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Resiliency in Aging: What is it and 5 Things You Better Know as You Age (And Yes, You Are Aging)

Resiliency in Aging: What is it and 5 Things You Better Know as You Age (And Yes, You Are Aging) | Healthy Aging Series: Part 11

To understand the meaning of a word, sometimes it helps to know what it’s not. If you’re not resilient, it’s likely that you’re vulnerable. That’s a word we’ve heard a lot during the Covid Pandemic. 

The CDC prioritized vulnerable people as the first to get Covid vaccinations. These people included older adults (65+ years old), individuals with compromised immune systems (usually the results of chemotherapy), and people who suffer from Diabetes, Hypertension, heart disease, and obesity, just to name a few. 

Genetics and bad luck have contributed to some people being more vulnerable. A car accident can change a person’s life and affect their resiliency. That happened to my very good friend, Jeff. He had a car accident in his early twenties. Years later, as he approached his sixties, he could barely walk and was in constant, severe pain. Some people can go from resilient to vulnerable after exposure to something in their environment like toxic chemicals, or a virus, or a traumatic loss. Some folk simple inherited genes that have made them more vulnerable. People born with autoimmune disorders struggle with vulnerabilities throughout their life. 

For many, being vulnerable is due to no fault of their own!

There are, however, behaviors and lifestyle choices that people practice that eventually contribute to their lack of resiliency. Some choices include smoking, excessive drinking, isolation, sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, poor sleep hygiene, self-induced stress or lack of calming strategies, and in general, poor self-care strategies. I could go on, but you get the point. 

We spend our whole life practicing behaviors and making lifestyle choices that either lead to or prevent our resiliency.

What is Resiliency?

Resiliency is the ability to recover or bounce back from difficulties. It means having a mental and physical toughness. Resiliency acts as a buffer between you and the difficulties that you are going to face in life. It’s very important especially as you age and approach old age. 

I want to share five things that you need to know now about resiliency and aging:

1. Start Now!

Start practicing behaviors and making lifestyle choices now that will lead to a  more resilient life. I started this many years ago. I remember reading a book that my father had given me. It was “Dr. Bob Arnot’s Guide to Turning Back the Clock.” He challenged me to develop an “Athlete” mindset regardless of my age or activity level. I was lounging in my bed on a Sunday morning. Reading Arnot’s book. I was probably 25 pounds overweight. Inactive. Poor diet. I made the decision at that moment to change my behaviors and make good lifestyle choices. I became a runner, a cyclist, a hiker, and backpacker. I’ve kept reading. Years later, I became a Certified Personal Trainer and have added several supporting certifications. 

2. Make a Plan!

You need to make a plan and set goals that will affect your behaviors and lifestyle choices. Be purposeful and intentional. Schedule yourself in the gym and set goals for resistance training. I choose to set hourly and minute goal instead of volume goals. I try to spend 2-3 hours a week in my gym, stretching and lifting. I measure my cardio by hours and not miles (4-6 hours hiking or walking). 

Set a goal for the number of books that you want to read or set a goal to read so many hours per week. Buy books and put them on your bookshelf. It can be your reading que. Set a goal to listen to a certain number (or hours) of podcasts that appeal to you. 

I schedule time off each year. It’s amazing how many people never schedule a vacation. I just finished a trip to Utah for a backpacking trip. It was scheduled several months in advance.

The thing is, resiliency doesn’t just happen. You must be intentional about becoming resilient. For some people it intuitive, but not for me. I purposely and intentionally practice in behaviors and make lifestyle choices that promote my resiliency. 

3. Practice Addition and Subtraction!

Fill your life(addition) with people, places, things, and activities (behaviors and lifestyle choices) that will promote resiliency, and then get rid of (subtraction) the things that don’t. Toxins come in all shapes and forms. The same is true of resiliency promoting agents. I’ve had to leave people, foods, activities, and organizations that were not good for me. I’ve held onto those agents that were beneficial to me as if they were life preservers.

4. Be Hard on Yourself and Forgive Yourself.

Ignore your inner demons that tell you to quit working on yourself, and then forgive yourself for not being perfect. 

Years ago, I was sharing my workout regimen with a good friend. I was attending the gym 3-4 times a week, sometimes 5-6 times, sometimes for up to 2 hours each time. He responded with a caution that I was becoming addicted to working out.  I responded, not so politely, by asking him to keep his opinion to himself and that I already had to deal with my own inner demons that tempted me to stay in bed and overeat because, after all, hadn’t I just worked out, and didn’t I deserve to eat more. 

We need to be hard on ourselves and push ourselves to practice behaviors and make good lifestyle choices. 

But we also need to allow ourselves to be human and enjoy life. The truth is that we do only live once. Have a sweet. Take a morning or even a week off and recover. Waste some time doing nothing purposeful, or piddle, as I call it. A life full of regrets never promotes resiliency.

