NETWORK TELEVISION: TIME TO TELL THE STORY OF CAP MARINES

Recently, I teamed up with Jack Cunningham, a Marine who served in Vietnam.  Jack has been pursuing the very laudable goal of developing a television series based on the Combined Action Program (CAP) of the Marine Corps.  He’s also helping me get the word out about my initiative #HELP22, founded with Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret) and Christian Josi, to provide free life coaching and counseling to veterans on the 22nd of each month.

 

About the Combined Action Program

CAP placed Marines inside peasant farming villages, living with residents 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  For this reason, CAP was called “A Peace Corp with Rifles.”  The assignment was an amazing opportunity to live in an entirely different culture and to be integrated and accepted into that culture.  Incredibly strong bonds formed between villagers and Marines.  But the assignment was also extremely hazardous because the North Vietnamese wanted to obliterate villages that hosted CAP Marines and because any resident of the friendly village might still be a Communist sympathizer quite willing to kill a Marine.  Generally, just 11 Marines and one Navy Corpsman lived day in and day out with thousands of villagers.

 

About Jack Cunningham

Jack has devoted a tremendous amount of time and energy to describing the highs and lows of life as a CAP Marine, even creating a website that does a very good job of sharing his experiences (http://capveterans.com/).  Here is just a bit of Jack’s writing that shows the razor’s edge CAP Marines had to walk between the real and very human bonds they developed with villagers and the peril inherent in trusting those bonds:

Over the next few weeks we came under fire a number of times during the day and night. (The communists were constantly trying to instill fear in the peasants.) On a number of occasions we received intelligence reports from [the villagers]. The Civil Action Programs within the village created a lot of trust of the American boys. We also received intelligence that we were going to be wiped out.

These reports caused some of our Popular Forces (village militia) to disappear at night. They felt why fight today when there’s always tomorrow. Some PF militiamen even took off their uniforms and hid them, along with their rifles, so they could blend into the peasant population.

  

About CAP Marines

Imagine the dedication required to keep fighting for folks you’ve become connected to who aren’t always willing to fight for themselves. Imagine the empathy required to remind oneself that members of a village militia, as laudable as many of those men must have been, just aren’t likely to be made of the stuff of U.S. Marines.

 

What is Jack’s Goal?

By the way, Jack isn’t looking to get rich collaborating with a television production company; he’s looking to enrich the perspectives of Americans about the kind of sacrifices Vietnam veterans made for the United States and for Vietnam.  The story of the CAP Marines is perfect terrain because it shows Marines like Jack becoming fixtures in the lives of South Vietnamese men, women and children, about whom they cared very deeply, while they risked their lives to battle the Communist North Vietnamese.

 

I think it’s time television told the stories of CAP Marines, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, www.theablowcenter.com

Founder #HELP22

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Announcing The Keith Ablow Creative Writing Contest

Winners Chosen Weekly.  A prize from The Ablow Center is awarded to the writer who writes 500 words judged to have the greatest potential to make others think more positively about themselves or the world around them.    Click the following link to enter: https://keithablow.boston/contest-entry-form/

Dr. Keith Ablow has published 15 novels, true crime and self-help books with major publishers, collectively selling millions of copies. Two of his books were New York Times bestsellers. To encourage other writers, Dr. Ablow’s new website KeithablowCreative.com will host a weekly writing contest. Contestants must submit a maximum of 500 words that show insight into, or engagement with, the world around them.  Writers must post something inspirational or positive about any one of the following topics:

Police, veterans, religion or spirituality, reflections on a newspaper article from the Boston Globe, Boston Herald, NY Times, or the NY Post (please include a link to the article), the benefits of counseling and life coaching, gun rights, the judicial system (courts, judges and the jury system) or personal autonomy.

The first 25 entries each week will be reviewed, with $50.00 awarded to the winner, along with a virtual certificate which the winner is free to post to social media. Each winner will be recognized on Keith Ablow’s website and eligible for an annual grand prize of $1,000.00.

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TWENTY WAYS TO IMPROVE YOUR LIFE IN 2020

Beginning in 2015, I began publishing a list of ways to improve your life. Last year, as 2019 debuted, I published, “19 ways to improve your life.” The year before that, I published “18 ways to improve your life.” You get the idea. The tradition continues this year, with the addition of No. 20. And, just like last year, I’ve added bits and pieces to some of the 19 earlier items.

New Year’s resolutions often lose their power so quickly and completely that they have become cliché. But there are real, easily achieved ways to positively impact your life beginning this first week of January.

Here’s your cheat sheet of 20 for 2020. They aren’t in any particular order, so you can pick any one to start with.

If you complete just five, you’ll notice a demonstrable improvement in your existence. But if you get through nine of them, you could remake your life.

1. Try to recall one dream you had as a kid – whether it was being a poet or a rock drummer or a multimillionaire stock trader – and take just a single step in that direction. So often, the ideas we had as children were good ones, and we abandoned them out of fear. The step in the direction of your childhood dream can be very modest – signing up for a symposium on poetry, scheduling a single drum lesson, or buying a DVD on stock trading. Even just telling two people about your quiet dream can move it forward. Frozen dreams have a way of thawing out rapidly when you warm them just a tiny bit.

