Why haven’t I found happiness? :( The simple hard truth.

Everywhere nowadays I see people who want to be happy but aren’t. Careers are shifted, trust is broken, families are torn apart, money and time are squandered, and still, so many people are not happy. Why? Why is being happy so elusive?IMG_8007Let me start by saying this is only my opinion. It is based on years of observation, bolstered by research and professional opinions of others, but still just my own opinion. With that disclaimer in place, why are we so unhappy. I would start answering that question by first looking at the vernacular that most people use to describe their lack of happiness. You hear phrases like “nothing makes me happy,” “I haven’t found happiness,” or “I am not happy with that.” What can we learn from this? People are waiting for happiness to happen to them, to find it sitting in a person, place, or thing that magically bestows happiness upon them. Even the architects of the US constitution named “the pursuit of happiness” directly as though it is something you must search for and find to have. Now, I have a lot to say regarding “the pursuit of happiness,”and we may circle back to that eventually, but for now, let’s just look that the phrasing in these last few statements. The thing I see most often, in declarations of displeasure or unhappiness, is this sense that happiness is some amorphous fog of feeling that shifts and drifts. That it is some object, some exact possession to find and hold, or some goal to be achieved.
It isn’t.
Simply stated in the dictionary, the definition of happiness is as follows:
noun: happiness; plural noun: happinesses
the state of being happy.
“she struggled to find happiness in her life.”
synonyms: pleasure, contentment, satisfaction, cheerfulness, merriment, gaiety, joy, joyfulness, joviality, jollity, glee, delight, good spirits, lightheartedness, well-being, enjoyment; exuberance, exhilaration, elation, ecstasy, jubilation, rapture, bliss, blissfulness, euphoria, transports of delight; Hollywood ending
“trying to rediscover the happiness we once knew.”

Let me restate that again, per Webster’s “The State of Being Happy.”
What I find the most telling and proving of my points here is the use of the word that even the dictionary uses in its example. “…find happiness..” However, if you look just one line above that example, in the dictionary itself, you see that happiness is a state. I would submit that that state of happiness is a state of mind, but that step is not even needed to prove the point that I will make here. Happiness is a state. Period. It is, by definition, the state of being happy.IMG_0285
Why is this distinction important? Simply, the dictionary doesn’t say “Happiness found” or “Happiness achieved” because true happiness is not searched for or achieved. It is just a state of being. The way to be happy is just to BE happy. I know this is not what all the people in the wide world who are looking for something to MAKE them happy what to hear. You see, happiness is a choice. So are the rest of our emotions. Everyone in the world around us has been trained to take short cuts, jump to conclusions, find the easy way, to demand specific results, and to blame others when we don’t get them. However, in the case of any of our emotions, nothing makes them. We allow them. Every emotion we have is a choice. Every feeling we experience is a result of a stimulus that we allow our brain to process, then we choose how that process will be responded to. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that we have no feelings, I am saying that our feelings, the sensory input affected by our environment is just that, feeling, sensation, data. It is not emotion. Emotion is the response we allow ourselves to exhibit to that sensory input. Plenty of research has been done regarding emotions and their effects on our life and our body. You are likely familiar with phrases like “The power of positive thinking” or “Visualize success to achieve it.” What is positive thinking or visualization if not choosing which feelings to allow ourselves to be affected by. We choose positivity and then experience it. We choose to allow others to anger us, then we feel the stress of anger. Any time you are driving your car and choose to flip off the driver who cut you off, you could just as easily choose to smile instead. Studies show that when you do choose that alternate response, you have less stress at that moment and after, it even changes your heart rate and blood pressure. You see “positive thinking” is just choosing to be positive instead of negative in a situation that would otherwise lend to a negative environment. It is just choosing to be happy in the space where sadness or anger would be easier.

So happiness is a choice, a state of mind, and an active conscious decision, not a vague, amorphous conceptual, emotional state that they have chase or be lucky enough to have fallen on them. IF this is the case, then why do we all work so hard to “Find” it? Well, in my simple view, if it is something we can find, something someone else can cause, something that shifts and ebbs, then all the impetus for our happiness is off our shoulders and squarely resting with the forces of nature, the powers that be, the world around us. Frankly, if our happiness is the direct result of other input, it is not our responsibility and wherever it becomes someone else’s problem. How many marriages end because happiness is not there? How many people give up on a career, at a task, a friend, a lover, a family, or a relationship simply because they don’t FIND happiness in it. Man, that is so much easier to take than facing the hard truth that happiness is found in ourselves and therefore if we are not happy, it is OUR responsibility, OUR failure, and OUR problem. No one wants to own their own issues, no one wants to admit failure. Everyone today is looking for the easy way out. We live in a society where “Feel Good” is more important than “Do Good” or “Be Good.” We are accustomed to instant gratification, instant food, instant enjoyment, and instant results. However, like most things, instant is not better, just sooner. We eat instant food instead of wholesome food because an instant is quicker, we didn’t plan our meals ahead, and we want to eat NOW. We get instant relations like Tinder because we want gratification now, we don’t want responsibility or commitment, and we didn’t plan ahead. All these things are OK sometimes or in some instances, but as a lifestyle are unhealthy long-term, so why do we keep doing them? Simply put, its easier than doing the honest hard work.
And there it is, the moral of the story, the point to all this. People do not want to have to do the hard work. Being happy is hard. It is simple but not easy, and most people conflate those things. Anyone at any time can simply decide to be happy. They need nothing but attitude, they hold nothing, find nothing, stumble upon NOTHING. They simply decide to be happy, its that simple. Version 2It is not easy. Nothing worth having ever is easy. As soon as you decide to be happy, everything in the world and beyond will start to plot against your happiness. Do not let it win. The way I explain this to my kids it this, all the input in the world is like the weather. It is a stimulus, but it is not IN you. I cannot make you mad any more than I can make you happy, what I can change is the weather. I can affect your environment to make you more susceptible to certain feelings, but I can not MAKE you feel them. Just like a rainy day may “ruin” your plans to go to the park, and you may decide to feel bad about that. You can just as simply change your plan to say in and binge-watch a favorite show. Now, instead of your day being “ruined” by the rain, it is simply an excuse to do that other thing you wanted to. Again, this is not EASY, but it is very simple. (I recommend you familiarize yourself with the difference between simple and easy, it will make much of your life more bearable. Running a marathon is simple, just put one foot repeatedly in front of the other, not much is more simple than that. It is also difficult beyond imagination, possibly one of the most difficult things you could choose to do.) but I digress, in the same way, the weather can promote certain feelings but doesn’t make them, no one can MAKE you mad. They can change your environment to be more conducive of anger, but the actually getting angry is a choice you make, and you can choose otherwise.
This active choice to do the hard work and not let the environment around you affect your mood or your feelings is something I refer to as “Trained Resilience.” It is something that doesn’t come naturally, but when used often enough can become your new normal. In the same way that a boxer can train their had to be tougher by hitting it on things, each time you choose to control your own mood, or your feelings instead of giving that power to the world and people around you, you begin to build that callous, you train that resilience. It is my opinion that in this new modern world where feelings are king and words can assault, that resilience is never learned, never promoted, and never trained or passed on. As parents, we have become so invested in making our kids lives better by making them easier, we have failed to toughen them against the hard knocks of real life. Again, I have many opinions about this, but they don’t belong here right now. I may circle back to them in some future work, but for now, it is important to point out that critical point I just made. As parents, it is our job to do the hard work of toughening our kids to be resilient against the hard knocks of real life, and we are failing to do it. Think right now how many of the last 20 news stories you remember would not be newsworthy if people were magically in charge of their own feelings and emotions. Think about how much of the drama of our daily new cycle would GO AWAY if people could withstand the simple things in life like rain or mean words. So much of it would end if people could simply learn to take a joke, or even worse, an actual criticism. Again, this is my own opinion, based on years of observation, bolstered by research and professional opinions of others, but still just my own opinion. Imagine how the world would be if we trained our kids to choose to be happy even when the world was mean and dark. Ponder for a moment how it may be when being a simple choice, and some trained resilience, our kids only have to worry about sticks and stones again.
This is something I teach my own kids every day, and I feel more parents should too. People cannot make you feel anything, they can only change your environment, it is your choice to allow it control of your feelings. At the end of the day, your thoughts and feelings are truly the only things that are all yours. Allowing others the power to affect those is a choice, a hard choice, but a simple one. Instead, choose to be happy. Choosing to live better is more fulfilling and better for you in the long term. Choose to eat right, choose to live right, choose kindness, choose love, and choose to be happy!

Nurture and Inspire instead of Coerce and Demand: How making your children WANT to learn is more valuable than forcing them.

Can you rush a flower to grow faster?  No, of course not, sometimes it may seem like modern advancements may allow you to do so, however, what are you really doing?  You are either increasing the amount of nutrition it gets, increasing the amount of light it gets or altering it in a way to make it bulkier.  I realize that is a massive overgeneralization, but it really proves the point that I am trying to make with this.