5. Enjoy the Journey!

Know this: A lifestyle that promotes resiliency is a coveted lifestyle. Aging doesn’t have to mean decline and deterioration. It can be a playful exploration, where you write your script. The lifestyle that you craft by your choices will become an exciting journey that leads to resiliency. The things that you do to promote resiliency provide a wonderful menu of activities, friends, foods, places, and experiences that will enhance your life. So, enjoy your journey.

I am going to spend several upcoming blogs providing a road map for that exciting journey.

This is part eight in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series: Grandparenting 2 Lessons I learned about Grandparenting from My Grandparents

2 Lessons I Learned About Grandparenting From My Grandparents | Healthy Aging Series: Part 10

What did you call your grandparents? I called mine ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa,’ and then use their first names when talking about them: Grandpa Jim and Grandma Louise, my maternal grandparents, and Grandpa Pat and Grandma Lulu, my paternal grandparents. 

If I asked you to recall the most vivid memory of each of your grandparents, what would it be?

Here are mine:

Grandpa Jim: taking us fishing in a creek that ran past his home in Terre Haute, Indiana. 

Grandma Louise: making cinnamon and sugar crisp. She always baked us  a cake for our birthdays. 

Grandpa Pat: riding on top of his John Deere tractor when I was elementary age.

Grandma Lula: taking me aside when I was 29-years old and telling me she had prayed us out of the Catholic Church.

Religion played an important part in my family during my formative years. My mother was raised Catholic, and my father was raised by a Pentecostal mother. My father converted to Catholicism when he married my mother. My grandmothers were always feuding about with us and each other about religion, and it seemed like the grandchildren were caught in the middle. 

My parents were practicing Catholics until I was eight years old. We left the Catholic Church due to disagreements they had with their Priest and my Catholic grandmother disowned us for five years. 

Score one for Pentecostal prayer.

During those next years, we were Lutherans, Methodists, and Unitarians, but never Pentecostal. 

Score one for open-mindedness.

 I could share more about my “faith“ development, but this is about grandparenting, not religion, even though religion and grandparenting we’re completely intertwined in my family life. Make no mistake, I learned a lot about grandparenting from my grandparents. 

What were those lessons? I want to make a point as I share these lessons. These lessons are the things I learned from MY grandparents. Many of us have very diverse experiences with grandparents. Some people were raised by their grandparents. Some people lost their grandparents when they were young children. My Grandpa Pat died when I was 13 years old. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to him as a teenager and adult. So, these are the lessons that I learned from MY grandparents.

Lesson One: Mind your own business!

Listen to me, those of you who have adult children and are anticipating or already have grandchildren! Mind your own business. 

You don’t like the politics of your grown children? Mind your own business!

You don’t like the way you’re grown children parent your grandchildren? Mind your own business! 

You don’t like the way your children spend their money? Mind your own business you don’t approve of their choices of friends, or choices of occupations, or even their choice of partners? Mind your own business! 

You don’t like the tidiness or lack of tidiness of their home and  think they should be getting along better with your other adult children, their siblings,  or they get divorced. Mind your own business. 

If you don’t approve of their choice of pets or the number of pets they have, keep your opinion and your advice to yourself. Even if you don’t approve of their choice of religion, denomination, or the church they attend, mind your own business!  

If you want to have a loving caring, nurturing, supportive relationship with your grandchildren, then accept their parents, your grown children, for who they are and mind your own business.

This includes giving unsolicited advice. Never do it! Giving unsolicited advice is a subtle form of disapproval. I always felt alienated and  the disapproval of my grandmother‘s because they disapproved of my parents’ choices.

Lesson Two: Spoil your grandchildren with your time and attention.

Hug them. Kiss them, even when they don’t like it. My older granddaughter is at that stage, but I hug her when I see her and kiss her on the forehead and tell her that I love her! My granddaughters live in another state, but I see them every three months. Before I go, I visit bookstores and other stores where I can pick up small things to make a grab bag for them. I love watching them open the grab bags. Later during my visit, I take them on a shopping spree to H&M or American Eagle, or Charlotte Russe.

I love going camping with them and their parents. We love going to a state park in Colorado called 11 Mile Lake. On my last visit we went out on the driveway and played basketball with their mother. My granddaughters have three other grandparents that are actively involved with them doing all types of things. I see them fishing with their other grandfather often on Facebook. One of their grandmothers is constantly encouraging them to go hiking with her. We all tell them that we love them, and we hug them, and spend as much time with them as we possibly can.
We all think about leaving our grandchildren money for things like college or a down payment for a house. And if we can, that’s an important form of inheritance that we can leave them.

I believe the most important things that we can leave our grandchildren are the memories and experiences we had with them.

In the business world, investors make a distinction between tangible and intangible assets and investments. Tangible investments are things like buildings and equipment. Intangible assets are things like a company‘s brand, their goodwill, and intellectual property.

In parenting and grandparenting, we can make tangible and intangible investments in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Leaving a college fund or down payment for a home or car can be helpful for our grandchildren. Those are tangible investments.

