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Do You Keep Your Vulnerabilities To Yourself?

2014 August 13

If you openly admit that it’s impossible for you to get through a day without a glass (or three or four) of wine, do you think everyone will suspect you’re an alcoholic?

If you tell your boss that you don’t understand her instructions about executing a project, do you suppose she’ll think you’re stupid?

If you acknowledge to your sister that your husband often flies off the handle and slaps you, but you don’t react, do you expect she’ll tell you to leave him immediately?

Why do many of us think that the act of admitting we feel defenseless makes us look weak, when, in fact, it can be a sign of strength?

If you seek advice and guidance from a friend, a therapist, your husband—rather than letting a problem eat at you and possibly destroy your sense of wellbeing—aren’t you actually respecting yourself? I say it’s smarter to solve a problem than to pretend it doesn’t exist , or to anxiously mull it over and over, with no resolution in sight.

When I first went to a psychiatrist, at 17, my parents didn’t tell a soul. My father and I would surreptitiously leave the house when my mother was playing mahjong with her friends. I wonder where the ladies thought my dad and I were going at 8 PM on a Tuesday night. My parents couldn’t have the neighbors think they had a crazy daughter. How did that make them look?

Thank goodness, many more people today seek help, whether from therapists, their church, support groups like AA, their family or their friends. Yes, help often fails. It’s consistently reported, for example, that over 85 percent of those who go through drug or alcohol rehab fail and return to their addictions. But, without help, where would the 15 percent be?

Even when our vulnerabilities involve issues other than drugs or alcohol, say intense insecurity about our relationships or career, there’s really no shame in discussing it. I know someone who privately thinks he’s a failure because his girlfriend earns a great deal more than he does, and he’s developed a bitter attitude about almost everything and towards almost everyone. If only he’d recognize that his feelings of defeat have nothing to do with his girlfriend’s earnings and try to move on. His girlfriend, in the meantime, constantly coddles him because she can’t stand to see him depressed.

This begs the questions: What is our role when we see someone we love being consumed
by his or her own vulnerability?

Do we start by quietly offering advice? Do we stage an intervention? Do we walk away from her because she is harming, not only herself, but her friends and family? Do we ignore it completely?

When I heard about the death of Robin Williams, I couldn’t help but ask myself why those physically and emotionally closest to him—his wife and manager, for example—couldn’t see impending disaster. And, if they did, why did they leave him alone for even a minute? But I know these questions are naïve. Although Robin Williams admitted his vulnerabilities, for years, to millions of us, and sought treatment on more than one occasion, his brilliant, crazy, funny, distracted mind apparently spun completely out of whack. The only way he could control it was to permanently turn it off. No one could stop him.

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Is There A God (Oops! Doctor) In The House?

2014 July 31

A little joke used to circulate among my generation: A woman dies and goes to heaven. Waiting on a long cafeteria line to pick up lunch, she sees a man in hospital scrubs, with a stethoscope around his neck, boldly step right to the front of the line. “Who does that doctor think he is?” she indignantly asks the man standing in back of her. “Oh, that’s God. He just thinks he’s a doctor,” the man explains.

We used to think
that was pretty funny, because we grew up thinking doctors
were Gods.

Our mothers revered them and hung on their every word when we were sick. If someone in our family was a DOCTOR, he was considered a rich relative. Of course, it would be a great accomplishment if we married a doctor. (A dentist was the next best thing.)

We automatically became part of the doctor cult when we became mothers. I instinctively called the pediatrician for guidance and reassurance every time my baby boy had a temperature spike, unfamiliar cough or uncommon bowel movement. It goes without saying that we, too, unreservedly trusted our doctors about our own health.

Until we didn’t. Somewhere during the last couple of decades, the ‘boomer’ generation (of women, especially) started taking charge of our own bodies, just as we’ve taken charge of our careers, our lifestyles, our finances, and a whole lot more.

Doctors misdiagnosed my dad’s advanced melanoma in 1988, claiming it was “salmonella.” A dermatologist told me the rash on my stomach looked like “syphilis,” when I was 23 and had never slept with anyone but my 23-year-old husband, who surely didn’t have syphilis. My son’s godly pediatrician turned ungodly when he adamantly and repeatedly claimed four-year-old Colby had a “bad cold,” which, in fact, was pneumonia. And we only discovered this when I insisted Dr. S do a chest X-ray on my coughing and feverish little boy. Antibiotics cured the pneumonia in days and the experience started curing my case of Doctor Worship.

Of course, the internet is jam packed with medical information, and while much of it is general, filled with inaccuracies, or just plain hogwash, it at least can prompt us to question our doctors, literally and figuratively.

Most doctors do not like that, including
the old timers who have been Gods for so long, as
well as many boomer doctors, who grew up thinking they’d become Gods when they received their MDs.
(Ironic that boomer doctors don’t get it!)

Personal case in point: I started seeing a cardiologist within the last few years, who specializes in women and heart disease. She’s especially interested in teaching women how to protect their heart health. The visit wasn’t prompted by bothersome symptoms, but I believe it’s important for women to have their hearts checked properly, since heart disease is our Number One killer.

My blood workup indicated my “bad cholesterol” increased beyond the “normal range,” although it wasn’t out of sight. My “good cholesterol” and triglyceride levels remained excellent. Dr. G immediately told me I “needed” to take a statin drug, which would make my bad cholesterol less bad and lower my risk for heart disease. Although I filled the prescription and started taking the medication, the more I read about statins, the less I wanted to take them.

Without getting into a diatribe about statins, one of their lovely side effects can be diabetes. Since my mom had diabetes, I have a predisposition to it. When I told the doctor my concerns, she said: “We actually prescribe statins for people with diabetes.” I didn’t quite understand what that had to do with me, and I didn’t question her further. I simply decided to stop taking statins.

Since then, I’ve interviewed a top Chicago woman’s heart specialist for FabOverFifty, who introduced me to an online test that determines a patient’s risk for developing heart disease or suffering a stroke. After plugging in my blood pressure (normal), good cholesterol and triglyceride levels (excellent), and a few other numbers, I clicked the button and anxiously waited a few seconds for the results. Good news! I’m highly unlikely to get heart disease, based on my profile, and I’m NOT A CANDIDATE FOR STATINS, EVEN FOR A MILD DOSE. I double-checked with the Chicago doctor, who confirmed my results. Interestingly, the test doesn’t even ask for LDL levels, because it’s the HDL that keeps plaque from forming in our arteries.

When I emailed my doctor about the test, she responded that “it’s not valid for people over 59.”

“Incorrect,” I emailed back. “If you’re over 59, it will only assess your 10-year risk versus your lifetime risk. At 67, I’ll take the 10-year-risk.”

She never responded.

I’m not interested in one-upping someone who went to four years of medical school, internship, residency and other grueling training she needed to become a heart specialist. All I’d like is for her to recognize that she shares something very important with her patients. She, too, is a human being.

And human beings do make mistakes, even when they have M.D. in back of their names.

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“Yay! Aren’t I An Accomplished, Smart, Successful and Lovely Person?”

2014 July 16

When nice things happened to us, back in the day, we couldn’t wait to share the news with someone we loved. Found a new apartment? We rushed to the phone to call our best friend. Landed a dream job? Dad will be thrilled, we thought. Met a new guy? Mom will be tickled pink.

Now many of us “share” our good fortune with our world of “friends” on the internet. But we’re
doing more than sharing.

Shameless self-promotion is running rampant. One old-time PR person literally congratulates herself on Facebook every time she gets publicity for one of her accounts. For goodness sakes, that’s what these accounts are paying her to do!!!!! She sounds as if Steven Spielberg is going to make a major motion picture about the hair dryer account she represents, and we’d all better know about it.

Someone else devoted an entire blog to the news that a self-help book she wrote won a bronze award of some kind, and although she was going to keep it to herself, a friend told her she should, “by all means,” share the good word.

Have we taken to this audacious self-promotion to A) convince ourselves we’re stars in a world where everyone wants to be a star, B) simply brag, or C) enhance the lives of the 50 or 500 people we’re telling? The book award winner said that although she’s traditionally been reserved about telling anyone other than a couple of people about her accomplishments, she actually “admires people who state and share their success.”

I couldn’t disagree more. The classiest, really successful people do not state and share their success by blogging, tweeting, or instagramming about it. They let others share the news about them. An acquaintance, who happens to be one of the most brilliant, wealthiest men on the planet, never brags about his endless successes. Instead, The New York Times did devote two entire pages last week to an article about him.

A woman I know well was so publicly low-key about her successes, you’d never have guessed she was one of the most successful women on Wall Street. I still believe “actions speak louder than words.”

What we do and how we do it say
far more about us than flagrant self-aggrandizement. Just think
about Superman.

Do you tout your accomplishments?

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“I feel sexy, oh so sexy, that the city should give me its key!”

2014 July 9

I felt sexy for the very first time in the spring of 1965, when I was 18.

I had dropped out of Syracuse University, mid freshman year, and was working at a $65-a-week clerical job for a lingerie manufacturer in Manhattan. I’d been accepted into NYU for the fall semester.

My boss introduced me to her nephew, Vinnie, an NYU sophomore, and I fell for him immediately. Vinnie drove a motorcycle (fast), lived in an apartment downtown, near the university, and was a cool guy (this was the 60s; it was in to be cool). Anything but cool, I did have a fun personality. Mamma Mia! Vinnie found me attractive, and we’d make out in his favorite hangout, a dimly lit, seedy bar near NYU’s pseudo campus of Greenwich Village streets.

Vinnie took me on wild motorcycle rides, when I excitedly clutched him around his hard, muscled torso; invited me to parties at his apartment, and introduced me to his friends. “Good girls” in the mid-60s didn’t have sex before marriage (I don’t think I knew what sex was), but Vinnie elicited tingly new reactions in me, and I began to feel alluring.

Nothing ever came of me and Vinnie. Although I dated during my first two years at NYU, no one turned me on like he did, until I met blonde, blue-eyed, lanky Barry C., editor-in-chief of the yearbook. I started hyperventilating whenever I was within 20 feet of him. Four years my senior, Barry had served for two years in Vietnam, before returning to NYU to complete his undergraduate studies. He was the handsomest man I had ever met, and he was smart and worldly.

After hosting a meeting of the yearbook staff at my parents’ house (I was associate editor and my folks were on vacation), Barry hung back and we wound up, undressed, in my single bed. By this time, I had a rough idea what sex entailed, and although Barry begged and cajoled me to capitulate (“we’ll go to the drugstore; you’ll buy an ice cream cone and I’ll buy foam,” he said), it remained no dice for me. But boy, did he make me feel sexy, even though I continued to look anything but. (By the way, I had to ask Barry what purpose foam served.)

Barry graduated and subsequently married Laura, a real beauty.

A few men, with whom I enjoyed extraordinary sex, have made me feel extraordinarily sexy since the Vinnie and Barry days. Now I’m sitting at my laptop and pondering two questions: 1) What makes a woman feel sexy? and 2) Can we still feel sexy when our hormones are no longer making decisions for our brains?

My short answer to question 1: A woman feels sexy when she’s desired, by a man if she’s heterosexual, and by a woman if she’s gay, to be totally clear. I’m not talking about feeling secure, accomplished, happy, or attractive. I mean just plain sexy, as in sexually appealing. It’s a proven fact that women (or men) don’t have to look like Scarlett Johansson or Brad Pitt, Helen Mirren or Pierce Brosnan, to be sexy. Obese, unlovely, insecure, mean, even bad, people can be sexually appealing.

On to question 2:

Unequivocally yes, we can feel sexy when we’re 50, 60, 70 or 80, with one proviso—that we’re desired.

Sex may not be as orgasmic (literally or figuratively) as it once was, and it may take a great deal more effort to get into “the zone,” but we’re not going to be desired, or desire someone else, if we don’t work at it. And even if we can live perfectly well without actually having sex, it’s no fun to live without physical desire of any kind, once we know how wonderful it is. A gentle touch to the arm, a nuzzle to the neck, an embrace, a soft, warm kiss.

So, if you’re always hanging around with one particular guy—your husband or boyfriend—and if a level of desire, that you desire, is missing in your relationship, my suggestion is to figure out how to bring it back.

P.S. Of course, it’s better to have a respectful and supportive relationship, without desire, than an abusive one, with desire, but why not aim for the stars!

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