LONELINESS

Many years ago I treated a patient who was suffering from a near fatal case of loneliness.

 

No, I am not exaggerating for this person would later confess that she had come to me in a last-ditch attempt to resolve her problems while promising herself that if I couldn’t help she would hang herself. She was a 20-something attractive and very modestly dressed woman who did indeed look very despondent with the psychomotor retardation and furrowed brow characteristics of clinical depression. When I asked her why she was there to see me, she hung her head, stared at the floor, and tearfully responded that she had been shunned.

 

She went on to tell of how her infraction of the church’s rules (one that most of us would consider a minor infraction) had resulted in her being officially designated as one with whom the entire church should have no contact whatsoever. You may be thinking: “Big deal go find another church.” But her story was more complicated. She had grown up attending this church. It was the center of not only her spiritual, but also her social and family life. Since the church doctrine insisted that only members of their church were true Christians, the members were warned about the dangers of consorting with people outside the church, apparently convinced that sin was contagious. Thus, when alienated from the congregation, which to make matters worse, included her entire family, she found herself totally alone.

 

Such stories are not new as evidenced by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s tear-jerker, THE SCARLET LETTER, but give witness to the importance of relationships and the pain of loneliness. Many religions have used banishment of varying degrees of severity to punish wayward members. The Catholic Church’s policy of excommunication appears to be less stringent and is viewed by the church as a means to save souls whereby one can return to the fold and regain salvation by repenting. Such tools are powerful and their use can have long lasting effects. For example, I recently discovered that my Great, Great, Great Grandfather was shunned and ejected from the Quaker church. It occurred to me that if he had toed the line, I might be a Quaker.

 

AND YOU THOUGHT SMOKING WAS BAD

Solitary confinement has long been used as a means to enhance the discomfort of imprisonment, and is agreed by many to be a form of torture. In a previous blog, WHAT’S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT? I contended that our need for relationships is encoded in our DNA, having evolved long ago as a major contributor to the survival of our species. If one were to accept that premise, it would be logical to assume that loneliness could be a major problem for us. Indeed, according to Vivek Murthy, M.D., the former Surgeon General of the U.S., loneliness has become “a growing public health crisis.” He has said that loneliness is a more effective agent in reducing longevity than obesity, and that its toxic effects are worse than smoking 15 cigarettes per day. Recent research into the prevalence and effects of loneliness tends to confirm Murthy’s assessment. Last year Cigna released a report on a study of 20,000 people age 18 and over as measured by the UCLA loneliness scale.

 

Nearly half reported loneliness as a problem, but even more concerning was that 27% felt no one understood them, and 43% admitted they felt their relationships were not meaningful. One in five felt they rarely or never felt close to others or that there was anyone they could talk to. It was also noted that Generation Z (those born after 1996) were the loneliest of all the generations measured.

There have been a number of studies which confirm the effects of loneliness on physical and mental health. It is not surprising that it could result in affective disorders such as depression, and may help explain the increase incidence of suicide as mentioned in my previous blog, but there is also evidence that loneliness can cause or aggravate innumerable maladies including: hypertension, coronary artery disease, dementia, inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, impairment of immune systems, and even some malignancies to name a few.
A study in the Archives of Internal Medicine sponsored by the National Institute of Health followed 1604 people over the age of 60 (average age 70) for 6 years and measured their physical decline and mortality rate. Their stark conclusion was: “Among participants who were older than 60 years, loneliness was a predictor of functional decline and death.” Need I say more about our need to engage with our fellow man?

 

WE ARE NOT THE ONLY LONELY

It turns out that we are not the only nation where loneliness has become a problem, both from a public health and productivity perspective. Great Britain’s parliament has recently appointed a commissioner to investigate remedies for what has been called a silent epidemic after a study showed that 20% of Brits reported they were lonely most or all of the time. It appears there are similar studies in progress in other European countries. It would be helpful to know if loneliness is a worldwide problem or peculiar to our culture.

NOTHING ELSE TO DO

If one accepts the premise that loneliness is a significant problem, the question arises as to how did we get this way and what can we do about it. Prior to the industrial revolution, multi-generational families provided a sense of belonging. Relatives galore, including parents, siblings, cousins, grandparents, aunts, and uncles usually lived in close proximity. With the switch from an agrarian to an industrial society, there had been a migration to cities where houses were built close together, which resulted in the development of neighborhoods usually composed of people with common interests. There was the inevitable clustering of children who interacted with only minimal adult supervision, and stay-at-home moms who could relate to each other in a very personal way. Neighbors were evaluated based on certain standards including friendliness and mutual respect. The lack of air conditioning and television made front porches very popular especially on hot evenings, and provided an opportunity for informal socializing. The only taboo subjects were sex, religion, and politics.

 

BETTER THINGS TO DO?