The way you make intangible investments in your grandchildren is by spoiling them with your time and attention

Making an intangible investment in your grandchildren isn’t being proud of them! It’s telling them that you’re proud of them. 

It means encouraging them to follow their bliss. It means telling them that you love them.

What did you learn about grandparenting from your grandparents? Think of ways you can learn from them. They made mistakes. We all do. I have. I hope that I’ve been a good grandparent and set an example for my granddaughters when it’s time for them to be grandparents. 

This is part ten in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Your Body is a Temple

Your Body is a Temple | Healthy Aging Series: Part 9

Part 1: My Parents

The last 10 years of my father‘s life were very difficult. He died at 82. At 72 he had quintuple coronary artery bypass surgery. Then he received an Aortobifemoral Artery Replacement. And then he needed a small section of his colon removed because of cancer

The doctor performed the heart bypass surgery gathered us around in the surgery waiting room and told us that there were signs of emphysema. This was not good. He recovered from his surgeries but over the next 10 years suffered from COPD which was caused by the emphysema. 

It would not surprise you to hear that my father was a lifelong smoker. Most of my father‘s health problems were lifestyle related. My mother fared better but her last 10 years were challenging. Mom was physically unstable. She walked to Hardee’s every morning about 2/10 of a mile. I had coffee and socialized with her peer group. I do not remember mom ever exercising. Beyond mild cardio and I never remember any resistance training. Consequently mom fell at least twice she was lucky because neither fall resulted in a hospitalization but she short suffered a shoulder injury and her face was black and blue. She also suffered from atrial fibrillation or a-fib. It can be genetic but more often it’s a lifestyle related disorder. My mom‘s instability and a-fib were due, in large part, to lack of cardio training and mobility stability training. My mother‘s death was caused by symptoms related to the a-fib. She had difficulties with it a month prior to her death. She was hospitalized and most likely contracted an opportunist virus.

I tell my clients, “You have to prepare for the last 10 years of your life.” I tell them that these are in all likelihood going to be the most difficult years of your life because those are the years that you are more vulnerable and susceptible to opportunistic illnesses and injuries related to instability and lack of mobility

Mom and dad were examples of just how important it is to take care of yourself.

Part 2: Practicing What I Preach

I’ve been very fortunate in my 40s, 50s, and now 60s. I’ve been doing the Grand Canyon since 2001 almost every year. I’ve backpacked Rim to River to Rim (R2R2R) 15 times or more.  A few years ago I did R2R2R2R2R in a period of three days. 

I can do the Incline, in Manitou Springs Colorado, a 1 mile in distance but gaining 2000 feet of elevation, in 75 minutes.

I’ve done some hellacious backpacking trips in California to include Mount Whitney the highest peak in the continental United States. I have backpacked in the Tetons in Wyoming, Canyonlands National Park in Utah, and many 14,000 foot peaks in Colorado. I’ve run several half-marathons and two marathons and countless of 5Ks, 10Ks, and 10 Miler‘s, 

I’ve ridden my Cannondale 613 across the state of Indiana, 161 miles, the day before my 55th birthday, all in one day. I rode across the Golden Gate bridge, ridden the Mount Vernon trail to DC, and along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. I’ve kayaked a 20 mile stretch of the Green River through Mammoth Cave National Park. 

I recently rebooted my interest in orienteering, and have been running through the woods. I lift weights almost every week. Tristin, my Personal trainer from my 50s asked me what I wanted for my goals and I answered: I want to be a badass at 60

I spent my 60th birthday on the top of Mount Bierstadt.

I’m not in perfect health. My kidneys don’t filter like they used to. Most likely due to taking too much ibuprofen. My thyroid doesn’t work anymore. I take level thyroxine. I’m 5 pounds heavier than I want. I walk or hike 3 to 5 miles 4-5 times a week. I still lift weights 2 to 3 times weekly I use intermittent fasting control my weight. Monday through Friday I don’t eat until noon. I avoid sugar during the week.  I limit my alcohol intake to one or two drinks daily. I like getting “Misty“ in the evenings much like Gus McCrae confessed in the novel “Lonesome Dove,” by Larry McMurtry. I think sugar is the scourge of our modern era. Did I say that I think sugar is the scourge of our modern era!  I’ll be 66 this year and I want to do a feat of strength like Jack Lalaine did every year but I’m learning to be more gentle on my body.

I take more break days. I cut back on my mileage. I’m getting older. There, I said it. When I was in my mid-50s I started to think about aging  so I concluded that I needed more information. I started reading. And I got certified as a Personal Trainer with a specially in Senior Fitness. A few years back I read everything I could about nutrition. Now I’m reading everything I can on healthy aging and fitness.

Part 3: How to Prepare for the Last Ten Years of Your Life

Here is what I’ve learn about preparing for the last ten years of your life:

1. Move!

Never stop moving! Walk, skip, jump. Lift, carry, transfer! Park as far from the entrance of the store as you can. Lift as much as you can and of course lift with your legs. Walk in the parks, walk in your neighborhood, walk after dinner, walk on walking paths, walk on trails, and of course lift weights. Do squats, do step ups, and move in any way that you possibly can! Never stop moving. 

