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Wagon Wheel

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“You know what they call me?” he asked, a little too loudly.

I’d been keeping an eye on him for a little while, off and on, because he was Italian. Some of the staff, for all of their intelligence, don’t know how to handle it when a guy whose parents came over from Italy starts acting normal. “Normal” for an Italian guy is to talk loudly and rapidly, wave his hands about, and get “uncomfortably” close, and on rare occasion I’ll get a call about a guy “getting in my face and yelling and making threatening gestures”. It’s kind of funny, I think.

I had no trouble connecting with him, and he was free with his verbal affection for me. To top it off, he was intoxicated and getting “up there in years”. A little earlier, he’d mentioned that his father died at age 90; not too long after, he mentioned, in a little too offhanded way, that he himself was 89. So I’m thinking that he’s thinking about how he’s probably going to die soon.

Anyway, so he asked me if I knew what they call him, and I said, “No, what do they call you?”

“They call me Wagon Wheel.”

I thought that an odd nickname. “Wagon wheel?”

“Yeah, Wagon Wheel.”

That’s odd,” I said.

“Yeah”, he added. “Wanna know why they call me Wagon Wheel?”

“Sure.”

“It’s cuz I been through a lotta shit!”

How could I not laugh?

I tore myself away and went to take care of other business, but I stopped in and checked on him a couple of times. When it came time to let him go home, he said, “Hey… are you going to remember anything? Have I given you anything?” It really mattered to him.

“Yeah, you bet. I’m gonna remember “Wagon Wheel”.

“You a wagon wheel? You been through a lotta shit?”

“Sure,” I said, “I been through a lotta shit. They could call me Wagon Wheel too.”

“Well, then, remember this,” he said. “There’s four wheels on a wagon. Three other wheels been through the same shit as you.”

If he was worried about leaving a legacy, he can stop after that.

Written by Michael DeBusk

February 14th, 2009 at 3:57 pm

Put More Water in the Soup

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Many years ago, I went into (high-interest) debt to help a friend keep her home. She was battling a Worker’s Compensation insurance company for the settlement to which she was clearly entitled, and they were jerking her around, making her sue them in court every time they owed her something. Anyway, it was my first taste of living with massive debt.

When they finally paid her what they owed her, she paid me back. Instead of blowing that big check, I paid off my massive debt.

It felt so amazingly good to be free of it that I haven’t had any long-term debt since. (Long-term debt is a contract for more than a year. I bought a new vehicle in 2002 and financed it for twelve months.) And I’ve been saving a large portion of my paycheck for years, too.

So the $4-a-gallon gasoline didn’t bother me. The current “credit crunch” can’t really touch me. I didn’t buy a poorly-built, overpriced McMansion with a subprime mortgage, either.

All around me, though, are people who make two to five times my annual salary and who don’t have a pot in which to urinate. And people who are absolutely flat broke who trade their food stamps for snacks and sodas and spend their government stipend on expensive skin care products and cell phone contracts.

The only thing I can think of that separates me from them is that I’ve been where they are, I’ve been where they aren’t, and I know which one works better. They’ve just been where they are.

In times like these, get-rich-quick schemes really do well… for the grifters who purvey them, that is. And I’ve been active in online NLP forums for ages, so I’ve seen hundreds of “How can I use NLP to get rich?” messages. I just recently responded to one about that so-called “Law of Attraction” nonsense, and since I didn’t get a response I’m guessing I wrote something the poster didn’t want to read. I wish they’d include a disclaimer that said “Only reinforce my delusions, please. No reality checks welcome.”

The funny thing is, even if it all worked, even if all this “huge income with little effort” stuff actually paid off, it wouldn’t help. If you make a million dollars a year and you spend a million dollars and fifty cents, you’re still broke. No matter how big your bucket or how cool and sweet the water with which you fill it, if there are big holes in it you’re going to be thirsty all the time.

So for a little while, let’s put aside our money-making strategies and work on some money-keeping strategies.

There’s a blog called No Credit Needed and I encourage you to read it all. The author started from debt-plus-no-savings and worked his way to financial stability, and he chronicled his journey. Excellent stuff. First-class exemplar of the skill. In a post today, he offers up the10 basic steps he followed to escape the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle.

There are good books, too, like The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind by Thomas Stanley and The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey. (FYI: those are Amazon.com links.)

