The Mindful Midlife Crisis

Episode 72--Acts of Service As Self-Care with Dr. Lina Haji

November 16, 2022 Season 6
The Mindful Midlife Crisis
Episode 72--Acts of Service As Self-Care with Dr. Lina Haji
Show Notes Transcript

In this week’s episode, Billy talks to Dr. Lina Haji.  Dr. Lina Haji is a licensed clinical psychologist and licensed mental health counselor specializing in psychodiagnostic assessment, forensic assessment, dual diagnosis, serious and persistent mental illness, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and substance abuse treatment.

Her clinical experience over the last 20 years includes working with mentally ill and dually diagnosed adults in inpatient and outpatient settings, including correctional facilities, substance abuse rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, psychiatric hospitals, and private practice in four states. She has also supervised master’s level clinicians and post-doctoral residents and served as clinical director for a 500-patient maximum-security correctional facility. Her ultimate goal as a psychologist, regardless of population, is to accurately diagnose and identify patient strengths and areas for growth in order to better individualize treatment needs and goals.

She is here today to talk about how acts of service can serve as acts of self-love.

Billy and Dr. Haji discuss:
–How acts of service pull people out of themselves, boost self-esteem, and combat depressive thoughts
–Why service as self-care is a controversial opinion
–What does “self-esteem comes from esteemable acts” mean?
–The fine line between service as self-care and service as a distraction from attending to mental health issues
–The impact of not learning from mistakes on our society

Want more from Dr. Lina Haji? 
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If you liked this episode, check out these episodes as well:

Episode 58--How to Make Being Selfish Work for You with Val Jones

Episode 35--Rebalanced Thinking, Rebalanced Living with Tom Cody

Episode 15--Billy and Brian Discuss The Five Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman

Episode 10--Top 20 Strategies for a Happier Life with Tom Cody

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Billy:  Coming up on the mindful midlife crisis.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Acts of service is not anything that anybody recently has invented. I mean, religions talk about this. All kinds of religions talk about this for centuries before we we're even here. And Alcoholics Anonymous uses it. Narcotics Anonymous uses it, and there are a lot of therapeutic programs that use it. And so when I say acts of self care, I mean doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return. And why is that an act of self care? Because when you engage in that kind of behavior, there are few benefits. Number one, you're getting out of yourself. You're getting out of me, me, me, me, me. Even if something as simple as returning a shopping cart for an old lady for those two minutes, you're doing something for something else that you don't have to do. That takes time outta your day, that takes energy. And guess what? When you return that shopping cart for that old lady, you're gonna feel better about yourself. Guarantee it.

Billy:  Welcome to the Mindful Midlife Crisis, a podcast for people navigating the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. I'm your host Billy Larh, an educator, personal trainer, meditation teacher and Overthinker who talks to experts who specialize in social and emotional learning. Mindfulness, physical and emotional wellness, cultural awareness, finances, communication, relationships, dating and parenting, all in an effort to help us better reflect, learn, and grow so we can live a more purpose filled life. Take a deep breath, embrace the present and journey with me through the mindful midlife crisis.

Welcome to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. I'm your host, Billy Larh. Thank you for tuning in wherever you are. The purpose of the show is to provide a platform that gives people the space and permission to share their expertise and life experiences in order to help others navigate the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. Now, just to be clear, you don't have to wait until your thirties, forties, or fifties to apply this free and useful information. I know I would've benefited greatly from this information when I was younger. I'm sure there were people out there trying to tell me stuff like this all the time, but I was probably too stubborn, filled with youthful pride. Really didn't apply this advice in a meaningful way. But these conversations are universally golden and will help people of all ages reflect, learn, and grow. So if you hear something that resonates with you in this week's episode, go back and check out some of the other episodes.

This episode focuses on mental health and acts of service. So if you want more episodes like that, be sure to check out episodes 10 and 35 with Tom Cody, Fan favorite, where we discuss top 20 strategies for a happier life and rebalanced thinking, rebalanced living. Also, check out episode 15 where Brian on the basin, I discussed the love languages by Dr. Gary Chapman. So you can find out if acts of service is your love language, because that just may be the key to your happiness according to today's guess. So let's get that conversation started, shall we?

Today's guest is Dr. Lina Haji. Dr. Haji is a licensed clinical psychologists and licensed mental health counselors specializing in psycho diagnostic assessment, forensic assessment, dual diagnosis, serious and persistent mental illness, depression, anxiety, personality disorders, and substance abuse treatment. I feel like if you are any of those, you probably should check in with Dr. Haji. Her clinical experience over the last 20 years includes working with mentally ill and dually diagnosed adults in inpatient and outpatient settings, including correctional facilities, substance abuse, rehabilitation centers, outpatient clinics, psychiatric hospitals, and private practice in four states, New York, New Jersey, California, and Florida. In addition, she has supervised master's level clinicians, post doctoral residents, and served as clinical director for a 500 patient maximum security correctional facility. Her ultimate goal as a psychologist, regardless of population, is to accurately diagnose and identify patients strengths and areas for growth in order to better individualize treatment needs and goals. She is here today to talk about how acts of service can serve as acts of self love. So welcome to the show, Dr. Lina Haji.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Thank you so much for having me. That was a mouthful. It makes it seem like I actually did some stuff in life. Thank you for that. Well,

Billy:  I was just gonna say reading that was hands down the most tongue twister intro I have ever read right there. You've got some pretty fancy terms that pretty difficult to get through all that, but I assume that means that you're smarter than most. So I'm very excited to have you on the show because I am of mediocre intelligence and I like surrounding myself with really intelligent people.

Dr. Lina Haji: That's debatable <laugh>, but I'll take it, I'll take

Billy: Well along with clinical psychologists, you have many other roles, so many roles. In fact, you were so excited that you went over and above and beyond 10 roles. So let's look at all of the roles that you play.

