteem:Group members can experience a boost in self-esteem, confidence, and self-efficacy when they share their strengths and help others in the group.
  • Cohesiveness:Because the group is united in a common goal, members gain a sense of belonging and acceptance.
  • Catharsis:Sharing feelings and experiences with a group of people can help relieve pain, guilt, or stress.

(There is a great article that details more of these positive outcomes on for anyone who wants to learn more.)

DIY Groups

 Feeling more hopeful, emotionally stronger, and more connected seems like a dream. There are all kinds of ways to join a traditional group in order to chase this unicorn, MeetUp, Facebook groups, and PTOs. Our school district even has a monthly meeting where my mommy group is invited to listen to speakers and get information on our kids’ challenges while the district provides babysitting. How dreamy, right? How many times have my carpool friends and I attended? None. Top down groups like the ones offered by districts, community agencies, or advocacy groups often miss the mark for those of us in the grind. The times never work for our work or family schedules. The topics may be poignant but not the help we need on the day we need it. I don’t need to know the benefits of occupational therapy or the latest changes in disability law on the day my son decided to throw a fit and stare at the sky in the middle of the parking lot.

Spark Note Summary

No man is an island. It takes a village. Whatever motto makes sense to you as long as the message is clear: you need help. We all do. Your support circle is right in front of you…smiling and mouthing “I know” in the next parking spot over.

Can ANYONE Follow the Bouncing Ball?

I’m not really a do-er. Don’t get me wrong – I’m really busy. (See also: a working mom.) multitasking momBut, when it comes to down time, I talk a good game. I would love to craft something that makes my house more of a home. I need to stretch and meditate during yoga to let the toxins out of my body. Instead, I’m a self-proclaimed couch potato. Except….

My fingers are busy…

They are fast forwarding shows on my DVR.

They are clicking on Facebook and swiping back to Angry Birds. (Don’t judge; I’m still playing Angry Birds and shunning all invitations to Candy Crush and Pokeman Go.)

They are tapping on Safari to load my tracking info from Amazon faster.

Like most Americans, I suffer from cultural ADHD.

Following the Code: Nature vs. Nurture

I am surprised how often I am asked about “real” ADHD. My answer, always careful not to offend, is that there have been a lot of environmental factors, our ever-growing technology, that may have contributed to the over-diagnosis of an actual struggle for thousands of children and adults.

I was first taught about ADHD when I was studying to be a teacher. It was the latest example of a real mental illness that had become mainstream due to the dedication of altruistic doctors who felt terrible about not recognizing this illness earlier. Added to the need to correct earlier mistakes was the near-immediate impact of an early drug; Ritalin showed a marked improvement in handwriting! kid writingNow, parents were demanding the miracle drug that calmed down their sons (yes, mostly boys) long enough to care about capital letters touching the top and bottom lines of their paper.

ADHD diagnoses rose 43% between 2003 and 2011. The newest version of the DSM (released in May 2013), the manual that details names and criteria for mental health disorders, has included new guidelines for diagnosing and treating adults. But, when you actually examine the criteria, you will see that ADHD is a very specific combination of struggles.

  • Inattention: Someone with ADHD must check off at least 6 of the following attributes for a minimum of 6 months. Not only does inattention have to last persistently and consistently, but these behaviors should rise to the occasion of being inappropriate for age or developmental level. Some of the qualifying behaviors are: failure to pay close attention/makes careless mistakes; doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly; doesn’t follow through on tasks; and losing things necessary to complete tasks (glasses, paperwork, etc.). I ask you: anyone know of a pre-teen who can’t check these boxes? That’s. Not. ADHD.
  • Hyperactivity and Impulsivity: Another mega-list of behaviors that must add up to at least 6, over 6 months, and are not explained away by being THAT age. This list reads like a daily journal for my 4-year-old.
    The face of ADHD?
    The face of ADHD?

    I have actually met a four-year-old on ADHD medication; it’s hard to figure out how that toddler qualified. Here are some behaviors that may check boxes for ADHD: fidgeting, running and/or climbing, loud participation in “leisure activities”, and excessive talking or blurting out.

There is another set of criteria that involve caveats, like behaviors that interfere with typical activities and timelines for initial onset of behaviors. IF you can still qualify for a diagnosis of ADHD, there are a bunch of permutations of that diagnosis. I think of these like the rules for spelling: “i” before “e” except after “c” and if it sounds like “ay”…

 Spark Notes Summary

Our big, supercomputer brains are always being rewired, by diet, supplements, medication, or age. Certainly, our fast-paced, technologically-driven environment can simulate a real mental health disorder. Unplugging your technology gives your brain its chance to unplug and slow down. Oh, and you know the bouncing ball on the screen that you follow to sing along favorite songs, I’m always two lines ahead…out of place and out of tune.

Live Outside the Box

My son is obsessed with the Madagascar movies, all three of them. At any given time, you can hear my husband and I singing, “Circus-afro, circus-afro, circus-afro..polka dot, polka dot, polka dot…AFRO!afro martyIf you haven’t seen them, you don’t have a toddler. If you have, you will agree that one of the most thought-provoking, adult-oriented comments comes in the first movie when Marty, the zebra, is questioning whether he is black with white stripes or white with black stripes. Did I mention that Marty is voiced by Chris Rock?

charlize theron
Charlize Theron, an African-American

Chris Rock. The comedian who dares address race in his stand-up and made an entire documentary about black hair. Yes, I said “black” instead of African-American. Here is why (and what I taught all of my students): Charlize Theron is African-American. She was born in South Africa. But, her strikingly beautiful blond hair and blue eyes are not what the government is looking for when they ask the public to check the box on all forms of paperwork.