You can nurture something, and it will grow, you can give it support, and it will take root and flourish, but if you hurry it, force it, or alter it in an attempt to make it better faster you are more likely to ruin it than help it.  Why am I even talking about this?  Well, in my opinion, this is the best way to parent.  Pick any aspect of your child’s development that you would like to improve.  What brings this to mind for me is music, but it can really be anything.  My son wants to play in a band.  Ok, Great, most kids at some point want to be a rock star, heck, I want to be a rock star!  So what can I do to help him?  Well, the first step is already taken, I asked what I can do to help.  I didn’t ask what can I do to make him a rock star, it isn’t up to me, and if I try to force it, I will ruin it.  What I always try to do is this, I ask myself if they need help, if so, how can I provide that help?  Often, the best assistance for a child learning something new is just the knowledge that a parent has his back.  The child knowing that I am here to help and support, lovingly, and encourage his growth and journey, is often the greatest gift a parent can give.  Next, if there is some way I can help, I look closely at it and try to find the best way to help the child help themselves in that regard.  For example, I don’t just force my boy to go to music lessons, but I make sure he has those lessons available and try to show him why they are important.  In the specific case of music, the deal I have made with my kids is that I will pay for any lesson they want, but if I do, they have to go and do their best.  If they don’t, I will stop providing them.  As an added incentive, I have told them that I will offer lessons to anything they want, so long as they have instruction in one classical instrument also. Musical growth For example, my son wants to learn how to play the bass guitar, and I will bring in an instructor for that, but he has to take a lesson with an orchestra instrument also, in his case, violin.  He doesn’t have a passion for the violin the way he does the bass, but expanding his musical appreciation and knowledge will help him later no matter what instrument he decides to pursue.  Not only is he incentivized to learn both, he gains killer riffs and licks while also learning musical history and theory.

I do the same with my kids reading.  They have books that the school requires them to read, which they have provided, and as long as they keep up on their required reading, they have an open tab at the bookstore.  If they read the stuff they HAVE to read, they always have unlimited access to the materials they WANT to read.  It is gentle nurturing, a loving nudge in the right direction without being forceful.  I know that if I only require my kid to learn violin or reading novels, they have a strong chance of growing up hating it and never having  those creative outlets when they are older, however, by providing that gentle push toward the things they need along with open access to the things they love, they will grow from both.  In the same way, as if you over-fertilize soil in a garden, nothing grows as well under pressure as it does with plenty of support, plenty of nurturing, lots of love, patience and time required for nature to take its course.

Another way I encourage the growth of these long-term good habits is with the intersection of novels and movies.  My son wanted to watch Harry Potter, so I encouraged him to read the books first, I told him that we would watch the movies one year from when he asked, but if he read the books first, I would show the film as soon as the book was finished.  After encouraging him this way for the first few books, he now realizes that there is a vastly different experience between the two and often asks not to see the movie until he is done with the book.  I didn’t push him, I didn’t ban anything, I simply told him exactly when it would happen and precisely how to speed that up.  All the choice was his, and the motivation was all on him.  You could say that I provided the light and the water, and he decided to use it to grow faster.

Now, it may also be easy to misunderstand me here and think that I never enforce, never punish, never shape these kids, and that would be wrong, vastly wrong.  Even in things like music and sports, we have house rules that must always be followed, in the same way that the garden has a fence around it, my kids are lovingly nurtured in structure and guidance.  A great example of this is the sports that my kids play.  I personally have no interest in sports, but I encourage my kids to be active and play something.  There are rules, to follow, however.  The hardest rule for my kids to understand and accept regarding sports is that I only allow them to play one at a time.  Period.  They can choose their sport, but only one at a time.  This forces them to focus their attention and energy on one thing and do it better.  It also forces them to give all their effort to their teammates, which I feel is only fair to the other kids. SkatingA second rule is that while they are allowed to choose their sports, they are required to finish any season they start, again, like it or not if you commit to a team, you owe that team to be there.  The few times that this has been an issue, I have used it as a learning moment for responsibility and sportsmanship and reminded them of it the next time they sat down to choose a new sport.

Lastly, I always try to balance opportunity with the cost.  This is the lesson that has helped me the most in my life, and I hope it will also help my children in the same way.  Here is what I mean by that.  I do my level best to provide to my children all the possible opportunities that I can, as I said before, I provide unlimited access to books and novels, I provide musical instruments and instruction for them, I give access to technology and guidance on how to use it.  This is the opportunity side of the balancing equation.  The cost side is I never hide from my children how much time, money, and effort it takes me to provide that, similarly, I always try to make them have some skin in the game, something they are committing, some cost to them.  Many times it is in actual dollars, but more often it is in a contractual style commitment, them openly choosing between two things.  I feel that if they have to give something up to get what they want, then they will have a better understanding that nothing in life is fair, nothing is even, and nothing is free.  By doing this, they gain ownership in their chosen activity, item, or goal.  By having it cost them something personally, it creates value in that thing.  They treasure their music more because they know and remember that the awesome guitar they play now they had to pay for earlier with violin lessons, they earned it before they mastered it, and in doing so, it is important to them.  They appreciate their rink time more because they know that they purposefully choose that over baseball and they traded baseball for skating on purpose.  I intend that in this way, many more parts of their life growing up will be memorable, pleasurable and treasured to them because they didn’t just live thru it, but they participated in it, helped form it, and lived it out loud.

As parents, we all want to give our kids something more than we had, but when we look back, what did we have that really mattered, what stood out? More times than not for me, at least those things are the experiences, not the material things.  Whether or not they had the newest earbuds seems like the world’s most important thing to them right now, but, like us, when they look back thru the lens of time passed, they will see the truly important parts are the times they spent at music camp, at the lake, learning to sail, snowboarding with their friends, or that first time that they tried something that they really loved and chose to make a part of their life forever, possibly even their career.  My last thought to you on this is simple, be patient.  Like the flowers in the example above, your kids need time to grow in every way, and the most important gift you can give them is that time.  Time to pursue their wants, needs, and dreams. Time to explore who they are, who they want to be, and what they want.  As parents, we are really busy.  So busy that we often forget that our kids are not that busy.  They don’t need to be.  Pushing them from one thing to the next, pulling them with us through our day, rushing their life past does not help them, and often the time they need is not theirs, it is ours.  Take the time to be present with them in all these things you encourage them to do.  Skate, read, play, jam, learn, and rock out with them.  You may be surprised to find out later the most memorable part of their life was the time spent with you.

Peace, Love, and Kindness.

kitten online

Compassion is also a digital skill.

So many times over the years, I have talked about teaching your kids kindness, love, and compassion for others. Parallel to that, I have talked about teaching your children to be good digital citizens. The one connection I have never made till now is, especially in an age of Tweet storms and anonymous online bullying everywhere on social media is that online compassion, kindness, and love are just as important as they are face to face.
Too often, I see people who are generally kind, well mannered, educated people simply melt down and go off on some social media platform. They rage-type comments and spam replies with rude and careless words.
With this in mind, I want to focus on teaching your kids how to be COMPASSIONATE digital citizens, not just good, but also kind and loving. If you have been alive and awake in the last two years, you have seen someone famous, someone looked up to or even someone powerful loose their unmitigated stuff at someone else on twitter. You have seen someone “important” get in massive trouble with somebody over something they carelessly said online. Friends, this is entirely avoidable. If we start at a young age and teach our kids that if you wouldn’t say it in front of the person, don’t say it online. Teach them to be conscious of other peoples feelings even when they are hidden behind a screen.

kitten online
Be as nice online as this kitten!

I have developed with my four kids 3 simple things I want them to do before they type anything anywhere someone else may read it. (this includes ANY device that is connected, see my post about privacy doesn’t exist) these steps are:
One: Never type mad.
That sounds simple enough, but oh how hard it really is when that person calls you that name or says that thing that hurts so much, and you just want to rip out their throat verbally. No matter how it hurts, never type mad. If you teach your kid to wait, take a walk, talk to someone, get some perspective and put an air gap between them and the hurt, the response will be so much better, so much safer and also much less likely to get them in trouble with anyone.
Two: reread everything you type BEFORE you hit send. Words can never be unheard, you can’t unscrew up. A simple typo can cause so much trouble, so much hurt and is so easy to catch before the button is hit. How many people who have been in trouble in the media recently have later deleted their tweet? It doesn’t help. Everything is on the internet forever. You can not unhurt someone’s feelings.
Third: reverse it and see if you would still say it. OH MY GOD, I wish people online would do this. So much hurt and trouble would be spared. Very frankly, if you wouldn’t say something about one person, you should NEVER say it about another. If you are mad at someone of one gender and you need to reference that gender in your typing, BEFORE you send it, change it to another gender and see if it still sounds OK, same with race, religion, nationality, town of origin, preference, ANYTHING. If you wouldn’t say that about someone from your peer group, never say it about someone from a different group. EVER.
I know these sound so basic and simple but think about the last time someone, anyone got themselves in trouble online, be it twitter the evening news, facebook, or a billboard sign. Now with that memory firmly in your mind, think about what could have been the outcome if they just followed these three simple rules.
Next, now that you know the rules, let us look at how we can drive these rules home with our kids. First, it is crucial to impress on your children that the people they interact with online are real people. They are alive, with feelings and problems and wants and needs and emotions. This is a tough thing to get across. First, your kids, if they are anything like mine, will not listen at all, and just assure you that “they’ve got it.” They don’t. Don’t stop trying to make your point. The more times they hear it, the more real it will become, and the more it will sink in. This was impressed on me when a young youtube personality relayed this story. She was a musician, and had hundreds of thousands of followers but was still playing little tiny shows in small venues to very few people in her home town. It wasn’t until she traveled overseas and was mobbed by thousands of fans before she realized that each follower online is an actual human person. It really impressed her. So much so that she has told this story several times. What impressed me was, there was a savvy young star, smart and really adept at social media who spent all that time gaining likes, clicks, and followers, without really understanding that each one of those clicks was a human, a unique person with needs and emotions. If someone like that didn’t really understand it until thousands of people were face to face with her, I doubt my kids really get it. Keep telling them. They may not seem like they are listening, but they hear you, and over time, it will sink in.
The most valuable way to teach your kids compassion as a digital skill is by example. Yup, this is the one you were hoping I forgot, but here it is. Don’t just tell them, live your example in front of them every day. Have you heard the comedian talk about swearing at another motorist while driving only to listen to their child parrot the curse word from the back seat? Well, your bad words aren’t the only things your children will mirror. They also will emulate your good habits too, but only if they see those good habits. Also, remember that your kids are watching far more often than you think.
In the same way that your kids didn’t learn to swear at other motorists by having you actively turn to them and say “OK, children, now when someone drives poorly we always raise a middle finger, honk the horn and curse loudly!” they will not learn how to be caring and kind by you instructing them. Instead, they are watching when you DON’T think they are. When you are at your natural state, that is when your actions will teach your kids. That means that you have to change. You have to follow those three rules all the time. Every time you interact online, you have to be mindful that not only will those others who you are typing at read your words, but likely your children will too. My two older children follow me on every social they have that I am on. My words affect them, and they hold me accountable for everything I say online, even here, I type these words to you know full well knowing that my kids may read this.
There you have it. Compassion IS a digital skill, also, no matter if we like it or not. Our kids are listening, they are watching us, and because of that, like every other aspect of our life, digital or not, change starts with us. Live your example openly every day, show your kids how to care, show them that the people online are real humans with feelings and teach them to value those feelings, if not for themselves, for the other people who it will affect. Remember the three simple rules, don’t type mad airgap your emotions and your posts, read it before you send it, and reverse it to see if it still sounds right. Doing these things won’t fix everything, but it sure will be a strong start.
Lastly, if you find this info useful if you can think of anyone else who needs to hear it, pass it on. Send this page out to anyone you know who could use to be more compassionate online, like your parents, your coworkers, your congressperson, or senator, heck send it to the president if you want, but whoever you send it to, do it in a spirit of love and kindness.

