I Don’t Have Time To Workout!

We’ve all been there.  Most of the time I’m there.  I spend my days taking other people through workouts, and whatever energy I have left goes into chasing my kids around.  To solve this time/energy problem, I have been selecting a few intense exercises and doing them in short bursts.

Before Anne and I had children, we did 10 mile runs every Saturday and I’d spend 6 to 9 hours per week doing some sort of martial arts training.  That’s just not realistic anymore.  Plus, I hate running.

I am always trying to maintain balance in my body.  I spent a lot of years getting injured due to the fact that I would hyperfocus on one thing at a time.  That worked for a while in my 20s, but eventually the repetitive stress can start to add up.  Distance runners and powerlifters usually have some sort of chronic pain issue.  It’s a trade-off.  To win, you have to focus.  Elite athletes know what they’re getting into.

I can’t afford to be injured anymore.  My little boys expect me to carry them when they’re too tired to walk, and I won’t be able to demonstrate proper pushups if I have a torn rotator cuff.  I also don’t have as much tolerance for discomfort as I once did.

If you are also the type of person who feels obligated to train every system, but can’t seem to find enough opportunity, give this a try for a few months:

*It goes without saying that if you are new to exercise, get checked by a doctor, have someone show you proper technique, and WARM UP!!

1X PER WEEK — DEADLIFTS.  Ramping up to a heavy set of 5 reps.  (Around 30 minutes)

2X PER WEEK — BURPEES (with pushups and jumps).  You’ll know when you’re done.  In sets or all at once. (10 or so minutes)

2X PER WEEK — MONKEY BAR HANG.  Until your hands won’t close anymore. Do pull-ups if you’re strong enough.  (10 or so minutes)

2X PER WEEK — STRETCH AND FOAM ROLL THE LEAST MOBILE PART OF YOUR BODY.  I mean dedicated stretching.  Focus on that one area.  (15 to 20 minutes)

That’s it.

There are always going to be naysayers.  “You’ll never finish an ultramarathon with that workout.”  “Yeah, but what can you bench brah?”  “That’s not enough volume to separate all 36 deltoid heads…brah.”

Let me just get out in front of that in this closing.  This is not a bodybulding, powerlifting, or endurance sport routine.  If you’re worried about your delt head separation, then you probably also get 8 hours of sleep, go to things like Happy Hour, and aren’t concerned about running out of diapers.

Deadlifts build maximal strength throughout the entire body.  Every muscle.  I used to think that the chest is neglected here, but anytime I go heavy, one of my pecs will usually spasm.

Burpees will improve endurance, power, speed, and agility, along with working every muscle. (Tell me which ones aren’t burning after a hard round of burpees)

Monkey bar hangs will improve grip and upper body strength, along with shoulder and back mobility.  Working in pullups will only improve upon that.

Dedicated mobility work in a troublesome spot is pretty self-explanatory.

If you decide to give this a go, I’d love to hear about your results.

 

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The State of American Healthcare

After receiving another notice from our insurance company that a payment for service was denied, I thought it was time to share my family’s experience with the American healthcare system. I’m not going to get political about it. Individuals will define root causes based on where they lie on the political spectrum. I am not interested in placing blame, because it is far too convoluted. I am more concerned about how the disarray built in to the American healthcare system is going to give an otherwise healthy individual like me, a stroke.

I am not a healthcare expert, nor a political pundit. But I am one of those Americans who falls in that gray area that none of our politicians seems to know what to do with. I’m self-employed, and I make about as much as a public school teacher. My wife Anne is in graduate school full-time along with an unpaid internship, so as a family of four, we’re making just enough to shave by. Thankfully we have some savings from a house sale, along with a thoughtful extended family. Many Americans in our situation don’t have those safety nets to utilize in the case of an emergency. I don’t really know how they can manage.

