This morning I awoke to the news that Ringling Brothers is shutting down the circus. When I was a child in the 50’s I used to watch Super Circus. I loved the handsome ringmaster and Mary Hartline — I even had a Mary Hartline doll.. And one of the first movies I remember seeing was The Greatest Show on Earth, a movie set in the Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey circus. I saw small circuses performing in tents when we lived in Germany. And one year when my children were very young, we took them to see the Ringling Brothers Circus, which proved to be too big, to busy and with too much to look at for them or for me to tolerate. And there was the Big Apple Circus which came to Portland and performed its delightfully lo-tech one ring tent circus in one of the parks. When my kids were in school, every year during spring vacation, the Shrine Circus came to town. So the circus was a part of growing up for them and for me.
These days with the rise in consciousness about animal rights, any of us likely has become at least ambivalent about circuses, relying as so many do on animal acts and thus the dubious issue of performing animals.
“I thought I found an answer when I was older, meditation, yoga, channeling. A way of making use of a talent, a gift. And now it's back worse than ever. No, not worse than ever, but it feels like that because I've been OK so long. It's like unfinished business has come back to haunt me.”
“The gate that opens and closes can't close.”
“Two years ago I began medication and it helped, not completely, but relief. Then the sleeplessness started and my doctor suggested I speak with you.”
“Are you ready for a therapy journey?”
Michael Eigen, Under the Totem: In Search of a Path.
So writes Eigen of his beginning work with a patient he calls Rose.
Are you ready for a therapy journey? I want to remember this question, hold it in mind for the next time I begin with someone new. Describing therapy as a journey isn’t unique to Eigen, but I don’t think we say it out loud all that often and not at the beginning.
People come to therapy looking for answers, for solutions to problems in their lives. In an era of “evidence based” medicine, they expect there to be some formula, some evidence based set of things they can do to make themselves feel better. They want assignments, suggestions, techniques — mindfulness, journal writing, drawing all of which are useful tools but do not carry magic.
It is hard not to respond to this desire for a solution, a fix. Hard not to make suggestions, not to offer something to soothe the longing expressed for relief, for a partner, for happiness. We become therapists at least in part out of a desire to help.
But that kind of therapy is not what Eigen means when he asks his question. The therapy journey is a journey inward, with no predefined end point and often goes into unexpected territory. And on this journey, the therapist is more likely to ask questions than provide answers.
This morning it was -6F when I got up. And the water in the harbor was about 40F. The result? Arctic sea smoke. Some mornings when this happens, we get great billows of it and the trees become covered in hoar frost — one of the beauties of winter.
It’s January when we can count on being bombarded with exhortations to start this diet NOW. It’s as predictable as sunrise. News stories on which diet is best. Features on how to make “healthy” versions of foods otherwise deemed “bad”. And this January everywhere you look, there is Oprah touting her most recent weight loss on Weight Watchers, a company in which she is a major investor. This time it is 42 pounds and she tells us in the ads about how she can eat the foods she loves. About being her own best self.
But anyone who has paid attention knows that Oprah, and indeed every chronic dieter, has been here before. Optifast in 2008 on which she lost over 60 pounds. Working with Bob Greene. So many weight loss stories featured on her show and in her magazine.
And like most of us who have trod that path, each diet results in weight loss followed by weight gain with the result that each time we end up heavier than when we started. And most, including Oprah, place the blame on failure to comply with the diet in the long haul. So along with added pounds comes added shame and guilt.
The election and its outcome seems to have thrust many into an age of anxiety. In my work I hear again and again fears about what lies ahead — fears about insurance and safety, a re-emergence of fears about nuclear war. Anger. Feelings of helplessness. It’s important to give voice to the fears and even more important not to become frozen in them.
An acquaintance of mine, Jules Netherland, has begun posting on Facebook concrete actions any of us can take to deal with the feelings of fear and helplessness. In the days ahead I will share some of them with you. And I hope perhaps in the comments you might offer your own ideas for actions people can take.
To get us started —
"Concrete action of the day. Reach out to an old friend or mentor. You know, the one who really helped you out during a hard time but maybe you since lost touch with. Let them know what they meant to you and how they made a difference in your life. And think about how you can pay it forward to someone else.” ~ Jules Netherland
Regardless of where you stand on the election, we all face uncertainty and we are all in this together.
Here we are at 2017. In a couple of months this blog will be 10 years old. I have been a very irregular poster this past year but I do plan to change that this year.
