Oh, The Holiday Breakdown


I’m pulling from the archives this week. As we approach another round of holidays, I’m reminded of how lists play a role in the festivities. Even the least organized among us desperately resort to lists to manage survival.

  1. The mom who baked five hundred cookies in 5 hours bullet points a list of the reasons she loves her kids enough to do it, and by the end of the 5 hours, she doubts every one of those reasons.
  2. The unhappy in-laws (or out-laws as they like to be called) conspire over 10 ways to get out of Thanksgiving next year.
  3. The money-conscious come up with penny-pinching techniques;
  4. The time-management disabled brainstorm ideas for cutting activities;
  5. And kids keep count of the number of gifts they have compared to their siblings.

My own holiday list from the archives is my favorite sort of list. The kind that celebrates the epic, holiday breakdown. We’ve all been there.

The Official Guide: How to Lose Your Cool Over the Holidays

The UnCola


I’m attending a Psychopharmacology conference this week; that is, a conference where you learn current best practices in Psychiatric medication management. In short, the intellects are expansive and the humors are dry–like, scorched desert dry. But I digress.

I want to better advocate for my clients by understanding the professionals who prescribe their medications and the barriers to success in prescription and medication management. I have many and varied thoughts on this topic, which is what led me to the conference in the first place. I’m excited to share those thoughts, and more excited to withhold until I invest the time to learn first (and to challenge my own assumptions). In the meantime, musings on a fun fact I learned today:

The drink known as 7 Up formerly contained Lithium–a drug prescribed in the treatment of Bi-Polar Disorder as a mood stabilizer. It was removed in the 1950’s when we became aware of Lithium’s side effects. With the nefarious beginnings of 7 Up AND Coke, it leads me to speculate about the main ingredient in all soft drinks (aka. sugar) eventually being banned as a neurotoxin. There’s irony in soft drinks being taken down not by the usual nefarious culprits, but by an ingredient oft-used as a metaphor for a sweet disposition and whitened innocence. Will soft drinks be enveloped in a sticky, sweet demise? If so, infamous songs referencing sugar will take on a whole new meaning.

Until then, enjoy your refreshing UnCola (as it was once named), and think of me while I navigate the world of dry humors.

Musings: Back to School


I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. –Maya Angelou

I would favor an addition to the list: the first day of school.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way (s)he handles that rite of passage. Parents are in mourning, children are celebrating…or is it vice versa? Teachers are bracing, ready to relive the Cold War and bunker under desks. Okay, maybe not all of them. Some teachers like the first day of school, much to the parents’ confusion.

Yes, you can tell a lot by that first day. So much of our cultural cadence fixes on the rhythms of the school year. And, I must say, so do our emotions. Those emotions, representing the collective cultural psyche, ebb and flow with the learning calendar. During the school year, routines re-emerge and the pace accelerates. We’re mostly all hurrying at the same times and slowing at the same times, with anxiety and impatience or boredom to match.

School year boredom is conquered by leaping from one awesome event to another. We’re perched precariously on the edges of our calendars to avoid landing on the unspecial days. And when there’s been too much family time or too much school time without the proper balance, there’s a palpable tension in the air, everywhere. We’re all a bit more impatient for things to reset, whether it’s for Christmas break to finally end, or for Spring break to hurry up and get here.

When we spend our time leaping from one event to another, time accelerates. And when time accelerates too quickly, we lose our bearings. We end up destabilized and anxious about lost time. We can also end up disillusioned by the special moments we’ve been living for that have failed our lofty expectations.

As we begin another school year and face the possibility of being swept up in the cultural tide, I hope we’ll each consider this. The first day of school can be a rite of passage into another year of life on fast forward, or, an opportunity to hit pause, observe, and decide: Will I show up for every single day of my life, poised and ready? Or will I discard the in-between moments and live for the highlight reel?

You can tell a lot about a person by how she handles the first day of school. But you can tell a lot more by how she handles the second day, the twelfth day, and the ninety-seventh.

“If I just…”

I’m often surprised by how brilliantly The Onion delivers the one-two punch with humor to soften defenses and reality as the immediate and unwelcome follow up.

I read this post the other day and thought it was hysterical and simultaneously unnerving because the satirized message rings true.  (Article)

In summary, the press release announces that Bank of America’s newest credit card reward scredit cardystem operates on the existential fulfillment that comes from each purchase: the more you spend, the better you feel.

Without belaboring the fact that truth often underlies humor, the article hits on an important phenomena ubiquitous to the human experience.

It comes in the form of the if/then internal persuasion.  “If I just do this, then I’ll be happy/fulfilled/content.”  Specific examples?  “If I just get that job, then I’ll be happy.”  “If I just lose ten pounds, then I’ll be content.”  “If I just get that girl to like me, then I’ll feel fulfilled.”

It’s so seductive because of its subtle and pervasive grip on our thoughts.  We’re typically unaware of how much this phenomena is impacting our daily decision-making process.  If I’m honest, I get swept up in it far more quickly than I’d like.

Why get so hung up?  Avoidance.  Focusing on the next big thing that will herald in happiness keeps us from doing the tough but important work required to change. It also links our potential happiness with external sources, which means we don’t have to take the road less travelled.

