What I have learned from Michael Phelps
Do you like listening? I love listening! Listening to you and what you have to say, having one-on-one conversations with my friends and team members, and also listening to audiobooks and podcasts to learn about what interesting people and game-changers have to say.
The other day, I came across an interview with Olympian Michael Phelps on The Tim Ferris Show. I love this podcast because it is about people who have either achieved, in one way or another, seemingly unachievable goals, or who have significantly contributed to the greater good in the world.
As you may be aware, Michael Phelps, a.k.a. ‘Aquaman’, a.k.a. ‘Superhuman’, has raced in four Olympic Games between 2004 and 2016, has broken 39 world records, and won 23 Olympic gold medals! For most people, he is a hero.
It is easy to jump to the conclusion after achieving such incredible goals and heights of success, that managing and navigating ordinary daily life should be easy for a person like Michael, but that is not true.
Over the years, Michael has openly talked about his battle with depression both during his competitive years, and after he stopped swimming. He bravely confessed that he was suicidal at times, despite being one of the most admired people in the world.
His courage in sharing his struggles publicly has helped other people feel like they aren’t alone with their life challenges. He played an essential role in starting an important conversation about addressing the epidemic of mental health problems in our society. In a way, he has helped others come to terms with struggles that in one form or another are a part of everyone’s life, especially now.
Why is this important now?
Before the COVID crisis, for most of us life was much easier. We could talk to friends in person, go for coffee, dinner, attend a gathering, go to group fitness or a yoga class, and everything would feel better. Unfortunately, the 2020 “curveball” of COVID made everything different.
When our species “was born” we lived in social groups and tribes similar to those of apes 🐒🐒🐒. A very clear support structure was in place. As time progressed, tribes started to lose their importance and the rise of fast modes of transportation led to people moving from place to place. This has left many peoples' families scattered around the country, or the world.
Losing these tightly knit family and community structures has had a negative effect on peoples' quality of life. For many people the only regular social interaction they have is with their dogs. They are also our heroes.
Could there be better ways to deal with the current crisis?
Here are some examples highlighting how elected officials often do not consider the full picture. Their decisions often negatively affect peoples' mental health.
The Canadian government seems to have taken a hard-line with regards to border and travel restrictions. They have done this despite the fact that over 98% of coronavirus transmission occur within the community and are not due to international travel.
The Prime Minister publicly announced that citizens need to be tested before coming back to Canada, then again on arrival, then be locked up in a government selected hotel with the price tag of $2000 and then complete 14 days of quarantine in isolation at home without the ability to get outside, exercise, get fresh air or walk your dog!
If this doesn't sound like complete BS, I don't know what does!
Why are two negative tests not enough and why do people not speak up against rules that make zero sense.
I have a friend who lives in Australia with her family. She has a terminally ill mother living abroad. She isn't able to go visit her because she is unable to secure one of the limited number of quarantine spots for her trip home. She can't risk being separated from her children for a long period of time if she isn't able to come back home.
Perhaps some of you may think I should not be writing about this, but if we do not talk about these serious issues that have been coming up, nothing is going to change. It is as if our elected officials have completely lost their minds, and are making decisions based on what is politically popular as opposed to basing them on what makes medical sense.
Freedom to move is our constitutional right. They can't forbid us to move, but they can make it practically impossible, which carries emotional and mental health costs.
Some countries have taken a more sensible approach of testing incoming people and releasing them if they are negative. We now know that the virus mainly spreads in bigger social gatherings and not as much during air travel.
Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that the coronavirus crisis needs to be solved and lives protected by taking certain precautions, however, it seems that our government has failed to recognize that their decisions have led to destroyed lives due to depression, isolation, financial hardship, business closures, and bankruptcies.
Isolation and mental health issues have also worsened the opioid crisis, which the government doesn’t seem to be nearly as focused on in terms of finding a solution. For example, the numbers of opioid-related deaths have risen by more than 200% in recent years, and not much has been done. Why is there such a glaring discrepancy?
I am writing these lines not to discount concerns about COVID, and I am also aware this is not the most upbeat writing nor it is dog related, but it is important for us to talk about this. After all, peoples' well-being affects our dogs too.
The best decisions are the sum of all parts
For more than 20 years, I have been a yoga practitioner and learned from my teachers that we are the strongest and most resilient by “bringing everything into the middle”, the center-line of our body.
This approach is also the most reasonable, when it comes to the current crisis. We need to stay in the middle, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater because resorting to extreme measures, will cause unnecessary collateral damage and lost lives too.
Why do I care about this so much?
Before 1989 when The Iron Curtain fell, I lived in what was then known as Russian-occupied Czechoslovakia. We were told we had to walk the “communist party line” for the sake of the nation, and the greater good. We didn’t have the right to move freely, and the similarity of that to our situation now is frightening all people I know who experienced the regime.
I accept that we should respect the boundaries of others, but the decisions some governments and officials are making violate our constitutional right to freedom. Totalitarian regimes never happen from one day to another. They creep up on us in the name of greater good and often nobody notices until it is too late.
A few final words
I am prepared that some readers may think that I am being irresponsible in suggesting that everyone should be able to make their own personal choices. What I am suggesting is the need for a balance between personal freedom of choice and social responsibility.
I am concerned that many government officials are making arbitrary decision based on political strategy and not medical facts. They don't seem to consider the long term impact of their decisions on the emotional health and fiscally sustainable future of our society.
What I am hoping for is a discussion that will lead to a balanced approach to problems, which is what we need when addressing the current crisis. We can't spend all our money and resources on one issue and ignore mental well-being, economic rescue, and climate change, issues that are critically important in the long term.
Let’s try to stay in the middle, not go to extremes, and continue this important conversation. Thank you for reading and listening.
Stay healthy, safe, and give your dog a hug for me!
Dr. Peter Dobias