Dr. Lina Haji:  So I didn't realize I went over the 10, but okay. So we have, I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a Jim Rat, a psychologist, a yogi, a New Yorker, a social justice warrior, an equalitarian, a mental health information speller, a supervisor, a mentor, and a private practice owner. It's definitely more than 10,

Billy:  But they're all very unique and interesting in some way. What do you mean by equalitarian?

Dr. Lina Haji:  So I think that one probably stems from the fact that my parents worked for the United Nations and it was drilled in my head at a very young age, like Kumbaya, we are the world. We don't see color, we don't see race, we don't see ethnicity. I was raised colorblind to a fault. Men and women are the same. Lgbtq q, black, white, gay, straight, old, young, rich, poor, everybody is equal. We are all humans. And so I thank my parents for that because even though I don't think it's very accurate in our society, I think that it's something to strive for. And I would like to think that I strive for that. So that's what I mean by an equalitarian.

Billy:  So I imagine that fuels your social justice warrior and that's sort of a punchline when they say, Oh, he got the SJWs, that sort of thing. So how do you identify as a social justice warrior?

Dr. Lina Haji:  So my father was an economist for the United Nations, so he spent most of his life kind of helping third world countries have economic resources. And again, with that upbringing and the kind of United Nations background, it was really drilled in my head that people should have, I don't think people should be equal when it comes to results and what they get, but people should have an equal starting point and we should all have equal starting points in terms of education, healthcare, food, shelter, the kind of the bare necessities. And I don't think that we do. And when it comes to mental health, I find that to be extremely prevalent. And so you see people with impoverished backgrounds or people with low education having more mental health problems, less access to mental health resources. I mean, I could discuss a dissertation on this topic. And so when I think of myself as a social justice warrior, I just really want to see people no matter what their background, no matter what their socioeconomic status, no matter what their race, no matter what their ethnicity, to have equal rights and equal opportunities and equal starting points in life.

That's what I mean by social justice warrior.

Billy:  As a social justice warrior who is also a New Yorker, I imagine you're doing it with a little bit of attitude while you're at it.

Dr. Lina Haji:  I'm doing it with attitude, I'm doing it with cursing. I'm doing it with a little bit of irritability, doing it rage. Yeah, I'm doing it with a little bit of an a-hole attitude. Yeah, yeah. Ok. I embrace that.

Billy:  One thing I like on your Instagram account, which is Rise underscore psychological underscore services, is you do some mental health information dispelling, where you take a taboo word, I think it's Taboo Tuesday or Taboo Thursday, one or the other. And you do something with a word like narcissist or something else. Why do you do that? What did that come from and how do you feel like that helps people understand, hey, maybe I shouldn't go to the top shelf word right away?

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yes, absolutely. Thank you for bringing that up, Billy. It's actually trendy term Thursday, and what I find is that, okay, so mental health is super vogue right now. It's very in, Everybody wants to talk about mental health and that's a great, great thing. We've come so far, whereas it really did used to be taboo and swept under the rug. And that's just kind of my crazy uncle, and we're not gonna talk about that and I'm depressed. But it was very pull up your bootstraps, show up no matter how you feel. And we don't care. And I think that it's great that we are discussing mental health, that it's come to the forefront and that we're looking at it in a very different lens. However, I also believe the pendulum has swung too far to the other side. And what I mean by that is that with everything that comes to light and everything that people discuss, there's always gonna be the downside of a ton of misinformation.

And people who don't really know what they're talking about or aren't qualified to talk about. Some of these things, and I'm not trying to be an elitist here, but just kind of people using these catchphrases and these catch words like narcissism and toxic and codependent. Those are just some that come to mind. And just using them erroneously or overusing them or attributing them to places where they don't make sense from a clinical perspective. And so, quite frankly, New Yorker, that drives me F in nuts. And I just wanna be like, What are you saying that's wrong? It makes no sense. And so I thought, Well, let me talk about it. Let me go ahead and make it a series and let me inform people how not everybody in your life who's an asshole, excuse my language, is a narcissist or not. Every time that you feel like you're doing too much for somebody, does that mean your codependent? Not every relationship is toxic. We're humans. And I think a lot of the time we're dismissing human experiences and we're kind of pathologizing them and we're adding labels and judgments and keywords. And that drives me nuts. Cause I think it really dismisses the fact that we're humans and that we're broad and we're complicated.

Billy:  Do you use DSM definitions in order to clear those up? Or how do you use a more clinical approach to

Dr. Lina Haji:  That? I also have a series called Misdiagnosis Monday where I focus solely on the dsm. And I'm very quick, I actually just filmed a video talking about how diagnosis is not the be all and end all right. The diagnosis is just a way to conceptualize a bunch of symptoms so that other providers can understand what's going on. It also guides the treatment. But DSM is just one thing, it's a diagnostic tool. It doesn't explain the individual, It doesn't explain individual characteristics or history or trauma. It doesn't explain. It's just kind of like, okay, you have all these symptoms that falls into this category and here's what the deal is. But it's limited, right? It's limited in that sense. It's kind of just the way medical models, you know, could tell somebody you have cancer, but what does that mean? Where is the cancer? Why did you get the cancer?

What kind of cancer? What kind of treatment? It's the same kind of thing. Yes, telling somebody they have cancer is very useful information. And then now, so when it comes to those kind of words though, because those are not necessarily in the dsm, I think it's more just looking at it. I use a lot the APA dictionary, American Psychological Association dictionary. So I look at them for kind of a clinical definition and then I kind of go from there. But also just kind of letting people know, listen, just because somebody's, like I said, an A-hole doesn't mean they're a narcissist. So for that, I will use the dsm. Toxic is another one. Everything is toxic. That person's toxic. My mother's toxic, my ex is toxic. What does that mean? Are they a liar? Are they a cheater? Are they mean? What does toxic mean? I don't really know. My ex used to love that word. Damn him.

Billy:  <laugh>. Oh, he sounds like a narcissist. Chris <laugh>, we actually talked about that in episode 58 with Val Jones where she talked about this idea of being selfish, that we use words like narcissists too much, that those are a buzz words. And we had talked about before that too many times people go to the top shelf word because they're seeking attention, especially if they're referring to themselves, they're gonna go to the top shelf word because that's what's going to garner more attention for whatever it is that's going on with them.

