Don’t Ask Me What I Do, Instead Ask Me Who I Am

Don't Ask Me What I Do, Instead Ask Me Who I AmI carry a few different business cards in my purse. Because I never know what conversation I will have with a stranger at any given time.

A month ago I fetched cream for my coffee at a café in South Bend, Indiana. Naturally my family didn’t know a soul in the joint. However, by the time I returned to my table, I knew some incredibly intimate (not to mention interesting) details about the daughter of the man next to me who was reaching for a napkin: his daughter is bipolar; she was anorexic as a teenage ballerina; and she’s on some of the same meds as I am.

I ended up giving him a business card with everything but my email scratched out.

I didn’t want to have the conversation of what I do for living.

It doesn’t have anything to do with who I am.

And that’s why I get so annoyed that we have to start all of our conversations with that question.

As a country, we are obsessed with our jobs: An understatement. Our professions are central to our self-identities and our industries define who we are. We don’t even know how to vacation. It doesn’t matter that United States workers receive far fewer vacation days than other workers in other industrialized countries because American employees fail to take the time off that they have accrued. Our European friends shake their heads at that one.

I remember how refreshing it was to ask a French couple “what they did” (I plead guilty) at a swim meet for our kids.

“We are skiers,” they said emphatically. No equivocation. No insecurity. No approval-seeking.

That was who they are and were proud of being, and told me a hell of a lot more about them than had they rattled off their resumes starting with their last places of employment: “I’m an accountant with Ernst & Young.” “I’m a consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton.” “I’m a program manager with Northrup Grumman.” Snore. Snore like Gramma.

My conundrum is that I wear a few different hats at the present moment, so I, in fact, don’t really know what I am. I know what my ministry or innate purpose in life is — to provide hope to those who struggle intensely with depression and other mood disorders — but it’s not related to what I do for a living as a government contractor. One pays with blessings, the other is generous with benefits. And, unfortunately in this country, most benefits are tied to your job, so while following your dream is all good and noble, you might get screwed if your appendix bursts like mine did a year ago and you need some quick medical attention. Passion, at times, has to take a back seat to medical care and other life necessities.

Upon meeting someone new, part of me hopes I will never hear the dreaded four words (what-do-you-do) because then I wouldn’t have to assess how I am going to respond — with my pragmatic communications-consultant role, or with the idealistic wanting-to-save-the-world profile.

At the least, it would be nice to delay the work conversation toward the second-half of the conversation, after the other top three questions: Where are you from? Why are you here? (conference, cocktail hour, reunion, fundraiser, Chuck E Cheese), How many kids do you have and what are their ages and when were they potty trained?

For this reason, I’ve always loved writer Oriah Mountain Dreamer’s poem, The Invitation, that went viral 15 years ago and was later published in a book. May we all share this vision one day.

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living. I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing. It doesn’t interest me how old you are. I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon. I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain! I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.

I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true. I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence. I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children. It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here. I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied. I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away. I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

Is Distance Treatment the Wave of the Future?

With advances in technology, distance learning on college campuses has exploded over the last decade.  And as time passes, the mental health community is taking note.

Students want to study when they want and how they want.  Distance learning makes education available to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to get off of work, travel to class or spend hours in lectures.  

That same increase in convenience and availability could have a real impact for people seeking psychological treatment. Is distance treatment ready to take off?

People who must maintain jobs, care for children or aging parents, don’t have cars or access to public transportation or want to learn material that is not offered where they live can all benefit from distance learning. These are often the same reasons people struggle to access mental health services.

And there is a large body of research that suggests distance learning and traditional classroom learning provide the same quality of education. Distance learning is no longer considered a sub-standard educational option.

So, how can these benefits apply to receiving psychological treatment?

Treatment available online or at a distance could certainly help people with difficulties in getting to therapy sessions and incorporating treatment into a busy lifestyle. It would also enable people to access specific treatment modalities not otherwise available to them.

And, according to the American Psychological Association, psychologists have begun using electronic communication such as email, Skype and various forms of videoconferencing to augment treatment. But, while technology surges ahead, licensing laws and guidelines for providing safe and ethical distance treatment are still catching up.

A recent article reporting on the use of phone therapy in Monitor on Psychology suggests that talking on the phone with a therapist can provide the same, or even better, results for some.

In this study, conducted by University of Cambridge researchers, British adults with mild and moderate depression and anxiety disorders who received cognitive behavioral-based therapy via the phone benefited as much, if not more, than those who received face-to-face therapy. Those with severe symptoms did not see the same results.

This study also found that telephone therapy was less expensive than traditional therapy and was conducted as part of a national initiative in Britain aimed at increasing people’s access to therapy.

