We are pleased to bring you this regular column by Dr. David Creel, a licensed psychologist, certified clinical exercise physiologist and registered dietitian. He is also credentialed as a certified diabetes educator and the author of A Size That Fits: Lose Weight and Keep it off, One Thought at a Time (NorLightsPress, 2017). See all of David Creel’s articles here.
Do you have a weight loss question for Dr. Creel? Email him at [email protected]. He may answer your question in a future column.
When you’ve failed at weight loss many times, your desire to change can turn into something that seems like motivation but isn’t. Loretta’s story is a good example.
Loretta showed up 15 minutes late for her psychological evaluation for bariatric surgery. I knew little about her aside from the information in her medical records. In her chart, I found that Loretta weighed well over 400 pounds and had diabetes, sleep apnea, arthritis, and low back pain. She checked the African American box on her intake form, and I noticed her address was in the middle of a crime-ridden part of a nearby city. When I met her in the waiting room she rocked backward and then forward while pushing on the arms of the chair in order to get to her feet. She groaned and grimaced with pain while walking with me to my office, barely acknowledging my introduction. She didn’t apologize for being late and seemed uninterested in small talk about weather or traffic. After we sat down, I explained the purpose of the required evaluation was to make sure surgery was a good fit for her, and if so, determine what things she could do to best prepare for the operation.
As Loretta began telling me about herself, it was clear our lives were only similar in the sense that we were both raised without much direct influence from other cultures and races. Her urban speech patterns were unlike mine, and her life was riddled by poverty and family members incarcerated or addicted to drugs. She casually admitted to having a drug problem in the not-so-distant past. On the other hand, I grew up in a Mayberry-like small town insulated from most of the problems found in inner cities.
Although I’ve tried to educate myself about other cultures and interact with people different from me, I can’t change the color of my skin or how I grew up. I could not simply, without invitation, step into Loretta’s world and understand her life. Our differences were important to her and she didn’t want to talk about the thing that was most personal to her—her weight—with someone like me. How could I blame her? After all, it’s hard enough to talk about personal struggles with someone who understands where you come from. Revealing these things to a stranger from a different culture and race adds to the difficulty.
I listened intently to Loretta and paid close attention to her body language. Although I tried hard to connect, she spoke to me with distrust, answering my questions with curt frustration. She was holding her cards close to her chest, afraid if I got a glimpse I’d take advantage of her. She feared I would win the game and taunt her with condescending psychobabble. Like many patients in this situation, she probably believed I’d use her words against her when it came to deciding if she was an appropriate candidate for surgery.
My attempts to convince her we were “on the same team” and I wanted to help did not resonate. I had real concerns that her lack of a support system, combined with financial hardships, would cause problems for her after surgery. Would she be able to afford the vitamins she needed to take daily for the rest of her life? When she couldn’t use food to cope with life difficulties would she turn to drugs again? Although she couldn’t see it, surgery could make her life worse if she wasn’t ready and equipped to make the necessary changes. As I continued to probe about how she would manage various aspects of her life after surgery, she stopped me.
“I don’t like where this is going.”
I put down my pen and stopped taking notes. “What are you concerned about?”
“I want to change my life.”
“How do you want your life to be different?” I asked, as our eyes finally connected.
Her expression softened and her eyes welled with tears. Like the small movement from the torque on a lid of a never-opened jar, I could sense something was about to give way. At that moment I didn’t notice her body that 30 minutes earlier had fallen into the oversized chair, out of breath from walking to my office. I didn’t notice her skin tone or the fullness of her face. Our age difference and dissimilar upbringings were insignificant. I just looked into her eyes and felt the gap between us closing. In a strained, high-pitch voice required to delay an ensuing sob, she quickly exclaimed,
“I can’t even wipe my own ass anymore.”
I didn’t know what to say. There it was, one of the most personal and embarrassing aspects of her life, out in the open. In those few words, she ripped through the veil I’d been tugging at the entire session. But I wasn’t ready for it; I could no longer sustain eye contact. It was like I accidentally saw her naked and was sorry I embarrassed her. As I felt the weight of her troubles, compassion stole my words. I looked down, nodding my head.
“I can only imagine how that makes you feel,” I said, after a long pause.
Her size had robbed her of her dignity. She was angry. As we continued talking, I learned she had been this size for quite some time. She depended on her husband to prepare food and help her dress, bathe, and get into and out of her car. It seemed illogical that up to the point of seeking bariatric surgery, she had done little to change course. How could it be that Loretta, like many other people, hated her situation so much, wanted to change, yet seemingly did nothing about it for so long?
Clearly, Loretta wanted to lose weight. In fact, she told me she’d wanted to lose weight for a very long time. Despite her desire for a different life, I imagine she had misguided family members who said, “When she wants it bad enough, she’ll do it.”
But Loretta’s problem wasn’t lack of desire. She had a strong desire to lose weight, but she wasn’t motivated: Loretta was desperate. A simple comparison will help explain what I mean.
Imagine you’re stranded on an island by yourself. You have sources for food, water, and primitive shelter. You’re happy to be alive, but also desperate to leave the island, interact with other humans, and enjoy a hot shower. Month after grueling month you try everything to escape the island—sort of like the old TV show Gilligan’s Island. After years of failed attempts, you still want to leave, but you’ve given up hope. Deep down you believe nothing will work—and you’re losing motivation. Any new idea to get off the island leads to a half-hearted pursuit before giving up. You’re so demoralized that you can no longer tell the difference between good ideas and dead ends—they all seem alike.
This is the point Loretta reached with weight management. Someone told her about bariatric surgery and she felt so desperate she made an appointment. She wanted to lose weight, had many good reasons to change, but wasn’t motivated. Our conversation revealed that, to her, bariatric surgery was no different than the grapefruit diet, the cold shower and potato diet, or having her mouth wired shut. In her desperation she hadn’t considered how this procedure was different than everything else she had tried.
Because of her perspective, she wasn’t ready to do the work required to be successful with bariatric surgery. When we offered to help Loretta prepare for surgery by changing her diet and beginning a modest physical activity program, she seemingly lost interest. Maybe over time she became motivated and pursued help elsewhere. Perhaps she’s still on her island—I hope not.
Desperation occurs at the intersection of hopelessness and motivation. We want to change, but have lost hope. We consider drastic efforts without truly believing they’ll lead to success, and after a while the drive to change begins to fade away.
Desperation can lead to motivation, but not always. Desperation can also rob us of clear thinking and make us vulnerable to things that will harm us, while safer solutions rest quietly within our reach. Many times people repeat the old saying: “You have to hit rock bottom before you can change.” In other words, life has to get really bad before we’re desperate enough to make changes. This can be true for weight loss, and sometimes it works, but it only works if someone will help you out of the mire and offer a safe, realistic plan. Even then, you must accept the help, believe in the plan, and do your part to make it happen. Otherwise, desperation usually leads to taking whatever someone will give you and hoping things will miraculously work out.
