Letting Go of Painful Memories

Health & Wellness Series

Things happen in our lives that leave emotional scars that are difficult to let go of.  Past experiences that occupy our thoughts and keep us from living a fulfilled life.  As we continue the health & wellness series, Dr Susan Nicholas helps us understand what we are going through and how we can recondition the mind through introspection to let go of the painful past so that we can live in the present.

For more information on Dr Susan Nicholas visit her site here.

Music featured in this episode is:  “Sullen Faced” by Ketsa under creative commons license.

A Star Child Suffers Winter Blues

I am trapped inside a fishbowl which, in turn, is trapped inside a snow globe. Before moving to the Syracuse, NY area some 25 years ago, I never considered myself a son of “the south”. Having been born and raised in Baltimore, MD, we considered ourselves as a north-southern city if there is such a thing. But southern is now how I see myself. The further north I go, the more southern I become.

Winter is traditionally a tough time for me. I was a child of the outdoors, an explorer, experimenter, and a menace. During the calendar’s coldest month of January, the average high temperature in Baltimore is 41 degrees Fahrenheit. In Syracuse the average high is 32 degrees. When you add windchill and lake effect snow on top of that, the affects of winter are a harsher assault on my genetic code. And these winters are long. Much longer than my soul can bear.

“Take up skiing,” they say. “Try ice skating or snowshoeing,” recommend others. For a Star Child born in May who believes the Universe’s greatest gift to mankind is the summer sun, you might as well suggest I swim with alligators. I remain obdurate in my refusal to embrace wonderland.

The deep cold of winter here has a profound affect on my psyche. It’s pretty enough; the snow that is. Postcard pretty even. But a 1 degree morning like this very morning in January is as equally disabling as it is beautiful. The near back-breaking snow shoveling and frozen limbs limit my exposure to 20 minuets of outdoor time. Enough time to shovel a path for my short-legged dogs to handle their business and enough time to create a trail leading to the bird feeders to care for my winged, wild pets.

Crestfallen with each snowflake settling on the ground, I’ve come to accept that I suffer from more than just “cabin fever”. That it is, more clinically speaking, Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. I didn’t need to spend money on a shrink to come up with that one either. The associated symptoms of depression, social withdrawal, hopelessness, and fatigue align closely with my personal experience. The noticeable mood swings, the desire to opt out of holidays, the crawling out of bed when I’d rather stay hidden beneath the blanket all point to SAD. And the only thing guaranteed to bring me true joy is a sunny day with temps above 70. The kind of day that I can wander about, soaking in views, receiving all that my environment has to offer. A seat on a park bench. A songbird composing notes. Wind rustling leaves. A walk around the lake. These are spirit lifting experiences for me.

Treatment options for SAD include exercise (it helps a bit); medications (which I refuse); and therapies like cognitive behavioral therapy chronotherapy, and light therapy (none of which soothes my inner skeptic). Instead I chose a far more expensive treatment option. My wife Angela and I purchased a ocean-side condo in Florida. And while the holiday spent there this year was nothing short of magical, here I sit in Syracuse in January on a 1 degree day lamenting winter.

I plan to hit the gym at some point today for a pick-me-up, watch a soccer match later for mid-day entertainment, and begin planning for my next 2 therapy sessions in Florida this coming March and April. All in an effort to devise a plan to survive my 25th winter in the Winterfell of North America.

There is no real purpose to this post other than for me to finally, after 25 years, give voice to my sadness and acknowledge my difficulties.

My wife is inviting me now to get a manicure and pedicure and, at this point, I’m willing to try something new. If you also suffer from SAD and have words of wisdom to share, I’m all ears.

Thanks for listening.