2. Incorporate instability in your movement!

If a doctor tells you to use a cane or walker and follow those recommendations. Otherwise incorporate as much instability in your workouts as you possibly can. Walking on level streets is good but walking on unlevel surfaces is even better! I typically run into hikers doing day hikes in the Jefferson forest and see them using trekking poles. This is providing a level of stability utilizing their arms and trekking poles and upper body that is preventing their legs and lower body and core from strengthening the muscles that they need to increase their stability. The more unstable your surface the more likely that it’s going to create stability in your core and in your legs! This is very important!  I recently became a Functional Aging Specialist and this is absolutely the most current information that you can have on becoming more stable as you age.

3. Build Muscle Mass

One of the conditions that begins in mid-life that affects most people is something known as Sarcopenia. This is a loss of muscle mass. Hormonal changes in middle life, such as decreasing growth hormone, contribute to this loss of muscle mass. You can, however, counteract this process by maintaining a moderate level of resistance training and consuming an adequate amount of protein. Researchers have been studying protein supplements with and without exercise and have overwhelmingly concluded that an increase in protein supplement without exercise contributes very little muscle growth. If you want to maintain or grow muscle mass then do resistance training. It’s one way to ensure that you don’t suffer from Sarcopenia.

4. Fitness and the Brain

One of my concerns as I age is my brain. I’ve read numerous books on developing a healthy brain or maintaining a healthy brain and here’s what I’ve learned: the two more most important things that you can do are: eating lots of fruits and vegetables and exercise. It’s that simple. You maintain a healthy brain by exercise and good nutrition.

I titled this blog, Your Body is a Temple. One thing is very certain: you only have one body that is going to get you through until the day that you pass on. You have to take care of it, and you have to start taking care of it now. In a sense there should be some amount of reverence that you show towards your body. Take care of it. Nurture it. Exercise it. Ensure that it’s getting the absolute best fuel that you can give it.

Preparing for the last 10 years of your life means preparing now.

Exercise and eat well!

This is part nine in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series written by Mark Neese

Living Is Dying, Or Is It The Other Way Around? (Part 3) | Healthy Aging Series: Part 8

There is a very thin line between living and dying, in much the same way that there is a thin line between fiction and non-fiction. 

I wonder what Mom would say? 

As a Jungian-Inspired Psychotherapist, I spend time doing “shadow work.” James Hollis, a Jungian Analyst, suggests that we do this by having conversations with our diseased parents, in order to explore our Parent Complexes. In his book, “Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run Our Lives,” he asserts that we are living out the unfulfilled dreams of our parents. So, I’m curious. I talk to her and I ask her questions. 

Most of my conversations are done when I’m hiking. “What were your dreams, Mom?” I ask while hiking the Mitch McConnell Trail in the Jefferson Forest. “What did you want when you were a young woman and a young mother?” I want to ask about her father, but I don’t yet. 

I want to ask her what she thinks of me. Maybe she would ask me what I think of her, as a mother. I would listen as she recounts her joys and sorrows. I would smile as she tells me how cute I am and how I’m her little pixie. 

She would ask me questions about theology and now I listen and answer. 

I ask her what it feels like to be old, and she gives her standard answer. “I would never want to be any age other than what I am right now.” I’m convinced.

I tell her about my belief that living is dying, and she says, “Oh no Kimmer, living isn’t dying.”

I respond that we’re all dying. “I don’t know if we begin to die at birth or at fifty or sixty. But yes, we’re all dying,” I say. But in her overly-optimistic way Mom explains that some people spend their life living and some spend it dying. “Living isn’t dying, dying is living,” she says.

I don’t know if Mom ever watched “Shawshank Redemption,” but in my “shadow” talks she has. She reminds me of the quote from Red, “Get busy living or get busy dying.” 

I tell her how the boys are doing. I tell her that Harper and Sophie, her great-granddaughters, are well. I tell her that I’m happy despite the virus. I’m happy. I can tell from her voice that she is happy too. 

I tell her that I love her and that we will talk soon.

As I hang up, I still feel the warmth of her hand as she was fading in that dim hospital room. She wasn’t dying. She was living. 

And now, I’m living too. 

This is part eight in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series written by Mark Neese

Living Is Dying, Or Is It The Other Way Around? (Part 2) | Healthy Aging Series: Part 7

I was in the hospital room with my mother when she died. It was just Mom and me. Her death was a little unexpected because she had been in very good health. I honestly don’t know what caused her death. It had something to do with an infection, but maybe it was congestive heart failure. I feel a little guilty that I don’t know the exact cause. She was doing well, and then she got sick, and then, three weeks later she was gone. It wasn’t traumatic, like suicide or an accident. I would say it was peaceful, but was it really that unexpected? She was eighty-seven after all. Same with my father. He died at eighty-two. Who didn’t see that coming? He had smoked most of his life and had been diagnosed with emphysema, and later with COPD. He had been on oxygen for probably a year, maybe longer. He told us that he wanted to be cremated because the thought of being in an enclosed, confined place made him feel panicky.  Even now, my heart goes out to him.

