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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Psychological Energy Conservation

Being single has its advantages. I never realized how much energy I was expending on compromising and trying to make things work. It’s lonely at times but much more relaxing. So much so that I think I’m going to give up all of my high maintenance relationships. Maybe it will help me cut down on my crash and burn days.
 
In fact, I’m thinking about promoting a psychological energy conservation campaign modeled after Go Green. Instead of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, my slogan is Refrain, Reframe, Reevaluate. Since my tag line is less intuitive, let me elaborate.
 
1.  Refrain.  I’m going to do a better job of setting boundaries. Before, if someone asked me to do something, I felt like I had to do it if I was capable of doing so. Whether I wanted to or not was irrelevant. Or whether it was in my best interest to do so. But you know what? I can just say no. No, I’m not available at that time. No, I don’t want to go to that wedding. No, I don’t have room for you on my team.
 
I can also resist the urge to help people when helping them means hurting myself. My rationale in the past has been that I can take it, so it’s OK. I can lose sleep. I can get my heart broken. I can sacrifice my time. But it’s not OK. I always tell clients that you have to put yourself first, because you can’t rely on other people to do so, even if they love you. If its a choice between you and someone else, pick you. So I’m picking me.
 
2.  Reframe.  I waste a lot of time beating myself up for things I can’t control. Like being angry, or anxious, or exhausted. So I’m trying to reframe my feelings in a way that helps me to be more accepting of them.
 
Lately, when my inner critic gives me a hard time for obsessing, I stand up for myself. Of course I’m obsessing! That’s my thing. That’s what I do. Why wouldn’t I be doing it right now? That shuts him up. And it actually helps me to stop obsessing.
 
And I’ve come up with another part to help me be more forgiving of myself for my anger. I think of my anger as a bouncer who is trying to keep people who have hurt me from getting back into the club. Because I’m standing at the door saying, of course you can come in! Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything? The bouncer gets mad at me when I do this, and who can blame him, really. Someone needs to be strong enough to kick these people out.
 
3.  Reevaluate.  I need to do an energy assessment after I crash and burn, rather than assume it happened because I’m a crazy, weak, bad person. If I choose to blog during lunch instead of take a nap and catch up on sleep, I might be tired later in the week.  Same thing with staying up until 2 a.m. Or choosing to captain 2 teams at the same time. Or playing 5 times a week. I can do it, but I have to be ready to pay the consequences later.
 
I can become more aware of what I need, rather than judge myself for what I think I should need, if I were a normal person. I can allow myself to do what works best for me. I’m the most productive after 7 p.m., so that’s when I’m going to get my chores done. I’d rather work nonstop for 2 hours than leisurely spend the day working. And my favorite time of day is between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., so I’m going to let myself enjoy those hours, even if it means that I’ll sleep until noon the next day.
 
I’m thinking this campaign could really catch on. Think how much more energy we would all have for the things that are important to us if we used it more wisely. Heck, I might even win the Nobel Prize like Al Gore.
 

Beginnings and Endings

I don’t do well with endings. 

Yesterday, as I began my 2 day drive back home, I started feeling anxious for no reason–until I remembered that I always feel anxious at the end of a trip. I was so relaxed during my vacation that I forgot how stressful my life was. Even tennis, which I love more than anything, feels like a job that I have to get used to again. The emails, texts, and calls about team registrations, lineup changes, and board meetings began before I made it home.

I always obsess over the passage of time at the end of a trip. How quickly it seems to go. The things I fear about getting older and watching other people get older. The more I enjoy myself, the stronger this fear is.

The next time I see my niece, she won’t be 7 anymore. I asked her to stop getting older when she turned 5, but she didn’t listen. Of course, I enjoy her just as much now as I did then, but there is something sad about the parts of her that are left behind every time I see her. Interests that are no longer cool. I don’t really know how to put this feeling into words, although I’m sure there are some sentimental parents out there who know what I’m talking about.

