Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Double Nickels

I have had, as of this writing, three close friends of mine call me or email me about how they are taking stock of their lives, the decisions they have made, and what could have gone better.  These three people have contacted me within the last four days, literally.  

I started thinking about that “co-incidence,” and what it could mean.  I think it has to do with the time of life that we are all in.  The mid-fifties.  Most of us have had a few iterations of our occupations and have re-invented ourselves over those changes.  All four of us, including me, have lost at least one parent (I’ve lost four, but that’s part of a much bigger story).  And it seems at this stage of life, given that all four of us are fifty-five years old, we start to wonder how our time and energy have been spent.   

One of the things I’ve learned, slowly…very slowly…is that for me, the use of my time is very important.  As wiser men and women than me have always said, time is the one commodity that is irreplaceable.  When one starts out seeking employment in their twenties, one is hoping to gain a position somewhere that will pay well and will afford some meaning and some prospect for escalation in the company.  

While working at Walt Disney, these three variables were always important to me.  Have some fun while working in an interesting industry (animation) that would pay well and provide some upward movement.  The last of those worked for a little while, but then I somehow got stuck. And so I left.

Looking back, what I remember is having to work an incredible number of hours.  That was the not so good part.  But I did have a lot of camaraderie with fellow workers that seemed for a while to be one big family.  

Once I stopped working in production full-time, I found that I finally had the time for myself to do things that I couldn’t have before, or maybe didn’t allow myself to do before.  Time to give more attention to a relationship.  Time to stop at a sandwich place  I love, pull out a book, and just read away for a while without having to be concerned about getting back before the one hour alarm went off on my watch (this was before smart phones).

I mention this because I think in some way it is related to this age that I, and many of my friends are in.  The age where one says, “Have I done well enough? Have I gotten too where I want to be?  Do I have time to do the little things I like to do?  What would have happened if I had stuck it out a little longer at that company?  What would have happened if it had worked out with this person or that person?  What would have happened if I had moved here or there?

I think out of my four friends, I’m feeling this phase the least.  I don’t know why, but I may have just not gotten there yet.  I do have some questions about the direction I want to take my work right now, but I’m not in as deep into the “pivotal” question about past decisions I have made as some of my other friends.  We’ll see how that shakes out.  

But this all got me thinking.  It got me thinking about being “equipped” to handle some of this stuff.  This is what I mean.  

During my third year at U.S.C., I started having panic attacks.  They just sort of spontaneously started.  I had panic attacks getting ready in the dorm in the morning to go to classes.  I had panic attacks while sitting in those classes.  I had panic attacks walking between classes.  And I had panic attacks in the evening.  It was like a temporary (didn’t feel temporary) disability.  

And somehow at the time, I knew what it was about.  It was about starting to realize that I was no longer in my parents’ proverbial womb.  That once I left high school, and was in university, that I was being propelled, without my expressly written permission, into adulthood, and that in just a year or so, I would be needing to take the wheel in terms of my own decision making.  

Those thoughts, those realities, scared me a lot.  Sobering thoughts all the time.  

So I finally got the idea to go to a dean who I knew at U.S.C. and told him about how I was feeling.  He suggested that I talk to a therapist the they had available at the campus.  I did so, and quickly found that he was not the right match for me.

When I was sitting with this therapist, he has some Gestalt technique to his therapeutic sessions, which made me uncomfortable.  As I was sitting there, when he asked me a question, and I would start to answer, he cut me off, inquiring, “Now, why did you move your arm like that when you started to answer my question.”  I was like, “Huh?  It wasn’t for me.  He just made an extremely nervous person more nervous.  

I’m surprised that I had sense enough to know that when finding a therapist, it’s about finding a good connection with the right therapist, and that I was able to just walk away from that one.  

I told my parents about what was going on, and my mother, who was well connected with the psychology community in Los Angeles, found a therapist for me who was known to be very good with young people making their transition into maturity.  

I made my first appointment with this therapist.  When I sat down with him, I was very nervous.  I suppose that with all that I knew about psychology peripherally through my mother, that actually sitting down with a good therapist was different.  I would need to be transparent, and that, especially at that time in my life, was hard for me.  At that age, I felt like I was unattractive, floundering, and didn’t have a very high sense of self-esteem.  

All that I remember about that first session is that I felt like I was holding back, and that at the end, I started to reveal some of my anxieties and experiences to him.  He was accepting of me, and I knew that I would come back for more sessions.  

Including that period, there have been a few chucks of my life where I have seen him for extended periods.  He is really an amazing therapist, and the best one I ever could have had.  Just speaking from my own point of view, the connection I felt with him was due to his ability to listen and empathize with what I was telling him.  He also nudged me to some slightly deeper level of understanding of myself with each session.  

Some sessions felt like they were a stand still, but I know now that it was about the consistency of discussing the issues that I had, which were, by the way, from my early childhood and then sort of piggy-backed into my later childhood.  There will be more on that once I get back to writing about it all.  

One of the reasons that I am very fortunate is because I have always had a sense that therapy was out there for the taking.  It’s not for crazy people (although I do dominate the world’s pool of therapy hour’s when I do sessions…sorry everyone!), but rather, it’s for regular people to sort out the things in the past that have caused us to develop patters of behavior that don’t necessarily serve us anymore.  

And that’s what I mean about being, “equipped.”  Once you have had a good therapist, though some of the polish rubs off after a while of non-usage, you do remain more equipped to look into yourself and understand your own reactions to things, and to recognize a bit better what is working for you, and maybe, what is not.  

Many people aren’t brought up in a psychological milieu, having a child development specialist in their home as their mother.  So I know that I benefited from that.  But hopefully, the idea of seeking some guidance with all of the mixed up stuff from the past, which is almost impossible to do alone, is becoming more main stream.  

What made me think of writing about therapy is this cluster of friends (and myself) pondering the what if’s of the past and trying to sort out what comes next in our lives.  Sometimes, you just need some clarity from a therapist who has some guidance and perspective on it all.