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Big Little Lies

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I’m not much of a TV person. I mostly read and knit in my spare time. And play tennis, when there isn’t a pandemic. When I do watch TV I mainly watch sports and occasionally the news. But these days I try to avoid the news altogether, and there are no sports on TV. So although binge watching is not my thing, I decided to check out the one show that appealed to me, and that’s Big Little Lies. Because I’ve read the book twice.

I have problems watching a movie that has been adapted from a book because the book is always better. It’s impossible to do justice to the complexity of a book in 2 hours. Plot lines and characters have to be eliminated. Directors take liberties in changing the story in ways that I’m sure the authors wouldn’t appreciate. And you don’t get to hear how the characters think. You only hear what they say, see what they do.

But now I see there are advantages to a limited TV series. First, it’s like a 14 hour movie, so you don’t have to leave any of the good parts out. And you can add music, extra plot twists, more character development, and some adult language and nudity to spice things up. You get visual images of expensive houses perched on the beachfront so you can see how rich and lucky they are for having a view of the ocean in every gigantic window.

The one disadvantage of being able to see the abuse is that it made it much more painful than it was in the book. For me, at least. Though I have not experienced physical abuse directly, the feeling of walking on egg shells, being aware of a sudden shift in someone’s mood, knowing when you’ve made a mistake and that you’re going to pay for it–I can totally relate to that. I often found myself crying, afraid, and overstimulated after the show was over. Although, like the book, the show is tempered with humor, the volatility of that particular plot line overshadowed my memory of anything else that had been funny.

I’ve been reading Alice Miller’s “The Body Never Lies.” It’s common knowledge in the trauma literature that trauma can be passed down from generation to generation, and the experience and memory of it can be stored in the body. Even if the abuse is unconscious. Or you’ve spent your life actively trying to forget.

I always figured the transmission of intergenerational trauma was passed down through the ways we’ve learned to communicate in a relationship. Patterns that repeat with each new person–what I’ve referred to as a repetition compulsion. Doing the same thing over and over, hoping that with this person, maybe we can get it right. Maybe I can get the person to love me. To give me what I need.

I’m realizing, because of this show, that trauma is more than learning patterns of relating to other people. It is the actual embodiment of another person’s pain. I can feel it when I’m watching it happen to someone else on a TV show, even though I know it’s a fictional account. And I can feel what happened to my parents, as though they were my memories. As though it happened to me. Even things they never told me.

It is this ability to feel what other people feel that has led me to choose clinical psychology as a profession. It allows me to be helpful to other people, but it also means I can get overwhelmed easily. This is true for most therapists. Usually it’s called burnout. But when you have a trauma history, it’s called being triggered. You are transported back to that moment all over again. Terrified. Confused. Ready to flee, fight, or freeze. Or fake. Those big little lies.

The pandemic has actually been helpful to me, because in the absence of my usual  stressors, I can see what I’m like when nothing much is happening. Turns out that I still get these tremors of anxiety and depression but I have no idea why. I described them to my therapist as after shocks. Like when the earth adjusts to an earthquake that has struck it to its core. Reverberations of tectonic plates colliding, trying to reestablish equilibrium.

In my meditations, I have begun apologizing to my body for the way I’ve treated it–forcing it to do what I want it to do, ignoring what it asked of me. Not eating, not sleeping, pushing it to exhaustion. Shaming it out of its needs. Every time I meditate I renew my commitment to listen, to protect, and to do no harm to myself again.

The buck stops here.

Love and Resentment During a Pandemic

One of the benefits of practicing self-compassion is that it becomes easier to let go of grievances–the ones that we hold against ourselves and others. It’s still hard- to do– a lifelong practice–but one of the most worthy goals we can strive for, I think.

How to be Unsuccessful

Screen Shot 2020-04-15 at 12.29.36 PMLast year I read a book called Perfect Love,Imperfect Relationships.  The book had a profound effect on me then, and I keep thinking about it now during this crisis.  We all have obsessions, and psychology is one of mine.  I guess along with more time for one another we now have more time for our obsessions too.

