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Monthly Archives: April 2014

The Perfect Solution

I am currently living in a patio home subdivision for retired people where the average age is around 80. But that’s OK. It’s small, but I live alone so I don’t need a lot of space. I don’t have to do any landscaping, snow removal, etc. All of the neighbors look out for each other so I am notified of any burglars or bears in the vicinity. There are 2 other people my age who live here, although I never see them. And it is a substantial improvement from the apartment I lived in before I found this place. And it’s a miracle that I was able to buy it at all, so I’m thankful for my humble abode.
 
I feel bad because my neighbors want me to be more social, but that’s not going to happen. First of all, I have a job. And because I have a 45 minute commute and play tennis in the evenings and on weekends, I don’t spend much time at home. And even if I were home more often, I wouldn’t spend my spare time socializing with senior citizens. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. They’re all perfectly nice. I just don’t have a lot in common with them.
 
Last year one of my neighbors had a party for her 88th birthday. I tried to will myself to go, but no amount of guilt and shame could motivate me to do it. Last week someone called me to let me know that my neighbor’s aunt died and when the funeral was. I hate funerals. I avoid them at all costs. So I certainly wasn’t about to go for some aunt of some neighbor who I barely know. Another neighbor keeps inviting me to go to church with her. I think she’s trying to convert me.
 
Although everyone looks out for each other because of the increased likelihood that someone really could fall and not be able to get up, they still probably wouldn’t think to check on me because I’m never home. And if I had some emergency, it would probably be late at night when everyone is asleep. And even if I could work up the courage to call one of them in the middle of the night–which is unlikely since I feel so guilty for being such a terrible neighbor–I doubt they would be able to lift me, given their own physical limitations.
 
Last night my friends were trying to help me come up with solutions for how to deal with emergencies. Maybe I should get one of those life alert buttons. Or maybe I should get a lanyard and wear my phone around my neck at all times. Or since I’m a warrior, maybe I could crawl to my phone or my iPad, even if it takes me hours to reach it. So if I ever post “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” be sure to check on me.
 
I’ve been watching the commercials for an assisted living facility in my area, and it hit me that this is the perfect solution. If I lived in one, I wouldn’t have to worry about living alone because help would be right there on the premises! Plus meals are included, so I’d never have to cook. And after doing some research, I discovered that they also provide housekeeping, laundry services, and grocery shopping! I could literally spend all my free time writing, watching and playing tennis, knitting, making jewelry, and hanging out with friends. Heck, I could probably even pick up another hobby.
 
My friend told me that you have to be at least 55 to live in one of these facilities. By then I would also qualify for the 55 and over division in tennis and hopefully dominate on the court if I’m still healthy. So I guess that’s something to look forward to in case this whole relationship thing doesn’t work out.
 

Head Games

Competition can bring out the worst in people. It is not uncommon to see anger outbursts on the tennis court from people who are ordinarily even-tempered. They’ll yell, hit the net, or knock the ball out of the park. You don’t see too many people break their racket at our level, but I had a partner do it once because he was mad that I wasn’t coming to the net.

I actually think that I have a better attitude in tennis than I do in real life.  For example, since I obsess about money, I would never break a $200 racket. Plus, I try to not let my opponents know that I’m upset because that gives them a mental advantage. Plus, I love my racket in part because it’s purple, and if I had to get a new model it would not be purple.


Some people will use head games to gain an advantage. They will intentionally make bad line calls or accuse you of making bad line calls. They will argue about the score, time violations, lineup changes, coaching, and bathroom breaks. Or they’ll do seemingly positive things to disrupt your concentration like crack jokes, be chatty, or tell you how awesome you’re playing.


I admit, sometimes I’ll use positive head games to counteract negative ones. I try to capitalize on the fact that it’s hard to be mean to someone who is being fair and kind. Last year I played against this person who is known for causing drama and making bad line calls, so I was super nice to her from the start. It worked for the most part but she still made one bad call. My partner went ballistic but she insisted the ball was way out, which was a flat out lie. I said “it may have been out, but it wasn’t way out,” just to end the argument. There were no other disputes about line calls and no hard feelings by the end of the match.


In a relationship, however, if my partner uses head games I yell at him for trying to manipulate me.


Another common way to deal with frustration is to blame your partner for blowing the point. If my partner criticizes me I either ignore it, call them on it, or never play with them again. This is one place where I won’t try to make the relationship work at all costs.


I rarely criticize my partner on the court. In fact, I take pride in being able to bring out their best game. I praise them for the things they’re doing well. I help them stay focused and positive. I get them to dig deep when we’re on the verge of losing.