Because I lived a hundred miles from my mother, her death feels like those videos on social media that you see when you’re scrolling through your newsfeed.  I remember it as a series of video snippets..

Snippet 1: 

I see her sitting in her recliner, watching Bill O’Reilly. She tells us she has an appointment with her doctor this week. A problem with her heartbeat, she tells us. 

Snippet 2:

I see Mom in the hospital bed. Family members gathered around. Visiting with my sons, Derrick in person and Trevor by Facetime. 

Snippet 3:

I see the southern Indiana landscape passing as I drive from Louisville to Evansville to spend time with her.

Snippet 4:

A few days before her death, I see the family gathering around her again as the doctor examines her. There is concern on everybody’s face. 

She’s moved to the hospice ward.

Snippet 5:

My oldest brother calls me on a Wednesday afternoon and tells me that Mom isn’t going to make it through the night.

Snippet 6:

I see the sign on Interstate 64 telling me that I’m now leaving the Hoosier National Forest. Later, I take the exit to Evansville.

I arrive at the hospital and enter a hospice waiting room. It’s full of siblings, nephews, and nieces. All told, Mom and Dad had over fifty grand and great-grandchildren. They were there to spend a few moments with Mom. One of my sisters suggests that I sit with Mom for a while. 

The lights in her room have been dimmed. She’s lying there, breathing peacefully. Her red hair is no longer red. No more twinkle in those blue eyes. The frail exterior belies her strong interior. She looks as if she has just completed a half-marathon. 

In that fading frame was the woman that bore 12 children, endured my father’s big ideas, to include two farms, a horse stable, and a strip club. In that frame was the dim light that guided us to adulthood. 

I sit in the chair and take my mom’s hand and I said, “Mom, it’s Kimmer, I’m her.” No one called me that but Mom. I was born Kimberly Mark Neese. For reasons that I do not want to explain, I changed my name to Mark Kimberly Neese. I spoke with Mom and Dad when I changed my name. I explained my reasons. They were so gracious. Having said that, my parents never called ‘Mark.’ It was either ‘Kimberly,’ or ‘Kimmer.”

I hold her hand and in that dimly lit room, on a cold, rainy October evening, my mother stops breathing. 

She had been there for me at my Baptism and First Communion, my two hospitalizations, and had been there to witness my older brother Timmy drag me home, half-frozen during a winter storm. 

She had been there for me to shoo away Feezoff, the hermit that lived adjacent to our property, when he accused us of shooting one of his dogs. 

She had been there for me, sitting in that theater, as we watched Sound of Music for the 5th time. 

She had been there for me, and she stayed up with me, just me, to watch the first man land on the moon. 

She had also been there to smack me for being, in her words, a brat, when I demanded that we watch something other than the coverage of Robert Kennedy’s assassination. 

She had been there for me when I enlisted in the Air Force. She had been there when I went to Bible College in Portland, Oregon. She had been there for me when I moved to Louisville to attend Seminary. And she was there for me when I divorced. 

From the very beginning, she had been there for me, even to witness my first breath.

And now, I was there for her to witness her last. 

I went to the nurse’s station and let them know that Mom was gone. I asked them to tell the rest of the family. I couldn’t. 

We gathered around her and baptized her with our tears. No one requested a prayer, because nothing could have solemnize a life that was pure.  While they prepared her body to be taken away, we gathered in the hall and began making plans for the funeral service. The sadness diminished ever so slightly as we began living our lives the way that Mom would have wanted them lived. 

In those moments, Mom was being resurrected and becoming the reference point between us and everything else.

This is part seven in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series: Part Six: Five Ways to Make Time Slow Down

Five Ways to Make Time Slow Down | Healthy Aging Series: Part 6

My wife and I were running errands the other day. We were fighting traffic on Bardstown Road and she shared some of the posts from some of her Friends on her Facebook page. Then, one of her past memories popped up from ten years ago. It was one where we had gone to Waterfront Wednesday for an outdoor concert ten years ago to see Company of Thieves. “Time flies,” I said, with a smile. It does seem to go by faster as you get older. You wake up and it’s December. Before you know it, a decade has passed. 

Disclaimer: It is scientifically impossible to slow down time, and I’m pretty certain that time moves at the same speed whether you’re twenty or sixty. So, I’m really not going to give any suggestions for actually slowing down time.

What I am going to do is give some suggestions for making time more meaningful, or making the most of the time we have. 

Your life is a tape measure.

