In the Midst of Life, We Are in Death

Life is temporary. It has expiry. Each breath, each heartbeat, brings us closer to inevitable end. The naked truth is, we’re all dying from the moment we were born.

Philosopher Betrand Russell, when he was in his 90s, lamented the ways in which most people waste their lives, as if they’ll live forever.

In my work as a psychotherapist, death is a constant enemy. Whether young or old, I deal with death issues every session.

Like life, my sessions are timed to the limit. There is expiration hour. So often, I listen to people utterly “dying” – depressing, denying, making excuses, wasting precious time, hiding.

As I watch the minutes tick by, I wonder about life-and-death issues. Will they do or get or not what they want most in life?

Whatever the age, becoming aware of impending death as soon as possible is very helpful. It avoids wasting time on things that don’t really matter.

Of course, this is especially true among older people. With the limited time left on earth. The proximity of death. How randomly any of them could vanish into earth!

We can ask ourselves directly a few questions to help us process this reality more deeply.

• Although I may struggle, what will make my days worth living to the fullest?

• How could the quality of my life be improved?

• What do I consider the most important to achieve given the limited time I have left?

• What may be my greatest regrets if I die before I get the chance to complete what’s truly important to me?

A little carving along the road says, “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

That puts things in perspective about what really matters in this life … while we still have the time and can ask ourselves questions.

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater

“Once a cheater, always a cheater.”

It’s a common cliche. An old adage.

Is it really true?

One couple came to see me for marital therapy. It’s a case of the husband serially cheating on his wife.

The husband admitted having affairs several times in the few years of their marriage. He claimed he had the affairs just for sex and that he loved his wife and had a great sex life with her.

For a time during therapy, the relationship somewhat improved. The husband observed abstinence from his affairs. They learned better skills communicating and loving.

Then, the husband was caught contacting and seeing his affair partner again. Evidently the wife noticed no prior signs of the repeated cheating for he remained privately loving to her.

The wife felt something was wrong which she called an “invisible barrier” between them. But she couldn’t put her finger on it.

According to findings presented at an American Psychological Association annual convention, they found that people who cheat on their partners once are approximately 3 1/2 times more likely to cheat again.

I find it interesting that this finding did not apply only on those doing the cheating. They saw that those who were cheated on in one relationship were also more likely to be cheated on again.

Judging from the number of cases I’ve seen, cheaters do tend to cheat again. But I’d say not everyone. Some do change completely.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

That gets to be true I must agree … unless the root psychological wounds or unmet needs of the cheater are sufficiently dealt with.

Here are some possible underlying themes within cheaters I suspect exists:

• a never-ending quest of the cheater to make up for what he or she did not get as a child

• the more shame and guilt the cheater experiences, the more it tends to be projected onto the partner

• the cheating may be used to punish himself/herself or humiliate the partner

• a “bad me” core belief that leads to addictions for temporary relief

Bad habits are known to be hard to break. That includes the habit of cheating.

In reality, cheaters need clinical intervention to prevent repeated disasters.

Are you brain-fit?

Mental health has a physiological aspect. Not just psychological, emotional, or spiritual. Its a matter of physical brain fitness as well.

According to scientific and medical evidences, our brain needs certain nutrients to maintain optimum functioning.

Vitamin C, for example, protects the brain from toxins, free radical damage, and aging. It also acts as a natural anti-depressant.

Experts also recommend taking a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement, which includes Vitamin D, magnesium, folic acid, Omega-3 fatty acids, and Vitamin B-complex.

Brain foods should be added to our diet. This includes avocado, eggs, coconut oil, extra virgin coconut oil, green leafy vegetables, salmon, turmeric, among others.

Exercise also plays a major part in getting brain-fit. Moving our body and taking breathers are one of the best things we can do for our brain.

I experience myself another brain-fitness key: getting enough sleep. Several times, I only needed longer sleeps or “power naps” to recover from brain-exhausting days. And I’ll be back kicking!

Some of the most productive persons in history made sleep nap a priority. People like Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Leonardo da Vinci, and Winston Churchill, among many others.

So, the next time you feel foggy, depressed, or anxious, skip the pharma drugs and take these natural ways to recharge and refuel your brain.

Labels Don’t Define You

Diagnostic labels are typical. You enter a hospital, consult a doctor, and take lab tests. Then, you’re given a Label of your condition.

In psychological care or mental health, labels abound. They emanate mostly from DSM. It’s a doctor’s guide on mental health disorders used by MHP (mental health practitioners) around the world.

Yesterday, I was reading a psychological report on Marino, a teenage client. It’s issued by a registered drug-based professional mental health agency based in Manila.

In the report I found lots of familiar DSM labels. Depression. Agoraphobia. Social anxiety. Depersonalization Disorder. Schizophrenia.