Come back each week for more healthy weight loss advice from Dr. David Creel.
[Editor’s note: Arthur Schlesinger Jr.’s “Joe College Is Dead” was first published in the September 21, 1968, edition of the Post. We republish it here as part of our 50th anniversary commemoration of the Summer of Love. Scroll to the bottom to see this story as it appeared in the magazine.]
Throughout our history, our sons and daughters have been the bearers of our aspirations, commissioned by birth to fulfill our dreams. Today, more than ever before in any country, the indispensable climax of the children’s preparation — and the parents’ hope — is college. “Going to college” is now considered the key to life — the key not only to intellectual training but to social status and economic success.
The United States today has nearly 6 million college students — 46 percent of all young people from 18 to 21. By 1970 we are expected to have 7.5 million — which means that our student population will have more than doubled in the single decade of the ’60s. Yet, the more college students we have, the more baffling they seem to become. For years, adults saw college life in a panorama of reassuring images, derived from their own sentimental memories (or from the movies) — big men on campus, fraternities and sororities, junior proms, goldfish swallowing, panty raids, winning one for the Gipper, tearing down goalposts after the Big Game, homecoming. College represented the “best years of life,” a time of innocent frivolity and high jinks regarded by the old with easy indulgence. But the familiar stereotypes don’t work anymore. The new undergraduate seems a strange, even a menacing, phenomenon, consumed with mysterious resentments, committed to frenetic agitations.
Many adults look on college students today as spoiled and ungrateful kids who don’t know how lucky they are to be born in the greatest country on earth. Even men long identified with liberal views find the new undergraduate, in his extreme manifestations, almost unbearable. The hard-working student, Vice President Hubert Humphrey tells us, “is being replaced on our living-room televisions by the shouter of obscenities and hate.” President Nathan M. Pusey of Harvard speaks of “Walter Mittys of the left … [who] play at being revolutionaries and fancy themselves rising to positions of command atop the debris as the structures of society come crashing down.” George F. Kennan talks of “banners and epithets and obscenities and virtually meaningless slogans … screaming tantrums and brawling in the streets.” Yet the very magnitude of student discontent makes it hard to blame the trouble on individual malcontents and neurotics. A society that produces such an angry reaction among so many of its young people perhaps has some questions to ask itself.
Obviously most of today’s students came to college to prepare themselves to earn a living. Most still have the same political and economic views as their parents. Most, until 1968, supported military escalation in Vietnam. Most believe safely in God, law and order, the Republican and Democratic parties, and the capitalist system. Some may even tear down goalposts and swallow goldfish, if only to keep their parents happy.
Yet something sets these students apart from their elders — both in the United States and in much of the developed world. For this college generation has grown up in an era when the rate of social change has been faster than ever before. This constant acceleration in the velocity of history means that lives alter with startling and irresistible rapidity, that inherited ideas and institutions live in constant jeopardy of technological obsolescence. For an older generation, change was still something of a historical abstraction, dramatized in occasional spectacular innovations, like the automobile or the airplane; it was not a daily threat to identity. For our children, it is the vivid, continuous, overpowering fact of everyday life, suffusing every moment with tension and therefore, for the sensitive, intensifying the individual search for identity and meaning. The very indispensability of a college education for success in life compounds the tension; one has only to watch high-school seniors worrying about the fate of their college applications.
Nor does one have to be a devout McLuhanite to accept Marshall McLuhan’s emphasis on the fact that this is the first generation to have grown up in the electronic epoch. Television affects our children by its rapid and early communication to them of styles and possibilities of life, as well as by its horrid relish of crime and cruelty. But it affects the young far more fundamentally by creating new modes of perception. What McLuhan has called “the instantaneous world of electric informational media” alters basically the way people perceive their experience. Where print culture gave experience a frame, McLuhan has argued, providing it with a logical sequence and a sense of distance, electronic communication is simultaneous and collective; it “involves all of us all at once.” This is why the children of the television age differ more from their parents than their parents differed from their own fathers and mothers. Both older generations, after all, were nurtured in the same typographical culture.
Another factor distinguishes this generation — its affluence. The postwar rise in college enrollment in America, it should be noted, comes not from any dramatic increase in the number of youngsters from poor families but from sweeping in the remaining children of the middle class. And for these sons and daughters of the comfortable, status and affluence are, in the words of student radical leader Tom Hayden, “facts of life, not goals to be striven for.” This puts many students in a position to resist economic pressures to buckle down and conform. As another radical has written, “Our minds have been let loose to try to fill up the meaning that used to be filled by economic necessity.”
The velocity of history, the electronic revolution, the affluent society — these have given today’s college students a distinctive outlook on the world. And a fourth fact must not be forgotten: that this generation has grown up in an age of chronic violence. My generation has been through depressions, crime waves, riots and wars; but for us episodes of violence remain abnormalities. For the young, the environment of violence has become normal. They are the first generation of the nuclear age — the children of Hiroshima. The United States has been at war as long as many of them can remember — and the Vietnam war has been a particularly brutalizing war. Most students have come to feel that the insensate destruction we have wrought in a rural Asian country 10,000 miles away has far outrun any rational assessment of our national interest. Within the United States, moreover, they have lived with the possibility, as long as many of them can remember, of violence provoked by racial injustice. Even casual crime has acquired a new dimension. Some have never known a time when it was safe to walk down the streets of their home city at night. Above all, they have seen the assassinations of three men who embodied the idealism of American life. The impact of this can hardly be overstated. And — let us face it — our national reaction to these horrors has only strengthened their disenchantment: brief remorse followed by business as usual and the National Rifle Association triumphant.
The combination of these factors has given the young both an immediacy of involvement in society and a sense of their individual helplessness in the face of the social juggernaut. The highly organized modern state undermines their feelings of personal identity by threatening to turn them all into interchangeable numbers on IBM cards. Contemporary industrial democracies stifle identity in one way, Communist states in another, but the sense of impotence is all-pervasive among the young. So too, therefore, is the desperate passion to reestablish identity and potency by assaults upon the system.
Such factors have set off the guerrilla warfare of students against the existing structures of society not only in the United States but throughout the developed world. (Student unrest in underdeveloped countries is more predictable and has different sources.) Uprisings at Berkeley and Columbia are paralleled by uprisings at the Sorbonne and Nanterre, in the universities of England and Italy, in Spain and Yugoslavia and Poland, in Brazil and Japan and China. Every country can offer local grievances to detonate local revolts. But these are only the pretexts for the rebellion. They are the visible symbols for what the young perceive as the deeper absurdity and depravity of their societies.
