There is a tradition in the southern United States that if one must work on a holiday such as Thanksgiving, take care of a sick loved one, pull a graveyard shift at a factory, or anything else that keeps one from attending the family holiday feast, then a member of the family will dutifully go up and down the sides of the still heavily laden dinner table and pile food high on a plate. If this plate is of the Chinet reinforced paper type, doubled for even more strength and carrying power, so much the better. Said plate is then dutifully covered with aluminum foil, or tin foil as we used to call it, and and delivered to the poor soul who was not present at the table. The love that was felt at the table by all those there is transferred in a tangible way to the absent member.
I asked a patient about her upcoming holiday plans the other day, as part of my routine survey of what a patient’s day-to-day life is like. She was a lady who had battled psychosis and mood disturbance on and off for years and was finally stable over the last six months or more. She was sleeping pretty well, eating okay, keeping her place clean and ever administering her own medications from a seven day pill minder (a huge leap forward and sign of improved independence for her).
“So, any plans for next week, for Thanksgiving?”
“No, not really.”
“Do you have family around this area, anybody you’ll spend some time with on that day?”
“No, nobody lives in South Carolina.”
“So how will you spend the day?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ll watch some TV, maybe take a walk. Eat something. I don’t know.”
How sad, I thought to myself. My immediate and extended families have always been big on getting together, having the turkey, enjoying cranberries, making stuffing and getting stuffed ourselves, and then eating desserts that none of us really need but all of us love. It is a given, a tradition that we anticipate. Like all holidays and birthdays in my family, the day morphs into a season, at least a week of joyful anticipation, planning, buying of goodies and then celebrating the day itself.
This holiday, Thanksgiving, usually makes us consciously count our blessings, give thanks for the many experiences and things and people in our lives, and see how lucky and fortunate we really are. If we pause long enough, we can see that we have more than enough to sustain us, more than enough to entertain us, and more than enough to live lives that are full and rich. It is very easy to fall back on that embarrassment of riches, to take it for granted, to see it as something that will always be here and that takes no work on our part to maintain. We do that at our peril.
This holiday season, I would invite you to close your eyes, breathe in and out deeply for a few minutes, and take a few moments, or a few hours if you like, and contemplate your blessings, your gifts, your assets. Think about the people in your lives. Think about the material things that give you joy (yes, it’s okay to do that, just for now). Think about your education, your job, your friendships, your loves, and your supports. Think about how good you feel knowing that you are loved, cherished and appreciated.
Then open your eyes, take a few more minutes, and pay attention to what lies just outside your protective bubble of goodwill. There is a single mother of two just around the corner from you at the office who makes ends meet and raises those children on a fraction of the income you enjoy. There is a person you work with who has the reputation for being mean and obnoxious, but who may simply be lonely and isolated. There are children who will not have turkey for Thanksgiving, much less toys for Christmas. If we open our eyes, there are needs everywhere in the world, not just far away in lands that we’ve never heard of, but sitting two doors down, driving past us on the street, and sitting next to us at the movies or in church.
I challenge you to fix a plate.
Pile it high with food, toys, money, offers of tangible work and assistance, gift certificates for something frivolous and fun. Top it off with words of encouragement and praise for a job well done. Garnish it with the love that you know you feel from others this holiday season.
One more thing about my family’s holiday traditions from my boyhood. At my grandmother’s house on the farm, off to the side of the dining room, on the near wall just to the right as you entered from the front hallway, there was a deep freezer. One of the freestanding big ones. On top of that freezer was usually some kind of cloth, and on top of that were so many desserts that a young boy could not even believe his luck at the sight. Pecan pies, sugar cookies, red velvet cakes, caramel cakes, pound cakes. Oh, my.
It would often take fixing an extra plate to make sure the recipient had more dessert than he could eat, in addition to the first plate of turkey, pan dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy.
My life, with all its ups and downs and troubles and things that make me sad and angry and confused, is full. I have a feast set before me. I have a big freezer piled high with desserts just off to the side. I have more than I could ever deserve, need, or use. My hunch is that your life is much the same. Even with our present-day troubles, we are immeasurably blessed.
Fix a plate.
Fix two plates, one for the sweet desserts of life that you can share.
Cover it securely with tin foil, get out of your comfort zone, and enrich someone’s holiday.
Happy Thanksgiving season, ya’ll.
I can read articles and blogposts very early in the morning, which I am wont to do. I can pitch them as retweets on Twitter or shared posts on Facebook, and maybe throw a little comment or question in there. Then, do you know what happens?
I can sit back and watch the growing, changing, idea-inspiring stream of comments, rants, supports, challenges and new ideas that come, always, from my friends and family.