Soon after World War II ended, front porches began to disappear from neighborhoods, and there was a wild rush to the suburbs where large green lawns were treasured and families had fewer opportunities to be “neighborly.” On hot summer nights, it became more comfortable to be inside the house (with air conditioning) than outside. There were also new-found entertainment devices available – first radio, then TV, movies in the VCR and then DVD Player, video games, and then the internet which gave us social media and streaming. One could go for months or longer without ever having face-to- face contact with one’s neighbors. There was no longer danger of an errant foul tip sending a baseball through someone’s window. Privacy became important, and it was no longer considered a snub to build a fence between houses.  There were no kids playing hopscotch on the sidewalks, as a matter of fact, there often were no sidewalks in these new neighborhoods.

Competing Schedules and Activities

As more mothers joined the workforce and children were exposed to more structured extra-curricular activities, long-held family traditions changed. There was concern about the “latch key children” so named because they would come home to an empty house. The evening meal, often the only time in which the entire family came together, was often disrupted due to conflicting schedules. This led to the so-called crock pot families where the family meal was available to all who passed by…making it easy to just grab a bite and be on your way without any hassle (or conversation).

Forced Socialization in the Pew

Another effective defense against loneliness was the weekly church service. Traditionally, religious institutions encouraged socializing (and in some cases, demanded it). However, attendance at religious institutions has declined in recent years (one study says church membership in the U.S. has declined from 70% in 1999 to 50% in 2018).

 

WHY SO MUCH LONELINESS?

It is ironic that in this digital age when we have vastly improved modes of communication, that we would identify loneliness as a problem. Facebook’s founder, Mark Zuckerberg, insists that he saw his invention as a tool by which relationships could be fostered throughout the world and help dispel feelings of loneliness and dissention, but it appears that it has done more to promote divisiveness and distrust.

 

With the invention of the telephone we gave up non-verbal cues in our conversations, and the trade-off for its convenience seemed like a good deal. Now kids have largely given up talking on their cell phones in favor of texting. Voices from the internet, news media and politicians all conspire to promote divisiveness and paranoia to the point that it is almost impossible to have a rational conversation about many of the issues of the day.

 
Today people are marrying later and living longer. As reflected in the census figures of 2012, 32 million or 27% of Americans lived alone which was up from 17% in 1970. As you might expect, widowhood is likely responsible for many single occupant households, and in another study it was found that 47% of women over the age of 75 lived alone. With aging, comes the inevitable debilities and limitations. The National Institute on Aging reports that nearly half of all people over the age of 75 have hearing loss, which can be a major impediment to any meaningful social interaction resulting in withdrawal from friends and family.

 

It has been said that Americans are losing faith in our institutions, and our political leanings are often shaped by who we hate rather than who we like. Political discourse has hit a new low. Muck raking is no longer good enough, and has been replaced by personal insults a la grade school rants. Respect for contrary opinions has now gone out of fashion. Divide and conquer is the new strategy, and a tactic that seems to have even been adopted by the news media (Matt Taibbi has written an entire book about it, called “Hate Inc.”). We lack heroes. We frequently hear the term “disenfranchised” these days, a synonym for “left out” and to be an outsider is lonely for any herd critter.

ALL IS NOT LOST (stay with me…a little break from “downer” time)

There is some evidence that there may be some efforts underway to deal with the loneliness issue. I was pleased to see a recent article in Psychiatric News suggesting that psychiatrists are focusing more on loneliness as an underlying psychiatric problem (don’t know why it took so long to figure that out). A former president of the American Psychiatric Association has suggested that assessment for loneliness be part of any evaluation or perhaps become a diagnostic category in the DSM 5 (the shrink bible). There is also a growing awareness of a worldwide suicide epidemic which most would agree loneliness all too often plays a part.  Lonely lifestyles also frequently seem to be common with mass murderers.
lonely quote

LONELINESS VS. BEING ALONE

Proximity to other people is not necessarily a solution for loneliness, for it is not unusual to feel lonely in the midst of a crowd. Obviously, some type of emotional engagement is necessary to dispel lonely feelings. Ordinary discourse involves much more than words. Unfortunately, in our digital world many of the nuances of communication are lost. Not only are the tone, rhythm, volume, and timbre involved, but there are multiple non-verbal cues which can modify or even completely change a communication. As a matter of fact, some very significant interactions may occur without any words spoken. In that vein a text hardly measures up to a face to face encounter as a means to communicate feelings.

 

Emotional tone is less relevant, for even an argument can dispel lonely feelings.
Although, until recently, there have been few attempts to measure the extent of loneliness, there is definitely a consensus among sociologists and mental health professionals that there has been a definite increase. Employers have taken note of recent research which has shown that employees are more productive when they are encouraged to interact with each other. As a consequence, in many cases the traditional office cubical arrangement has been scrapped in favor of a more open environment, teamwork is encouraged, and brief chats at the water fountain are less likely to result in a dirty look from the boss. Since most workers spend nearly half of their waking hours in the workplace such changes could be very beneficial for large segments of society.

