I’m so ahead of my time that I cant even catch up….with myself. Twenty years ago I wrote articles about happiness and how important it is for mental and physical health. Twenty years later I am taking an anti-depressant and suffering from a laundry list of physical complaints, most of which are either age or stress-related. We could term this extreme hypocrisy or call it a life lesson in the plumber needs to fix his own leaky commode. The good news is I’m pretty handy and do know how to replace a broken toilet, as long as its not too complicated. There is something “manly” about marching into Home Depot or Lowes, strutting to the plumbing section, brushing the perky sales associate aside and grabbing a toilet valve and trip lever. One slightly gloats as they head to the cashier past other men and women with confused looks on their faces, scratching their heads as they ponder the vast plethora of parts in various sizes and shapes……some in European metric to make matters worse.
Emotional problems and mental illnesses are more complicated. As long as we feel fine and things are going good or great , we have the confidence to work and play. When things start to break down in ourselves, in our spouse, or god forbid in our children, we often dont know what to do and who to trust. We try to put up a good front to everyone including the neighbors, the friends and extended family, but inside we feel crappy and the self-confidence “valve” starts to breakdown. Lying in bed and hiding begins to sound and feel more appealing then the conference call at work, the tennis date, or the dinner party. Knowing who to see or what to do to fix the broken part(s) inside is more problematic. It’s not that we dont know enough about depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders or bipolar. It’s almost like we know too much, and feel so bad we dont know what to do first. Many people eventually do see their primary physician and end up with a handful of pills, either for depression, anxiety or both…just in case. I’m not going to directly bash physicians…just indirectly. They are very busy people who dont really have the time to look at the big picture and the “wholistic” perspective. In fact, many of them dont really believe in the so called wholistic perspective and mostly care about our heart, lungs, blood pressure, cholesterol and liver enzymes. They are, for the most part, trained to keep us alive rather then to care about keeping us happy and fulfilled. I’m sure they want us to be happy. Frankly, alot of them dont look so happy themselves and appear to be stressed out too. I dont blame them, because as I previously wrote about, it’s a toxic culture we live in today. I’m not talking about airborne pollution but more about the negative, anxiety inducing news, the bleak economy and the kind of unrelenting expectations many of us set for ourselves and our children. We all so badly want to succeed and make money and then watch TV shows about people like Snooki and Donald Trump.
Years ago when I traveled on family vacations I remember seeing the many poor people living within sight of the 5 star resorts we stayed in and wondered how they could smile all the time. I guess they didnt have TVs and cell phones then to remind them how poor and unsuccessful they were. They didnt suffer from constant “social comparison syndrome” and didn’t have 1000 cable channels telling them they werent thin enough, “ripped” enough, or equipped enough with the right clothes, handbags, jewelry, cutlery or 124 piece pocketknife and sword collection. I havent even mentioned Facebook. Who hasn’t stalked through their friends photo albums and wistfully thought, “Must be nice to go to Kauai for two weeks” or “Boy, that vertical slide at the Atlantis Casino sure looks cool…dammit!” Dont get me wrong. I want everyone to have fun. That’s my point. It’s just that many of us have either forgotten how to feel that way or life has imposed conditions on us physically, mentally, and economically that challenge our creativity to find joy and happiness today and here, not just in St. Thomas or the Bahamas.
Many of us Baby Boomers remember the best times either in high school or when our kids were very young. There is a reason for that. Those were the times when we let ourselves have fun and didnt need to compete in leagues, on ALTA teams, or at charity golf tournaments with our boss and co-workers watching. We just had fun being kids, roller-skating, dancing, biking through the neighborhood, listening to music, messing around at the beach or hanging out in somebody’s basement fortress made of cardboard boxes. We really PLAYED back then. It was real PLAY THERAPY. Nowadays, even play therapy (the real version) is a pretty serious endeavor, designed to evaluate, diagnose and treat childhood emotional problems. That’s serious, even tho the goal is to keep the kid engaged, relaxed and unaware of the gravity of the session or its potential consequences. Instead, I’m talking about the playtime and exuberance we felt when we took our kids to a playground, watched them laugh and even climbed up on the jungle gyms and play structures with them. Am I the only dad that broke the rules at McDonalds and jumped into the ball pit with their kids?? Ok, I think I did get booted out for doing that once, but even that was fun and my kids got a huge kick out of it. I wasn’t escorted out by a cop or Ronald McDonald, just some teenager with pimples and a paper hat. Funny how a paper hat, whether it is a pirate hat or a New Years Eve party hat signifies FUN and letting loose. We all need to do that more often and maybe create actual venues where we can do it together as families in spontaneous, playful, non-serious, but ultimately therapeutic ways. I’ll be the first one to bring my pirate sword and paper party hat!