Category Archives: Psychology and Mental Health Issues

Saying Goodbye to Christopher Robin

Although I grew up cherishing Winnie-the-Pooh stories, my children grew up practically quoting some of the stories by heart, and a couple of my grandchildren remind me of Christopher Robin (like this one, whom I’ve been visiting the last while, and who’s recently become a big brother, again!),

I never knew much about A.A. Milne, who authored the tales of Christopher Robin and his plush playmates. Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017, PG, rated 7.1 on IMDb) tells the heart-rending back story of the Milne family.                 A.A. Milne, and his wife Dorothy, were rich British socialites.

In the movie, the real Christopher Robin (nicknamed “Billy Moon” by his parents) appears to have been largely neglected by his mother, although according to his biography, it was his mother who came into the nursery and told him stories about what Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends did and said, and he felt that it was his mother who actually created most of the ideas for Milne’s books. However, it was absolutely true that little Billy was very devoted to his nanny, Olive, who was responsible for his daily care. (I gather this is often true for children who grow up with caring nannies!) Milne had suffered severely from (probable) PTSD after serving in World War I and wished to use his talents as an author to write something that would inspire the world to stop resorting to war as a way of “resolving” conflicts.

Although Milne published a serious plea against war, Peace with Honour, he became famous for was his playful, four-book series based on his son and the little boy’s stuffed animals. These books were incredibly successful, and the Milne family became extremely rich!

Billy Moon (aka Christopher Robin) didn’t mind becoming a celebrity as a child…until he was sent away to boarding school at age eight, where he was mercilessly bullied for his fame.

In response, Billy enlisted in the army during World War II, where he contracted malaria and took some shrapnel to his head (although he recovered completely). It was during the war that Billy came to terms with all the difficulties in his life, because he realized that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories helped people recover from the pain and disillusionment of war by allowing them to retreat into the happy bliss of childhood innocence. Since the original books were written (almost 100 years ago), they have never been out of print, and they have sold over 20 million copies in 50 languages! However, Christopher Robin never accepted royalties from any of the books.  Instead, he married his cousin, Lesley de Sélincourt, founded the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, and wrote a book of his own, Enchanted Places, finding it more gratifying to make his own life rather than live in his father’s shadow.

Now, you may fairly criticize me for telling you so much of the story, but in order to experience all the depth of pathos and charm, I highly recommend that you see Goodbye Christopher Robin for yourself! It made me appreciate that life is always much more complicated and difficult than we can ever imagine, and even the joyous affirmations of innocent childhood—in the real world—often come at great cost.

I also want to say that, unlike Christopher Robin, who didn’t want to stand in his father’s shadow, I am eternally grateful for our loving heavenly Father, who invites us all to stand safely under His shadow! “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice” (Psalm 63:7).

               Beneath the Cross of Jesus
(Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1868)

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

 

 

Are You Optimizing Your Brain Fitness?

A week ago, I wrote about Alan’s attending the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists’ annual meeting and the tidal wave of Baby Boomers hitting retirement age, and I suggested that we start learning to surf so we don’t get crushed. This week, I want to offer a few ideas from what I’ve been learning in my own quest for health.

Are you familiar with The Great Courses? I am a fan. Through audio or video, this organization can bring a world of research and learning via professors from some of America’s best universities right into your car or home. I can drive and learn, sit quietly on a couch with notebook in hand, or work out on my elliptical while absorbing information.

Granted, these college-level courses won’t keep you awake like Hollywood’s glitzy entertainment, but they are excellent resources for brightening your brain! I ordered a couple of series last fall and have been completely satisfied with the quality of their programs and what I’ve been learning. My personal favorite way to optimize both brain and body fitness is to work out while keeping a notebook right beside me for scribbling down ideas. Stopping to write notes does effect my workout stats, but I figure the mental stimulation is worth the hit to any personal pride that may be lurking behind my attempts at physical conditioning.

Simple tips from the series on Optimizing Brain Fitness that impressed me:

*In an experiment with rats, those who were fed 35% less food lived 35% longer!
*Best diet tip? Stop eating deep-fried foods.
*Walking 1 mile daily decreases your chance of developing Alzheimer’s by 50%.
*Get enough sleep. The current generation is getting 45 minutes less sleep per day than the older generation, but it’s had a negative effect on learning.
*Power naps are good; they reset your energy and help process learning.
*Most important aspect of memory is learning to focus and pay attention!
*”If you can see, look. If you can look, observe…attend…study!”
*Your brain needs exercise, so take up some new hobby.
*Scientists have discerned that you improve long term retention more by repeated testing than by more study.