However, in real life I am pretty sure my exes would tell you that I have no problem doling out the criticism.


I am also less critical of myself in tennis than I am in life. Most of the time I’m able to let mistakes go and focus on the next point. I don’t get too upset about losses. In fact, my current record is 7-11. But I play so much tennis that another opportunity to win is just around the corner.


In relationships I focus on all the negative outcomes and wonder what I’m doing wrong. In tennis, I focus more on the process than the result. As long as I’m happy with how I played, I don’t mind losing. And it’s fun to win, but the thrill of winning doesn’t last as long as the joy of trying to get better, looking forward to the next match, and fighting for the win on the court.


Maybe I should treat my next relationship like a tennis season.

100th Post!

One of my favorite books of all time is What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty. It was our most popular book in our Remedial Book Club; we actually had a meaningful discussion about it for the entire meeting. Ordinarily we talk about the book for 30 minutes–mostly about who would play the characters if the book were turned into a movie–and then we eat, drink, and gossip about people in the tennis community for 2 hours.

The book is about a woman who falls off her bike in spinning class and loses her memory of the past 10 years. In her current life, she is about to turn 40, has 3 children, and is going through a bitter divorce. After the accident, she thinks she is 29, madly in love with her husband, and is about to have her first child. The book also follows the stories of Alice’s mom, sister, and grandmother, all of whom are in the process of letting go of grief. In addition to being hiLARious, the book also makes you reflect on who you have become and what you thought your life would be like.

I am now in the process of filing for divorce, at my husband’s request. I am glad that I waited until he was ready, because now he understands why our marriage can’t work. I have a better appreciation for the significance of rituals. Even though it’s just a formality, since we’ve been apart for almost 4 years, the legal aspect of it has reawakened my grief about losing him. Of all the people I’ve been with, he is by far the one who was the most stable, reliable, and trustworthy. It saddens me that this wasn’t enough to make things work.

I will be 45 in a few months, and I would have never predicted that this is what my life would look like. Although it is still sad and scary to be alone at times, I am thankful for this opportunity to get to know myself better. I am still experiencing compassion fatigue from my last relationship, and I really want my next one to be different.

I’m currently reading The Art of Empathy, by Karla McLaren. It’s the first book I am aware of that teaches hyperempaths like me how to keep from burning out. I’m hoping that this will help me be more intentional about my next relationship. I’m hoping that it’s possible to break the pattern of relationships that you’ve grown up with and that you’ve followed all your life and to start anew.

Since I have reached my goal of 100 posts, I thought I would also take stock of my blogging life, which is much more positive. This blog is the first time that I’ve shared my writing with others, and I am so proud of what I have written so far. Even prouder than I was when I finished my dissertation.

I’ve been trying to write on and off for about 10 years now but only took it seriously a few years ago. Until then, I never realized how demon-filled the writing process was. Every time I sat down to write, Perfectionism, the Inner Critic, and the Drill Sergeant were all there to meet me, reminding me of how much I suck. So to commit to blogging 3 times a week–and to share the most vulnerable parts of myself in every post–is a huge accomplishment.

However, now that I’ve learned more about publishing, I am forced to accept that the odds of writing a best seller are not great, and even if it does happen, it won’t be any time soon. I’m not going to give up, of course, because I never give up, but I’m trying to focus more on the process of writing rather than the end result.

I’m trying to approach blogging the way I approach tennis. I’ve made $60 in prize money, which was several years ago when I won the 35 and over singles division of a tournament. (I was also the #1 rated 35 and over singles player in Virginia that year!) But I spend hundreds of dollars a month on tennis, so as a money-making enterprise, it’s a failing business.

But that’s OK. I’m not doing it to make money. I play tennis because it’s fun, because it challenges me, and because I have made wonderful friends. Although my romantic relationships have been a disappointment, my friendships have far exceeded my expectations.

Blogging is also fun and challenging, and I enjoy getting to know my readers and other bloggers. And it’s way cheaper than playing tennis. So I’m going to set another goal, which is to write another 100 posts by my blog’s first birthday, which is September 24.

Hope to see you then!

Grace

I’ve received a lot of comments from readers lately about being too hard on myself. Which is a little scary, because these comments were in response to posts where I purposely avoided criticizing myself. But perhaps people know me well enough by now to know what I’m thinking, even if I don’t say it out loud.

It’s hard to be honest about how these comments make me feel, because I don’t want to seem ungrateful. But if I’m afraid to say it, that probably means I should say it.