What is Fathers Day to me?

As I sit here in a hotel room as my wife and three boys sleep, on this working vacation over Fathers Day weekend, I am reminded at every turn that this is the big weekend for Fathers. After just losing my own Dad last year, this day has a bit of a bitter sting along with the sweetness. But what is it really for? Who are we really celebrating? Fathers? Or Dads? Is there really a difference between the two?

three generations
Dad, thing 3 and I

In our world today, we often hear the words Dad and Father used interchangeably, but are they really the same? In my mind and my experience, a father is an originator, a life-giver, half of a beginning point. I use the term when referring to others, my father-in-law, God the father, Father Jo our local priest, and Father Time. All are examples of a father as a term for an over-figure, a powerful, sometimes aloof, and often disconnected entity. Similarly, any man who fertilizes an egg becomes a father. He is the originator, the life-giver, the beginning point, but is he more than that? My opinion on this subject is no, at least not by default, not automatically. This is where my mind draws a distinct separation between being a father and being a Dad. You see in my mind, being a Dad is a choice, it is an active, ongoing process. There have been many accidental fathers, but there have never been accidental dads. To be a dad, you have to take that idea of being an originator and expand it into being a nurturer, from being a life-giver to being a life trainer, a mentor, a leader. You see, for me, being a Dad is not the beginning point, it is the entire route. The whole journey. A journey you go on actively and move thru purposefully. Many people find themselves on this road by accident, but then they embrace this journey and begin to walk down this path actively and with motive. These are Dads. Some plan for years to be a dad, become one and excel at it. Others are not fathers at all but still chose to become the most exceptional Dad’s around. Conversely, some men are fathers, by choice or by accident and never are a Dad. They contribute the sperm, move along with life, and let the chips and their kids fall where they may. Now don’t get me wrong, these fathers are not all bad, this isn’t a hit piece. I am not here to cast judgment or put anyone down. I am just explaining things from my own point of view. Some fathers, including many men I know, do what they think is right, they do precisely what they have been taught by their own father, they show up, they provide food and shelter and in some cases even discipline, but when it comes to being there for their kids emotionally, they are vacant. They are not active, engaged, and a daily part of their kids’ life. Some of them will eventually grow into it. Some will be enlightened out of it, but many will just go thru life as a good father and not a dad. To the opposite, many men I know never provided the sperm. They are amazing Dads, active, and engaged in their kids’ lives without ever being the originator. EnjoyyourkidsThese men are the prime example of what I am talking about. They emotionally and actively take the role of Dad, they embrace it and excel at it. Then there are those of us who are blessed enough to be both, the physical originator of our offspring, and a Dad. Being a Dad is hard work. How many times in these pages, I have reiterated these words, “Parenting isn’t easy.” We think thru our choices, actively pursue them, and do everything we can to help our kids turn into respectable members of society. We strive to raise good global citizens and morally sound people. We help our children by not only instructing them but also by modeling proper behavior for them. We instill self-confidence along with values, ethics in conjunction with culture. Our kids learn by hearing us, seeing us, and watching us live. Dads are not required in the human experience at all, fathers are, but not dads. Moms create humans. Dads help turn them into good people. So what is Fathers Day? I say it is a wholly mislabeled celebration. We should instead call it Dads Day, the day we can celebrate the Dads who lovingly instruct, morally model and actively shape upstanding members of society. So thank your father for his part in making you, then hug your Dad for his active, intentional role in making you who you are. Lastly, how will we celebrate Dad’s Day? Most likely the way we always do, with Dad being Dad and doing whatever his family wants. On Mother’s Day we serve breakfast in bed, bring her flowers and take her out to her favorite places, but on Father’s Day, we choose to do something that the whole family likes and usually entails Dad working too. 9f37cae5-2cd3-4a05-9872-e253d732671cNot that we dads mind, taking our kids fishing, or hunting, or to a ball game is surprisingly hard work for us dads, same as running the backyard bbq or trouping everyone to the beach, but it’s what we do. Why? Well, as I said, the difference between father and Dad is an active choice, made in love and kindness, with the intent of helping make our kids into the best people we can. It’s where we are happier, it is how we are most fulfilled, with Dads doing Dad stuff. Happy Fathers (Dads) Day everyone!

Why I don’t “like” your photo and don’t have many “Friends.”

When it comes to my social media accounts, I don’t have many “Friends” and I am very happy about that.  I even encourage my kids to be the same way.  Here is why I am OK with not having too many “Friends.”

In every aspect of our lives today, all of our experiences are being scored.  All our business, social, physical, and emotional interactions are quantified by some number in an app somewhere.  How happy we are, how much we enjoyed our lunch, how pretty we are, and how many friends we have are all numbers set arbitrarily in some app or platform that we can’t control, but we do listen to it.  Our kids measure their self-worth by the number of likes their last Instagram photo got, how many friends they have, how many followers or how many views.  I feel that this is unhealthy and science backs up that thought.

Screen Shot 2019-06-14 at 10.58.37 PM
Bing Search for like button

So what do I do to combat it in my own life and my family?  I have some simple rules, I teach these to my kids, then I let them live it out their own way.

My rules are:

First, only “like” things you actually like.  Sounds simple, but oh the drama and explanations it saves me.  This means that most of the time, especially on social media, I just remain silent.  I don’t click anything.  If I see a photo of a friends vacation or a neighbors child, if it really strikes me as a moving or meaningful photo, I will give it a “like” a “thumbs up,” or whatever is appropriate for the platform it is on.  As long as it is not connected in any way to my child or anyone else’s, I may even comment.  If it doesn’t move me at all, I just don’t click anything.  Why? Well, too often I was clicking a like on everything under the sun only to notify the other party that I saw it.  Then later, that same person would see me in person and ask me a question regarding it. “wasn’t that so funny/cute when Jonnie did X” and I wouldn’t remember what they were talking about because it really didn’t matter to me and it didn’t make an impression.  They would then be hurt or feel the need to elaborate on a subject that didn’t gain my attention before and still didn’t have it now.  Often, this would end with the interaction being less than favorable for both of us.  With my “like only what you really like” rule, if I do like something, it is memorable, and later, when we talk in person, if they mention it, I do remember and can interact honestly because it actually was significant to me.  Some of my friends think this honesty is rude, and that is OK with me because I would always prefer to be honest than sweet.  It is easier to stand behind.

My second rule is only “friend” someone who I have or would share a meal with.  BOOM! That is a shot to most people. “Hey, I sent you a friends request on Facebook, and you didn’t accept, Why?” said one acquaintance whom I had not interacted with in over twenty years. Well, simply put, I train myself and my family to not keep score on social media.  How many friends or followers I have doesn’t matter to me.  What does matter is that anyone who I do click the friend button on is an actual friend who I won’t mind sharing details about my life with and who I would trust in my home and around my kids?  Making someone a social media friend is an easy way to find yourself oversharing potentially dangerous personal data with complete strangers just to get a higher score.  To explain this to my kids, I use the analogy of “what if there were a game in which the only way to get more points was to leave the windows and door of their real world home unlocked or to give the address and key to random strangers or leave them on public bathroom sinks?  Would you feel safe playing that game?” In every case, the answer to that question has been a resounding NO, but these same kids are happy to do just that when accepting a friend request on Instagram or Facebook, which then sets that person inside of most of your content filters and gives them access to much more private data if you are not ultimately careful.  For me, the test of a “friend accept” on social is: Would I go to lunch with this person in real life?  More importantly, HAVE I gone to lunch with this person in real life?  If the answer is NO, then don’t accept the friend request.  This has hurt feelings and upset some people, but frankly, if I don’t interact with them socially in the real world, do I really care what they think?  Rude? Maybe, but again, more comfortable to defend, easier to remember, and easier to stand behind safely.

What is more important to me? Keeping myself and my family safe and private. Security matters way more to me that the feelings or opinions of some casual acquaintance.  All too often in society today, we are ruled by what is best for other people’s feelings, what is hateful or hurtful, and while that has its place, that place is not, in my opinion, social media, or the safety of your self or kids.