15% of my gross income goes toward healthcare expenses, after the subsidy. If it weren’t for the subsidy, it would be 30% or more. The important thing to note here is that we are a healthy family. Outside of routine checkups, there is the occasional issue that Anne and I have to deal with as part of the normal aging process. We don’t have cancer or kidney disease. The good news is that, as a small business owner, I can write off a chunk of those expenses. The bad news is that when there is a billing dispute between a provider and the health insurance company, I take on a second job as a liaison, despite having no experience or qualifications to do so. If I lose the negotiation, then we’re fronting another few thousand dollars that might otherwise go into that thing that people keep talking about. I forget what it’s called. Oh yeah, “savings.”

A couple of years back I listened to an interview with a healthcare economist who described her experience after a cancer diagnosis. I am paraphrasing her statement, but it went something like this, “I am a healthcare economist with a PhD, and I don’t understand the bills and letters that I am getting from my insurance company. So if I can’t understand it, then it will definitely be impossible for anyone not in this field to understand it.” I continually have this experience with what should be routine procedures for a 42 year old man in generally good shape. I never know if I commit to a procedure whether it’s going to cost me $0 or $7,000. Here is a copy of a letter I wrote to a vascular surgeon after receiving a varicose vein diagnosis. I’ve omitted the first couple of paragraphs because they’re just boring details about the procedure:

“…To be perfectly frank, out-of-pocket medical fees have just been killing us for the past 3 years. It never lets up. I spent an hour on Friday trying to get someone at the imaging facility/health insurance company to give me a general idea of what I would be paying for just the MRI/MRA, and no one was able to give me any kind of answer. Our savings is dwindling, and I’m still negotiating other hospital bills. I’m not mentioning this because your office has anything to do with that stuff, as I realize you all have to deal with the same health insurance billing frustrations that I do as a small business owner. Your team is simply practicing safe care and presenting me with viable options. I’m mentioning it because my wife will be done with grad school and working in a couple of years…right about the time we stop paying $1,500 per month to put two kids through preschool. Point being — if this can wait a couple of years without doing irreversible damage do my leg, then it needs to wait. But if I’m playing with fire then I just have to suck it up and move forward into this year’s medical cost black hole. So I need an honest opinion about what my wiggle room is here.”

Fortunately, she responded by telling me that this condition has a slow progression, and unless certain symptoms begin to arise, there is no rush. But this is the standard medical routine in my experience. Specifically, with this vein diagnosis:

– Step 1. See a PCP about an issue, where I sit in the waiting room for almost an hour.

– Step 2. 3 weeks later, take 3 hours off work and drive 45 mins to see a specialist. Get a diagnosis.

– Step 3. 3 weeks later, take 3 hours off work and drive 45 mins to get an ultrasound.

– Step 4. 3 months later, take 3 hours off work and drive 45 mins to get a follow up about the ultrasound. Get a prescription for an MRI.

– Step 5. Start paying the out-of-pocket expenses for the previous 4 doctor visits and the ultrasound.

– Step 6. Contact the hospital that does the MRI to find out how much it might cost me out of pocket. Get transferred to a billing estimate place. Get transferred to a billing counselor. Call my insurance company. Find out absolutely nothing.

– Step 7. Ask the doctor if I can put this process off for a couple of years.

– Step 8. Cancel the MRI.

Four months, a couple hundred dollars, and about 12 combined hours of driving, waiting, consulting, and calling. The only thing that has changed since step 1 is that I bought one pair of vein compression hose for $70. Insurance doesn’t pay for that after all. I mean, how else are they supposed to rake in billions of dollars in profits?

Two days ago, we received a new notice from our insurance company stating that they are denying payment for a procedure that my wife had done last May in the amount of $4,500. The reason for the denial is that the claim was not submitted by the hospital in a timely enough manner, despite being in-network, and previously approved. Nevermind that insurance companies and hospitals can send the patient a bill out of the blue whenever they feel like it. Apparently those rules don’t apply if it’s a major corporation billing another major corporation.

