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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Perfectionism

I consider myself a recovering perfectionist.  I don’t think I can ever be cured of it, but I do what I can to keep this part from causing me unnecessary suffering.

Perfectionists come in many varieties.  I am not the type that is meticulous about my appearance or my house.  I don’t spend hours on assignments or projects trying to get everything just right.  I am more of the variety that cannot tolerate failing, being terrible at something, or making a mistake. 

I was one of those annoying students who thought that a C was failing.  I didn’t get many of them, but when I did I cried hysterically to my professor, begging for some way to redeem myself.  To this day, I think back on the one C I got in college and think, wow I wonder how my life would have been different if had I at least gotten a B in Anthropology.  And then the voice of reality kicks in and reminds me that it wouldn’t have made any difference.

It’s hard for me to do something I’m terrible at.  I once went bowling and played two games.  In the first game I scored a 16 and in the second one I scored a 31.  I’m pretty sure that most 5 year olds could score better than that.  And I’m sure that with practice I could improve my average.  But the thought of doing something where I am at risk of embarrassing myself is too anxiety-provoking, and it’s easier to choose something that I’m good at like tennis.

Making a mistake–particularly one where I am chastised for doing something wrong–is the hardest of all.  As I indicated in a previous post, criticism sends me into a spiral of anxiety, self-doubt, and shame that far exceeds what might ordinarily be expected from the actual remark, which might be something as innocuous as “I thought that ball was in.”  I never forget a mistake, and I try never to make the same mistake twice.

Blogging has been an opportunity to practice something that I do well–writing and talking about myself–along with something where I have no idea what I’m doing—promoting my blog.  While the writing part is going surprisingly well, the promoting part is a constant source of stress. 

For example, I did not realize that publishing multiple posts in a community in a short period of time constitutes spam, and when you do this the administer of the site will remove your posts.  Which means I broke the rules and have been punished accordingly.  Now I’m terrified of doing anything out of fear that I may unknowingly further violate protocol.

So I’ve decided to take a break from promotion and write a blog post instead.  This is the part I really like, anyway.  And I’m trying to remind myself that it is OK to make mistakes.  That no one knows what they’re doing before they do it.  That it doesn’t make me a bad person.  That I don’t have to be perfect.

And then I took an Ativan, because that’s what my psychiatrist told me to do when I’m having an anxiety attack.

Thanksgiving

There was a time when I questioned whether miracles really occur.  I could not understand why God would intervene in some people’s lives but not others in a way that appealed to my sense of justice.  Now I realize that you don’t have to understand why for something to be true.

As I await my parents’ arrival, I can’t help but remember when they came to my house for Thanksgiving two years ago.  At the time, my mom was obsessed with learning how to type to prepare for the dreaded electronic medical records implementation. 

My dad was still in the midst of the worst depression he’d ever experienced.  He was somewhat better than he had been two years prior, but still a shell of the larger-than-life person I had known all my life.  Still, in his compromised state he decided that he, too, would practice typing.  I was encouraged by this, because in his darker moments he barely had the motivation to exist.

Several hours later, he asked me for help.  When I looked at what he was working on, I saw that he had been trying to log on to his email account all of that time.  I wanted to cry.  But at the same time, I admired his determination to master the computer, even though he was no longer practicing medicine and did not have to worry about electronic medical records, and even though his cognitive abilities were greatly diminished. 

I write a lot of blog posts about my affinity for challenges.  It is definitely something that has been instilled in me by my parents, whose favorite motivational poster says “Don’t quit.”  On that day two years ago I was thankful that the depression had not destroyed my dad’s fight.  He was still a warrior, albeit a wounded one.

Last year around Thanksgiving, somehow the depression completely lifted after 3 years, even though nothing had changed in his meds.  It’s as though his personality finally broke through and he was exactly the way he had always been, which was essentially in a sustained hypomanic state.  It was truly like seeing someone come back to life. 

These days, he is constantly on FB, commenting on people’s pictures and posting copies of every photo album my parents own.  In fact, the only reason he is not on FB right now is because he is on his way to Knoxville.

My dad’s recovery is nothing short of a miracle, and every time I think of him I say a prayer of thanks–even though he tells me that I need to lose weight and gives me appetite suppressants.  Actually, he read that post, so now he tells me I look good.  So I’m thankful for blogs, too!

