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Monthly Archives: February 2014

Snow Days and Olympic Dreams

Today we finally got our big snow day.  Enough for sledding, snow ball fights, building snowmen, and everything.  But I am stuck home alone with no one to play with, so I didn’t go outside, except to take a few pictures.  I’ve mainly been knitting a sweater–which I finished–and watching the Olympics.

I really want to be an Olympian.  I don’t care about winning.  I don’t even care if I come in dead last.  I just want to wear the USA uniform.  I want to attend the opening and closing ceremonies.  Stay in the Olympic Village.  Exchange pins with other Olympians. 

The main obstacles standing between me and my Olympic dream are that I’m not that athletic or talented.   And I’m too scared to do flips in the air or go high speeds.  Which pretty much eliminates all of the events except curling.  But that seems really boring.

I could imagine myself as an ice skater.  But I didn’t grow up near an ice skating rink.  And apparently you have to wake up at 5 a.m. to get your practice in, which would have been hard for a night owl like me.  Even if I had been motivated enough to do it, I probably would not have been able to talk my parents into taking me to the rink every morning, what with my lack of talent and all.

I’ve tried to think of ways to get around the lack of talent thing.  Maybe I could do one of the events in the Summer Olympics, like badminton.  I don’t play badminton, but how hard can it be to get good at it?  It can’t be harder than playing tennis.

I thought I could also increase my chances of qualifying by competing for the Philippines.  I might even get to carry the flag since they only send about 4 people.  That’s a 25% chance.  I would need dual citizenship, which would probably mean paying taxes in the Philippines or something.  I barely have enough money to pay my bills, so that would be a problem.  Without the talent to attract sponsors, I would at least need money.

Plus, I bet even the badminton players are in good shape.  I couldn’t even talk myself into exercising for 30 minutes today, so I might lack the necessary discipline to be an Olympian.  Even if I were disciplined, my allergies, GERD, and exercise-induced asthma make it hard for me to engage in sustained physical activity.  It’s hard to be competitive when exercise makes you throw up.

Hmmm.  Maybe there really isn’t any way I can be an Olympian.  Maybe I’ll just have to settle for  knitting and watching the Olympics on TV.  I hear the accommodations in the Olympic Village are terrible in Sochi, anyway. 

Sophie drew this picture for you.

 
 
And here’s the sweater I knitted.
 
 
 

Judgment

There are certain personality types that are sensitive to being judged, and I have one of them.  It takes very little criticism for me to feel ashamed that I have done something wrong.  Sometimes I interpret neutral comments as criticism.  And in some cases, I’ve even interpreted positive feedback as criticism.

Once my first husband was talking about a picture of Alicia Keys and commented on how she had big hips.  I replied with, Are you calling me fat?  Which really annoyed him.  I kind of thought it was funny but true.  Even if I get what is intended to be a compliment about having an athletic build, I take this to mean that I look fat.  This is why it’s better to refrain from comments about women’s bodies in general.

Although I have never had an eating disorder, I can relate to being obsessed about my body.  I also have a similar personality to the types of people who develop anorexia.  I am prone to anxiety and depression.  I am perfectionistic.  I am highly motivated to avoid harming others, even if it means hurting myself.  And I am so sensitive to criticism that I never forget a mistake.

This is why I am drawn to Buddhism–especially the practices of mindfulness and compassion.  I find comfort in the idea of letting go of what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and doing.  That I can accept whatever is true of myself at this point in time, without judgment or criticism–even if it’s something that I hope to change.

I often point out to clients when they are using judgment words to describe their feelings.  For example, if you say I feel pathetic, the word pathetic is not a feeling.  There is no emoticon for pathetic.  Sometimes it’s actually hard to come up with a feeling word.  Usually when you can’t think of one, you’re probably feeling ashamed.

Even when we’re successful in describing our feelings, we often get judged for them.  For example, if I say I feel depressed, someone might say You shouldn’t feel that way.  You should be happy because you have so much going for you.  This is meant to make me feel better about myself, and perhaps it works for some people, but it never works for me.

Sometimes I have tried to point out to the person that they are judging me, but people who judge others are often sensitive to being judged.  So they usually get defensive and say they were just trying to be helpful–that I’m being too sensitive.  So then I judge myself for being too sensitive.

But I am all about controlling what I can control.  Today, I realized that I can’t control whether someone else chooses to practice nonjudgmental acceptance of my feelings.  I can only control what I say to myself.

I can also choose not to share my feelings with people who judge me.  I think I’m going to start doing that, too.