Shop around at local or regional banks, too, for your banking services. They’re less likely to have been caught with their scruples down and are doing a bit better right now.

If we’re going to fix this economy, we have to do it the way we do everything else: go first.

Oh, by the way: stay safe at work. Being screwed by Worker’s Comp is no way to live!

Written by Michael DeBusk

December 4th, 2008 at 1:52 pm

Helping People Coping with Illness

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I can tell you that there are people who tell me they’ve noticed a difference in me since my heart attack almost two years ago. I have noticed it myself. Even though there’s nothing structurally wrong with my heart that hasn’t been wrong with it since before I was born (according to two separate stress tests, the heart attack caused zero damage), I’m a different guy for having experienced it. Those changes are coming to a head now, and I am looking for ways to make myself more like what I was before. I’m getting some guidance from people close to me: one is an NLP Practitioner, and the other is a psychologist who specializes in trauma. I need this guidance because it’s so easy for a person to kid themselves.

The economy is stressing lots of people to the point of strain now, and because strain is a leading cause of various illnesses, the opportunity for we people-helpers to help the physically ill with their emotional and mental challenges is likely to present itself more and more often. You never know when you might have a friend, relative, or co-worker who’s suddenly faced with something bigger than they’re equipped to handle alone.

The Psych Central blog has featured several “coping with illness” articles over the past couple of months. I’d like to draw your attention to three of them.

Breast Cancer Coping Styles refers to a Temple University study on responses to a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Ericksen set out to explore how women respond to a diagnosis of breast cancer shortly after receiving her own diagnosis. She discovered there are four types of responders, including the “take charge” type, each valuable for different women.

And, because breasts are one of the most important Western symbols of femininity and breast cancer receives more attention in the media than other forms of cancer, Ericksen also investigated how the cultural messages women receive about breast cancer inform their journeys.

PTSD Among ICU Survivors references an article from HBNS which reports that one in five ICU survivors experiences PTSD Symptoms.

PTSD can occur in people who have experienced or witnessed life-threatening events, such as serious accidents, violent personal assaults or natural disasters. Symptoms — which include nightmares and problems sleeping, flashbacks, irritability, anger and feelings of emotional detachment or numbness — often extend for months or years after the traumatic event, and affect about 6.8 percent of the general U.S. population, according to National Center for PTSD figures.

The trauma of an ICU stay triggers PTSD symptoms in many survivors and negatively can affect a person’s quality of life after leaving the hospital, the authors discovered.

Family Members Experience PTSD highlights a University of Pittsburgh study on how families of ICU survivors also experience PTSD.

Researchers found that symptoms of anxiety and depression in family members of ICU patients diminished over time, but high rates of post-traumatic stress and complicated grief remained.

“Our findings suggest that family members of patients in the intensive care unit are at risk for serious psychological disorders that may require treatment,” said Cindy L. Bryce, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine and health policy and management at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

One more thing I want to mention is a book which forever changed the way I think about working with people who are facing life-changing events: When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold S. Kushner. If you haven’t read it yet, believe me, it’s worth the time and effort. I keep having to buy new copies because whenever I loan mine, it doesn’t come back.

So keep your eyes, ears, and heart open to those in pain, and remember those close to them as well.

Written by Michael DeBusk

November 22nd, 2008 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Articles,Neuro,Psych

Ticking off the pros, the third

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I remember the Psychiatric Social Worker as being a wonderful lady, and I liked her a lot. Smart, curious, well-educated, and really easy on the eyes. Sometimes I wondered about her street smarts, though.

The night I’m thinking of, she was evaluating a big, burly, truck-driver-looking guy because he’d threatened to kill himself. She’d decided he meant it and needed to stay with us for a few days. Under state law, we have to give everybody a chance to sign themselves in, and she was going to do that… and if he refused, she’d have him committed against his will.

(We do it more often than we like. It sounds mean, but, really, it’s not. Most people in that position end up glad we did it.)

She was worried that he’d react violently when she offered him this apparent Hobson’s Choice, so she asked me to be close by. I stood just out of sight and listened. He didn’t react violently, but he did do something interesting.

He repeated, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”

She did her best to assure him that it was his choice, and he’d say, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.” Then he’d ask her what she thought he should do, and she’d repeat that she couldn’t choose for him, that it was his choice. And again he’d say, “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t.”