 

GO TEAM

The needs for engagement with other humans has long been addressed by the formation of millions of organizations that bring groups of people together with myriad goals, but which also provide an opportunity to relate to others. The sense of belonging to a group is a powerful antidote to loneliness. Young people who feel neglected or alienated are more likely to join street gangs (easier to radicalize for terrorism and/or recruit for “religious” cults*). Athletic events and concerts attract millions, most of whom “show their colors” and cheer as one. One of my all-time favorite TV shows was Cheers which identified the locus of the show as the place “where everybody knows your name.” Organizations of all kinds including sports teams, military, and political groups or for that matter any group of people with a common goal make use of the need to belong which at the end of the day is an antidote to loneliness.

THEY NEED EACH OTHER

AARP sponsors a very interesting and apparently successful program called “Experience Corps” in which volunteer over 50 are enrolled in a program where they are trained to help children develop literacy skills. They spend 6 to 15 hours per week working with K-3 students with spectacular results including as much as 60% improvement in reading skills, fewer behavior problems, improved attendance, and increased graduation rates  The AARP foundation at last report had 2,000 volunteers throughout the country serving over 30,000 students. However; it appears the volunteers may be benefiting more than the kids from the program. A University of Michigan study reported a statistical decrease in depressive symptoms and functional limitations among the volunteers after two years involvement in the Experience Corps. There may also be a secondary benefit in that some kids may learn to venerate rather than denigrate us old folks. (Score 1 for the Old Farts!)

 

BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR

None of this should be interpreted as an attempt to diminish the value of solitude. Certainly, this need to relate can be overdone, and in some cases become pathological. In many cases of marital therapy, for example, too much togetherness can be identified as the problem. In testimony before Congress, Prof. Julianne Holt-Lunstad defined loneliness as ” the perceived discrepancy between one’s desired level of social connection and their actual level of social connection.”  She explained that some people who are socially isolated don’t necessarily feel lonely, and some people who are lonely are surrounded by people who make them feel more alienated.

 

One’s work may require so much contact with others that it can become oppressive, and some personalities may cause anal pain of the worst kind!  Nevertheless; before you make plans to spend the rest of your life on a deserted island or join an order of non-verbal monks, be careful what you wish for. Time-alone can be refreshing, relaxing and creative, but as with most things in life, it can be overdone. Alone can be good, but lonely can be very bad. In this time in which we are all mutually dependent, it has become even more necessary to have relationships than we did in those days when we needed help to bring down a woolly mammoth. It is difficult nowadays to survive in this world as a loner. We face enormous problems including an increased global population, competition for resources, and degradation of our environment. It is once again time for us to hang together or hang separately.

WHAT MAKES THEM TICK?

The ability of the human race to relate to each other has allowed us to survive and to thrive.  We need to exercise that talent now more than ever.  As I finished writing this, once again two hate-filled young people described as loners committed horrible atrocities within hours of each other. It goes without saying that we need to take logical steps to limit access to those instruments designed to kill people, but the prevalence of these kinds of behaviors also require us to learn more about the milieu in which they occur.  For example: are there genetic influences involved, does our society in some way generate such hatred, are certain personalities more easily recruited to violent organizations, is shyness a precursor, and finally does the hatred cause the loneliness or vice versa?  We need to understand more about how these people end up the way they are if we are to have any success at solving the problem.

Another Brief Interruption of “The Way It Was Series” | The Curmudgeon is back

Talk right or don’t talk at all

            In previous blogs, I have mentioned that a favorite past-time of we old buggers is to reminisce however; those reminiscences are frequently accompanied by complaints that things “aint what they used to be.”   Of course, if offered a ticket to travel back to those those good old days, we would definitely not be first in line.   In the time-honored tradition of curmudgeons everywhere, I try to come up with at least one complaint per day, and today’s version greeted me the first thing this morning when I turned on the TV for my morning CNN fix. 

            This latest complaint has to do with girls.  This has nothing to do with girls in general for I like girls.  I have sired and helped raise three of them and like them a lot.  I have been living with one for 65 years and still like her a lot most of the time (the periods of dislike are brief and usually occur in the heat of battle, and she becomes likeable again as soon as I surrender).  I have found females easier to work with in therapy, and feel that they have received a raw deal from us guys throughout history.  This latest complaint seems to have begun its evolution with the millennials and I believe has become more prevalent with those younger whippersnappers who are referred to as generation Z. Link to article Where Millenials End and Gen Z Begins.

