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Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

Summer Reflections

I just completed teaching my course about ADHD on Cape Cod at the Cape Cod Institute.  If you’ve never taken the course, you ought to consider it.  It’s a lot of fun.  You get a week in Eastham, or whichever nearby town you choose–more on this later–and after spending 9 – 12:15 learning about ADHD in the morning, you get the afternoon and evening free to play.  People always have a ball. Attendees make friends with each other, and almost everyone leaves feeling glad they came, not just for what they learned, but, more important, for the people they met and the experiences they shared.  

            It’s all produced by the Cape Cod Institute (Cape.org).  They offer 3 courses per week all summer long, each on a different topic in mental health, each given by one or two authorities in a wide range of different fields.  It was started 39 years ago by a marvelous psychiatrist, Dr. Gil Levin, who was at Mt. Sinai Medical School when he opened the Institute.  He has since passed the operation on to his son, Alex, who ran it for the first time this summer.  We had about 55 attendees in the course this year, in which I introduced my new name for ADHD.  I now call it VAST, Variable Attention Stimulation Trait.  Carrie Feibel, who attended last year’s course and is Health Editor at KQED in San Francisco, came up with the name and I love it.

               I urge you to check out the Cape Cod Institute for yourself.  Now, let me commend the rest of Cape Cod to you.  A few memories from the week.  Hatch’s seafood and produce in Wellfleet Center.  We got six lobsters steamed and cracked which fed us and our friends just wonderfully along with the corn from the adjoining farm stand.  LeCount Hollow Beach.  You leave your footwear atop the dune, then walk down to the beach and the surf.  I grew up in Chatham and it makes me shudder to think that now we have to watch for seals and the risk of sharks that might be following them, but we do.  Nonetheless, the beaches on the Cape, especially those that face the ocean, give me doses of majestic beauty like nothing else.  Provincetown, Commercial street, a place where people can be whoever they want to be.  It is so wonderful to walk through that little town and bask in how great, and rare, true freedom really is.  The Wellfleet Drive-In.  Although we didn’t go there to see a movie, and rarely do, it is a landmark, one of the first places I made out when I was a kid, and a wonder that it still stands.  I hope it never closes down.  Arnold’s.  Lobster rolls, fried clams, beer.  Isn’t this summer at its best?  The occasional rainy day, reading inside, deciding what to cook for dinner, we opted for linguine with clam sauce with plenty of crunchy bread for dipping.  Driveways made of broken oyster shells.  The pungent salt air when you get near the beach at just the right tide with the right wind.  Horseshoe crabs.  Blue claw crabs.  Seagulls.  Beachgrass.  Roadside stands selling jellies made of beachplums and honeysuckle.  Standing barefoot on the white lines in parking lots so as not to burn your feet while you wait for an ice cream from a truck.  The many bars where when you sit down and look around you have the passing fantasy that maybe you really should have spent your life as a beach bum.  The many churches, some splendidly white, some in such disrepair you wonder why God doesn’t just send a lightning bolt and end it right there.  The spectacular houses lining the best roads belying the poverty and broken down houses so many of the locals live in while the super houses go empty through the winter.  Hydrangeas and wild roses galore, wildflowers everywhere, each marshy area boasting cat-o-nine-tails standing like fat Churchill cigars, titling in the wind.  To me, it was, and always will be somewhat, home.

            The fact that if you are driving it is so hard to get onto the Cape and so hard to get off makes you wonder why so few people live here year round. Maybe some day.

Tuesday, July 10th, 2018

The New Refrain

There’s a new refrain I’m hearing more and more everywhere I go.  It used to be, “I’m so upset, I don’t know what to do.”  But that’s just not sustainable.  You can only be so upset you don’t know what to do for so long before you figure out something to do.  And that’s become the new refrain.

What I hear more and more, everywhere I go, is this:  “I’ve decided I’m going to focus my energy and my talent and my resources on what I can control, and let the rest go hang,” or words to that effect.  “I’m going to work on what I can actually change myself, or help a team to change, and let the rest be damned,” or words to that effect.  “I’m going to stop being so upset by what I can’t control and start taking satisfaction in working on what I can control.”

That’s the new refrain.  That’s the conclusion more and more people tell me they’ve reached, everywhere I go.

It makes a lot of sense.  One way to die young, or get sick soon, is to worry yourself silly over all the things you can’t control, and these days we have more than life’s usual array of scoundrels, thieves, charlatans, and popinjays who’d steal us away from the meaningful tasks and pleasures we can actually regulate and develop ourselves.  They would abscond with our minds, if we’d let them, and lately we’ve been letting them, many of us have at least, myself included.