The Road to 50: Useless Information

I believe I mentioned before that my wife Angela often says that my head is full of useless information. She claims that the data takes up important gigabytes of storage in my mental CPU meant for meaningful and useful content. She also says that I tend to vilify her in my blogs and she might be right. But not this time. Her assertion, in this case, is likely on point. I have a curious mind and I tend to hold on to information that cannot possibly advance my cause in the workplace or life in general. Or can it? I’ll come back to that. For now, here are some of my favorite bits of “useless” information:

The Bowerbird has swag
The Bowerbird has swag

1) One species of Bowerbird in Australia has a unique way of picking up chicks. The male Bowerbird builds intricate structures and decorates its nest with blue items. I am fascinated by the specificity of color. Is it not amazing that a bird will go through great lengths to find blue items just to get laid? That’s my kind of dude animal (or dudimal).

2) The Deepest point on earth is the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. The deepest depth known to us to date is just under 7 miles. A long way down. Our oceans are relatively unexplored compared to the rest of our planet. I’d like to see as much interest in exploring the deep seas as we show in exploring space. Secretly, the little boy in me hopes they discover a real Godzilla down there.

 

 

Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars...
Fly me to the moon, Let me play among the stars…

3) On the Saturn moon Titan, the atmosphere is so thick and the gravity so low that a human could theoretically fly by flapping wings attached to their arms. Fly on Titan? Sign me up. Titan is the only object, other than Earth, in our solar system that has stable bodies of surface liquid.

4) Ancient Egyptians used crocodile poop as a contraceptive. Don’t ask me how I know this “crap”, I just do. I read it somewhere. About 2000 B.C. Egyptian women swallowed croc pellets for planned parenting. Croc dung  apparently contains alkaline like many modern contraceptive drugs so it just might have worked. If a woman told me she ate crocodile poo, I wouldn’t touch her with a ten foot pole. And there in lies the foundation of its true success as a contraceptive.

 

 

Dance with me Andromeda
Dance with me Andromeda

5) We are on a collision course with Andromeda. Seriously. In approximately 4 billion years (give or take a few hundred million), our Milky way galaxy will collide with our galactic neighbors in the Andromeda galaxy. Head on, full merge, galactic hug-fest. And our sun is predicted to survive the merger. This totally blows my mind and I hope that I am around to witness it. I’ll be soil by then but I hope that I am soil with consciousness.

Can this seemingly “useless” information benefit me in some way? The answer is yes. Research has been highlighting the benefits of life-long learning as a prescription for a longer, healthier life for years. A stimulated mind promotes a healthy brain and even an aging brain can grow new pathways and connections when challenged and stimulated. I’m sure that I will continue to take classes and perhaps take on the challenge of learning a new language after I turn 50, but I really enjoy learning about things that appear to have no impact or benefit on my daily life. That is until I find a way to work some of it into a conversation at a cocktail party. Angela acknowledges that my knowing a little bit about a lot might make me an interesting cocktail party attendee.

How about you? Do you have a favorite bit of useless information stored in your memory banks? Do you engage in life-long learning activities? Feel free to share.

The Road to 50: Heat Check

Limp Noodle

There’s a term that sports announcers like to use when referring to a shooter’s hot streak – the heat check.  The reference relates to the next shot that a shooter takes to test just how hot he/she is.  I too have a “heat check”.  It happens when I reach for my wife Angela under the covers to see if I can generate a physical reaction.  An equipment check if you will.  A good portion of the time, I am less interested in intimacy at the moment and more interested in the equipment appearing in good working order.

Virility is a major concern of men over 50.  We are far more concerned with having strength, stamina, energy, and a strong sex drive than we are in the degradation of youthful appearance.  The heat check, for me, is a way to gauge my virility.  Lately, I find that recovery from vigorous workouts is taking a bit longer, my energy is down, and I think about sex far less than I ever have.  And I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t a concern.  This is my new reality.

MenTalk

It’s a concern of many men but we just don’t talk about it.  When men talk about sex, the conversation is full of half-truths and gross exaggerations.  Rarely does the discussion center around issues or concerns.  I had a recent conversation with a friend who shared some of the same concerns and described experiencing similar psychological and physiological changes.  It was comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in the journey.