American undergraduates first fixed on racial injustice as the emblem of a corrupt society. But in the last two years, resistance to the draft has provided a main outlet for undergraduate revolt.
Until very recently, most college students supported the war in Vietnam — so long as other young men were fighting it. It used to exasperate Robert Kennedy when he asked college audiences in 1966 and 1967 what they thought we should do in Vietnam — hands waving for escalation — and then asked what they thought of student deferment — the same hands waving for a safe haven for themselves. At last, as the draft began to cut deeper, the colleges began to think about the war; and the more they thought about it, the less sense it made.
No one should underestimate the magnitude of this new anti-draft feeling. In 1968, I have not encountered a single student who still supports military escalation in Vietnam. Not all students who hate the war burn draft cards or flee to Canada. Many — and this may be as courageous a position as that of defiance — feel, after conscientious consideration, that they must respect laws with which they disagree, so long as the means to change these laws remain unimpaired. Yet even they regard with sympathy their friends who choose to resist. One who is himself prepared to go to Vietnam said to me, “Every student wants to avoid the draft. Every student, realizing that the method to this end is very individual, respects any method that works — or attempts that do not.”
The anti-draft revolt somewhat diminished this year after President Johnson’s March 31st speech, the Paris negotiations and the McCarthy and Kennedy campaigns. But it will resume, and with new ferocity, if the next President intensifies the war. In April, The New York Times carried a four-page advertisement headed: “We, Presidents of Student Government and Editors of campus newspapers at more than 500 American colleges, believe that we should not be forced to fight in the Vietnam war because the Vietnam war is unjust and immoral.” In June, a hundred former presidents of college student bodies joined campus editors to declare, “We publicly and collectively express our intention to refuse induction and to aid and support those who decide to refuse. We will not serve in the military as long as the war in Vietnam continues.”
However, if we Americans blame the trouble on the campuses just on the war (or, to take another popular theory, on permissive ideas about childrearing), we will not understand the reasons for turbulence. After all, the students of Paris were not rioting against a government that threatened to conscript them for a war in Vietnam; nor are the students of Poland, Spain, and Japan in revolt because their parents were devotees of Dr. Spock. The disquietude goes deeper, and it was well explained by, of all people, Charles de Gaulle. The “anguish of the young,” the old general said after his own troubles in June with French students, was “infinitely” natural in the mechanical society, the modern consumer society, because it does not offer them what they need, that is, an ideal, an impetus, a hope, and I think that ideal, that impetus, and that hope, they can and must find in participation.
Not every American student exemplifies this anguish. It appears, for example, more in large colleges than in small, more in good colleges than in bad, more in urban colleges than in rural, more in private and state than in denominational institutions, more in the humanities and social sciences than in the physical and technological sciences, more among bright than among mediocre students. Yet, as anyone who lectures on the college circuit can testify, the anguish has penetrated surprisingly widely — among chemists, engineers, Young Republicans, football players, and into those last strongholds of the received truth, the Catholic and fundamentalist colleges.
How to define this anguish? It begins with the students’ profound dislike for the impersonal society that produced them. The world, as it roars down on them, seems about to suppress their individualities and computerize their futures. They call it, if they vaguely accept it, “the rat race,” or, if they resist it, “The System” or “The Establishment.” They see it as a conspiracy against idealism in society and identity in themselves. An outburst on a recent Public Broadcast Laboratory program conveys the flavor. The System, one student said, hits at me through every single thing it does. It hits at me because it tells me what kind of a person I can be, that I have to wear shoes all the time, which I don’t have on right now. … It hits at me in every single way. It tells me what I have to do with my life. It tells me what kind of thoughts I can think. It tells me everything.
Another student added, with rhetorical bravado, “Regardless of what your alternatives are, until you destroy this system, you aren’t going to be able to create anything.”
The more typical expression of this mood is private and quiet. It takes the form of an unassuming but resolute passion to seize control of one’s own future. My generation had the illusion that man made himself through his opportunities (Franklin D. Roosevelt); but this era has imposed on our children the belief that man makes himself through his choices (Jean-Paul Sartre). They now want, with a terrible urgency, to give their own choices transcendental meaning. They have moved beyond the Bohemian self-indulgence of a decade ago — Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. “We do not feel like a cool swinging generation,” a Radcliffe senior said this year in a commencement prayer. “We are eaten up by an intensity that we cannot name. Somehow this year, more than others, we have had to draw lines, to try to find an absolute right with which we could identify ourselves. First in the face of the daily killings and draft calls … then with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Senator Kennedy.”
The contemporary student generation can see nothing better than to act on impulses of truth: “Ici, on sponlane,” as a French student wrote on the walls of his college during the Paris insurgency. They are going to tell it, as they say, like it is, to reject the established complacencies and hypocrisies of their inherited existence. One student said to me:
Basically, the concept of this “do your thing” bit, as ludicrous as it sounds, may be the key to the matter. What it means is similar to Mill’s On Liberty because it allows anybody to do what he wants to do as long as it does not intrude on anyone else’s liberty. Therefore, nobody tries to impose anything on anybody, nor do they not accept a Negro, a hippie, a clubby, etc. I really believe that today we see beyond superficial appearances and thus, in the end, will have a society of very divergent styles, but it will be successfully integrated into a really viable whole. . . . We test out old thoughts and customs and either dispose of them or retain them according to their merits.
Along with this comes an insistence on openness and authenticity in personal relationships. A 1968 graduate — a girl — puts it clearly:
I think in personal conduct people admire the ability to be vulnerable. That takes a certain amount of strength, but it is the only thing which makes honesty and openness possible. It means you say the truth and somehow leave open a part of your way of thinking. Of course, you cannot be vulnerable with everyone or you would destroy yourself — but it is the willingness to be open, not just California-cheerful open, which is almost a mask since it is on all the time, and therefore cannot be truthful. It is a little deeper than that. … It means being strong enough to reveal your weaknesses. This willingness to be vulnerable — and those you are vulnerable with are your friends — coupled with ability to be resilient, to be strong but supple, those are good qualities, because inherent in them are honesty and humor, and the good capacity to love.
This is the ethos of the young — a commitment not to abstract pieties but to concrete and immediate acts of integrity. It leads to a desire to prove oneself by action and participation — whether in the Peace Corps and VISTA or in the trials of everyday existence. The young prefer performance to platitude. The self-serving rhetoric of our society bores and exasperates them, and those who live by this rhetoric — e.g., their parents — lose their respect.
It is understandably difficult for parents, who have worked hard for their children and their communities, to see themselves as smug and hypocritical. But it is also understandable that the children of the ’60s should have grown sensitive to the gap between what their parents say their values are and what (as the young see it) their values really are. The gap has been made vivid in the way the land of freedom and equality so long and unthinkingly condemned the Negro to tenth-class citizenship. “It is quite right that the young should talk about us as hypocrites,” Judge Charles E. Wyzanski Jr. recently said at Lake Forest College. “We are.”