Which is why I am joining the refrain, I intend to embrace, work on, advance, and sweat over what I can stand a chance of controlling or at least significantly influencing myself, and do my very damnedest to ignore the most diverting sideshow this country has ever seen.

If I am going to get work done, if I am going to have fun, I’ve got to stop getting distracted by the sideshow, because it’s becoming the main show.  For us with ADHD, this is a teaching moment, as the new jargon puts it.  People like me can take a lesson and learn how to focus what matters and stop getting distracted by what is enormously entertaining and seems to matter a hell of a lot, but over which I, at least, have zero control.

I have to get back to work.  To this note.  To my books.  To my patients.  To my talks.  To growing my clinics.  To spreading my strength-based message.  To having fun with my wife and our kids and our friends.

I bet you have really interesting stuff to get back to as well.  As incredibly diverting as the sideshow is, produced by masters of entertainment and PR, we have to seize this teaching moment and discipline ourselves to get back to tending to what we can significantly influence and control.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am not saying don’t vote.  For goodness sake, vote!  Every citizen should vote if he or she wants to call him or herself a citizen.

But at the same time, live the life that adds the most to this world.  Life the life not of a spectator, but of a do-er, a creator, a builder.

Enough of the feeling miserable, ok?  Let’s do something positive every day.

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

Taming Technology

Rebecca Shafir, M.A.CCC of The Hallowell Center of Boston MetroWest interviews renowned developmental psychologist Dr. Saul Rosenthal on the challenges and dangers of technology. Both Ms. Shafir and Dr. Rosenthal have extensive experience helping clients balance technology usage and offer suggestions to curb its over- and mis-use so that it becomes the helpful productivity tool it was intended to be.

Listen to the recording.

Thursday, March 15th, 2018

Dr. Hallowell on Losing a Beloved Pet

If you’ve ever loved and lost a pet, you know how difficult it is to say goodbye. Recently our beloved dog Ziggy Marley passed away. He brought our family so much love and happiness.  Sharing my message HERE of coping and hope in memory of Ziggy.

Ziggy playing soccer in his YouTube video.

If you’re coping with the death of your pet, The Humane Society of the U.S. is a great resource.

 

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

“Crazy” does not Equate Dangerous

Note from Ned

March 13, 2018

The first person I ever saw actually crazy, as opposed to crazy in the slang meaning of that word, was my own father.  I was a sophomore at Harvard at the time, visiting my dad at the Bedford VA Hospital.  He’d had a manic break after many years of stability on lithium since his original psychosis right after getting out of the Navy at the end of World War II in which he was captain of a destroyer escort.

Since I was visiting him on the grounds of a mental hospital I should have known that odd behavior could be expected, but I had never seen my father be anything but normal.  He was the All American hockey player turned  war hero turned business executive turned school teacher after going crazy.  But as a child I never saw the going crazy part.  I only saw the really kind, really steady, amazingly skilled school teacher that every kid loved, the man who taught Jackie Kennedy and countless other kids how to sail in Hyannisport, the man who had a plaque put up in his memory in the little public school where he taught in Pelham, New Hampshire after he died.

But this day in Bedford, Massachusetts we went out for a walk together.  I’d never been to a mental hospital before.  It actually didn’t look a lot different from Harvard Yard.  Big buildings separated by paved walkways lined by trees.  Dad was wearing a khaki windbreaker on what was a chilly fall afternoon.  We were talking about the course I was taking on Samuel Johnson. Dad seemed interested, when all of a sudden he pulled a rope out of the side pocket of his windbreaker.

“How about if I hang myself with this rope?” he asked me.

I stopped dead in my tracks and stared at him.  His eyes had totally changed.  They were on fire.  He was looking through me.  “That’s a really bad idea,” I said.

“I think this branch will hold me just fine,” Dad said, lobbing the line over the bough.

I grabbed it down and said, “Dad, this is stupid, cut it out.”

He snatched the rope back from me. “Get out of my way.”  He pushed me so hard I fell to the ground.  Out of nowhere, two attendants came rushing over and wrestled my father into submission.  “Ok, ok,” he said.  “I’ll behave.  You don’t need to give me a shot.  I just heard one voice.  It’s gone away.  I can talk to my son now.”