This went on for, I’m guessing, FIVE STRAIGHT MINUTES. He couldn’t choose, she wouldn’t help. (She couldn’t help. I’m not blaming her for this. He was in a bind, he knew it; he wanted out of it, and she had no way of figuring out how to help without appearing to lead or coerce him. So she was in a bind too.)

I decided I’d stood there long enough, feeling sorry for them both. So I walked around the corner and “listened” for a couple of “I’m damned if I do, and I’m damned if I don’t” rounds. Then I said:

“Look, man… you’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t, right?”

“Yeah!” he said. Frustrated. Wanting help.

So I said, “Well, you might as well get it over with.”

He tilted his head, went inside for a second, nodded, grabbed the clipboard, and signed himself in.

The Social Worker was shocked, but didn’t say anything to me.

I’ll only point out to her, if she’s reading this, that I didn’t tell him which choice to make… I only suggested that he make one. Choosing to be committed would have been every bit as valid a response to my statement as signing himself in, and I would have found it every bit as respectable. The truth is, though, signing himself in was in line with his values and being committed was not, so he chose to sign.

Written by Michael DeBusk

September 24th, 2008 at 7:09 pm

Ticking off the pros, part two

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This story is much funnier when my friend Deb tells it because she’s the nurse who was involved. Because she couldn’t really see everything I was doing, she likes to exaggerate her level of frustration.

The patient was a rather large and muscular guy who looked as if he’d been in a few fights in his life. I’m not sure what he was doing, but the staff were quite intimidated. When I got there, he was sitting in one of the common areas, slouched in his chair, with a look of exaggerated indifference on his face. Deb was sitting at the opposite end of the table and talking to him with a great sense of reason in her voice. (It’s hard to describe the tone in more detail. Sorry.) I sat down at the table, too, in view of him but not her, and I slouched in my chair and put an exaggerated indifference on my face.

When she said anything I thought he should agree with, I’d shift my expression to “Well, that makes sense”, and then shift it back to mirror his.

(Deb would say something like, “I called him so he could help me, and all he did was sit there!)

And when I figured he and I were on the same wavelength, I yawned. A little noisily, but not loudly.

(Deb would nearly shout at this point in the story, “And then he started yawning! I’m trying to defuse a dangerous situation and he’s yawning!“)

I sat and listened and paced him for another minute and yawned again. And then he yawned too. I guess he got tired or something. No more fight in him. Shortly, he asked her if he could just go to bed.

As we walked out of the room, she gave me the “WTF did you do?!” look. I just shrugged.

Written by Michael DeBusk

September 17th, 2008 at 11:43 pm

Posted in Articles,Rapport

Ticking off the pros

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She was really going off on the nurses, and they couldn’t get control of her. It can get scary for a psych nurse when a patient goes there… probably because they believe Torrey. I’ve never found the mentally ill to be any scarier than anyone else, so I guess I have an advantage. I got there within a minute of the call. All they wanted was for her to go be quiet in her room for a few minutes.

The patient, a textbook Borderline, was throwing a first-class tantrum. Keep in mind that a lot of therapists refuse to work with people who have her problem, and that most of the ones who will work with them don’t have much success. The great skill of Borderline Personality Disorder is Jerking People Around; they do it better than absolutely anybody.

One of the things a Borderline will do is, they’ll place you into one of two categories. You’re an angel or a demon. You can jump immediately from one category to the other, depending on whether or not you’re doing what the patient wants you to do. If you care at all, even a little, about the relationship, they will quickly condition you. It’s either amazing or sad to watch.

Nurses are taught to maintain a “professional distance” with patients. That tends to work with most, but the Borderlines will scream, “You don’t even care about me! You’re supposed to be nurses! Nurses are supposed to care about people!” (Yes, I learned a lot about double-binds from these situations.)

Personally, I think the key is that I care more about my opinion of myself than I care about anyone else’s opinion of me. Like me? Great! Don’t like me? That’s still OK. I like me.

I walked over to the ranting patient and asked her what was going on. After she got a sentence out, I shifted my stance to mirror hers. Then I started to nod in time with the rhythm of her ranting. Once in a while, I’d feed back to her a word or two. One of the nurses stood nearby. I usually appreciate that. This time, though, the nurse picked up on something the patient said and tried to respond.

