All I Want for Christmas. . .

Was it my two front teeth?

What do you want this time of year?  This time of the year makes me think of the song, “All I Want for Christmas…”  Do you still have your two front teeth?  I am lucky enough, at the  age of 69, still to have mine.  They stand there like mini enamel tombstones, ready to sparkle my smile or bite into an ear of corn. I am grateful to have my reliable chompers.

What do I really want for Christmas?  What do you want?  For Chanukah or whichever holiday you celebrate?  I bet what you want is what every adult wants: peace, love, harmony.  Paid bills.  Good health.  Boundless joy everywhere we look.

We have a new dog, since our beloved Ziggy died six months ago.  Our new dog, Max, embodies boundless joy.  He’s a rescue dog, picked up off of a dirt road in Alabama.  They told us he was just about dead when they found him. They described him as a starving puppy with cuts on his paws and ears, and emaciated.  Must have weighed 10 pounds if that.  They fed him and treated his wounds and transported him up to Massachusetts where he went to a foster home for a while to get healthy.  That’s when we met him.

He was about six weeks old then and weighed about 25 pounds. Fortunately, he had filled out from the emaciated pup on death’s door and had become the beginning of the full-blown personality we know today.

Today? Max, Maximus, Maximillion weighs around 70 pounds, looks for all the world like Scooby Doo, and is all legs and paws and mouth and 100% heart.

Meet Max

Meet MaxHe’s a beautiful, big, brown loping dog who bounds into a room like a crashing wave.  If there’s a gate across the doorway, which we put up when he was smaller, now he simply leaps over it.  Once in the room he jumps into whosever lap he sees first and immediately starts to lick that person. Or he’ll take the person’s arm into his mouth, not to bite, but to massage the arm with his large, white teeth.

His size and smooth brown coat makes me think he might be part Great Dane or Dobermann or maybe a bit of Boxer.  We’re going to send in a dog DNA test to find out for sure.  Who knows what that will bring back!  Maybe a trace of Chihuahua just to mess us up.

This boy is a true beauty.  But he is still just a puppy, growing and quite out of control, despite our attempts with obedience classes and such.  He loves to chew…everything.  His favorites are shoes, hats, scarves, pillows, blankets, doormats, boxes, wallets, credit cards, and whatever he can snatch off of the kitchen counter.  We love it, of course, when he will agree to chew one of the many chew toys we’ve bought for him.

Boundless Joy

But his greatest, most unavoidable quality is indeed his boundless joy.  Max bounds.  Boundlessly.  Everywhere he goes, he bounds.  Tail wagging, big brown eyes looking up ready to engage, paw ready to lift to shake, You can see the energy Max exudes in this video.

Max makes his rounds of our four story (including basement) house, until sleeping at night in our son Jack’s room. Jack, his official owner, picked him out, along with our other son Tucker.  Sue, my wife, cautioned them against a big dog, to no avail, and now, although she calls Max such a bad dog when he chews her favorite shoe, she loves him as much as all of us do.  It is impossible not to love Max, as bad as he can be.

Boundless joy delivered by a being who destroys your favorite shoe, poops in middle of your living room floor, jumps up onto your guest’s lap, and wolfs down your dinner from the very plate you were about to eat it off of.  Isn’t this the secret to finding the best in life?

That’s what I want for Christmas.  Even more than my two front teeth, I want Max.  Max.  Maximus.  And all that Max brings with him.

May your holidays be filled with Maxes of your own.  Thank the Lord for Max and whoever bent over on that dirt road in Alabama to pick up that half dead pup who’s come to bring us joy.

Give Thanks

The time is coming to give thanks.  Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  I’m a holiday-lover, so there’s a lot of competition, but Thanksgiving always ranks near the top for me.

Let me give you a bullet-point list what I’m thankful for.  In no way is this complete.  I’m offering simply to prompt you all to do the same.