The saying is that men think about sex every 8 seconds.  While that claim has never officially been proven or disproven, I can guarantee you that it is a lot.  At least in our teens, 20’s and 30’s.  My friend pointed out that if we had focused our thinking and directed our energy on other things rather than the thought and pursuit of sex, we might be brain surgeons or astrophysicists today.

holding-hands-

When the fellas get together to talk about sports, their golf game, careers and family life, here’s what we are NOT talking about:

Andropause – the male version of menopause.  Yes, there is such a thing.  Also referred to as “aging male syndrome” (AMS), andropause happens roughly the same time that women experience menopause: somewhere between the ages of 35-70, but most commonly experienced in the early 50’s.  In its simplest form, AMS is the decrease of the male hormone testosterone.  Symptoms include a loss of energy, lower sex drive, decreasing strength and endurance, mood changes and erections that are less strong.  All difficult things to discuss with your homie.  I can imagine the conversation, “Hey Joe, how’s it hanging?”  “These days it’s hanging low and a little depressed.  How about you?”  Crickets.

Erectile Dysfunction –  While not a direct result of aging, impotence can come with age due to increase risk.  It can be caused by mental, emotional, or physical factors.  It can also be a side effect of certain medications or excessive drinking.  Concerns about developing ED could lead a man to perform the occasional “heat check” on his wife.  How do you even start a conversation about this with another dude?  It’s easy actually.  Just ask. “Yo, how’s your sex life these days?”  And hope that he is completely honest with you.  According to the National Institute of Health, 5% of 40 year-old men suffer from ED.  So if you’ve just finished a full-court basketball game with the fellas, bring up the issues of ED, and they all say there is no issue…the shortest person on the court is lying.

Attachment – Here’s an interesting one.  Apparently, as testosterone levels decrease and oxytocin levels stay the same, men tend to attach more to their partners after sex.  Testosterone can drive sex and interest in sex while oxytocin (the love hormone) is responsible for bonding partners and children.  A 2012 study that increased oxytocin in monogamous men found that they were attaching themselves more to their partners after sex.  So the conversation after shooting hoops goes something like this, “Yo, want to grab a brew or something later?”  “Naw man.  I think I’m going to stay home and cuddle.”  Crickets.

Recovery time – It used to be that the amount of time that you needed to recover for round two with your babe was about 15 minutes or so.  That was in your 20’s.  According to the Male Health Center, the “refractory period”, the time it takes to achieve another erection, can take 24 hours or more for men in their 50’s.    But if you’re like me, you don’t even want to think about it until next weekend any way.

The Premie – A University of Chicago study showed that 31% of men in their 50’s experience premature ejaculation.  There are two primary reasons for this: anxiety and penis-centered sex.  Penis-centered sex puts more pressure on the male organ than it can handle.  Actually, that sounds kind of fun, huh?  Anxiety comes with concerns over performance.  The pressure is daunting and can lead one to “fire one off” well before he or his partner is ready.

The possibility of interesting and helpful conversation exist if we would assiduously share our experiences and concerns with one another.  One thing’s for sure, I’m not telling you mine unless you tell me your’s first.

The Road to 50 (Intro)

Road

 

Back in May of 2014, I wrote a somewhat humorous post on the angst of turning 49.  Some 8 months later, I now sit 119 days away from turning 50 and the angst is still very real.  Considering that most of my friends and associates are about the same age, this is a conversation that I have had on numerous occasions.  Inevitably, the “age is just a number” comment comes into play.  As does, “you are only as old as you feel.”  To which I say, “bullshit”!

Despite what nonsense people spout, 50 is not the new 40.  50 is 50 and it has a psychological impact on you whether you admit it or not.  My mind is too curious to carry on about my day, about my life as if nothing changes when that half-century mark hits.  I want to know what to expect both physically and emotionally in the months and years that follow.  I hope that, in understanding the possible impact, I am better able to deal with the change in life.  The Man Up blog will chronicle my journey of discovery and neuroticism, my thought process and emotional vicissitudes from today until May 20 (the 50 mark).  I hope you will join me and share your experiences as well.

50For a lot of men, the concern of aging isn’t out of fear of getting old.  It’s a fear of losing potency.  The image of ourselves that we hold on to is one of a strapping young, virile man with energy and stamina for days and it does not jibe with the image that we see in the mirror.  The number 50 is a marker.  A midlife marker that distorts our self-image.  We’ve likely lived more than half of our lives with key markers along the way: finishing school; getting that first career job, pair bonding, child rearing etc. Those markers are ones that we expect and plan for.  For many, at least for me, 50 represents the unknown.  How will my career wind down?  What will I do in retirement?  Can I retire the way I want?  Do I have enough resources?  Will I be alone?  When will I be alone?  When will I lose virility?  That thing about 50 being the new 40 is so untrue.  At 40, you still have relatively young children, a good 25 years or so of work ahead of you,  perhaps even another career move, and many more things to accomplish.  With 50, the window becomes shorter.  Younger, more talented people enter the workplace with highly developed skills.  Your years of experience in the new technology environment becomes less valued.  Technology itself begins to slip away from you.  Your music choices become more nostalgic.  People start calling you “sir”.  Dinner out starts at 6 o’clock.  You’re in bed by 9 p.m.  Multivitamins, Ensure and adult diapers are on the horizon.

50 one

 

50 represents change and, for men, change is not growth.  For men, change represents the loss of something.  In this case, the loss of time, the loss of virility, the loss of potency, the loss of effectiveness.  I feel like I can still walk up to a young Mike Tyson and kick his ass…in my mind.  But it doesn’t reconcile with my cracking bones, aching feet and arthritic knuckles.  Yeah, 50 is screwing with me.  I’m not going to lie.

For me, 50 is going to be a time of self-reflection.  From what will I derive satisfaction?  How can I be a better lover?  A better father?  A greater contributor to life, community, and business.  I will learn to live with a new reality.  Cope with the aches and pains and mood swings.

Quite a bleak outlook, I know.  I also know that we have advantages over our fathers and grandfathers before us.  We have better healthcare so we are living longer and healthier.  We have more tools in the tool box like the internet and access to research, studies and articles.  Greater income to do more things and acquire more shit.  We also have an openness and willingness to talk about how we feel and what we are going through with our partners and friends.

In the weeks to come, I will dive deep into the abyss to discover what lies ahead for me over the next 10-15 years.  Perhaps I’ll learn a few things that will help me cope and better prepare or discover the secrets to juvenescence.  Or consider it all rejectamenta and just drink more wine.

If you’ve already crossed that marker, I’d love to hear about your experience.  If 50 is staring you in the face, I’d equally love to know your concerns, if any.

Until next time Hominids…keep it on the good foot!

Have We Forgotten How To Have Fun?

Apes Laugh

Let’s face it. This stage in our lives can often be stressful. We have high pressure jobs that are demanding, vicissitudes in our economic situations, family responsibilities, sleep deprivation and overcrowded roads full of road-rage potential. Stress, as mentioned in my two previous posts, is a normal and damaging part of our lives.  Prolonged stress can pose significant health risks.

Stress

Your body is made to react to stressful situations in ways that would keep you safe from predators and other dangers. It releases adrenaline and Cortisol which increases heart rate, elevates blood pressure and boost energy supplies. When stressers are constant and you feel under attack, your fight-or-flight reaction stays on and your body reacts accordingly. The result can be in the form of anxiety, depression, digestive problems, heart disease, sleep deprivation, weight gain and memory and concentration impairment. This according to the Mayo Clinic.

Audrey

 

I love people who make me laugh. I honestly think it’s the thing I like most, to laugh. It cures a multitude of ills. It’s probably the most important thing in a person.

I’m always struck by that quote from legendary actress Audrey Hepburn because it is so true. Study upon study shows the health benefits of laughter and fun. Humor lightens our burdens, inspires hope, connects you to others, and keeps you rooted. We know this stuff.  It is not a new revelation. But somehow, it seems to me, that we have forgotten how to laugh, how to have fun. Our society is far more sensitive to racy jokes. Social media feeds the “gotcha” reaction to everything and anything considered not politically correct.  We are a more uptight people who need surgery to remove the stick from our collective asses.