I’ve been through this song and dance before. Ultimately what this means is that the hospital will now send us a bill for $4,500. I will then spend hours working my way up the chain to explain to a disinterested supervisor that, “I did my part. I pay my premiums on time. We made sure that the procedure was in network, and that it was approved. I don’t file insurance claims, you do. If I had known that a billing window was closing, I would have filed it myself. But I did not know this. No one tells me these things.” To which they will reply that since the insurance company isn’t paying, I will have to take it up with my insurance company, or pay the bill myself. To which my insurance company will reply that the hospital did not submit the claim in a timely manner, and I will have to take it up with the hospital.

I already went through this last summer over Anne’s same procedure. The insurance company denied a claim for the testing of a tissue sample, because the lab wasn’t in network, so we received a bill from the lab for around $1,000. I called the hospital, lab, and insurance company to find out why, if we had chosen a doctor in-network, a tissue sample would be sent to a lab that was not in-network. Turns out that the lab was in network when the tissue sample was sent, but it was no longer in network when they billed the insurance company. So…naturally, after all of these companies finish arguing over who is supposed to pay whom, I get the bill. To which I patiently and calmly responded to the last person I spoke with, “I know that you personally are not the orchestrator of this confusion, but please put yourself in my shoes, and then explain to me WHY THE FUCK any of this is my responsibility.” “Sir…I can understand your frustration…”

This situation wasn’t actually resolved. It is under review. I was told it could take 9 to 12 months before a resolution is reached. I assume that once I’ve completely forgotten about this whole thing, and just as I’m thinking about doing something wacky crazy like putting some money into an IRA, I’ll get another bill for $1,000. Because, why shouldn’t I? I don’t have a team of lawyers to fight this screw up. I’m the low-hanging fruit. It’s easy for the hospital, or insurance company, or lab, to sue me if I refuse to pay it. They have a lot less to lose. So I’ll just pay it, and then cynically wait for the next costly expense that I didn’t know was coming. Oh, wait, there already is one!

For this same procedure, we also received another bill last fall from the hospital for around $5,000 (separate from the most recent insurance company denial). Look, I know that we are required to pay a certain amount of money out of pocket each year to meet our deductible. We paid a $500 co-pay, along with another amount up front that I can’t remember. But this was all really starting to add up. The bill indicated that the hospital had been trying to collect the money from the insurance company to no avail, and that I needed to call my insurance company to try to get them to pay. You know, my volunteer job as a debt collector when I’m not at my actual job, trying to raise my children, or on the phone with some other medical organization about another bill that doesn’t seem quite right.

Insurance company — “They aren’t supposed to send you a bill for that amount. Your responsibility is $200 something plus your $500 co-pay.”

Me — “But they did send me this bill.”

Insurance company — “But they’re not supposed to. You’ll have to call them.”

Hospital — “The amount due is $5,000.”

Me — “The insurance company said it’s $200.”

Hospital — “It’s $5,000.”

Me — “Here’s a crazy idea. I know this is totally insane, but how about if YOU call the insurance company. Here is their phone number. They have customer service representatives available 24 hours per day.”

Hospital — “We don’t do that.”

Me — “You don’t talk to the insurance company?”

Hospital — “No. But what we can do is submit this for review, which could take about 9 to 12 months…”

If you’ve made it this far through this rant, I’ll go ahead and share a final medical anecdote from a couple of years ago. We had just relocated to Texas, and most of our life was imploding due to circumstances outside our control. I’ll spare the details, but it was getting pretty ugly. One afternoon, Anne decided to take our son Parker to my Mom’s house so that Anne and I could try to figure some things out without downloading all of the stress onto our 3 year old. A few minutes after she left the house, as I was walking down our hallway I began to experience stabbing chest pains and pressure that pulsed in time with my heartbeat. This had to be a heart attack. I quickly chewed a baby aspirin and drove to the ER a half mile away. In hindsight I probably should have called 911, but you just do what you do in those situations.

The staff quickly hooked me up to a bunch of monitors, gave me some medication to ostensibly calm the effects of a possible heart attack, and conducted a prompt interview. Within a few minutes I was sent through a battery of medical tests. After the doctor reviewed the information he concluded that my heart was fine, and that I had probably pinched a nerve somewhere in my thoracic cavity due to the extreme stress, which was mimicking the symptoms of a heart attack. Whew! What a relief. He also told me that the symptoms I was describing were either a pinched nerve, or an aortic dissection, which would have killed me within a few minutes. Thankfully he didn’t tell me that until after I was in the clear.