You’ve got to expect that your dream might well wrestle with you to remain just a fantasy. We resist our dreams because fully embracing them provokes anxiety – like jumping onto a raft that will take you down thrilling, but heart-stopping rapids. Your dream could argue that you should put it off until later, or that it’s entirely irrational, or that you don’t have the energy or the time or the money to pursue it. Don’t expect to feel great taking the first step in the direction of your dream. Take that step, in spite of your anxiety.

2. Think of your life story, going all the way back to infancy, as an autobiographical book that you can hold in your hands. Now, imagine which page or paragraph you are tempted to tear out and remove from the story. That page or paragraph might be the one that makes you feel profoundly sad or powerless or guilty or ashamed. Next, share it with someone who knows you well but has never heard about that event or phase in your life. Being willing to disclose the events in life we want to turn a blind eye to takes away the power those events have over us.

You can’t be loved unconditionally, especially by yourself, if you think some part of you or what you lived through is too dark to bring into the light.

3. Give a meaningful gift to a friend of yours on a random day – not his birthday or her anniversary or Christmas. Giving gifts on those days is fine, but that isn’t the same as an unexpected, unscheduled gift. Those are the ones that feel riskier to give and have more power to bond you to others who receive them. And that’s because they’re real and independent expressions of friendship, affection, admiration or love.

Giving gifts has an interesting side effect; you’ll feel wealthier, even though you’ve just spent a little money. Why?  Because human beings either feel bountiful or barren. Giving of yourself doesn’t deplete you. It fills you up.

4. Send handwritten notes to three people you admire most in the world, no matter how powerful or famous, tell them sincerely exactly why you admire them and ask to meet for 10 minutes. There’s a real chance one of them will take you up on the offer. And that one meeting could change you, because great energy is contagious and being in the company of it can stay with you.

Very few people actually reach out, personally, for help from those who can give it the most. Do you know why?  They worry they’ll be rejected or made fun of. But think about it. If you have no attachment to the outcome of your note-writing campaign, if you understand from the get-go that you may receive no replies to your three notes, then there’s really no risk. Here’s another hint:  You could send out 50 of them. Or 100. And there’s no rational reason not to.

5. Give some amount (no matter how small) to the charity you care most about. As I said above, giving is a miracle, because it helps others while also telling your unconscious mind that yours is a life of abundance, not scarcity. And that invites more treasures into your existence. Here’s one I just gave to, which I happen to know is completely legit and does great work, the Warrior Reunion Foundation Here’s another one I’m giving to today: www.barnsanctuary.org.

6. Stop telling yourself you love people just because you grew up with them. This is a big one, but a really important one. Did your parents and siblings earn your love by unconditionally loving you as a child? If so, great. But if you’ve been wishing that had been the case and have felt unwilling to let the dream of having had unconditionally loving parents or siblings slip away, then loosen your grip. If the people you grew up with weren’t focused on helping you stay true to yourself, then admit it to yourself. You might stop unconsciously recruiting people just like them into your life.

Here’s the key question:  Who has loved you and who has been attached to you? Loving you requires the intent to know you as an individual and to honor and foster your uniqueness. Attachment can feel very powerful, but it is closer to owning you than celebrating you.

7. Schedule an initial life coaching, counseling or psychotherapy session. These are the gold standard ways to begin to get to become the person you were always meant to be. In a world of distractions and depersonalization, these are professions reliably focused on restoring your connection to your true self and your full potential. Hopefully, that first session will convince you of the power of teaming up with a coach or counselor to change your life, and you’ll schedule more. No one with the financial ability to do so should deny himself or herself that transformational opportunity.

One caveat: Not every coach, counselor or psychotherapist would be a good fit for you. Some aren’t a good fit for anyone, because they aren’t very talented. If your first session leaves you cold, try scheduling one more with someone else. The first counselor I went to wasn’t worth my time or my money. The second one utterly changed my life.

8. Get angry about something unfair, say so out loud and don’t stand for it. Anger gets a really bad rap in our culture; it’s accused of everything from destroying people spiritually to causing heart attacks. But suppressed anger can be more toxic. When you’re offended by something you hear about in the news or you see unfolding in your personal life, try saying so, in no uncertain terms, when you’re asked about it – or maybe even if you aren’t. For those of you who have been living lives of quiet frustration, letting yourselves be very direct and very mad about something that sincerely outrages you can start to crack the shell that has your most powerful self inside it.

Here’s one of my favorite Bible verses: Am I therefore become your enemy, because I tell you the truth? Galatians 4:16 King James Version (KJV)

9. Take two minutes to think about life as a labyrinth. Mazes are built to frustrate people and get them lost. They’re full of dead ends designed to make people give up and call for helicopters to pluck them out. Not so with labyrinths. Labyrinths may wind this way and that way. They may take you far from where you thought you were heading. But they always, always lead to the center. And that’s what life is like. Keep walking, keep your faith and life will take you where you are supposed to go. The turn toward the center could be just a few steps away, when you least expect it.