Another reason that I find this kind of selective “friending” to be important never existed when I started it.  It is becoming evident now that at borders, checkpoints, and airports we will be more and more expected to give over our social info as well as our ID info.  Face recognition is making waves at a record pace, and many discussions are happening at national levels regarding the gathering, linking, and storing social media data to better judge who is a threat to security.  If I and likewise my kids have been trained to be highly selective of who we accept friend requests from then some agency having our social profile is less threatening or potentially dangerous to us and our ability to safely travel.  Countries like China already use a “Social Score” to affect all sorts of things like creditworthiness, employability, and access to public services.  While this is a very frightening concept to me since my family has been trained since day one to be highly selective of who they connect to online, this type of profiling would have a much lower effect on us.  Conversely, if you accept every friend request sent your way on all the socials, then some shadow agency’s ability to wrongly link you to some dangerous person, in effect, the Kevin Bacon effect, can much more significantly, and negatively, affect you and your freedom.  The same is true for the first rule, not “Liking” every post just to acknowlege its existance.  If you only click the like button on things you truly are moved by, then some random post or pic which is deamed controverisal for some unknown, unthought-of reason later in life will never come back to haunt you.  Again, I never thought of this when I started, I was just a very private person and trained my kids to be the same, but the effect is still one everyone else can learn from.

It isn’t too late to take action.  It isn’t too late to unfriend and remove all those contacts on all the social accounts that you really don’t know.  Will it cause some frustration for some people? Yes.  Can it cause you to answer some difficult questions? For sure.  But this is worth it on so many levels, and we all need to grab control of our own digital life, our digital ID or digital persona if you will, and wrestle them back around to being something safe.  Something that we can each be accountable for, and before tech companies, or worse governments, force us too or start holding us accountable even without our knowledge.  Stand up for yourself, be an example to your kids, and have those hard conversations.  This is a scary world, but the worst of the fear is that of the unknown.  Learn it, own it, and control it for yourselves and your family, you will be glad you did in the long run.  “Bring up your child in the way that he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

Are Password Managers safe? Should I use one?

A big issue at present is online security and securing your Identity.  I have written quite a bit about this in the past, but have always felt that there is one issue that needs more attention.  Passwords, and specifically password vaults.  Well, those at the topic today, so lets dive in and see if we can make any sense of them.

For the sake of simplicity in this article, I will try to answer these questions.  Are password vaults safe? Are they more reliable than just keeping a written list of complex passwords?  How do they work? And should you, the regular average everyday parent, switch to one.

Before I can start answering these questions, we first should have a bit of background on passwords and vaults so we can approach these questions from a similar angle.  We all know what a password is, but what does it do?  Your password is the textual digital key to various specific places online.  In the last article, I talked about your PIN, and the PIN is just a really short, really insecure password.  Your password to a place online keeps unauthorized users from accessing your data.  Because we are creatures of habit and tend to use the same password over again at many sites, these passwords become less secure, also, because shady operators are always looking for ways to exploit our data for profit, they are actively try to build a list of your passwords and therefore access to more of your sensitive data. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not implying that there is some hacker sitting in some smoky back room somewhere with a file on you, actively trying to hack you, but I am also not saying there isn’t.  Identity theft is one of the most profitable crimes today, mainly because the chance of being caught are so low and the reward can be very high.  Often, these actors are trying to gain access to your information, only to sell it to someone else, and when you use the same password for everything, that makes it surprisingly easy for them.  How so? Well, if you use the password, let’s say “Monkey123” at your Password Manager 1bank, you can rest assured, that it will never be stolen or sold, it may be brute-forced or simply guessed off the list of common passwords that are published every year, but that bank will never be breached.  However, if you use that same password at a second bank, then the likelihood of it being breached is doubled, and even though that likelihood may only be fractions of a percent, you can see how using it over one time makes it less secure.  Now factor in that you use this same password at other sites too. If I were trying to hack into your bank account, I wouldn’t try the bank, I would look at the fringe of your online interaction and probe for a site or company that doesn’t care about your data, that doesn’t follow best practices as security goes.  I would look to the app list on your last cell phone, I would try to probe the security of the meditation app you log into or the run tracker app you use.  These companies routinely go under, selling their digital assets off to the highest bidder, and that includes the user data.  Some of the most costly identity frauds have happened not because a stock brokerage or federal bank was breached, but because the victim used the same password at an online game site as they did their bank.

So, with this new information, we should all agree that we need to change our passwords regularly, we need them all to be complex passwords, and we need them to be unique.  Now in the past, I have recommended to my friends, family, and clients not to use a vault, but instead, get a notebook, and write all your passwords on it. If you do that it stops being a matter of electronic security and becomes a matter of physical security.  I made this recommendation based on two thoughts.  First, after being involved in some data recovery for the family of recently deceased, I knew that if the departed had handwritten passwords in a notebook, we could have found it, but if they had used a vault, we would have no idea. Secondly, I just don’t trust tech companies, especially the small software companies that quickly go under and the bigger companies that buy them up.  If the last four years have taught us anything, it is not to trust.  From Yahoo three times to Equifax, target to Sony, we have seen over the last few years that our data is just not safe and these companies will do anything from keeping us from finding out.  In the cases named above, if the companies had tried half as hard to protect our data as they did to protect themselves and cover up after they lost our data, I may not feel that way, but so is life.

With these thoughts and opinions in mind, lets now dive into the questions we set out to answer.

Are Password Vaults safe?  This one is a simple answer. NO. Nothing online is entirely safe.  Every password vault has vulnerabilities. Some are safer than others, and a few are really amazing, but none are perfect.

Are they safer than keeping a physical list? Maybe, but that depends on which one you choose and how they store your data.  One interesting note here is, even if the vault you select is not as secure as your notebook, I have found that people don’t always have the list handy when they need a password and therefore often revert back to the “one phrase to rule them all” mentality, at which point, you are not secure at all.  I feel the need to repeat here, if you use a password more than once, each time you use it, the site you are at is less secure, but more importantly so are all the sites you have used it with previously.  Reusing passwords is a bad idea, period.  However, if you have a Vault software in use, have access to it, and it is easy to use, you are more likely to use it to generate a new, unique password each time, then store it for future access.  Doing this makes all your sites more secure.  Because of this aspect alone, I have observed that using a quality vault product is more secure long term than using your brain or a book.

How do they work?  The short version of this is, thru software interface, they store, generate, and recall passwords to sites you access, if you ask them to.  That seems a bit vague, and it is, but here is why.  That description is all I have found that these products have in common. Also, that doesn’t speak much to their security.  You see, each product has a slightly different way of completing their task, some are better, but most are worse.  Understanding their differences is a topic that I have researched at length. I have listened to security specialists, and programmers discuss it, and I have scoured online sources to try to understand better.  For simplicities sake, I have broken it down into three different: encrypted on the device, cloud encrypted, and everything else.  Just to promote fairness and understanding, let’s call everything else what it really is, the wild west. This is the types I want to discuss first.

What is the “wild west” of password vaults?  Well, this is any mobile app, program, UWP app or other

Applications which are written by anyone, to no set standards with the intent of maybe sort of protecting or at least storing passwords.  It doesn’t matter to me where they are stored, if they are free or paid, or how they are secured. If no set of pre-published set of standards, deliberate or otherwise was followed in the construction or implementation of the app, it is in the wild west.  We see these all the time, camera, calculator or photo library apps that have a secret internal folder that you can keep all your private photos in, your secret apps, your “other passwords” or any other file you don’t want your parents or spouse to see.  These apps, because they are usually written by shady operators, are not secure, not encrypted and not protecting your stuff from real bad guys at all.  So many of these count on the users’ illicit activity to be a deterrent from exposing the company as a fraud in fear of exposing your own bad choices that they continue to operate.  Another reason I consider some of these apps the wild west is, even if they sincerely try to make a quality product responsibly, many of these small software and app development companies don’t make it, and when they fail, their work, hardware, and data, all are sold to the highest bidder.  For this reason alone, if there is a company that doesn’t have at least a five-year history in software design I don’t move them to one of the other categories, no matter how good they are.

Lastly, for the wild west, many of these cheap or free apps use your data, your traffic and profile info to monetize the app, which is also inherently insecure.  What good is a password manager if it sells my data to the very people who I am trying to protect myself from?

Next, in my opinion of password managers are devices that store and encrypt your data in the cloud.  I consider these to be better than the wild west, but still not acceptable to me as a truly secure solution.  Lets for the sake of this discussion call these “better than nothing.”  Now first it is important to me that you understand that I don’t just lump every password vault product that has cloud access into this category.  First of all, to be here, it has to be from a reputable long-term company with a trusted history in security or at least technology; otherwise, it defaults to the wild west.  Second, it has to not only have cloud access and storage, but it also has to be encrypted ON THE CLOUD.  My best example of this is Apple’s own “iCloud KeyChain” which has proven to be a very trustworthy, secure product. However, the data is stored encrypted in iCloud, and Apple holds the keys to its storage and its encryption.  Therefore, If someone were to steal your identity successfully, they could convince Apple they are you and get access to all your stored passwords in your iCloud, unencrypted.  This is similar to how the “fappening” happened a few years back.  Several unscrupulous actors stole enough data from celebrities to trick iCloud into giving them access.  They used that steal photos from those celebrities iCloud account.  Had the keychain been available or more prevalent then, they would also have had access to it and could have used that celebrities passwords to access any number of other accounts, from Instagram to tinder…  Now, I also need to say that it was basically the fault of the account owner for not securing their accounts with strong passwords and not using two-factor or third-party verification. However, it did happen, and the password vault would have been wide open to the criminal at the time of the breach. Therefore it does highlight just how these types of vaults have security flaws or at least loopholes that can be exploited.

Cloud-based or server-side encryption, as it is called sometimes is VERY convenient.  You can always get all your passwords back, there are recovery options, and the company can help you do it as in most cases, they hold a copy, or the only set, of your encryption keys.  This is what we call “Fail Safe.”  If there is a catastrophe, and you lose your keys or lose access to the system, you can “prove” to the company that you are you, and they can let you back into your vault.  Very convenient.  However, not entirely secure.  These companies can be tricked by others who are trying to defraud you, or they can be hacked themselves and the keys, or the data, can be stolen, compromised, or even destroyed.  As I have said so many times in the past, there is a sliding scale between security and convenience, and you can NEVER have both.  The more convenient something is, the less secure, and the more secure, the harder to use.

