A FATHER’S DAY FANTASY

hefner and twinsFantasy’s a powerful thing.  It fuels the head trip of desire and compels the illusion of feeling good, even when there are no hands on.   Multi-billion dollar industries – from publishing to prostitution to porn – start here first.   

But how does the brain distinguish between what’s real and what’s imagined?   Scientists’ hypotheses point to the involvement of different areas of the brain and the multi-directional processing among them.  

Sexual fantasies are a solo adventure usually leading to release through orgasm.  For some the mind’s eye is enough to induce a significant physical event like orgasm.  Actual visual stimulation is so powerful that doctors’ offices getting sperm samples provide men with sexually explicit magazines as a way for patients to get it up and over with.   Humans are not alone:  Species that are down the evolutionary ladder from us also purposely seek out ways to feel good “down there”.  Elephants rub, monkeys twiddle away the hours masturbating, and male dogs lust after people’s legs.

Sometimes fantasy goes wild and boundaries are blurred, creating a new “reality”.  One example is the substitution of social bonds created by in-person interaction with texting, sexting, and hook-up sites.  We’ve always looked for love in the wrong places but it’s easier now; you don’t have to take a shower to “chat”.  Carried to extreme, fantasy never becomes reality:  the lure of being anyone you choose, often without consequence, is a strong inducement to stay impersonal.

It’s long been known that our brains are hardwired for pleasure, with specific neural pathways acting as highways.  As with anything pleasurable, the possibility of overindulgence, abuse, is possible.  While most brains have stopping, or surfeit, mechanisms, other brains are glitched to go wild.  Especially worrisome is the effect on young brains of unrelenting and ever-more-present societal messages about sex.  Young brains are not yet equipped with that Jiminy-Cricket-battle between the super-ego and the id; with this age group (and for some adults), the id wins almost every time.  Understandably there is concern for young people among parents, educators, and the mental health community.

The mental health and medical communities are concerned about the rise within the broader population of sexually identified mental health diagnoses as well as the rise in sexually transmitted disease.  It’s no longer unusual to know someone with herpes; it’s even been authoritatively predicted that in ten years over half of women and 40% of men will have contracted genital herpes.

Fantasy enables our addiction to the belief that if we can imagine it, we can make it real.  It sounds snappy when Sony says it, but those are dangerous words.  Not only because that’s not always true, but because it shouldn’t always be true..  Powerful as it is, sexual fantasy is just that.  Many of us are still hanging with Freud rather than updating our belief that it’s abnormal not to fantasize when bringing about orgasm. 

In praise of sexual fantasy: 

  • Leads to sexual activity, conjoint or solo, and that’s a good thing;

  • By inducing orgasm the body rids itself of stale sperm, an evolutionary advantage;

  • Orgasm reduces blood pressure, aids sleep, counts as exercise, lowers heart attack risk, lessens pain;

  • Can infuse a dulled relationship with newness;

  • Takes us on a journey we probably otherwise wouldn’t be capable of;

  • Stimulates creative thinking;

  • Enables us to practice social skills;

  • Offers an escape from criticism that may induce self-consciousness or an inability to function sexually;

  • Makes us feel good about ourselves, powerful, potent, and desirable;

  • Enhances relationship;

  • Mostly, sexual fantasy Is fun.

Sex is the adult version of play and fantasy is our way of looking forward to playing.  As thinking beings we need fantasy, daydreaming, and imagination as a pathway to our best self.  Fantasy is a pleasure in itself. 

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist whose private practice focuses on couples, especially those whose relationship is impacted by visible or invisible disability or illness for whom sexuality is often a significant issue.  It’s probable that childhood exposure to an overly enthusiastic dog is the reason she’s a cat person.  Then again, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.  With their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, she and her husband David live in Colorado Springs where she maintains a private practice and where she and David co-instruct Couple Communication Workshops.  