The benefits of leisure and recreation are clear but are we taking full advantage of that knowledge? Are we having fun? Are we laughing enough?  Or do we confine it to the one or two weeks of vacation time each year? Here are a few tips to get us back on the fun train:

Maintain a sense of humor. If you can’t laugh at yourself, you’re an uptight bore. Take a moment to laugh at the absurd things in your life.

Spend time with friends that bring out the laughter.

Engage your partner. Avoid bitching and complaining about your ass-hole boss or your annoying office mate. Share stories about amusing things that happened throughout the day. Like the dude that had toilet paper sticking out of his pants and no one told him.

Avoid laughing at the expense of others. Aside from toilet-paper-dude, don’t be cruel with your laughter. You’ll only feel guilty later.

Watch a comedy show or movie when feeling stressed. Sometimes, you need not follow up a stressful day with The Walking Dead.

Find a funny video on line and share it. There are a million of them out there.

Act like a child. Who knows better how to have fun than our children. Have a water balloon fight in the back yard or some other messy activity.

Run around the house naked and shake your butt in the mirror. Trust me it works. But only if you are home alone. Or maybe not. You decide on your comfort level with that one.

PryorShout out to those who spent a lifetime bringing out the laughter in us all: Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Bernie Mac, Gilda Radner, Bill Cosby, John Belushi, Eddie Murphy, Cheech & Chong, Don Rickles, Phyllis Diller…the list goes on.

I’d love to hear about your idea of fun. What makes you laugh? Do you have a hobby? What are your silly moments? Can you make milk spill out of your nose? Show me.

In the meantime, enjoy this funny video. It breaks the rule about laughing at someone else’s expense but, he is a dictator so screw him.

 

Mood Indigo – Part 2

 

Green Lakes Park
Green Lakes State Park

I imagine that the things that cause sadness also cause stress. As noted in part one of Mood Indigo, we as a society are a pretty blue bunch. We find less joy in our careers than many other societies around the world. Most likely because most of us are not doing what we really want to be doing. Hell, it may not even be an option for some.

Given the sad state we find ourselves cocooned in, adding stress to the picture can only increase the fragility of our mental being. But there are things that we can do to counterbalance the negative affects.

This is not new stuff but it is stuff we often forget about. I’m speaking of the power of green space. Researchers are discovering, with each passing day, that surrounding yourself with nature can be one of the most powerful stress-relievers available. And its mostly free.

Did you know that those who live in areas with the most amount of green space show lower levels of cortisol and their self-reported feeling of stress is lower than those who spend more time in urban settings?  Catherine Ward Thompson, director of the OPENspace Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland says that getting outside forces you to get a little exercise which is a natural energy boost.

It is said that focusing on natural scenes gives voluntary attention a rest and allows involuntary attention to take over and recharge the human psyche. In other words…chill the f*#! out!  Cities with high numbers of parks are reportedly having more success battling obesity and diabetes.  Even relatively passive contact with nature-such as viewing it from a window- lowers blood pressure and anxiety levels.

So what do you do?  It’s as easy as a walk in the park really.

You must find your go-to spot. I have 2 of them. While I do have windows in my office, one is roughly 4 feet off the ground and looks onto another building. The other provides a view of the landscape outside our building. I need only glance over my left shoulder for a glimpse of leaves and flowers bending to the force of a breeze. But on a particularly stressful day at work, I take a stroll across my University’s quadrangle. The trees, grass and ivy covered buildings provide a sense of peace and calming.

Syracuse University Quad
Syracuse University Quad

On a sunny day, when it is quiet there, it’s like floating on a cloud. And the affects are far from ephemeral. The peace stays with me for quite some time for the remainder of the day. I am also fortunate to have a rose garden just two blocks from my office. There I think through issues or think about nothing at all. Nothing but the wonderful variety of roses to behold.