In this season, I am very thankful that I live in a country where I can express myself in writing for all the world to see.
I am thankful for smart friends and supportive family members who have marvelous ideas.
I am thankful that those very same friends and family will call me on the carpet when I write crap, or when my logic is faulty.
I am thankful that even when we disagree, sometimes vehemently and fundamentally, we still remain friends and keep the dialogue open.
I am thankful that I learn something new every single day.
That’s all the sentimentality you get from me today.
Yeah, right. You know me too well.
Happy Thanksgiving season, my friends. I love and appreciate you all.
I originally posted this on Facebook today, but I wanted to make sure all of my readers saw it. I mean what I said. I love and appreciate the time we give each other, the support, and the time it takes to read, absorb, discuss and challenge each other. Here’s to a great season of thanksgiving and celebration of the year fast coming to a close, and the hope that we all have a wonderful 2014.
“I don’t get no respect!”
He was a little guy, munching on the taco lunch that his mother had brought into my office for him, his younger sister and herself. I was a little miffed, I won’t lie, that the family knew they had an appointment with me right after lunch, but they decided to make the appointment itself lunch. I tried to concentrate on my interview questions and assessment, shredded lettuce and ground beef flying onto the floor as I did so. I could overlook the need to vacuum my office after the visit.
What I could not overlook, at least not easily, was the outright, in-my-face, vitriolic and vocal disrespect that was shown to me by my pint-sized patient. After trying to engage him for several minutes, only to have the conversation default to mother, who was trying her best to ignore his outrageous behavior, I got this answer from him as I tried to ask one more softball question.
“What I need from you right now is for you to stop talking!”
Really? That’s what I get from a latency age patient after being in the profession for thirty years? Really?
It struck me as I thought about this scenario later in the day and for several days after this that we are, as a culture, rapidly losing any sense of what appropriate displays of respect are. It happens in my office. It happens when I am seeing folks in emergency rooms around the state. It happens in homes across the country, as children disrespect their parents. It happens in schools, as kids think that bringing weapons to school in outright defiance of rules or talking back to teachers and principals is acceptable behavior.
It happens when citizens do not respect police officers or EMS workers. It happens to the office of the President of the United States. Now, I don’t know about you, but I was always taught that I should respect the office of the Presidency no matter who held it, for he could be removed for wrong doing or could be voted out after his term if he had not done a good job, but the office would remain. Nowadays, it appears that we have lost our way and no longer prescribe to this idea either.
What has happened? What is happening?
Why do we no longer respect ourselves, our institutions such as schools, churches, marriage, and others?
It seems to me that several things are adrift here, with mooring lines long since cut and nothing to hold us safely in the harbor.
Respect is not being modeled in the home.
Respect is not being taught in the schools.
Respect is not being demanded as a prerequisite to moving forward in life.
Respect is not being earned, whether at the local level or at the highest levels of government and industry.
I would challenge each of us to think hard about this.
How do we get back to teaching respect from the very beginning in the home, then have this lesson continued in the schools, and then modeled further in the workplace and beyond?
A single session when a troubled child is scattering lettuce on my floor and telling me to shut up is one thing. Training kicks in to deal with these minor frustrations.
Losing respect for each other, our government, our religious institutions, our governing documents, our social norms, and our mutually accepted ways of moving together through society is much more serious, and may have far reaching effects if we don’t act now to turn things around.
As always, I welcome your comments.
After a five hour drive from Augusta, Georgia, we had crossed the rivers and streams of southern Georgia and northern Florida, found the Park and Ride, boarded a shuttle, arrived at EverBank Stadium in Jacksonville, and made our way through the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party into the relative safety of the inside. Getting there was an adventure itself, but the game and all that surrounds it was coming up in about a hour, and it would be a doozy before the night was over. My daughter, her sorority sister and I were ready for some fun. So were about eighty five thousand other people.
Some of those other people were college students. Yeah.
Many of them had been drinking, probably since the day before. I mean, drinking hard. Yeah. Like, flasks coming out of jacket pockets and mini bottles by the dozens, empty, trashing the underside of the fading blue stadium seats like so many broken glass Christmas ornaments that someone had dropped and never picked up.
We had seats that were way up high in the North end zone section, an area that looked like it was going to be mostly empty until just before the game, when the hard-drinking, fight song-singing, red-wearing masses of college boys and their equally loud dates arrived just in time for kickoff. Now, I was a student once, and I had fun, and maybe I even drank a little (please don’t tell my mother) but there is a limit to all things, you know. To be clear, this is not a post about teenage drinking, the perils of substance abuse in this at-risk population, or any of that. I can write about that another time, while wearing my psychiatrist hat.