Copyright 2015, Being Heard, LLC

DO YOU NEED YOUR THERAPIST TO BE HUMAN?

robot“I can’t work with someone who’s broken,” he said calmly.

The young man had just read my Disclosure, a description of rights that, as a Marriage & Family Therapist, I’m legally required to give all clients.  Although it isn’t necessary, my Disclosure also relates that I have multiple sclerosis; I don’t want clients to wonder whether my stumbling is about a liquid lunch.

Broken, he said.  BrokenI never imagine anyone thinking of me as “damaged” – hell, even in my most self-pitying moments I don’t think of myself in that way. 

I was temporarily speechless; did he really say that? 

“Tell you what,” I said when I was sure my response wouldn’t betray my hurt, “think about it until next time.”  Then I went home and cried.

At our final session he admitted what had evidently been in his mind for the three months we worked together.  He was glad he’d given me a chance.  “I found out I was broken, too,” he told me.

That young man understood that no one is perfect, not even therapists.  That healers can be in need of healing, too.  By making it “normal” to have flaws —  even serious or disabling ones (his anxiety and my m.s.) — the young man was able to let go of the stigma of emotional distress, the impossibility of being perfect, that was behind his anxiety in the first place.

I still disclose my disability to clients although the passage of twelve years has made symptoms apparent that were once easy to hide.  I fundamentally believe that clients who come to therapy often do so because they feel alone with how they feel; as Roy Orbison sang, the feeling is that we’re the “only one” who experiences the depth of pain we do.  How secretly pleasing to know that the someone who slips-up, isn’t always self-assured, or doesn’t always behave the way the experts’ books say is your own therapist!

How healing to know you’re really not the only one.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially with those whose relationships are impacted by invisible disability or chronic illness.  She’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.  At home in Colorado with David, her husband, and their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, no one in their household believes in Kathe’s perfection.  Find information about the Skinners’ upcoming Couples Communication Workshop at www.beingheardnow.comand Kathe’s other dynamic practice and programs at coupleswhotalk.com.

Image Courtesy of supakitmod at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC

A RITUAL THAT DOESN’T WORK.

resolution

Who came up with this idea, anyway?

Blame the Babylonians and Romans who used their new year to reaffirm allegiance to the gods as well as to lesser but still powerful mortals like kings or emperors.

Much later, in 1740, John Wesley developed a religious alternative to holiday partying.  These watch night services were held as a renewal of the covenant with God.

Resolutions ran with a powerful crowd.

Ironically, less powerful are today’s resolves, which are about inwardly personal behaviors rather than loyalty to something greater than ourselves.  Resolutions about mental health and wellness concerns like partnering, parenting, drinking, drugging, smoking and eating are peer- and culture-expected but given lip service.  In an attitude of predetermined failure, resolutions about important behavior changes are almost expected to be broken and quickly forgiven when they are.

Promises expected are promises unkept.

That’s how I feel about New Year’s Resolutions.

Besides, I think most of us change not because we’re supposed to, or even want to, but because we choose to, sometimes for not-very-good reasons.  Change is something much greater and often tons more weighty and harder to handle than a New Year’s resolution.

Those choices and changes can’t be scheduled for a certain day, like January 1st.  That’d be about as meaningful as marriage vows made in an arena full of other couples.  If that’s anything like the resolutions actually kept, about half of those couples are headed for a split after only a month together.

Sitting here at the end of December, I’m in solid company:  According to a 2013 CBS poll almost 70% of Americans don’t make New Year’s resolutions at all.

I just hope none of them were married in an arena.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage and Family Therapist in private practice where she specializes working with couples looking for change within their relationships.  She and her husband David live in Colorado with their two change-aversive cats, Petey and Lucy. 

copyright, 2014, Being Heard, LLC

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

THE #1 REASON WE DON’T LIKE THE HOLIDAYS

stressed christmsExpectations.