Dr. Lina Haji:  And I get that. I think people wanna be seen, people wanna be heard, people wanna be validated, but like you said, then they pick the bus phrase and think that that's gonna be like, Oh wait, you're bipolar, or you're narcissistic or your borderline. And it's like, that doesn't really say anything. What is really the issue? What are you really struggling with? What is really going on? As opposed to picking these catch words that really, and now they're diluted. So you know, hear somebody's a narcissist, you just kind of roll your eyes. I agree with your prior guest who said they're overutilized narcissistic personality disorder in community samples is extremely low. It's something like 1.6% of the population. But if you log onto Instagram right now, everybody's a narcissist. Everybody's ex is a narcissist. Everybody's mother is a narcissist. And it's like, wait a second. But the research shows it's 1.6% of the population that's really low. So what is really going on here Is it that people are just meaner, People are just lying more. They have a huge ego. What is really going on here? And I think that that's the downside of using these catchphrases and diagnostic terms is that you're not really addressing the issue. You're just putting this sticker on it and doesn't explain anything.

Billy:  Well, and like you said too, it dilutes someone who's actually going through the experience where it actually pertains to them and it makes them feel like, Well wait, you like, I actually am this and you are not. It reminds me of when people say that they're O C D, and I've tried to be more mindful of not saying that I have O C D, It's just like, no, I have particular quirks, but I'm not diagnosed O C D as much as I love spreadsheets and as much as I love order, there's a big difference between that and O C D.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, completely. O C D is a perfect example because O C D actual obsessive compulsive disorder is extremely debilitating. I mean, you have people who have to constantly check door knobs and they have to count in their heads, or they have obsessive intrusive thoughts and they lose sleep because they have to engage in different kind of rituals. It's not fun. It's horrible. It's debilitating. It really overtakes your life. Those are people with true ocd. And like you said, when people use those terms lightly, it's invalidating people who genuinely have those disorders. And I'm guilty of it too. We're all guilty of it cuz it kind of just finds its way into our mainstream language. But people who like to organize or they love spreadsheets or they like to be a particular way that's not ocd, that's just really organized. And like you said, it's just maybe some quirks.

Another one that I find drives me nuts is bipolar. People who have mood swings or they're angry or they're irritable or they're quick to react, they're like, I'm bipolar. And it's like, No, no you're not. You're just kind of a emotional wreck. <laugh>, you're not bipolar people, they don't sleep for 3, 4, 5 days. They can sometimes hear voices, they end up in the hospital, they end up in jail, they engage in really high risk behavior. You're not bipolar, you're just moody. That's another one that drives me nuts. You know what I mean? That's not what this is. And so yeah, it's invalidating people who really have these disorders and struggle with them.

Billy:  Well, you clearly have this energy and his passion for being a psychologist and being a private practice owner. And those are two roles that you're looking forward to in the second half of life. So what is it about those roles that you're looking forward to in the second half of life?

Dr. Lina Haji:  I've been in mental health for 20 years. I worked at the bachelor's level, then I worked at the master's level, then I worked at the doctoral level. And I've only been a licensed psychologist for six years, not even maybe five years. And so at the optimal licensed independent practitioner level, I've only been doing that for five years. Even though I've worked in mental health forever, I'm still learning. I don't ever wanna think that I'm not teachable. Sometimes I do get those just all humans. You just like, I already know this stuff. I know better than you and I'm smart and I have my doctorate and I have my license and don't tell me anything. I don't wanna be that person. And so I try to consult a lot with friends and colleagues and constantly read research and go to conferences. And I wanna remain teachable because at the end of the day, I don't know 5% of psychology, I'm always trying to learn.

Even my friend, our mutual friend, Dr. Collins, he's like brilliant in neuropsychology, but I'm like, I'm not smart when it comes to neuropsychology brain stuff and neuro stuff. That's just not my area. And so I try to keep myself informed and keep learning and keep understanding that just because I have this degree does not mean I'm an expert and that I know I'm the be all and end all that I know everything. As far as a private practice owner, it's so exciting for me. I started my private practice in 2020. It was something I always aspired, but I never thought I could do it because they don't teach you that in grad school. They don't teach you about QuickBook, they don't teach you about liabilities, they don't teach you about is my office space attacks, write off all that stuff that you're just like, I don't know. I had to learn that through trial and error, through asking people through consulting the hard way. When I discovered QuickBooks, I was like, this is amazing. Prior to QuickBooks, I was putting like what I earned on a Word document. I was like, okay, this one owes me this much and this one, yeah, it was really bad. If you love spreadsheets, you would've hated my organization <laugh>.

Billy:  I died a little bit inside, as you were saying, using

Dr. Lina Haji:  The box tables. This is the name of the client, this is how much. It was so bad. It was so bad. And then I discovered QuickBooks and I was like, Oh my god, this is amazing. So with the private practice, I'm also really looking forward to that because I've worked for people my whole entire life, which I think a lot of us do. And I was so used to people telling me what time I need to be at work, what time I need to leave work, how I need to work, what kind of work I need to do, the rules, the ethics, the corporate code, the bureaucracy, the administrative bull crap. I was so used to all of that. Now that I don't have to answer to anyone. I mean I still have to answer to courts and judges and things like that, but there are some days I don't set an alarm and it's like, oh, this is amazing. Did I just get outta bed at 9:00 AM <laugh>? You know you pay the price. Cuz on Saturday night I'm typing reports like a maniac instead of being out. But it's exciting because it's like, wow, I can set the tone, I can make my own schedule, I can decide what I'm going to do, what I'm not going to do. So yeah, those are two things I'm really looking forward to in this second half of my life. It's so cool, it's so different.

