Dr. Bill Thomas: Welcome to the Ask Dr. Bill podcast. Want to say before we get started, it’s been awesome, awesome response. Thanks so much to all you listeners. Thanks for taking us into your headphones with you and in the car with you. We’ve really been enjoying it.
So today, we’re doing a podcast in honor of Independence Day, even though it’s just June. You gotta warm up for these things.
Nate Silas Richardson: Oh yeah, well we’re taping in early June. Who knows when this’ll hit your speakers, but…
Dr. Bill: This is fun. We’re time travelers.
Nate: Yep, it’s been a minute too. We haven’t been in this booth for, oh, it seems like a month. Maybe it’s been a little less, but it’s been a while.
Dr. Bill: And you know, part of it has been we’ve been out on the road. A lot of people know this. We did a follow-up after the swing through the Carolinas. Then took some time and worked our way through New England, had a great time, I thought, in many ways, sort of a highlight week for the spring season.
Nate: Absolutely, especially for me. I’m from Boston, so I saw some old friends in the Cape.
We’ve been in Pittsfield. We saw my dad in Rhode Island. He lives outside of Boston, but he traveled down because it just worked better for him that day. We got some extra clocks on stage. He’s the epic clock collector, so he subbed in a couple and added a few to our stage setup, which, I don’t know if those of you who have seen the show have noticed, but we have a bunch of antique clocks right at the front of the stage.
Dr. Bill: That’s because part of our message is wake up.
Nate: That’s right, alarm clocks.
D. Bill: That’s right. Everybody needs them, so one way or another. So here we go. Today, like I was saying, we’re gonna talk about independence.
Nate: So like the independence of our country or…
Dr. Bill: Well, you know, that’s what’s interesting about the word “independence” is that it gets used in lots of different ways. I won’t do it here, but there’s a whole thing in mathematics and statistics about independent variables and covariants. But also it gets used in politics, so you know, declaring independence.
Nate: The Independent Party. Wait a second…
Dr. Bill: Right, exactly, so although you have to think about that, Independent Party is kind of weird…
Nate: Yeah, no there is no Independent Party. Is there an Independence Party?
Dr. Bill: Well, that’s different. I think at least in New York, there’s an Independence Party, but I love it. The only party I will join is the Independent Party, meaning I’m not joining a party. So it reminds me of Groucho Marx saying he wouldn’t join any club that would have him as a member. So sort of like that.
But you know math, politics, independence. When we come to the world we care about, and we really care about people and personal experience, we think about independence mainly as being able to live in the place and manner of your own choosing. That’s it. And think about it. When we’re growing up, a lot of times, it’s pretty cool if you have a healthy, happy family. Some people do. And you get a chance to grow into that experience where you’re moving out and getting, for example, your first apartment. And you’re like, “Oh, this is what this feels like.” Come and go when you want.
Dr. Bill: Dominion. That’s a good thing. So place and manner of one’s choosing. That’s independence. Later in life, a lot of people experience the opposite of independence, and that’s kind of a big concern to us. So when you’re not able to live in the place and manner of your choosing…
Nate: You’re dependent.
Dr. Bill: Yeah, that’s no bueno. We don’t like that.
Dr. Bill: So when we use the word “independence,” that’s really kind of a shorthand way of talking about having your choices respected and that’s what we’re after.
Nate: So you can be independent while needing certain things.
Dr. Bill: Oh yeah, well, look at it this way…
Nate: Doesn’t mean you don’t have needs.
Dr. Bill: Yeah, everybody’s got needs.
Dr. Bill: Everybody’s depending on other people. This is good because we’re sort of sorting out the difference here. I’ve got needs, I depend on other people. I am, in many ways, dependent on other people for things that really matter to me. Like, I’ll just give you an example. Nate, you’re gonna take the recording we do here and turn into this really beautiful podcast. And all of the ums and ahs and “what?” They’re all gonna disappear. I depend on you for that. I don’t have those skills, that talent.
Nate: Ah, um, you know.
Dr. Bill: Ah, what?
Nate: Actually this may or may not be applicable, but was “The Little Prince” about somebody who thought they were independent and just didn’t need anybody?
Dr. Bill: Yeah, but then he realized he did.