The author of Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships, John Welwood, says that we’re all essentially searching for a kind of “perfect love” that is not really available in human relationships.  Essentially, we want someone to love us all the time and never let us down.  So until we learn to experience love on our own, we will always end up disappointed.

Welwood also extensively describes what he calls “un-love”.  When we are rejected or disappointed or ignored, we feel this un-love.  We learn to resent other people for making us feel this way. …

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Déjà Vu

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At the end of 2013, my youngest brother R. stopped taking his antidepressants. My mom, who is a doctor, was giving him samples, and she told him that he needed to find a doctor to prescribe them. Because it’s the legal thing to do. Not wanting to have depression on his record, and coming off 5 years of steady employment, he decided to go off of them instead. I begged him not to, but he was afraid to be dependent on them in the advent of an apocalypse and wanted to prepare himself.

Three months later he was depressed. And, as I’ve mentioned based on my own folly, every time you have another depressive episode, it’s harder to recover. My psychiatrist described it as breaking your leg in the same place over and over. Still, he did not go to the doctor until his depression and anxiety were so bad that he could not make it to work. His job was very generous, allowing him to cut back his hours to as little as he needed and keep his job. But ultimately the shame and guilt of not being able to go overwhelmed him and he quit.

After a few months of unemployment, my brother moved back home with my parents. My dad, who had been depressed for 4 years, went straight to a manic episode and was blowing through his retirement money. And my mom’s retirement money. And she could do nothing to stop him. So he took on the impossible job of trying to figure out how we could stop them. But the situation was so bad that, instead of helping them, he had a heart attack. At the age of 40. And since they were in no mental state to care for him, he moved in with me. And still lives with me.

It has been a rough 3 and a half years, but in the past year R. has been feeling much better. He is able to go to make it in work, has friends, a church community, extracurricular activities. He’s the happiest he’s been in a long time. But it was a 6 year journey–a high price to pay for going off his meds.

Last winter my other brother M., who also struggles with depression, stopped taking his medication. Because he didn’t want to have to see his doctor for his yearly follow up. And he didn’t want to be dependent on the meds. In case there was an apocalypse. And he got depressed right a way.

A few days ago in our sibling Zoom meeting, M, confessed that he had stopped taking his meds and recently restarted them. He was feeling anxious, having chest pains, shortness of breath. He couldn’t eat, couldn’t think clearly. He was afraid of losing his job. He was a loser, a failure. He worried about homelessness.

It was déjà vu.

We did everything we could to talk him into going to his doctor to discuss getting back on meds. And to rule out the possibility of a heart attack. Like R. did when he was depressed and anxious, M. makes excuses because he doesn’t see how dire his situation is. Doesn’t seem to remember anything that happened to R. Doesn’t recognize that history is repeating itself.

I’ve been trying to convince him to come stay with me until he gets better. Yes, there is a travel ban, but I consider the possibility of him committing suicide or having a heart attack essential travel. I feel as anxious as I did when my younger brother was about to be released from the hospital and would be in may parents’ care for recovery. Which meant certain death.

It’s strange to be in this catch-22: trying to convince my brother of something that will save his life, knowing that it will once again probably cause me to become anxious and depressed. This is the first time in a very long that I feel mostly relaxed. I’d like to enjoy it for as long as I can. But I don’t think he can get better in isolation. And he is also at risk for a heart attack. And he’s bipolar and could become manic.

Is every family like this? One mental health crisis after another? Will there ever be a time when things can be “normal”? Just for a little while? Just so I can catch my breath?

R. thinks it could be a good thing for all of us if M. comes. He will have someone to talk to. They can exercise together. R. can take him to church, introduce him to his friends. Maybe one day he and M. can get a place of their own, which is their dream. M. would be closer to his kids. I could have my space again but have them close by.

I hope he’s right.

Trying to Explain Depression

Great blog post on depression!