This brings us to what I consider the best kind of password manager, a vault that is end-to-end encrypted, cloud synced, and encrypted ON DEVICE.  What does this mean, well, let me spell it out.  My tier-one password vault starts with encrypted data on each device.  Use two-factor or third-party verification challenges to add a new device.  Then, after verifying the device and the user separately, the password manager transmits the encrypted data sync to the cloud repository where all the other authenticated devices can access and download the encrypted data, then, after verifying the data and the user on those devices, unencrypts the data for user access.  This system is vital because it is as secure as we can be with the technology we have right now.  If a device is lost or compromised, the data is challenging to access as it is encrypted on the device and secured with multiform authentication.  The data in the cloud is secure because if the data center is breached the data that can be stolen is encrypted data, and the keys are not stored anywhere in that cloud system, therefore, the thief gets a datastore that is practically unusable.  Also, if the cloud is compromised and the hacker just decided to wreak havoc by deleting the datastore all together, there is a local copy on every machine that can repopulate the server as soon as it is re-secured, often with little or no data loss or inconvenience to the client.  Lastly, because it is encrypted on the device before it is transmitted to the cloud, all transmission is of encrypted data, therefore if someone is caught with a man-in-the-middle style attack, and the communication itself is compromised, that data is also encrypted, doesn’t contain any encryption key data and is practically unusable.

Now, thru all of this, I have continued to use terms like “practically unusable,” and the reason is nothing, no service, no encryption, no vault, NOTHING is perfectly secure.  Everything connected to any computer system anywhere, cold or not, is hackable if the criminal is motivated and funded properly.  Therefore as I mentioned above in “better than nothing,” having an active vault and management system for your passwords is essential. password manager 2 Even though it may not be entirely secure, having an automated method of maintaining, storing, creating, and changing strong, complex passwords allow you actually to use them more times than not, and the benefit if doing that outweighs the risk.  Frankly, you are far more likely to be hacked by a weak password or a password that you have reused so often it was easily obtained than you ever will be for your vault system, no matter how soft it is, being hacked, and this is the answer to the final question.  You do need a password vault.  You need a way to keep and manage all your passwords practically, and in a way that will make them easy to use, easy to change, and easy to generate.

If this information I have given today has in any way swayed you to try a password manager, my personal recommendation is LastPass, and they are NOT a sponsor.  This is not a paid ad or any kind of advertisement for that matter. I am just using what I find to work best for me and sharing that info with you.  There are several out there which are noteworthy, and in a future article I plan to deep dive into why I love LastPass, what I like about the other vaults I have tried, what I didn’t like about each one, and some standard features you can look for in your search for the perfect one for you.  My final word to you on this matter right now is this, password managers are a very personal item, like your underwear or a sidearm.  They are all different, and each one will fit you just a little different.  You will want to choose the one that suits you the best, because the one that protects your junk, is not the highest rated or the most powerful, it is the one you actually choose to use on the daily.

With that said, get out there, for your family’s sake protect your stuff, be responsible and always move with purpose, and always with Kindness and Love.

The Number One Reason Parental Controls Fail!

Here you are, the time has come. You have done all your research, you have read the articles, listened to the podcasts and heard the mainstream geeks prattle on about online safety for your kids. You open the device, open the parental controls app and begin, but before you can, you have to set a PIN code.
Every single one of us who have tried to secure a device has been at this point, we pop in a quick four digits and move on to the critical, complicated stuff. We labor and think about all the ramifications of every setting, we limit, tweak, and ban apps, we lock down payment options, micro-transaction, social interaction settings, time limits and anything else we deem necessary for a safe and healthy child. We hand over the device, have a talk about rules and expectations, and we move on with our lives knowing that we have done our job to protect our child. Sound familiar? Well, let me add the next all-to-familiar chapter to this brief story. A few weeks later we find our child doing that thing they weren’t supposed to be able to do, going to that site we had blocked, playing that game we didn’t want them to have and sending those DMs to the people we didn’t want them to interact with. Why?!? At this point, many of us throw up our hands in defeat because our kids are just so much smarter than we are… But is that really why they got past our locks and controls? Most of the time, no. They didn’t hack the device or do some really savvy coding trick that cracked the unit open. No, most of the time they just kept their ears and eyes open and quickly learned the most crucial hacking tool of all, the password.

You see, the very first step of you setting up your parental controls is entering a PIN number. Like all our other passwords, most of us reuse PIN numbers because we don’t want to have to try to remember them. We use the same four digits to secure the parental controls on our child’s device as we do to unlock the back door, use the ATM and change the viewer on Netflix. What we don’t realize at that time is, our kids already know that code. They are sitting in the backseat of the car when you drive thru the ATM, watching you reach out thru that window and key in each of those four numbers in order, every time. They are sitting on the couch when you punch in that code to Netflix, watching you slide the selector across each digit in order on the 70″ TV screen. They even hear you speak it aloud to people on the phone to verify your identity. Then, when they do try to break those rules, BOOM! Blocked by a PIN, so, they enter the first thing they have seen you do. They put in your PIN. Now the device thinks they are you. They have access and can bypass or change settings at will. So what do you do now? You change the PIN on that device to your OTHER PIN, the one they could never know, and after re-explaining the rules, re-explaining your expectations, and re-handing the device over to them, you find them doing it all again! Why? I guess we think our kids are stupid or something. They are not smarter than you, but they are smart and motivated. That is why they know your second PIN too. So what SHOULD we do to fix this?

The problem here is two-fold as I see it. First, we are lazy or at least complacent, which makes it easier for our kids to take advantage of us. Second, most companies, Apple included, only have provisioning for a four-digit PIN for parental controls.
What steps can we take not to be complacent and lazy? Well, don’t use your standard PIN for parental controls obviously, but let me give some other helpful pointers on what we can do along with that. First, when you first set the PIN code, assume it will be breached. Your kids will work night and day to get past this, so make sure it is a burner. Only ever use PINs that you can walk away from at any time, not your ATM PIN. Also, don’t use your house number, your car license, your phone number, or keypad patterns, they guess those second. Next, change that PIN a lot! Really twice as much as you think you should be half as much as you need. My reasoning here is this, my kids (3 of them) have lots of downtimes to crack this code, this pathetic four digit code. With three of them on several devices, sharing data in a brute force hack attempt, they can try every combination in a matter of weeks. Therefore, if they don’t know I am changing the PIN, I become more and more likely to change it to something they have already tried, making it exponentially more difficult for them to realize the issue and start over. Also, by changing the code a lot, if they do crack it, it doesn’t stay cracked for long. Another step you can take is NEVER to use the same PIN over. They will figure that out quick. Every time I have observed kids code breaking this way, they always retry the successful codes first. They know we are creatures of habit. On the devices and apps that allow it, don’t use a four-digit PIN, use an elaborate passphrase instead. If you utilize a password management vault, use it to generate very long, very difficult passphrases. The harder it is for you to type in, the less often they will be able to crack it. Another step I take for device security is this, Never write the PIN/passphrase down, especially in the Notes app or any other place they can access from your desktop Mac or PC that could be keyword searchable. If you think for a minute that your ten-year-old won’t log into your PC and search your files for a “password” document, you are sadly mistaken. The last really critical step I maintain in my securing of my PIN is this: I check their devices often.
Even though I have full control of the parental control from my own phone, I go get their device and use it once in a while. Not only will I see things if they change them, but I will also see failed attempts to code break. With Apple iOS, for instance, I am using “ScreenTime” to limit their device use. (Apple’s “ScreenTime” updates are some of the best in the business, except for their 4 digit PIN) When I use the ScreenTime tab in their settings, I see the number of failed attempts in a red notification circle when I go to code in. Why is this important? What do I do with PIN - cleanthis knowledge? Well, I have imposed limits that are physical as well as software. You see, my kids know that if I see a red number on the PIN code, I know they are trying to hack me. They also know that I have rules which have to be followed, my “no hacking” rule is followed up and enforced by my “no device for a week if you hack” rule, and I stand by that rule. I don’t bend, I don’t give in. My kids are not in charge of my house, I am, and after they spend a whole week whining about no iPad, and I spend an entire week assigning chores every time they complain about no iPad, they learn that dad doesn’t joke about online safety and a limited iPad is better than no iPad. This is just me, You can run your house as you see fit, but in my world, parenting is an active participation event and is not easy.
After a strong and secure individual code is in use in your parental controls on your child’s device, protect that code. One of the ways our kids learn those codes, “hack” them if you will, though be it a social hack, is to present us with a need for the code at a less than optimum time so that we are not as cautious, not as likely to remember to protect the code. My own kids have done this to my wife and me, though she falls for it much more often than I do. We are in a meeting, talking to someone important or sitting in a quiet waiting room trying to do something difficult or time-consuming and they bomb us with requests for exceptions. “Mom, I just ran out of ScreenTime for this app” “Dad, I need you to approve this new feature,” then they watch as we half securely punch in the numbers. Another similar ploy is to smear stuff on the screen when they know you don’t have your phone with you, then they ask for some small innocuous thing that they know you will accept, then they study the screen to see where you touched to input the code. If this sounds like a scene from “Mission Impossible,” it is, and they watched it with you, and now they know that trick too.
The last way they get your info or get past your controls is just to use your phone to do it. My rule is my kids NEVER touch my phone. Period, full stop.
My phone is a tool, not a toy. It is costly, and my kids do not need it. They can learn to sit and look out a window, read a book or just wait quietly if they are “out of battery” and “bored.” Again, this is one thing my own wife often forgets. Hand your phone to your seven-year-old and that night, he has no limits, no WIFI restrictions, no content filters. They have even gone as far as to add their own fingerprint to the login so they could get back into the phone again later. Couple that trick with an EERO app that doesn’t secure the login AT ALL, and my kids were able to turn their own wifi back on at will, but that is a story for a different day. The point here is, your phone, laptop, PC, Mac, iPad is the keys to the castle. Your device, every one of your own personal devices, need to be secured to maintain the security of your child’s parental controls. There is no easy answer, there is no quick solution.