Billy:  Well let's do this. We're gonna take a quick break and then we come back. We're gonna talk to Dr. Haji about why acts of service can actually be acts of self care as well. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. If you're enjoying what you've heard so far, please do me a favor and hit the subscribe button. Also giving the show a quick five star review with a few kind words, helps others find a benefit from this podcast just like you are. Finally, please spread the wealth of free knowledge and advice in this episode by sharing it with the people in your life who may find this information and my mission to help others live a more purpose filled life valuable. My hope is that these conversations resonate with others and inspire people to live their best lives.

Thanks again. And now back to the show. Welcome back to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with Dr. Lina Haji, and if you're hearing excitement in my voice, it's because she's excitable. And so I like that we have this matching energy. And so we're here talking about this idea of acts of service as self care. And if you want a little bit more detail around that, you can go back to, I think it's episode 15 where Brian and I talk about the love languages and acts of service as one of the love languages. It's not one of mine, it's like one of my bottom ones. But that's why I find this idea of acts of service as an act of self love. Very interesting because a lot of people in the self-help industry will say that people actually need to take care of themselves first before taking care of others. But you are a big proponent of service as a form of self care. So how are acts of service a form of self care?

Dr. Lina Haji:  Absolutely. And I'm glad you brought this up. And so I find that in today's society, especially with social media, which we're knocking all the time, but let's be honest, social media also has benefits. We're very much in a me society if we really stopped and paid attention to how much we think about ourselves during the day, it's mind blowing. How do I feel? How do I think, what do I wanna do? What do I have to do? What is that person thinking about me? What does that person want to do? It's just me all day. And then social media has amplified that with these idea of chronic comparison. Acts of service is not anything that anybody recently has invented. I mean, religions talk about this. All kinds of religions talk about this for centuries before we we're even here. And Alcoholics Anonymous uses it, Narcotics Anonymous uses it and there are a lot of therapeutic programs that use it.

And so when I say acts of self care, I mean doing something for someone else without expecting anything in return. And why is that an act of self care? Because when you engage in that kind of behavior, there are few benefits. Number one, you're getting out of yourself. You're getting out of me, me, me, me, right? Even if something as simple as returning a shopping cart for an old lady for those two minutes, you're doing something for something else that you don't have to do that takes time outta your day, that takes energy. And guess what? When you return that shopping cart for that old lady, you're gonna feel better about yourself, guarantee it because you did something for someone. And for those two minutes you weren't thinking about yourself. You were thinking about this old lady and how you just made her life easier.

And that's just a micro-example. And so I think acts of self care are very important, but acts of service end up being acts of self care because it's cliche. But they say in order to build self-esteem, you need to engage in esteemable acts. And I really believe that. I think if you do right by other people, you're gonna end up feeling good about yourself. Now of course you have to find a balance. There's also that saying you can't pour from an empty cup. I completely agree with that. I think if we don't take care of ourselves, we can't really take care of others. But sometimes you have to take care of others in order to feel good about yourself. It's kind of a cycle. So that's why I think acts of self care are really needed. We've become such a selfish Mimi Me society. We forget about others all the time. And if we take time to care about others, we will inadvertently feel better about ourselves. It's like an automatic reward system.

Billy:  And it doesn't sound like it has to be a grand gesture. I mean, you just said just helping an older lady who's struggling bring the cart back. Something like it can be just that simple and hey, it's a two minute thing. It's a one minute thing that might give you enough to get you through the day.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, exactly. So when I bring up acts of self care, people think it has to be these grand things where it's like, I'm gonna go volunteer at a hospital two days a week. And while that is fantastic, or an animal shelter or cleaning up the beach or the local park, those things are great, but life happens and we have responsibilities and jobs and children and spouses and all that kind of stuff. And yes, I think they can be minor things like helping somebody cross the street, returning your shopping cart, you know, see a piece of litter, pick it up even if it's not yours. Literally there's research that shows that these little tiny acts of service throughout the day boost the feel good transmitters in your brain because you've done something good. And so they build on each other. And like you said, you might start your day feeling horrible and maybe lethargic and you don't really feel like it.

And maybe you're even having an existential crisis, but you help an old lady across the street and you're right Billy, that might be just the little thing you need to be like, You know what? I can do this. I can do this. I can keep going. Or even if we're playing the comparison game, realizing what holding the door for that person in a wheelchair, I have my legs. Even if it's little things of comparison that we take for granted, Wow, that person needed help opening the door. I don't need help opening the door because I'm blessed enough to have all of my limbs. And just realizing, let me be grateful for a minute. There's so many benefits to small acts of self care, not having to go clean the entire hospital next to your house.

Billy:  And it's not necessarily tied to emotion as well. There's a physiological effect where it releases endorphins, it releases dopamine that makes you feel good. And that's a lot of times why we go to the old faithful of social media or even why we drink a pop or why people watch porn. There's a dopamine effect that's there. This is a healthier dopamine fix right here.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Exactly right. Not only is it a healthier dopamine fix than like you said, scrolling endlessly through Instagram or horn or having a drink or whatever. It also builds on itself because you realize the reason we scroll media or get addicted to porn or gamble or anything like that is because it has a reinforcement, right? It's age old pavlo, it reinforces you get the neurotransmitters, the dopamine, and then you want more and more and more. Well, it's the same with of self care, except like you said, it's a healthy coping skill and it benefits society. And if we all did a little bit more of that, picked up the litter, helped somebody cross the street, made a phone call to somebody in need, whatever it is, those little things they build upon themselves. You start feeling better about yourself, you start feeling better about helping others. And then it continues to have this reinforcement cycle except it's a healthy behavior.

Billy:  You had a bumpy road getting to where you are here today. Do you feel like this is sort a pay it forward where you are helping people now with mental health crises? Is that sort of where you're at or is that how you view it? Or have you always had a passion for helping people when it comes to psychology and your practice?

Dr. Lina Haji:  No, this comes strictly from being helped myself. I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at the age of nine. I had stopped eating for three months. And to make a very long story short, everybody thought I had anorexia. I was a gymnast. They thought I was trying to lose weight. They thought I was attention seeking. And what happened was there was so much chaos kind of in my household cause my parents were not getting along that I had developed what's called conversion disorder, which is kind of the displaying of physical symptoms as a result of mental distress. And so I really thought something was stuck in my throat and that I couldn't swallow. And so I just kept saying something stuck in my throat. I can't swallow, I can't swallow. My parents took me, my mom took me to neurologist and cardiologists and pediatricians and I literally even had pediatricians yelling at me, you know, can eat.

