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Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Federer Fund

Have I mentioned that I obsess about money?

I know that money can’t buy happiness–or at least there is a point of diminishing returns–and I am past that amount. But despite this knowledge, I still buy into the illusion that my life would be better if I made just a little bit more.

It’s not like I want to be a millionaire or anything. But I would like to have more money in savings. Especially now that I’m single. Because if I were to get fired or become disabled, I can’t count on anyone to support me. And I can’t save enough to have the recommended 6 month cushion–even if I were to cut back on every unnecessary expense.

Plus there are some luxuries I’d like to be able to afford. Research says that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than on things. I would love to be able to go to all of the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. And I would love to be able to semi-stalk Federer. Not in a creepy way. Just go to whatever event he’s playing in, even if it’s in Dubai or Halle, Germany.

Like many writers, I have the fantasy of having a best seller and making millions of dollars. But the more I read about publishing, the more I realize that this is about as likely as winning the lottery. But we all need something to fantasize about. Plus, someone has to win the publishing lottery. Why not me?

Sometimes it’s hard to be patient and focus on writing these blog posts, which I make absolutely nothing for, knowing that it will probably take years before anything happens–if anything were to happen. Federer might be retired by then.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad my blog is helping people. That’s why I started it. But is some monetary compensation too much to ask for when I am potentially helping more people than I do in my real job?

I’ve been brain-storming some ways that I can make money from my blog now, while Federer is still playing. You know how when you go on a tour and the guide tells you at the end that tips are greatly appreciated? I could tell readers that if they liked the psychological tour provided by this post, they can make a donation to the Federer Fund.

I think this strategy is better than charging people for buying a mini-book or putting ads on my blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with those strategies. I just think it would be more consistent with the theme of my blog to appeal to people’s altruistic side. Sort of a reciprocity thing.

I could even do a YouTube video where I charm people into making donations. I think I’m much more convincing in person. I could video myself looking sad because I’m watching Federer play on my low definition small screen TV from thousands of miles away.

I mean, if you had a chance to see shots like this one in person, wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to make that happen?

Be Productive! Or Not

You know that saying you can never be too rich or too thin?  I think they should add productive in there, too.  Because as much as I would love to be richer and thinner, I judge myself the most harshly for not being productive.  Which is weird, because I am the queen of productivity.

Even if I only have a few minutes to spare between clients, I have to do something. Write my progress note. Answer an email.  Read a paragraph of an article.  Check my blog stats. I can’t just sit there and wait for the person to show up.  That would be wasting time.

I feel the same way about watching TV. I need to do something else at the same time–like knit, or make jewelry, or do something blog-related. Or I have to get up during every commercial break and do something useful, like pick out my clothes for the next day. Sometimes I’m so obsessed about what I’m going to do during the commercial that I can’t focus on what I’m watching. Even if it’s something I love, like a tennis match with Federer or a UVA basketball game.

This need to be productive makes it hard to cope with down time. Because of the nature of my job, I will have prolonged periods of stress followed by prolonged periods of having nothing to do. My drill sergeant will try to fill in the gap by making up a bunch of mandatory chores. Do some laundry! And then go to the gym! You’re wasting money on that membership! And figure out some way to make more money!

It makes my time off so depressing that I can’t get out of bed until I am propelled by shame because I’ve slept the day away. And then I cram in all of the things that the drill sergeant wanted me to do in a short period of time. Sort of like procrastinating until the night before the exam. Which I never did when I was in school, because that would have been unproductive.

This is another reason why I prefer the concept of self-worth over self-esteem. In order to have high self-esteem, you have to earn it. You have to accomplish something, or make money, or get in shape. This proves that you’re important. This justifies your existence.

And even when you are successful at being richer or thinner or more productive, it doesn’t really lead to high self-esteem like it’s supposed to. Because you didn’t do anything special. You just made up for what you should have been doing all along. You were underachieving before. So there are really no winners in this game of moving targets. Not for me, at least.

Today I saw 9 clients.The maximum number of clients that I can schedule in one day is 7.  But today I had to squeeze in 2 emergencies. I was brain dead by the time I got home. So you know what I decided to do at 11 o’clock tonight? Finish this blog post on productivity. Which I started during my lunch break.

