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Monthly Archives: November 2013

Warriorism

I captained 5 tennis leagues this year, which most people would describe as an exercise in torture.  Rescheduling matches is a pain, and it’s hard to make everyone happy, but for the most part I enjoy it.  I see it as an opportunity to be a sports psychologist. 

One of the messages I try to instill is the idea that, just as we all have inner children (Sophie, for me) we also have an inner warrior.  Granted, some warriors are more deeply buried and out of shape than others.  For those players on the team, we have the Warrior in Training program (WIT).  A good time to channel your inner warrior is when there is a crucial point, like serving at 30-40 at 3-3. 

The levels of warriorism have evolved over the years.  Last year I had an asthma attack during a singles match.  I’d had a few of them before but I just assumed I was out of shape.  But my friends saw that my lips turned blue and I was wheezing, so after the match they told me I was having an asthma attack and that I should have retired.  It was this match that made me finally go to the doctor, which is how I found out that, in addition to allergies and exercise-induced asthma, I also have GERD. 

For these reasons, I no longer play singles.  But at the time, I just thought I needed an extra-strength dose of warriorism.   I channeled my inner drill sergeant (we all have one of those, too) and started yelling at myself:  soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam didn’t get to quit.  They had to deal with fatigue and lack of sleep and mosquitos and rain and fear of getting killed.  So what if you can’t breathe?  So what if you’re losing?  So what if you can’t move?  You still have to finish the match!

My friends thought is was so funny that I used soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam for motivation that this became our new rally cry.  Before a team mate got on the court, we would yell “jungles of Vietnam!”  Later this got abbreviated to jungles for short.  I even got my team mates pins to put on their tennis bags with the word JUNGLES on it in an army-looking font. 

I also found some monkeys and apes, so I bought those, too.  I would have preferred a variety of jungle animals, but it was pretty amazing that they sold apes and monkeys at all, with exactly 12 per pack–one for each team member.  Even more amazing is that I was able to pick a monkey that represented each player.  So then our rally cry became ape and monkey calls for those team members who can imitate them.  I can’t so I still yell jungles.

The last level of warriorism is when you are in the trenches of the jungles of Vietnam.  This would apply when you’ve lost the first set and are down match point in the second set.  Or when you haven’t slept in over 24 hours and have to play at districts in the deciding match, which happened to me this past summer.  Because it requires you to channel so deeply, this level should only be used in dire circumstances.

I remember at the end of that match, after mentally preparing myself for battle the entire day and spending a good amount of time in the trenches, I was shocked that we still ended up losing.   Then I realized that in war, there are warriors on both sides, and half of them will lose.  In fact, a bunch of warriors on the winning side will get killed, too.  So it’s not a fail-proof strategy.

Still, if I’m going to be in the trenches, I’d rather be there with my warrior in charge than any other part.

Hard Core Fan

I often get asked why it doesn’t depress me to listen to people’s problems all day.  I guess it’s because I find people’s stories fascinating–a puzzle to solve.  And I genuinely enjoy getting to know someone who is ready to deal with their problems.  It takes courage to acknowledge that you need help and to do something about it.

But probably the biggest reason why it doesn’t depress me is because I am an optimist.  I believe people can change, can make their lives better.  This comes in handy when you’re following a losing team.

My brothers and I are avid UVA fans because we went there.  It’s different to be committed to a team because you went there or because they’re from your state than when you choose a team because they’re good.  Anyone can cheer for a winning team.  Being a hard core fan, on the other hand, takes dedication, patience, and optimism.

One of my brothers is such a hard core fan that before the game he spends weeks researching the stats of our team and of our opponents, checking out the scouting report, the spread, comparing how our offense matches up to their defense and vice versa.  And he always has these grand predictions for the season.  In fact, it borders on being delusional, but in a good way.

For example, this year he predicted that we would be 8-5, which includes a win at a bowl game.  At best, we will win 3 games, and that will require some divine intervention to win the last one since we’re clearly so sucky.  I remember one year when we had a similar season, he had an epiphany as we watched another loss.  He turned to me and said, “you know, I’m beginning to think we’re not that good.” 

This year as we sat through the Duke game, which we lost splendidly in the 4th quarter, in the midst of frustrated fans cursing our coach and quarterback as they exited the bleachers, there was one woman who perkily said “see you next week!” to the usher on the way out.  My brother and I were struck by how unfazed she was by the loss.  We realized that we had briefly waivered in our faith in our team and channeled another source of optimism to motivate us to have hope that we could win the next weekend.

And then we lost again.  And again.  And again. 