Now, as I mentioned above, even if you do everything you can, most of these codes are only allowed to be four numbers. Because of that, you and I need to reach out to the device manufacturers, parental controls engineers, and the software designers and begin demanding that they increase the number of options available. This is not a demanding or overbearing request. Apple already does this for you when you sign into iCloud. If you remember a few years back it was a four-digit PIN to secure your iPhone and iCloud, now they give you the option to choose anything from no security (bad idea) to a complex passphrase. There is no reason they cannot offer the same toggle in parental controls. File those bug reports, feedbacks, ratings, rankings, and radars with all the manufacturers until all the devices have complex parental controls lock codes.

There you have it, the number one way parental controls fail is that we, the parents, don’t properly secure them. Now take what you have learned, start to implement it and if you have questions, put those in the comments. You can also reach out to me on Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook, or use the email form in the “Contact” page to drop me a note. Remember, parenting is an active sport, it is not easy, but it is worth it. Teach and correct your kids as you protect and nurture them, and always with Kindness and Love.

three generations

A Brief Update

A few months ago I wrote about taking some time off and dealing with my father’s passing. Since then I have posted when I could, not followed much of a schedule and basically not done as good of a job as I expect of myself. Therefore, today, instead of posting anything else, I am going to give you a few thoughts regarding your family in grief, followed by a brief update on my own situation.

First, losing a parent is terrible and the grieving process is hell. Period. Full stop.  No one has ever been fully prepared for this.  There is no way to anticipate the feelings you will feel, no way to lean into the pain before it hits.

Second, I have found some professionals that help with emotional and mental issues and their input has been priceless. Sometimes seeking help in the first place is harder than learning to cope, especially if you have grown up with BS like “boys don’t cry.” There is no shame in asking for help, no one will judge you for it, and frankly, if they do, you never needed them in your life in the first place. Life is very hard. Use all the tools at hand. Using all the tools available makes you smarter, makes you a survivor, not inferior or weak. “Stupid Gronk fights off the tiger with a pointy stick instead of his bare hands, he must be weak,” said no caveman ever. Go find all the “pointy sticks” you can. If talking to someone near you is not an option, be it for financial or personal reasons, reach out online. Try sites like www.betterhelp.com, they cost less and work around your schedule.  They are not a sponsor of mine, but I have reached out and used their services with wonderful positive outcomes.  I know there is a bit of internet turmoil around their terms of service, but in my own experience, they have been amazing.  Also, they are not the only ones.  Find someone, anyone, who has qualifications, expertise and time. Get the help you need.

Third, in the case of a loss like this, the only thing I have found to be right all the time is, it never goes away. A loss of a parent is a catastrophic life event that changes you forever. I will never get over this. I can only hope to learn to live in the new life, with the new me, which includes this loss. The things that happen to us in life change us, shape us, and cannot be undone. Most are easier to deal with than this. However, all of them are permanent.  Learning to accept the loss and work with it as part of you will help you move on faster and with less long-term adverse effects.  Don’t fight it, don’t ignore it, just accept it as a new hole in your life and learn to live despite that hole.  It will never be refilled, but it can be accepted.

Next, remember that as a person, this affects you, but as a parent, it affects vastly more than you.  You are not alone, you are not the only one in your family feeling this loss, and you do have responsibilities to the other members of your family, especially your spouse and your children.  Your kids will not understand this, they will not understand why someone is gone, or for how long, or why it hurts them, or why you cry.  This will hurt them and frighten them.  Don’t get so self-absorbed that you forget to nurture them and be their strength and guide.  You don’t have to hide your feelings or act a certain way, but you do need to explain to them why you hurt, why they hurt and how you can work on it together.  Also, remember that your kids are way smarter than you assume and way more empathetic than you know.  They want to help you too, let them.  Talk thru this with them and find a way that you can all support each other, your family will be stronger for it. In my case, I even had to reassure my 9-year old that I was getting help and that was the right thing to do.  I had to tell him that I cry because it hurts and that is normal, healthy and strong. That because I could cry, then I could also process the feelings and sometimes not cry, and because quality people were helping me, I would be feeling better faster.  I also made sure that he knew he could get help, that he could talk to people and that I wouldn’t think he was weak. That I would help him find people with experience and knowledge to help him so that he could feel better sooner too.

Lastly, remember your spouse. They will likely be putting on a strong face for you, trying to help you by being resilient and tough.  Keep in mind as you interact with them throughout your days that their stoicism could be an act for your benefit.  Remember that while this is your parent, this is a person they care deeply about too. Unless they really hated your parent for some reason (those do exist, they are not healthy, but can happen) then they are also grieving, they are also hurting and trying to work through this emotional issue also, when a parent dies, it affects the whole family and that very much includes spouses and in-laws.

 

Now that I have given you a glimpse of my thoughts regarding this loss and some ideas and tools I have learned to help me along the way, which I will likely elaborate on in a future post, let me give you all the update on me personally.

You know that I was exceptionally close to my dad.  For many years, especially the last 14 or so, we were inseparable.  I mentioned before how I cared for him several times a week and took him with me most of the time.  I also mentioned how this loss left me broken and missing a significant piece of myself, how he was in many ways my moral compass and my sounding board for lots of things in my life including these articles I write.  With that said let me update you on my progress.

three generations
Dad, thing 3 and I

I miss him terribly.  I always will.  There is nothing I can do about that and nothing I want to do about it.  The day I stop missing him is the day I start forgetting how important he was to me.  This is no longer crippling.  I find a small amount of peace in the fact that I miss him.  I have learned how to feel that loss and accept it without it ruling me.  When I think of him now I smile far more often than cry.  His things don’t remind me of the loss, they remind me of the man.  This is how I am growing past his loss.  The twinge I feel in my heart now when I think of Dad is not as sad as it was, but even better, now it is wrapped in love and joy.  I am no longer thinking about how I miss having my guiding light, but instead am focused on keeping that light shining, through me to the rest of the family.  He raised me right and taught me well, his work in doing that is over. Now it is time for my work in that to start.  As my own family begins to grow up and move out into the world I can see that, like Dad, I have done my best to raise them right and teach them well, and I will continue to, but as I do it is also my turn to start taking his place as guiding light and moral compass. To do all those things I miss him doing for me, for them.  More and more now it will be my turn to ride shotgun, listen, interpret and advise.  I will do this with kindness, love and compassion.  I encourage you to use those also.  Parenting is an active sport, it is not easy but it has to be done and it is your job to do it. While you do, remember to take care of yourself also.  Cry if you need, get help where you can, be strong when necessary, be deliberate, move with purpose and always with love.

How to use the new iOS ScreenTime Restrictions as Parental Controls.

New iOS ScreenTime Restrictions are the best parental controls Apple has given us to date.  Here is a quick guide to using them, what I really love about them and what could be better.

Let me start by saying that I have been using iOS as my primary mobile platform since iPhone3. My household has owned at least one of every generation of iPhone since then, one of every iPad, and even a few iPods. Thru all these years of consistent use, two essential things were missing that every parent of iOS using kids were screaming for. Real parental controls that were functional and actually limiting and multiple users accounts on the device. With this newest version of iOS, Apple has decided to do all us parents a favor by implementing ONE of these things we are dying for. We notice, and we appreciate it. Now please Apple, finish the job.

First, let me say that as much of an Apple fanboy as I seem to be, Google is the one who got it right first with Family. We have iPads in the house which my kids use every day, and when Google launched Family, over a year ago, I went out and bought two android tablets just to test it. I was sorry that I did. Not because it was terrible or didn’t stack up, but the opposite, because after using a real, comprehensive, granular control interface for family and child access management, It made Apple’s solutions seem really pale and anemic. In other words, we knew we needed these features, but we didn’t miss them until we had already tried them. Now, almost a whole year late, again, Apple comes to the party. This time, however, they have only half the solution we need. Without multiple user accounts per device, the solution Apple brings, ScreenTime, though nearly perfect is woefully short of a total parental control suite on par with Google Family.
I wasn’t kidding however when I said that what they did bring was nearly perfect. So instead of browbeating Apple for not bringing the full deck, let’s look at what they did provide and why that half is so good.