Race has always been part of the national conversation, but as reports of Black Lives Matter protests fill our news, and statistics literally line our news feeds, it is impossible not to address the psychology of race.

How (Blank) Are You?

On my website, I confess to being a snob about bagels because I was raised Jewish on the east coast. There is a certain amount of intensity for East Coast Jews that I recognize and embrace. But, I always put a verbal asterisk in a conversation about race by jokingly stating there must be some maple in my family tree to account for my tremendous booty. I also learned early in my career to NEVER call a Hispanic girl a Latina. With all elements of identity, race, religion, gender, sexuality, etc., there is a question as to how close you are to the generic stereotype.

The clinical term to describe different ways people identify with a specific culture is called acculturation. Similar to the discussion about identity in my post, “I Want My Son to Be a Duck When He Grows Up,” each type of acculturation includes factors like age, family traditions, and community. As in all aspects of my counseling, I want to highlight the positive traits of each possible choice.

  • Assimilation: choosing a new culture to REPLACE your native culture. There is a plethora of hateful words spat at these people to highlight their otherness. But, there is a reason the cliche “when in Rome…” exists. The choice to bathe in a new culture shows a brave, inquisitive nature.
  • Separation: fiercely adhering to your native culture by SECLUDING yourself from your host culture.chinatown American cities have Little Italy, Chinatown, Little Bucharest…these are all big examples of creating a home within a home. This decision demonstrates an admirable level of loyalty.
  • Integration: COMBINING both cultures, native and host. This is the mullet of cultural identity. Managing this choice proves you are an optimistic compromiser.
  • Marginalization: REJECTING both cultures, native and host. One of my dearest friends was raised Irish Catholic, spends a lot of time chatting with atheists, and is marrying a Russian Jew. He identifies himself as a buddhist. Those who follow his choice follow his passions for learning and embracing the unknown.

Spark Note Summary

I understand the need for research and statistics that drives the government to ask us to check a box to identify who we are. My problem is that I believe who we are is based on what we do. Next time a form asks, perhaps what YOU do is refuse to fit into a box.

Becoming the Master of the Universe

As an in-home counselor, I travel…a lot. I was coming home from the city when I noticed a delivery truck on a side street. I was stuck in traffic, so my mind stayed with the relatively common sight for a while. I was a little amazed about how and why all of the strangers in their cars (in a neighborhood with a reputation for violence) all complied with a scrawny man directing traffic. He wasn’t a cop! He wasn’t even a crossing guard with an official vest! Then, it came to me. He. Was. He-Man!

he manStop shaking your heads, fellow children of the 80’s. You know exactly who I mean. He-Man, the Prince of Eternia, would “hold aloft his magic sword” and say, “By the power of Grayskull!” The glittering cloud that changed the boy-next-door to a muscle-clad, gentleman hero was not the real magic. The real magic happened when he held the sword, post-transformation, and said, “I HAVE THE POWER!” Yes! We can all have the power!

…The Power to Fight Depression and Anxiety

Self-efficacy is your belief that you have the power, the ability, to solve a problem and achieve a task. We have all experienced periods of wavering self-efficacy. That’s “normal”. For the approximately 40 million American’s suffering with anxiety and depression, self-efficacy is a key factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It is not practical to teach self-efficacy. It is possible, however, to recognize when you are “psyching yourself out” by learning about some mind games you play with yourself. (We call these cognitive distortions around the professional water cooler.):

  • All-or-Nothing: things are in black and white categories. Your brain is starting to lose perspective and becoming too anxious to slow down.
  • Overgeneralization looks like a downward spiral

    Overgeneralization: a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat. Guilty as charged on this one; all it takes is for one thing to go wrong before I start “noticing” all of the things that have spiraled out of my control.

  • Mental filter: pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively. Those of you that live near nature will recognize this inability to see the forest for the trees. How can anything around you be manageable when all you see is the negative in front of you?

    tunnel vision
    Mental filters give you tunnel vision.
  • Disqualifying The Positive: positive experiences “don’t count”. Imagine someone who has won the lottery but trips out of the bank after depositing their millions; if experiencing this cognitive distortion, all that person will tell you about his day is how he embarrassingly tripped in public.
  • Magnification (catastrophizing): Exaggerate the importance of things; your “whoops”  or someone else’s “hooray” both register a 10+ on a scale of 1-5.
  • Minimization OR “binocular trick”: inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny. The opposite of magnification, this “skill” is the ability to evaluate your own desirable qualities, the ones everyone reminds you they love and admire about you, to a microscopic piece of shmoo on your ego.

You know which one of these, or two, or three, applies to you. If not, don’t worry. One share of this blog with friends and family will have them all running to you to tell you who you are based on what you do. Yay, family bonding activity?!?

Spark Note Summary

superheroYour supercomputer of a brain can convince you that you are capable of great things. It can also trick you into thinking that you are powerless to change. Recognizing those tricks will help you maintain a strong sense of self-efficacy letting your super brain persuade you to achieve super goals and embrace your inner super hero.