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Mental Health

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As the old saw goes, “A stitch in time saves nine…”

My father used to say that, and it makes sense. If you take care of a problem immediately, you will likely save undue time, effort and trouble later.

It’s like a homespun way of asserting that being proactive beats procrastination any day.

Have your air conditioner checked before it peters out in the middle of a sweltering summer or a subarctic winter. Check your oil before your engine seizes up, leaving you stranded at the side of the road in rush hour traffic.

If something is not right in your personal life, speak up. You might not need to “forever hold your peace,” but speaking now is infinitely better than bottling up your feelings until they turn into resentment and anger.

Take care of yourself. Stop kicking the can down the road when it comes to your well-being.

Do you really need a crisis of any kind? Sure, crises can be calls to action, but a little vigilance goes a long way – and small, preemptive measures can help you correct course in the present.

Take action. Show up at the gym. Throw on your running shoes and go outside.

Politely decline an invitation to some event you have no interest in attending. Call your mother. Show appreciation for the kindness of others.

Call somebody on their bullshit, or they will continue to lie to you because they think you believe them. Do you really have time for that?

By taking small and positive actions, you will reap dividends of peace of mind and of clarity.

Say no when you want to say no.

Extract yourself from toxic situations, people and conversations.

Say yes to the simple steps that lead to a life free from drama, fear, worry and anxiety.

By you I mean me.

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Yesterday, I got to work hungry.

I felt depressed and angry at the same time – so I was hangry and low-energy.

But here’s the thing – we were busy and as time went by I still hadn’t sneaked off into the office to eat.

I am a friendly guy – and people kept coming into the store. I knew many of them and I hope I was cordial enough – and I am sure I was professional enough to everyone. But this sense of edginess would not go away until I ate, and I knew it.

I imagined that many people don’t ascribe this edginess to a lack of nourishment, but rather it becomes some sort of existential dread…

I can see why.

If we don’t understand what’s going on in our bodies on a physical level, our default is sometimes to blame our minds for our sense of ennui or unease – and then our emotions take over to amplify this situation.

You feel that you are spiraling out of control.

Every task you do in the moment feels herculean and somehow inadequate.

You lack enthusiasm, find it hard to engage with others and have trouble being genuine. Thank God for the masks in this case, right? You might be squinting, but it looks like you are smiling.

This is not like you.

You are a nice guy. Most people agree that you are a nice guy.

There is a good reason you feel like bitch-slapping a complete stranger, and you don’t need therapy to figure it out.

Eat!

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Most of my life, I’ve been made giddy by possibilities.

With life spread out in front of a young person, the options seem endless and there is ample time to explore any avenue that appeals to them in the moment. If they are lucky, they have at least one parent on board with the concept – and luckier still if that parent encourages them to spread their wings far and wide.

I had one such parent in my father.

Dad was the perennial youngster. He died at 70 but was endlessly drawn into a sense of childlike wonder about life, places and people. Sure, he had his down moments, but he was full of love, life and joy most of the time.

I will never meet anybody quite like Dad.

But is there an expiration date on the endless-possibility mindset? Doesn’t this encourage a mile-wide-and-inch-deep way of living – relegating a person to life as a generalist?

I bet this exacerbates ADD…

Does seeing the world as full of endless possibilities – especially at a certain age – limit one’s ability to focus?

Can a person reverse this – and when is it time to throw a dart at the map and move toward that coordinate?

Maybe we “possibility people” can enjoy the best of both worlds. We can throw the proverbial dart and move toward one main thing while keeping our hearts and minds open to happy coincidences, serendipity and spontaneity.

Can we move in the direction of that main thing without becoming so rigid that we cut off our ability to find joy in the realm of possibility?

It’s possible.

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I was recently impressed with a quote from Jason Leister that went like this:

“You do not need permission to be who you are here to be.”

Sounds compelling, doesn’t it?

Why is it that so many of us feel as if we need a nod from others before we embark on our genuine lives? Why is it that we transfer our innate power to others? Why do we leave it up to others or so-called fate to decide which is the best direction for us?

Why do we play the waiting game?

Why do we hitch our wagons to the stars of others instead of forging ahead in our pursuit of the hopes and dreams we cherished when we were young?

Did somebody important to us – a parent, a sibling, a close friend, a boss – squash our self-esteem?