            It has been said that if it quacks like a duck and looks like a duck it must be a duck.  The very attractive young woman who appeared on the TV screen this morning certainly did not look like a duck, but did quack like a duck.  As a matter of fact, I had so much difficulty understanding her, I pulled out my hearing aides to see if they had gone bad.  This was not the first time I had noted this peculiar murder of the rules of good elocution.  Although, I have limited contact with kids these days, I have noted the phenomenon to be prevalent in an even more severe form in teenagers.  Fortunately, my granddaughters have shown no evidence of having suffered this affliction. 

Editor’s Note: Eshrink isn’t alone…this link goes to a story entitled “Old people find millennial women’s voices annoying.”

            It should come as no surprise to those who know me that as a naturally curious person and “scientist wannabe” that I would set out to explore the cause of these peculiar sounds masquerading as speech.  In short order, my research discovered that those sounds could be produced by channeling one’s speech through their nose.  By doing so I found that I could replicate the sound with little effort and produce that quacking sound which makes me cringe much as I did when the teacher made that screeching sound writing with chalk on the blackboard (do they still use chalk?).  This mechanism should come as no surprise as it is known that the quality of sound waves can be modified by the confines through which they travel. 

            While in the midst of my research it occurred to me that the French seem to speak through their noses a lot, but their speech is pleasant, almost melodic in its presentation, and never seems ducklike.  I attempted to find out why there are different types of nasal speech, but the papers I found on the subject were complicated.  I did learn that such speech patterns are usually habitual, and I am concerned that if the practice continues unabated these otherwise normal duck-speak girls will produce babies who will emulate their mothers.  In the interest of saving our great nation from the evils of duck-speak, I was able to  find a website which offers suggestions as to how one can overcome this malady: https://www.sportsrec.com/stop-talking-through-nose-8286305.html.  In the mean-time parents should initiate a “talk right or don’t talk at all” policy.  This should not be much of a problem for the kids as they would rather text than talk anyway.

Editor’s Note: While I couldn’t find much about the nasal situation or “duck talking” Eshrink references, there are many articles about vocal fry, creaky voice, and upspeak. Below are just a few that might be of interest.

The Atlantic: Creaky Voice

News Coverage Video about Vocal Fry

Time Magazine Article

 

‘TIS THE SEASON $$

Introduction from Eshrink Editor: I think all readers will relate to this blog post where Eshrink discusses the battle of the charities during the holidays. I told him about a website I use to evaluate charities and he wanted me to add it to the beginning of the post in hopes it might help people give to charities that maximize the amount of money that goes to the people the charity says it wants to help versus executive compensation and “administrative” costs. It’s charitynavigator.org. What I like about this non-profit is that they explain in simple terms the methodology they use to evaluate each charity. Take it away Eshrink with the latest installment of the Curmudgeon Series. This one is entitled ‘Tis the Season!

Now is the time to max out those credit cards. After all, you will have a year to pay them off, and be ready to do it all over again. Most people, even some non-Christians, follow the tradition of gift giving during the Christmas holidays. Some might say that in many instances it has become an obscene example of crass materialism. In any event it is said that we of the Christian faith are generous in general, with of course, many exceptions to that rule. This generosity presents many business opportunities particularly in the retail and the manufacture of stuff. This is confirmed by the long-held proposition that the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the only profitable time of the year for many retailers. There are also the delivery services, the credit card companies, the grocers, and the electricity providers that are among those who profit as a result of those millions of gaudily wrapped packages.

 

JOY TO THE WORLD
Ah, but those are not the only ones for whom the season is joyous. It is a great time for thieves who can follow UPS or Fed Ex trucks and collect a lot of stuff, not to mention the shoplifters and purse snatchers who find it easier to defeat the security cameras when stores are crowded. The “begging” business is also certain to have an uptick since there is a focus on family and children, and the contrast of opulence and poverty is apt to be dramatic–thus provoking feelings of guilt among those who go “ALL OUT” on the gift giving at Christmas.
TIME TO CASH IN: THE BUSINESS of GIVING
Those circumstances are not lost on various charitable organizations who go into high gear during the holiday season. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals unleashes some real tear jerkers on television. The Shriner’s Hospital, and St. Jude Hospital for children likewise are not shy about showing children in wheelchairs or with prosthetic limbs. There seems to be an increase in the number of starving children seen on TV along with severely impaired veterans leading one to assume there must be considerable competition for all that Christmas “goodwill” money. Charitable giving is also enhanced by those who want to take advantage of deductions prior to the end of the year. It is fertile ground and must be the charitable organizations’ equivalent of the retailer’s Black Friday.

 

DISCLAIMER to IMPENDING COMPLAINT
All of this is simply a preamble to my most recent complaint. In my defense, I feel compelled to issue a disclaimer that I am not anti-charity in any sense of the word. As a matter of fact, I believe that it does good things not only for the beneficiaries but often times even more for the giver. In my own case when I am feeling particularly beneficent, and drop a whole dollar bill in the Salvation Army pot, which is obviously designed to only receive coins, I walk away with a bit of a spring in my step feeling very righteous.