Well, it’s a good thing I have health insurance and that the ER is only a half mile away. Sometimes there are happy endings. Oh, wait…the ER isn’t in network and it cost me $2,500. Since the source of our stress was a near disastrous financial situation, I had to ask myself, if I had known in advance that it would have cost me $2,500 to go to the ER for what I thought might be a heart attack, would I have gone? Might I have just taken the aspirin and waited around until I was sure it was a heart attack? Then what? My wife finds me dead on the living room floor? Or maybe I was supposed to call around to different hospitals, and wait on hold with the insurance company, to see which provider was in network, all while possibly in the midst of having a heart attack. If I had called 911, would the cost have doubled or tripled for the ambulance ride?

I am well aware that there are countries which have no hospitals at all. Many don’t even have safe drinking water. I have much for which to be grateful (no debtor’s prison in the U.S. for one). But I can’t help but think that in one of the wealthiest, advanced, and most powerful nations in the history of the world, something is seriously wrong here. To be perfectly honest, I often think about what I could do to help people who aren’t as lucky as I am. Unfortunately, when I have any sliver of free time or extra money that might be dedicated to such a cause, it gets parasitically absorbed by this kind of bullshit.

Stay healthy! (No, I mean really stay healthy so that you don’t have to go see a doctor for any reason…ever).

Recovering From Life pt. 3

…cont’d from pt. 2

So, what does all of this mean?  It means that we all have a tremendous amount to overcome in our day to day lives before we even get out the door.  Our pre-programmed, but outdated, survival behavior is interfering with our ultimate desire for “happiness” and “peace.”  Throw in modern stressors that our evolutionary mechanisms are not equipped to address, and we begin to work at full capacity just to make it to the end of the day.  It’s as if we’re being asked to program a computer with a hatchet.  A hatchet is a useful tool that served our ancestors for thousands of years.  But it isn’t useful for programming computers.

When I was struggling to get sober in the early 2000s, people kept telling me that if I could learn to live in the “now” as often as possible, most of my problems would begin to take care of themselves…including my drinking.  I genuinely didn’t know what that meant.  Most of the time I was obsessively worrying about what was going to happen, or regretting what had already happened.  If there was a “now,” it was, “Now I’m drinking.”

Over time, it became clear that I couldn’t think my way out of the problem.  A neuroscientist or psychologist can probably explain this more articulately than I can, but our very existence is defined by paradoxes.  If we try to stop thinking about something, we will only think about it more.  If we “try” to sleep when we’re having trouble falling asleep, we are doomed to stay awake.  Broccoli doesn’t taste like doughnuts.  Sitting on the couch feels better than exercise.

Another paradox that I find truly baffling:  With most things in life we instinctively know exactly what to do.  We know it intellectually, but there’s a little monster inside that keeps steering us in the wrong direction.  I knew that a 12 step program could help me get sober, but instead I switched from vodka to beer.  I knew that if I changed my eating habits I could probably win the battle with chronic acid reflux, but instead I just took more medication.  Again, this is probably something on which a psychologist could enlighten me, but for now it’s merely a puzzling observation.  I do, however, believe it is somehow tied into the conflict between modernity and our outmoded survival mechanisms.

We know from experience that if we actively focus on spending our conscious time in the moment we are actually in, rather than in some moment in the past or future, things generally go more smoothly.  Much less anxiety or pangs of regret.  But it feels so tempting to nurse an old resentment or drive the possibilities for disaster right off of a cliff.  Those thought patterns are always harmful.  Yet we persist.