Did something someone said or did take the wind out of our sails?

Did a major setback, loss or disappointment take all the fight out of us?

Did we settle?

Did we abdicate the throne of self-direction and choose instead to live as subjects to a new monarchy of control, restriction and suffocation?

Did we buy into the trading-time-for-money paradigm for so long that its walls closed in on us?

Did our past decisions lock us away in a prison of despair and self-doubt?

Did we decide to numb the pain of our abdication with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, shopping or ambition?

Do we expect to buy our way into heaven with good deeds?

Do we think God is punishing us?

Do we harbor bitterness and resentment?

Did one too many gatekeepers deny us entry?

Do we make too much of small things?

Do we overreact to perceived slights, only to realize that the offending party isn’t even aware of having caused any harm?

Were we programmed early on by school, church or state to obey others in “authority” before ever considering the malign motives at play?

Do we long to break out of our self-imposed prisons?

We must bake the file into our own cake. We must not expect others to “bust us out.”

God does not punish us.

We punish ourselves.

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Didn’t Patty Smythe once sing, “I am the worrier?” No, wait…

This one goes out to the worriers, the procrastinators and those like me with a propensity to gaze inward rather than outward.

Introspection is one thing, but sometimes the inward gaze is insidious. It can take us into dark imaginings and a landscape from which escape is dicey.

How many times have we fallen down the rabbit hole of indecision, mulling over every scenario we can possibly dream up until we wind up lost, confused and in much worse shape than when we started?

Have you ever stalled so much that an opportunity simply passed you by?

Inaction robbed you.

I can’t begin to count the hours I have wasted, waiting for the “right time” to do something – and the sad thing about this is that the something in question might not have been consequential to begin with.

It’s mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-cast-scenario thinking at its finest.

As the years go by, the more I am convinced that action is far superior to inaction, and that executing even an imperfect plan is head-and-shoulders above a well-intentioned delay.

Why?

Because we can usually correct course as we go.

A good plan doesn’t have to be perfect – but without action, any plan is useless.

The magic happens when we take action.

Take it from “Old Blood and Guts” himself, General George Patton:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

There comes a time when we must put the ball in motion, to “pull the trigger,” as they say.

I have experienced firsthand the benefits of taking action – and it could be as simple as making that phone call, attacking that overdue project or simply showing up where you need to be – and it feels good, every time.

I’ll leave you with the words of Albert Einstein:

“Nothing happens until something moves.”

Begin.

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As we slouch into 2021, I have so far resisted the urge to participate in my usual self-imposed orgy of navel gazing…

I don’t know if I can hold out much longer, but I hope to take a different tack this year by being kind to myself instead of running down what I did wrong or failed to do altogether.

Should I enumerate all of the times I have been disingenuous this year? Did I fail to show compassion to others? Was I greedy? Was I selfish? Was I arrogant? Did I talk more than listen? Did I procrastinate?

Yes on all counts.

But given the duality of humanity, I don’t think I’m putting together a laundry list of personal shortcomings in my journal this year.

Have I been kind? Have I loved? Have I laughed with others? Have I hugged (Damn you, COVID-19)? Have I been sincere? Generous? Gracious? Of service?

Were my intentions understood more than they were misunderstood?

The longer I live, the more I realize that I have been lucky – and this is coming from a man who has been through the proverbial wringer more times than he would like to admit.

To any thinking person, the choices I have made resulted in the obvious outcomes, positive and negative. The old saw from the bygone commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” is a bit erroneous.

We can’t fool mother nature. And as much as our magical thinking would like it to be true, there is no skirting of universal laws. If you think this is not so, give it a bit more time.

You’ll see.

Cause and effect, y’all.

Come on, 2021. Happy New Year to all.

Be nice.

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That moment when you’ve had enough…

That moment when you say “to hell with this” to a situation and begin at last to correct course…

That moment when the pain of the status quo becomes so unbearable that you put the steps in motion to rise above it at any cost…

That deep realization that “insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result…”

The knowledge that “what got you here won’t get you there…”

That nagging and persistent feeling that you were made for more than this…

The acceptance that your challenges are uniquely yours, and the only person who can pull you out of them is you…

The quiet assurance that you can overcome…

The confidence that others have risen from much more difficult circumstances…

The upward thrust of action…

The moving toward…

The leap of faith…

On any given day, you will find me randomly humming, beatboxing or singing parts of a song that somehow crept into my subconscious. The annoying part for those around me is that it’s just a snippet – and that snippet is repeated on a semi-regular endless loop.

But it has to come out – and it doesn’t matter where I am. I mean, I can stop myself if I am at a funeral or a wedding – or an otherwise important meeting where I don’t want people to see how I really am. But those moments are, thankfully, few and far between – so I basically do this with impunity. Even at work.

But I have recently made a personal observation – and it hit me out of nowhere…

When I am going through some sort of mental or emotional issue – or if something is weighing on my mind or I am uncomfortable – it’s like a switch goes on and the singing ramps up. That realization hit me out of the blue, and I’ll be damned if it isn’t true.

It’s like a car in neutral.

I have already said I do this anyway, but it’s more intense in these cases – like sending up a flare or a mayday call.

My brother has a really cool song called “In Distress.”

I believe the endless-loop-singing stops if I make a decision or take action. I will be on the lookout for evidence of this.

But – what about the singing when all is well?

Sorry not sorry. That ain’t gonna stop.

What do you do to cope?

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There’s a Bible verse about worry, to the effect that each day has its own trouble and that we shouldn’t entertain thoughts about what drama tomorrow might bring.

It’s Matthew 6:34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [NIV]

I have also seen or heard riffing about the fact that a large percentage of the things we worry about never come to pass. It’s all in our heads…

Here’s some input from 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne:

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

I have written here before about my moments of mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-case-scenario thinking that runs counter to my predilection for personal development – and I know that concocting scenarios can come to no good end. At best, this thinking saps my energy and makes for a “blah” day. At worst, I might be summoning a wave of negative energy that could be very difficult to quell.

Which brings me to a contrasting question:

When something good happens in your life – especially something that you have been wishing, hoping and praying for – how does that make you feel?

It could be something as simple as an unexpected check that covers an overdue bill, a passing grade on a daunting test, a phone call you have been waiting for – or as dynamic as a job offer from the ideal employer or a much-needed reconciliation.

When cool things happen like that, I feel a rush of joy, well-being and gratitude.

It’s important to be grateful.

If you are like me, you have experienced so many wonderful and serendipitous moments in your life – so many blessings – that, in the moment, you know these to be brushes with divinity.

I have experienced too many of these “God moments” to ignore them. That being said, however, why do we sometimes have trouble realizing that the “troubles of the day” can be met and overcome by the same cosmic presence?

Memory is a funny thing.

If we know that many of our worries never come to pass and that we have experienced examples of what I’ll call divine providence, why is it so easy to revert back to limiting beliefs and overthinking?

I want so much to remember once and for all that we have the power to choose our responses to any situation. We have complete control in this realm, whether we believe that in the moment or not.

Take it from the “Father of American Psychology,” William James:

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Yes, please.

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On an otherwise awesome trip to Asheville, somebody jacked my favorite hat.

I wouldn’t even consider myself a hat guy, but this one fit me right – and the brim was bent just how I wanted it….

And now it’s gone.

Am I really grieving the loss of a hat?

It was made well, a Legacy baseball cap, grayish dark brown with the words TINDER BOX (I work there) emblazoned on the front. It was my go-to whenever I reached for a cap on the way out…

…and it was almost like a signature or calling card.

I have many other caps – and some have emotional significance for me. I want to treasure a couple of them into my old age – like the Marine Dad cap my son gave me or the College of Charleston Dad cap from my daughter.

Why – oh why did I take it off when I was checking in at our hotel? Why didn’t I just leave the thing on instead of laying it on the front desk? Thing is, I wasn’t even gone ten minutes until I realized I had left it there and went down to check on it.

I asked – and the manager (I think) told me he hadn’t seen it and “maybe it’s in the car.” The guy who checked me in remained quiet.

My girlfriend thinks his answer was a little too quick.

But of course there’s no way to prove who took it – and it’s astonishing in this age of COVID-19 that anybody would be interested in somebody else’s hat.

Maybe somebody else took it while they were checking in.

This was one of my “overthinking” moments – creating a veritable game of Clue in my head, all the while knowing that I would never get it back.

The hat was old, but it was cool – but it was my hat. The sense of violation and loss about this was acute for a couple of days. Now, it just stings a little.

So long, my friend.