This last bit of research made me understand why we have tests in school and in life! The Lord is training us to learn and grow, not just have brains full of data that doesn’t stick!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Just in case you’re interested in more information about The Great Courses, I’ll include their contact information: https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses. 1-800-832-2412. For classes on Christianity, though, I’d rather refer you my son Jonathan’s Aqueduct Project [https://aqueductproject.org/ ], or the new Center for Global Theological Education, which he’s developing at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

Baby Boomers Learning to Surf

Not long ago, Alan and I spent week in Hawaii on Waikiki Beach, but we weren’t really surfing those 30-foot waves that were rolling in on the North Shore. Alan attended the annual meeting for the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists. As part of his prep, he had to take a self-assessment to see how well informed he is concerning current trends in America, and he shared some of the interesting statistics with me. Those of us in our sixties (as Alan and I are) are surfing, but not on waves of water! We’re riding the crest of the tidal wave of Baby Boomers about to crash as a beach head here in America.   Did you know that some 10,000 Baby Boomers are passing age 65 every day now? Did you know that America now holds the record for the most centenarians in the world: 53,000 and counting?! America is producing sixty-one geriatric psychiatrists per year, which only fills 40% of the need. Who’s going to take care of us when we’re all demented?   Well, for one thing, we can be more pro-active in trying to take care of ourselves! According to current research, the most positive psychological predictors of successful aging include: “Resilience, optimism, personal mastery, coping self-efficacy, social engagement, spirituality and religiousity, and wisdom.” The single most valuable predictor of satisfaction is retirement is adequate social engagement (even trumping cognitive and financial issues).   A couple of psychiatrists at the meetings, who had retired after highly successful careers, were taken off guard by how quickly they went from being highly esteemed to feeling no longer valued by their professional colleagues. I’ve heard this so many times! I think it would be extremely wise for each of us, as we approach retirement (or even if you’ve already retired), to find a compelling avocation to pursue that will require us to continue being fruitful….giving, growing, and engaging with others socially and spiritually. Maybe, if we can continue working on areas of personal growth such as those listed above, and if we’re willing to pursue productivity even after we’ve retired, we’ll find that we can surf into old age with grace rather than being dashed to pieces under the crushing waves!

They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Psalm 92:14).

Good Friday: Practicing the Resurrection Principle

Are you anxious about some challenge in your life? Good Friday is the perfect time to remember the Resurrection Principle, which a friend shared with me from Reader’s Digest. By the way, do you ever read Reader’s Digest? My parents subscribed when I was a child, but I didn’t even know it was still in existence until I looked it up today on Wikipedia and read that it’s the largest paid circulation magazine in the world. So, maybe you’ve read all about the Resurrection Principle already, but if not, let me pass along what my friend suggested: “Prayerfully wait three days before becoming anxious about any problem, because most of the time, the problem will be resolved.”

At first I thought, “What? Usually only the most insignificant issues are resolved in three days unless it’s good news about a test or something.” As I considered the challenges in my life that tend to make me anxious, I felt like almost all of them are long-term, on-going difficulties which are out of my control and often take years to resolve. However, it occurred to me that Christ rose again after three days, and that’s the most significant resolution of any problem in the world!

So, like leprous Naaman in 2 Kings 5, I decided to try the Resurrection Principle and see what happened. I found that prayerfully waiting three days rarely brought a clear resolution that chased the clouds away and left me with no further need for faith or dependence on the Lord. However, as I practiced praying earnestly for three days before freaking out, I discovered that most problems were resolved in this way: I learned to lay them down at the feet of Jesus and find peace. It is completely worthwhile to follow 1 Peter 5:7, “Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you.

Does God love us? Yes. Does God have the power to help us? Yes. Will God answer our prayers in a way that makes us more like Christ and brings glory to Himself? Yes. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32).If you’re struggling with anxiety this Good Friday, why not start practicing the Resurrection Principle? Develop the habit of praying earnestly for three days before you allow yourself to give in to anxious thoughts. Hopefully, this will keep you from jumping on the anxiety roller coaster at all, and perhaps you, like me, will more often be able to find a sense of serenity and rest even in the midst of life’s battles, knowing that God loves us, hears us, and will answer our prayers! Let’s allow the resurrection power and ministry of Christ to flood our souls with light in the darkness, transforming us from anxious souls into spiritual beings.

The Lord is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him” (Lamentations 3:25).

Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

(Thanks to Bob Hardee for the two photos with scripture verses imprinted on them!)