When I read comments that are meant to be supportive, I feel a little angry and defensive. I feel like I’m being told that I’m failing at self-improvement. The words forgiveness, self-compassion, and self-acceptance are in almost every single post, so it’s not like I don’t know that’s my problem; I’m just not getting better at them fast enough, apparently.

This morning as I was driving to work, I realized something about my reaction to these comments. I realized that they are hard to take in because it’s hard to take in love–love from others, love for myself, and love from God.

I have spent the last week in an email exchange with a loyal reader and friend who is trying to convince me that I don’t need to work so hard to earn God’s approval because God already loves me just as I am, in all of my glorious imperfection. I know that’s true for other people, but something in me resists believing that it’s true for me.

You would think it would be a relief to hear the thing that you most want to hear, but it often isn’t. You don’t want to let yourself off the hook. You don’t want to risk being too full of yourself. You might get complacent. You might become a sloth–which is a deadly sin.

That’s how the Inner Critic is for people like me. It’s like an abusive partner who does everything it can to make you feel bad about yourself as a way to keep you dependent on it. It uses the language of morality and turns it against you.

In therapy I address this part by telling clients that once they leave my office, the Inner Critic will try to undo all of the progress we have made. That perhaps it is even talking to them now while we are in session, telling them not to listen to me. It helps to let them know that I know all of its tricks.

I also tell clients that accepting love is a gift, and rejecting it hurts the giver. These clients are highly motivated to do good, so it is often eye-opening to reframe self-criticism as a form of rejecting others.

When I thought I could blog my way to self-acceptance, I assumed that sharing my vulnerabilities with the world would be sufficient. It helps, but it’s not enough. Without feedback from others, it’s still just me and the Inner Critic, duking it out.

In therapy, I tell clients that they are worthwhile as many times as it takes for them to believe it. Maybe that’s how blogging works, too. I will continue to write about what my demons say, and readers will keep telling me that I’m being too hard on myself, and I will get pissed off, but eventually I will believe them. Maybe one day the Inner Critic will lose its power to make me feel bad about myself.

Maybe God works through blogs, too.

Losing Control

I am seeing a couple of clients whose lives revolve around not losing control of their emotions. They both have a parent who is very out of control–addictions, emotional outbursts, marginally functional–the kind of people who seem beyond hope. “Black hole people,” as my client calls them. These clients fear that if they let their emotions out, they will get lost in them like their parents.

This is a common fear. Most people think that having feelings makes you needy. Weak. Crazy. It’s better to do whatever you can to avoid feelings altogether. Ironically, it is the things that people do to control their feelings that brings them to therapy.

Eating disorders are a good example of this. Every client says that their eating disorder began as a way to have control. They can’t control any other aspect of their lives, but they can control what goes into and comes out of their bodies. Stuff down their feelings with food. Numb themselves by restricting and exercising. Get rid of feelings by purging.

At some point they lose control over this strategy. They think about food, exercise, bodies, and weight all day long, every day. They eat in isolation. They lose friends because they are constantly lying and hiding. When it gets really bad, a dean forces them to come to the counseling center. But no one can help them until they are willing to let go. Until they are willing to feel, to be vulnerable.

We all have ways that we try to control our emotions. Mine is to help other people. I don’t have problems. I don’t need anyone. I’ve got all the answers; I don’t need help.

A client recently asked if I had any flaws. I told her that I have all kinds of flaws. She seemed relieved. I almost told her about my blog–but I’m not ready to go that far.

So what do we do with all of these feelings if we don’t suppress them, deny them, or push them away? How do we keep from falling into the black hole?

One of my favorite movies is “The Matrix.” By the end of the movie, Neo realizes that all of his fears are an illusion. He has to die first to realize this, but once he is outside of the matrix, his fears no longer control him. Feelings are the same way. Your feelings are a part of you, and you are larger than any of your parts.

Sometimes you have to let go before you can discover that you have control.

The Emotional Life of Your Brain

I just finished reading The Emotional Life of Your Brain, and although I started losing interest towards the end, it presents an interesting view of personality that is worth sharing.

Based on brain research, Davidson identifies 6 dimensions of personality:

1)  Resilience (fast or slow to recover from adversity)

2)  Outlook (negative or positive)

3)  Social Intuition (puzzled or intuitive; A.K.A. emotional intelligence)

4)  Self-Awareness (opaque or aware)

5)  Sensitivity to Context (tuned out or tuned in)

6)  Attention (unfocused or focused)

If you are interested in where you fall on each of these dimensions, click on the link above and you will find a short survey. Here were my results, which probably won’t surprise anyone who reads my blog:

1)  Resilience: fast to recover

2)  Outlook: positive

3)  Social Intuition: very intuitive

4)  Self-Awareness: very self-aware

5)  Sensitivity to Context: very tuned in

6)  Attention: focused

As with most personality dimensions, the goal is to move your set point closer to the middle. In practice, however, one end of the spectrum is usually more desirable than the other. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each extreme:

1)  Resilience: Being too fast to recover may make you less compassionate and seem unfeeling and insensitive to others. Being slow to recover makes it difficult for you to function and you may focus more on your pain than on other people. But usually people try to learn how to be more resilient.

2)  Outlook: A negative outlook puts you at risk for depression and annoys other people. An overly positive outlook makes it difficult for you to learn from your mistakes and postpone immediate gratification. But usually the goal is to develop a more positive outlook.

3)  Intuition: Being too intuitive may make it difficult to function because you’re constantly picking up other people’s negativity. (Hmmm. That sounds familiar). People who are at the puzzled end may have problems in all aspects of their lives in which they have to interact with other people–which is essentially all aspects of life.

4)  Self-Awareness: Being opaque makes you prone to missing signs of illness and make you unable to take care of yourself. Being too self-aware can make you a hypochondriac. But in general, it’s better to be self-aware.

5)  Sensitivity to Context: Being tuned out might make you feel and act in ways that aren’t appropriate to the situation (e.g., anxiety disorders). Being too tuned in can make you prone to losing touch with your true self because you are constantly changing your behavior to fit the social situation. But usually people try to be more tuned in.

6)  Attention: Being too focused annoys people because you don’t pay attention to them when you’re doing something. And you tend to “not see the forest for the trees.” Being unfocused puts you at risk for ADHD. But usually people want to learn how to be more focused.

Guess what the best way is to move toward the resilient, positive, intuitive, self-aware, tuned in, attentive end? Meditation! My favorite meditation guru is Jack Kornfield, and on his webpage he goes through the 5 basic meditations:

1)  Meditation on Compassion

2)  Walking Meditation

3)  Forgiveness Meditation (which I really need to practice)

4)  Sitting Meditation

5)  Lovingkindness Meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn also teaches meditation for Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), but you have to pay for his stuff. You could also seek out a therapist who specializes in MBSR.

So there you have it–your cheat sheet for “The Emotional Life of Your Brain.” It took several months for me to get through the book, so feel free to make a donation to the Federer Fund if you found this helpful. Tickets to Grand Slam or ATP Masters 1000 events are also acceptable.

This doodle sort of looks like a brain. And it has 6 different colors–one for each personality dimension.

Suffering and Compassion

I have a confession to make. I did not go to church yesterday. I don’t really have an excuse, except that I can’t get out of bed unless I absolutely have to because of my sleep problems. And because I rarely go to church. In all honesty, I’m not a very good Catholic (but still a good person–most of the time). But I do try to go on Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, at least. So for my penance, I thought I would write about what Holy Week means to me.

I really like the reading of the Passion. It’s the place where I can relate the most to Jesus because it is where he is the most human. One of my favorite parts is where Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. My interpretation of his prayer goes something like this: God, I will do this if I have to, but if there’s any way that I don’t have to, please let me know. To me, this shows that even the Son of God was afraid of the suffering that he was about to face, and I find great comfort in that.

I have said a version of this prayer many times. In the last few years I have started asking God what He wants me to do, which is always a little scary. What if it’s something that will be painful? But I figure if God asks you to do something, it’s best to say yes. So my prayer goes something like this: God, if there’s anything that I’m supposed to be doing, let me know, and I’ll do it. But please give me the courage to do it, too. 

The other part I like is where Jesus cries out on the cross, asking God why He has abandoned him. I find comfort in this, too. One of the things that has always been difficult for me to comprehend is how God can allow people to suffer needlessly. I talked about this in my post on God’s Will. But when I think about the Passion, I don’t know where I even got the idea that we are not supposed to suffer. If anything, the life of Christ shows us that no one is immune to suffering. Even if we’re really, really good, it’s still going to happen.

Lately I’ve been talking about empathy as though it were a curse because it’s overwhelming to have to feel other people’s pain all the time. But I know it’s a gift to be able to give someone the experience of knowing how they feel. For me, reading the Passion is a reminder that Jesus is with us in our suffering, because he has suffered, too. Which is literally what compassion is about.

A few years ago my niece was obsessed with Jesus. Even though it was Christmas, she wanted to know more about how Jesus died on the cross. The next year she drew this picture as a Christmas card. I guess for her, the Passion is also the most memorable part of the life of Jesus.