Friday, February 12, 2016

Aspie ish!

Aspie ish!
Michele Happe MA
February 12 2016

I have coached a number of people with Aspergers as well as a few parents with Aspergers kids.  When I approach a new issue in my practice I do a lot of research and learn from my clients.  When I had my radio show I did a long segment on Aspergers and autism as part of my research.  After the show a number of people approached me telling me that they took the test I provided and sure enough, they were on the spectrum.  I took the test and I was not even though I identified with a number of characteristics such a social uncomfortability and anxiety, hypersensitivity to certain types of stimulation and others.  

Then I started thinking about my dad.  He was a strange and interesting dude .  He was a materials engineer who worked at Jet Propulsion Lab where he had experiments on the voyager spacecraft.  His gig was manufacturing glass in zero gravity.  He was also an inventor and a musician.  He was super smart but spacey and neglectful as a father.  He was also lascivious and pervy.  I figured out after the fact that my dad was Aspie.  One of his favorite stories was how when he was 12 he got in trouble with his mom at the dinner table and she threw one of those large carving forks at him.  It embedded shallowly in his stomach and he refused to remove it, walking around all afternoon with a fork hanging out of his soft, obese belly.  THAT was my dad!  He was a very strange dude, a true eccentric.  I believe he was on the spectrum.  

Just to be clear let me include a list of characteristics for Aspergers:  

"Obviously, not all highly intelligent adults have Asperger. With no or few features from the list one does not have the condition. Even with a high score, one should realize a diagnosis can not be made on this basis, but requires interviews and observation in person next to psychological testing. Although GAIA was originally conceived to detect Aspergoid features, it may actually be measuring a more general disposition for psychiatric disorders without in itself being able to point to one specific disorder.

The Inventory

 Write complaint letters to authorities, professionals, companies etc.
 Read full manual before taking equipment into use
 Severely bullied at school
 Little or no facial expression
 Not well able to read another's facial expression
 Flat or monotonous voice
 Rigid day or week schedule (repetitive patterns)
 Strong interest in arcane subjects (either scientific, occult or trivial)
 Lack sensitivity to nonverbal cues and social codes
 Employed below ability level
 Poor work record
 Never had a steady job
 Social isolation
 Educated below ability level
 Never married
 Never had an amorous relationship
 Still virgin
 Read reference works from A to Z
 Motor clumsiness
 "Talk too much"
 "Talk too little"
 Low "social skills"
 Little eye contact
 One-sided eating habits
 Capable of sustained rigorous hard work
 Not taken seriously or misunderstood in face-to-face situations
 Neurotic habits or tics
 Diagnosed Schizophrenia
 Diagnosed Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
 Diagnosed any Personality Disorder
 Very honest
 Peculiar or (for males) too high-pitched voice
 Not emotional
 Highly sensitive to criticism
 Lack "common sense"
 Bitten by dogs
 A-rhythmic speech or abnormal speech rhythm
 Teased by children in adulthood
 Clumsy or exaggerated gestures when talking
 Unrightfully punished at school
 Longing for death or suicidal thoughts
 Eating disorder (like anorexia)
 Depression or on anti-depressant
 Attached to animals or things rather than humans
 On tranquillizers
 Drug addict
 Sleeping problems
 Stilted and overformal in social interaction
 Oversensitive to particular sounds"

So this is a very exhaustive list that is meant as a test to see if you have Aspergers.  One funny note:  My dad was famous for writing complaint letters.  He actually got toothpicks on one of the airlines by exhaustively writing letters.  He would also write letters to Chinese Restaurants complaining about the fact that they didn't serve coffee...he was not so successful there.  

So I guess I am a child of an Aspie or Aspie ish.  As I like to say.  I don't qualify but I do identify.  I think if you asked people who know me you would hear that I am unusual, or unique...not quite eccentric but close.  I have arranged my life so that I can be comfortable.  I work at home.  I need lots of alone time even though I love very small doses.  This includes my husband who is also Aspie ish.  His dad qualifies and one of his brothers is most probably on the spectrum.  I hate parties unless I have a specific job like cutting carrots or if I can hide in a corner and have a deep philosophical conversation with someone one on one.  