And more often than they know, parents themselves unconsciously reveal to their children a cynicism about the system or a disgust for it. Every father who bewails the tensions of the competitive, acquisitive life, who says he “lives for the weekend,” who conveys to his children the sense that his life is unfulfilled — they are all, as Prof. Kenneth Keniston of Yale has put it, “unwittingly engaged in social criticism.” Sometimes these frustrated parents find compensation in the rebellion of their young. There is even what one observer has described as the “my son, the revolutionary” reaction of proud parents, like the mother of Mark Rudd, the Columbia student firebrand who emerged in the spring of 1968 as the Che Guevara of Morningside Heights.
Today’s students are not generally mad at their parents. Often they regard their father and mother with a certain compassion as victims of the system that they themselves are determined to resist. In many cases — and this is even true of the militant students — they are only applying the values that their parents affirmed; they are not rebelling against their parents’ attitudes but extending them. Revolt against parents is no longer a big issue. There is so little to revolt against. Seventy-five years ago parents had unquestioning confidence in a set of rather stern values. They knew what was right and what was wrong. Contemporary parents themselves have been swept along too much by the speed-up of modern life to be sure of anything. They may be square, but they are generally too doubtful and diffident to impose their squareness on their children.
Parents today are not so much intrusive as irrelevant. Mike Nichols caught one student’s-eye view of his elders beautifully in The Graduate, with his portrait, so cherished by college students today, of a shy young man freaked out by the surrounding world of towering, braying, pathetic adults. A girl who finished college last June sums it up:
People like their parents as long as their parents do not interfere a whole lot, putting pressure on choice of careers, grades, personal life. … I think freshmen tend to discuss and dislike their parents more than seniors. By then, supposedly, you have some distance on them, and you can afford to be amused or affectionate about them. For instance, if your parents are for Reagan or were for Goldwater, you know the space between you and them on it, and the impossibility of crossing it, so you let them go their imbecilic way and stand back amused. Other people say that they really like their parents. But nobody wants to go back home. For any length of time, it is usually a bad trip.
One student even looks forward to an ultimate “communion of interests” between today’s students and their parents, only “with the younger half having gone through more (which may be necessary in this more complicated, difficult, tense, scary world) to get to the same place.”
No, the boys and girls of the 1960s, unlike the heroes and heroines of Dreiser, Lewis, Fitzgerald and Wolfe, are not targeted against their parents. Their determination is to reject the set of impersonal institutions — the “structures”— which also victimize their parents. And the most convenient “structure” for them to reject is inevitably the college in which they live. In doing so, they construct plausible academic reasons to justify their rejection — classes too large, professors too inaccessible, curricula too rigid, and so on. One wonders, though, whether educational reform is the real reason for student self-assertion, or just a handy one. One sometimes suspects that the fashionable cry against Clark Kerr’s “multiversity” is a pretext, and one doubts whether students today would really prefer to sit on a log with Mark Hopkins.
This does not mean that “student power” is a fake issue. But the students’ object is only incidentally educational reform. Their essential purpose is to show the authorities that they exist as human beings and, through a democratization of the colleges, to increase control of their lives. For one of the oddities about the American system is the fact that American higher education, that extraordinary force for the modernization of society, has never modernized itself. Harold Howe II, the federal Commissioner of Education, has pointed out that “professors who live in the realm of higher education and largely control it are boldly reshaping the world outside the campus gates while neglecting to make corresponding changes to the world within.” Students cannot understand “why university professors who are responsible for the reach into space, for splitting the atom, and for the interpretation of man’s journey on earth seem unable to find the way to make the university pertinent to their lives.”
An “academic revolution” has taken place in recent years; but in some senses it has only made the problem worse. As analyzed by David Riesman and Christopher Jencks in their recent book by that name, it involves the increasing domination of undergraduate education by the methods and values of graduate education. Many professors are more concerned with colleagues than with students, thus increasing the undergraduate longing, in the words of Riesman and Jencks, for “a sense that an adult takes them seriously, and indeed that they have some kind of power over adults which at least partially offsets the power adults obviously have over them.”
Academic government, in most cases, is strictly autocratic. Some colleges still operate according to rules appropriate to the boys’ academies that most of our colleges essentially were in the early 19th century. A Harvard professor, modifying a famous phrase, once described his institution as “a despotism not tempered by the fear of assassination.” As a Columbia student recently put it, “American colleges and universities (with a few exceptions, such as Antioch) are about as democratic as Saudi Arabia.” The students at Columbia, he adds, were “simply fighting for what Americans fought for two centuries ago — the right to govern themselves.”
What does this right imply? At Berkeley students boldly advocated the principle of cogobierno — joint government by students and faculties. This principle has effectively ruined the universities of Latin America, and no sensible person would wish to apply it to the United States. However, many forms of student participation are conceivable short of cogobierno — student membership, for example, on boards of trustees, student control of discipline, housing and other nonacademic matters, student consultation on curriculum and examinations. These student demands may he novel, but they are hardly unreasonable. Yet most college administrations for years have rejected them with about as much consideration as Sukarno, say, would have given to a petition from a crowd of Indonesian peasants.
One can hardly overstate the years of student docility under this traditional and bland academic tyranny. It was only seven years ago that David Riesman, as a professor noting undergraduate complaints about college and society, wrote, “When I ask such students what they have done about these things, they are surprised at the very thought they could do anything. They think I am joking when I suggest that, if things came to the worst, they could picket!” But the careful student generation of the ’50s was already passing away. Soon John F. Kennedy, the civil-rights freedom riders, then the Vietnam war, stirred the campuses into new life. Still college presidents and deans ignored the signs of protest. The result inevitably has been to hand the initiative to student extremists, who seek to prove that force is the only way to make complacent administrators and preoccupied professors listen to legitimate grievances. “Our aim,” as an Oxford student leader put it, “is to completely democratize the University. We shall look for cases on which we can confront authoritarianism in colleges, faculties, and the University.” Or, in the words of Mark Rudd of Columbia: “Our style of politics is to clarify the enemy, to put him up against the wall.”
The present spearhead of undergraduate extremism is that strange organization, or nonorganization, called Students for a Democratic Society. S.D.S. began half a dozen years ago as a rather thoughtful movement of student radicals. Its Port Huron statement of June, 1962, a humane and interesting if interminable document, introduced “participatory democracy” — that is, active individual participation “in those social decisions determining the quality and direction of his life” — as the student’s solution to contemporary perplexities. In these years S.D.S. performed valuable work in combating discrimination and poverty; and this work generated a remarkable feeling of fellowship among those involved. But the Port Huron statement no longer expresses official SDS policy; and SDS itself has become an excellent example of what Lenin, complaining about left-wing Communism in 1919, called “an infantile disorder.”