Now, keep this in mind, too:  You don’t get to choose the day or week or year that turn toward the center happens. It could be tomorrow or it could be many tomorrows from now. The point is to know that it is coming, not to know when.

10. Try praying, at least once. If you haven’t prayed ever or haven’t prayed lately, you’ll discover that the act of praying for what you care deeply about has the effect of reminding you what that thing or those things really are. It also has the effect of reminding you that there is a great power in the universe that you are a part of. There’s something interesting about praying; even people who say they don’t believe in God are loathe to pray for the opposite of what they really want. How come? Is it because that, underneath all that cynicism, they actually do believe?  I recently completed my graduate certificate in pastoral counseling at Liberty University.  The power of prayer has never been clearer to me.

11. Read “Franny and Zooey” by J.D. Salinger, “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, “Self-Creation” by the great psychologist George Weinberg (used copies available online), “Blue Dog” by George Rodrigue, “Fear God and Take Your Own Part,” by Theodore Roosevelt, “Zen or the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig, or “The Betrayal of the Self” by Arno Gruen (or, even better, all seven). These seven volumes have the power to transform people, and I keep handing them out to patients and friends (along with – please forgive the narcissism – my book, “Living the Truth”). If you’re really short on time or intention, just read the Afterword to a later edition of “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.”

12. Buy one piece of original art. It doesn’t need to be expensive. It just needs to appeal to you. Why? Because art is the antidote to our sometimes sterile, technologically driven culture. It makes humanity go viral in a way that YouTube can’t. It also confirms your connection to things that can’t be measured – like your personal vision of beauty. A good alternative is to create a piece of art. Just be sure to buy yourself the proper brushes or paints or glue or wood to create it. That will be a signal to yourself that you value what you are manifesting.

13. Watch the movie “Miracle,” with Kurt Russell. This film about the 1980 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team defeating Russia’s team is so good, it can convince you to take on the next great challenge in your life. I don’t know anyone who has watched it and been unaffected by it. Also watch the closing argument by Paul Newman at the end of the film “The Verdict,” the scene of Sylvester Stallone and Talia Shire on the beach in “Rocky III,” the monologue by Al Pacino toward the end of the film “The Scent of a Woman” and any performance of “God Bless the USA” by Lee Greenwood. They can help make you a better person. No kidding.

14. Tell your romantic partner one thing you would find exciting that you have not yet told that person. In my experience as a therapist, I’ve found that people can remain strangers to one another, in terms of passion, even after 10 or 20 years of marriage. We keep secrets. Let one out. You can write it down and pass it to your partner as a note, like we did back in grade school, before cell phones. See what happens. Take the risk.

15. Stand up for someone else. You’ll have the opportunity this year. I promise. Maybe in your home. Maybe in your neighborhood. Maybe at work. Maybe online. Defending someone will reassure that person and empower you.

16. Take 20 minutes to pretend that you are speaking to yourself, from the heart, as though you are your own ideal parent. You can do this out loud, if you have the stage presence, or silently. An ideal parent is empathetic, but honest in assessing his or her child and giving that child advice. Sit yourself down, get very quiet and, then, tell yourself – with the same care you would summon for a son or daughter – two things you really admire about yourself and one very limiting, very disappointing thing about yourself you really wish you would try to change, because it could limit the whole rest of your life. That one thing should be so on-target and so necessary that it has the power to make you angry, make you anxious, bring you to tears or bring you to your knees. Focusing longer (say, 15 minutes) on the admirable qualities is something you’d do for your kid, to take the sting out of the next 5 minutes, so do that for yourself. And keep in mind that 20 minutes is a long time. You’ll be tempted to avoid it or shorten it. But you shouldn’t.

17. If you are a parent, resolve to mimic a habit I stumbled upon when my kids were younger. It really helps me stay balanced during times that might otherwise cause me lots of stress. Here it is:  Whenever I get a phone call or an email or a text from someone telling me a project of mine or a goal or a relationship has hit a rough patch, I tell myself silently: “Yeah, well this isn’t like a pediatrician calling me.” What I mean is that, short of bad news about a child of mine, coming from a pediatrician (or, if your kids are older, like mine, an internal medicine doctor), nothing can really rock me. Because all of us parents know exactly how much time we would have for what seem like the big problems of our day or our week, if the phone rang, and a doctor on the other end said something like, “Can I ask where you are? Because I’ve seen your son, and I have something serious to talk with you about. I’d like you to come in.” I’d have no time for all my other so-called problems, and neither would you. So, things are actually better than we actually realize, most all of the time.