I like who I am.  Aspie ish works for me.  As a friend who qualifies said to me..."I wear it as a badge of honor".  I was disappointed and remain so when the distinction Aspergers was subsumed into the Autism Spectrum Disorder classification.  I don't see Aspergers as a disorder at all.  We do have our challenges but we are a sweet eccentric tribe as far as I can tell.  We generally are verbally gifted and can cruise around in the world with only lifting a few eyebrows occasionally.  As an Aspie ish person, I have a deep understanding and compassion for those who are in the tribe as I was raised by one.  I get it even though I don't qualify as "one".  I want to be a member of the tribe as a supporter who is fortunate to have many of the "qualities" that high functioning Aspies share.  Call me a groupie if you want.  

I love working with Aspies.  It is fun to coach someone on how to be a bit more social, how to network and set priorities.  I enjoy empathizing and cheering them on toward self acceptance and ultimately self approval.  I advocate setting up a life that may not look the way other people's lives look but it is a life that works well.  I also believe this about relationships.  We must tailor our relationships to fit our personality and our proclivities.  This means that we need to quit comparing ourselves to "typicals".  Aspies are only typical to our own tribe which in my view includes Aspie ish types like me.  

My hope is that this little blog will touch others who might identify as Aspie or Aspie ish.  I also hope that whoever you unidentified tribal members are you might do a little work on honoring yourself as being a member of a very special tribe of people who are collectively responsible on many levels for making the world a better place.  It is the geeks and scientific types who are such contributors due to their exhaustive energy and brilliance.  Many of them are in our tribe.  I believe it is a tribe to be celebrated.

Until then, be well.  

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Maintaining Health During the Holidays: Coping with Food, Alcohol, Spending and more

Michele Happe MA

The holiday season is filled with expectations.  It is family time and a time for giving.  We are bombarded with ads showing happy healthy families together as well as pressure to buy expensive articles commencing with "black Friday" sales. 

Food is an  ever present focus of the holidays.  If you work in an office it is usually filled with sweets for the taking.  Parties and get togethers are expected.  This all can be very overwhelming for most of us and particularly for those suffering from issues like food and alcohol attachment.  I prefer the term attachment rather than addiction as I find it more accurately descriptive and less stigmatizing.

For those of us with attachment issues this time of year can be full of triggers.  Many who have these issues come from families where similar issues are present.  This is a time to recall all of those bad times we had with our families when we were children.  Perhaps dad was an over worker and wasn't around and mom was overwhelmed and unhappy to be alone with the children or worse.  Unhappy families have a much higher occurrence of all types of abuse.  These memories are likely to get triggered during the holidays. 

Keys to health during the holidays

Our health is not just about what we consume.  It is also about stress and our emotional and spiritual life.  If we are stressed we are much more likely to have trouble with food, alcohol and other triggers.  Our thinking needs to be watched and we need to take care not to fall for all the hype. 

Remember that the holidays are not every day from Thanksgiving until January 1.  If you are going to indulge keep it to 3 or 4 times not every day of that period.  Keep up with your healthy routine between the actual holidays.  Regular exercise, eating 6 small meals a day, and enough sleep are good guidelines to follow.  If you drink, remember that over drinking causes suffering for self and others so it really isn't all that much fun.  If you find that you cannot moderate drinking during the holidays get some help. 

Food Consumption

Most of us wake up on the holiday and starve until it is time to eat the holiday meal.  Then we gorge thinking that the starving justifies the gorging.  Try to eat regular healthy meals before the holiday meal and then watch portion sizes and enjoy every bite of delicious food.  Make your meal a meditation eating slowly and admiring the deliciousness of the food.  If you have food issues talk to your coach, counselor, or sponsor and commit ahead of time to what you intend to eat and how much.  In this way your can avoid guilt and can fully enjoy the food you are eating.  Make sure that you stay in touch with your coach so you can get back on track the next day.  Most food attachment issues involve guilt shame and secrecy which can lead to more eating.  Working with another brings everything into the light enabling more sanity where food is concerned.

Regarding food, most of us gain 1-2  lbs during the holidays....and those generally aren't healthy calories we are eating.  The problem is that those pounds tend to remain after the holidays are over.  So the cumulative effect can be very harmful over time.  