 

NO ANONYMOUS DONORS
Although I do not profess to be even a minor league philanthropist, I do manage to cough up a few bucks on occasion for charities which I think worthwhile. In recent times, we as a society have chosen to forfeit privacy in return for convenience. Consequently; it should not come as a surprise when organizations sell our names to other organizations. In one case I noted a very small print notice in the bottom of a solicitation that reassured me that although they passed my name to other charities, such organizations were carefully vetted to ensure their legitimacy. Somehow, I did not feel motivated to thank them for deciding to put my name on someone else’s sucker list without my permission. Since this seems to be standard operating procedure for these charities, it is not surprising that our gift giving is rewarded with a barrage of requests for money.

 

GOOD STUFF for “FREE” – NEW TACTICS
In recent years I have noted a new technique designed to squeeze some green from our pocketbooks which I find to be especially repugnant. I first noticed this several years ago with a solicitation from the March of Dimes. Some of you young whippersnappers may not know that this charity had its beginning as a quest to find a cure for Polio, but with the eradication of that disease, they didn’t want a good bureaucracy to go to waste so they switched to birth defects. Those of you who are on their list may have noticed a dime is attached to their fundraising letters.
I do not mean to denigrate the March of Dimes organization for they were very much involved in financing Salk and Sabin who developed the vaccines which eliminated that horrible disease that left children crippled for life. It was developed in 1938 with the help of Franklin Roosevelt, himself a victim of the disease. I recall fund drives at our school when we kids brought in dimes to be used for the cause. Of course, this was back in the time when a dime had some value, a time when the dime stores flourished and you could actually buy something for 10 cents. In addition to the financing, it provided for research. I am certain it also had great value in allowing kids to feel good about giving.

 

NOT A PENNY FROM ME
Although the March of Dimes pioneered this type of fundraising, others have carried the idea of sending a gift with their solicitation to a ridiculous extreme–which is the basis of the weekly complaint from this old curmudgeon. The dime was merely a symbol, while all the stuff I see arriving along with an essay concerning the plight of those who suffer from some horrible malady or situation, is accompanied by greeting cards, return address labels, ball point pens, calendars, calculators, and even money. The latter are the ones that I find most irritating. They apparently think that if they send me a check for a couple of dollars, I will feel obligated to send them money, which of course makes even less sense.

If these fund raisers in their infinite wisdom believe such tactics stimulate me to contribute to whatever they are selling, they are sadly mistaken. Instead, I feel insulted that they think they must give me something in order to get something from me, or is it that if I get something for free I will feel guilty if don’t respond. In either event, response to such tactics is unlikely to put that spring in my step.

The whole “tactic” just puts a damper on that feeling of goodwill that should accompany generosity. What’s the answer? Well, you could write a blog post about it (or let these charities know what you think by writing them an email or strongly worded letter). Also, Eshrink editor Maggie provided you with that charitynavigator website at the beginning of this post. ‘Tis the Season of Giving. Give wisely!!

IS MY TIME WORTHLESS?

IS MY TIME WORTHLESS?
Ben Franklin said “Dost thou love life? Then do not squander time for that is the stuff life is made of.” I admit that I have not always followed his advice and that I have been a time squanderer of the first order at times in my life. Nevertheless, I strongly resent it when others take it upon themselves to squander a chunk of my time…my life!

 

IS MY CALL REALLY IMPORTANT TO YOU?
It seems to me that I am now surrounded by more time squanderers than any other time in life despite the conventional wisdom that we are now living in a time of unparalleled efficiency. We have all been subjected to the “your call is very important to us” mantra which is usually a prelude to an interminable time listening to some awful sounds masquerading as music. In most cases it would be much less frustrating to suffer in silence. Since such behavior surrounds us we have become inured to it, and in some cases have learned to find work-arounds. For example, whenever I call an organization that I expect will keep me waiting on the phone, I have learned to have reading material available so that I can put the phone on speaker and ignore the music and the automated voice which lies to me with reassurances that someone will be with me soon. Unfortunately, some such indignities cannot be so easily circumvented which brings up the issue of my complaint of the week.

 
MANNERS
My Mother once told me that good manners are simply a matter of showing respect for others. Then I married this woman who was a dyed-in-the-wool aficionado of Emily Post’s book of etiquette and who has devoted a lifetime to training me in such matters. Therefore, I feel such background qualifies me to judge this latest complaint to be near the top of the list of ill-mannered behaviors, and a significant squanderer of my time. As a matter of fact, it ranks right up there near CNN or blog writing as a significant waster of time. I must confess I do feel some ambivalence about ratting out my colleagues because this time I am complaining about the medical profession.

 
THE GATEKEEPERS
In the past I have lodged complaints about the inaccessibility of physicians and the barriers that have been erected to keep doctors isolated from their patients i.e. receptionist, to nurse, to nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant, and if one’s concern is deemed serious enough, he/she may receive a return call from the nurse or even the great one himself/herself. However; this latest complaint was brought to the fore by a series of events over the last few weeks. It began with a routine visit to my doctor which began with hope that he was running nearly on time since there were only a couple of people in the waiting room.

 
They put the WAITING in the term Waiting Room
I settled in to read a dog-eared magazine of unknown vintage with all the latest (at that time) news about the royal family (not a major interest of mine). It did seem a better choice than the stack of Good Housekeeping magazines. Time passed and I realized that I had been waiting for well over an hour and a half which seemed like an even longer time than I had waited during previous visits. I risked the wrath of the receptionist who was busy chatting with a colleague to inquire if I had the wrong day. She calmly and unapologetically announced that the doctor had been called to the hospital to do an emergency procedure and she didn’t expect him back for another hour or so. When I suggested that if I had known this I could have found other ways to use the time, she shrugged, turned her back to me, and continued the conversation with her friend.

 
This was precisely the type of situation for which I had been trained all those years consequently; with great difficulty I withheld the stream of profanity which longed to stream out for all to hear. Instead, I decided to channel my anger into something useful much as I had been taught. My anger was not directed at the Doctor as I am well aware that emergencies do occur. I am also aware that physicians are not always in touch with what goes on in their outer office. I have been as guilty as the next guy in occasionally running behind, but to my credit I encouraged my receptionist to keep patients informed of probable delays. I also tried to remember to apologize for my tardiness.

 
THE TIME OF RECKONING
With all that in mind I decided to inform the good Doctor about what was going on in his waiting room in a very calm deliberative, hopefully constructive, manner. His response was underwhelming as he responded with: “those things happen sometimes.”

 

WHAT? THOSE THINGS HAPPEN SOMETIMES?
Naive little old me had expected at a minimum maybe an acknowledgement of my distress, an apology for having been held hostage for over two hours, or even a thank you for letting him know that the gum-smacker at the front desk was a screw-up. I did not respond with my usual sarcastic comment out of fear that he might decide I needed a rectal examination.

 
SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST
That experience pales however; compared to Barb’s recent run-in with the medical establishment of which I was an unwitting and unwilling participant. It all began with her visit to our internist for what seemed like a simple problem. When the problem was not resolved, he referred her to a super specialist, i.e., (a person who specializes in a specialty, as when a cancer doctor only treats one kind of cancer or an orthopedist limits his practice to the treatment of big toes). Barb had been forewarned that she should not plan any other activities on the day of her appointment, but little did she know how apt was her friend’s warning.
We arrived at the appointed time with a several page questionnaire filled out as per instructions. A real time saver, right?

Wrong!

We still waited and waited (plus, Barb said he didn’t even look at the questionnaire. Since I was forewarned by Barb’s buddy, I came armed with a boring book. Little did I know that I would finish it before we escaped. Our adventure began with a conventional 1½ hour waiting room experience, and although suffering minor frustration, I felt encouraged after the nurse called for Barb thinking that we would likely make it home in time for lunch after all.

Wrong again.

After another 40 minutes or so, a crotchety nurse came out to tell me that Barb had asked for me to come back to the treatment area where I found her shivering under a paper sheet. When I asked her what the Doctor said she replied that she had not seen him yet, but that she was feeling claustrophobic having been imprisoned and refrigerated in an examining room somewhat smaller than a San Quentin prison cell.

 

When I asked the crotchety nurse if the good Doctor was often late, she replied in the affirmative at the same time complaining that although she was supposed to work until 5 she rarely left before 7 or 8 PM. I assumed this had a great deal to do with her crotchety-ness. The rest of this visit is a bit hazy to me. Suffice it to say when the doctor arrived on the scene, he was very affable and impressed me with his knowledge of the problem at hand. He was unhurried as we chatted about a variety of topics. Our quest for health and happiness had begun at 10:30 AM and we were out the door by 1:45 PM.

 
Lest you think this concluded our dealings with Dr. P…… let me assure you this was not to be our last encounter for he decided that Barb needed a minor diagnostic procedure under anesthesia, and Ms. Crotchety scheduled it for the following week at 1:00 pm. I was not surprised by the time since such minor procedures are usually scheduled after the major surgeries are completed consequently; the schedules for the minor stuff are at best only estimates. With that in mind, I was heartened when we received a call on the day of her minor procedure a few minutes after 12 informing us that Dr. P…… was ahead of schedule and asking us if we could come in earlier. We were there in 15 minutes.

 

Certainly, to be ahead of schedule would virtually guarantee that the procedure could be finished before we caught some drug resistant hospital bug.

 

Wrong again.