How to be Unsuccessful

shutterstock_321921797When I was a junior in high school, I was hospitalized for depression.  This followed two previous hospitalizations for anorexia when I was younger.  I was placed in the Adolescent Unit of the hospital, which contained mostly troubled kids from foster families.  They could not understand why I was there. “I don’t get it,” one kid said to me. “Your family has money, you’re cute and athletic” (I had just starred in a basketball game.  I’ve never been good at basketball, but most of the other kids on the Unit smoked instead of doing sports), “and you’re smart.”

I didn’t understand it either.  It did seem like I had a pretty good life compared to most of those kids.  I did well in school and my parents were decent people, still wanted to live with me and didn’t beat me up.  They divorced when I was eight and that was…

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Resolutions vs Intentions

Resolutions

This year I started out with too many New Year’s Resolutions, so I had to do something equivalent to an upgrade to eliminate the bugs. Version NYR2020.1, you might say. This version focuses on discipline in 3 areas:

  1. physical activity most days of the week
  2. going to the grocery store 2x/week
  3. cooking most days of the week

My drill sergeant had a lot more goals in mind. For the new year, for today, tomorrow, the weekend. Lots and lots of goals. For example, my drill sergeant would like #1 to be something like do one day of yoga, one day of strength training, one day of cardio, and show up for all of your court times. When, in reality, I’m not even able to make it to my court times. And that’s actually more like 5-6 goals masquerading as 1.

I’ve read that by the 3 week point, which is today–January 21–most people have abandoned their New Year’s Resolutions. In my opinion, failure to adhere to our goals is due at least in part to our inner critic (drill sergeant in my case), who

  • sets unreasonable goals
  • tries to motivate us with guilt, shame, and fear of failure
  • reminds us of how terribly we are doing compared to others
  • tells us that we are weak and lazy
  • creates more goals when we’ve checked everything off our list
  • never praises us when we do well
  • has an all or none approach to success, which usually means failure

I have to remind myself that I don’t have to listen to what he says (mine is a he). I guess this is resolution #4: to be more discerning about my goals. Does it come from the drill sergeant, or is it something that will directly benefit me?

For example, the drill sergeant doesn’t like it when I have clothes that have not been folded and put away. It is an incomplete laundry cycle if you have clean clothes piled on your bed. Or dirty clothes lying all over the floor because your clean clothes are in your laundry basket. This doesn’t even count as doing laundry, the drill sergeant says. The drill sergeant’s goal is to keep repeating this to me over and over again until I do what it says or lose my mind.

But that is one of the places where the drill sergeant tricks you. My goals do not always align with his goals. I can ask myself, does that really benefit me? Putting my clothes away? Compared to using that time to pack lunch for tomorrow so that I don’t have to spend money? If I only have so much energy left at the end of the day, I’d be better off packing lunch. Which still requires that I go to the grocery store. Which is already hard for me. But at least it’s consistent with my goals. Whereas having a complete laundry cycle is not.

Other reasons why we often give up on our New Year’s Resolutions is that we forget. We’re tired. We are unmotivated. We’re hungry. We want comfort. We want something to be easy. In other words, we are human. Which is OK, because not being human isn’t an option.

In fact, I try to think of my resolutions as intentions. Every day, these are my goals. And when I am too tired to exercise, too hungry to go to the grocery store or cook, then I practice self-compassion and do whatever will be most helpful for me in that moment. And the next day I start again, because intentions are renewable. Indefinitely.

The drill sergeant is usually saying negative stuff the whole time that I deviate from his plan, but I try cultivate an attitude of acceptance, forgiveness, and kindness in the midst of his negativity. Because I am my most motivated self in a loving environment, so that’s what I try to create.

The Uses of Prayer, Part 2

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A few years ago I wrote a blog post about praying for sports. Here is the revised version of the prayer from that post:

Dear God, please let my team and my opponents remain injury-free, be kind to themselves, their partners, and the opponents, and if at all possible, to win. 