Open Communication About Alcoholism

Did you know that alcoholism rose 49% from 2000-2010 in America? By 2015, it was reported in Newsweek that one in seven adults had struggled with a serious alcohol problem that year, and that 30% have suffered an “alcohol-use disorder” over the course of their lifetime.* Everybody’s talking about the epidemic of drug overdose, but in reality alcohol takes more than twice as many lives each year.

My oldest son, Aaron, works for the same company as David Flink and sent me a link to his blog. I think it’s probably the best first-person article I’ve ever read on the subject of alcoholism, and if you like to drink or know anyone who does, please read this!

My name is David Flink, I’m a leader in tech, and I’m an alcoholic

David Flink

Woah, let’s put some boundaries around that statement, shall we? No one died, I didn’t burn down the mall, I managed to keep my career going and function at a high level. Yet the fact remains, I’m an alcoholic; a recovering alcoholic thanks to timely intervention and an incredible support team, but an alcoholic nonetheless.

A quick note before we get started. As I discussed the publication of my story with family, friends and co-workers past and present, many of them asked why I felt a need to publish it in the first place. I’ve given this a lot of thought. First, the label doesn’t scare me. As a high-functioning alcoholic, you very quickly learn to identify others fighting their own demons. There are many, and I look forward to advocating for those in my industry suffering from substance abuse. Second, the vast majority of people I opened up to privately already knew or suspected something; a solid reminder that no matter how much of a smooth operator you think you are, you’re likely not fooling anyone. I hope this article puts the concerns of others who knew or suspected to rest.

A recent study shows one in eight American adults is an alcoholic.

It will probably not surprise you the tech industry is heavy on the alcohol (I’m sure this goes for other industries, too; looking at you, Finance). Between launch events, dinners, farewells, parties, off-sites, trips and just late-night hanging around, there was always an opportunity to drink something. I’m not here to lay waste to that culture; many of my peers have a perfectly healthy relationship with alcohol. For a variety of reasons, headlined by some 30 years of unprocessed emotions, I did not, and chances are you may not either. I’m sharing my story to show you there’s a way out. That the path out isn’t easy, I’m not going to lie, but that life on the other side is healthier and clearer, and that you can hit me up here on LinkedIn (or on Twitter: @knilf_i_am) if you ever just need encouragement or to talk to a stranger-who-could-be-a-friend.

I pretty much stopped drinking beer by the time I left college, and over the years I developed an absolutely toxic intolerance to wine (this may have been a good moment to stop). A decade or so ago I discovered my two great liquid loves: first gin & tonic (Hendricks and cucumber, thank you), later tequila (too many to name, but Don Julio Blanco and Patron Silver on the rocks with lime were staples). The better events serve both, the best events will happily look the other way while continuing to serve you. I think we can all agree beer-and-wine-only events are the worst.

Drinking managed to numb my emotions almost immediately (I’ve been fighting depression since roughly the age of 10), taking off the highs and lows without some of the drawbacks of medication. Life rapidly became about maintaining a drinking schedule; at least 4 daily double drinks (mostly) after business hours to function and not feel, Pedialyte at night (a pro-tip from your friend David), Advil and eye drops to get going in the morning. On the weekends and on vacations, anything went.

My rigid schedule kept my career on the rails (courtesy of my project management skills paying off in an unexpected way), and I believe that when the cracks did begin to show (they always do), my organizational velocity encouraged most people to look the other way. (On that note: don’t. “If you see something, say something” applies to substance abuse, too. Look around you. I know I will going forward.) Three people talked to me about my alcohol use. One got through to me. It only really took one.

My decision to give up drinking was inspired by this conversation and two other things. First and foremost, my kids, who had memorized my drink order at ages 12 and 7. Second, drinking felt like work, something my peers will happily tell you I’m allergic to. Deviating from the drinking schedule had heinous consequences, my body reacting violently to any unannounced changes. Managing my body’s destruction became increasingly difficult, and all the fun associated with having a drink was long gone.

In the opening paragraph I casually mentioned no one died. This is actually a small miracle. I’ve blacked out on more than one occasion, and I’ve found myself in a variety of situations (to be clear: all outside of work) in which in hindsight my life was in acute danger.

Yet no one died and so, in December of 2017, I made the decision to first cut back, then stop drinking within a matter of days. I had a couple of “farewell” drinks with good friends (these turned out to be incredibly important, as they formed somewhat of a formal ending to my drinking period), I informed a small but dedicated group of people of my intent to stop (I cannot stress the importance of this enough), I started walking around a lot just listening to music and I started working out again. I survived weeks of absolutely insane headaches and insomnia (told you: not easy), followed by a wild (wild!) period of roller coaster-like emotions and feelings. This last part, by the way, is something I’d highly recommend to anyone, I just don’t know how to trigger it without going full alco for a while. (Don’t.) As of now, I’m 100% sober, and the fog in my head I’ve walked around with for years has started to lift.