And wouldn’t you know that my parents showed up right as I finish this blog post.  God has perfect timing. 

I even have a picture for you today.

The Inner Critic

While I spend a lot of my time with the drill sergeant, the inner critic is my constant companion.  The two of them are great friends and they often like to show up together:  the drill sergeant will tell me what I should be doing, and the inner critic will give a running commentary of what a terrible job I’m doing.

Take this morning, for example.  I finally felt well enough to get out of bed and eat, so I was looking forward to making some coffee and oatmeal.  I even had enough energy last night to do the dishes.  One of the dishes was that plate that goes in the microwave that lets the food rotate while it cooks. 
So I was putting that plate back in the microwave, and I guess I must have hit the front glass on the door because the entire glass panel shattered, spraying shards everywhere. 

The inner critic had a field day with this.  Look at what you’ve done!  You’re so uncoordinated, you can’t even put the plate in the microwave without destroying the whole thing.  Now you have to clean up all the glass and you better make sure there isn’t a single shard anywhere.  And now you’re going to have to buy a new microwave so don’t think that you have any spending money this month.

I am trying to practice acceptance of this part of myself but this one is tough because it just seems abusive.  It seems like the inner critic wants me to be perfect so that nothing bad ever happens, but that doesn’t make me feel any compassion toward it.  I guess I need to think about this one some more.

The best I have been able to do is to channel my inner optimist to counteract the inner critic.  I’ve needed her a lot the last few days since I’ve been sick at home alone with no one to check on me.  Plus now I have two light bulbs out, so my place is even darker than it was last weekend.

So the optimist jumps right in whenever the inner critic talks and says things like, well at least the glass didn’t get in your eyes and blind you.  Or you could have gotten cut badly and had to go to the emergency room.  And now you have a good excuse to call your friend over to change your light bulbs because he will have to install the microwave, too.  So really it all worked out for the best. 

Tomorrow I’m going microwave shopping.  I’ve talked to my friend and he’s going to come over next Sunday and play handyman for me.  And I finally felt well enough today to play tennis and even had dinner with a friend.  All in all, after a shaky start, it ending up being a pretty good day.

So take that, inner critic!

Meet the Drill Sergeant

I am now about to introduce you to one of my most challenging parts.  I call this part the drill sergeant.  Many of you may have a similar part.  My drill sergeant demands productivity at all costs, and not in a nice way.

I am not a morning person, as I indicated in my first post.  The drill sergeant doesn’t give a crap.  He (I think of it as a he) doesn’t give a crap if it’s a weekend, either; he still wants me to get up.  I don’t listen to him, of course, but I pay the price.  For every extra hour of sleep I try to get, the drill sergeant yells at me, telling me how other people are up doing normal people productive things, while I am lying in bed wasting my life away. 

It doesn’t matter if I don’t have anything pressing to do.  The drill sergeant will make up random to do lists as though these things are of the utmost importance.  You need to wash those bath mats! There are scraps of paper all over the house that need to be put in the recycling!  I’m pretty sure there’s a mug in the sink that needs to be washed!  Get up!

I have been sick for the last few days, which is very frustrating for the drill sergeant.  I always get sick at this time of the year because, despite my best attempts to manage the stress of my job, I still get exhausted and can’t function.  The drill sergeant is frustrated because I was just two days from making it to Thanksgiving break, but I had to miss a day of work, anyway.  And I have to say, that frustrates me, too.  But what can I do?  I don’t even feel like playing tennis.  Or eating!  If you know me, you know that’s bad.

In my efforts to practice self-acceptance, I’m trying to get to know the drill sergeant better, understand his point of view.  I can see how he’s trying to prevent me from a life of sloth-hood.  And I do have to wake up early to get to work.  And sometimes you really do need your drill sergeant, like when you have to channel your inner warrior on the tennis court.

So I’ve struck a deal with my drill sergeant.  As long as I am waking up when I need to, fulfilling my obligations, and being a productive member of society, he can be at ease.  But I have promised to call upon him when I am in need of some ass-kicking motivation. 

So far, it seems to be working.