I don’t think God is some kind of Santa Claus who grants your wishes, but I have heard that God wants to be in conversation with you, which is what prayer is. And God is like a parent, and I would tell my parents that I want to win, even though they can’t make that happen. They don’t always give me what I want, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Although I really do pray for wins occasionally–when it’s a big game–most of my prayers are not about sports. What I pray for the most, which I wrote in another post about angels, is that God will send an extra angel on my behalf to people who I know are suffering. For me, angels are the metaphor for what in Buddhism might be called loving-kindness or compassion, which you send to people during meditation practice. I like the idea of having actual angels who look out for us. And when we pray for someone, we can ask God to let that person borrow one of ours. Sometimes I’ll ask for an extra one if I’m really struggling.

I do think angels are real. I don’t think they always look like celestial beings dressed in white, with wings and a halo. Most of the time they look like people. Friends who just happen to text and ask me how I’m doing while I’m in the midst of a mental breakdown. Strangers who stop on the freeway and ask me if I’m OK while my car is stuck in the median. A boyfriend who genuinely takes pleasure in helping me with the 2 things I hate the most–cooking and grocery shopping. These people seem like angels to me.

I imagine I have been an angel to other people, too. I do genuinely believe that my purpose in this life is to alleviate other people’s suffering, to whatever extent that is possible. Maybe that’s what we’re all supposed to be doing while we’re here on earth. To be angels to one another, using whatever unique skills and abilities we have. To provide whatever comfort we can, even though we can’t fix everything, or keep bad things from happening.

When I did that self-compassion retreat a few years ago, we were practicing a meditation in which we sent compassion to people who are suffering. I asked the leader if he really believed it helps the other person. Whether sending compassion really makes a difference. He told me that he didn’t know if it makes a difference to the other person, but it made him feel better. That has really stayed with me. That’s really the main use of prayer for me. It just makes me feel better to do it.

How Was Your Blog Reading Experience Today?

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of requests to rate my experience with 5 stars on every single thing I do. I’ve already had 2 requests today, and it’s only 2 pm. So there could be more forthcoming.

My first one started with a call this morning asking me to pre-register for my CT scan on Monday, because my GERD/asthma/allergy/throwing up thing has really gotten out of hand. This is the 14th time I’ve had to confirm my information for my last 8 appointents in the past 2 months. Because in addition to making you pre-register by phone, they also ask you to do it by logging into My Chart. Or they mail you questionnaires to fill out beforehand. And then when you get to your appointment they ask you the same questions again because apparently they don’t have to read the chart or the forms you filled out. So I was already not in a 5 star mood. And before the woman gets on the line, I get a recorded message asking me to take a brief survey after my call by logging on to some web address. They really need to perfect that approach if they want 5 star ratings. Because that’s way too much work. And I don’t even get anything out of it. They could at least offer 5% off my next co-pay.

As expected, she asks me the same questions they ask every time. No, I have not moved since last week. My insurance hasn’t changed. I feel safe in my home. I haven’t fallen in the past 12 months. Except in this one she asks me for the last 4 digits of my social. Apparently I gave the wrong answer. I was like, I don’t know what to tell you. Those are really the last 4 digits. So then she was like, can you bring your SSN card to your next visit, to prove it’s you? Seriously? I told her, not so patiently, that some people don’t even give out their SSN’s, so I don’t see why I need to bring my card to prove that the number they have on file really isn’t me. After providing some examples of how she can verify it’s me in other ways–my address, phone #, first of kin, etc.–she finally agrees to email someone and give my corrected number and says hopefully they’ll take her word for it. Whatever. And then she told me my co-pay was going to be $248 and do I want to pay for it now. No, I don’t want to get out of bed and get my credit card downstairs and pay for it now. But thank you for warning me in advance, because I thought it was covered by my insurance.

If I had remembered the web address for the survey, maybe I would have actually filled this one out, but not because I was going to give her 5 stars. I am not a satisfied customer.

After that, I changed my sheets and got out this new silk pillow case I ordered on Amazon, and you know what was in there? A $5 coupon if I go on the Amazon website and give their product 5 stars. Which I will probably do, because I buy something from Amazon almost every day. A much better approach, if you ask me. Buying my satisfaction.

If you enjoyed this blog post, please feel free to leave me a 5 star review 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟😉.