Monthly Archives: March 2014

My Experience with Psychics

My high school girl friend’s mother channeled spirits.  The main spirit she channeled was named Myra.  I remember going with my girlfriend into her mother’s bedroom and sitting across from her mother who was sitting on her bed.  She closed her eyes and her face went blank.  She then began to speak in another voice.  I cannot specifically recall what she said.  I remember it being convincing though.  I accepted it as real and took it at face value.

Twenty or so years later after Dechert laid me off in 2009, my wife and I decided to move from Philadelphia to Connecticut.  We put our house in Roxborough on the market.  One weekend I drove down to the house for an appointment and stayed there over the weekend by myself.   On Saturday morning I went down the hill to Manayunk for breakfast.  On Main Street I passed by the Manayunk Psychic’s storefront I had seen many times before.

I think I turn to superstition when my life is not working or are out of my control.  I was feeling very vulnerable at the time being newly unemployed and not having the support of the psychologist I had seen for the past few years.  I was unemployed, my marriage was horrible and my house was not selling.  At the time I saw therapy as something I tried but did not work on me because my problems went too deep. At that point in time the psychic seemed like a viable option.

She gave me a tarot reading.  What she told me seemed spot on.  She suggested that I go through a spiritual cleansing and it would cost around $500.  That seemed like too much to pay at the time although I seriously considered it because I felt so trapped, lost and at the end of my rope at the time.  I did not end up going through with it but it did plant the seed in my head.

When we moved to Connecticut I was so desperate to find a solution to my problem.  I searched for “spiritual cleaner” on the internet.  There happened to be a psychic offering that service in the town where I lived.  So I made an appointment.  She was a blond, Polish woman around thirty years old named Agnes.  Her office had a massage table and a new age altar with crystals.  The room was dimly lit and meditative spa music played in the background.  I told her I was looking for a spiritual cleansing.  She told me to keep three notebooks, one for my dreams, another for positive thoughts and memories, and the third for negative thoughts and memories.  She had me lie down on the table and she gave me a Lomi Lomi massage.  When she got to my legs she pulled the negative energy out through my feet.  At the end of the session she gave me bath salts mixed with essential oils and told me to use them when I got home.

I saw her a few more times.  She charged me $150 every time.  I felt like I was making progress.  I started taking Epsom salt baths regularly.  She had me praying to angels, asking them to intercede for me.  She described a whole system of angels.  I remember her talking about “runners” who delivered messages.  There were others but I do not remember them anymore.  There was Archangel Michael, whom she said she saw from time to time.  She had me write things down over and over.  She had me draw pictures of what I wanted to be.  At one point she told me to take the notebook of negative memories into the woods, put it in a pot with Epsom salts and light it on fire.  I remember doing that on a rainy day down by the Farmington River.  I remember being so paranoid that someone would walk up on me and ask me what I was doing.

At the time I was still unemployed and went on a lot of walks and bike rides.  I remember praying to the angels that my life would change.  Eventually my wife harassed me about spending money a psychic and shamed me into not seeing her anymore.  It was easier just to stop seeing her than to continue.  I am not entirely sure whether Agnes was scamming me or not.  I am not entirely sure I did not make some kind of progress with her at the time.  Perhaps she served her purpose somehow.  I just don’t know.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part III

The next therapist I saw was a psychologist I saw for several years while living in Philadelphia.  I went to see him because I was depressed, anxious and generally dissatisfied with life.  Initially my wife and I saw him as a couple’s therapist after friend of mine came to visit.

The three of us went out for drinks.  I remember my wife’s behavior really embarrassed me.  I had just been hired by Dechert and was earning more money than I ever had.  She kept congratulating me and it felt awkward in front of my friend.  I asked her to stop but she kept doing it.  Then we went to a restaurant called Cuba Libre.  There she was involved in some sort of scuffle where some guy picked her up and moved her away from the bar.  She complained to the manager who did nothing.  To me it felt like she was getting drunk and making a scene.  I tried to get her to change the subject but she would not stop talking about what had happened.  Finally I said if she talked about it one more time I was leaving.  She talked about it again and I got up and left.  I waited outside on the street.  She and my friend eventually came out and we took a cab back to our apartment.  She kept yelling at me saying I ruined the night.

The next night my friend was still there.  It felt like things were smoothed over but I wanted to joke with him the way we normally did.  My wife seemed unable to contribute.  It frustrated me.  I felt like I would always have her around so I would never be able to feel free and joke around with my friends. This thought made me feel depressed like I had given up a piece of myself that I could never retrieve.

This was the start of my wife having a problem with my friends.  I remember the psychologist asking me, “why can’t you just let your friend and your wife have that relationship,” meaning (now that I look back on it) why not allow the three of us to interact in the way we did without getting upset that it was not the way I wanted it to go.  It was a valid point but I would not get to that point until much later.

After a few sessions as a couple I continued seeing this psychologist by myself.  Once a week I would leave work at lunchtime and walk across town, past City Hall, to his office.  We talked about a lot of things.  Most of the time I would bring up a subject.  He would take notes and sometimes ask questions but his form of therapy was very client driven.  I cried once or twice.  We talked a lot about my relationship with my father.  We talked about my fascination with “A Christmas Carol,” whether the ghosts were outside entities or creations of Scrooge’s consciousness and about how I burst into tears every time I watched the scene where Fred welcomes Scrooge to dinner (but only when I watched it alone).  He pointed out that even though I was born after my father’s car accident in which my older sister died when she was a baby, that it must have had an impact on me.  That was an idea I had never considered before.  He described me as feeling a “lack of entitlement.”  He told me I suffered from generalized anxiety disorder.

He was definitely compassionate.  He told me I was an interesting case.  I think he liked me on a personal level.  But looking back on it I never really thought the therapy went anywhere.  I think I grew marginally under his care probably because his type of therapy was not well suited for my specific issues.

There were a few instances where he got my doctor to prescribe anti-depressants to me.  I was on Paxil for a while.  It seemed to work but had some sexual side effects that I did not like.  Specifically it was difficult to maintain and erection and to have an orgasm.  I was later on Lexapro, which was pretty similar.  He eventually prescribed me Wellbutrin under the influence of which I had a mental breakdown of sorts.  This happened at my parents’ house in Connecticut one weekend we came for a visit.  Both my sisters and my cousin were there. I remember being so angry with my wife (we were not getting along at the time).  I got up from the dinner table, got a beer in the kitchen and ran out on the golf course behind my parents’ house.  I chugged it in the middle of the fairway in the dark.  The rest of the night is hazy to me.  I remember my cousin consoling me in the driveway as they were leaving.  Then I went up to bed.  I stopped seeing the psychologist after that.

I wanted to get off Wellbutrin but I did not want to experience “mind zaps” I had heard about.  I looked up a psychiatrist in the phone book.  I called her and she was willing to see me.  I think her office was in an apartment building in Washington Square.  My concern was that I wanted to get off Wellbutrin because it was making me behave bizarrely but I wanted to do it in a medically supervised way to avoid the side effects I had read about regarding abruptly going off of anti-depressants.  I do not feel like I made a real connection with her and I only saw her for a few times.  I remember she asked me about my first memory and how abnormal it was that it did not involve either one of my parents.  I also remember another interaction where I told her that I was uncomfortable with my drinking.  Her response was, “well there are other things to drink besides alcohol.”  I suppose she was not that well acquainted with the mind of an alcoholic because I remember thinking that there certainly are other things to drink but none of them make me drunk.  That seemed like an important point looking back on it.  I did not express it to her at the time.

Anyway, she guided me through getting off of Wellbutrin.  Part of that involved not drinking for two weeks, which was difficult but I did it.  Once I got off of Wellbutrin I quickly got back on drinking.

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My Experience with Psychotherapy – Part II

I did not see another therapist until I was in law school in New Orleans.  Until that point I never appreciated the connection between the mind and the body.  I had met my wife and asked her to marry me and she said yes.  She immediately went ahead with the planning which took me aback.  It seemed like there was a lot of pressure and looking back on it I had no way of coping.  My throat started to feel like it was closing up on me.  I started to get really bad heartburn.  I went to see the doctor in the school clinic.  He prescribed Prilosec.  It did not really work so I went to a gastroenterologist.  I remember now that he suspected my symptoms were stress related but at the time I did not understand what he told me.  I think the fact that I was in law school scared him because he continued to run tests on me.  There was a procedure where they shoved a camera down my throat.  One time I had a tube fed up my nose and down my throat.  At the end of the tube outside my body was a computer device.  It recorded something to do with my throat.  I eventually changed doctors because nothing he did helped my symptoms.  The second doctor also suggested that stress was the problem but again I did not accept that answer.  I was prescribed antibiotics but they did not work.  The doctor seemed annoyed with me. I wanted to think that the problem was physical.  He eventually referred me to a cardiologist.  The cardiologist acted like he did not know why I was there.  I gave him my story.  He agreed that the problem was stress and recommended me to see a psychiatrist.  This time I listened.

The psychiatrist was a tall, lanky, older man with a gray beard and mustache.  He looked the part of a psychiatrist.  His office was in a shotgun house.  It was dark inside and the walls were lined with tall wooden bookshelves.  One shelf had a skull on it.  He was dyslexic and wrote awkwardly with his left hand.  He assured me my issue with my throat closing up was indeed stress related.  He prescribed me a drug called Serzone which I think is a serotonin reuptake inhibitor like Prozac.  He had me sit in a recliner and talked me through meditative sessions.  I do not recall what exactly they entailed but I think they brought me to a relaxed state and then he told me when a stressful thought entered my head I should say to it “Stop!  Get out of there!”  After a few sessions the sensation started to subside after months of misery.  This was the first time I appreciated that psychological stress can cause physical problems.  It was also the first time in my life I experienced a physical problem that a regular doctor could not cure.  I believe his method was the Cognitive Behavioral approach.

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My Experience With Psychotherapy – Part I

Pretty early on in life I knew there was something wrong with me.  I was always being picked on and laughed at and the neighborhood kids bullied me.  I always felt incapable of performing physical tasks with expertise.  I always felt incompetent and knew that everyone else thought of me that way as well.  I expected people to fuck with me all the time.  I always felt “less than” but pretty much accepted that as a fact of life until I graduated from high school.

But even within this prison my shame constructed and reinforced there existed an inner spark that sought liberation.  I think this is why, even though it made me uncomfortable, I felt compelled to psychotherapy.  I had no idea what therapy meant at first and even resisted it on the surface.  But again and again I found myself in a therapist’s office throughout my life.

I remember my parents taking me to a group session with some therapist that my sister was seeing because she was having difficulty with my father.  I think I was in middle school at the time. I felt really embarrassed to answer any questions. I remember feeling very self-conscious and looking into my lap when I answered questions.  I remember my father being defensive when the woman asked questions about situations where he and my sister interacted.  I remember my mother describing how frustrated I would get playing a computer game called Karatika (not that she knew the name) especially when the bird “ate me.”  I felt humiliated to my core.  The therapist responded, “oh, so you are a computer freak?” which increased my humiliation by a factor of ten.  Looking back on it I can only conclude she was a shitty therapist incapable of recognizing shame issues or helping someone who suffered from them.  I do not think I went there too many times.  I did not feel like I had anything to do with my sister’s problems at the time.

In high school my girlfriend’s mother suggested I see a therapist she worked with.  I do not remember the exact circumstances but at the time I am sure I was frustrated and depressed about a lot of things.  My mother investigated her before I went to see her or said she did anyway. I am guessing she did not trust her mother because she let my girlfriend do whatever she wanted to do.  I remember this therapist had a “new age” altar in her office.  I do not remember much about what happened in the sessions.  I only went a couple of times.  I remember talking about my girlfriend as if that would ingratiate myself to the therapist.  She responded with something like, “well we’re here to discuss you not her.”  I suppose that is a point in favor of the therapist, not that I appreciated it at the time.  I also remember her telling me to close my eyes and picture an animal.  I do not recall what I pictured or where she was going with that. I remember when I told her that I was ending the therapy.  She gave me a hug and asked me if what she did was helpful.  I lied and told her it was helpful to be polite.

