[Author’s Note: As a nationally recognized expert on mental health and the proud owner of a doctor’s white medical jacket costume I bought on Amazon.com for a Halloween party a few years ago, I periodically share emails I receive from some of my patients in hopes it may shed light on an issue others may be grappling with. This is one of those letters. – TEJ ]
Dear Doctor Tim:
I hope you can help me. I’m extremely worried about my elderly parents. They’re both in their mid-seventies. Until six months ago, they seemed to lead normal, albeit boring, lives. My mom, Margaret, spent most of her days sewing dresses for her grandchildren and reading romance novels. My father, Bert, liked to go fishing and do the daily word Jumble in the newspaper.
But something’s changed lately, and I’m worried about them. I think they may have joined a cult. I know it sounds crazy but hear me out. They’ve both totally given up their normal hobbies and appear to have compiled a completely new group of friends – strangers I’ve never seen nor heard about before. No, they haven’t shaved their heads and thankfully, they’re not speaking in tongues or anything like that. But they’ve definitely changed.
The other day I saw them holding these paddles and swinging them at each other wildly. Do you think they might have joined some freaky S & M cult that gets off on spanking? I really don’t know what they’re up to, but I think I need them to get a mental health evaluation. They disappear in the middle of the day for hours at a time, several days a week. And when they head off, they never tell me where they’re going. One of them usually shouts something creepy like, “I’m going to spank your mom again!” What the heck is happening, Dr. Tim?
Lately I’ve noticed that they’re using words I’ve never heard them utter in the past. Words like “Fake dink” and “doing an Erne” and talking about some guy called “Nasty Nelson.” Sounds like a bad dude. Honestly, it’s like they’re speaking in code or something. And just this morning, they got into a heated argument when my mom seemed to be getting on my dad’s case shouting, “You’re always in the kitchen, Bert!” Dr. Tim, I’ve known my father for fifty years, and one thing I know is he’s NEVER in the kitchen. He feels cooking is a wife’s job. (I know. Don’t get me started.) Do you think this might be a sign of early stage dementia?
They used to watch BritBox murder mysteries every evening, but now they sit in front of the computer and watch YouTube videos about how to make pickles or something. Obsessively. I mean, seriously, Dr. Tim, how many ways are there to pickle something? I think they’re losing it. I worry they might be in some bizarre cult. But why now? Aren’t they too old to join a cult?
Dr. Tim, is there anything I can do to pull them out of this dark mysterious sect they appear to have been sucked into before it’s too late? – Signed, Concerned in Camano
I appreciate your sharing your understandable concern about your parents. I won’t sugarcoat this. Your suspicions are correct. Your elderly parents, Margaret and Bert, have in fact entered into a cult. The cult of Pickleball. The good news is, as far as I can tell from my research, it’s a relatively innocuous, non-violent cult, except for Nasty Nelson. But I must warn you, they can be aggressive in their recruitment tactics, sending out legions of their members to indoctrinate unsuspecting folks like your parents. Tragically, in recent years, I’ve seen several close friends get swept up into their strange, obsessed world.
“Pickleballers” as the cult members weirdly refer to themselves, often appear at first glance to be positive, friendly, and engaging people. But be careful. This is how they lure you in. They’ll tell naïve senior citizens things like “it’s a great physical activity for your age” or “it’s a fun way to meet new people.” What they don’t tell you is that all those new people you’ll meet are…. PICKLEBALLERS! And they can be insufferable, rambling on about their current DUPR rating (don’t ask – you don’t want to know, trust me), or they’ll compare pickleball paddles for no apparent reason.
I’ve lost some close friends to this enigmatic sect. Good people, normal people, who once they picked up that paddle somehow could no longer talk about anything else.
It’s extremely difficult to de-program someone once they’ve become indoctrinated into this bewitched world. Some families have tried to help their elderly parents withdraw from the sport by introducing them to shuffleboard or lawn bowling or darts, sort of the way medical professionals try to wean addicts off of heroin by substituting methadone. But in most cases, the septuagenarians just can’t handle the cold turkey withdrawal from this sport they desperately crave. And before you know it, they quickly lapse back into the cult, cheerfully saying odd expressions like “I’ll dink to that!”
Trust me. I know how alluring this game can be. Because I’m a victim, too. I was recently invited to play a pickup game. I had no idea what I was getting into. And before long, I was hooked. I wish you luck in getting your parents back. The odds are not in your favor, I have to tell you. Just ask my kids.
Let me know how it goes. I have to wrap this up. I can’t be late for my 1pm pickleball match. It’s a round robin. Many of my new best friends will be there. And one of them, a great guy named Bert, just bought a new ONIX Z5 graphite carbon fiber pickleball paddle that’s USA Pickleball Approved. I confess, I’m really jealous.
– Dr. Tim
That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.
#pickleball #pickleballrules #sportsforseniors #howpickleballislikeacult #whypickleballissopopular
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