No, this post is about being present and experiencing each moment of your life as fully as possible. As a person, a father, a friend, a human being.
I went to this game with my daughter and a friend of hers because we wanted to go and have fun. To watch a fun football game between two fiercely competitive rivals. To take goofy pictures. To stop and get snacks on a long road trip. To meet new people. (The lady I shared seats with on the shuttle back after the game lives in Beaufort, SC, loves football and basketball, and eats at the same restaurants I do every time I visit the Lowcountry!) We wanted to be present, to pay attention to the sights and smells and tastes and action on the field and everything that makes a great SEC college football game what it is. We got all that and more. We enjoyed the heck out of it.
The teenaged college student sitting directly behind me did not.
He was blotto.
The very first possession was a long march downfield that resulted in the first score of the game. Gurley was back. We were kickin’ it.
Blotto Man saw none of that. He was sitting in the seat directly behind me. I turned to see him at one point, eyes closed, swaying like a sapling in a stiff breeze, barely sitting up under his own power. He was so drunk that I don’t think he even knew he was in the stadium. Granted, he had some good buddies around him that were watching out for him that were not going to let him fall or hurt himself, but he was not aware that there was even a game going on, much less who he was rooting for.
As the game went on, he would come in and out of consciousness, literally, and speak up or grunt or even sing a note or two. At one point, I felt a tap on my shoulder and looked around to see his hand extended. “You’re my brother,” he said, increasing my blood alcohol level to at least eighty just by breathing in my direction. One other time he gently punched me in the back again and said something in bad Klingon that I could not even remotely understand. His friends finally directed him up one more row, propped him against the concrete wall that formed the top of EverBank Stadium, and kept a watchful eye out that he didn’t go over backwards.
What did this young guy get out of being at the 2013 Florida-Georgia game? Not much it would appear.
The rest of us saw some good football, a couple of great plays, were happy that we didn’t need the ponchos that we dutifully packed against the fickle Florida weather, and were treated to one of the prettiest orange sunsets I think I’ve seen in a long, long time. We were there, all eighty thousand plus of us, until the last tick on the scoreboard clock. We walked down the gangways together afterwards, hearing, feeling, the roar of the Dawg Nation as it sang and cheered and chanted and laughed and whooped it up after the third victory over the Gators in as many years.
I hope he made it down to the ground in one piece with the help of his college buddies.
It’s important to have fun, to let it all hang out, and maybe to even act a little crazy sometimes (please don’t tell my mother). I have no problem with any of that, and I even wish sometimes that I could go back and re-experience some of that in my own college career.
It’s also important to be present in every moment, every experience in your life.
None of us are guaranteed tomorrow.
We only have today.
Will you be present in your own life today? Will you grab it, seize it, live it?
Or will you be blotto?
Your choice, my friends.
I have been visiting different sites and having staff meetings with different groups of clinicians since I came back to my psychiatric services chief job two weeks ago today. I have noticed something that is very important to the smooth operation of a mental health center, and most likely any health care facility you might look at.
In order to do the best job possible and help the most people who need us, we must work as a team.
Now, when I trained back in the mid-1980s, the physician was still the head of most teams. He (or she) sat at the head of the table, set the agenda, and ran the meeting. The physician set the tone for what was important, what cases would be presented and what topics of discussion would receive the most time and attention. He would dictate to the social workers and nurses and therapeutic assistants what was important to get done that day, what jobs were assigned to whom, and other details of how the day would go for everybody. The whole process was physician driven.
Not so today. Yes, I still sat at the head of the table at one of our clinical staffings today, but I did not run the meeting. I asked questions, listened to cases being presented, offered guidance where I thought it was needed or appropriate, and used anecdotes or examples to try to get my point across when I thought a certain point needed to be made. The thing that really hit home for me today was that I was truly an “old dog” in a room full of young, energetic, talented, well-trained clinicians who were in various stages of orientation, training and clinical work in that unit. It was energizing to both try to teach them some things that I have learned over the last three decades, but also to listen to them and their fresh perspectives on current mental health problems, presentations and needs.
I am learning all over again that we all have areas of expertise, things that we like and don’t like to deal with, work flows that we have worked out for ourselves and that flow smoothly for us, and tips and tricks to share with others. We have knowledge that can be pooled with the knowledge of others, making the one cohesive unit much stronger and helpful than just a loose confederation of people who are trying to get things done on their own.
In other words, we need to make sure our data is accessible to others and is usable. We need to connect. We are much more effective as a team than we are as lone wolves.