How exactly do we go about staying in the now?  It is pretty simple really.  Despite the immense complications associated with human evolution, and the aspects of our minds that we do not yet understand, it is possible to override the discordant noise that constantly hums in the background (or foreground depending on the kind of day you’re having).  There is nothing new or groundbreaking here.  But as our lives are dominated by paradoxes, most of us do not take advantage of these tools.  We don’t make time for them because we are overwhelmed by everything else that we know we must do.  But here’s another paradox…the more time we spend using these tools, the more time they produce.  It becomes self generating.

Time is in many ways an illusion.  Many theoretical physicists have debated the concept of time as a purely human construct.  I’m not going to delve into this debate here, but there is no question that our perception of time is impacted by our quality of mind in any given situation.  “Time flies when you’re having fun!”  Conversely, many of my personal training clients insist that I am lying to them when I say that they’ve been holding a plank for only 30 seconds.

Twenty four hours is twenty four hours.  But the rate at which those hours seem to pass are largely determined by how present we are throughout the day.  If we spend our time at work dreading a difficult conversation at home, it will feel like we can’t get anything done.  If we spend time with our kids dreading all of the work we have to do on Monday, it will feel like we aren’t in our children’s lives.  However, with a few simple tools we can shift our perception in such a way that time seems to expand.  But we have to make time for these things first.  If we only get to them once we’ve worn ourselves out with all of the other “stuff” we have to do, we will never get to them, and we’re right back to where we started — out of time.

There is no shortage of scientific information available that explains the “how” and “why” pertaining to these tools.  I am just going to share my own personal experience with them.  These tools help me stay sober all the time, and at peace most of the time:

1 — Daily meditation using the Headspace app.  I am fairly new to this.  Maybe 3 months in.  Focus has sharpened.  General demeanor has softened.  I find that I am able to apply the principles while driving and literally experience nothing but the act of driving.  It is a very new and foreign feeling.  Traffic frustration has just about vanished.

2 — Martial arts, or any other complex high-skill sport.  It is nearly impossible to get lost in distracting thoughts while performing a highly technical movement.  Exercise alone is certainly beneficial to the mind as well as the body, but it is the intense concentration associated with a highly technical physical activity that brings the perception of time into “right now.”

3 — A skilled hobby.  Like exercise, hobbies of any kind are terrific on any level.  But I’m referring to hobbies that take a great deal of practice in order to master the activity.  Woodworking or learning a musical instrument are good examples.  Again, we’re trying to bring the mind down into the thing we are doing, rather than letting it carry us up into the clouds.  The more technical the hobby, the more anchored the mind becomes.

4 — Keeping a journal.  This can be about anything.  There is something liberating about writing thoughts down.  Things that spin in our minds throughout the day tend to stop spinning once written down.  It’s as if we’ve moved them from our mind into a separate storage facility.

5 — Once per day, take contrary action.  It can be completely random.  If you order coffee every day, pick tea one day.  If you turn on the news first thing in the morning, turn on some music one day.  This may seem silly and arbitrary at first.  But I find that when I get into the habit of mixing up mundane things for no reason, it feels much more natural to find another option when it really matters.  For instance, when I’m having a bad day and I want to take it out on my family.  Or someone cut me off on the freeway and I want to pay them back.  This is a “wax on, wax off” approach that works when our instincts are getting pushed around by stress.

This is not an exhaustive list, and I’d love to hear any tools that you use to keep you “in the present.”

 

Recovering From Life pt. 2

…cont’d from pt. 1

Two proposals, for me, have clarified just about everything we struggle through in our day to day psychological lives, and they have to do with formerly necessary survival instincts outliving their usefulness.  They have become a liability in that they cause stress that is pre-programmed and unavoidable.  However, it is manageable when we can come to terms with the reality of what these stressors are, and catch ourselves before we stumble into an instant gratification sinkhole in an attempt to escape them.  We can, on occasion, learn to stay in the present.  But it takes practice, and it doesn’t always go smoothly.

I am paraphrasing these proposals in order to apply them to my own understanding of the stressors to which I am referring.