Dr. Bill: I think that’s sort of the story for all of us. We all depend on other people, but being dependent is living in a way where our choices and our preferences are not respected or listened to. And that’s not cool.
So there’s two things that go into being independent. I’ll just say this very quickly because it’s kind of simple. They’re the resources required to enable you to live independently.
Dr. Bill: So, you know, in American society, for a lot of people, that would be like…
Nate: A car.
Dr. Bill: A car, job, a place to live, you know, there’s certain basic building blocks, having your own money for food and stuff like that. And for most of our lives, most people, not counting people who struggle with some other issues, whether mental illness, or addiction, or physical chronic illness. But for most people most of their lives, they manage this independence trick pretty well. And then we get to end of life, and there’s a period of time where the resources required to help you be independent get to be more and more and more.
And that brings us to the second variable, which is the amount of available resources. And I always said to med students, if you wanna to never move into a nursing home, have seven daughters and don’t allow any of them to go to college or get married, and make sure they all live within a couple of miles of you. You totally have it, assuming they don’t hate you.
But that’s that idea. If you have lots of available resources, pfft, anybody can live where they want to!
Nate: Why not seven sons?
Dr. Bill: Sons are notoriously, in American society, notoriously better at…
Nate: Flying the coop?
Dr. Bill: Well not…expressing support.
Nate: Rather than giving support.
Dr. Bill: Yes, I’m just saying. For years, practicing as a geriatrician, most of my phone calls with, you know family members who were really getting it done…
Nate: Daughters and sisters.
Dr. Bill: Mostly. Not always. There were some sons who put their shoulder to the wheel, but…
Nate: Can’t we wave our magic wand and just make that difference go away?
Dr. Bill: That would be great. Yeah, so one of the things we’ll be talking about on a later podcast is something called care partnering. And we like that better than care giving because in the care giving scenario, the resource…
Nate: One-way street.
Dr. Bill: Bang. One person usually. So…
Nate: Message to the guys out there. Come on, let’s step it up.
Dr. Bill: Step it up. So what we have then is when your required resources are more than your available resources, you stop being able to live in a place and manner of your choosing. And last point, if you wanna change this, you have to change two things. Fewer required resources, more available resources. That’s how you create independence in old age. Two things, very simple. That’s how it’s done.
Nate: So how do you start to bring the required resources down?
Dr. Bill: Well, for example, taking care across your lifespan to make sure that, you know, every day, you move, you eat good food to the best, what’s available to you, you sleep well, and you realize that healing is really your business, not the doctor’s. So mesh, we call that. So that’s how you bend that required resources curve. If I could, this would never happen, but I could like do a clock thing where everybody today was more than 80 years old, starting 20 years ago they started doing yoga, exercise, whatever…
Nate: Just movement.
Dr. Bill: Moving regularly every day. If I could go back, and now here we are. They’re all 80…
Nate: But they’ve been moving for 20 years.
Dr. Bill: The amount of dependence in that group would be much less. And you say the same thing about eating, sleeping, healing.
Nate: Now, I just, this might be a tangent, but when you did your first experiment in the first nursing home, and you brought in the kids, and the animals, and the plants, what about that? I mean, MESH, is there like more letters you can add on? Is it a different…
Dr. Bill: To me, that really comes down to healing.
Dr. Bill: You know, to be separated from the living world, to be isolated, to be cast away in some sense, causes a lot of grief and pain, and a lot of hopelessness and helplessness. So changing the environment in a way that people really get engaged, and they heal some of those wounds, it’s good.
Dr. Bill: Really good. I think it’s good. So we have a question coming up. Are you ready?
Nate: What’s today’s question?
Dr. Bill: Today’s question is from AB, those are the letters. AB from Wilmington, Delaware.
My friends and I always talk about this when we get together. We always say that we should get a house and all move in together and just live like we did when we were in college. But we never do it. What’s the problem here?
Nate: So the friends and AB, what age are they?
Dr. Bill: I’m guessing probably 50s or 60s.
Nate: Okay, so…
Dr. Bill: Let’s call them empty nesters.
Nate: Okay, right. So the kids are off to college, they are maybe divorced or never married or whatever.
Dr. Bill: Or married.
Nate: Or married, and they’re wondering why don’t they just go back to the mode of sharing housing.
Dr. Bill: Yeah, sharing housing. They A, retain positive memories of that. Two, they’re all like, “Wow, you know, six of us sitting here, six houses, why can’t we all just have one house?” But it doesn’t happen. People don’t do it. And then they get together again two months later and they say, “You know what we ought to do?”
Dr. Bill: And then time goes by. So why does this not happen? Do you have theories, Nate?
Nate: Well, I mean, I also would just mention that there’s the option also of people buying adjacent or renting adjacent houses, and there’s several folks here in Ithaca that I have known about that they’ve got a kind of plan they’re hatching where they’re gonna all have a neighborhood, and when they hire a doc or a nurse, or whatever, they’ll make the rounds. Visit this house, that house, that house, and they can share resources in way and not necessarily all live under the same roof, but live in the same neighborhood. But my theory, I guess, which is just emerging as we speak here, is on AB’s question. I would say it’s probably likely that they’re remembering the easy things and forgetting the difficult things. And the difficult things, I would think, become more difficult after we are used to the independence of modern adult life where you’re the one who decides where the dishes go or that agency and…
Dr. Bill: And can I add to that?
Nate: You know, when you share with five roommates, you have to agree on a lot of things, and you have to operate on a whole other level in terms of your emotional space and your logistical…
Dr. Bill: And you have to be pretty good at sorting out conflict, so I think one interesting thing about the question is, what they’re talking about is, “Oh, you know, we get together. This would be so great,” and it is really great, and it would be really great, but sorting out the potential conflicts and the potential issues that could cause discord, that’s where the work is.
Nate: Yeah, and also when you’re 20-something in that house, you know that this is for now. When you’re 80 or 60 even, you’re probably thinking, “This is where I’m gonna spend the rest of my life.”
Dr. Bill: Right.
Nate: So that…
Dr. Bill: Raises the stakes.
Nate: That light at the end of the tunnel. When conflict comes, the 20 something says, “I’ll kick it down the road,” or, “I’m out,” or just like, “We won’t deal with it now. We’ll just kind of sweep under the rug for now. Yeah, when it’s time to move, I’ll just be free and I don’t ever have to deal with this or face that.”
Dr. Bill: I’ll add one more thing. People talk, like AB, they talk about this all the time. But if you really dig into it, you find out that cities actually have some rules about this. And many cities prohibit households being occupied by more than three unrelated people. So the idea behind the rules, I’m not making value judgment, but the idea is they wanna foster family housing, housing for families, whatever. But the thing is nowadays, what does that mean exactly? And the fact is we’re all creating relationships that are very much family-like. But if we’re not legally related, there are many areas where you cannot live together, more than three people, so…
Nate: How much of it also is just the differences in terms of our malleability of our habits and stuff when you’re two-thirds, three-quarters of the way through the lifespan, the developing brain thing and it develops to a point, and then it wants to maybe congeal or…
Dr. Bill: Be in a familiar pattern.
Nate: Yeah, be in a familiar pattern. And so you work to shake things up and, you know, get unstuck and a lot of the things that we talk about on tour. But again, when you’re 20-something, you’re still making all those connections, and when you’re 60, you’re maybe looking for more of a steady state kind of…
Dr. Bill: Well, what I think is that we haven’t yet gotten to the point of understanding how the brain in the second half of life interacts with intentional community. That’s what they’re really talking about, intentional household, so our experience set is very, very small. And I’m sure we’re gonna hear from listeners out there who have some experience and we’ll do a follow-up.
Nate: Yeah, I mean, gee. What’s about the 60s hippie commune movement? That was pretty huge.
Dr. Bill: It was huge.
Nate: I wonder if that’s where some of those laws came from.
Dr. Bill: Could be. All right, well listen, it’s been nice hanging out with you. I just wanna remind everybody that this is the Ask Dr. Bill podcast, and it’s brought to you by the Center for Growing and Becoming, and the Age of Disruption tour. It’s sponsored by LifeReimagined.org, find what’s next for you. And produced at Rep Studios, the venerable Rep Studios in Ithaca, New York. We’ll see you down the road.