I’m the same way with books that I love. I dread coming to the end of them because then I will have to say good-bye to this world and these characters whom I’ve grown fond of. Sure, you can read the book again, but it will never be like the first time, when you didn’t know what to expect.

I used to obsess so much about having to say good-bye that I couldn’t enjoy the time I had left with the person. Then, after they were gone, I would cut off my feelings for them so that I would not have to mourn their absence. Not on purpose, of course. In fact, it made me feel like some cold-hearted person. I think that’s why I’m so bad about keeping in touch. 

Today I had the realization that, while I was sad about the end of my vacation and the drive home, I also had a lot to look forward to. The beginning of summer. The start of new tennis leagues. More road trips–including one to see my niece again at the end of summer. In fact, I will be with her on her birthday, when she turns 8.

Perhaps instead of thinking of time as being linear, with clearly demarcated beginnings and endings, I can think of it as cyclical, like the seasons. That way, beginnings and endings are right next to each other. And while I may not be able to go back to a specific point in time again, whenever the cycle repeats itself, I can pay homage to that memory, and add another one to go with it.

And I can blog about it, which always seems to help.

Liebster Award

I would like to thank Somber Scribbler for nominating me for the Liebster Award. I am new to blogging so I always wondered how people got these awards. What a great way to find out! In the words of Sally Field, “You like me! You really like me!”

What is the Liebster Award?

Liebster is a German word that means lovely or valued. It’s an award for relatively new bloggers with less than 200 followers. Nominating someone’s blog is a way of letting them know that you like their work and a way to interact with other bloggers. 

Liebster Rules

In order to participate, Liebster nominees must:

1.  Thank the person who nominated you. (Thanks again to Somber Scribbler, who writes one of my favorite blogs.)


2. Answer the 11 questions given to you.

3. Nominate at least 5 blogs with less than 200 followers (approximately).

4.  Post 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

5.  Post a comment on your nominees’ blogs to let them know that they’ve been nominated.

Questions from Somber Scribbler

1.  Why did you start blogging?

About 2 years ago I started writing a self-help book on self-acceptance, but I thought it was so terrible, I was embarrassed to let anyone read it. I had to figure out some way to let other people read about my ideas, so last September I decided to start a blog, even though I barely even knew what a blog was. It turns out blogging is perfect for my writing style.

2.  If you could describe yourself with one word, what would it be?

At the moment, I would say “hopeful.” That’s why I’m a therapist, why I continue to try to get better at tennis, and why I think I can write a book.

3.  If you could be famous for one thing, what would it be?

That’s a tough one. I’d like to be famous for just about anything, as long as it’s positive. But I’ll say writing a best seller.

4.  What advice would you give to fellow mental health sufferers?

Listen to that voice that tells you to believe in yourself, regardless of how small it may be at the moment.

5.  If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?

Another tough one. I will interpret “thing” as “ingredient” and say anything with sugar, for obvious reasons.

6.  Which fictional character do you relate to the most and why?

Ellen O’Farrell in “The Hypnotist’s Love Story,” by Liane Moriarty. She falls in love with a man whose ex is stalking her and becomes obsessed with her stalker because she has so much compassion for her suffering. That would totally be me. 

7.  What did you want to be when you grew up?

The first thing I remember wanting to be was a cashier when I was 5 because they had access to all that money. But then my parents told me that money wasn’t theirs. So then I wanted to be a bank teller, but my parents said that money wasn’t theirs, either. After that I clearly gave up on any attempt to make money.

8.  What is your greatest strength and your biggest weakness?

I would have to say that my greatest strength is my biggest weakness, which is my empathy and compassion for other people’s suffering. It helps me to help people, but having too much empathy can be overwhelming at times.

9.  What is your dream vacation?

Maui is one of the few places that has lived up to all of my expectations, so that’s where I would go for my dream vacation. With Roger Federer.