A friend of mine told me the lesson that his father-in-law gave him about the value of the time we have left. He held out a tape measure to about 12 inches. He explained that the twelve inches represent your whole life. He then shortened it to 3 inches and said, “If you’re lucky, this is how much life you have left when your sixty.” Hold your hand out in front of you with three inches between you thumb and forefinger. Three inches, that’s it.

Making the Most of those Three Inches.

Okay, how do you make the most of the time you have left, whether it’s forty or twenty years? I’ve collected five practices that can help. 

1. Practice Reflection.

Take some time each day, preferably before you go to bed, and think about your day. Think about your actions during the day. Reflect on the people that you had contact with during the day. How did you treat them? Did you follow the Golden Rule? You ask yourself if you could have done things differently, things that happened during the day. Reflection is about self-examination and growth. How did you handle criticism during the day? Did you spend the day honoring the things that you value? Consider the emotions that you expressed during the day. Did you overreact to anyone? Did you blow things out or proportion? If so, what would you do differently next time? 

Reflect on each day’s activities, not for self-condemnation, but for self-appraisal, not for shaming yourself, but for learning lessons.

Tip: Before you go to bed this evening, find a quiet place and write a few lines in a journal about the day, successes and failures, and most important, lessons you learned. 

2. Practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the process of disconnecting from time. It is the practice of finding the meaning of the moment. You find a quiet place. It could be a corner in your home in a corner of the forest. I find that mindful-hiking helps me. I get lost in the forest and in my thoughts. I walk without thinking. Without judgment and with full acceptance, I let my ego fall silent and allow the shadow to come to consciousness. At times, I talk to my parents, who passed on years ago, and I let them speak to me from my unconscious. I dream during these times. I let my senses affect me: the bird-sounds, the musty smells, the glossy leaves, and the intermittent breezes.

Tip: Take a one-hour walk in the woods or the park by yourself. Let your mind drift. Hikers experience something called Hiker Dissociation. It’s amazing.

3. Practice Youthfulness.

We tend to take things way too seriously! I’m not sure if this is a side-effect of the PURPOSE DRIVEN LIFESTYLE that has become popular on social media. Maybe it’s because we’ve forgotten how to play. Maybe it’s because we have forgotten how to see the world the way children see the world. Alan Watts, the philosopher said, “The physical universe is basically playful. There is no necessity for it whatsoever. It isn’t going anywhere.” He rejects the idea of life being a journey and compares to dance. Dancing should be fun! Dancing is invigorating! Dancing is play! Watts’ admonition is: Don’t take life to seriously!

Tip: Take some time today and be playful. Turn on some music and dance. And sing. Try to see things that way a child would see them. 

4. Practice Gratitude.

The Stoics used a practice called Negative Visualization. It involved visualizing your life without the things that you value, like your health, wealth, or family. “All things human,” Seneca reminds us, “are short-lived and perishable.” Negative visualization is a for of gratitude. Its ultimate goal is to help us value the things we have and the people in our lives by imagining what our lives would be like without them. It teaches us to have gratitude for what we have. We stop wanting more and teaches us to value the things that we already have. It teaches us the meaning of a goodbye kiss, knowing that it could be the last. Practicing gratitude forces you to stop and think about what you have now.

Tip: Take some time today and imagine your life without someone or without something that you value in your life. Take this very slow and ponder on it for an extended period. 

5. Practice Flexibility.

One of the slogans that I live my life by is You have to adjust to the things that won’t adjust to you. Life will always throw you a curve ball. No matter how hard you plan things, sooner or later, those plans are going to have obstacles. Being flexible means living life on life’s terms. I can go on and on, but you get my point. Rigid people are always frustrated because rarely do things turn out the way they expected. Maybe, being flexible means lowering your expectations of people, places, and things. It insures that you’ll rarely be disappointed with the mundane events that make up our day to day existence. 

Tip:  The next time you get frustrated about something not going the way you planned, take a few minutes and breath. Tell yourself, I can’t control people, places, and things; I can control my expectations.

This is part six in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

Healthy Aging Series: Part Five

Living Is Dying, Or Is It The Other Way Around? | Healthy Aging Series: Part 5

The first dead person I saw was my Grandpa Pat. I was thirteen-years old. He was sixty-nine. 

We walked past his open casket after the Pentecostal minister preached about heaven and hellfire. He had heard it a thousand times before, mostly from Grandma. Grandpa was unmoved. 

As I grew older, I learned that old people die. The next person in my life to to die was my Grandma Louise. She was sixty-four when she died from colon cancer. Grandpa Jim died at eighty from a stroke. The same for Grandma Lulu. 

Then my sons’ grandparents began dying. Grandpa Al died from a heart attack at seventy. Grandma Barb died at eighty from congestive heart failure. My father died at eighty-two from COPD. And Mom, Grandma Betty, died at eighty-seven from some kind of systemic infection. Old people die. In fact, all people die. 

No matter how healthy you are, no matter how well you prepare for your later years, no matter how much money you have, no matter who you know, no matter what kind of life you’ve lived, you will eventually die.