In a nutshell, what Apple Screen Time allows a user to do is set limits on screen time, either by the device, or by the app, and then disables those apps after that screen time limit has been reached each day. Let me say that again. You tell your settings on your device, lets say your iPhone, how long each day you are allowed to use social media, lets say FaceBook, and then after you have reached that allowed time limit, FaceBook shuts off, it greys out in the dock, and you can no longer click on it or open it. Period. Yes, there is a passcode you can enter to allow yourself more time, but you have to WANT to do that. While that can be life-changing for some people who need help settings limits on Snap or candy crush, it is indeed a game changer for parents when you couple it with Family Sharing features that have been under the hood since iOS9. Now, I can set limits on my sons iPhone, they can allow the phone app itself to never time out, but only allow 30 min of Fortnite, and simultaneously completely block Snapchat. I can let him play Minecraft for two hours on Saturday, but only one hour during school days, and never during the times that school is in session. I can completely block all games during school time while never timing out the calculator or the calendar apps. The level of control that Apple has allowed me as a parent now is really unbelievable. A year ago I started testing the Boomerang Parental Controls app. It was awesome, but it had a few flaws. My family utilized it for a long time, and it helped to bring some control to my children’s multiple devices, but it had holes in it that my kids quickly learned to exploit. I was happy to have it because it gave some of the control that iOS was so lacking at that time. Now, with Screen Time on iOS 12, coupled with Family Sharing, I am very much in control of my children’s screen time, app usage, and all in a very convenient way, from the notifications screen on my own iPhone. Yes, I still lack multiple user accounts so I cannot allow my children to use my personal devices ever, but as long as they have their own iOS device, they are all set. If my child uses all their screen time today, they can request more. That pops up a notification on my device, that allows me to approve or deny, (which is why my kids can NEVER use my devices) and even has a few preset time extensions so I can quickly give them an extra 15 min or hour. More importantly, that time extension is for only that app. Therefore if I allow my son to play only 30 min of Fortnight and only on weekends, but he asks for an extra hour of time on a Tuesday to use Codea, he can’t then use that time, the way he could with other parental controls apps, to log in and play Fortnite instead. I approve an hour for Codea, and that is all he can use it with. If he changes his mind and wants to play something different, he has to request time for that app too. This I find very useful. It addresses many of the common problems that have plagued third-party parental control apps. Also, due to this all linking thru iCloud, not only is it all very secure, it is updated in real time at the OS level, and there is no way that my kids have found to work around it. With apps like Boomerang Parental Control, they would learn when their restricted time started and turn off their wifi a few mins before, effectively neutering the controls app and allowing them uninterrupted play forever as long as they played offline. Couple that with apps like TV, Youtube and Netflix that allowed them to download hours of content, and they effectively could stay up all night on their device with little or no restriction. Now that these controls are cooked in at the OS level and are updated thru iCloud the same as Notes or iMessage, there really is no way for the kids to circumvent it, at least not one they have found yet. So the next part, after singing its praises here for a while, is to walk you through a typical setup of these new features in iOS 12 called Screen Time restrictions.

When dealing with Apple ScreenTime parental controls, the first thing you have to do after your device supports it is to FIND it, because it isn’t in parental controls as one would think; instead, you have a new tab in the settings menu called Screen Time. (Not exceptionally intuitive if you asked me, but they didn’t, so there it is.).General Merely going to that tab doesn’t start you down the path to app controls and time limits for your children though, at least not if you haven’t set up your family yet. I know this may sound like a no-brainer, but up until family sharing, there really was no incentive to set up a family, so many people I know, especially the ones with only one child, have never done this, instead, they log in each device into the same iTunes account and share all the apps and media that way. However, now, if you have children and you want to control their device time in the simplest way possible (which still isn’t easy) is setting up a family, making both parents a parent account, (this is important later) and then inviting all your kids to join it. This is the wave of the future, according to Apple.
screentime

Next, now that you have a family set up, you are a listed parent/admin, and you’re kids are all linked to it, Now you can go to that Screen Time tab in settings. When you do, you will now see each of your kids listed below your own account. Turning on Screen Time for yourself is an option, you can if you think it will help you, but it is not needed to administer your kids devices. screentimepopupAfter turning it on for yourself, or clicking on one of your children accounts listed below yours, you will have a series of pop-ups that walk you thru the setup procedure. Answer each question that is asked, like if this is device is for you or your child. One significant note here is that any restriction you set during the setup when you first turn it on is a restriction to YOUR device for YOUR use,isityours not your kids. If you click on one of your children, under the “Family” tab further down, those settings will only apply to that child.  Therefore, you will need to set up the restrictions you want for each child separately. As I said, this isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Also, you do NOT have to do this from their device, you can set and later modify their limits and restrictions, from YOUR device without having their device present, as long as their device is updated to the current version of iOS and is signed into their cloud account and that account is set as a child in your family.

When you do start setting the restriction on your child’s device, the first thing you are prompted to set is Passcode. You havescreentime passcode heard me say this several times before and I will repeat it again here. Choose a code that you and you alone will remember. Make sure it is NOT a PIN you use for anything else in your life, believe it or not, your kids probably already know your PINs to everything you have one for. They are savvy little creatures, and they learn early on how to spot your pin. They will check the fingerprints on the glass of the device, watch you thru the rear windows of the car as you drive thru the ATM, they listen as you use them to confirm your identity over the phone when your bank or insurance company calls. You use your PIN code all the time, and they learn it quickly. If your PIN is your passcode to get into your phone or device, assume they already know it. They watched you enter it so they could play that game when you needed them to be quiet in that meeting… you get my point. When you do set this parental controls PIN, don’t use one you use for anything else. Not only do they probably already know it, but if they don’t, they will also be trying really hard to learn it, and you don’t want to have to change 10 PIN numbers just because your kids learned the one you use in parental controls. Pick a random number, one that isn’t connected to anything, any date, any anniversary, anything at all that they could think thru. They will, and they will learn it. Make up a new one, one that is not connected to anything, I call my parental controls app PIN my “Burner” PIN. I know it will be breached and I know I will have to change it often. On the upside, if your child tries to guess it, you will be alerted to the number of failed attempts the next time you log in on their device. THIER DEVICE. We will talk about that later.

The next thing you set is the “Downtime.”Downtime  Once you turn Downtime on for your child, it asks you when downtime will start and stop. This can be a little confusing as downtime “Start” is when you want the device to shut off, and downtime “End” is when you want the device to be usable again, so kind of backward of what one may expect. If you have any experience with other parental controls apps, they all word this similarly, so this should be very familiar.

At the next step in setting up the Time Limits restrictions of parental controls in iOS, you come to a pop up titled Choose Apps.chooseappspopup In this pane, you can choose which types of apps you want to limit with the restrictions you are setting. This is handy if you are setting these for yourself or for your teenage child, but for anyone under 14, my recommendation is to check the line marked “All Apps & Categories” as this will make screen time restrictions effectively lock out the entire device. This is handy if you are trying to just limit your own use of social during the work day, or if you want to limit just games for your child, however what I quickly found is that the app developer decides what category their app is in and that, like finding these parental controls in a tab marked “Screen Time”. You see my point. If you mark “All Apps & Categories” when you first set this up then find that it is too strict, you can always lighten up and adjust it over time, which we will discuss a bit further in.

The next screen you will be presented with after choosing the apps and categories is “Always Allowed.” This one is a wildcard and will completely be up to you.alwaysallowed The base startup “Always Allowed” configuration as I found it was Phone, Messages, FaceTime, and Maps set as always allowed, with the ability to add any other app on the device to this category by clicking the green plus next to that app in the list following the “Always Allowed” section. Again, for my own children, I turned everything except Phone off, knowing that there would be some things, like Maps, that I would want to turn back on later. In my opinion, it is easier to lighten up on a kid after coming on to strict at the beginning, that way, you can have the device set the way you want it after a few weeks while keeping them feeling like they are getting more than they were…. Just a trick my Dad showed me that I still use. If you start out too easy, then their baseline is set too low when you toughen up, they feel restricted. If you come on as far too strict, then lighten up a little, they feel more free, like they have more than they started with so it is a better deal for them, you are on their side, just trying to make it work, not against them trying to ruin their life.

Next, after we choose which apps we are affecting, we get to the meat and potatoes of the software, the Content & Privacy Restrictions page. You may as well settle in for a while here, because not only is this the main page you will be using for the rest of your setup and the page you will be bounced back to every time you make a choice inside some of the categories. This is also the page you will use the most for the day to day administration of the restrictions on your child’s device. Here, after turning the restrictions on with a slider at the very top, you have a laundry list of options below, but that’s not all! The three primary tabs directly under the activation slider are iTunes & App Store Purchases, Allowed Apps, and Content Restrictions, and while some of these could be mistaken for things we already dealt with, and it also sounds like a short list, it isn’t. These are each an elaborate submenu that will require lots of thought and many settings and are also very inconvenient. In some of these submenus, when you click anything at all, you will be bounced back out to this menu page and will then have to navigate all the way back into where you were just one click ago. It is really time-consuming and tedious, but the results are worth it, trust me. I am not going to go in depth on each submenu selection, but they are many, this is a very comprehensive and granular set of controls.screentimemenu Take the time to go through each tab and each category, guess if you have to, but set them the way you think will work best for you.

The last thing you need to do is to set yourself a reminder to log in and check their device often. I do it every night before bed when I collect all the devices for charging. Also, I have talked to them all ahead of time and set a rule that if they try to breach my restrictions PIN or my ScreenTime PIN, they lose their devices for a day, if they try too often, they lose it for longer. I know that taking the time each night to check all your kids’ devices is kind of a pain, you will not remember to do it each night, but do it often and don’t beat yourself up too hard for failure. However, don’t get complacent. Parenting is an active sport, something you have to do with purpose and intent and often it is a hard job, but it is YOUR hard job, so just do it. Your kids will thank you later. If you find this guide helpful please share it with your friends. If you have any additions or corrections, please let me know in the comments and good luck. Parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, but Parenting with Technology can.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What “Winning” your battle with a Mental Disorder actually means and why we need to change it.

Angel guardian sleeping on the grave

We hear all the time how this person or that is battling one disease or another. We often hear of someone losing their battle with cancer in the knowledge that they have passed away due to it. In general, the rationalization is that if you win your battle with a disease, you survive it, but if you lose your fight, you die from it. This holds true in every case except mental health. Mental disorders or diseases are the only diseases you win your battle with by also dying. Dark right? OMG, why is this guy writing such a horrible thing? Which is probably what you should be thinking right now. Unfortunately, it is true and until people, and especially medical professionals and politicians start looking at it this way, life, what of it we have, will be exponentially difficult for people with mental illness.

First off, mental illness is the one group of common diseases that the world still shies from discussing. They are our last medical “dirty little secret,” and we need to stop that immediately. To be quite frank, mental illness of some type in the US alone is more common than hearing loss which affects an estimated one in seven people. In fact, mental illness, with its average of affecting one in four, is more prevalent than heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. The only ailment in our country right now that rivals mental disorders in fatal prevalence, is cancer. The tragic truth here is, cancer can be survived. It can be cured or at least removed. Forty percent of all cancer survivors will be deemed cancer free at some point after their initial diagnosis.  They will be likely to have cancer reappear, but for some point, after they get it, many people will not have cancer anymore. However, in the case of every mental disorder, there is no cure. At all.