It’s always good to end the day with a little irony.

 

Meds

The first time I started anti-depressants I was 30. By this time I had been depressed for at least 15 years on and off and anxious non-stop for about 30 years.

Obviously, it would have made more sense to start them sooner, and people told me that, but I was anti-meds up until this time. I was in a research program that strongly favored psychological interventions. Meds were just a product of the money-making pharmaceutical industry and were over-prescribed. People were more likely to relapse when they stopped taking meds. Blah blah blah.

Most of my resistance was really because I was stubborn. No one could have talked me into taking them any sooner.

I finally decided to try them after my husband and I had moved again after a year. Before we finished unpacking, he was already obsessing about buying a house. I knew at some level that we weren’t going to make it, which triggered a depressive episode.

I started on Paxil and sure enough, I felt better immediately. So much better that I wondered why I had allowed myself to suffer for decades when I could have just put myself out of my misery by taking the freaking pill.

Still, after being on them for a year and a half, I stopped taking them–with my doctor’s approval. And I was OK for awhile. But then we bought a house and my husband wanted to find another one a year later. My marriage was moving closer to its sad conclusion.

This time I took Lexapro and stayed on it for much longer. When my life finally seemed stable, I tried going off them again. As soon as the meds were completely out of my system, I felt the depression slowly creeping back. I was a little more irritable. It was a little harder to tolerate stress. My thoughts were a little more negative. Occasionally I was emotionally explosive. And finally, I was barely able to get out of bed.

It turned out to be the most severe episode I had ever experienced. It seemed out of the blue at the time, but now I know that it was because my dad was also experiencing his most severe depressive episode. Even though I didn’t talk to him much, I felt it. That whole super-empath thing. Damn empathy. So annoying sometimes.

I can honestly say that this time the meds saved my life. The depression and anxiety were so debilitating that I spent most of my time lying on the couch, willing myself to keep living, counting the days until the drugs kicked in.  And when they did, I was immensely grateful for the pharmaceutical companies that came up with drugs that allowed me to be myself again.

All clients want to try therapy without drugs, and we always do.  And sometimes that’s enough.  But sometimes it’s not.  And the process of going on and staying on meds for as long as necessary–which might not be for life–is long and arduous.  But when they finally take them, they are thankful that they did and wonder why it took them so long.

But they still want to go off them.

I don’t criticize them for this, because my path to acceptance was longer than theirs.  I used to beat myself up over my stubbornness, but the reality is, you can’t be ready until you’re ready.

It takes a long time before we are willing to give up suffering.

 

Self-Disclosure

I started this blog as a way to put Brene Brown’s claim that vulnerability leads to connection to the test. I believed it in theory but now I have empirical evidence that it works. But self-disclosure is still scary.

It’s still a challenge to write about myself in a way that doesn’t out all of the people in my life who have not chosen to be vulnerable. So I try to talk about myself without blaming anyone else for my problems–in public, at least. Which is a good approach to life in general, I think.

It’s still hard to be open about my weaknesses, although people’s responses have been positive. I freak out a little when people remark on how honest a post was, because that means I said something that they probably wouldn’t have shared about themselves. But mostly I take it as a compliment.

There are still some posts that I have the urge to take down.  I haven’t done so yet, because then it will take me longer to get to 100 posts. Luckily I have enough posts that only the most dedicated readers will find them. And if they like my blog that much, they probably won’t judge me for them.

I still haven’t told clients about my blog. Partly because I’m not brave enough, but also because therapy needs to be about them. Usually they come to see me because they don’t have anyone else who will give them their undivided attention. If I were to say, Hey you know what? I wrote a blog on that very same problem. Here’s the address, that seems a little self-serving.

It’s hard to draw the line between unburdening yourself and burdening someone else. The best part about blogging is that I don’t have to feel guilty about unburdening myself because if you’re reading this, you have chosen to give me your undivided attention.

And for that, I am thankful.

No Good Reason

Most people who come to therapy for depression berate themselves for not having an excuse for their feelings.  Even when they can identify the stressors that led to their depression, they claim that these aren’t good enough reasons to be depressed.

Sometimes people try to make them feel better with the “count your blessings” approach.  This usually makes them feel worse, because now they don’t deserve to be depressed since they have so much going for them.

In cognitive-behavior therapy (CBT), therapists challenge irrational beliefs as a way to help clients see that their depression isn’t logical.  Sometimes this works.  But sometimes they know their depression isn’t logical, and pointing this out makes them feel even more ashamed for not being able to control their feelings.

For clients with the “no good reason” problem, I have found that the most useful strategy is to debunk their myths about feelings.  Since you probably believe these myths, too, I thought I would go through my whole therapy spiel.

1.  Feelings don’t have to be rational.  That’s why philosophers make such a big deal about distinguishing reason from emotion.  Sometimes they coincide, and it feels better when they do.  It feels better when we can say I’m sad because I’m sick of winter versus I’m sad and I have no idea why.  But we don’t have to know the reason why for our feelings to be valid.

2.  There is no right or wrong way to feel.  We have a lot of implicit rules for what we should be feeling in a given situation.  Take my Ph.D. example in my post on self-worth.  I thought I would feel ecstatic after defending my dissertation.  Instead I got depressed.  Positive events don’t always lead to positive feelings.

3.  We can experience positive and negative feelings at once.  Researchers say that we can’t do this, but I think they’re wrong for reasons that are too complex to explain in this blog.  But I’ll give you an example to prove that I’m right.  People cry at weddings because they are both happy and sad at the same time.

4.  Your feelings aren’t your fault.  We like to believe that we have more control over our feelings than we actually do because…well, because it makes us feel more in control.  But this illusion comes at a cost.  Which is why I wrote the posts on blame and free will.  You didn’t choose to be depressed, and it’s not your fault that you can’t stop the depression.

5.  If you try to make yourself stop feeling, you’ll just make things worse.  Because this will involve some level of deception, like denying or suppressing or minimizing your feelings.  And at some point, this will blow up in your face when you least expect it.  Plus it will make you less empathic when other people tell you how they feel, which will lead to relationship problems.

Although I can write logically about these myths, I still fall prey to them, because feelings aren’t always logical.  Knowing isn’t enough to solve the problem; you still have to practice.  Which is why I practice mindfulness and self-acceptance.  And I encourage you to do the same.

So the next time you catch yourself saying that you have no good reason for your feelings, remind yourself that you don’t need one.


Fear of Sadness

Most people find it difficult to tolerate negative feelings like sadness.  This task is even more difficult when you suffer from depression, because any time your sadness feels too intense or lasts too long, you worry that the depression is coming back.  And if you’ve ever been depressed, you know how terrifying the prospect is of going back to that dark place.

Your loved ones also become hypersensitive to your sadness, which just exacerbates your fears.  If you’re feeling down, they ask you if you’re taking your meds, or if maybe your meds need to be adjusted.  Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for meds.  I’ve tried to go off them several times, and each time I got depressed again.  But it’s unfortunate that once you’ve been depressed, every feeling has to be scrutinized for potential pathology.

There’s also this added sense of failure associated with relapse.  Like you should have been able to prevent it this time, since you’ve been there before.  And even though you recovered before, you fear that if it happens again, you won’t be so lucky the next time.

And even if you do recover, you fear that the wait will be agony.  I fear depression much more than anxiety because when I’m anxious I can take an Ativan and I feel better immediately.  But antidepressants don’t work that way, so there’s not much I can do to feel better right away when I’m depressed.

Whenever I am afraid I’m becoming depressed, I journal about my fears, my sense of failure, and my pain.  And when I look back at these entries, I realize how strong I am.  There are a lot of things that suck about depression, but I have no doubt that it has made me a stronger person, even while it tries to convince me that I’m weak.

But how do I know when I’m sad versus depressed?  To be honest, I don’t always know.  Sometimes I feel depressed for a day.  Sometimes I feel sad for what feels like an eternity.  The line is not as clear-cut as we’d like to think.  But regardless of whether it’s sadness or depression, the best I can do is to control what I can control.  This includes therapy, meds, stress management, and self-care.

And most importantly, for me, it means practicing self-acceptance–of my sadness, my depression, and everything else that makes me who I am, for better or worse.