Be willing to take the consequence of overindulgence if you lose control and report that to your coach as well.  We all make mistakes when it comes to food issues since we cannot abstain completely and we need to learn moderation. When we slip we admit it to ourselves and another, forgive ourselves and move on. 

Alcohol Consumption

The suggestions for food apply to alcohol consumption as well.  Use mindfulness with regard to alcohol and commit to yourself and another how much you intend to drink.  If you have an addiction and are abstaining it is best to avoid places where others over drink.  During the holidays Alcoholics Anonymous has sober get togethers for those who are uncomfortable with family or who have no family where you can be safe in a sober environment.  If you don't go to AA stick with people you are safe with and let them know that your desire is to stay sober.  Bring a bottle of sparkling fruit juice to drink or stick to soda water with lime if you feel you need a glass in your hand.  Often when you have a glass of something people will not pressure you to drink with them.  Others often don't understand sobriety and are uncomfortable with the concept if they are drinking, even when they don't have a problem.  If you have a glass of something in your hand they are less likely to take notice. 

Shopping, Spending and Gifts

This is an area where there is an abundance of pressure on the TV, radio, and everywhere you go.  Many are experiencing very tight budgets and buying gifts for others can mean not being able to afford gas for the car or food.  If this is the case it is a good idea to pick names with family so that only one gift needs to be purchased.  Another option is home made items such as hand done cards or other craft projects like ornaments.  Even if you have plenty of funds, try to keep the spending in check as the holidays are for togetherness primarily and it is important to be balanced in giving so as not to make others feel guilty. 

If you are a compulsive shopper it is very important to work with another around commitments as to how much you will be spending.  Don't shop alone.  Take a buddy with you to be a witness to your commitments.  Debtors anonymous is a wonderful program that gives specific help with budgeting and spending behaviors.  They can be found online as well as in person meetings.

Finding Ease within the Chaos of Family Time

If you come from a difficult family it is most important that you take care of yourself during the holidays.  Emotional pain around family issues is usually intensified over the holidays.  One of the hardest things to do is to detach from family when it is truly necessary during the holidays.  If you feel that you need to attend a family event, try to make it for a short period of time like just the meal rather than all day.  Have and obligation that can gracefully take you away especially if the disfunction worsens as the day goes on.  Above all take care of yourself with your family and friends.
Loneliness is  an issue for some who may not feel connected to anyone close by.  If this is the case there are always food banks that need volunteers and food buffets for the homeless that you can volunteer for.  Giving in this way can be very rewarding and stave off loneliness.

On the other hand you might be an introvert like me and feel quite uncomfortable at parties and get togethers that involve lots of small talk.  It is ok to avoid these as long as you make polite apologies and thank them for the invite.  All of my friends know that I am an introvert so they are not hurt when I don't accept these invitations.   

If you come from a healthy happy family spread the love and make sure you let each of them know how much you appreciate them. Gratitude for this kind of good fortune is a huge contributor to overall happiness.   Hugs are very healing and small kindnesses go such a long way.  Tell those you love that you love and appreciate them.  That can be the best gift of all. 

Until next well

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

People of the Lie or why people so tenaciously hang on to dis-information…A Buddhist perspective

Michele Happe MA
September 14 2015

I was on the radio recently talking about the work of Brendan Nyhan who is conducting research at Yale Law school.  His experiments indicate that when people have a partisan stance about certain issues like Gun Control, Climate Change, and WMD’s in Iraq that they are very tenacious to their views even when presented with evidence that contradicts these views.  In fact he points out that at times there is a “back fire phenomenon” which causes people to become even more further entrenched in their views.  He says that this is true about both liberals and conservatives when they are partisans.  He says that it is folly to try to convince these individuals using facts and that using this tactic  is generally a waste of time.  

There are many psychological issues that prop up this research.  For one the concept of cognitive dissonance makes it very difficult to change our minds when a paradigm shift is required to accept the contrary evidence.  A book by Thomas Kuhn called the Structure of Scientific Revolution is about how difficult it is for paradigms to be shifted when it necessitates a change in world view.  There is a critical amount of discomfort required for these kinds of fundamental paradigm shifts to occur and before that point, humans will go literally to war and resort to violence to prop up their ill informed views.  