Say what you want about weariness, family dysfunction, commercialism, overeating and overspending.  Or that the sun’s been AWOL for 7 days straight and what’s left of the snow looks like it fell from a volcano.  Any number of stress disorders, worries about money, and disliking your own relatives (including Mother) count for nothing when a houseful’s coming, it’s your turn to entertain, and hubby’s at hockey with the kids.

Not much I can add to the 487 articles on Google about holiday survival except for this:  Never try out a new recipe with 20 coming for dinner.

I spent (too) many years expecting myself to live up to what I assumed was expected.  I didn’t make it “granular”; Enjoyment wasn’t My Enjoyment.  I lived the saying that expectations are premeditated disappointments.

Having a merry or happy or blessed was always accompanied by the picture of what it meant to be merry, happy, blessed.

I once believed that tramping through the snow, in the dark, to sit on a lonely outcropping at the edge of the forest to read a holiday card was worthy of a tug at my heart.   The fact, unromantic but true, was almost certainly a frozen body part, wolves in the woods, and having to pee part way there with the probability of my butt being frozen to my heels.

I don’t think we like the holidays because we’re supposed to like the holidays; we expect to, everyone expects us to, and everyone expects everyone else to, as well.  How is underwear a gift?  Who could enjoy watching Uncle Jim throw up turkey dinner after drinking too much?  Why would anyone endure the personal fallout of driving 600 icy miles to be with people you’re supposed to love but don’t really like?

Ain’t the holidays fun?

But when we have choices that lead us away from depression, guilt, hurt, or disappointment, we don’t make those choices often enough.

That underwear is given as a gift isn’t the reason we don’t like the holidays; the reason we don’t is because underwear, even if it has holes in it, is to be expected from parents, not partners.  Big girl panties don’t send the romantic message that he’d marry you all over again.  Thinking about it, though, I wouldn’t object to “tightie-whities” and “sexy” being in the same sentence.

Dissatisfaction with most holidays may have to do with the let-down that descends after shopping, spending, wrapping, waiting, and expecting.  Is that all there is?

“Lower your expectations of earth,” said author Max Lucado. “This isn’t heaven, so don’t expect it to be.”

Translation:  There is no gift wrap in heaven.

 

 Kathe KD-Winter_thumb.jpgSkinner is a Colorado Marriage & Family Therapist who always falls for  The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Colorado Christmas even though she doesn’t ski and  is basically an East-coast girl.  She lives along the Front Range of the Rockies  with cozy husband David and their two kitties Petey and Lucy, who leave little  presents for them year ‘round. 

 

WordPress Tags: expectations, holidays, money worries at holidays, holiday survival, holiday enjoyment, dissatisfied with holidays, society, holiday gift giving, commercialism of holidays, Lucado, holidays and depression, holidays and stress, Kathe Skinner, Colorado, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Colorado Front Range, romantic, Christmas expectations, emotional symptoms during holidays, surviving the holidays, family dysfunction during the holidays

WHY DISABILITY INCLUSION WON’T WORK

ID-100144311This post was first published the first week of August, 2014 by the federal government’s blog Disability.gov.  To date it has had over 1,500 hits.

As a Marriage & Family Therapist with multiple sclerosis, I write for Disability.gov, my own blog, and others like it, getting the opportunity to be a source of strength for people and their families. That’s why I was surprised when one organization denied my professional presence because I didn’t have that specific chronic illness/disability.

Though illness-specific groups may be essential to living well, the “micro” view of disability dilutes what’s important for the non-disabled world to know.  Advocating for one chronicity over another may be a reason society doesn’t see an inclusive, “macro” view of disability/chronic illness.

For inclusion to be successful the commonality between disorders needs emphasis, not the differences between them.

Too many chefs in the kitchen.  The more “chefs” that compete for “counter space”, the smaller the counter space per chef becomes.  Just ask me and David when we’re in the kitchen together.