  • the freedom to change the station when the Kars for kids ad comes on
  • the slick look of pavement when it rains
  • Christmas season in New York City (I know this is a cliche, but I love it so)
  • the sausage gravy my wife makes every Christmas morning
  • my wife, Sue (ok, another cliche, but if you knew her and all the she puts up with…)
  • of course, our 3 kids, now 29, 26, 23
  • our new dog, Max, 3 months old, 80 pounds, a rescue mutt from Alabama; he is systematically destroying our house but we love him to pieces anyway
  • Mozart’s Jupiter symphony
  • Tom Friedman and David Brooks columns in the NY Times (ok, so I am a liberal, I hope that’s all right)
  • That I am turning 69 and coming out with a new book with John Ratey in 2019
  • hot dogs with lots of mustard
  • and sauerkraut
  • taramasalata (it’s a Greek spread…. to die for)
  • the salt air when you cross over onto Cape Cod
  • NAMI
  • button-down collar shirts (I’m a preppy)
  • lying in bed, watching TV with Sue late at night
  • the fact that I can still play squash a little bit
  • all of you who read this newsletter!

…. what are your favorite things?

Dr. Hallowell’s 2018 Distraction S3 Mini 11 Thanksgiving message. 

 

Hold Onto Your Dreams

Why you should hold onto your dreams no mater how unrealistic.

Someone asked me in a lecture I was giving the other day how she should tell her 10-year-old son that his dream of playing in the NBA is unrealistic.  I asked her why she felt she needed to tell him that. She replied that she wanted to protect him from getting disappointed when he realized that that dream could never come true.  I asked her how she knew it could never come true.  “Well, he’s white, for one thing, and he’s short for his age for another, and your average toddler is more coordinated.”

“But would it hurt him to keep believing he might play in the NBA someday?” I asked.  “After all, we allow kids to believe in Santa Claus for a long time.  We even encourage it.”

  “But this is starting to seem cruel,” she said.  “I mean when his grandfather asks him what he wants to be when he grows up, and he says a professional basketball player, and his grandfather laughs so hard his glasses fall off before he then asks him to give a serious answer, isn’t it time for me to tell him this dream is just not going to come true?”

“Well, it sounds like Grandpa already did that, didn’t he?  But if he chooses to ignore Grandpa, so what?  Life will teach him soon enough, when he tries out for whatever team he tries out for.  And who knows, maybe he’ll have a growth spurt, maybe he will become more coordinated, and being white doesn’t automatically disqualify him.”

Guiding Your Child

“But you know what I mean,” the mom replied.  “Aren’t we supposed to guide our children toward realistic dreams and protect them from crazy ones?  Isn’t that part of making sure they don’t get hurt?  What if he wanted to date a movie star?  Should I say, Ok son, go for it?”

“Why not?” I said.  “What’s he gonna do?  Send her a fan letter?  If he got a reply, which he might or might not, it would probably be a signed photo that he could put on his wall and admire all year. What’s so good about being realistic?”

“I just don’t want him to get hurt,” the mom replied.  By now the whole lecture hall was listening to our conversation, obviously interested in it, not making noises for me to move on.

This is a question that comes up all the time, not only in children who have ADHD, but in all children, and, if truth be told, in us adults as well.  How long it is healthy to hold onto your dreams that aren’t coming true?  By what age should we start to get realistic?

Never Give Up On Your Dream

My answer is you should never give up on your dream.  In fact, hold onto your dreams no matter how unrealistic.  It’s better to go to your grave with an unfulfilled dream than no dream at all.  You can feed off of that dream your whole life long.

But you also need a Plan B. My first dream career was to be a writer.  When I was in high school, I wanted to rank right up there with Dickens, Dostoyevsky, and all the greats.  When I got to college, I realized that making a living as a writer of fiction was sort of like trying to make the  NBA as a 5’6” white guy, so I needed a Plan B.  I decided being a doctor would be a good way to make a living, that would also allow me to write as well.  And that’s exactly what I’ve done.

I encourage people of all ages to hold onto dreams no matter how unrealistic.  I will die hoping to write a great novel.  Maybe I will actually do it, but on the way I’ve written some wonderful books that have helped lots of people, so my dream has served me and the world quite well.  Which is exactly what dreams are supposed to do, don’t you think?