It’s too early to declare victory, if that’s ever even possible. As with cigarettes when I quit smoking, I know I can’t ever have a drink again. This is daunting; for years, my social self has revolved largely around alcohol and I genuinely liked (and was interested in) tequila and gin. I’m taking things one day at a time, talking about events long suppressed, reconnecting with old friends and consuming godless amounts of mineral water. I’m confident I’ll be ok (and with me, the Perrier and San Pellegrino people).

If any of this sounds familiar to you (bonus symptoms: jitters, cold sweats, sober slurring, lapses in your memory), there’s help out there. The NIAAA has some excellent resources, Alcoholics Anonymous has meetings all over the US and Canada (by phone: 212-870-3400) and your company may offer an internal or external support group. Your doctor, therapist and health insurance company will also be able to help, as will friends (this includes your work friends), family and this random dude on LinkedIn.

Let me remind you to consult with a medical professional if you’re considering giving up alcohol, especially if you’ve been hitting it hard for a while. Quitting cold turkey may have some unintended side effects (including, you know, organ failure and death).

I hope you find the strength to be honest with yourself, and wish you the best of luck on your journey.

PS. Don’t worry, you can still get your freak on with a glass of water in your hand, even though it may take you a little longer to start dancing. That’s probably for the best.

 

Thank you, David! For the original blog or more insightful articles by David Flink, check out his blog:   https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/my-name-david-flink-im-leader-tech-alcoholic-david-flink/

*http://www.newsweek.com/30-percent-americans-have-had-alcohol-use-disorder-339085

If You’re Ever Feeling Alone, Remember They Were Single Too

Happy Valentines’ Day, or as my son Jonathan used to lament when he was single, “Happy Singles Awareness Day.” I hope if you’re single, you’re not lonely, but I think loneliness is something all of us either experience or dread. Despite Alan’s pronouncement that my sister and I were a “far-out pair of old maids” when I turned twenty-one, Alan and I got married when we were twenty-two, so I never really worried much about being a career single. However, as Alan and I approach the magic “three score and ten,” there’s a sinister dread of becoming a widow that lurks like a dark cloud at the edges of my peripheral vision.

It’s hard to live without somebody special in your life, isn’t it? When you’re young, it’s scary to go off to college alone, start a new job alone, or try to find an apartment or church in a new city alone. Let’s face it, being single and alone is probably one of the biggest challenges we face in life, and if we’re now married and not feeling lonely at the moment, there’s nearly a 100% chance that either we or our beloved mates are going to end up single and alone at some point in the future, because few couples die at the same time. Right?   They Were Single Too is a really encouraging look into singleness based on the lives of eight single men and women in the Bible who had unique ministries that have blessed every succeeding generation since…but could never have happened were they happily married and busy rearing families. Along the way, author David M. Hoffeditz also shares insights from his own years as a single man who ardently wished for a wife but learned to wait patiently on the Lord. One of my favorites (among his insights) concerned the story of Martha and Mary. I’ve always felt a little sorry for Martha, slaving away while her sister was enjoying Jesus’ undistracted fellowship. But, listen to this! “Her perspective was skewed as she lost sight of who was in her midst. Martha’s comments are almost humorous. She was concerned about feeding fewer than two dozen, whereas Jesus had fed five thousand!” Why haven’t I ever thought of that? Martha could have sat at Jesus’ feet too, because Jesus would have fed everybody! How often do I fret and fuss when I should be resting in Jesus and asking his help?!!

Hoffeditz also shares a host of timeless quotes written by wise men and women who were single. One that captivated me in particular was this one by Mary Slessor, a single missionary: “Eternal life comprises everything the heart can yearn after.” Mixed in with all the encouraging wisdom and insights are a few moments of Hoffeditz humor: “The Lord allows all of us to experience a time of singleness. As Paul clearly indicates, our response to this gift is our decision. Many are ready to take their gift to the local pawnshop or throw it unopened in to the closet in hopes that it’ll be forgotten.”

If you’re feeling lonely, or find yourself dreading the prospect of future loneliness, this book can help you find the silver lining in the clouds. And, for anyone who reads this, I hope your Valentines’ Day is blessed, beautiful, and not lonely!! Hugs!And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him. And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away. Jesus saith unto her, Mary” (John 20:13-16). As St. Augustine pointed out, “There’s a God-sized hole in every heart.” Let God fill it!