The next thing that happened caught me off guard. The patient wheeled on the nurse and shouted, Excuse me! I’m having a conversation with this man!” The nurse blushed a dark maroon, apologized, and walked away. To my credit, I suppressed my smile before the patient turned back to me. (Well, it was funny.)

After a minute or so more, I said to her, “OK. Head on back to your room and wait there for a bit. I’ll talk to the nurses and get their side of the story.”

She thanked me and went to do what the staff wanted her to do all along.

Written by Michael DeBusk

September 16th, 2008 at 2:06 am

Gotta love a little TA once in a while

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While reading this NLP Connections thread I was reminded of my early reading of Transactional Analysis. Books like I’m OK, You’re OK, Games People Play, and Beyond Games and Scripts really piqued my interest in psychology and therapeutic interaction.

(I know Richard likes to poke fun at TA, but what I really think he pokes fun of is how people can’t tell metaphor or model from reality.)

Anyway, in the above-linked thread, one of the participants mentioned something I hadn’t seen before: The Karpman Drama Triangle. I thought you might like it too. Here’s the link to an article on the topic: The Three Faces of Victim.

Written by Michael DeBusk

August 7th, 2008 at 10:44 pm

Conflicting Values Can Be Amusing

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On my old friend Chad’s blog I find a funny story from his wife, Tina, about some of the “home buyer” shows she’s seen on HGTV:

The wishes kill me…

  • I want to live in the city, but I do not want the noise, I want to be away from the traffic.
  • I want to live in the country, but do not want a big yard.
  • I want to live in the suburbs, but I do not want to live close to other people

It cracks me up, too, Tina. I used to do something similar with the Personals ads in newspapers. (It isn’t as much fun on Web-based Personals sites because people have a lot of “room” to write. They get pretty elaborate about their conflicting desires. Newspaper ads were fun because they were terse.)

I guess people are taught to think in terms of black-and-white, on-and-off, digital and not analog. This is important to me, they think, so I have to have it. Weird.

Maybe we should have some sort of adulthood ritual, like “primitive” cultures do.

Written by Michael DeBusk

August 3rd, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Posted in Articles,Values

Are you naked?

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If you are, do you look good? If you aren’t, would you look good if you were?

I rarely watch TV, and when I do you can be damn sure it isn’t Lifetime TV. But I was flipping through the channel guide at my S/O’s house the other day when the name of a show caught my eye: How to Look Good Naked. Being male — er, curious — I checked it out, and I must say I was impressed.

This is not your typical makeover show. Yes, the ladies get new clothes, makeup, and hairstyle, but think about it: none of that makes them look good naked.

No diets, no exercise, no plastic surgery. No changes in their bodies at all. And by the end of the show, these self-loathing ladies are confidently posing nude for a photographer and strutting — in front of an audience — down a catwalk in their underwear. And loving it. Loving it.

How do they do it? You’ll have to watch the show:

Written by Michael DeBusk

July 23rd, 2008 at 11:36 pm

I met a survivor

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An old man, stooped and shuffling slowly along, speaking so quietly I could barely hear and so rarely that, until I finally made out something he said, I wondered if he understood English. The other people in the store treated him with a respect not often seen in that context. I wondered who he was.

Then he turned to go sit down, and I saw the numbers tattooed on his forearm.

After he left, one of the store employees spoke to me about him. (I could tell that the employee felt it was an honor to have the old man in the store.) I learned that the old man was, as a boy, in line at the gas chamber, waiting his turn to die, when the American troops liberated the camp. I also learned that only about fifty or so survivors remain alive today, at least in the US.

A good friend of mine used to work in the office of a plastic surgeon. She told me that the German government will pay for the removal of the tattoo from any Holocaust survivor, and that it was rare for anyone to take them up on it. She asked one survivor why she didn’t have the tattoo removed: “Why would you want that reminder?” The woman said, “I don’t want to remember. I want the world to remember, so it will never happen again.”

I mentioned the number tattoo to a dear friend of mine afterward, and was saddened to find that she didn’t know what I was talking about. The more I explained it to her, the more heartsick I felt, too, and I realized that my perspective had changed. You see, before, I knew about the Holocaust, but now I’ve met it. Before, it was a history lesson; now, it’s real to me.

Perhaps it’s time to read Man’s Search for Meaning again.

Written by Michael DeBusk

June 25th, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Posted in Articles