10.  Which of the many quotes about mental health speaks to you the most?

My favorite quote is from Kung Fu Panda (although I’m sure it’s originally from somewhere else):

Yesterday is history,
Tomorrow a mystery.
But today is a gift.
That’s why they call it the present.

I have a lot of trouble living in the moment, which is why in my blog I often start sentences with “In this moment….” A lot of suffering can be minimized with the practice of mindfulness.

11.  What is the most positive thing about today?

Today I got to spend time with my niece, Sadie, which is always a gift.

My Nominees

I’m going to interpret “new blogger” loosely so that I can nominate some of my favorite bloggers. So in no particular order, I nominate:

1.  Amy Purdy, who writes Bipolarly. Her blog on bipolar disorder is informative, personal, and from the heart.

2.  Matt Fried, who writes Fried’s Blog, because he is committed to honesty and to eradicating stigma against mental illness.

3.  Tim Clark, who writes Life, Explained, because he rooted for UVA to win the NCAA championship in basketball after his team was eliminated.

4.  Joy Page Manuel, who writes Catharsis, because she is a fellow Filipino and we think alike.

5.  Somber Scribbler, which is probably cheating, but we think alike, she also writes about mental illness, she also includes doodles in her blog, and she would have been my first nominee, had she not nominated me first.

My Questions

1.  What job would make you say, “I can’t believe I get paid to do this!”

2.  What’s the last dream that you remember?

3.  Who was your favorite character on “The Brady Bunch” and why?

4.  What was your New Year’s Resolution this year? 

5.  What do you want to be remembered for? 

6.  What advice would you give to someone who is thinking about starting a blog?

7.  How many jumping jacks can you do in a minute?

8.  If you could put 3 things into a time capsule, what would they be?

9.  Who is your favorite superhero? 

10.  What song best describes you?

11.  What’s the last book that you couldn’t put down?


Here is a random picture of Sadie and me in Legoland.

Vacation

I’m in the car with my brother and his family, on the way to Florida for vacation. We’ve been on the road for 9 hours, and we still have 4 more torturous hours to go. My niece almost had a breakdown in the restaurant when her dad told her how much longer it was going to be, and I have to admit, I had to restrain myself from throwing a temper tantrum, too.

But when I think back to when we were kids, I really have nothing to complain about. The four of us are seated comfortably in an SUV that seats 7 people with a DVD player, multiple tablets and cell phones, hot spots, satellite radio, and knitting projects to keep us entertained. My friends are texting, emailing, and calling with tennis updates so that I’m not out of the loop. Everyone can listen to or watch whatever they want without bothering anyone else. No sharing required. Nothing like the forced captivity of what I faced as a kid when my family went on vacation.

Back then they didn’t have SUVs that seated 7 people. Instead, 7 of us traveled in a sedan that sat 4 people. How, you ask? Luckily, Filipinos are small. Still, we had to be resourceful. My youngest brother would be on the floor at my mom’s feet on the passenger side in the front. My overweight grandmother, 2 brothers, and I would all be scrunched up in the back seat. All of us couldn’t sit back at the same time, so one of us 3 kids had to rotate sitting forward on the edge of the seat every hour or so. On trips that sometimes lasted 10-12 hours. I don’t know how we did it without killing each other.

And instead of having individual electronic devices that allowed everyone to enjoy their preferred music or movie, we listened to whatever my dad wanted to listen to.  For awhile it was this one cassette that came with his car and featured an assortment of the kind of instrumental songs you would hear on “The Lawrence Welk Show.” But I also remember listening to hits like “Rhinestone Cowboy,” “Honey,” and “You Needed Me” several hundred times. Ask any of my brothers the lyrics to these songs and they can sing them to you word for word.

But even back then, we were better off than the families that traveled out west in covered wagons. All they could do to entertain themselves was talk and sing to each other for months. But maybe they didn’t have a lot of down time since they had to try to stay alive and all. I read once that families were so worried about making it before winter that they wouldn’t even stop the wagon when one of the kids fell out. Which kind of traumatized me. Maybe that’s the intimidation strategy they used to keep kids quiet back then. “Don’t make me come back there and throw you out of the wagon!”