This is not to suggest that SDS is Communist, even if it contains Maoist and Castroite (or Guevaraite) factions. The basic thrust of SDS is, if anything, syndicalist and anarchistic, though the historical illiteracy of its leadership assures it a most confused and erratic form of anarcho-syndicalism. The anarchistic impulse extends to its organization — the infatuation with decentralization is so great that there is none (the joke is “the Communists can’t take over S.D.S. — they can’t find it”) — as well as to its program. The infatuation with the creative power of immediate action is so great that there is none.
Anarchism, with its unrelenting assault on all forms of authority, is a natural adolescent response to a world of structures. As a French student scribbled on the wall of his university at Nanterre, “L’anarchie, c’est je.” But the danger of anarchism has always been that, lacking rational goals, it moves toward nihilism. The strategy of confrontation turns into a strategy of provocation, intended to drive authority into acts of suppression supposed to reveal the “hidden violence” and true nature of society. Confrontation politics requires both an internal sense of infallibility and an external insistence on discipline. Soon the SDS people began to show themselves, as one student put it to me, “exclusionary, self-righteous, and single-minded. I feel that they, along with certain McCarthy people, are the one group that does not think that everybody should do their thing, but rather do the SDS thing.” In time SDS virtually rejected participatory democracy. Prof. William Appleman Williams of Wisconsin, whose own historical writing stimulated this generation of student radicals, ended by calling them “the most selfish people I know. They just terrify me. … They say, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong and you can’t talk because you’re wrong.’”
In 1967, SDS began to discuss in its workshops how confrontation politics — seizing buildings, taking hostages, and so on — could be used to bring down a great university and selected Columbia as its 1968 target. The result was the uprising last April, which brutal police intervention transformed from an SDS Putsch into a general student insurrection. At Columbia, the SDS leaders displayed no interest in negotiating the ostensible issues. Their interest was power. “If we win,” said Mark Rudd, the SDS leader, “we will take control of your world, your corporation, your university and attempt to mold a world in which we and other people can live as human beings. Your power is directly threatened, since we will have to destroy that power before we can take over.” For the sake of power, they were prepared, as a liberal Columbia professor put it, to “exact a conformity that makes Joe McCarthy look like a civil libertarian.”
As the SDS leaders get increasing kicks out of their revolutionary rhetoric, they have grown mindless, arrogant and, at times, vicious in their treatment of others. In recent months, the young men who incite riot and talk revolution have encouraged acts of exceptional squalor — not only the denial of free speech but the rifling of personal files, the destruction of the research notes of an unpopular professor — in fact, a general commitment not to university reform but to destruction for the sake of destruction. Their influence is to turn students into what John Osborne, one of Britain’s “angry young men” of the ’50s, has called “instant rabble.” Their effect is to betray the function of the university, which is nothing if not a place of unfettered inquiry, and to repudiate the western tradition of intellectual freedom.
What sort of factor will SDS be in the future? No one, including its own national office, can be sure how many members SDS has. J. Edgar Hoover, who is not addicted to minimizing the enemy, told Congress on February 23 that in 1967 SDS had 6,371 members, of whom 875 had paid dues since January 1. Whatever the number, it is an infinitesimal fraction of the American college population. Yet this fact should not induce undue complacency in the country clubs. Many students who would never dream of joining SDS or of approving its tactics nevertheless share its sense of estrangement from American society. This spring the Gallup Poll reported that one student in five had taken part in protest demonstrations — a statistic that suggests not only that a million students may he counted as activists but that the proportion has probably doubled since the estimates of student rebels in the spring of 1966 as 1 in 10 (Samuel Luhell) and 1 in 12 (the Educational Testing Service). All studies, moreover, indicate that the activists are good students and that they abound in the best universities.
What is significant is not only the rather large number of student activists today but their success in winning the tacit consent of the less involved. This does not mean that the majority applauds the gratuitous violence that has swept through many institutions. But activists very often appear to mirror general student concerns and anxieties on a wide range of issues, social and political as well as academic.
A recent episode at Antioch explains why the majority goes along with the activists. Although on other campuses it is considered a paragon of democracy — its students, for example, can attend the meetings of its board of trustees — this fine old experimental college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, evidently still has problems of its own. A year ago the board of trustees met before an audience of some 75 students. One member began to read the report of the committee on the college investments. As he droned along, a student suddenly jumped up and shouted, “This is all a lot of ———“ A second student then arose and said, with elaborate irony, “You shouldn’t talk that way. These wonderful trustees are giving of their time and substance to help us out.” Next, in quick succession, half a dozen other students got up and called caustic single sentences at the startled trustees. At this point, the lights went out. When they came on 30 seconds later, the trustees were confronted by a tableau: one masked student standing with his foot on the chest of another masked student prostrate on the floor. The boy on the floor said, “Massa, is it all right if I use LSD?” The standing student replied, parodying a phrase cherished by academic administrators, “It is all right if you follow institutional processes.” A series of similar Qs and As followed. The lights went out again; there were sounds of scurrying; and, when the lights came on, all but a dozen students had gone.
A moment of silence followed. Then the trustee who had been reading the report from the committee on investments resumed exactly where he had left off. This was too much for a colleague, who broke in and said reasonably, “Mr. Chairman, I don’t think that we ought to act as if nothing had happened.” The chairman asked what he proposed, and the trustee suggested that they invite the students who had remained to tell them what this demonstration had been all about. The students still in the room responded that, while they had not approved of the demonstration, they were now delighted that it had forced the trustees to listen to them. “You may not like what you saw,” one student remarked. “But now you are discussing things that you would never be discussing on your own initiative.” And for the first time the Antioch board of trustees permitted on its agenda some of the problems that were worrying the Antioch students.
This story illustrates a disastrous paradox: The extremist approach works. “I feel like I just wasted three and a half years trying to change this university,” a Columbia senior said after the troubles last spring. “I played the game of rational discourse and persuasion. Now there’s a mood of reconstruction. All the log-jams are broken — violence pays. The tactics of obstruction weren’t right, weren’t justified, but look what happened.” The activists understand what has until recently escaped the attention of the deans — that a small number of undergraduates, if they don’t give a damn, can shut down great and ancient universities. As a result, when the activists turn on, the administrators at last begin to do things which, if they had any sense, they would have done on their own long ago — as Columbia is revising its administrative structure for the first time (The New York Times tells us) since 1810. Commissioner of Education Howe says, “Perhaps students are resorting to unorthodox means because orthodox means are unavailable to them. In any case, they are forcing open new and necessary avenues of communication.” Both Berkeley and Columbia will be wiser and better universities as a result of the student revolts. One can hardly blame the president of the Harvard Crimson for his conclusion:
All the talk in the world about the unacceptability of illegal protest, all the use of police force and all the repressive legislation will not change the fact that attention is drawn to evils in our universities in this way. As long as students have no legitimate democratic voice, attention is drawn only in this way.