Why are you being like, I was nine, I was a kid. And finally they realized, wow, this is not a physical thing. I mean they even put a camera down my throat to see if something was stuck. They said this is not a physical thing, this is a mental thing. And I met with a woman at a clinic in New York and she finally started asking me the questions that no other doctor had asked, Do you ever wish that you were dead? Do you ever feel like you don't wanna be here? Are you scared that this is never gonna go away? And I left that clinic with a little bit of hope. That was the first time I left that clinic with a little bit of hope. And I asked my mother, What is that woman? What does she do? My mother said she's a psychologist.

And I was like, I'm sold. This is what I wanna do. This is what I wanna do. I'm sold. This is my calling. And I know that I'm lucky enough to have figured out my passion at age nine. Some people spend their whole lives looking for their passion and came at a price. But I dealt with depression and anxiety and I definitely partied too much in my twenties and I was angry and irritable and I got in trouble and all sorts of stuff happened. And so my life by was not a straight line by any means. I've definitely zigzagged my entire life. And I used to compare myself for that and fought for that and think something's wrong with me. And then I realized, as cliche as it sounds, those are all such amazing blessings to have zigzagged and hit so many walls and had to struggle and realize, wow, at the risk of sounding like a narcissist. I think that <laugh> makes me me a better psychologist cuz I, I've been there. I'm lucky that I get to do what I want for a living. It's amazing.

Billy:  What was the draw to work with the 500 patient maximum security correctional facility?

Dr. Lina Haji:  So going backwards a little bit, I was taking kind of a dumb down forensic psychology class in college. I think it was called Psychology and the Law. And this gorgeous blonde walks in this woman with a presence, blonde hair, blue eyes, young glowing skin. And she's wearing this badass suit and all of a sudden she starts talking about how not only is she a psychologist, but she's a forensic psychologist and she works with psychopaths and sex offenders and murderers and the Jeffrey Dahmers of the world. I was like, oh my God. I'm like, this is amazing. How does this gorgeous woman with all this presence work with these crazy kind of people? Another moment in my life where I was sold, this is what I wanna do. And I started working in prisons at a very young age. At the age of 23, I had no idea what I was doing.

I had a bachelor's degree. I just thought, this is so cool, I wanna do this. I climbed through that. Like I said, I worked in prisons at the bachelor's level, at the master's level, at the doctoral level. And when I finally got to the doctoral level, I got a job offer to be the clinical director at a prison here in Florida. But they said it's the 500 worst inmates in the state of Florida. And I was like, What do you mean by worse? And so these are the guys that are not just committing crimes in society. These are the guys that are continuing to commit crimes in prison. They're raping and murdering and stabbing and selling drugs in prison. These are the worst of the worst. The encourageable high on psychopathy, high psychopathic guys. And you know me well enough now an hour to be done on no <laugh>,

Billy:  Somebody a at the mouth. <laugh>.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, I'm totally at the mouth. I'm like, say less like I'm doing this <laugh>. Yeah, it was called close management and it's again, it's like prison within a prison. And these guys are just, they yell at you, they curse at you, they threaten you. And I'm like, this is so fun. <laugh> <laugh>.

Billy:  Oh that's so wild. Because our mutual friend, Dr. Michael Collins, my best friend since I was 16 years old is a forensic neuropsychologist and down in Florida. And he always sends me these articles and he is like, I'm working with this guy today and I'm really threw it. And I'm like, Oh my God. And so the two of you are both expert witnesses for some of these crazy trials that take place in Florida. And here's the thing, people at the next segment break. Here's what I want you to do. I want you to Google Florida man and then type in your birthday because it's wild, and then type in your mom's birthday, type in your partner's birthday. The articles are just wild. And I'm sure you have been an expert witness in some of these search results that people are gonna find. So in the next segment here, I wanna play a little game called the Fine Line of Questioning. But before we do that, what makes you an expert witness and what's that experience?

Dr. Lina Haji:  So yes, Dr. Collins and I actually met, well we haven't even met in person. We were texting today. Cause I do the same thing. I said to him articles, he sends me articles like at Maniac I'm working with, It's awesome. We virtually met or electronically met because we're both expert witnesses in Miami-Dade County. So an expert witness is somebody who it's actually deemed by the court. So you can have all the credentials in the world that doesn't make you an expert witness. So there's certain criteria in Florida to be an expert witness, you have to have a doctorate, you have to have a license, you have to have some experience and you have to take a certification course. But once you're on the stand, then they determine how long have you worked in this field? What's your training, what's your experience, what's your licensure? And then the judge deems you an expert witness and then you carry on. So that's how that's an expert witness. And we can talk about the mess that is Florida all day.

Billy:  Well, I know that he runs into this. I imagine you run into this too, where you might get hired by one side, whether it's the defense or whether it's the prosecution, and you'll sit down and do an assessment and then you'll say, All right, here's my results. And they're like, Oh, well that contradicts our case, so we're not gonna use that. I mean, that's gotta be infuriating.

Dr. Lina Haji:  It's absolutely infuriating. And the reason that Dr. Collins and I get along is because we're both skeptical, skeptics, <laugh>, skeptic, pessimist. I'm sure you know that better than me <laugh>. So we'll evaluate the same guy. We were on a case of this atrocious guy couple months ago and we were both, he was trying to pretend he was mentally and we were both texting back and forth. Yeah, he's full of shit, let's cut this out already. And I'm like, Colins, I adore you because we never disagree on a case. See, we've only been on a couple together, but we never disagree. But yeah, that's the nature of the game. The other side is gonna have their expert witness and they might say he's, Oh yeah, he's totally mentally ill. And we're like, No, he's not. He's full of it. But that's the lawyers playing the game usually. Usually it's not that the expert witness is what you call a hired gun, which means somebody willing to compromise their ethics and just lie about data because they're getting a big check.