#1 — Historian Yuval Noah Harari indicates in “Sapiens” that nature’s great predators are majestic and confident — all the time.  Tigers are a great example.  They embody the essence of a successful predator.  One doesn’t look at a tiger and think, “Gosh, he really looks worried about his day.”  Prey animals, however, display a very different energy.  Our neighborhood is full of rabbits, so I’ll use them as an example.  Everything about these rabbits exudes anxiety.  “Is that gonna eat me?  What about that?  Where are my kids?  Are they being eaten?  CAR!!!”  The best analogy I can think of is when you’re playing chess or tennis with someone who is significantly better than you.  You will constantly be on defense, and never have the opportunity to mount an offense.  That is the rabbit.  Always reacting, never plotting.  Harari’s proposal is that humans very rapidly transitioned from primates who were both predator and prey, into the ultimate predator.  The transition happened so quickly that we were never able to fully evolve out of the anxiety and mistrust that defines the rabbit’s existence.  Harari argues that this makes us extremely dangerous — The predator instincts of a tiger in direct conflict with the prey instincts of a rabbit.  One doesn’t have to think for very long to recognize that this can be a horrifying combination.  An extreme case would be Hitler, for example.

#2 — In an interview with NPR, evolutionary psychologist Robert Wright discussed our ceaseless general dissatisfaction…with everything.  For instance, “This house is too small.  I need a bigger house.  Now this bigger house is too small.  I need a bigger house…and so on…”  Wright explains that this drive is what kept us from becoming extinct.  If we stuff our bellies at Thanksgiving, and our brains tell us we’re full for 6 months, we will starve.  If we have sexual intercourse one time, and decide that it was so satisfying that we never need to do it again, we will simply vanish as a species.  One can see how these things can run haywire in a society that is not only marked, but plagued, by abundance.  We are biologically programmed to eat until we are as full as possible, and as a result we see obesity and type 2 diabetes becoming epidemics.  I am not making any specific moral value judgments about pornography, as that is not the purpose of this discussion, but it is clear to me that the required survival instinct for existence occasionally (if not often) becomes a self-destructive obsession when pornography is available 24/7 for free.

If we throw all of these anachronistic survival tools into the modernity pot and stir it up, it becomes rather obvious why our collective mental seam is splitting:

“Tom loves his wife Julia, but he can’t stop thinking about his secretary Heidi.  He isn’t in love with Heidi.  He just wants to have sex with her, one time.  But he knows that he must pretend to be in love with her in order for Heidi to consider any such proposal.  Tom hates himself for this.  He sits in church, ashamed.  He becomes more withdrawn from Julia because he doesn’t want to hurt her, but he can’t stop obsessing about Heidi.  Julia suspects that Tom no longer finds her attractive, but she’s too afraid to confront him about it.  She decides that it’s because she has gained too much weight.  So she goes on a diet, which fails.  Soon, she transitions into binging and purging.  Suddenly, she loses interest in her suspicions about Tom, because the binging and purging cycle has become her first priority.  She buys a gym membership, and starts working out 7 days per week.  A 20-something bond trader named Dan begins flirting with her on a regular basis…and so on, and so on.”

It has become crystal clear to me that this entire scenario is a direct result of the exponential rate at which the human mind adapts intellectually, while being simultaneously imprisoned by biological survival instincts which adapt and modify much more slowly.  The intellect and instinct go to war with one another, and both sides lose.  In my totally unscientifically tested opinion, this results in increased rates of depression, anxiety, and addiction.

I don’t want to get into an abyss about whether or not we have free will, but neuroscientist Sam Harris indicates that, for the most part, we do not.  For the purpose of this discussion, it is relevant in that, for me, it explains many of the paradoxes and neuroses associated with trying to resist our instincts in order to function in a modern, civil society.  I’ll use myself as an example.  “I won’t drink today, I won’t drink today, I won’t drink today.  Alright, fine, I won’t drink tomorrow.”  I spent so much time obsessively trying to fight the urge to drink, that all I could think about was drinking.  The misfiring instinct to fill myself up with something that I “needed” was fighting me back harder than my “will” could overcome it.  As far as I can tell, the instincts always triumph in a battle of pure will.  How many of us recognize that we are eating too much, and yet feel powerless to stop it?  In that case, we are losing the battle with our instinct to ingest as much energy as we can to ensure successful procreation.  It is like building a dam to block the water, but the water keeps rising infinitely.  We have to learn to dig a new channel for the water to move in a different direction.  It is a futile endeavor to try to restrict it entirely.