As usual, aside from the labels, the agency required the client to take brain drugs. When the drugs manifested serious side effects on the teen client, his mother chose to stop it.

When the mother reported about it to the agency, she was simply told to comply. Without drugs, they said, no psychotherapy will be allowed for his son.

Labels and the pharmaceutical industry usually go together in psychiatry. Describing who you are as “depressive” or “BPD” or “schizoid” is an attitude often encouraged by the big pharma.

In my initial session with Marino, I’d noticed how much the “labels” given him have already affected his sense of himself. Mostly in our talks, he spoke of who he is as the “labels,” the sickness.

Sadly, in my observation, Marino has come to see himself as inherently dysfunctional. A major part of it was the result of the way he was labeled and boxed in.

Framing one’s identity around some drug-based label is dangerous. It harms one’s overall health. Worse, it can destroy even the core of one’s self identity.

You are more than any diagnostic “label.” You are a person, not an object. The label is just a temporary state or external behavior. It does not exclusively define you.

Transcending “labels” means looking at life beyond them. Labels can be useful in a way. But they can also shape your thoughts, emotions, and behavior.

Be careful then. Discern differences. Labels stick, but they can also be unwrapped. You and any label are two different things.

Most importantly, you can be stronger than the “label.”

The Money Delusion

Howard, a senior citizen, hoards. He stashes money in the bank, which he says is for his future. He does not want to let his adult children know about it. So when he flies away, his children will not be aware of any of their father’s huge savings.

In the meantime, Howard makes his children feel obligated to give to him a monthly allowance. He always feel insecure and worried regarding his material needs.

Money often reveals your state of mental health. Money “drug” can be like sex, power, alcohol or marijuana. The more you lust, the more you become dissatisfied!

It never stands still. It keeps grasping. It is addictive. To be fulfilled, you’ve to keep increasing the dosage of this drug-of-choice. That’s when it develops into a kind of mental health problem we can call “greed.”

In Howard’s case, the problem is not the saving of money. There are indeed times in our lives that need economy.

The problem is the greed that motivates the saving of money. This greed is both psychological and emotional as much as it’s also spiritual. The anxiety over money that underlies the hoarding has much deeper roots that need to be attended to.

Janet

When a wounded person is too powerless or too young to help heal himself or herself, something “unconscious” often happens. Psychologists call it “mirroring the injury.”

People who are abandoned abandon others. People who were lied to or verbally abused lie and verbally abuse others. The wounded, in other words, wound.

One patient, Janet, whose husband committed infidelity, was a victim of a broken home. Her father physically abused and abandoned her mother for another woman when she was in grade school.

When her equally wounded husband chose her and repented from his unfaithfulness, Janet both physically abused and verbally shamed him in front of relatives, friends, and in public. It’s her pattern in the marriage even prior to her husband’s affair.

I’ve witnessed and heard countless times in my sessions wounded individuals like Janet. The wounded person, with unhealed wounds, repeats his or her own injury. Only this time, he or she becomes the harmer.

The more self destructive, the more punishing, the more “bad.” In a sense, “mirroring the injury” is like war. It’s ebb and flow leave everyone around injured. Injured and injurers become one.

When a wounded person wounds back by wounding others, it’s better for him to have people around to “catch” him or her. People who can love and help him or her sort it out to heal.

People who can support him or her to understand that there are more positive, healthy ways to retrieve personal power and self esteem. There are better ways.

Wesley’s Story

A few years ago, I met 23-year-old Filipino chess grandmaster, Wesley So, during a Meralco tournament where I was a participant. I found him friendly and accomodating. I didn’t imagine his meteoric rise where he is now.

Recently, he won the 2017 US Chess Championship, accompanied by his foster mother, Lotis Key, Wesley is one of the world’s youngest grandmasters, no. 2 in the world. He is now dubbed as the strongest contender to the World Chess Championship.

Once, I received hints of Wesley’s Story from his FB open letter to his mother. Wesley said hurtful words to his Mom, such as:

“Leny So, I was NOT HAPPY that you suddenly showed up in my life, unannounced, at the biggest tournament of the year, and that you came with Susan Leonard whom I hardly know. In the last six years I’ve only see you once a year for about a week, I hardly know you either … I am uncomfortable around you. You want me to respect you but you have never respected me. You left me when I was sixteen, telling me to become a man and find my life. Well I have found it, you just don’t like it.”

I felt sad about this for it has already gone public. Those of us, like myself, who are behind Wesley in his world chess campaign, may miss all the truths or details of the mother-son attachment injury and disconnection.

What I know is, a prodigal was not a prodigal before he becomes a prodigal. Something must have wounded Wesley’s mind and heart over the years that so traumatize him.

I also realize that most parents who have broken/insecure attachments with their children do love and care about their children. They’re simply unaware of the effects of their absence on the emotional states of their children.