It’s far easier for me to anticipate the external experience that’s just around the bend, ripe with possibility, than to consider being honest with myself about what I need to change.

The problem is the “If I just” phenomena, while it may contain initial promise, leaves us depressed upon attaining the dream job, anticipated relationship, financial security, etc. and realizing we’re unfulfilled.  OR we continuously strive towards unattainable goals, wasting precious time and energy on the elusive dream.

Embracing the internal work has far more promise than chasing the dream.

What’s your current “If I just…” statement?  What’s the real path to change that you’re avoiding?

We can opt for the reward card system, but there’s that nagging, little, internal voice that reminds us: if reward cards bought existential fulfillment, the rich among us would be a lot happier.

The Official Guide: How To Lose Your Cool Over the Holidays

“Can I refill your eggnog for you? Get you something to eat? Drive you out to the middle of nowhere and leave you for dead?” –Clark Griswold, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 

Thanksgiving is right around the corner.  Considering it arrives late this year, our shopping days will be shortened; a cruel, Christmas joke for those who aren’t predisposed to early holiday prep.  At this juncture in the year, many of us have resigned ourselves to simply surviving the long list of holiday expectations without having it end in epic failure.

When we think of the epic holiday fail, many of our minds immediately jump to National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  For those of you who haven’t seen it, let me attempt a tidy summary.  It’s a movie about the stereotypical awkward family (understatement), trying to survive visits from quirky relatives (understatement), scrambling to find the perfect gift, while experiencing lighting debacles (understatement), avoiding uptight neighbors, and salvaging a squirrel-infested Christmas tree.  If this resonates with your own holiday experience, you should call me; I know a few therapists.

As an aside, my yearly review of the movie left me mortified to realize I own the same reading glasses as Clark Griswold.  A bold argument against repurposing unisex fashion from decades ago as vintage and trendy, but that’s for another post.

So in the spirit of holiday mishaps, and as an homage to the quintessential Christmas catastrophe known as the Griswolds, here’s a list of ten actionable items that will ensure you lose it over family festivities:

1–Bring up every hot button issue with the extended family.  Including, but not limited to: the debt ceiling, healthcare, and your mother-in-law’s haircut.

2–Camp out in the living room of your distant relatives, for the entirety of the holiday season, and be sure to arrive unannounced.

3–Challenge yourself to accept every party invitation and volunteer your family to help with prep AND clean-up.  Then wax eloquent on how it’s a “character building” exercise.

4–Visit all relatives in one, 16-hour period, preferably arriving in your SUV adorned with a luggage rack to cart all gifts, leftovers, and your family therapist on retainer. (Note: Your family therapist would kindly appreciate a seat in the car.)

5–Gift wrap each awkwardly-shaped stocking stuffer…wait for it…for 15 to 20 people.  (Not that I’ve done this before.)

6–String your prettiest, holiday lights over the stairs so that while you’re snoozing after last-minute shopping, your kids can use them to bungee jump down and rifle through the bags.  (Kids, this is way better in theory than execution.)

7–Scramble for Parent of the Year award (defying the deadline), by making 12 dozen, hand-decorated sugar cookies in a 2-hour period for son’s boy scout troop.

8–Get a head start on the epic New Year’s resolution to forego boundary setting, beginning with a universal, open-ended invitation to family and friends to stop by.

9–Volunteer your spouse for every holiday event you’re solicited to help with…without telling them.  (Note: In the game of life, once your spouse finds out, do not pass go, proceed directly to the sofa.)

10–Last but not least, the best way to enjoy the epic holiday fail is to forego Christmas lists and subscribe every dear friend and relative to the jelly of the month club.  After all, it is the gift that keeps on giving.


Happy holidays, everyone!!


Have other tips to add to the list?  Feel free to post in the comments.

Today’s Best Headline

This post is completely unrelated to counseling and a perfectly unsophisticated reverie into humor.  So the one thing I’ll say in a meager attempt to redeem it is that laughter is always therapeutic.  I’ve been accused of being overly serious, but it’s not that I am, it’s just that as an introvert I don’t always readily share my playful side.  It’s taken work for me to be generally playful, so I thought I’d maximize an opportunity to do so.  This revelation certainly made my day, and I’m happy to share it with fellow comic fans, Trekkies, and downright geeks alike: after all, the world of humor does not discriminate.

I had to double check today when I read this to make sure it wasn’t coming from The Onion.  Alas, it’s true.  For all of you Star Trek, X-Men, and/or Lord of the Rings fans: Patrick Stewart was married this weekend, and who officiated the ceremony, you ask?  None other than Ian McKellan.  Now, in case the humor is immediately lost on you, let me put this in perspective: Gandalf officiated Professor Xavier’s wedding!!

The brilliance of Sir Patrick Stewart’s choice of officiators is that there are a multitude of headlines we could go with, here: In an act of bi-partisan showmanship, Professor X invites Magneto to officiate his wedding ceremony, OR, Captain Picard is beamed into matrimony by the White Wizard.  I’ll let you use your curiosity and imagination in coming up with more. The better part, however, might be the myriad of costume choices I can only imagine being presented as options for Sir Ian McKellan.

Ultimately, though, who can deny the appeal of being married by the White Wizard?  Hopefully, the one ring to rule them all will see the couple to a different fate…