Call me naive. But I don't think most expert witnesses are hired guns. I think either they are not as adept as weeding through the bull crap or they are just not trained in a particular area. And unfortunately you do have some hired guns that are willing to compromise their ethics and lie about data in order to get a big paycheck from the defense or from the prosecution or whatever the case may be. Those are few and far between, I should say. Those are few and far between. Most experts are doing the best that they can with the information that they have. How

Billy:  Often are you on the stand and what's that experience?

Dr. Lina Haji:  I'm on the stand, I would say at least not as much as Dr. Collins. He lives on the stand. I'm on the stand probably I would say two, three times a month. The first time I did it, I was terrified. And of course true adrenaline junkie that I am now. I live for this stuff. It's like a chess game. I'm like, bring it on, ask me the questions. <laugh>, I know better than you, but it can be very intimidating. Actually, a month ago I got hammered for 45 minutes by a prosecutor because I had talked to the defense attorney prior to testifying outside and she had given me some other psych reports that hadn't been available. And so he was like, So you sat outside and you were reading psych reports? And I was like, Yes. And he was like, Well, did you think to disclose that? He just kept going and going for 45 minutes. And even the judge was like, All right, calm down, dude. It's not that serious. And the more experience I get in testifying, the more I absolutely adore it. Yeah, for sure.

Billy:  I imagine you have pushed through imposter syndrome by this point.

Dr. Lina Haji:  <laugh>. No.

Billy:  Oh no. You still experience that. That's good to know. That's good to know. Just as some random dude and all the random people out there listening to this who are like, Wow, this woman sounds really put together in super smart, It's good to know that imposter syndrome still is a natural response even for an expert witness.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, absolutely. I mean, like I said, I like to remain teachable. So I actually have a group of psychologists that I can sell with Dr. Collins being one of them. And some of them are so knowledgeable in areas that I know nothing about, whether it's threat assessment or school shootings or suicide risk. There's so many different areas in forensic psychology and sometimes they share thoughts and articles and I'm like, God, I'm not that smart. I really wish I was smarter. I think that's a normal human reaction to anybody in any field, unless you're a narcissist <laugh>.

Yeah, it ebbs and flows. Sometimes you're like, wow, you know, meet psychologists who have published 20 books and you're like, Man, I haven't published anything. They're so much smarter than me. And it's important to find a balance between not being cocky and not being overconfident and realizing that you are fallible as a human being and that you don't know everything. And between a balance of having confidence and say, You know what? I've studied this. I'm trained, I do my work, I try to do my best and I know what I'm doing. But there's a fine line. And there are absolutely days where it's like, God, I fooled everybody. How do they even call me doctor? Do they even know my thoughts?

Billy:  Well, let's do this. We're gonna take a quick break and then we come back. We're gonna put Dr. Haji on the stand, so to speak, and talk about some of the fine lines here between genuine access service and self-serving access service that are only done to make you look better in front of an audience. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. New episodes come out every Wednesday to help you get over the midweek hump. If you'd like to contact me or if you have suggestions about what you'd like to hear on the show, visit and click contact us while you're there. Don't forget to sign up for the newsletter to get free weekly meditations as well as free resources from our Reflect learn grow program. You can also click on the show notes for links to the articles and resources reference throughout the show.

If you wanna check out my worldly adventures, follow me on Instagram at mindful underscore midlife underscore crisis. My hope is that my trials, tribulations and successes will inspire you to take intentional action to live a more purpose filled life. And while you're at it, remember to show yourself some love every now and then too. Thanks again. And now back to the show. Welcome back to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. We are here with Dr. Lena Haji. She's an expert witness, she is a clinical psychologist. She's here today talking about the power of acts of service when it comes to self love. And so we talked about your experiences being an expert witness. So I'm going to start off with what I like to call the fine line of questioning right here as we take a look at two sides of a similar issue. So what's the fine line between service as self care and service as a distraction from actually attending the one's mental health issues?

Dr. Lina Haji:  Wow, that's a really good question. I think we have to look at the picture as a whole and check our motives. There's some of these accounts on Instagram, I'm sure you've seen in Billy, where people are doing these awesome good deeds for people. They're giving 'em a ton of money or they're building them a house, but it's on social media. So you're like, How genuine is this? And I watched those stories and I get the warm fuzzies and the tingling feeling like, Oh my God, they got that homeless person a house. And that's fantastic. But it's like, But wait, would you have done that if it hadn't been on Instagram? You have to question that. What is the motive? So I think questioning our motive is key. And then I think when it comes to acts of service, going back to that whole, you can't pour from an empty cup.

And so are you addressing all the other aspects in your life? Are you addressing your own mental health, your own physical health, your own relationships with family and friends, your sleep, your nutrition, I mean, all those things that we list that are important for you to be an optimally functioning healthy human being. Because if you're really just doing acts of service, acts of service, acts of service, my question is are you now kind of codependent or are you doing this to avoid taking a look at yourself and to avoid looking at your own issues and your own thoughts and your behaviors. And I know people like that. They just play captain save the world and they go around kind of saving everybody or they think that they're saving everybody. But really it's like, when was the last time you stopped and look at yourself? When was the last time you stopped and assessed? What do you need and what are you doing to make sure that you are functioning? You can't just save everybody else if you're neglecting yourself. I think that's the fine line.