This doodle reflects my less positive emotional state at the moment.  I think it looks like some kind of scary octopus with floating eyeballs, albeit in pretty colors.

Self-Acceptance

Today I was looking for blogs on self-acceptance that are similar to mine, and there really aren’t any.  Interestingly, most self-acceptance blogs specifically deal with acceptance of your body.  Apparently that’s the main thing people have trouble with.  I guess I’m in the right business. 

Anyway, I realized that the phrase self-acceptance only appears once in my entire blog, and that’s in the little blurb on the top of the first page, so I figured I better correct that.  This probably should have been the first post, but oh well.  Better late than never.

I believe that, no matter how well-adjusted someone is, everyone has a part of them that tries to make them feel bad about themselves.  Call this part what you want–your inner demon, your inner critic, your superego–but there’s no question that it’s there.  And there are lots of other parts of us, too–children, warriors, and rock stars, just to name a few.  And just like in real relationships, sometimes these parts don’t get along.

We are often at war with ourselves: there are parts of us that we do everything in our power to get rid of and hide from the rest of the world.  That’s why people want and fear therapy at the same time.  On the one hand, we think, hey wouldn’t it be great if I told someone my deep, dark secrets and she said I wasn’t crazy?  But at the same time we think, but what if she does think I’m crazy? That would be terrible.  That’s why it’s always a courageous thing when someone goes to therapy.

Therapists have the luxury of hiding behind their professional status if they want to.  You don’t want to seem too crazy, or no one will want to come see you.  But if you seem too perfect, then it’s hard for clients to relate to you.  Although I want to be transparent, I know I err on the side of seeming perfect because it feels safer that way.

But as I get older,  I want to be more honest about who I am and accepting of all my flaws, and I want to do this in a way that inspires other people do the same.  It’s always better to show someone how to do something than it is to tell them how to do it, so that’s why I started this blog. 

Sometimes it’s still terrifying to publish some of these posts, but when someone tells me that they  related to one them, that they think just like I do, then I know I’m doing the right thing.

Since some of you liked my last doodle, I thought I’d post another one for you.

Solitude

I am about to share with you my most shameful flaw so please don’t judge me.  And this post isn’t that funny.  (Although I always think I’m kind of funny, even when I’m being serious).  But it’s the truth, so I have to say it.

I have been in a relationship non-stop since I was 14.  That’s 30 years of relationships, and not just to one person.  So no pearls for me. ( That’s the 30 year anniversary gift, in case you didn’t know.  I just looked it up.)  And sometimes the relationships were slightly overlapping towards the end.  And often they were not very good relationships.  And I knew this at the time, but I stayed in them, anyway.

In my defense, the marriages were both relationships with two very good guys, but that doesn’t guarantee that a relationship will work, as I indicated in my previous blog.  But most of the other relationships were not very good.   I stayed in them because 1) I’m drawn to guys who need psychological help and 2) I am terrified of being alone and am in need of psychological help myself.  My attitude was that something was better than nothing.  I didn’t have any empirical evidence to support this, but that’s how fear is:  it feels true, even when it’s not.

So in addition to channeling all of my energy into my long-standing dream of becoming a writer, I have also decided to be alone for the first time. 

A lot of my married friends say, oh I would love to be alone.  I look forward to the times when my husband and kids are not in the house.  I, too, appreciated my alone time when I was in a relationship.  But it’s different when you go home and no one will be there, and you don’t know if or when someone will ever be there.

It’s different when you could fall and hurt your back and not be able to reach your phone and call for help and people might not notice that you haven’t been around until you stop showing up to work for a few days.  Then they would have to send someone down to find you because you’re not answering your phone.  That’s not the same thing as having a break from your husband and kids at all.

Last night I tried to change one of the flood lights in my bedroom, but I couldn’t reach it.  I tried to use that thingy that allows you to reach light bulbs that are really high up but the floodlight was too big.  I probably wouldn’t have been able to get the thingy to work, anyway.  I considered getting out the ladder but that would definitely result in bodily injury and/or death.  I don’t want to call one of my guy friends and ask them to come over and change one light bulb, so I’ll probably have to wait until several bulbs burn out and exist in semi-darkness in the meantime.