We had another conversation about that perky woman and concluded that she must live in Charlottesville, so she could afford to be optimistic because it probably only took her at most 30 minutes to get to the game since there is no traffic and no problem parking.  We, on the other hand, had to drive 2-3 hours, spend money on gas and food, and make the long drive home in a bad mood. 

Still, my brothers and I plan on going to the showdown against Tech on Thanksgiving weekend.  I’m prepared to throw some punches if necessary to avenge any negative comments launched against my team in the event of a loss.

And if we end up being 2-10, then I can take comfort in the fact that basketball season has begun, and we’re supposed to be good at that.

Learning from the Past

You know how you keep making the same mistakes over and over again, even though you know it’s the wrong choice?  Freud called this the repetition compulsion:  we’re replaying some past conflict in an attempt to master it.  These days neuroscientists talk about well-worn neural pathways that were formed early in life.  No matter what theory you use to explain it, there’s no question that it happens.  And while it’s possible to break these patterns, it takes a lot of effort to do so.

I found out that my second article was rejected for publication.  I’m not used to failing, so it was a bit of a blow.  But unlike the first time, instead of rushing to eradicate this blemish on my record, I decided to do nothing.

And then I thought about how many hours I’ve spent writing these dumbed down relationship articles for less than minimum wage.  Ordinarily I would keep trying to prove that I can do it, I can give them what they want.  And I could master the art of answering questions like, “What do you do if your boyfriend is mean?” Or “What’s a cute text I could send to a shy girl to let her know that I like her?”  But why?  It’s torturous to give such superficial advice.

So I made an unprecedented decision:  I decided to cut my losses right away.  Me, the person who climbs psychological mountains for fun, knits complicated patterns, finishes tennis matches when I’m having an asthma attack.

I finally get what they mean by the phrase “pick your battles.”  I always thought it just referred to being selective about the things that you want to argue about.  Now I understand that it means that you have to save your energy for the things that are worth fighting for.

I have always spent my energy fighting for other people–my friends, my family, my clients, my romantic partners, random people who ask me for advice when they find out I’m a psychologist.  For the first time in my life, I’ve decided that I’m worth fighting for, so I’m just going to focus on what’s best for me.

Body Image

When I was 0-22 years old, I never worried about my weight.  I was naturally thin and my parents were always telling me that I ate like a bird.  But then something happened when I graduated from college:  my clothes no longer fit.

At first I thought, no big deal.  I’ll just start exercising, since I never did.  But I continued to gain weight.  So then I thought, I’ll just exercise every day and watch what I eat.  Still gained weight, but more slowly.  Finally, I resorted to obsessing about being fat 24-7, exercising every day, and watching what I ate.  Again, very slow weight gain plus a lot of suffering.  Maybe my metabolism started slowing down at 23.

Ironically, all of that time that I was gaining weight, I was still pretty thin.  Until I reached 40.  Now I look like I thought I did all of those years that I obsessed about being fat.  I know I’m not fat, but I’ve gained enough weight that my dad told me that I needed to eat less and he mailed me some appetite suppressants.  And I would still like to lose weight, although I’m not as motived as I was when I was younger. 

I specialize in eating disorders so I never do fad diets, starve myself, throw up, or anything else that would make me a poor role model.  Plus I love food.  So here are the middle-aged strategies I’ve tried for weight loss, based on effectiveness:

Not Effective:

  • Buy a gym membership and never use it.  I know a lot of people do this, but I obsess about money and I used to go to the gym every day, so I really thought it might work for me.
  • Obsess all day about exercising and when you get home fall asleep on the couch instead. 
  • Try to eat the recommended 1500 calories for weight loss and then binge at the end of the day because you’re starving.
  • Stare at your gut in the mirror every time you go to the bathroom.
  • Eat fast food for dinner because you hate grocery shopping and cooking.

Effective:

  • Play tennis as many times a week as your body will allow. 
  • Use a pedometer and obsess about getting steps.
  • Don’t look in the mirror.
  • Don’t look at any pictures or videos of yourself and only take head shots.
  • Look at pictures of other people your age who have gained weight so that you realize that this is just a part of getting older.
  • Cut 500 calories out of your 3,000 calorie diet.
  • Go on the GERD diet where you have to cut out all of the things you love to eat and avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime and before exercising. 

I am happy to say that I’m slowly losing weight at the rate of about .25 pounds every 2 months.  No one is going to use me as a poster child for weight loss, but as I say to my clients, something is better than nothing.

Can Love Conquer All?