My favorite thinking spot
My favorite thinking spot

Perhaps one of my favorite places in the world is Green Lakes State Park which lies just a mile and a half from my home. Acres and acres of woods, trails, two lakes and a championship golf course provide the perfect natural setting. I go often after work and on weekends to run, walk the dogs or quietly stroll and think. One of my favorite thinking spots is the bench pictured above.

The trail circles around both lakes and branches off too
The trail circles around both lakes and branches off too

A stroll on the scenic trail around Green and Round lakes is good for people watching or nature watching. Brief chats with other visitors is also an added benefit.

Fallen trees scattered about the shore line is beautiful in itself
Fallen trees scattered about the shore line is beautiful in itself

The park staff take great care in leaving things in their natural state which makes for a more authentic natural experience.

Good for family time
Good for family time

While I do enjoy my alone time, my more favored moments are when my family joins me on the journey. We talk and laugh and connect in ways that you can’t in front of the television.

These natural spaces need to be protected in order to preserve our own health. Our physical and mental health are dependent on them.

If you want less stress and more happiness in your life, don’t take green space for granted. In fact, be more strategic with how you incorporate it. Do anything that you would normally do inside on the outside. Eat a meal outside or trade a treadmill run for an outdoor run. Surf the net on your patio. Do you normally prescribe an afternoon coffee pick-me-up? Try walking on a nice day instead. Move a casual or work related chat with a colleague outdoors.

Spring and summers in the northeast are very short. I try to take advantage of as much outdoor time as I can. I am a much happier person when I do.

Do you have a go-to green space?  I’d love to hear about it.

Mood Indigo – Part 1

sadness

Hey guys.

If you’re feeling blue, you are not alone. A recent Galup study shows that American well-being has not improved in six years and actually took a tumble in 2013.  As a nation, we are a collective group of sad saps. Other reports suggests that 85 percent of Americans are unhappy in their current jobs. Where are you on the happiness continuum?

It is becoming increasingly difficult to find rewarding, life altering work. I’m not talking about success here. Many of us are successful by obvious financial measures, career progression and the amount of shit we collect. Many findings highlight that high percentages of professionally successful people and those with significant wealth are actually not happy. It’s shown, too, that financial and career success could actually be hindering our happiness and well-being.

Jackie Ruka, author of “Get Happy and Create a Kick Butt Life!” says that as a society we have gotten it backwards: “it’s happiness that leads to success not vice versa.” Some forward-thinking companies like Zappos, Google and Pfizer work to include “happiness” as part of their company culture.

You are unlikely to make a drastic career move tomorrow so what can you do to eradicate the blues?  Ruka offers these scientifically studied happiness strategies:

  1. Savor ordinary events. Study participants who took time to do this showed significant increases in happiness and reductions in depression.
  2. Avoid comparisons. Why are you worried about what someone else has? Focus on your own personal achievements instead of making comparisons to others will better impact your happiness and self-esteem.
  3. Put money low on the list. According to researchers Kasser and Ryan, those who put money high on the priority list are at greater risk for depression.
  4. Have meaningful goals.
  5. Make friends and treasure family. Social capital is important to well-being. Just make sure that they are genuine and meaningful. Lose the losers.
  6. Take initiative at work. Make your work more rewarding.
  7. Fake it until you make it. Act happy until you are happy. Studies show that this actually works.
  8. Keep a gratitude journal. I like to keep a mental running list of things I’m thankful for.
  9. Get Moving. According to a Duke University study, exercise may be as effective as drugs in treating depression.
  10. Serve others. Helping others, volunteering, donating goods and services results in more health benefits than exercising or quitting smoking.

So don’t wallow in the blues. There are things that you can do to improve your mental health while you develop a way to improve your career situation.  Have you found the secret to happiness? What suggestions do you have for the rest of us?

Part 2 of Mood Indigo will be about controlling your stress and mood through environment so please check it out.  Credit for much of this information goes to Stephanie Fisher at Kern Communications and Jackie Ruka, author of “Get Happy and Create a Kick Butt Life!”.