Don’t get me wrong–I know that in the grand scheme of things, I’m a very lucky person.  I have a loving family and a great group of friends, I can support myself and I love my job, I have a nice place, and I am hopeful that at some point another relationship opportunity will present itself.  Still, there’s no amount of self-talk that can change the fact that sometimes it sucks to be alone.

I’m a big proponent of learning how to sit with negative feelings.  This is what I tell my clients all the time.  I’m often amazed that they start doing it because I tell them to.  Sometimes they’re better at it than I am.  I’m amazed that I can give them the courage to break up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, even though they were terrified of doing so.  At those times I think, why is it that I can help them do it but not myself?  It doesn’t work to be your own therapist, apparently.

But now I’m ready.  I’m going to face sadness and loneliness and fear if it kills me.  I am going to find out whether or not it’s true that it’s better to be in a bad relationship than none at all.  Obviously it’s not true, but like I said, fear is not always logical. 

And it’s going OK so far.  Sometimes it does suck, but it’s not as bad as I thought it would be.  Because when I was in a bad relationship, I still felt sad and lonely and afraid, but I also beat myself up for staying in a relationship just because I was afraid of being alone.  It’s much better without that last part.

The thing I miss the most is having someone to talk to–someone to share how my day went, to talk about the book I’m reading, or to share any deep and meaningful revelations I’ve had.  But now that I have this blog, I have all of you to listen to me.  And that helps a lot. 

And you know what else?  My neighbor called me this morning to check on me because she hadn’t seen me in awhile and wanted to make sure I was OK.  I was afraid she was going to tell me she hit my car or accidentally opened my mail again or try to get me to come to church with her, because those are reasons she has called in the past.  But no.  She was checking on me.

I take that as a sign that God is looking out for me.

I read this blog that said that if you want to get people to read your blog you should have photos to keep it interesting and not to use other people’s work.  I’m not sure how you take a picture of solitude, so I thought I would post one of my doodles from last night.  Please don’t judge my drawing, either.

Self-portrait

Unlike the men in my family who can draw and sculpt and make replicas of batman masks out of construction paper, I am not artistically-inclined.  I can’t even draw a straight line.  Or a round circle.  I knit, but you just have to follow a pattern.  And I make jewelry, but for some reason I don’t think that counts, either.  And I was an English major and love to write, but I don’t think I’m creative enough to write a novel, so I just write about myself. 
 
This past weekend I went to an eating disorders conference because that’s what I specialize in.  This year I decided to do all the touchy-feely workshops rather than the research ones.  My favorite workshop was the one on art therapy.  We had to do 6 different drawings of a bunch of doodles.  Then we had to pick the 2 that we felt the most strongly about.  Then we had to tear out the shape of our body for the #1 pick and glue it to the #2 pick.  This was supposed to tell us something about ourselves.
 
I’m all about symbolic expression, but I was a little skeptical that this exercise could reveal anything meaningful about me.  But then she showed us examples of self-portraits from eating disordered patients, and it was remarkable how much they revealed their struggles with their bodies, food, and emotions.  Then she asked for volunteers to show their art work.
 
Ordinarily I would be too self-conscious to show my work, even if it is just a bunch of doodles.  But Ibo really wanted to get some feedback about my self-portrait.  I thought that it might have something to do with being stressed out, since there was so much going on outside of me in the picture–almost like colorful asteroids knocking me over.  And I had just gotten the rejection email minutes before the workshop, so I figured that must have played a role, but I wasn’t sure how.
 
After the workshop I asked her for some feedback, and then I spent some time looking at my self-portrait.  I can’t explain how I came to this conclusion, but the drawing made me realize that I needed to stop doing the freelance writing job–which really fascinates me.
 
Maybe creativity is like athleticism:  we think it’s some innate ability that we either have or we don’t, but maybe it’s possible to get better at it.  She recommended that we take time out every day to play by doodling pictures, and I thought that was a great idea. I have been doing it every night before I go to bed. If there’s any chance that it can help me get my blog turned into a book by enhancing my creativity, then I’m all for it!  I have no idea whether it’s working, but it does make me feel like a kid again.
 
I am so proud of my self-portrait that I’ve shown it to a few friends, and one of them said that it’s multicolored/multifaceted, like me.  I really love that interpretation!  I am open to other interpretations, too, if you have one.