Billy:  Well, and it reminds me of the conversation that we have with my friend Missy Pan. She was talking about what is her identity outside of being a new mom right now? And because her being, her whole identity was serving her daughter, taking care of her daughter, and she was really struggling with the mom guilt of transitioning out of that and then getting back to some of the other things. She had put in a lot of work to pursue various passions that she had and massage therapy and personal training and all those things had to go to the back burner and then she had to be a mom. And then pulling herself out of that was really, really difficult. So it sounds like people get wrapped up in taking care of others and they forget that they need to take care of themselves. I would see that in students too. We would always have the mother hen in the classroom who would take care of everybody else, but they were some of the most depressed, the saddest students around. And they were only felt good when they were taking care of other people cuz they didn't know how to take care of themselves.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, I totally agree with that. And I think that's a fine line again of balance is the key. Balance is balance is the key to everything. If you exercise too much, it's not healthy. If you eat too many fruits, too many vegetables. And I have nutrition coach friends who say, Yeah, of course you should eat chocolate and chips and pizza every now and then balance. I have trainer friends who say there's such a thing as over training. You cannot spend four hours in the gym every day. You're not. It's the same with anything. And as far as the new mom example, that's also a cultural societal thing. I can't speak to it, I don't have children. But I saw my sister go through that where she's a lawyer and she had my niece and she felt guilty about going back to work. And it was this whole thing.

And I felt bad because it's in France, in Europe, in a lot of European countries, you get a year of paid maternity leave and a year of paid paternity leave. And we in this country were cut the umbilical cord and you go back to work and it's like, what is that? Of course your friend felt guilt and shame because it's this culture of pushing her to like, okay, you have a newborn and be the perfect mother, but also get back to making money. And so I think that's not just a individual internal issue. I think it's really a societal issue. We live in a capitalist society. I mean I've literally had friends give birth and I'm not exaggerating, they cut the umbilical cord and a few hours later, the discharge from the hospital. I can only speak of France because I'm half French, but in France you give birth, you spend two weeks in a hospital, in a nursing room, you get taken care of, you get food delivered to you bond with the baby.

But here it's like the insurance company won't pay for another day. So get out with your kid even though you're terrified and you have no idea what you're doing. And also in a week please come back to the corporate office. It's crazy. And you have to find, I think balance. Balance is the key balance in motherhood. Balance is an athlete. Actually, when I got these questions about the roles that I play in my life, it was really a cool question and I thank you for sending it because at first it's funny that I have 13. Cause at first I was struggling. I wrote, I think I wrote psychologist and I was like, what else do I do? Do I do anything? I'm just, I'm always working. I'm just a psychologist. And then once I sat with the question, I realized, no, no, no, you know, do other stuff too. So again, it goes back to this idea of balance is key.

Billy:  Well you brought up the idea of if there isn't a camera crew there, would you have done this? So what's the fine line between service as self care and service as inauthentic acts for attention or even out of guilt?

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, I think if you're doing self care acts out of guilt, then it's not very genuine. But at the end of the day, if you're a true behaviorist, it really doesn't matter what the motive is as long as it's getting done. That's one school of thought I have on it. Who cares if you're doing it for social media? If the homeless man is getting a house, everybody wins. That's one chain of thought I have. But then you bring up another point, Billy, where it's like, if the camera wasn't there, would you be doing it? And so this idea of inauthenticity and having to be really honest with ourselves, cuz they say that integrity is really doing the right thing when nobody's watching. And I think that is a key component. Yeah, it's great to have feel good stories when there's a camera there. And yes, it's great to do the right thing when people are watching and also to spread the message.

We should all be doing the right thing and acts of service. But I like that definition of integrity. Are you doing the right thing when nobody's watching? Are you picking up that litter when you have nothing to gain for it and nobody's watching you pick up the litter? Are you helping the grandmother across the street when it's 10 o'clock at night and nobody sees you doing it? I think that's the balance here of authentic acts of service versus inauthentic acts of service or checking your motive and doing it regardless, no matter what. Truly doing it for not whether you get immediate positive feedback from external validation versus internal validation.

Billy:  How much of an awareness do we need to have if we're performing acts of service for the people who are receiving the acts? And the reason why I bring that up is because I talk to my friend Brooke, and she's actually gonna be on the show here in a couple of weeks. She was adopted and she talks about how so often people will say to her, We should just be grateful that you went to this family that took care of you. Their act of service gave you this life. So you should be grateful for this. I saw your eyes light up as soon as I said that. So what was your reaction as I was talking about that?

Dr. Lina Haji:  Well, for one, I hate when people say should, anything you should, should is neither here nor there. A lot of people should stop doing drugs, should stop. Do you know people would do things if they had it in them. If that were the case, I wouldn't have a job. So for people to tell her that she should feel a certain way, it doesn't solve anything, like you said, that's just gonna make her feel bad. You should feel good. Yeah, I'm sure there's a part of her that's absolutely grateful that she was adopted into a great family and that she ended up having a great life. But there's, of course, again, people are multifaceted. It's more complicated than that. She probably has some, and I'm assuming here, but she probably has feelings about having been given up in the first place and what was wrong with me or what was wrong with my biological parents or what happened or questions and questions.

And so she should feel grateful. Of course. I'm sure there's a part of her that has, And I would love to listen to her story now that you've pointed out, because I don't think telling anybody that they should feel or do something is helpful at all. I have you ever told an overweight person that they should eat less? I'm sure they're gonna look at you like, Oh, okay. I had never thought of that. That's amazing. Or a depressed person. You should get up. Yeah, I should get up. I would if I could. So this idea of you should is really not helpful. And again, when it comes to your friend Brooke, yes, these people did a wonderful act of service and it sounds like it turned out okay, she's your friend's home. I'm assuming she turned out to be a great person. But that's gotta be a complicated set of feelings when it comes to adoption. It's just not helpful.

Billy:  And when you hear her story, she turned out to be an amazing person in spite of what she grew up with in her adopted home. And what's even wilder is we're both from Minnesota. We met in Seoul at a random restaurant because the people that she was with were her sisters that she met for the first time ever the night before. It is a wild story. That episode is coming up in a couple weeks, so everybody makes sure that you listen to that one because your mind will be blown. It was a wonderful conversation. I wanted to talk to you about this. We had touched on this the first time that you and I chatted. So after the George Floyd murder and the unrest that followed, I mean just happened three miles away from where I live. I remember heading down to East Lake Street and helping clean up that neighborhood thinking I was doing the right thing. And I saw all sorts of white people like me down there helping out. But then I got this sinking feeling like this is all too little, too late. I should have spoken up sooner. I should have been more active, I should have been more involved. And then there was this moment when I started thinking, But now am I thinking that I'm the white savior here? And so what's the fine line there? Because it feels like no matter what I do, I feel like the white savior.