The telephone is only one of many options for providing distance treatment. The number of mental health tools available is rapidly increasing. And many in the field agree that it’s time for practitioners to embrace technology and what it has to offer in delivering interventions.

One-on-one treatment cannot be replaced.  Nor should it.  However, the need for treatment providers to meet the changing and growing mental health needs of the population has caused the ΑΡΑ Insurance Trust and the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards to launch a task force to develop guidelines for tele-psychology practice.

So what are some of the alternatives to one-on-one therapy?  According to a cover story in the APA Monitor they include the following:

  • Behavioral intervention technologies, such as those that deliver care via the Internet or mobile phones
  • Computer programs for depression and other disorders, which typically teach principles of cognitιve-behavioral therapy or some other evidence-based treatment

Although these treatment options are appealing and there is a growing body of research to suggest that many are effective, it is important to proceed with caution.  It is essential to ensure that individuals get the right treatment and that treatments offered have been studied and found effective.

The Strange & Surprising Science of Sleep

The Strange & Surprising Science of SleepIn his book Dreamland: Adventures in the Strange Science of Sleep, author David K. Randall calls sleep “one of the dirty little secrets of science.” That’s because despite spending almost a third of our lives sleeping, we don’t really know much about the process of sleep.

In fact, Randall, a senior reporter at Reuters, notes that sleep is one of the youngest fields in science. Until the 1950s, researchers believed that our brains remained quiet during slumber.

But the discovery of the stages of sleep shattered this perspective. For instance, our brains are just as active in REM sleep — aptly named rapid eye movement because our eyes shift rapidly against our lids — as they are when we’re awake.

In Dreamland, Randall shares a slew of these fascinating, surprising and eye-opening facts, anecdotes and research studies. These are a few curious tidbits from his book.

Our Normal Sleep Isn’t So Normal

Today, we think that sleeping through the night is a sign of normal and healthy slumber. In fact, people who wake up around the same time every night think their sleep is fractured — and that something is wrong, Randall writes. And when they complain about this concern to their doctors, they probably walk away with a sleeping pill, he says.

But segmented sleep has actually been the norm for thousands of years — that is, until the advent of artificial lighting. In the 1980s and ‘90s, history professor Roger Ekirch began seeing interesting patterns in his book collection, which included tales and medical texts: references to “first sleep” and “second sleep.”

Psychiatrist Thomas Wehr also began seeing strange results in his sleep experiment: After participants, who were deprived of artificial light for up to 14 hours, caught up on their sleep and felt more rested, they’d wake up around midnight and lie awake for about an hour, and then fall asleep.

In another study, Wehr found that during that hour awake the brains of participants were churning out higher levels of prolactin. This hormone reduces stress and relaxes the body after orgasm, according to Randall.

Before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, people would fall asleep after sunset. Then they’d naturally wake up around midnight for about an hour. During that time individuals might do anything from praying to reading to having sex. Then they’d naturally fall back asleep until morning.

Randall notes that other studies have confirmed that people naturally experience segmented sleep. And in areas with no artificial light, people still experience first and second sleep.

Naps Get a Bad Rap

In our society, naps are viewed as luxurious activities only reserved for the privileged or the lazy. That’s a shame, because research continues to show the benefits of naps and discredit these beliefs.

One study found that astronauts who slept for just 15 minutes had better cognitive performance, even when there was no boost in their alertness or ability to pay attention.

Another study found that participants who napped and experienced the deeper stages of sleep had more flexible thinking. They were able to apply information they memorized to a new task much better than participants who watched a movie instead of napping.

Randall also notes that participants who take naps outperform their counterparts who aren’t allowed to doze off on other various tasks. For instance, research has found that they’re able to finish mazes faster and remember longer lists of words.

Big companies have even made naps part of their workday. According to Randall, Google and Nike are just some of the companies that have created specific spaces for their workers to sleep. “The idea is that naps may allow engineers and designers to arrive at creative solutions more quickly than they would by staying awake all day,” he writes.

In Dreamland Randall explores many more peculiar issues surrounding sleep, from the purpose of dreams to the bizarre world of sleepwalking and “sleep crime.”

While sleep research is in its infancy, one fact is undeniable: Sleep is vital for everything from our survival to our success.

When functioning optimally, sleep can sharpen our thinking and help us problem solve (like golfer Jack Nicklaus did when he figured out how to tweak his swing in his sleep). When gone wrong – as in cases of sleepwalking and sleep deprivation – it can distort our cognitive skills, sink our mood and even make us dangerous.

As Randall notes, “Sleep isn’t a break from our lives. It’s the missing third of the puzzle of what it means to be living.”

 

Woman sleeping photo available from Shutterstock