An increasing part of my clinical work has to do with loss:  loss of social connection, employment, retirement; personal mobility, plans for the future.  It can be as simple as loss of a hug.  Or as complex as loss of identity.   Or as painful as loss of a love one.  Or even the feared loss of one’s own life.

Like with the ideas around resilience, there are moments we can stop, breathe, and figure the next step.  Holding on tight or bounding on have never served me well.  A moment in traffic after being cut off turned into a mini stupido Grand Prix, until the guy in front slammed on his brakes.  I rear ended him.  My car was totaled and his fine.  And it’s my fault.  Clearly, I needed a to take a brake, both metaphorical and real.

Take a break or have a break, I figure. Easier said than done.  And what kind of break?  A breather?  Or perhaps retire from the field all together.

Two of my oldest and dearest therapist friends have given up their offices because of the pandemic issues.  Norita (spouse and co-therapist) and I are currently paying to hold onto an office we are not using.  Paying for a placeholder.  Retire?  Move to full time teletherapy?  Easy to forget to be grateful that I even have the choice.

So let’s say you have spent years helping and guarding the city, the county, the state, the nation.  Your identity is profoundly connected to being a protector, whether it is as police officer, the service, firefighter, medical worker, social worker, or therapist.  You are our guardians.  And in this long term pandemic, you’re getting tired.  Now what?  Hold ‘em?  Fold ‘em?

Written by a 23 year old Don Schlitz, it took two years of trying to sell the song “The Gambler” before it was picked up.  Kenny Rogers recorded it, sending the song to spectacular heights.  It has been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry.  Clearly, for Don, it was a good decision not to fold ‘em.  

You’ve got to know when to hold ’em
Know when to fold ’em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run…

When to hold ‘em, when to fold ‘em

Kind of like Hamlet’s ‘To be or not to be.’  Perhaps a bit less intemperate.  What are the factors in deciding whether to hold ‘em or fold ‘em?  

Having been hit with severe economic issues after my father died, (ranch to a small single parent home), my own approach is inevitably economic first.  Is a different life style sustainable?  Would I have to cut back things that are meaningful to me and my family?  Will the kids be okay?  We have been blessed with a solid financial advisor to help with that one.  Still not easy.

The psychological aspects are even more complex.

 In an earlier blog I proposed a series of emergent roles in this pandemic: The Guardian, The Opponent, The Isolate.  These were complimented with subsidiary roles:  Placater, Egoist, and The Chaos Creator.  Let’s see how these roles play out in the face of “hold ‘em or fold ‘em.” 

The Guardian:  Here is the ‘First Responder’ whose work is to be protective, vigilant.  Our society cannot proceed safely without these folks.  And here, I would argue, you would find those who would have the worst time with “Fold ‘em.”  Yeah, I know, towards the final quarter of one’s career there is the constant watching the retirement clock, rumination about the pension, griping about management, and all that.  But, still, when push comes to shove, the Guardian will show up, take risks that most would avoid, and get the job done.  Lots of folks in this role have dedicated their lives to saving lives, protecting the innocent and helping survivors.  The question for the guardian becomes— if I ‘Fold ‘em,’ who am I?  What good am I?  What value do I have?  And even more painful — have I failed those that I was born to protect? The victim.  The city itself.  And the flip side of that is— If I ‘hold ‘em’- put off retirement, put off a lateral transfer, etc., won’t I just burn out?  Make an error that will get me fired… or even worse?  

The Opponent:  This one might be better named The Contrarian.  I’d guess every Department, company, cohort, family has its share.  Who knows why?  Maybe for the species to survive we need those who say— “This is BS.  I’m not going to try and capture that saber tooth tiger with a couple of sticks and a rock.”  In any case, ‘Fold ‘em’ for this role is equally difficult.  The Contrarian finds identity in opposition.  There’s energy and ego there.  ‘Fold ‘em’ means not going to battle anymore, arguing against.  Let it turn out however it may.  Give up.  

The Isolate: Of all these roles in the pandemic, I’d bet The Isolate would have the easiest time letting it all go and withdrawing from the field.  The Isolate never wanted to go out and play ball in the first place.  More interested in drawing on their own resources.  The Isolate will have a harder time re-emerging into society when this damn pandemic gets a vaccine.

Knowing when to ‘fold ‘em,’ (move, quit, retire, transfer) is a tough call at any time.  Now it is particularly rough.  More than any time in the last 100 years, the future social, cultural, economic course of this country is unclear. 

Hold ‘em is a gamble.  Fold ‘em is a gamble.

Some thoughts on steps:

  1. Start with ‘what do I need.’
  2. Check in with family, friends, therapist, 12 step sponsor, etc. 
  3. Be prepared to grieve (either way there will be losses).
  4. Take a look at, maybe make a list, of what is pushing you out, what’s pulling you.
  5. Look at both the positive and negatives of the next step.
  6. And remember, stay or leave, neither will be perfect.  Both might be ‘good enough.’
  7. And if figuring this out becomes obsessive, grab the remote and switch the internal channel to mute… for a bit.  
  8. A lot of times, a simple bit of action helps- a drive, a kind act.
  9. How does hold ‘em, fold ‘em match up with my innate values?
  10. And let’s not forget Mark Twain:  “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from making bad decisions.” 

Go easy, folks

One thought on “Sometimes You Gotta Fold ‘Em

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