John Dean, former legal adviser to Richard Nixon wrote a book about another psychological tendency around issues.  He talked about the authoritarian type.  This is a type of person who needs to be lead (follower) by another authoritarian (leader).  This psychological condition amounts to being childish and fearful.  Just tell me what to do and I will be ok.  Fox news is full of authoritarian leaders but John Dean used Dick Cheney as a perfect example.  

  I don’t think it is any mistake that a common reaction after 911 was mass fear and many on the right used that fear to prop up their plans to make the conservative agenda popular in order for the Republicans to win into perpetuity.  Of course the supreme court helped out by stopping the vote count  in Florida in the election between George Bush and Al Gore who by the way would have won the popular vote.  Fox news started spreading fear with the imminent possibility of a “mushroom cloud”,  another attack and lack of safety in our “homeland” and they used many other wedge issues such as abortion and immigration to increase peoples fear of xenophobia.  The conservatives also capitalized on nationalism after the attack on the twin towers which also stokes xenophobia and fear of the future.  Jeb Bush, not George bush was a signatory to the Product for a New American Century or PENAC which knew that an attack on our country would sufficiently foment fear so that the conservatives could gain and keep power.  When it happened they were ready.

 I cannot tell you how many women have complained in my private practice that their husbands are obsessed with Fox News and that since listening 24/7, they have become angry and hateful in other words terrified and attached to the lie.  It has even broken up a few relationships due to excessive anger in the partner and attachment to hateful right wing policies.  Fox news has been proven to be very inaccurate in their reporting but the disinformation used by them causes more fear and hatred which in turn causes people to be ultra opinionated and even more attached to their world view(backfire effect)  

We do see this in some on the left as well such as liberal Jews supporting right wing political leaders in Israel, Also extreme attachment to Obama and also to Hilary Clinton even though both support neolibral policies which the supporter might be against.  This is due to partisanship. Here is a definition of partisanship: an  inclination to favor one group or view or opinion over alternatives

  In Buddhism we look at the primary causes of suffering.  Basically they are attachment to opinion, hatred, fear, anger and selfishness.  We are taught over and over that we are instructed to abandon  all views in order to created joy and happiness.  We are instructed to have a neutral mindset regarding all concepts that are the result of the egos beliefs.  This is a very tall order because most of us have fear about so many things from fear of death to fear of another attack like that which happened on September 11, 2001.  When we train our mind suffiiently we are able to better disengage from the emotional attachment that leads to partisanship in the first place.  We are more able to enjoy the ride and be humble about not knowing.  

Most importantly we need to divest ourselves of the need to change other peoples minds.  They have a right to their delusions just as do we.  As the Dali Lama was asked his opinion after meeting president Bush, His response was, “he had very good cookies”.  

Until next time be well

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

A Brief Guide to Effective Communication

A Brief Guide to Effective Communication
Michele Happe MA
September 8 2015

Being trained in effective communication can be the booby prize.  This means that in everyday life my training separates me from most people.  I must modify my standards and understand that most have not had this training.  I love teaching these principles to my clients but in all other arenas I am an outsider.  This little blog is my attempt to spread the word in the hopes that these principles may catch fire and ultimately change the world.

My Buddhist perspective demands that we must understand that we are all Buddhas, and that our shortcomings are just obstacles and obscurations which don’t allow us to express our clear Buddha-hood.  We all have the potential for clear and clean communication.   The task is to clear away the obstacles of poor training and egocentric desire to be right rather that to be clear.  Here are some of the principles I teach.

Speak clearly with enough volume

Many of us learn that we should not have a voice in childhood.  When we carry this into adulthood we may speak with low volume or we might slur our words together in order to not fully commit to what we are saying.  It is a way of avoiding getting into trouble.  This includes speaking under ones breath while walking away which is a form of passive aggressive attack. 

Make sure you are answering the question that was asked

When we don’t listen attentively and are more invested in being right we often muddle the message while formulating our response.  It is important to let go of all agendas and compassionately participate in empathetic listening.  My mom was famous for jumping ahead in the conversation and answering a question that she thought might be coming, completely ignoring the actual question or statement.  The ego will do this to us so when sitting down for a discussion meditate first on eliminating all ego from the conversation. 

Respond rather than react 

Avoid defensiveness while listening to the other.  Remember that there is nothing to defend.  We are adults, not children who are afraid of getting into trouble.  If you are aware of your own shortcomings you don't have to defend yourself over something you are already aware of.  When my husband points out my fussiness over detail I am generally able to respond by affirming his statement thus defusing a potential argument.

Use I statements and active listening

When having a discussion, state your case with I statements.  This eliminates the potential for blaming and labeling.  So you don't say “I feel that you are an idiot who never listens”.  You would rather say “I don’t feel heard or understood”.  This allows the other to actively and empathetically listen.  It is best for the responder to rephrase the statement such as “you are saying that when I don’t have eye contact with you and when I interrupt you, you don’t feel that I am listening to you”.  This is a very high level communication skill that whole books have been written about.  I suggest Getting the Love You Want by Harvel Hendricks for a deeper discussion on the subject. 

Refrain from tit for tat tactics

When the other has a problem with you, just let that be the problem that is discussed.  It is combative to respond with “well you do this or that”.  Pick another time to air your grievances in a direct and compassionate way, which brings us to the next principle.

Be direct with kindness:  eliminate hinting and loaded communication

Hints and innuendo are the death knell of effective communication.  A hint leaves us to our own imagination and if you are like me, I imagine the worst.  This can also fuel an angry response from the other because when one is passive the other can become aggressive.  Loaded communication also is passive aggressive.  Unpack everything you need to say and unload it with clarity and kindness. 

If you have an ultimatum be sure you are willing to follow through otherwise don’t make them

Never make a threat you have no intention of carrying out.  If you do this the other will learn to not take you seriously and will discount even a clear and heartfelt request.  Ultimatums will then be ignored. 

When entering any kind of  relationship communicate bottom line issues.

Essentially discuss the basic ground rules of the relationship such as monogamy, honesty, and the like.  If you never want children it might be a good idea to put this out early in the relationship so the other can exit gracefully before falling in love.  Many of these boundaries can be spelled out in the first weeks of dating just as you would get the  policies and procedures at the outset of a new job.

Use time outs effectively

Time outs are a wonderful tool when things get heated or you are in a stalemate with the other.  When calling a time out it is very important to negotiate the length of the time out.  This reassures the other that you are not exiting to avoid resolution.  When the time out is over it is equally important to readdress the issue at hand in a more calm manner.  Sometimes it is important to remember that it is ok to agree to disagree. 

In Summary:

Remember that relationships are born out of our innate need to connect.  This connection creates a synergy which renders that partnership so much more powerful.  We always must remember that we are on the same side, that it is you and me facing the rest of the world.  All of our relationships are opportunities to learn more about ourselves.  As we learn more we become better people and better partners.  This is how the world can be changed into a more peaceful welcoming place. 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Food and Weight and how Basic Buddhist Principles can be so Helpful

Michele Happe MA Certified Health Coach
August 4, 2015

I was fortunate to have extensive training in eating disorders.  I ran one of the first eating disorder units in the 80’s.  I learned that is more important to focus on the food and eating rather than weight.  Focusing on weight can be an attachment in itself.  Let me start with a few basic Buddhist principles that are helpful.


I prefer to call our issues with over eating attachment rather than addiction.  When we grasp or cling we are in attachment.  One of the most difficult things for the overeater to do is to contemplate letting go of that which has given us so much solace and pleasure.  We turn to food as our comfort.  It is soothing to fill our bellies when we are hurting or anxious.  It is hard to imaging having to deal with the emotions or life without our “friend”.  So we find fault with so many of the plans that provide help with this.  It is too restrictive, it is not real food,  it is boring, I cannot do this forever, I am a foodie, I do eat healthy food, just too much of it, it is too expensive.  The list goes on and on.  Ultimately we fear that we will fail, that it is an impossible task.  So we become attached to that which gives us comfort, to that which eventually may kill us. 


This is a tough one.  Many of us have to accept that we have an issue that is emotional/spiritual in origin.  We also may need to accept that we have a genetic tendency to hold on to the weight.  This theory was poo poo’d for so many years but now as more research is being done with gut bacteria we are finding that a genetic predisposition toward holding weight actually does exist.  I have had to accept, particularly in menopause that I can eat only very few calories of the right kind of foods to keep my weight in acceptable bounds.  It is tempting to feel sorry for myself, but ultimately, my health is more important than my physical limitations.  So I eat less because I want to live more. 

As a Buddhist, I accept that regular spiritual practice and meditation is key to becoming a happier person.  This form of discipline is no longer something that I resent.  We can resent having to brush our teeth ever morning and night but we do it because the dentist chair is not only painful but it is also expensive.  Having a disciplined life with regard to food is the same.  It is ultimately more painful the other way. 


When we become willing to get healthy in heart, body and mind, we actively become participants in how we think  We first learn mindfulness through meditation and the ability to become the observer of our mind.  When we look at that delicious dessert, we begin to dialogue with ourselves.  Is the prize worth the price?  These emotions will not kill me.  I will embrace them and let them come in so that they can pass. I began to see how my aversion to my feelings was the root to my compulsive eating.  When I realized that emotions are to be embraced and nurtured, I realized that they are impermanent. 


Realizing that everything is impermanent has been so helpful.  I can allow myself to be depressed.  With mindfulness I can become aware of what is causing my depression and work toward the remedy of the situation while not running from my feelings.  If I overeat, I can acknowledge that I am having a period of emotional eating and take better care of my self in other ways such as meditating, pampering myself with a hot bath or a nap or even indulging in a healthier distraction such as a good book, some exercise or a favorite show on Netflix. 

There is so much to cover on this subject so I will continue it in another blog post soon.  Rest assured that there is a way to be a healthy happy person with the development of healthy discipline and self regard.  My next blog post will deal with self hatred. 

Until then……be well


Friday, April 3, 2015


Michele Happe MA
April 3, 2015

Most of us have someone in our life who is suffering from either addiction, untreated mental illness, or other personality issues.  It is human nature to want to help the afflicted especially if they are loved ones.  Often we make the mistake of helping the problem rather than helping the solution.  It is very important to remember that if you  support to the problem, you are actually contributing to it.  The tough love folks say walk away or detach which is at times a very apt solution....but not always.

Detachment is a very difficult thing to do with those we love.  We hear about detach with love, but how to do that?  My Buddhism informs me about how to do this.  First we have to look at all of our attachments and understand that they are one of the primary causes of suffering.  We make efforts to let loose of our tendency to cling.  Many of us dealing with impaired family members enable over and over until we get jaded and hateful or indifferent to the other.  This is not detachment with love.  We must let our loved ones suffer the consequences of their own actions.  Our task is to develop compassion, deep compassion toward these loved ones who are suffering.  It is a painful process.  It is so much easier to close our hearts off to them.  After all, we learn in Buddhism that suffering is part of the is a part of life that is unavoidable.

Here is what I do.   I think of myself as a container for the others suffering.  I feel the pain and sadness of their affliction.  I process my judgement and anger and transform it into compassion.  The other is not just deciding to be impaired.  I look at it as their Karma.  It is their path to figure out.  I offer help for movement toward solution and kindly refuse to bail them out or enable their suffering.  If someone with mental illness refuses treatment options I just see them as not ready yet to recover and love them through their process.  I see this all the time in my coaching practice.  I try to be, and come from where my client is without pushing.  I offer possible solutions and back of and let them figure out how to solve the problem and if they want to solve the problem.  It can take months or years for a person to be willing to give up overeating.  I sit with them and assist them with other issues that they are willing to work on.

It is much the same with family members.  We all have different paths and it is not our business to decide the shape or form that a loved ones path should take.  I watched my sister kill herself with food and unhealthy life style which included over work and lots of stress.  She was often mad at me and refused to have a relationship with me and I honored that, but I still held her in my heart with love.  I was so happy that we were finally able to reconnect around my moms issues.  She even said she was interested in my food plan, but I did not push.  Three weeks later she was dead.

Sometimes we have to detach unto death if that is the other persons path.  It is so sad, but just remember the sadness is full of love and compassion..

Until next time,

Be well