Since that day I’ve conversed with thousands of crazy people, much crazier than my father was on that chilly afternoon.  Over that time I’ve come to love crazy people.  They’ve taught me volumes about human nature, in ways that sane people and books can’t teach.  They show writ large what the rest of us know how to keep hidden.

One of the myths about crazy people is how dangerous they are.  My old teacher, Les Havens, who is now in heaven, used to tell us, “Your average banker is far more dangerous than your average crazy person is.”

  Which is why the stigma that surrounds mental illness—and all mental differences—is so pernicious, ignorant, and cruel.

I hope, during my lifetime, to see it burn off, like a fog, and give way to the sunshine of truth, the bright light of understanding, empathy, and love.

       What can we do to hasten that day?  At the grass roots level, which is where we all live, we can talk about mental differences as being just that—differences—and mental illnesses as being just that—illnesses.  Not curses, not satanic possessions, not marks of Cain, not evidence of bad character of poor parenting or moral turpitude.

        Often the worst part of a mental illness is not the illness itself but the societal shunning that results from it.  Shunning from ignorant people who should know better and will rue the day they turned their backs on such people when mental illness visits one of their family members as, odds are, it will, since mental illness hits 20% of Americans every year.

The two conditions I happen to have—ADHD and dyslexia—have such a tremendous upside I’ve been able to tap into so that, in my own case, I consider them assets, not illnesses at all.  But most people are not so lucky.  Most people need ongoing treatment for these chronic illnesses—depression, substance use disorders, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, borderline personality disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, to name some of the more common.

But it is time for them to take their place alongside other chronic illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure, asthma, congestive heart failure, hyperlipidemia, migraine, and arthritis.

When a person stops taking his high blood pressure meds we do not look at him with scorn, but when a person in treatment for substance use disorder relapses and starts drinking, society looks at him like a bum, only driving him deeper into relapse.  When the depression meds fail, and a person attempts suicide, society often deems that person weak or cowardly, while when the person with chronic congestive heart failure eats a high salt meal and tips into pulmonary edema and must be hospitalized, we send him get well cards.

This is all rooted in centuries-old ignorance, stigma, superstition, religious bugaboos, and flat out nonsense.  Like most such stuff, its manifestations are primitive, cruel, demeaning, and beneath the standards of any civilized person.

Let us join together in bringing such prejudice to an end. Let us restore dignity and compassion to all human suffering.

And let us remember, irony of irony, that unlike most chronic illnesses, chronic mental illnesses are often accompanied by extraordinary gifts: our greatest president, Abraham Lincoln, had major depression; one of our greatest poets, Robert Lowell, had bi-polar disorder; one of our foremost novelists, William Styron suffered from major depression.  The list could go on and on.

   The point is that it is difficult to find a person of enormous creative or entrepreneurial talent who does not have some major challenge that he or she struggled with along the way, be it ADHD or dyslexia, depression, bi-polar disorder, substance use disorder, or anxiety disorder being the most common.

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

Can You Handle the Truth? Accounting For Phone Time

by Rebecca Shafir, M.A.CCC Personal Development and Executive Functioning coach at the Hallowell Center MetroWest

Where does the time go? Why can’t I get more done each day? I want to finish my business plan, but other stuff gets in the way.

Do these complaints sound familiar?

If you’re serious about improving your productivity and finding the waste in your day, being accountable for your phone time is a good place to start. Of all the distractions and interruptions we need to control for, smart phones and tablet use rates as Number One!

We typically underestimate the time spent on our phones. As an exercise, I ask my clients to write on a slip of paper how many minutes or hours a day they think they spend on their phones and tablets. Their estimate is sealed in an envelope. Using one of the apps below they track the actual time spent on their phones for one week. After seven days their written estimates are unveiled. The estimates are often off by 50% or more! These apps can also tell you how many times you check your smartphone, what apps you use the most, reminders to take digital breaks and help you set limits on phone and table use. You all know that I’m not a big fan of GAGs (Gimmicks, Apps Gadgets) except for the ones that can keep us from over-using them!

The truth can be liberating. If you care about productivity, the truth can also motivate you to make needed changes.

Moment – Screen Time Tracker
A Handy iOS Feature

Also read: Become aware of just how much your use your smartphone!

After the shocking reality hits home, you might take the next step and track your reasons for your excessive phone use. In subsequent blogs, I will address the most common reasons and their solutions.

I’m always glad to get your comments and suggestions for topics. Write to me at rebecca@mindfulcommunication.com

 

 

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