Starting Over

In my post on breakups, I talked about how sad it is that at the end of a relationship, someone who you once loved and chose to spend the rest of your life with could become someone who you hate and don’t recognize anymore.  How can both of those things be true?  Was this other person always there, lurking beneath the surface of the person you thought you knew?  It’s hard to reconcile. 
 
But then sometimes those two people who hated each other are able to put the past behind them and try again.  I am all about forgiveness, but if someone hurt me that badly, I’m not sure I would be able to give him a second chance. 
 
First of all, there’s the issue of trust.  As I mentioned in a previous post, I can be too trusting.  However, once I have been wronged, I never forget it.  And every time I remember what they did, I get upset all over again.  Starting over would require leaving all of those past grievances behind, and I’m not sure my memory and my obsessive nature would allow me to do so. 
 
Then there’s the issue of whether I could trust my judgment.  If I thought I knew the person the first time and I was wrong, how would I know if I were reading the person accurately now?  Ordinarily I’m pretty good at reading people.  But sometimes I can be in denial–especially if knowing the truth would mean letting go of the relationship.  Could I trust that I would go into it this time with my eyes wide open?
 
Granted, sometimes it’s not about an error in judgment.  Some people are really good at hiding.  But that’s scary, too.  If he fooled me before, would I know if he were hiding now? 
 
And then there would be the opinions of other people.  Which I know you’re not supposed to care about, but I do.  Would they think I’m foolish for giving him another chance?  Even if they didn’t tell me that they disapproved, I would know.  I would feel it.  And it would be hard for me to share anything about the relationship with them.  I would feel ashamed, even if I were trying not to care about their opinion.
 
Despite these reservations, If I had to make a prediction about what I would do, my guess is that I would give it a shot, because I’m an optimist.  That’s what allows me to cheer for a losing team and to believe I can come back in a match when I’m down 0-6, 0-5.  I believe in miraculous comebacks.
 
Sometimes people are afraid to try again because they’re afraid to get hurt again.  That doesn’t usually stop me.  If they hurt me once before, it’s not like it would be some big shock if it happened again.  And if I survived it the first time, I could survive it again.  And then I would know for sure that it can’t work. 
 
Plus, no one can predict the future.  No one knows for sure what will happen.  Love requires a leap of faith.  Yes, you may fall, but without taking that leap, you never get anywhere.
 

Addiction

I’ve been thinking a lot about addictions lately.  Even before Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  I have never been the addictive type.  My history is so clean I would have made a great political candidate, if I didn’t dislike politics so much.  But Richard Rohr, my spiritual guru, says that everyone is addicted to something.  So I’m trying to be honest with myself about what that might be.

At times my hobbies have been like addictions.  When I first started knitting, I would crank out so much stuff that I made all my Christmas gifts in a month and still had scarves to give away.  Same thing with making jewelry.  I sold a lot of what I made, but all my profits went towards buying more beads.   And I can sing Karaoke for hours.  I hosted a small Karaoke party over the summer and we sang for 6 hours straight.

But knitters tend to be fanatical bunch.  Jewelry makers can be, too.  And for a Filipino, my Karaoke usage is average, at best.  Plus these hobbies tend to go in phases.  I’m in a knitting phase now.  I would describe my interest in these activities as obsessive rather than addictive.

The next addiction candidates would be tennis and sugar.  These two things are a consistent presence in my day-to-day life, and I cannot imagine living without either of them indefinitely.  Giving them up would require some kind of intensive inpatient treatment program, and even then the probability of relapse would be high.

But playing tennis and consuming desserts has not significantly impaired my functioning, and I’ve been able to cut back.  I am only playing 3-4 times a week to prevent injury.  And I don’t eat 3-4 desserts a day any more.  So I would classify myself as a heavy user but not an addict.

As I was thinking about this post, one of my FB friends messaged me and asked me to write something about codependence.  And that’s when it hit me:  I am addicted to unhealthy relationships.  Ostensibly because I want to help people, but needing to be needed is a form of addiction, too.   In the post on solitude I talked about how ashamed I feel for tolerating so much crappiness to avoid being alone.

Based on my experience as a therapist, I know that many people have the same problem.  Often clients come in for a relationship addiction.  Their friends and family are sick of listening to them.  They know they should break it off, but they can’t.  They live in secrecy because they’re still in contact with the other person.  If someone came up with a detox program for unhealthy relationships, they could probably make a fortune.