 

Although we were promptly ushered into a refrigerated pre-op prep room (one would think the medical establishment would be aware that we old folks are susceptible to major problems from hypothermia), my hopes were dashed as another hour and a half of the stuff my life is made of was squandered. I could have used that time for an afternoon nap. There was a bright spot in the afternoon however when a cute young nurse witnessed Barb shivering in her backless gown and wrapped her in a heated blanket. This may have been the lifesaving act of the day. I have no idea what the mortality rate is in that room, but we survived and I live on to continue in my quest to become the most ardent complainer of our time.
It has turned out that I am not alone in my zeal to achieve the status of Olympic class complainer however; I would caution those so inclined to be robust in registering their complaints (manners be damned) lest their development be arrested at the level of whiner, which is likely to result in chronic emotional constipation. In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the foregone conclusion is based on anecdotal information and I know of no large-scale studies to validate my opinion. I also feel bound to issue the caveat that in this era of concealed carry permits one should whenever possible cleanse their complaints of personal insults.

Looking for trees? Check my mailbox.

Our mailman does not seem to like us although Barb and I both consider ourselves to be as likeable as the next guy. Whenever I meet him at our mailbox, he doesn’t respond to my characteristic jolly greeting, but simply hands me my mail, grunts, looks straight ahead and drives away. Old habits die hard and this old psychiatrist still tries to understand aberrant behaviors. Consequently, I have attempted to understand what may have precipitated his apparent animus.

 

The Investigation: Why does my mailman hate me?
It is true that I forgot to leave his traditional tip in the mailbox at Christmas time, but of course that was several months ago.

There was also the Floyd incident, but I wouldn’t anticipate his blaming me for my dog’s exuberant behavior. Floyd loves to ride in the car and isn’t choosy about the type of vehicle or driver. Consequently, when the mail truck pulled up to mailbox one summer day, Floyd seized the opportunity. He leaped into the mail truck with excitement with big plans to accompany our mailman on his route. Unfortunately, in the process Floyd was forced to run through a gauntlet of boxes and crates of mail resulting in the rearrangement of their contents. However, the mailman was remarkably calm throughout the incident and accepted my apology, although I did note that he was muttering to himself as he restored order to the crates of mail.

 

My Epiphany! It’s not me. It’s those damn catalogs.
After all of these deliberations, I have concluded that the ire exhibited by my mailman has the same genesis as my own.

You see, just yesterday he delivered 23 catalogs in addition to two magazines and multiple solicitations from organizations, some of whom I have never heard of, and this was only a routine day. If history is any guide, the volume will increase as the holiday season approaches. Instead of emptying my paper recycling bin once a month, I now must empty it every few days. No wonder my mailman becomes frustrated since he must stuff all that stuff in my mailbox daily.

 

Nothing unites like a common enemy.
His pain is my pain! I sympathize with my mailman’s frustration. I get angry each time I have to unload that mailbox, cursing as I sort the scams from the legitimate mail. As a bona fide card-carrying curmudgeon I must tell you that I remember the day when if one wanted a catalog they asked for it. Today, if you order something  from a catalog, you will soon be buried in an avalanche of slick pictures of beautiful people wearing cool clothes and hawking gadgets I’m sure I need but know I’ll never use. Not only do I resent their audacity of sending the catalog without me requesting it, I resent that they believe they can convince me that I look as cool in those duds as the suave handsome dude who models their stuff.
Some of these catalogs feature stuff way beyond my pay grade. For example, I do not ordinarily shop for $1500 leather jackets, $600 sweaters, or $750 shoes. One such high end catalog featured of all things a $250 pair of jeans faded in all the right places to make them look old. I do occasionally browse and sometimes find interesting inventory. For example, one which featured home health aides also had a two-page display of dildos. I was surprised to find they came in so many different sizes, shapes, and colors. Barb vigorously denies having ordered the catalog, but I have my suspicions.

 

The good ole’ days of face-to-face relationships
It is no secret that there is a flourishing market for names and addresses of potential customers and that these catalogers have no hesitation in selling us to the highest bidder. I recall the time of the mom and pop stores when the relationship between customer and seller was built on mutual trust and therefore personal. The storekeeper was more interested in customer loyalty than making a sale, trusting that if his customer was “treated right” he would come back. Likewise, the customer trusted the salesperson to give an honest representation of the product sold. In many cases shopping was as much of a social event as a series of business transactions. I suppose that now as even we former Sears catalog devotees fade-away, we will become even more depersonalized as we become numbers in Amazon’s super computer. Our computers will order from their computers, our orders will arrive untouched by human hands, and one more avenue of human interaction will close.
Shopping: Art, Science, Disease, or Therapy?
Enter my beautiful, charming, and aesthetically gifted wife. She is a former shopkeeper one of the last to conform to those qualities I mentioned, and whose store continues to receive rave reviews from former customers. Among her other talents she is a world class shopper. As our daughter Molly (now deceased) said regarding her Mother’s shopping prowess: “when Mom gets the scent, you better get out of her way.” For Barb, Christmas shopping is not a project, it is a mission. She scoffs at the idea that it would be much simpler for her to give the kids money and insists on finding a gift (or unfortunately–gifts…plural) which are perfect for each one whether they realize it or not. Things to be considered include: hair and eye color, stature, personality, and consideration of their known personal preferences unless those preferences are in extremely poor taste.
Within the past year the last department store as well as the last men’s store in our town closed their doors. I recall a time when our main street hosted three department stores and multiple specialty shops which have all folded as the big boxes took over. Having fought and lost the good fight with the big guys, and since she places online shopping in the same category as those big box adversaries, the best Barb can do is to reluctantly shop via catalogs even though she disapproved of the one featuring dildos. I presume this change in her shopping habits is responsible in large part for the appearance of our names on a few hundred mailing lists.

