April 25, 2018

Note to self ….. perhaps you’ll join me

by Rod Smith

Note to self: the best time to begin a journey of no regrets is today, right now, this very minute. Please join me in meeting the following challenges:

• Contact that estranged relative. Begin a process of mending and healing. Do so while first protecting the integrity of your immediate family and taking care of your primary responsibilities.

• Establish firm boundaries with everyone you know, from the most casual of acquaintances to the most intimate of companions.

• Do what you can to right your known wrongs. Also, acknowledge that some errors of judgment and lapses of integrity are, with the passage of time, beyond your power to redeem. Sometimes, all you can do is sincerely apologize and not repeat the same errors.

• Embrace unusual challenges and opportunities, especially the opportunities to serve others and those opportunities that test and challenge your natural desire for comfort.

• Go counter. When others are seeking power and influence do what you can to give it away. When others are angry and resentful, look for opportunities to bring peace. Find goodness where it appears to be absent.

• Acknowledge that there is more to life that what you know and others have the capacity and the power to teach you, no matter who they are, if you are open and available to learn.

April 24, 2018

Warmed, encouraged

by Rod Smith

My heart is warmed. Last week I responded to a letter a woman wrote about her depression. She said she could not afford a psychologist or any other appropriate medical help. The simplicity of her letter moved me to publish her letter unedited and the depth of her cry clearly touched many Mercury readers. The column was published on Thursday. I tried, from this distance, to offer some keys and insight into depression. I underscored the necessity of being part of a close community of supportive friends.

By Saturday I had eight or nine emails from mental health professionals, family of mental health professionals, and other related referrals all from the greater Durban area.

Professionals offered vastly reduced rates or pro-bono services for the reader.

Thank you. Thank you so much. My hope is that the writer of the original plea will select a source of help from the emails and get the kind of help she needs.

As a writer I am deeply encouraged by the grace of the readers of this column and thankful for the ongoing support I have known for many years.

Kindly note it has become necessary to switch email addresses. Here’s the new one: RodESmith122@gmail.com. The “122” is simply the street number of our home.

April 22, 2018

Grief and grieving

by Rod Smith

Grief and grieving is a life-long process. If you have suffered great loss, the death of a spouse, parent, child, or sibling, marriage, a deeply-bonded relationship, recently or decades ago, do not be surprised if:

  • You are still not over it. Some losses are never fully grieved and will leave deep scars and escape healing or recovery or closure. This is all true for you despite what you have read and heard about “time heals.”
  • Others, even people close to you, expect you to “move on” when there are days you feel as crippled by the loss as if it just happened. Consequently, you develop a story about why you are having a bad day because, if you confess your actual experience, you know you are tiring those who think you should have “moved on by now.”
  • You feel guilty when you do sense freedom from the loss and you feel guilty when you don’t.
  • You sometimes dream about the person whom you grieve and in the dream you know you are dreaming and want the dream to last forever. Waking up from the dream feels like a letdown of immense proportions.
  • You measure your life in terms of “before” and “after” the loss of a person you love or the relationship you had.
April 18, 2018

Depression

by Rod Smith

“Hi, I suffer with severe depression and cannot afford a psychologist can you help me?”

Thank you for your brief email. I am moved and sad that finances prevent you from appropriate help. You have asked your question for millions of people who similarly suffer and had the strength to contact me:

  • Depression comes in a variety of sizes, strengths, shades, and your experience is unique to you. It’s from a wide variety of sources. You’re not to blame for its access into your life. You didn’t do something to deserve or cause it.
  • Letting a handful of trusted friends into your inner circle and telling them about your experience is crucial for your wellbeing. I hope you have such friends and I hope you will let them in. Part of your healing will almost certainly come from significant integration into a caring, small community.
  • Identifying your emotional rhythms: when you are feeling good, when you are not, when you are empowered, and when you are not, and identifying the triggers bookending these rhythms, will give you clues, keys to handling yourself when things are well, and when they are not.

Writing to me took courage. I am a stranger to you. I am a face you see in your morning newspaper. I’d suggest you were in your “best self” when you contacted me, even though you may have been at your most desperate. Access that person. She’s within you. Live from her as much as possible. Let her guide your day. When she is unavailable or uncooperative, lay low, and trust your community. She’s not abandoned you. She will emerge and you will feel empowered again.

Despite the darkness that can be so overwhelming there is a powerful and emboldened woman inside you and she will come out on her own terms. How do I know this? She wrote to me. I have her email.

April 16, 2018

His ex-wife asks the children questions….

by Rod Smith

“My husband’s ex gets involved in our lives by asking their twins (12) about our lives. She snoops through the children by asking them questions about their visits with their dad and with me. I don’t like this. Some things are none of her business. How do I get this to stop?”

You don’t get it to stop. Just as you correctly think that what goes on in your home is none of your husband’s ex-wife’s business, so is what the children talk about to their mother none of yours. The mother of the twins is at liberty to ask her children whatever she wants. The children are at liberty to talk about whatever they want with their mother – and with you.

If you silence the children you may meet your short-term goals but you will also send the unwanted message that the children cannot divulge other matters you may indeed want them to speak up about.

A better option than trying to monitor conversations of which you are not a part, is to live in such a manner that you’d be proud of anything the twins wish to report to their mother.