People’s attention span is similarly filled up.  With only 8 seconds before the brain moves on, it’s imperative that disability advocates grab attention quickly.  It’s not about the cause; it’s about whether the cause catches the eye.  Think pink.  If you associated it with breast cancer awareness, you just illustrated my point.

And when many organizations compete for the same amount of space, there’s always an organization that doesn’t make the cut. It takes lots of money to develop brand-awareness, keeping any disability in the public eye, which is where lots of fund-raised dollars go. For example, the success of breast cancer’s “pink ribbon” campaign reduces visibility of all other cancers. The “pinks” don’t even share the spotlight.

Interestingly, there’s been a pinkish backlash that the campaign is about advertisers rather than the illness itself. Some corporations may spend much more on advertising and product-development than they do supporting patients through corporate giving.

Holding a sign.   Over millennia, physical characteristics have defined which partner we pick in order to further the species.  Even today, positive physical attributes often define who we choose in a variety of situations.

Studies in social and behavioral sciences repeatedly demonstrate this phenomenon.  Ask yourself who is generally more desirable – even approachable – a pretty, smiling woman or the same woman who’s using an assistive device?

While physical traits may vary across culture and time, physical disability seems always to be a disqualification.

Different is bad.   When Mom and I went mushroom hunting, she knew what was safe to pick. Even so, except for the two of us, no one in our mushroom-loving family ate Mom’s soup. .

Most of us seek sameness:  what we already know represents safety in a dangerous world.  Like knowing which mushrooms to eat, being able to quickly pick out who is different is a survival technique that can increase our chances of being on the winning (not dead) side.  While jumping to conclusions poisons thinking, when it comes to survival, what is thought to be safe is better than being sorry.

People with visible disabilities and chronic illnesses pay a stiff toll, daily. Even de jure protections like the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) don’t quickly change society’s de facto attitudes or treatment. Consequently, significant portions of the population entitled to the protections of the ADA remain invisible, choosing to avoid what happens too often to the disabled in work, housing, and relationship.

The in-crowd. My mother tried to get me to act in rational rather than group-think ways by employing inter-species logic that often involved lemmings.  Like lemmings, we like to affiliate.  Higher-order species have a “mine is better than yours” mentality; no one likes to be chosen last for kickball. Put another way, a person needs to feel superior to someone else. For example, I’m sometimes told, “At least I don’t have multiple sclerosis.”

Rather than forming a coalition that has strength in numbers, disability associations are often narrowly-defined and exclusive, repelling people who don’t fit the bill (think pink). Sameness attracts the same, so when selectivity combines with disability the result may be a man who judges other disabilities as not being as prestigious or disabling as his own. Or that another chronicity is less normal than his own.

Show me the money.  Fundraising 101 teaches that attracting glamour to a cause is a win-win:  Celebs earn brownie points for social responsibility and organizations gain public awareness which they hope translates into dollars.

How successful a cause is at the funding game is based on two realities from the world of social psychology:  The group with well-produced and well-managed public relations and advertising is judged to be trustworthy and knowledgeable; and, the more followers an organization has, the more adherents it draws. The Labor Day telethon is illustrative:  highly regarded spokespeople increase giving; and the more people give, the more others are likely to give, too.

There are reasons all people don’t unite under the disabled/chronically ill banner.  If no one otherwise knew you were disabled, would you want them to know?  Do you have trouble identifying with some types of disability?  Want to escape the judgment, treatment, discrimination, politics, classism, fractionalization, in-fighting, and politics of disability inclusion?  Or do you simply have other things (like eating) on your plate?

The discomfort with, fear of, and misunderstanding of the disabled population still exists, even among the disability community itself.  Housing disproportionate numbers of the disabled, asylums existed as recently as fifty years ago. One-fourth of the nation’s disabled live below the poverty level while the federal government codifies what ought to be a moral imperative in the first place.