The students’ demand for a “legitimate democratic voice” in the decisions that control their future is part of a larger search for control and for meaning in life. The old sources of authority — parents and professors — have lost their potency. Nor does organized religion retain much power either to impose relevant values or to advance the quest for meaning. Nominal affiliation persists, but religious belief in the traditional sense is no longer widespread in college. A Catholic girl recently said that among students she knew, “there definitely is no interest in any doctrine about the supernatural. The interest is in human values.” An eastern sophomore says: “Nobody thinks about religion but probably respect people who have religion because it is so rare.”
As students, finding little sustenance in traditional authorities, seek out values on their own, their search often takes forms that an older generation can only regard as grotesque or perilous. Thus drugs — a device by which, if people cannot find harmony in the world, they can instill harmony in their own consciousness. For many young people, drugs offer the closest thing to a spiritual experience they have; their “trips,” like more conventional forms of mysticism, are excursions in pursuit of transcendental meanings in the cosmos.
The invasion of the life of the young by drugs is relatively recent; and it provides a good illustration of the interesting fact that there is conflict not only between the generations but within the younger generation itself. “When I was a freshman in 1960,” a venerable figure of 25 just out of law school, tells me, “drugs were really a fringe phenomenon. Today pot is the pervasive form of nightly enjoyment for students. How can parents understand this if a person like myself, hardly four years older than my sister, isn’t able to understand it?” His sister, who has just graduated from college, reports, “You see, the people who have been coming in as freshmen since even my first year, ’64, and with a big boom in ’66, have been turned on. Once again, as last year, the biggest pushers are in the freshman class.”
As for the drugs themselves, marijuana is a staple. It causes little discussion in its purchase, use or nonuse. On the large campuses, “everybody” has smoked it at one time or another, or at least this is a common student impression. A more precise estimate — from Dr. Stanley F. Yolles, director of the National Institute of Mental Health — is that “about two million college and high-school students have had some experience with marijuana. Fifty percent of those who have tried it experienced no effects.” Presumably, most of the rest find in the chemical expansion of consciousness an occasional means of relaxation or refreshment — what liquor provides for their parents. It is hard to persuade students (and many doctors) that “grass” is any more lethal than tobacco or alcohol, and parents achieving a high on their fourth martini are advised not to launch a tipsy tirade against marijuana.
LSD, on the other hand, is quite another matter, and its vogue has notably waned in the last year or so. Students, reading about its possible genetic effects and hearing about the “bad trips” of their friends, simply reject it as too risky. College students, it should be added, are very rarely hippies; when drugs begin to define a whole way of life, studies must go by the boards. A few students may now be turning from “acid” to “speed” (Methedrine). But an interesting departure, reported from Cambridge, Mass., is the resurgence of simple, old-fashioned drinking. “Younger kids who really started right off with grass often missed the whole alcoholic thing, and now they stop you on the street and say, wow, they got drunk and what a trip it was.” No doubt this development will reassure troubled parents.
Love is another medium in which the young conduct their search for meaning. Against Vietnam they cried, “Make love, not war.” “The student movement,” one girl observed, “is not a cause. … It is a collision between this one person and that one person. It is a I am going to sit beside you. … Love alone is radical.”
Here attitudes have relaxed, though it is not clear how much the change in sexual attitudes has produced a change in sexual behavior — to some degree, certainly, but not so much as some parents fear. A poll this spring at Oberlin showed that 40 percent of the unmarried women students had (or claimed to have) sexual relations. Dr. Paul Gebhard, who succeeded the late Dr. Alfred Kinsey as director of the Institute for Sex Research at Indiana University, observes that sexual relations among college students are “more fun nowadays,” especially for women, and create less guilt. One girl undergraduate says, “I am convinced there is a greater naturalness and acceptance and much less uptightness about sex in the present college era than in the one earlier.”
Unquestionably the pill has considerably simplified the problem. “No longer is it [again a girl is speaking], oh I can’t sleep with anyone because sex is sinful or risky or whatever; it is rather, do I want to sleep with this person and, if I do, how will it affect me or the relationship. … The emphasis is on satisfying, whole, friendly, honest relationships of which sex is only a part. Where sex is accepted as an extension of things, then nobody really talks about it that much, except as a pleasant thing.”
The new naturalness has encouraged the practice known to deans as “cohabitation” and to students as “shacking up” or “the arrangement” — that is, male and female students living together in off-campus apartments. Rolling with the punch, colleges are now experimenting with coeducational student housing. Nearly half the institutions represented in the Association of College and University Housing Officers now have one form or another of mixed housing. What may be even more shocking to old grads is the vision of the future conveyed by the report that at Stanford the Lambda Nu fraternity proposes next year to go coed.
Though students today favor a code of behavior that is personal, not modeled on that of parents, pastors or professors, they have not abandoned heroes. Nearly all regard John F. Kennedy with admiration and reverence. Many this year followed and then mourned his brother; many others followed Eugene McCarthy (and cut their hair and beards in order to be ‘clean for Gene’); many like John Lindsay. Among writers, the situation is more puzzling. The press reports an enthusiasm on the campuses for J.R.R. Tolkien and The Lord of the Rings; but I must confess sympathy for a perceptive girl who says:
When I stand in lunch lines, I see people holding Tolkien in their hands, but they aren’t the people I know. I guess that people like it because it hands them a whole society and set of symbols and passwords which they can use to describe themselves, set off the cliques. It gives people a whole world of the imagination without having to use their imagination.
The German writer Hermann Hesse with his novels about romantic quests for self-knowledge is having a current whirl — The New Republic reports an electronic-rock group on the west coast calling itself Steppenwolf.
But the testimony is general that the old, whether in public affairs or in literature, don’t count for very much in the colleges. “The models for today’s students,” a sophomore writes, “probably come more from their contemporaries than any other group — the latest draft-card burners, people with the guts to live the way they want despite society’s prohibitions, etc. — or from older people who sympathize with them and give intellectual prestige to their feelings.”
Above all, students find in music and visual images the vehicles that bring home reality. “THE GREAT HEROES OF THIS DAY AND AGE,” a girl affirms in full capitals, “ARE BOB DYLAN AND THE BEATLES.” Dylan “gave us a social conscience and then he gave us folk-rock and open honest talk about drugs and sex and life and memory and past.” One student thinks Dylan “may have a profounder influence than the Beatles because he is American and sings about America — and his evocative powers are profound, to affect those poor people and us. John Wesley Harding is a wandering, obscure, and sad album, but it is also gentle and tender and necessary.”