The issue isn’t if you’re going to die, but how you’re going to die, and by that I don’t mean which illness will you succumb to. I mean, how will you emotionally and psychologically handle the process of dying. How will your death and dying affect others? How well will you divest from this life 

As a psychotherapist, I often say to my clients. “You die the way you lived.” If you were a generous person in the years leading up to your death, you die a generous person. If you were a comforting and reassuring person, you will die that way.  Of course, this does not apply to the people that suffer from various forms of Dementia, Alzheimer, or other neuro-cognitive disorders. 

People that struggle with living, with the thought of dying and letting go, also struggle with dying. 

Jimmy Carter knew about dying because he knew about living. In his book, “The Virtues of Aging,” he answers the question that he was often asked: What have been the best years of  your life? 

Now is the best of all,” was his answer. He has lived a full life. He’s ninety-six years old as I write this. If you consider the word ‘dying’ as synonymous with ‘aging,’ he is dying well.

Betty Neese, My Mom

My mom’s favorite word was ‘serendipity.’ “What a nice serendipity,” she would say when we visited unannounced. I’m sure she saw her death as a serendipity. 

Mom was happy, healthy, and non-judgmental most of her life. She was always learning new things and was conversant on almost any topic. She practiced the Golden Rule. She wanted to know what I had been doing since our last visit. I rarely heard her complain, except to hear how she missed my father. 

My mother died well, because she lived well. Living is Dying. 

The evening that she died, I stayed the night in her very small apartment at the senior-living complex. I slept in her bed. The next morning I explored her bookshelves. I looked around the sparse apartment. She didn’t have much. She had already let go of the things that most of us value. I gathered a few books and left.

I remember her memorial service vividly. I was asked to deliver the eulogy, the good words. I talked about all the difficulties that Mom had experienced, including the loss of three children and banishment by her mother for leaving the Catholic Church. I traced Mom’s footprints through her religious journey. I reminded my siblings that Mom (and Dad) loved us all despite our mistakes and bickering. We used to joke about Mom and her Bubble. Very little seemed to shake her. I concluded and said, “Mom didn’t let stupid shit rob her of her peace and joy.” 

Now, I think, we envy her. 

This is part five in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.

racial profiling

Racial Profiling and Our Youth

Time to Wake Up! Protecting our Black Youth from Racial Profiling

Racial profiling is a longstanding and deeply troubling national problem despite claims that the United States has entered a “post-racial era.” It occurs every day, in cities and towns across the country, when law enforcement and private security target people of color for humiliating and often frightening detentions, interrogations, and searches without evidence of criminal activity and based on perceived race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. Racial profiling is patently illegal, violating the U.S. Constitution’s core promises of equal protection under the law to all and freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures.” –ACLU

I grieve for George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Few of us can imagine the horror that they experienced in those last moments as they were murdered by the people who took an oath to serve and protect them. I grieve and I am disgusted. I want to do something!

As a Social Worker and owner of an agency that focuses on serving and protecting our black youth, I believe that I have been sleepwalking. Most of us have. I hear stories and read accounts of young black men being stopped and handcuffed for bogus traffic stops simply because they were black. Our young black men in our community do not feel safe! They live in constant fear of being stopped by the police. Imagine, if you can, how oppressive that is. It is emotional abuse! The young black men that I work with suffer from this oppressive fear. They feel it every day as that they walk into or drive into the community.

The fear of racial profiling is traumatizing our black youth, and we must wake up and reignite the passion that will end it once and forever.

Here’s an important name: Tae-Ahn Lea. Tae-Ahn was the teenager that was stopped in June of 2019 (a year ago) and detained in handcuffs while his car was searched for 1 ½ hours for drugs. He is suing the Police Department. Here is part of that document:

“Tae-Ahn Lea is an honors graduate from Central High School. He was the homecoming king, has no criminal history and upon graduation became employed with a well-respected local car dealership. Tae-Ahn, however, also happens to be black, live in a low-income neighborhood, and drive his mother’s fairly new vehicle. He was thus the perfect target for members of the Ninth Mobile Division of the Louisville Metro Police Department who, throughout the past two years in Louisville, have employed a discriminatory, prejudicial, and illegal stop and frisk practice in which “violent crimes” units use traffic stops as a pretext for pulling over young black men driving nice cars, handcuffing them and subjecting them to abusive, racist, and intrusive searches without consent, good cause, or reasonable suspicion of any criminal activity.”

Time to wake up! Time to do something! Young black men in our community need our help! They need my help. As an agency, we will be investing time, work, and money to stop this illegal practice! We cannot do everything, but we can do something! It’s time to be a change agent! It’s time to end racial profiling!

Join us!

out of the darkness

Out of the Darkness

Hank Buckwalter, his wife, Chelsea, and Rommie and I participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk this past weekend at Waterfront Park.

It can be emotionally overwhelming to be in a gathering of people that are celebrating the lives and passing of their loved ones. I listened as the “Honor Beads” were given to the family members and friends of those who had taken their lives. They celebrated these beautiful humans that saw only one solution to the pain they were experiencing.