First, my book is on its way. It will come out in March, though I do not have an exact date yet. I will be posting about it when I know more. It can be preordered now from the publisher, Karnac Books or from Amazon. The title is The Fat Lady Sings:A Psychological Exploration of the Cultural Fat Complex and Its Effects.
It’s an interesting process, this movement from accepted manuscript to actual book, rather like a pregnancy. A lot of waiting, then asking people if they will endorse and/or review the book. That one was tough, but I did it and everyone I asked agreed. I have seen a picture of a proof copy of the book, so now I know it is real.
By the way, if you know of any group the might be interested in a presentation, reading or workshop, preferably in New England, let me know.
Second, I want to keep my Jungian eye turns on psychotherapy and on some of the issues we will be contending with in the months to come. Like how do we find meaning in the outcome of this election? How do we deal with whatever anxieties it arouses in us?
I am by nature a pretty optimistic person. I am like the kid in the old joke who sees the shed with all the manure in it and says that with all this shit, there must be a pony in here somewhere. I am a bit of an idealist and have never soured on the world. And then November 8 happened.
I cast my first vote in 1968. I would have voted for Bobby Kennedy had he lived and gained the nomination. And though it was not popular among people I knew, I voted for Humphrey because I had met him and in reading about him and listening to him, he seemed like me to be optimistic and to embrace the kinds of values I embraced.
When I cast that first vote, I had only months before been told by the chair of the graduate program I wanted to attend that he was putting me on the wait list even though I was well qualified, because he thought it a waste of money to train women for careers they would never follow. He could legally say that to me. And I could not when I got married 2 years later get credit in my own name or even keep my own name when we married. My income was not counted when we first applied for a mortgage. So I never imagined I would ever see a woman as president. I am not aware that the thought even occurred to me.
When I was doing research for my book, I ran across a report of a weight loss device that seemed absurd at the time — the AspireAssist. At that time, the inventor of the Segway was applying for approval for a device he calls AspireAssist which is medical device with a tube which is surgically implanted in the stomach and is attached to a skin-port which is equipped with a valve which is attached to a battery operated pump which sucks a portion of your stomach contents out of your gut and mechanically vomits them into your toilet. About 30% of what has been eaten is removed. In short it is medically induced bulimia. In a thin or normal weight person, induced vomiting after eating is considered an eating disorder, purging which is a part of anorexia and bulimia, and seen as a health hazard and psychiatric disorder. In a fat person, a device that does this is seen as treatment.
I actually thought that the FDA would recognize this device for what it is, but I was wrong. Last week, with much ballyhoo, AspireAssist actually received FDA approval. Look at how the New York Times headlined their piece on it: FDA Approves Stomach-Draining Obesity Treatment — makes me want to shout ARE YOU KIDDING?
Someone I know is studying end of life care. She made me familiar with what is called “the surprise question” — a question put to a patient’s medical team asking if they would be surprised if the patient were dead in 6 months or a year. The answer can help guide treatment to meet the realistic expectations for the patient’s outcome. Because modern medicine is oriented toward treatment and more treatment until no further options remain, all too infrequently patients with little hope of recovery are submitted to considerable painful and experience a lot of suffering because of the notion that the fight must go on. Palliative care, on the other hand, is willing to acknowledge that sometimes what we need is comfort care not aggressive treatment. The surprise question opens the way to contemplate when is the time for palliative care.
Well, i have been intrigued by the power of this question ever since learning of it. And it occurs to me that a variant of it might be of use if applied to the care of fat patients. Bear with me here.
The tulips there are in a vase next to where I am sitting. When e first moved into this house 11 years ago, there were a few tulips at the bottom of a yard - red ones and yellow ones. I have no idea when they were planted. I assume years before we moved here. We’ve never done anything with them. Some years there would be more flowers than others. Then came this year. The wind seems to have been blowing seeds from those few tulips around where they were planted. It takes several years for tulips grown from seed to produce flowers and this seems to be the year for ours. Red ones, yellow ones, and a pretty yellow and red-orange one like those you see here. Four to six years from seed to flower.
Which brings me to why I have not been posting. Six years ago, Kevin Smith was removed from a Southwest Airlines plane because he was deemed too fat for one seat — he was too fat to fly. For some reason this incident moved me to start writing about fat, the way fat people are treated, and eventually to look at the war on obesity through a Jungian lens. I wrote and wrote and wrote. For 5 years. Through revision after revision. Along the way I learned a great deal about myself, opened my own complexes further. The writing became a significant part of my analysis. Then I came to the place where it was done, or done enough because it is entirely possible to keep revising a book forever. I took a deep breath and submitted a proposal to a publisher.