As for the Beatles, “Well, they taught us how to be happy. We evolved with the Beatles.” The evolution was from a simple happiness to a more complex form of sensibility — from the first, Beatle songs, with their insistent beat, to the intricate electronic songs of today and their witty, ambiguous lyrics.
“When you really listen to Sergeant Pepper, it can be an exhausting, amazing, frightening experience. Especially A Day in the Life, which is a hair-raising song because it is about our futures, too, and death.”
What these heroes stand for, in one way or another, is the affirmation of the private self against the enveloping structures and hypocrisies of organized society. They embody styles of life that the young find desirable and admirable and that they seek for themselves. “Let there be born in us,” the Radcliffe commencement prayer this year concluded, “a strange joy that will help us to live and to die and to remake the soul of our time.”
Yet college students have no easy optimism about the future. “People don’t talk about the future,” says one. “That’s too depressing because it means growing old and having responsibilities and the eventual capitulation to the System, because it won’t change.” “Mostly students know what they don’t want to be,” says another. “They don’t want to be tied down to a hopeless, boring regimen; they don’t want to give in to the Establishment after spending most of their youth avoiding it; they don’t want to profit through special-interest groups and to the detriment of people in need. Mostly, they want to make the society they live in better, richer for all, more fun. The problem is that they lack the plans to accomplish the ends.”
For the moment they are determined, in the words of the student orator at the Notre Dame commencement this year, not to be satisfied to “play the success game.” More college graduates every year embark on careers of public and community service. The acquisitive life of business holds less and less appeal. Yet one can hardly doubt that a good many — perhaps most — of these defiant young people will be absorbed by the System and end living worthy lives as advertising men or insurance salesmen. Hal Draper, an old radical musing on the 800 sit-inners arrested at Berkeley at the height of the Free Speech Movement, wrote, “Ten years from now, most of them will be rising in the world and in income, living in the suburbs from Terra Linda to Atherton, raising two or three babies, voting Democratic, and wondering what on earth they were doing in Sproul Hall — trying to remember, and failing.”
One must hope, for the sake of the country, that some of this fascinating generation do remember — not the angry and senseless things they may have done, but the generous hopes that prompted them to act for a better life. But who can say? Certainly not their elders. Yet the attempt at understanding may even be a useful exercise for the older generation. I discovered this in talking to students for the purposes of this piece. And I treasure a note from one who patiently cooperated. “Even as I distrust anybody of the older generation who tries to write about the younger,” the letter said, “I think it will be interesting to see how you figure it out.”
This article is featured in the July/August 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.
When Anjelica Huston enters a room, she commands your attention just as she does on screen. She’s an imposing presence, even a little intimidating—she’s just so tall!—until she breaks into that charming, mischievous grin. It’s quickly obvious that the actress is nothing like the scheming, tough-as-nails producer, Eileen Rand, whom she plays on the NBC series, Smash.
As Huston speaks, revealing a self-deprecating sense of humor that’s thoroughly endearing, it’s hard to separate the drama in her life from the memorable characters she’s brought to life, from the mob wife in Prizzi’s Honor to Morticia in The Addams Family.
Huston was born into Hollywood royalty. Her dad was legendary director John Huston. Her mother, John’s fourth wife, was Italian ballerina, Enrica “Ricki” Soma. Houseguests ranged from Marlon Brando to John Paul Sartre and John Steinbeck. She began acting in small roles, mainly in her father’s films. Then, just as she was coming into her own, her mother was killed in a car accident. That changed the direction of her life.
She moved to New York, and as a young woman, her grace, stature, and angular good looks led her to modeling. Richard Avedon photographed her for Vogue. The big change in her life came when her father cast her in Prizzi’s Honor, a part that earned her an Oscar and made her a star. She co-starred with her longtime love Jack Nicholson. They were together for 16 years, but once she got famous there was a lot more interest in them as a couple—always talk about the ups and downs of that relationship.
Finally, they split—another big life-changer.
When she and Nicholson parted company, Hollywood watched to see if she’d ever find her Mr. Right. The answer came when she walked down the aisle with celebrated sculptor Robert Graham–known for works like the Olympic Gateway at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in D.C., and the Duke Ellington Monument in New York’s Central Park. The handsome artist and the beautiful actress were a standout couple in the arenas of entertainment and art.
Graham also loved to draw beautiful women and their bodies. There was one star-studded showing of his work where people teased him about nude drawings that looked an awful lot like Anjelica. She casually deflected the questions by talking about “my fantastic husband” and playing up his many other accomplishments. The two were inseparable, so his sudden death from a heart attack four years ago left her shattered. Her many friends within and without Hollywood rallied around her, but she credits Smash—her first venture into series television—with coming at a “vital time” and finally filling a void in her life.
Question: I have known you for years. I listen to the laugh in your voice and you’ve got the greatest smile. Why do they keep casting you as these stern women like Eileen in Smash?
Anjelica Huston: [Laughing] Well, Eileen does have a good sense of humor. But it’s true, they like me to be these slightly sinister characters. It’s good to play against type, I guess.
Q: And what would you say your type is?
AH: I really don’t match any stereotype. I never felt like I “fit in.” That’s probably what makes me a great observer.
Q: But doesn’t your character’s feistiness reflect you maybe just a little?
AH: I would like to be as scrappy as Eileen. I can certainly wrap my brain around her scrappiness. But sometimes I’m a wimp, and other days I think I can conquer the world. I wish I could plan it out a bit better.
Q: You get some steamy romantic scenes on the show. Do you get a kick out of that?
AH: It all depends on who with. But it certainly livens things up—particularly at my age. I remember at the very outset, two years ago, I said to the producers, ‘Please, give me a love interest.’ I think it’s important to see strong women who also have a very vulnerable side and who are allowed to have a sexy side.
Q: As the years pass, what has changed for you?
AH: The older I get, the more I look for a good time. I remember when I was in my 20s and 30s, I was always in some fight with a boyfriend or involved in some drama, something to feel bad about. I feel so the opposite of that now. I just like to have a good time, smile, and be with my friends. You know, tell a story, have a drink. I’m certainly not looking for angst.
Q In your experience, what are the key challenges that tend to derail a caregiver’s goal of safeguarding personal health and happiness while caring for a loved one?
LEEZA There are so many challenges in caregiving that have the potential to derail one’s own health and happiness during what may be a journey lasting many years. Imagine if your spouse of 30 years suddenly cannot remember who you are or where he lives. Or if you yourself suffer from a chronic illness and must now take care of a loved one on a full-time basis. What if you are the sole wage earner in your family and your loved one now needs round-the-clock care? You can see that the challenges of caregiving are as varied as life itself.