My first writing assignment was accepted for publication!  Woo hoo!  I have to say, this is a lot like writing papers for English classes in college–something you wouldn’t think someone would willingly subject themselves to for a measly $2.50 an hour. 

Here is the link to the article:

http://classroom.synonym.com/can-love-overcome-obstacle-relationship-10003.html

I did not write any personal info in this article, so I will give you some background on how I came to the conclusion that love is not enough to overcome any obstacle in a relationship. 

My first husband and I were very much in love.  I’m not sure I will ever love someone else as much as I loved him.  The odds were stacked against us–he used to refer to himself as a poor, half-breed bastard–but neither of us was the type of person to shy away from a challenge.  There were many people who thought that our relationship wouldn’t last, but there were also a lot of people who thought we were the ideal couple.  We worked very hard to save our marriage, but in the end love wasn’t enough.

It was a sad lesson to learn, since I have always been a romantic.  I believed that differences in race, class, religion, and family background didn’t matter, that stereotypes weren’t true, and that even though you had a crazy childhood with lots of traumatic events, you could still have a healthy relationship as an adult as long as you loved each other.  And maybe those things are still possible, but they haven’t been possible for me.

But I’m not sorry that we tried.  I’m not sorry that we got married.  I believe that love is a gift, and there are no guarantees that you get to keep any gift forever.  Some people never get to experience the kind of love we had, and I got to have it for 12 years.  And for that I am still thankful.

And I am open to the possibility of loving someone like that again.  I am not going to close my heart off because of how painful it was to lose him.  Love may not be enough to conquer all, but it is still worth fighting for.

Housekeeper for a Day

I can see why parents say that having kids provides hours of entertainment–expensive entertainment if you ask me–but entertainment nonetheless.  That’s one advantage of being an aunt: you get the entertainment for free.  Or at least at a reduced rate.

When my niece Sadie came up to visit last weekend she was obsessed about raising money for this school project in which her class was going to make a donation to some place in Africa so that they could build a well and have fresh water.  At first I thought she said a whale and I couldn’t figure out how a whale could survive on fresh water in Africa, even with the most generous donations.

Rather than the usual route of selling candles and tin cans of popcorn, the kids are supposed to earn the money through performing chores, so Sadie was anxious to get back to my place and clean. In fact, she was so exited that she followed me into the bathroom when we got back, asking me for assignments.

So first I asked her to water the plants. I had to show her where the watering can was and she asked her dad to fill it with water and then I had to show her where all the plants were.

It took her less than a minute to water them.

Sadie:  What else can I do?

Me: You’re done already?

Sadie: Yes.

Me:  Did you get the plants on the other wall?  (My brother points out the wall.)

Sadie:  Of course!  Now what can I do?  (I make a mental note to water the plants tomorrow.)

Me:  Why don’t you put these magazines in the recycling bin? (I show her where the bags are and her dad shows her where the recycling bin is.)

Me:  You forgot a magazine.

Sadie:  I’ll just stick it back in the magazine rack.

Me:  That’s not really helping me.

Sadie:  I’m afraid to go in the garage.  It’s dark and scary.  (I walk with her to the garage and turn on the light.)

Sadie:  Now what can I do?

By this point I realize that whatever task I give her is going to mean work for me so I’m reluctant to give her any more assignments.

Sadie:  I can cook you something.

Me:  What can you make?

Sadie:  I can get you a bowl of cereal.

Me:  That’s ok. I’m not hungry.

Sadie:  I can vacuum.

The rug does need to be vacuumed.  But then I envision having to get the vacuum out, move the furniture, show her how to turn the vacuum on, help her push it, and then put everything back in its original place.  I’m too tired to vacuum so I hand her the Swiffer instead.

It takes her a minute to do my entire place.

Me:  Are you sure you got every room?

Sadie: Yes.

Me: What about this room, and this room?

Sadie:  Of course!

I’m not convinced she actually cleaned anything so she sweeps the living room again. She takes her time and does a better job.

Me:  You seem to be enjoying yourself.

Sadie:  Well I have to raise money for the poor!  Is there anything else I can do? This is fun.

By now I’m tired of cleaning so I give her the $5 and commend her for her noble goal. She runs to her dad and excitedly gives him the bill for safe keeping.  He is on Skype with his wife so Sadie tells her mom that she just raised money for building a well in Africa so that they can have fresh water.

I enjoyed being a part of her first lesson in being helpful to people in need and admired how she really took it to heart.  It was definitely entertaining, as well as good exercise.  And the memory of the housekeeping incident will keep me entertained until I see her again. All for the bargain price of $5.