Shutting children down is not a good idea. You may pay the price of them shutting down around you forever.

April 15, 2018

Monday’s prayer upon rising

by Rod Smith
  • May I be a source of healing rather than of hurt or injury.
  • May I value other people more than things.
  • May I apologize sincerely and efficiently when I wrong others.
  • May I be immovable about matters of my integrity but understanding when others fall short.
  • May I give my full attention when I am in conversation with others and listen more than I speak.
  • May I become the most generous and optimistic person I know.
  • May I learn to avoid using and believing damaging stereotypes.
  • May I resist knee-jerk reactions to issues of race and equality.
  • May I bring optimism to others when they most need it.
  • May I learn to avoid gossip or saying things that are unhelpful or untrue.
  • May I learn to promote the strengths of others.
  • May I learn from losing and not gloat in victory.
  • May I give my children all the freedom necessary for growth and adventure.
  • May I learn to be a listening ear.
  • May I learn to live fully in the present while designing a great future and valuing my past.
  • May I enjoy deep connection with others and necessary separation from others.
April 11, 2018

We are attracted to each other but….

by Rod Smith

“Is it possible to have a lasting and fulfilling relationship with someone who is on a different intellectual level and who also does not share many interests with you? Emotionally and physically there is a connection but I fear that eventually I will get bored or we’ll drift due to intellectual differences.”

People of varying or differing intellects can do well together. I’d suggest it is more complex. “Intellectual” is only one component.

If he bores you, you can always read a good book or spend time with a more interesting friend. He can do the same if it is you who bores him.

Rather, I am going to use the term “differentiated.” People who are equally differentiated (or not) will find each other attractive. Needs calls out to needs and strengths calls out to strengths.

Your mutual attraction is because you are similarly differentiated – despite levels of intellect. If you are not on a similar level of differentiation I’d suggest you’re in for battles.

The lower (more needy) levels will find the higher (less needy) to be standoffish or arrogant. The more differentiated person in the two-some will find the person lower on the scale to be high-maintenance or suffocating.

 The fact that you are asking this question is a really healthy sign. Love is usually blind and avoids important questions.

April 9, 2018

Be the adult you want your children to be

by Rod Smith

Today, and every day, be the adult you hope your children will become. How else will they learn it?

  • Stop blaming the teachers, coaches, or the school for your child’s every challenge, difficulty, or hurdle. Blame restricts maturing, yours and theirs.
  • Stop blaming the government, the economy, or prejudice for every distress or dilemma you face, unless you think blame will be a good tool for your child to take into adulthood. If you want your children to be adults who take responsibility for their lives then show them how it’s done.
  • Your children won’t forget your temper tantrums no matter how young they may be; they will emulate them.
  • Demonstrate, by your own display of excellent manners, the manner in which you hope your child will navigate life and relationships. It is true, they are going to watch and learn from multiple sources, but you are their primary resource when it comes to how they will respect and treat others. Little eyes are watching.
  • Respect, visit, and be kind to the elderly so they know exactly how to do it when it’s your turn.
  • Dismiss no one; look down on no one. Young eyes and ears are absorbing how to be in the world, and you, parents, are the primary teachers.
April 4, 2018

My wife’s drinking bothers me

by Rod Smith

“I think my wife (4 years) is drinking too much. She says it relieves her stress. I sometimes join her. If I refuse she badgers, calls me playful names, and gets out of control after a few. It’s always at home. It’s always just the two of us. It’s unpleasant if I won’t join her. I think she is an alcoholic or at least almost one. We are still hoping to have children. I am nervous about her drinking when she pregnant. I am nervous about life with an alcoholic. I saw what my mother went through with my father. How do I get her help?”  

An informal way to assess if a behavior is already (or becoming) an addiction is as follows:

  • Does the person experience cravings for the substance?
  • Has a job or status been lost because of the activity?
  • Has a significant relationship been threatened or lost because of the behavior?

If any one is positive the person is an addict or well on the way to being one.

Addicts don’t usually enjoy or respond well to exposure or confrontation. Denial is the usual response. In the cold light of a sober morning-moment, express your fears to your wife. Show her this column. She might not buckle and agree to run for help immediately or warm to either of us, but it may well set her sober mind thinking.

April 2, 2018

What people want

by Rod Smith

This past week has been pivotal for me. I have now had the privilege of teaching on every continent. I have not, like a handful of people I know, been to every country on Earth – but there’s still time.

In the process I read listen as much as I can and I gather people-stories.

While there are people in the depths and on the fringes of severe mental health issues in all communities and in all cultures and to whom this may not apply, I have discovered both up-close and casually, that people are much the same in despite differences in culture, language, race, and expressions of faith or the apparent lack of it:

  • People are helpful and pleasant when you yourself are friendly and open.
  • People want to belong, they want respect, they want worthwhile endeavors into which they can plow their idea, talents, and strength.
  • People will do about anything for their children, especially their education.
  • Bitterness and family resentments can lodge themselves in families, rich and poor, and can pervert thinking and perceptions for generations for those families.
  • It takes just one family member who is in the midst of most entangled of toxic family circumstances to begin dramatic positive shifts when he or she embraces the courage to live a life of forgiveness, reconciliation, and grace.