CLICK HERE to learn about Dr. Hallowell’s Family Lessons.

Finding a creative outlet with the right amount of difficulty is a key component for success and happiness in life.  Click HERE to learn about the importance of creativity and finding the “right level of difficult” to engage your brain, as well as the regular adjustments

Summer Reflections

I just completed teaching my course about ADHD on Cape Cod at the Cape Cod Institute hence the title “Summer Reflections.”  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. 

The best of summer

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.

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. Then you need to 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. I’m going to let the rest go hang,” or words to that effect.  In addition, “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.  Finally, “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.

Why It Makes A Lot of Sense

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.  Then, I will do my very damnedest to ignore the most diverting sideshow this country has ever seen.

Stop Getting Distracted By The Sideshow

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 on what matters. We need to 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.

Getting Back To Work

I have to get back to work. Need to get back to:

  • to this note;
  • and my books;
  • let’s not forget my patients;
  • and my talks;
  • also need to grow my clinics,
  • to spreading my strength-based message; and, of course 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.  Live 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.

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.

Those of you who know me know that I love all animals; especially DOGS. You also know that I encourage people to get a lot of the other vitamin C – Vitamin Connect. Likewise, I encourage people to get a dog (or another type of pet) to keep you company.   So it should come us no surprise that I’m updating this post (6 months since our beloved Ziggy died) to share the news with you that we have a new dog.

Our new dog, Max, embodies boundless joy.  He’s a rescue dog, picked up off of a dirt road in Alabama.  They told us he was just about dead when they found him. They described him as a starving puppy with cuts on his paws and ears, and emaciated.  Must have weighed 10 pounds if that.  They fed him and treated his wounds and transported him up to Massachusetts where he went to a foster home for a while to get healthy.  That’s when we met him.

He was about six weeks old then and weighed about 25 pounds. Fortunately, he had filled out from the emaciated pup on death’s door and had become the beginning of the full-blown personality we know today.

Today? Max, Maximus, Maximillion weighs around 70 pounds, looks for all the world like Scooby Doo, and is all legs and paws and mouth and 100% heart.

Click here to watch Maxwell at play.

“Crazy” does not Equate Dangerous

Note from Ned – “Crazy” does not Equate Dangerous –  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.

Learn more about Dr. Hallowell and his family by watching his YouTube video, “My Crazy Family Doesn’t Define Me.”

Read his blog post, “Mental Illness Swam in my Genes.”

Dr. Hallowell Addresses False Accusations

Dr. Hallowell Addresses False Accusation:

I’m saddened to see false postings stating that I have connections to drug companies and Big Pharma.  I do not, and it is slanderous to claim that I do.  I’ve worked for my entire career to help people of all ages who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) by using whatever methods help a specific person, always starting with education, then suggesting various other interventions from coaching to exercise to meditation to nutritional changes to neurofeedback, to parent and teacher training, and yes, sometimes to medication, which I closely monitor and supervise.  This is the widely accepted standard of care.  My philosophy to to use whatever intervention works, as long as it’s safe and it’s legal.  Fortunately, we have many tools in our toolbox that can help people who have ADHD.

Setting the Record Straight

It distresses me that we live in a world where people can lodge false accusations with no regard for the truth and find an audience on social media.  The truth is that I have no ties to drug companies.  Furthermore, I serve no private interest or corporation.  I am here to serve  my patients, and to educate the general public through my books and lectures. 

Please, let’s work together on social media to make the world a healthier more harmonious place.  Let’s use this great tool to connect constructively with each other, not to tear one another down.  Likewise, let’s start a movement together of spreading positive energy and good will.  Let’s do all we can to build each other up.  We all need daily doses of that. So let’s make it happen.  Thanks very much.

Click HERE to learn about Dr. Hallowell’s Strength-based Approach to Treating ADHD.

Listen to Dr. Hallowell’s YouTube video on: Stimulants, ADHD and Should You Be Concerned.