 

The List Contagion: It’s a real thing
It’s not only the merchandisers who will pursue you. Barb is a sucker for those tear-jerking ads on TV, which has resulted in reams of solicitations for real and non-existent charities. I wonder if they make more money selling my name and address than from my feeble contributions. In my zeal to become a good steward of my government, I once made the mistake of contributing to a political campaign online. Now, I start my day by deleting pleas to contribute to this or that political cause or candidate. They assure me that without my contribution a worldwide calamity is immanent or that I will be to blame for the extinction of the white rhino.

 

Privacy?
On a more serious note, it has been said that with a few key strokes one can know more about me than I do about myself. This is undoubtedly true e.g. I don’t know where I ate a year ago but that info is available somewhere. Our privacy is said to have been eroded, but it is probably more accurate to say it is gone. Now, as more DNA results are collected not only will more be known about your behavior but your body and your relatives. Nevertheless, the blatant disregard of our rights to privacy as this little essay illustrates is only one small example yet enough to piss me off big time.

 

Ground Zero
Maybe my overzealous anger about the catalogs goes beyond the senseless time spent sorting and recycling and even beyond the invasion of my privacy. Maybe it’s a symptom of something bigger that concerns me. A change in our society that is worrisome. While many say technological changes make it easier than ever to connect with one another, it seems we are more disconnected than ever. Less human interaction. More loneliness. Clicking the chat button as you order gifts on the internet, or even talking to a live person when you order from one of the thousand or so catalogs, is a poor substitute for the process of old-fashioned shopping at the aforementioned brick and mortar establishments where you talked to retail clerks, shop owners, and even fellow shoppers.

 

A little over 100 years ago, a sociologist name of Emile Durkheim coined the term Anomie which he used to describe situations where societies in large measure feel a sense of alienation because their only feeling of attachment is to the system in which they don’t believe or feel a part of. He thought this came about due to division of labor (this was in the midst of the industrial revolution) and rapid change from a traditional society to a modern society.

 

The pace of changes which Durkheim witnessed were trivial compared to the last 50 years, and it change continues to accelerate at a speed almost beyond our ability to comprehend. Yesterday, I awoke to hear news of the second mass shooting in less than two weeks. I believe it noteworthy that most of the perpetrators of these horrible acts were described as people with few if any acquaintances and no one who was willing to call them a friend. They were described as quiet and uninvolved in their communities, in short: alienated.

 

It also seems noteworthy that in spite of relatively good economic times, suicide rates in the U.S. have increased 24% from 1999 to 2014. Likewise, murders increased 8.6% in only one year (2016). According to the non-profit that tracks gun violence in the USA, (www.gunviolence.org) incidents have increased each year since they started tracking statistics in 2014. Conventional wisdom is that our current President was elected and continues to have widespread support from those who feel they have been “disenfranchised.”

 

Who is the patient?
This all suggests to me that we need to look farther than individuals with mental illness as the major factor in gun violence. It may be that it is our society that is ill, and in need of treatment. Human connection, kindness, and compassion might not help cure all of society’s mental illnesses, but it can’t hurt.

 

P.S. Catalog UPDATE
By the way, I just now picked up today’s mail and there were only 18 catalogs, but an armload of solicitations for money, some bills, and a letter from my only friend who still writes via snail mail.  Remember to be kind to your mailperson (especially this time of year).  There may be other Floyds out there and I’m sure there are even more catalog targets like me and Barb on every mail carrier’s route.  (Break for reminiscing): When I was in college a couple of centuries ago I worked as a mailman during Christmas breaks, and occasionally someone would invite me in for a cup of hot chocolate on the coldest days.  I wonder if that happens anymore.

Editors Note: While editing eshrink’s blog, I found this non-profit whose mission is to help us cancel unwanted catalogs: Catalog Choice . However, I haven’t told eshrink yet because I don’t want to rain on his curmudgeon complaint parade…he’s on a roll and I think it energizes him! Love you dad.