18. Remind yourself that neither you, nor I, nor anyone else is assured of another New Year’s Eve. I know that may sound morbid, but it’s also true. This could be your last year. It could be my last year. Don’t deny that fact, embrace it. Try waking up as many days as you can thinking to yourself, “If I can leave a bit of a positive mark today, I will.”  Maybe it will be as simple as listening a little longer to someone than you might be inclined to. Maybe it will be complimenting someone who deserves it. Maybe it will be calling an old friend to tell her you were thinking of her. We are all a series of thousands of actions. Every single one of them matters. And there’s no way of knowing when we won’t have another chance to add to the list.

19. Write out a thoughtful, healing, motivating message to yourself and read it every morning.  Your journey through life is an ongoing one, but it also begins anew each waking day.  Reminding yourself of the grand roadmap you intend to travel can create a silent and powerful narrative that plays at the back of your mind, coaxing you toward higher self-esteem—and your dreams.

20.  Think of one person you respect or like a whole lot, whom you’ve lost touch with.  Get back in touch, by the end of the day on January 8.  That gives you a week to reach out—by email or text or, even better, by writing a letter or calling on the phone.  Chances are that the person you select is someone you’re “supposed” to be back in touch with. Why?  Because you’ll have chosen him or her, and the universe is a lot less random than you might think.  One other thing:  Let the person know that he or she was your first choice of 2020—of everyone possible—to reconnect with.

 

So, there are your 20 keys to making 2020 a transformational year. As I did last year, I give them to you with the certain knowledge that you still have, inside you, all the wonderful potential you did the very first day you were born. You haven’t lost one bit of it. It’s all there, just waiting for you to discover it.

Don’t delay. Start on the list today, and by this time next year, God willing, you’ll be ready for the 21 steps for 2021. Life is like that: a never-ending process of self-improvement.

 

–Keith Ablow, MD

Keith Ablow is the Founder of www.theablowcenter.com and www.keithablowcreative.com.  Contact him at [email protected].

 

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HOW TO SURVIVE ANYTHING

A Gift from The Ablow Center this Holiday Season

All human beings have to survive pages or chapters of their life stories that bring sadness, challenges to self-esteem or even questions about how to go on.  No one gets through life without such events or phases, sometimes prolonged ones.  How can these darker threads of life get woven into the fabric of our existences and still yield vibrant patterns?

Writing on this topic at Christmas (or Hanukkah, for that matter) might seem odd.  After all, everyone is supposed to be celebrating the holidays and feeling joy, not dwelling on past or present pain.  But the truth is that for millions of people, holidays also bring up lots of memories that aren’t joyous, including those about losing loved ones. And the lights of the holidays can cast long shadows in the lives of those who feel as though they shouldn’t or can’t dwell on darker thoughts.

What better time could there be, actually, to think about the will to survive than on Christmas when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who is resurrected on Easter? What better time could there be to think about the will to survive than on Hanukkah commemorating the victory of the Maccabees to re-establish their right to worship as Jews?

These are stories of confronting adversity, yet being reborn, of confronting oppression, yet fighting through to freedom.

So, for those whose holidays are times when they find themselves searching for strength, not just celebrating, here are hints of ways to survive anything.

 

  • First, find your faith. No matter what your religion is, or even if you don’t worship as part of one of the large, organized religions, finding faith means believing—or just beginning to believe—that every single event in your life can be used to make you a more giving and powerful person.  Every event is part of a plan for you, as an individual, that isn’t meant to hobble you, but to make your life story, ultimately, one of triumph.  In our losses we have the opportunity to become more loving.  In our challenges we have the opportunity to find more courage.  In what seem like our defeats are the opportunities to build our resilience.

 

  • Second, become vigilant for opportunities to turn your faith into concrete actions.I promise you that there is more organization to the universe than many people suspect.  There is more organization to your life than you may suspect.  Look for moments to turn adversity into power, and you will find them.  This is the nature of resurrection.  Christ’s death on the cross was not the end; it was the beginning of a miracle that transformed countless lives.  You, too, will be resurrected, but you have to look for opportunities to make that happen. Your destiny still awaits you. Do not dismiss people you meet who want to listen to your story or who have a similar story.  Do not dismiss what seem like coincidences or bridges too far—meeting someone or reading about someone starting a business like one you’ve always thought about building, feeling a tug of affection for someone after losing a spouse or divorcing, a thought that enters your mind about writing a book about your experiences.  These are just a few examples of innumerable ones that might unfold.

 

  • Third, don’t go it alone. Whether you reach out to a member of the clergy, a counselor, a life coach, a psychiatrist or a psychologist, please consider teaming up with someone as you confront adversity.  Teaming up allows for your vision of the future to be kindled by someone else’s. It can really help to be listened to, but also to hearwhen someone thinks you should take needed actions to fuel your perspective, increase our momentum or honor your potential.

James Joyce, the great writer and literary critic, put it very well in his first novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man:

 

“To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!”

 

Merry Christmas.  Happy Hanukkah.  Onward . . .

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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Developing True Free Will

After 25 years practicing psychiatry, almost as many testifying in criminal trials and about a year now working as a spiritual counselor and life coach, I feel I have a lot of data about how free will really works. Here’s the headline: True free willisn’t nearly as common as most people think.  If you want to be one of those who really has it, you’ll probably need to do some work.

 

Defining True Free Will 

Free will is not just freedom to decide.  Free will really only operates when a person is making decisions based on his or her true character, real underlying desires and a focused view of the choices and challenges at hand.  In order for that to be the case, lots of patterns of emotion and behavior that operate as reflexes rooted in the past have to be neutralized.

 

Here are two examples:

 

  • Let’s say you always felt slighted, compared to your two siblings. You felt that your parents asked more of you or celebrated you less.  It’s then entirely possible that you will have an exaggerated response to an employer or partner or friend who seems to be leaning on you or to be favoring someone other than you.  You’ll be the one “choosing” to walk out on the job or go to war with your partner or sever your friendship, but it won’t be a choice made with true free will, because it will have been fueled by old interpersonal dynamics that never got cleared out of your mind, heart and soul.

 

  • Or, let’s say you were always told as a child that pursuing your artistic dream was a fantasy which, if taken seriously, would lead you into poverty. You have “chosen” to keep working in the software industry, based on leftover fears, instilled in you way back in childhood.  That isn’t true free will, either.

 

Again, true free will is the freedom to decide based on who you trulyare, what you trulywant and how you would trulyreact, without the undue intrusion of past chapters of your life story.

 

Developing True Free Will

The only way to develop true free will is to identify those old emotional reflexes for what they are—leftovers from past dramas that don’t serve the present moment, at all. Once they are identified they can be cleared out and then no longer contaminate today’s decision-making.

How can you do this?  How can you rid yourself of the old patterns still in control of the choices you make, old patterns that obliterate true free will? There’s one gold standard way:  Counseling, psychotherapy or life coaching that challenges you to shed past habits of thought and behavior, in favor of purer ones that tap into true intention. Today’strue intention.

 

Why Does True Free Will Lead to Real Success?

Exercisingtrue free willis, in fact, the only way to achieve genuine success.  Why?  Because true free will is a reflection of one’s true self, which is a gift from God or the Universe, however one may see it. True free willautomatically taps into your true passionand true personal power.  You automatically choose to pursue your real dreams and stand for your true ideals and take the right risks, because they come from your core, not from your rote reactions to old intrusions upon you as a child or adolescent or young adult.

 

Some of these themes are central ones in my book, Living the Truth.

 

The Ablow Center and True Free Will

In a way, the chief mission of The Ablow Center is to restore true free willto clients, to leave them unencumbered by the agendas of others, exercising their real intentions, pursuing their real dreams, saying what they really mean and entering into relationships they really want.  Maybe that’s why clients of The Ablow Center have, in just the last 30 days, released a new album, published a new book, launched a new Internet startup, opened a new restaurant and recruited an investor to take their business to a whole new level.  It’s a lot less likely that clients will be depressed or anxious or sleepless or distracted or overweight or using substances, by the way, when wielding their true free will.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

 

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Creativity Begins Where Anxiety Ends

Too many of us are locked in self-consciousness. We worry about how we will be perceived by friends and family, or colleagues, or that great nameless, faceless mass of folks known as “the public.” Anxiety of that kind is the enemy of creativity because creativity requires the courage to be judged. Whether writing or painting or sculpting or inventing a new product or starting a new business, there will be no shortage of critiques and critics. And the more raw or original or iconoclastic the idea, the louder the criticism will be. Get it just right as an artist/inventor/entrepreneur of any kind, and you can plan for lots of pushback—at least, initially.

Since this is the case, one way to tap into your creative spirit is to start brainstorming with this unfinished sentence, “If no one would ever know, I would try to create __________.” Or, you could use this unfinished sentence: “If no one would ever know, I would write about ___________.” Or how about this one: “If I knew no one would laugh at me, I’d design a __________.”

It’s worth using a device like this to get to your creative core because the fear of self-disclosure is actually paper tiger. You won’t lose anything worth keeping when you uncover and share the deepest level of your creative soul; you’ll gain the power to connect with others at that level. And that’s what a creative life is all about.

The interplay between anxiety and creativity isn’t a one-way street. Sure, anxiety can limit your creative output. But if you keep your creativity bottled up, it won’t just remain peacefully contained. It will start to churn uncomfortably, underground, and actually cause anxiety.

Even when a person is engaged in a creative process, it can take a conscious decision to burrow more deeply, in order to get to even richer sources of creative energy. Not infrequently, when writing the series of essays included in my book To Wrestle with Demons, I had to challenge myself to reveal more of my thoughts than I initially felt comfortable with. In fact, the reflections that initially begged to remain private ended up being the ones readers said they connected most with. That’s no surprise; we are more alike than different in what we fear and so much more alone with our anxieties than we need to be.

Self-revelation crushes anxiety and fuels real creativity because it accesses core truths. Just take it from one of my favorite authors, the late Harry Crews. Crews had written without any success for years. Then, he finally decided to stop pretending and start sharing who he really was. That’s when his work started to sell. One novel after another. Here’s how he described it:

I was sitting in a tiny room at the typewriter trying not to wake up my eight-year old son. Beside me in boxes were manuscripts. All rejected. Rejected because they were no good. I’d written five novels and hundreds and hundreds of short stories. I’d written ten years, and not a word had seen print . . . I was a writer. A fiction writer. And a goddamn good one. It was in me somewhere, but something had gone horribly wrong . . .

I turned and looked at all that worthless work stacked against the wall. Why was it all so goddamn bad? Because by then I knew the work I had done, and was doing, was no good. I had worked just hard enough and had learned just enough to know that I wasn’t neglected or overlooked by several thousand dumb publishers of one kind or another. No, I was a twenty-four-karat fake; that was the trouble.

For many and complicated reasons, circumstances had collaborated to make me ashamed that I was a tenant farmer’s son. As weak and warped as it is, and as difficult as it is even now to admit it, I was so humiliated by the fact that I was from the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in the worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia I could not bear to think of it, and worse to believe it. Everything I had written had been out of a fear and loathing for what I was and who I was. It was all out of an effort to pretend otherwise. I believe to this day, and will always believe, that in that moment I literally saved my life, because the next thought—and it was more than a thought, it was dead-solid conviction—was that all I had going for me in the world or would ever have was that swamp, all those goddamn mules, all the other beautiful and dreadful and sorry circumstances that had made me the Grit I am and will always be. Once I realized that the way I saw the world and man’s condition in it would always be exactly and inevitably shaped by everything which up to that moment had only shamed me, once I realized that, I was home free.

Yes, indeed. He was home free. He went on to publish many acclaimed novels and collections of short stories. His biography Blood, Bone and Marrow, written by Ted Geltner, was published in 2016.

I want you to dare to do it. Free yourself from anxiety by diving into the creative work you worry might reveal too much about you. Challenge yourself to peel away layers of defenses keeping you from sharing the core of you. You will never be weakened in the effort, only made more powerful.

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative

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Be Wildly Creative – Now

I want you to be wildly creative. What does that mean? It means that you’re not going to get anywhere staying in your lane and thinking what you’ve been taught to think and doing the things you’ve been told to do, because they’re safe, predictable or make you look productive.

If you’re going to actually be the wildly creative person I want to be, and you want to be (or you wouldn’t even have gotten this far in this blog), you’re going to have to get dirty doing it. You’re going to have to leap at an idea that breaks into your consciousness, but needs you to leap at it, without a perfect safety net.

Let’s be honest: You already know one or more creative projects you’d like to leap at. I know you know because it usually only takes me two or three questions to get to the creative heart of someone who becomes a client of mine. Here’s one of them to get started with: “Is there something you used to love to do, but left it aside because it seemed impractical or a pipe dream or might end up not making you money?”

Well, here’s a newsflash: thoughts and impulses are not random events. God or the Universe doesn’t tap you on the shoulder for no good reason. When your heart and mind are taken by an idea or impulse, it means you are supposed to pay attention to it and may well mean that you are supposed to take action.

What might taking action look like and feel like? First, let me tell you what it need not look like and feel like:

• Walking out on your job
• Moving away
• Emptying your bank account and buying an Airstream trailer and hitting the road

The point is that all the drama that folks assign to really moving forward with a creative idea is usually resistance to the idea. It’s their minds saying, “Well, I would do x, y or z, but that would mean bailing on my family or my employer or risking being homeless.”

Um, no. Being wildy creative usually begins with modest steps in the direction of a dream. A future artist buys a canvas and some paints. A future screenwriter registers for a screenwriting seminar. A future entrepreneur sets aside one night to start searching the internet to see whether someone has already exploited her idea. A future teacher whose working as a software salesman (which is fine, but not if he’s meant to be a teacher) gets online and looks at teaching programs that can take some of his undergraduate credits.

There’s no U-Haul in site. There’s no luggage being packed. No satchel full of cash.

Now, if you’ve read to this point then you’re supposed to take your first wildly creative step. That’s right—supposed to. You’re supposed to get out of your own way and do the thing your imagination—which is wired to the Infinite—is telling you to do. Be revolutionary and take a small step in that direction. Commit to the step. Irrevocably. Show your intention to serve the Muse.

One step paves the way for another. That’s how creativity works. It’s like the flipside of an addiction to a meaningless drug (and all drugs are meaningless)—and a more powerful force by far. In fact, true creativity will obliterate addiction to anything without significance. It takes no prisoners. It yields for nothing. It just needs a beginning. A sentence written on a page starts a novel, or a business plan, or the lyrics to a song.

Who leaves a single brush stroke on a canvas? Nobody. How many people never place that first brush stroke on canvas. Countless people.

How many people write one sentence of a novel and never write another. Very, very few. How many people never dare write that first sentence? Countless people.

You get it. Now, get going.

(And, if you want to turbocharge your creative life, you know who to call. I’m gonna make it really easy . . . wildly easy . . . 978-462-1125.)

Keith Ablow, MD
Founder, Keith Ablow Creative

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MY FIRST DAY PROVIDING FREE CARE FOR VETERANS THROUGH #HELP22

Friday, November 22 was the first day I devoted to #HELP22, the initiative I started with Commander Kirk Lippold USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. #HELP22 is our response to this startling and tragic fact:  As many as twenty-two veterans take their own lives every day.

I pledged to spend the 22ndof each month providing counseling to any veteran, free of charge.  As we build #HELP22, my hope is that other counselors, life coaches, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists and clergy members around the country will do the same.  We plan to recruit them and organize them.

On Friday, I spoke with veterans from multiple branches of the armed forces, and I was humbled by what I heard.  These individuals devoted themselves to our freedom, despite the gravest of risks. Many of us can’t imagine leaving our loved ones, leaving the country and putting our lives on the line to defend freedom, but these individuals did just that.  They lost dear friends who fought alongside them.  They bore witness to acts of violence that, thankfully, most of us will never have to confront.  They were themselves injured.  They saw civilians killed by the enemy—especially civilians who aided our cause for freedom.

Not one person I spoke to on Friday asked for any sympathy, by the way.  There was not one ounce of self-pity expressed.  None.  They simply wanted to be heard.  They wanted to share the roots of their pain, not to complain about it, but to explain it.   Because that opens the door to the workings of human empathy.  And empathy, properly harnessed, is one of the greatest healing forces in the world.

When you are a good and decent person and your self-concept is that of a leader, and you inevitably lose men under your command, it can cut you to the core.  And the bleeding from that psychological wound can be hard to stop. But witnessing it, as a fellow human being trained in the listening arts, can begin to heal it.

When you are so heroic that you are willing to live in a Vietnamese village, alongside American sympathizers and then learn that, after your departure, the village has been burned to the ground by the enemy, and that dozens have been killed, you need someone to hear you out.  Because your story is too much to carry in your own soul, alone.

The fact that the men and women who risked their lives doing the work of defending America and her allies should find themselves in such desperation that they take their own lives is a cruel irony.  #HELP22 will never be, of course, a complete solution to veteran suicide.  But I know that every single hour I devote to listening to the stories of our heroes has the potential to remind one of them that another human being values what he or she sacrificed for me and my family and my fellow citizens and also understands—at a basic, human level—the resulting psychological wounds.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Dr. Keith Ablow is a counselor, life coach and co-founder of #HELP22, which he started with Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret) and public relations professional Christian Josi. Dr. Ablow was, for 10 years, a Fox News Channel national on-air Contributor and member of the Fox News Medical A Team.  Any veteran who wishes to schedule an appointment for the next #HELP22 day, on December 22, should email [email protected].

 

 

 

 

 

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EXPLAINING EMOTIONAL PAIN IS NOT COMPLAINING

Do you think it means you’re weak if you share your pain?  You’re not alone.  Some of my counseling and coaching clients are stoic types who are very hesitant to connect the painful, early chapters of their life stories with the difficulties they are encountering in the present.  They don’t want anyone to think they’re making excusesfor their current struggles with mood or anxiety or relationships or a profession.  Even when they survived cruelty or abandonment or experienced very significant losses as children or adolescents, lots of people have told me they feel like they’re complaining if they make a connection between the trouble back thenand the trouble right now.

Well, here’s the truth:  It takes courage to connect the dots and trace your current struggles back to their roots.  It isn’t complaining about what you now face.  It’s part of explainingwhat you now face.

Here are some examples:

  • A man in his 40s had trouble figuring out why he was risk-averse and had passed up some very good opportunities that weren’t “sure things.” Amazingly, he never connected his reluctance to take risks with the fact that his father had passed away shortly after starting a business with two of his friends when my client was just 10 years old.  For my client, being bold was connected with death—literally.  Once we made that connection, he felt like a massive resistor had been removed from his decision-making process.  We had explained his fear of any risk.

 

  • A woman in her late 30s had married one weak man after another. Three short-lived marriages ended when she realized she was more like a parent in the relationships than a spouse.  She never connected her choice of men to the fact that her father was domineering man who unduly influenced her career path, among other things.  She wasn’t likely to ever risk being in a family with another powerful man, so she chose weak ones—until we explainedher choices by connecting the past with the present.

 

  • A woman felt her mood and energy plummet when her daughter turned 11. She was the CEO of a bank and had to take a leave of absence.  She hadn’t considered the fact that her sadness at losing one of her best friends when shewas just 11-years-old was being rekindled by her daughter reaching that age.  Once we explainedher sadness and fatigue by connecting the past with the present, they began to go away.

 

Explaining isn’t complaining.  It’s the opposite.  Only strong people are willing to do the hard work of connecting early life experiences with the ones that are troubling them today.  And the strength to do so pays big dividends, because it frees people to live powerfully in the present, rather than being hostage to the past.

There’s a very good reason to explain the roots of your recurring or chronic emotional pain, by the way.  Eventually, if you don’t, it will become debilitating.  The walls we build psychologically to keep our pain under wraps may start out as the walls of a fortress, but they always end up as the walls of a prison that keeps us away from our best intentions, most ambitious goals and capacity to love ourselves and others.

The idea that if you revisit troubling pages from your early history that you will become stuck there also is a myth. Revisiting them allows you to move past them.  Until you do, those pages will be your future, too.

Remember, human beings don’t really connect with other people by sharing all of their triumphs.  They connect with other human beings by being willing to share their struggles.  And you can’t really share what you’ve survived and how you’ve thrived, amidst adversity, if you can’t bear to look back at the earlier chapters in your life story for what they really were.

For anyone who wants to delve deeper into these topics, two of the books I wrote address them:

And, as always, for anyone who wants to take overcome today’s challenges and set the stage for tomorrow’s successes, contact me at [email protected].

 

Keith Ablow, MD

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WHY A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT COULD BE THE KEY TO RECOVERING

Are you still feeling low?  Still feeling anxious?  It may have nothing to do with you, and everything to do with the treatments being offered to you.  Believe it or not, having a personal health careconsultant on your treatment team could make the difference.

Research shows that up to 70 percent of people being treated for depression have still not recovered three months later.  One study found that only 22 percent of those treated for depression by their primary care doctors were rid of their symptoms.

In the case of anxiety, the most optimistic assessments (PsychiatryAdvisor) estimate the percentage of those who do not respond to the usual treatments at 30 percent.

Experts believe, however, that a huge part of the problem with not recovering from depression and anxiety may be due to causes of these symptoms that go undiscovered by health care providers or effective treatments that are never offered.  This is why a personal depression and anxiety consultant could be critically important.

 

WHAT IS AN A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT?

 A depression and anxiety consultant is a combination coach and researcher who is extremely knowledgeable about your particular symptoms of depression or anxiety (or both) and who is also very knowledgeable about the variety of treatments available to make those symptoms go away. He or she would interview you and maintain contact with you, review your medical records, make you aware of treatment choices that may have been overlooked in your case and even potentially communicate with your psychiatrist or psychologist to help access new and effective forms of treatment.

 

WHAT AREAS MIGHT A DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY CONSULTANT FOCUS ON?

Here is just a sampling of areas commonly overlooked by mental health care providers:

 

  • An underlying medical illness (such as a thyroid condition or sleep apnea or Lyme Disease causing low mood or anxiety).
  • Vitamin or mineral deficiencies causing low mood or anxiety (and comprehensive ways to test for such deficiencies).
  • Genetic testing to determine if certain antidepressants or anti-anxiety agents are less likely to work for you.
  • Newer antidepressant/antianxiety medications that are superior.
  • The benefits of certain vitamin supplements that can be as effective as antidepressants or can addto their effectiveness.
  • The availability of newer technologies to treat depression and anxiety, such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (Brainsway), bright light therapy and ketamine infusion therapy (Neuragain).
  • The availability of home devices to help treat depression.

 

Here’s one of my own client’s experiences, changing the name and some demographic information, of course, for anonymity’s sake:

George was a 32-year-old man who had experienced severe symptoms of major depression for the past 3 years.  His psychiatrist and psychologist had tried a combination of medications and psychotherapy, but George’s symptoms persisted.

When I was asked to work on his case (not as his doctor, but as his personal consultant), I immediately noted that the four antidepressants that had been tried in George’s case were all very similar, pharmacologically.  They all affected the serotonin system in the brain, but left the norepinephrine system largely untouched.  I raised the issue of trying a newer antidepressant that would increase the activity of bothneurotransmitters.

Before any change would be made, however, I made his psychiatrist aware of Genesight testing which would be able to determine if the new medicine was one that George would metabolize properly.

George improved, somewhat, on the newer antidepressant (which was among those cleared by the Genesight test), but he still wasn’t 100 percent.  That’s when I made his psychiatrist aware of the role that curcumin can play in alleviating depression.  Adding curcumin was helpful to George, as well.

Finally, in George’s case, his psychiatrist agreed with me that trying bright light therapy could impact George’s symptoms. And once George added that simple technology to his regimen, he rated his mood at 90 percent.

I also noted that George had never been tested for Lyme Disease and that he had no MRI on file.  His psychiatrist and internal medicine doctors ordered those tests. Luckily, the tests were normal.

Here’s the bottom line:  The number of patients who are being treated inadequately, despite the availability of very effective treatments for depression and anxiety is staggering.  So, when months or years pass without improvement, or without complete improvement, investing in a personal depression and anxiety consultant can make all the difference in the world.

If you or a loved one needs me as a depression and anxiety consultant (or a consultant on any psychological/psychiatric disorder), simply contact me at [email protected] or call

978-462-1125.

 

Keith Ablow, MD

Founder, The Ablow Center

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