My brother and I were just telling Sadie about what it was like for us back when we were kids to keep her from whining every 30 minutes about not being there yet. I’m sure we just sound like adults sounded to us when we were kids, with their tales of how hard life was before all the modern conveniences that kids have today.

Still, she did start watching another DVD so that she didn’t have to listen to us anymore. So that’s something.

Fatigue

I don’t know if you’ve noticed or not, but I have a tendency to be a little hard on myself at times.
 
Yesterday I had another one of those days where I slept 14 hours and didn’t get up until 4 p.m. And then I still went to bed at my normal bedtime (1 a.m.) and didn’t get up until 9:30. So as punishment for my excessive sleeping, I decided that I didn’t deserve a cappuccino today. My colleague thought that seemed a little harsh, but it makes perfect sense to me.
 
But in an effort to be kinder to myself, I’m trying to come up with alternative explanations for why I have been so tired, other than that I am weak, crazy, a bad person, etc. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
 
1.  I’m depressed. But other than the fatigue and excessive sleeping, I don’t really feel depressed. And even if it is depression, I’m already doing everything I can to treat it.
 
2.  I have some physical illness like chronic fatigue syndrome. This is possible, given that I didn’t know I had asthma for a long time, and it accounted for what I perceived as a lack of mental toughness on the tennis court. On the one hand, it would be a relief to have a valid excuse. On the other hand, there would probably be some medication that I would have to take for that condition, too, which would be annoying.
 
3.  I’m tired because it’s the end of the semester, and I’m always tired at the end of the semester. This would make the most sense, but it still bothers me because my colleagues don’t collapse from exhaustion at the end of the term, so that still makes me feel weak.
 
4.  I’m tired because I’m captaining and playing on 2 tennis teams and playing 4-5 times a week. This also makes sense. Until recently, I was only captaining 1 team and playing 2-3 times a week. But how lame is that to be exhausted from too much recreation? Boo hoo!
 
5.  My anxiety is leading to mental and physical exhaustion. This is also possible. But then I start beating myself up about not having a reason for feeling anxious. And I’m not really sure what I can do about that other than to take the Ativan sooner when I’m having an anxiety attack rather than suffering for several hours. But the Ativan might make me sleepy.
 
6.  Blogging is mentally exhausting. All this honesty and self-disclosure is pretty draining. And I hardly ever used social media before. Now I have to use it all the time as part of my blogger duties, which kind of feels like homework. Still, I’ve never heard of anyone needing more sleep from intensive blogging.
 
7.  I don’t need to know the reason why. My feelings are always legitimate. It doesn’t matter what other people are or are not able to do; I have to honor my own needs. I may really need more than 8 hours of sleep, and most of the time I don’t even get that.
 
If this were a multiple choice question where I had to pick the best answer, I guess I’d have to go with #7, because this is what I tell my clients, over and over again, until they believe it. And I don’t want to be a hypocrite. Because my inner critic would give me a hard time about that, too.
 

Anxiety

I have always been an anxious person, but ever since my last depressive episode, my anxiety has gotten worse–especially around sleep. Which is terrible, because I love sleep more than anything. I started having anxiety attacks in the middle of the night. Or when I’m trying to fall asleep. Or when I wake up. Or before, during, and after a nap. In fact, I refer to naps as demon sleep. But I rely on naps to make up for the sleep that I miss out on because of my 1 a.m. bedtime.
 
I don’t want to call these episodes panic attacks, because that does injustice to people who have full-blown panic attacks. I don’t feel like I’m dying or having a heart attack. I’m not completely debilitated. But it does hurt. It’s like I have a bunch of bees buzzing inside my body. Or I have the psychological equivalent of a high pitched noise in my head that I can’t turn off. Or I feel physically and emotionally paralyzed. Or I feel like someone has punched me in the heart. I think that’s why my chest muscles are so tight–I have to absorb anxiety’s blows to my body.
 