cont’d in pt. 3…

 

Recovering From Life pt. 1

Scientists recently discovered that anatomically modern humans have existed for approximately 300,000 years.  Rudimentary agriculture has been around for less than 20,000 years.  For 280,000 years humans had one real job:  Kill the animal you’re trying to eat; don’t get eaten by the animal you’re trying to kill.

Changes in human anatomy happen at a glacial pace, which includes the brain’s capacity to adapt to the world around us.  It seems apparent that our capacity for innovation has far outpaced our capacity to adapt to that innovation.  I am not an evolutionary biologist, nor a neuroscientist, but I think I can reasonably state that psychological/physiological changes over time occur as a response to environmental stressors.  Prey gets faster — humans develop better spears.  Hostile populations become more aggressive — native populations build stronger walls.

The industrial age is only 300 years old.  The information age…less than 100.  In a span of time that is nothing more than a speck relative to the sum total amount of time that modern humans have existed, innovation has redefined the world in ways that would have been unimaginable to the average person living in 16th century Europe.  Or even to the few remaining indigenous populations currently untouched by the modern world.

What happens when the aggregate number of daily stressors exceeds the brain’s ability to adapt to them?  It is clear that a constant hyperawareness of wild animals is in and of itself a more acute stressor than say, a traffic jam.  But here’s the fundamental difference:  For most of the span of human history, wild animals were one of the very few stressors that the human mind had to process.  Weather, illness, and food scarcity covered most of the rest.  Except in extreme cases, humans have managed to solve most of the problems associated with those particular challenges.  I don’t worry if my children will be eaten by a tiger.  It isn’t terribly likely that the flu will kill me.  I have some decent options in a tornado.  My fridge is full.  I am fully aware that many populations are still under constant threat from these types of catastrophes, but that’s a different discussion (though undoubtedly related to some of the complications associated with modernity).

We have exponentially multiplied our daily stressors to a height at which the levee seems to be on the verge of breaking.  These stressors are both real (job insecurity, healthcare costs, political uncertainty) and virtual (cyberbullying, misinformation, looking up the causes of headaches).  There is also a peculiar phenomenon associated with social media that is an extension of conspicuous consumption:  The Facebook home page that features the person standing on a yacht drinking champagne.  Or piloting a small aircraft.  Or paragliding in Australia.  To be clear, these things are all terrific opportunities that anyone should take if they have the chance.  Yes, there are countries decimated by famine.  Sure, we could probably all be doing more.  But that doesn’t mean survivor guilt should prevent people from ever taking advantage of good fortune.  The point I am making is that we seem to be trying very hard to portray a life in which every day consists of drinking champagne on a yacht.  But that’s not reality (at least for 99.99% of us).  The reality is the 40-something divorcee with insomnia at 3am looking at Facebook pictures of people on yachts drinking champagne…while wondering why her own life is such a disaster.

This could be described as a type of cultural disease, or pandemic psychological disorder.  More succinctly, it is a smoke-and-mirrors existence:

“If people see me on this yacht, they won’t know that I can’t stop thinking about suicide.”  “If everyone marvels at my giant muscles, they’ll never suspect that I let everyone take advantage of me.”  “If they see me wearing these medals, it will conceal this crippling depression.”

I am not arguing that we would be better off constantly unloading all of our burdens on total strangers, nor that our Facebook homepage should feature us crying while uncontrollably snorting cocaine.  My point is that our collective psychological response to a ceaseless inundation of stressors is becoming pathological, and the ramifications are, to me, obvious:  Increasingly vitriolic social discourse, anxiety, ADHD, autism rates, etc.  While I am not medically qualified to make mental health diagnoses, I genuinely don’t believe that these assessments are too far out of bounds.

…cont’d in pt. 2.