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Face My Shame

In order get out of the hell of my job I had to get laid off.  I was too ashamed to quit with all the bills I was responsible for and the family I had to feed and clothe.  If I quit my job simply because I found it unsatisfying I would be irresponsible and undisciplined.  But, if my job could kick me out of our relationship I could tell myself and the world that it was not my fault.  I would avoid the shame of being irresponsible. And so I self-sabotaged until it happened.  I put less effort into my work.  I did not learn the million rules to the document review that bored me to tears every day.

Passive aggression is the primary tool a shame-based person has to get what he wants in the world.  To come out and claim what he wanted would be selfish, childish and undisciplined.  To be honest would risk hurting someone else’s feelings.  To the shame-based it is always better to employ a strategy of plausible deniability.

Once I left my job I found myself in a position where, if I chose to, I could finally begin face the issue of shame in my life.  But, in order for me to finally face my shame I could not do this through passive aggression.  I had to face my shame honestly.  For me, that meant I had to go back to the source of my shame, which is my parents.

This sounds condemning and critical from a shame-based perspective because shame cannot admit its faults.  That is too painful and opens itself to attack.  In a shame-based world there is no mercy or forgiveness.  There may be the pretense of mercy because to be unmerciful is shameful but below the surface were truth resides there is none.  All mistakes, faults and flaws are punished and leave a permanent mark that can never be erased.  So for me to say the source of my shame is my parents is very difficult.  To say this is being ungrateful for all the good they did for me.  To say this is to be disrespectful to my parents, which is something that a good son would not do.  To say this would hurt their feelings and would be selfish of me.  All these moral precepts were instilled in me by my parents.  All these precepts (whether true or not) are my shame’s way of keeping me from facing my shame.  So, in order for me to face my shame I had to see clearly and honestly what my parents had done to me.  In order to do this I had to see clearly and honestly that this shame did not come from a place of love.  That is not to say that they did not have love for me but rather the shame they instilled into me did not come from love.

Of course I did not know any of this before my wife, our two daughters and I moved in with my parents.  But I was in a position to find out.  I had finally reached the rock bottom of my shame.  I was 39 years old, unemployed and living with my parents in my childhood home.  I was so humiliated that I was laid off and could no longer afford the mortgage on my house.  I was so ashamed that my wife and I were not getting along.  I was so utterly ashamed that I could not afford to buy my kids the things and the lives I thought they should have.

I had hit rock bottom and there was nowhere to go from there but up.  To go up from there, however, required effort and understanding.  Thank God I received the teaching that gave me the understanding.  Thank God I developed the courage to put forth the effort and truly face shame.

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Meditations on Mercy

Be merciful, therefore, even as your Father is merciful.  Do not judge, and you shall not be judged; do not condemn, and you shall not be condemned.  Forgive and you shall be forgiven; give and it shall be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, shall they pour into your lap.  For with what measure you measure, it shall be measured to you.

Luke 6:36-38

At the beginning of time the entire universe was compressed into a singularity.  Everything was intimately unified.  This was the garden of Eden where God and man lived together without shame and God and man (and the garden) were one.  But within this singularity there was an impulse to separate, to experience individuality.  Call this impulse the serpent.  In order for the serpent to affect its desire it had to convince more of the singularity to join in with it.  So it tricked Eve to eat of the Tree of Life.  She did and convinced Adam to eat of it also.  Their eyes were opened, they became ashamed and covered their genitals with fig leaves and they hid from God.  The singularity exploded.  This was the Big Bang.  The universe expanded at an accelerating rate.  There was separation but it was no longer perfect.

And so we now find ourselves on this Earth at this unique point in time.  We are all a piece of God from that original singularity.  Some of us are more aware of this than others.  We all possess a nostalgic yearning to return in some fashion.  Again, some more than others.  And even ourselves are divided.  There is the part of the mind that wants pleasure, and safety and wealth and power.  There is the part of the mind that tells us not to give into those desires.  There is the part of the mind that observes these other two parts and is aware of itself when it does not sleep.   Perhaps it is this last part of the mind where the nostalgic yearning resides.

I have found that judgment goes both ways.  If I judge other people it was because I was judged by others and I judge myself with constant criticism.  But if I learn to be merciful to myself I can begin to be merciful to others.  This does not happen all at once.  But with effort and mercy from others it slowly begins to happen.  And the acceleration of the universal expansion begins to slow.  And mercy and forgiveness beget more mercy and forgiveness measure for measure.

Because even in this state, within this seemingly infinite expansion of the universe the totality of all that comprised that initial singularity exists.  That is God.  We are each a cell of organism called God.  From the perspective of one cell, the entire organism is a mystery.  And yet each cell contains a strand of DNA which in turn contains the blueprint for the entire organism.  How much more vast is the seemingly infinite universe than a seemingly finite organism?  How much vaster and incomprehensible is the mystery?

If God is love then it is God that binds us together both with others and ourselves.  Love, the binding agent, is the recognition of the self in others.  It is the flashing memory of the singularity before the separation.  This is why you must forgive the other and forgive yourself.  This is also why when you forgive yourself and you forgive others, the others forgive you and themselves.

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Feeling Like an Outsider

For a few years my wife and I had thought about moving to Connecticut where my parents still lived in the house I grew up.  I was not all that happy with Philadelphia.  I did not like my job and I did not have that many friends.  My wife liked it there but she was willing to make a move.  So for a few years while I worked for Dechert I had been conducting a job search in Connecticut.  I waived into the Connecticut bar (a process which took more than a year of amassing records and dealing with the court system).  I was even approached by The Hartford (an insurance company in Hartford, CT) and interviewed for a position that seemed like it would solve all my problems. I ended up not getting the position.  After that my wife and I decided to stop looking to move to Connecticut and decided to buy a nicer house in Philadelphia in an effort to commit to the area and establish roots.

This issue about establishing roots has its origin in the fact that ever since I graduated from college I never felt like I belonged anywhere. When I was young I felt like I belonged in Connecticut even though I was bullied, picked on and humiliated.  When I went to college in Boston I felt like I belonged there.  I was on the same level with all of my peers who were from various places around the country.  But once I graduated from college and could not find a job I fell off the life track that I was supposed to be on and that I felt all my peers were on and had left me behind.  As such, I was so humiliated and felt like I had to hide from the world because I no longer legitimately held a place there.

This feeling stayed with me.  When I moved to Burlington, VT I felt like an outsider there because I was not hippy enough.  When I moved to Washington, DC I felt like an outsider because I did not have a good enough (i.e., well paying and connected job).  When I moved to New Orleans for law school I felt like I belonged on one level because I was on the same level as all my fellow students.  But deep in my heart I felt like I did not belong because I was not a native to New Orleans.  After New Orleans, I was an outsider in Scranton because I was not born and raised there.  And when we moved to Philadelphia I was an outsider there first because I was not a native to the area but also because the firm I worked for treated me as a second-class citizen.

This feeling like an outsider is a bit of a “chicken and the egg” phenomenon.  On the one hand, did I feel like an outsider because I carried that feeling with me?  In other words would I have felt that way no matter where I went?  Did I attract situations where I would feel like an outsider?  The job a Dechert would seem to support this theory.

So my wife and I decided to buy a bigger house during the height of the housing bubble.  We made some money selling our starter house but in order to buy our larger dream house I borrowed some money from my father.  He seemed happy to give me the money at the time but later I felt ashamed for having done that.  Especially after the housing market crashed and I lost my job and we were no longer able to pay the mortgage.  At first we tried to sell our house but there were no takers after the crash.  During this time I burned through my 401K that I accumulated over eight years at Dechert.  Just as that money was about to run out we were able to rent the house.  By this time we were living in Connecticut living with my parents.

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