Mental illness can not be cured, it can not be removed, not even for a little while. It can be managed to varying degrees, but to put it bluntly, every single person diagnosed with a mental disorder will die with that disorder. Knowing this, how does one win their battle with mental illness?
Unfortunately, every single person who is diagnosed with a mental disorder will only win their fight with that disorder when they die from something not mentally related. To put it another way, the only cure for mental illness right now is death, the only indicator of winning or losing your battle with it is how you die. More people worldwide have died with or from mental illness in the last five years than died from gunshot wounds during the Vietnam war, and we as a civilization are hiding it, minimizing it, and for the most part ignoring it. Depression in America kills more people here than AIDS every year. Where are the marches? Where are the rallies? Where are the pamphlets in the schools telling people how to keep themselves safe, how to find help and how to manage it better? We spent nearly two years raising all the funds the internet could find for ALS, while more people have died with Bipolar disorder in the last four years than have from ALS since we discovered and named it. Where are the viral videos and fundraisers for the Bipolar Ice Bucket challenge or whatever?

Until we as a society take mental health seriously, until our government starts spending as much money on research and care for the mentally ill as they do for methadone clinics, until our medical personnel are trained as thoroughly to diagnose and treat mental health as they are sexual health, this will continue. Until mental health issues are covered by insurance companies at the same percentages as other diseases, people will continue to die from mental health care failures, and at an ever-increasing rate.

Why am I on this soapbox? My eyes were just opened to this issue when my father passed away. He battled Bipolar disorder for forty-nine years, and when he passed away peacefully in his sleep, we celebrated the fact that he had won his battle with mental illness. What did that mean? What we really meant was that he never chose suicide as an end to his disease. Why in the hell would we think or feel that? Very simply, it was an option. We as his family had braced ourselves years earlier to that probability. We had helped him every way we could, he had doctors and mental health care professionals that he consulted, the medication that he took, therapy that he attended, but in the back of our minds, we knew that he always had the option to end his sentence. In his case, all his hard work, all our support, all the medical and mental health professionals, it all worked. He won his fight, but only by dying of something else. Then I realized how disgusting and utterly unacceptable this mindset is. I started to look at other health issues, and I realized that mental health is probably the last medical vocation where accepting the fact that you will die with your disease is the preferred outcome as long as you don’t kill yourself or anyone else while living with it as long as possible. I will discuss my own journey a bit later, but for now, let’s stay on track.

Our handling of mental illness is so substandard compared to other diseases that we have even created different vernacular to describe the end of life options. If a cancer patient decides that they are in so much pain that they choose to end their life, that is euthanasia, if a mental patent does that, it is suicide. Our inability as a culture to accept that mental illness causes as much pain as physical illness is sickening to me.
Physical illness is considered a tragedy, something beyond one’s control and many concessions are made to facilitate people who are affected. Look no further than our ADA accessibility laws for a prime example of this. If your legs or your eyes are damaged, special treatment is expected. Ramps are installed, audible queues, provisions for leader dogs, special parking, the examples are endless. Conversely, how many accessibility options are required for the mentally disabled? Do we have clubs with code required quiet rooms so that the people anxiety disorders can enjoy them? Do we enforce cleanliness or organizational guidelines in grocery stores so those suffering with OCD can shop more easily? Do we ban videos that have graphic battle scenes to protect and facilitate those with PTSD? “Of course not!” “Don’t go overboard.” “We can’t bubble-wrap the world.” These are the responses to these ideas that I hear every time I bring this up, but my response is “Why not? Imagine if my response to your demand for a wheelchair ramp was “Just choose to go to a place that has one,” Or “we can’t bubble-wrap the world,” or  “these people are just going to have to adapt.” That would sound harsh, cold, and ludicrous. If I said something that heartless and uncaring, I would be crucified and rightly so, but these are the very attitudes that are displayed as soon as any concession is proposed for the mentally ill. Heck, most people are afraid to even talk about mental health in more than vague, amorphous terms.

The stigma our society attaches to mental health is so strong that if I check “yes” to occasional recreational drug use on a medical questionnaire no one bats an eye or asks any further questions. If however, I check yes to the “do you feel desperate or overwhelmed” or heaven forbid the “do you have thoughts of harming yourself” questions then everyone panics, they run for the straight jackets and sedatives then have hushed conversations about a suicide watch. No wonder most people, especially kids, are afraid, to tell the truth about how and what they feel.  Back to my example above, if I did admit to drug use, the doctor would have a calm, reasonable discussion with me regarding the dangers, the causes and the outcomes of my choice. Wouldn’t that also be a better response to thoughts of self-harm? And this is the nugget at the core of my rant here. When we overreact and treat the mentally ill as the second-rate, or the permanently flawed, we reinforce in them the thought that there is no help, no hope.

If instead, we greeted them warmly, with love, companion and kindness, and with actual medical knowledge, a realistic treatment plan and a proper bedside manner would they accept help with their condition more easily and start working to survive it the same way cancer patients do?  Conversely, if we treated cancer patients with the same cold deference and standoffish bluntness, wouldn’t more of them decide that it was hopeless and just give up? Patients with a terminal illness live longer and happier when they are informed of their disease and its outcome by a caring human who shows hope, love, and kindness, then backs that up with real options including calculated treatment plans, medications, and reassurance of positive outcomes.

The only way to see this real change in our society is to start educating people about mental health. We need to talk openly and freely about mental health, depression, and suicide. We need to destigmatize these issues then throw research money at them the way we did cancer and AIDS in the past. While we do that, we need to teach and encourage our health care providers to take a second look at how they treat mental health patients, and how they diagnose and treat these diseases. When we do that, we will begin to see a decrease in the number of fatalities caused by it, because unlike cancer, which can kill you directly, most mental health issues can’t. They just make you WANT to die, and medical professionals, in my opinion, are more often reinforcing that want by making it the only perceivable solution due to a lack of compassion, a lack of education, and a lack of affordable specialists and treatments.

Now as I promised near the beginning of this, lets talk about my own experiences,  During this loss of my father, I realized that I also had some issues I needed to address and in my attempt to do that, I came face to face with the massive differences between mental health care and all other types of healthcare. Most notably, the fact that my insurance, which is some of the best available to my family, only covers mental health at 50%, making psychiatric health care in my case 30% more expensive than cancer treatment or a broken leg. (both of which cost the public much less over the long run as cancer can be successfully treated and/or cured in so many cases, a broken leg has a 100% recovery expectation, and neither poses a broader health threat to the public if untreated.) Then my research took me to the fact that quality, reputable mental health care is basically unavailable to anyone without insurance or on social services. Yes, they are technically offered and your caseworker will “tell” you there are people there to help, but in most cases, these people are overbooked, understaffed, or just burned out by the sheer volume of cases they are loaded with to the point that offering proper compassionate quality care is just not an option. Don’t get me wrong, I am not in any way putting this on the health care workers. I am not blaming them. I am pointing out a problem in our society where it is more common to fight for funding for places like the free methadone clinic or planned parenthood while completely leaving the public mental health services unfunded and understaffed. Again, I am asserting that if we as a country spent as much on mental health treatment as we do on sexual issues, unplanned pregnancies, or drug addictions, this massive gap in help and treatment of this hugely underserved and vast portion of our population, these patients quality of life may increase to the point were there is hope other than suicide, a point where death isn’t the only way out of mental illness. Additionally, if we address these patients in this way, the threat that some few of them pose to society, in general, would be greatly reduced, thus providing a immediate measurable benefit for the rest of us.

Now back to my own revelations, I found that along with the anxiety issues which I have suffered from and dealt with since childhood, I now had a new, very foreign problem to deal with, grief. In my search for assistance with this new issue, I ran across a service online called BetterHelp. They are not a sponsor (but as I so often state, I would love it if they were) They are instead a service which I use, I pay for, and I am growing to deeply appreciate. They are confidential, secure, and not as expensive as some other local therapists and grief counselors are. Also, since they are not local to me, I am more comfortable talking to them about specific issues as I know my problems will not end up being the water cooler chat at the local hospital, or parish. They also have convenient times, often after hours, which work wonderfully for me, and they have a scholarship program so that people in need can get help at a reduced rate. Lastly, because they are a large network, they were able to refer me to a licensed, certified professional that specializes in my exact need, in my case grief and loss. All of these things together made BetterHelp the very best choice for me and I can sincerely say, if you need help, if you have issues and can’t get help, don’t know where to turn or where to start, give them a look, they may be the help you need to get on the road to a better, happier you. This is not an ad and BetterHelp is not a sponsor, but they are important enough for me to name by brand.

In closing I would like to reiterate; kindness, love, and compassion from you and I, backed up with real science, positive action, and a real budget at the state or federal level, could change the world for its largest group of suffering people. Will you choose to be that change? Will you be the one that looks around sees the mental health crisis we as a world are in and decide to change it? If so, these are the steps as I see them.
One, talk openly about feelings, about depression, about mental health, and most importantly about seeking help. If you talk about it openly and often, your family and friends will hear you and may realize that getting help doesn’t equal weakness. Be open, be honest and let everyone around you know that you care and you will help them if they need you.  By reducing the stigma attached to mental health issues, we increase the number of suffering people willing to seek help.
Two, Vote. Make the government change what you don’t like by voting your feelings. They work for you, so only hire people who have a solution that you accept. You are a unique person with your own worldview and morals. Vote those. Only when people in power realize that the only way to get or keep their jobs it to fix this will there be real reform and real advances to the treatment of mental health on the national level.
Three, Show everyone love and kindness. You never know what kind of a crisis that person in front of you is having. A simple smile or a kind word could make all the difference in their world right then, heck, a small showing of love and compassion could save a life. It could show them the hope they need not opt out, or the kindness to not hurt others.
It has to start somewhere, let that change begin with you and me.