Disability is an 8-second sound-bite: Limbless vets, autistic kids, select high achievers. Inclusion? The disability community itself is exclusionary; perhaps we need to look for answers there, first.

Kathe Skinner has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years and knows first-hand what discrimination and judgment feel like in work and relationship and is now working to adapt to a changed reality as her disease progresses.  Thankful for stability in two areas of her life, she has been married for almost 30 years and is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice in Colorado where she lives with husband, David, and their 2 hooligan cats.  Read more about Kathe at www.beingheardnow.com.

Kathe welcomes your comments and can be reached at 719.598.6232.

Illustration Courtesy of Stuart Miles

©2014 Being Heard, LLC

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BEING HAPPY

Funny couple

 

If you’re allergic to dogs, happiness is not a warm puppy.

Metaphors about puppies, or anything else, are potentially dangerous.  Even knowing where happiness — like any other emotion — occurs on the emotional spectrum doesn’t give the whole story. The only way to really know about someone else’s happiness is for you to ask and them to tell.

Thinking in deep and different ways about happiness isn’t easy.  Here are some thoughts to get you started:

 

–  Happiness has to withstand time, age like fine whiskey. Update your awareness: what made us happy then may not make us happy anymore.

–  Time and distance are sweeteners; I always love those I love when I’m away from them.  Be aware that both time and distance can be distorting while still sweet.

–  Remembering happiness transports us to a happier time; look at the popularity of oldies music, or school reunions.

–  Happiness can be a trickster.  Absence does indeed make the heart grow fonder, usually brought to you by distorted reality.  We want happiness so much that remembering it can be larger than life.

–  The “gift giver” doesn’t have to be animate and neither does the gift, like what what we derive from picturing daybreak in our mind’s eye, or watching sunrise in the moment.

–  Giving happiness to someone else requires mindfulness and presence.   For example, active listening to what your child, friend, partner says, and being heard yourself are monumental gifts.

–  Happiness shows externally (an ear-to-ear smile) while its meaning remains internal.

–  Your happiness is unique to you; no one else has ever been happy in that precise way.

–  It’s personal; no one can tell you what makes you happy.  Letting someone decide for you can turn happiness into unhappiness and resentment.

–  It’s a singular moment in time, that’s the reason it stands out.

–  Happiness can be bittersweet; like remembering past happiness that is no longer ours.  The coin of happiness has another side; in some situations, there is no happy at all.

–  Happiness can’t exist in a vacuum; and it can’t start there, either.

–  Happiness is an active process; changing as we change, growing as we grow.

–  Happiness is dynamic: the act of giving brings as much happiness as receiving.  Happiness is an endless loop, where giving begets happiness that begets the receiver’s happiness that can lead to the receiver becoming the giver where each one is giving and receiving and so on and happily ever after.

Mostly, you need to know that your happy can never truly be anyone else’s.  Sharing words and thoughts and then listening and hearing each other, that’s the only way any of us ever really know what makes someone else happy.

Kathe Skinner is a Colorado-based Marriage & Family Therapist specializing in couples work, especially those for whom invisible disabiliy is a player in their relationship.  Lack of happiness and poor communication are the two biggest complaints that have couples seeking her help.  She knows all too well that there are times happiness seems to be hiding under a rock.  What brings her happiness?  Her husband David, their 2 kitties, Petey and Lucy, the people who trust her as their therapist, and lying on a pool float looking up at a clear blue sky.

Read more about her at www.beingheardnow.com

Kathe welcomes your comments and can be reached at 719.598.6232.

©2014, Being Heard LLC

WordPress Tags: Marriage & Family Therapist,how to give a gift, giving a gift, happiness needs context,qualities of happiness,happy, happiness,Skinner,Therapist,emotions

WHEN A CAREGIVER DIES

bigstock_Old_Couple_Holding_Hands_2041049     First published on Disability.gov

For 70 years she put up with his (sometimes volcanic) rumblings.  He doted on her with diamonds, and was a poorer father for it.

The youngest of 5 much older siblings, she was babied into being passive and timid.  He was a blustering bad boy who loved control; a lifelong natural at most things mechanical.  He took seriously his duties as a man, a spouse, and head of the household.  He didn’t brook anything that deviated from his definitions of right and wrong, a bigot in many ways.   A mother and military wife who could fend for herself and children when she needed to, she preferred being cared for . . .  and he liked it that way.

Both were fortunate:  for much of their lifetimes, neither was chronically ill or disabled.  Unless you count legal blindness, which he didn’t (though most who drove with him did).  And even though she developed macular degeneration, a disease of the eye that usually leads to blindness, she could sometimes see the world better than he did.

Several years ago her macular degeneration began to impact both of them.  By then, her hearing had deteriorated, too, and her world shrank.  Although she rarely admitted fears (not to us, anyway) he expressed his the only way he knew how:  he fixed as much as he could.  He cut her food, gently guided her through the dimly-lit places they avoided more and more, lent her his arm, and searched out gizmos and gadgets he found in catalogues.  He took care of her.

Last year, George left Kate.

True to his role, George had organized everything, including who his wife’s legal caregiver was to be — my husband. Now, almost a year later, Kate no longer plans on joining George in death right away and doesn’t cry for hours each night.  Not that she tells us, anyway.  As her vision deteriorates Kate, not surprisingly, adapts. David and his sisters do what they can from a distance of a thousand miles, mostly via phone calls and the occasional visit.  Immediate support comes from close friends and a kind and caring nursing home staff.

Today, it takes a dozen people to do what George did.  Even so, he can never be replaced.

None of us could live well if we spent too much time dwelling on the eventuality of death.  But some of us — the visibly or invisibly disabled or chronically ill — need to spend more time thinking about the profound changes a caregiver’s death brings.  Like David’s parents, my husband and I are fused by years, experiences, commitment and love.  Though I’m the one diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, in truth MS is something we both carry.

As we age and tire, slow and re-prioritize, both of us have to remember that though we plan to go out holding hands as star-crossed lovers, the truth is more mundane . . . and likely.  Whoever is left to mourn, cared-for or caregiver, what needs to happen is the same:

1.  Plan now.  The outcomes might look different, but the grief will be the same.

2.  Get your house in order.   You don’t have to be a survivalist in order to be prepared with legal, medical, financial, and personal concerns.

3.  Create your own family.  Gather together people who care, no matter what the will says.

4.  Get outside each other.  Get perspective from someone trustworthy and caring who’s outside the mix — minister, counselor, or therapist.

5.  Express yourself and your needs clearly, often, and appropriately.  Consider what to say and who you say it to.  Sometimes being blunt can be hurtful; at other times necessary.  Some people are better prepared to bring a casserole or help with housekeeping than to see you cry.  Try out your voice to a journal, or pay a therapist or counselor . . . they can be skilled and trustworthy allies.

6.  Keep in touch with others.  It’s unfair (and shortsighted) to place the burden only in one place — like with your son.

7.  Have someone to talk to, starting now.  Clergy, therapist, physician, friend, partner, family can help you sort out what to say and how to say it.  Think of yourself as a nuclear reactor.  Keeping it to you guarantees one of two outcomes:  shutting down or exploding.

8.  Join a group of those experiencing what you are.  There’s no substitute for having someone “get it”.  Don’t believe me?  Try talking to someone who doesn’t.

DSC_4482-K&DKathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Specialist     specializing working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability is part of the mix.  She has been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis for over 35 years.  Kathe and her husband David hold Communication Workshops in Colorado Springs and are both Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Systems.  Along with their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy, they live along Colorado’s Front Range.  Find out more about Kathe and David at http://www.beingheardnow.com and read Kathe’s blogs, ilikebeingsickanddisabled.com and couplesbeingheardnow.com.

© 2014, BeingHeard LLC