Create Problem-Free Zones

When Problems Take Over a Relationship

If you’ve been hurt and a Problem has taken over your relationship, there’s plenty that you can do, other than succumb to the Problem yourself. Just because your boyfriend wants to get stinking drunk every time he goes out, doesn’t mean you have to clean him up when he comes home. If your girlfriend picks fights with everyone, it doesn’t mean you have to make excuses for her. If your husband chooses to gamble away his paycheck, it doesn’t mean he has to spend yours, too. Get out a little, be healthy, let your partner clean up his or her own mess. Create a Problem-Free Zone. Continue reading →

Is Your Doctor Going the Way of the Family Farm?

I used to be a farmer. I should say, I used to be a farmer the way farmers used to be. I raised pigs, chickens, goats, and cows. I tried to raise ducks and geese, but they flew away. I had a quarter acre garden and grew acres of buckwheat and corn. I helped the neighbors put up their hay, cut their wood, and tap their trees for a share. I butchered my own livestock, made cheese, and picked and pressed my own apples. I built barns, walked fence, pruned grapes, and fixed my own truck and tractor when they were broken down, which was often. That’s how I used to be a farmer.

That’s not the way people farm anymore; not usually. Farming is now a big business. They have big tractors, big fields, big silos, and big, big, big debt. Farmers are often employees, answerable to people who are not farmers and have never seen the farm; people who sit in glass towers in the big city and move money around. Continue reading →

Feed the Person, Starve the Problem

One Halloween when I was a kid, I came home from trick-or-treating with a plastic pumpkin full of chocolate. My mouth had been watering ever since the second doorbell, but my costume prohibited taking an early snack. As soon as I got home, the mask came off, and I had my first piece of chocolate. The taste of that chocolate was so exquisite that I can still recall it. If I wasn’t a kid and didn’t know anything about it, I would have said I was having an orgasm over that piece of chocolate. It was so good that I had another and another and another, until, before I knew it, or my parents knew it, the entire pumpkin was gone, and I was so sick I barfed all the chocolate right back into the pumpkin where it came from.  Continue reading →


There was one point in my life when I was infatuated by the idea of self-sufficiency. It was when I was the most un-self-sufficient. I was coming out of adolescence, had no degree, no marketable skills, no place other than my parents’ to live, and was totally without savings. I declared I would be self-sufficient. I was not so self-sufficient that I didn’t need to tell others about it. Continue reading →

When Problems Take Over a Relationship

Even when people are firing on all cylinders, relationships can be tricky. When there’s a persistent problem, like an illness or an addiction in the mix, they can be impossible. Persistent problems can be the source of much harm. The alcoholic you can’t rely on. The gambler you can’t trust with money. The depressive who won’t do anything. The phobic who won’t go anywhere. The narcissist who makes everything about her. The guy who can’t seem to keep his dick in his pants. When problems like alcoholism, compulsive gambling, depression, phobias, narcissism, or compulsive sex take over, it takes hard work to eradicate them and eternal vigilance to keep them away. Relapse can be expected. When we’re talking about addiction, it takes an average of seven real attempts before recovery feels solid and, even then, you won’t know if he’s going to need eight. Mental illness also tends to be episodic, and, if nothing is done about it, each new episode is worse than the last. People who have succumbed once to the allure of violence, sexual recklessness, self harm, suicide attempts, or self-pity are more likely to do it again. Moreover, problems will often go into hiding when they feel threatened, so that what appears to be recovery is really a more pernicious hidden phase of the same problem that caused so much trouble before. Continue reading →

Combat Veterans and Fireworks

Tip toeing around PTSD

The neighborhood where I live has its own Facebook page where people post announcements and searches for lost cats. Last year, about this time, a post appeared from a neighbor who said he was an Iraq War veteran. Fireworks triggered his PTSD, he said, so could we please refrain from shooting them off?

By the time I saw this request, many had already commented, saying thank you for your service and, no, of course they wouldn’t shoot off fireworks if it bothered him so much. I wasn’t planning on shooting off fireworks anyway, so I had no problem complying with his request, but I did want to write into the comment section and ask if he had competent mental health care. I was concerned he didn’t. Continue reading →

Boundaries and Trust

Think of your Self as a house.

There are some people in your life who you never have to trust. They’re like people who never come in to your house. You pass them on the street and go by. You see them all the time, but they don’t know you.

Others, you trust in some small way. Waiters, shopkeepers, clerks, and customer service workers are like delivery people who leave things on the porch of that house, ring the bell, and leave. They have contact with you as a house, but it is very brief and task oriented. You trust your waiter to bring you your soup, but you examine it before you eat it.

Others come to visit you on the porch. You’re friendly and spend some time with them, but never really let them in. The porch of your Self has a little bit of you in it, but it’s a public part of you. Most of you is kept private from them and safe. Continue reading →

How Normal is Abnormal?

Just how common are mental health problems? According to researchers following more than a thousand New Zealanders for 35 years, they’re extremely common. By age 38, they say, 83% have had a diagnosable mental health condition at some point in their lives; in most cases, a mild depression, anxiety, or a substance use disorder.

Also, they found that mental health was not associated with wealth, physical health or intelligence. They discovered certain temperamental aspects from childhood such as being more social, less emotionally reactive, and having higher levels of self-control can predict enduring mental health. It helps, as well, to not have family members with psychiatric conditions. Continue reading →

Detect Dreams

When you’re stuck at an impasse.

You find yourself gridlocked. You want children; she doesn’t. He wants you to go to church, but you’re an atheist. She likes to stay home; you’re always ready to party. There doesn’t seem to be any solution. There’s no way to compromise. You’re ready to call it quits. What do you do?

Step away from the problem.

Look at the big picture. Understand the different points of view. Not just your perspectives on the immediate issue, but what lies behind them. Behind every position is a dream or a value that you and your partner find essential. Acknowledging and respecting these deepest, most personal hopes and dreams is the key to getting past the impasse. Continue reading →