Dr. Lina Haji:  I totally get that. And I get this feeling of damned if you do, damned if you don't. And actually some of my work that I do is I do law enforcement screenings for police candidates. And of course these police agencies now after the George Floyd, they're all about making sure a police candidate has integrity, is honest, doesn't have substance abuse problems, volatility, anger, and all that stuff. I thought the same. Why didn't we not do these psyche evaluations? Why have we not been doing them from the very beginning? Why is every law enforcement agency not doing them? So that's one component. Yeah, it's crazy because to me, you went to your neighborhood or to a neighborhood to help clean up the aftermath of an absolute horrific event. And I don't wanna downplay it, it was a murder. It wasn't a tragedy, it was a murder and you went to do the right thing.

And I think that it shouldn't, I just finished talking about should, but it shouldn't matter that you're white, that you're male, that you're old, young, gay, straight Chinese, black. It shouldn't matter if you're doing the right thing, you're doing the right thing. And it sounds like you were doing the right thing as far as this white savior complex. It's funny because my father's Indian from East Africa is very dark and ethnic. My mother's French from France, she's very white. She talks like this. So my whole life I've been like, which box do I fit in? And I don't fit in a box. And the older I get, the more I appreciate not fitting into a box, but same thing. So you're white or you look white or you appear white. And so are you being this white savior. Well, if you're cleaning the neighborhood, what difference does it make?

You're doing the right thing. I'm a big believer. And it's not about what you look like, what you think your actions should speak for themselves. We all should have done more. We should all always do more. We should be outspoken. We should call our politicians. And I'm talking to myself I'm guilty of this too. We should vote. We should do this. We should pick it. We should riot. We should go in the streets. We should spread awareness. We should care about others. Should, should. But at the end of the day, my personal opinion, Billy, is you got up to go and do something correct after a horrific event. And that's really all that should matter. And kind of f what everybody else thinks. Even though I get it, I get it, that it makes you question like, Oh my God, am I doing this? Am I not doing that? It's hard. It's hard. It's complex.

Billy:  Maybe I can look at it in the sense that it's me making amends for not doing enough. It's me making reactive amends for not being proactive and doing more. So those are just things that I kind of wrestle with because hey, I wanna be involved in the community. And that's why I worked in education for so long is because that was my act of service, was to work in education. But then that's also why I never volunteered outside of my time because I would pour my heart and soul into my job as a teacher. And so I just needed to remove myself from that. And that's maybe me rationalizing it all, but that's kind of how I approached it. But I still obviously wrestle with that mentality. I still wrestle with that act.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Yeah, but that makes sense. I mean, I worked in prisons eight hours a day, five days a week for years. And so there were times where it was like, Well, I'm working with the population that nobody wants to work with. I get cursed out on the regular. I have to. I've witnessed murders and stabbings and suicides and mental illness and drugs and corruption. I'm doing enough. I get to come home and watch Netflix. I don't have to do extra stuff. But at the end of the day, number one, I chose to do that. I get a paycheck, I'll bite. Not a great one, but I get a paycheck for that. And so it's like getting back to that line of balance, you know, taught for years. And we know teachers are notoriously underpaid and undervalued and you were doing such a service in your own profession.

It makes sense that you would wanna come home and shut it off just to kind of preserve your own mental health. If you left school and then you started going to tutor in a city kids for free, yeah, you would be a freaking icon and an idol in a close to Mother Teresa, but would you be able to hold it together? Going back to that act of balance, if you got up and you saw that this horrific event happened and you went to clean your neighborhood, kudos to you. I don't care what gender, ethnicity, or race you are, kudos to you. You did the right thing.

Billy:  But the thing is, I can hear people already saying, what a privilege it must be to be able to turn it off. Because no matter where I go, I can't turn it off because of the way I look. It always comes back to that and it's like, Oh, it does feel like a damned if you do, damned if you don't situation. And so that's part of my mindful midlife crisis. That's what happened. I'm always in my head thinking about these things and cracking my voice like Peter Brady. And in a sense, sometimes it's kind of fun to explore those avenues because like you said, I'm always looking for ways to continue to grow because I know that I don't know everything. And so I appreciate those challenges and I appreciate your words of affirmation as we wrap up here on access service and love languages, words of affirmation is very high on my list, and I greatly appreciate you taking the time to chat with us today.

Dr. Lina Haji:  Thanks so much, Billy. It was a pleasure, and I will talk to you anytime.

Billy:  Oh, I appreciate that. That warms my heart. If you want to connect with Dr. Lina Haji, you can go on Instagram and look up Rise underscore psychological underscore services. That is the longest Instagram name in the history of Instagram names. But you can go ahead and find it. Make sure you spell everything correctly there. You can also go to Dr. Haji has a YouTube page. You can look up Rise Psychological Services on YouTube. You can get all the information about these trendy words that she's sharing. That way you don't go to the top shelf word and you actually know what you're talking about when it comes to mental health from time to time. Once again, thank you for being here today. Thanks Billy. Also, I know Dr. Haji and I would greatly appreciate it if you would share this episode with the people in your life who may benefit from her expertise in life experiences.

As I said at the beginning of this episode, the purpose of this show is to help you navigate the complexities and possibilities of life's second half. So I hope this conversation provided you with some insight that will help you reflect, learn, and grow. If you did find some value in this week's conversation, be sure to subscribe to the show wherever you get your podcast, so you never miss an episode. If you're an Apple listener, please consider taking a minute or two to leave a five star review with a few kind words. And if you're a Spotify listener, click those five stars under the show Art. Finally, you can check out the rest of our episodes at or wherever you get your podcast. So for Dr. Lina Haji, this is Billy. Thank you for listening to the Mindful Midlife Crisis. May you feel happy, healthy and loved. Take care of friends.