In my own experience and in the experience of my family, and also through meeting the many people who come to Leeza’s Place and share their stories with me, it is clear that the key challenge faced by caregivers is remembering to take care of oneself—physically, mentally, and spiritually—in order to give good care to a loved one.
When a person’s life is interrupted with a health challenge, it doesn’t seem to matter how much money you might have, how many people you might know, or how much education you might have … you are still very likely frustrated, isolated, stressed, and depressed. For me, when I learned of Mom’s diagnosis with Alzheimer’s disease, my first response was denial. For my dad, who spent many years as Mom’s primary caregiver, it was the isolation, being cut off from friends and family, which led to poor eating habits and self-medicating with alcohol. My sister Cammy became depressed, my brother Carlos put his head in the sand, and I got overbusy in order to avoid the harsh reality that we would lose Mom, memory by memory.
You can see that the key challenge facing all caregivers is to always “take your oxygen first.” It means put your physical health first, understand what depression is, take steps to overcome it, and feed your spiritual self. It makes so much sense—how can you take care of someone when you are so depressed that you can’t get yourself out of bed to face the day?
Caregivers do all kinds of things to numb their pain, deny their truth, and stuff their sadness with food, drink, shopping, and other behaviors that simply delay the inevitable. When you are a husband or wife, son or daughter, sister or brother and someone we love is suffering, we feel guilty and helpless on some level. When we tell our guests at Leeza’s Place to “take your oxygen first,” they find it counterintuitive and uncomfortable … somewhat embarrassing. It is only when we reveal that the best way to love and care for someone else is to first take care of YOU that we even begin to get their attention.
Q You write of harnessing the Three E’s: Education, Empowerment, and Energy. Can you give us an example? How did this three-pronged approach evolve?
LEEZA The Three E’s were designed by my friend, co-author, and co-founder and executive director of the Leeza Gibbons Memory Foundation, Dr. James Huysman. He is a psychologist and licensed clinical social worker and vastly knowledgeable about the kind of support this population of “family-first responders” needs. Creating Leeza’s Place enabled Dr. Huysman to put his knowledge to work.
In our experience, the path to caregiver success always begins with education. It has to. An unnamed enemy has way too much power over us. We have to name it and claim it before we can even think about thriving. For example, one must become educated about the disease that is taking your loved one. Understand that, while your loved one may no longer remember your name, even in the later stages of the disease they will still be able to enjoy hearing their favorite music. Become aware of your own nutritional requirements and the link between good eating habits and your ability to maintain a high energy level throughout the day. Learn about estate planning and health insurance and be ready for the day when you will no longer be able to take care of your loved one yourself.
To be able to face something with courage in spite of fear is real empowerment. Our goal is to help remind caregivers of their inherent strength and ability to take charge of their life and help others around them who are just as affected by chronic disease. The energy is also key … stress and depression are constant companions of most caregivers … they are depleted emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially. At Leeza’s Place, we help nourish the empty energy banks through laughter therapy, reiki, dance, and art therapy along with many other programs—all offered free to extend help, hope, and healing to those who so desperately need it.
Q Your book speaks of the unique spiritual needs of caregivers. Specifically, you suggest seeking out a “spiritual companion”—someone close to you with whom you can share your thoughts. What are the potential benefits of forming such a relationship?
LEEZA In our opinion, caregiving presents an opportunity to learn to accept what we can’t change, to live and thrive in the present moment, and to let go of what we can’t control, which is most often the hope that our loved will “get better” over time. It’s an opportunity to stop wasting precious energy by resisting reality and instead embrace life, with all its pains and joys.
When we make the decision to actively choose what life has irrevocably chosen for us, we exercise our power. It can free up enormous amounts of energy needed for the day-to-day challenges of caregiving, and it presents the opportunity to live one’s life fully, instead of wasting time thinking “what if” or “things will get better.” But this takes work, and often those searching for this kind of spiritual relief seek out the help of a professional therapist to help explore one’s feelings about one’s loved one and about the situation one finds oneself in. But often it is not necessary. One can find a “spiritual companion,” who might be a close family member, a friend, one’s priest or rabbi, or someone with more experience giving care to another, with whom one can share one’s thoughts. Just talking can help us understand our own feelings about our special situation, push us to reevaluate our priorities, and force us to think about what really matters most to us. So, as we see it, caregiving can be an opportunity to learn and to grow, not despite the challenges and the trouble, but because of them.
Q Does caring for oneself actually improve the care of an ailing loved one?
LEEZA Of course! I will give you an example from my own family’s experience, but one that is very common place. My Dad, then in his early 70s, would often take Mom for a walk around the lake just behind their home in South Carolina. Dad had not been getting much exercise for a couple of years, since caring for Mom had become a full-time job. One day, while out for a walk, Mom slipped and fell, and he could barely lift her up, and in trying he wrenched his back pretty badly. So badly, in fact, that he couldn’t do the simplest tasks for Mom, or for himself for that matter, for a few weeks. But had he been taking care of himself, even by doing the simple exercises we describe in Take Your Oxygen First, he would have been able to help Mom and avoid his own injury.
Q What are your plans for the future? Do you have any projects in the works? Will you continue your work?
LEEZA I have so much passion for my role as a health advocate. It is a wonderful way for me to empower my audience to show up in their lives and navigate more effectively through whatever health crisis may enter their world. I have seen so many families unravel emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially. I see so many families bury the caregiver before the diagnosed individual. We have to encourage each other to “take our oxygen first.” There is so much isolation and so much depression. I will continue to look for ways to offer help, healing, hope, and hugs for all those husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters who struggle to do the right thing.
I’m entering my seventh year with my mineral makeup line, Sheer Cover. It has given me a tremendous opportunity to communicate with an audience of women who sometimes put themselves last on the list. I always say as women, we need to know where we’re going and look good when we get there! That’s why, this year, I will introduce a new line of hair extensions! They are beautiful and will really help transform the lives of woman and boost their confidence. Add my Sheer Inspiration Life Coaching, and we can really make a difference. I find people who choose to access a coach have less stress and more peace of mind. Reaching out to another for help, insight, and another point of view is often the healthiest approach to a finding solutions. Our caregiver coaches have been the saving grace for many who have reached the end of their emotional roads. I love being the conduit through which stories of striving and surviving find their way into people’s hearts. That’s why my Hollywood Confidential radio show has been such a blessing in my life. Throughout the United States and Canada, we touch the hearts and minds of listeners who are seeking not only entertainment, but also what I call “life support.”
My professional life mission is simple: offer products, programs, and services to enhance the lives of women and their families. How lucky am I that I get so many ways to do that?