I’ve written about how obsessive I am and how easily my inner infant gets rattled. Those forms of anxiety are annoying, but I’ve gotten use to them. I’m learning to accept that they are just a part of how my brain works. But when I have an anxiety attack with no apparent trigger, I feel crazy and weak.
 
It’s funny, because if I’m talking to someone else, I can convince them that they don’t need a reason to be anxious or depressed. That their feelings are valid, even if they don’t make sense. That it doesn’t make them crazy or weak. And they feel better afterwards. But saying these things to myself doesn’t have the same effect.
 
I guess that’s why it helps to tell someone else. Because without someone else’s reassurance, it’s hard to release the power that your inner demons have over you. When it’s just you and your demons, they convince you that you’re letting yourself off the hook too easily. You’re just lying to yourself. You’re really a bad person.
 
Last week when I wrote the self-compassion post, I was beating myself up for my lame excuses for feeling depressed. But after I gave myself permission to write them down, they didn’t seem so lame. And then when I got all these messages from people asking me if I was OK, I started to feel like my suffering might be real. And then I felt better!
 
So I thought I would try it again this week. And I just took half of an Ativan for good measure.
 

Swashbucklers Anonymous

My name is Christy Barongan and I am a swashbuckler.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’m reading The Art of Empathy in an attempt to help me with my hyperempath problem. I finished the chapter on empathic love, and it is so true of me that it freaked me out. I almost had a panic attack and had to take a nap afterwards.

In this chapter she lists 4 impediments in a potential mate: 1) a lack of emotional skills, 2) an active addiction, 3) unhealed childhood trauma, and 4) the presence of a toxic ex-mate. These impediments are practically criteria for a relationship for me. I like challenges, but come on! This is ridiculous! Reading this list drove home the fact that most my relationships had little chance of succeeding from the start.

Ironically, reading this chapter also helped me to not beat myself up about my relationship choices. I am drawn to people with these problems for the same reason that I chose to be a psychologist. I want to help people. I believe everyone is capable of turning their life around, and I am confident that I can help them do it. I never back down from a challenge, and I never give up. These are all qualities that I’m proud of.

However, I am beginning to realize that every challenge has a cost. Even if I do something I enjoy, like play tennis, write a blog post, or talk to my brother, it drains me mentally and physically. Which is OK. I love doing these things, so it’s worth it. But in the past, having the ability to help someone was reason enough to do it. Whether I wanted to do it or not was irrelevant because my wants and needs didn’t count. And I never paid attention to the impact that giving so much of myself had on my well-being.

In a way, that’s one of the benefits of being prone to depression and anxiety and of having allergies, GERD, and asthma. Now I have to pay close attention to everything I do and how it will affect me. I have to be intentional about all of my choices. It’s a pain, but it forces me to take care of myself.

Also, when I choose to do something challenging, most of the time I’m not too attached to the outcome–except in relationships. I’d like to move up to 4.0 in tennis, but if I don’t, I’ll just keep trying. Same with writing a best seller. I know the odds aren’t in my favor, but I enjoy the process, and if it never happens I won’t be devastated. I don’t even take it personally when I can’t help a client get better.

If I had the same attitude in relationships–that I gave my best effort, and that’s all I can do–then perhaps I wouldn’t feel like such a failure in them.

It also helps that McLaren calls people like me swashbucklers rather than codependents or love addicts. She describes swashbucklers as people on a heroic journey filled with impossible tasks and mythical beasts. Sort of like relationship warriors. But like Odysseus at the end of his adventures, I think I’m ready to come home.

Maybe I can use my superhero skills to save myself.  After all, who is better qualified to help me than me? I don’t even have to do it alone. I could create a support group for hyperempaths. A 12 step program for swashbucklers, if you will. I think it could be a big hit.

So if you’re interested in participating, let me know.