I guess in a way I have completed my own self-imposed detox program.  And for the first time in 30 years, I did not use another relationship to ease the pain.  I rank this accomplishment right up there with defending my dissertation.  Maybe even higher.  Because after my dissertation I got depressed because there was nothing left for me to accomplish.  But as far as relationships are concerned, it’s all up from here.

Interestingly, I started this blog right before the breakup.  It wasn’t conscious, but I guess at some level I decided that the energy I was investing in my relationship would be better spent writing.  And blogging helped me tremendously during the breakup process.  I don’t think I could have made it this far without it.

So until someone comes up with a detox program for unhealthy relationships, I would highly recommend intensive blogging as a treatment strategy.

Listen Carefully

Last night I gave a presentation to some students about how to provide support to those who have been affected by the accident last November.  My advice is simple yet difficult to do:  listen carefully.

Most of the time we’re too focused on ourselves to listen to what others are saying.  We’re thinking about what we want to say, what we don’t want to say, whether the other person is listening to what we’re saying, what we’re going to do once this conversation ends.  You get the idea.

As I got better at listening, I noticed that people put out feelers about important aspects of themselves, just to test the waters–to see if anyone notices.

Once I was watching my ex play in a basketball tournament, and I had to sit with a bunch of wives I didn’t know who were also watching their spouses play.  I was having the usual conversation when I meet someone new.  What do you do for a living?  I’m a psychologist.  Oh, I bet you’re psychoanalyzing me right now!  Yup.  I’ve got you all figured out.

This was not the response she expected.  But she still asked more questions.  Do you specialize in anything?  Eating disorders, multicultural identity, positive psychology.  Interesting!  I had an eating disorder once.

Of course this got my attention.  It was my turn to ask questions.  At first I worried that she would be offended by my prying into her mental health history, but it was the exact opposite.   She had never told her story to anyone.  Back then no one talked about eating disorders.  Bulimia wasn’t even a diagnosis.  She wanted someone to hear what she went through.

This is always the response I get when I follow up on those feelers that people throw out there.

There’s nothing magical about being a good listener.  Anyone can do it.  The best way to get better at it is to pay closer attention to yourself.  We spend so much time trying to will ourselves to think, feel, and do what we think we should think, feel, and do that we don’t really know ourselves.  This is often what I do therapy:  teach people how to observe themselves without judgment.

It’s not easy to do.  It takes practice.  This blog is one of the ways that I practice listening to myself, and you can see how hard it is for me to do so in a nonjudgmental way.  But I am trying to treat myself the way I would treat anyone who I care about deeply, and I suggest that you do the same.

Because hopefully you are someone who you care about deeply.

Friendship, Part 2

Warriors in Training

When I was in grad school, I didn’t have many visitors because it was a long drive and there was not a lot to do in the middle of Ohio.  So I saw my family and friends infrequently, and every time I said good-bye I felt this overwhelming sadness–and not just because I wouldn’t see them for a long time.  I was also sad because when I was with them, I was completely myself, and I rarely felt free to be myself.

Part of the problem was that the feeling of being different followed me well into my adult years.  I wasn’t like the other grad students.  I watched reruns of The Flintstones and Gillian’s Island rather than keeping up with what Koresh was doing in Waco.   I wasn’t spending 70-80 hours a week on grad school stuff.  I didn’t listen to the right music, didn’t hang out at the cool coffee places.

I moved around a lot during that time, too.  While I was with my first husband, we moved almost every year because he was never happy where we were–which turned out to be more about him than our location.  Still, I didn’t mind the excuse to not get too close to anyone.

When I finally moved back to Virginia and became a part of the tennis community here, I was a little freaked out.  There was no way I could avoid being a part of the gossip, what with my failed marriages and all.  Plus, I only dated tennis players, so everyone knew who they were.  I had no place to hide; giving up tennis was not an option.  I had to let people know what I was really like.

Of all the gifts that tennis has given me, my tennis family is the best one of all.  These are the only other people who I can be myself around without obsessing afterwards about what I said or did.  They have seen me throw up on the court.  They’ve been there when I’ve gotten kicked out of restaurants for being too loud.  They don’t judge me for always being hungry and constantly having to pee.  They don’t expect me to make anything for potluck dinners because they know I can’t cook.  (But I do bring the Karaoke and board games.)  They even indulge my grandiosity by calling me the Queen.

Often the feedback I get about my blog is about how honest I am.  In an I wouldn’t do it, but good for you! kind of way.  I’m tired of hiding.  I spent the first half of my life trying to be like everyone else.  I want to spend the second half being myself.