I lost a friend of 47 years this year to suicide. He was in a lot of pain. At his memorial service, an acquaintance commented, “I can’t believe Jeff took his own life.” I forgive him for his insensitivity. As much as I miss Jeff, our laughs, our High School pranks, our wonderful conversations on his deck near Hikes Point, I understand why he took his own life. He was in pain.

I struggle with the legality and morality of suicide.  Having said that, I will do everything in my clinical and personal power to prevent others from taking their own lives.

People need hope and when they lose hope

 they see very few solutions to their problems.

I wrote a blog a year ago about hope. Here is what I said:

People come to therapy because they have feelings of hopelessness. As a young therapist, I was inspired by Moltmann’s admonition, to be an instrument of hope. At the very heart of therapy is the goal of helping people find hope, because without it they cannot live. I believe that hopeful people inspire hopefulness in others. A hopeful therapist has many tools and strategies for helping people, but most important they inspire hopefulness. I believe they infect people with their hopefulness. They engage in a Therapy of Hope.

If you have thoughts of suicide, even fleeting thoughts, contact a therapist. We have included the suicide hotline number on our website. Call it and make an appointment. In Kentucky, all therapists are required to take a workshop every three years on suicide prevention. Make the call.

After the walk this past Saturday, Hank and Chelsea, and Rommie and I went to First Watch and had breakfast together. We reverently celebrated life.

2 or 3 pounds a year

The 2 or 3 Pounds a Year Club

It doesn’t sound like much: 2 or 3 pounds a year. But in ten years you’ve added 20 pounds. In 20 years, you’ve added 40 or 50 pounds, even 60. 

I’ve had a membership in this club and, unfortunately, I put on 25 extra pounds in 8 years. 

Many, many Americans are members of this club. To be precise, 160 million. That’s how many Americans are overweight or obese.

I apologize for my insensitivity. This is not a club. 

For many, it’s a prison. It’s a life of hopelessness.

Most of this added weight comes from added sugar. I have used the word “insidious” to describe the effect that sugar is having on America and its children. Everywhere I look, people are carrying many, many extra pounds of adipose tissue (fat). They were fit and lean in their twenties and thirty years later they struggle with a high body mass index. I’m noticing it with children as well

Do you want to cancel your membership to the “2 to 3-Pounds-a-Year-Club?” Then you’ve got to do something different.  Alcoholics Anonymous warns us about doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. We are reminded that they call this insanity. 

Two Options for Getting out of the Insanity Club

First, hire a personal trainer that can help you put together an exercise and nutrition plan. Make sure they are certified. I’m certified with the American Counsel for Exercise (ACE) and I believe that this is the best program because it initially focuses on stability and mobility.

You can find them at most fitness facilities, or you can hire them individually. Simply google ‘personal trainers’ in the city where you live.

I practice the Paleo Diet (and lifestyle) and believe that it’s the most nutritious. It also addresses the sugar problem. Make sure your trainer has a certification in nutrition and expect that they will be able to give good information and guidance (within their scope of practice) about nutrition. 

Your second option is to be your own trainer and nutritionist. If you choose this option, you’re going to need some help changing the status quo in your life. Think, KISS. Think “exercise and fitness for dummies.” 

I’ve selected three books with simplicity and comprehensiveness in mind. All are in the “Dummies” series of books. 

Fitness Walking For Dummies,” by Liz Neporent.

Weight Training For Dummies,” 4th Edition, by LaReine Chabut, Liz Neporent, and Suzanne Scholsberg.

Paleo All-in-One for Dummies,” by Patrick Flynn, Adriana Harlan, Melissa Joulwan, and Dr. Kellyann Petrucci.

I’ve chosen these books for two reasons:

If you put together an exercise, it needs to include moderate-intensity cardio and resistance training. The first book helps with the cardio and the second book helps with resistance training.

If you put together a nutrition plan, it needs to help you get the added sugar out of your life. I believe that the Paleo Diet accomplishes this.

One additional suggestion: find a coach. Find someone that can help you stick with the plan. This could be a workout buddy, a spouse, or a Certified Health Coach (they do exist). 

It’s time to get out of the 2 to 3-Pound-a-Year-Club or Insanity Club and start preparing for the next ten years of your life. 


In viewing this website (and blog), it is assumed that you understand and acknowledge that the services and information, provided by True North Counseling, LLC may involve recommendation to improve your general health, fitness and well-being, including nutrition/diet advice and suggestions for physical activity.  In accepting this information, understand that it is under your best discretion to be respectful to your body when engaging in physical activity and/or changing dietary habits. It is recommended to consult with your primary physician before starting any new/recent exercise or eating routine and to get annual check-ups to assess current health and fitness status. Do not overlook the importance of having a team-approach when health is involved. Regular visits with both your physician and registered dietitian will allow you to create the best possible, balanced approach in meeting health and performance/fitness goals.