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Monthly Archives: May 2014

Strength

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and Mother’s Day, I am featuring a guest blogger, my youngest brother Romeo Barongan. He has been featured in several posts, including Hard Core Fan, The Best Valentine’s Day Gift, and Let it Go. This post is an example of how good things can come from depression–like wisdom, gratitude, love, and strength.
 
Strength is not about how I look on the outside; but about what I’m made of on the inside. It’s not about how much weight I can lift; but about the burdens I’m able to bear….what I’m willing to endure when the cause is just. After a life of trying to keep up with the Big Boys in the gym, I’ve learned that strength isn’t about the body but the soul. In honor of Mother’s Day, I wish to acknowledge my own Mom for helping me realize the definition of true strength. While I have been striving to acquire strength of body, my Mom has consistently demonstrated strength of character.
I feel the need to create some context for the journey about which I will relay shortly. My parents are both successful professionals. They reared three over-achieving children. And then I came along to round our family of six. I’m not selling myself short or looking for pity; I’m no failure. But growing up as the youngest child in a household so rift with talent created a seemingly impossible path to follow. To worsen matters, people outside the family often chided me for my privileged upbringing. They would disregard my success with statements like, “Anyone could do that if their parents had the money yours do.” They disparaged me for my work ethic in the classroom & relative inexperience in blue collar affairs. “Spoiled rich boy should learn to do real man’s work & get his hands dirty every once in a while.” I wanted to prove that I was a “real man.” I had to show the world that I wasn’t the sheltered doctor’s son that they accused me of being. I would force the world to see that I was indeed strong.
I hit the gym hard. I tried to be more “blue collar” without the benefit of knowing exactly what being blue collar actually meant. It was an unusually painful separation when I finally moved out of my parent’s house to strike it out on my own. We’re such a close family with traditional Eastern culture values; I think my parent’s perceived it as a mild insult when their then 25-yr-old youngest son decided to leave their house. But I was driven by the need to establish the obligatory self-sufficiency that comes with adulthood. I had to prove not only to the world but to myself that I wasn’t the helpless youngest son of a privileged family. I had to prove I was normal; that I was “strong.”
The older I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate how amazing my parents are. Dealing with the often overwhelming constant bombardment or adult responsibilities is enough to suffocate me on most days. My career barely involves a fraction of the level of pressure & high stakes that characterized my parent’s careers—and yet, they were able to succeed & still have the time to make me feel like I was the center of their universe. All this year, I’ve been struggling with a life crisis that I tried to keep to myself & resolve on my own. I didn’t want to worry my poor Mother who has more than enough on her plate. I just had to “cowboy-up” & go it alone. But I recently broke down & shared my struggle with her. It’s ironic: I spent most of my 20’s trying to establish my independence in an effort to uphold my obligations as an adult. Now in my late 30’s, I realize that no matter how much I “grow up”, I’ll never outgrow a parent’s love. And I’ll never be too old to realize how much I love & need my parent’s in my life.
I used to think that I was strong after a good workout in the gym or after standing up to a bully twice my size. But then I see my Mom at 70-yrs-old adapt to the computerized healthcare industry to order to extend her 40-year career as a doctor. I see her remain active in the Church & community on her off days. I see her remain the dutiful wife to my Father. And I benefit from her seemingly never-ending support in my own life. I was looking at myself in the mirror after a solid workout this morning when I began to think that strength is too great a quality to be measured in a single act; & certainly too immense to assess through anything we can see in a mirror. With my reflection staring back at me, I realized that I had been strong on this day; but there were far more days when I hadn’t been. With Mom, there’s never an off day. Her love knows no limits. Her commitment to those she loves never wavers. Today, I want to thank her for helping me realize where true strength lies—otherwise, I could have spent my whole life looking strength in all the wrong places instead of summoning it from my own heart.  Even on my best day, I’m not half as strong as my Mom is every day. But I am making progress. For example, I used to be afraid of telling the people in my life how important they were to me—-afraid of sounding sappy or weak. But now, all I’m afraid of is failing to be sincere. I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything. And Happy Mother’s Day to you & all the Mothers out there. Oh, & if you haven’t already done so; please don’t be afraid to let your own mom what she means to you. Thanks for reading.
 

 

The Inner Infant

So my inner child, Sophie, has a younger sister. She is an infant and doesn’t have a name yet. While my relationship with Sophie is pretty good, I confess, I’m a terrible mother to my infant. But I’m working on it.

It’s easier to enjoy Sophie because she is playful, funny, cute, and full of energy. But like most kids, she can be a brat and gets on my nerves sometimes. And she doesn’t like it when I’m alone. She’s afraid something bad will happen to us. She advocated for my last relationship and was terribly anxious whenever she thought we might break up. It took awhile before I learned how to comfort her and assure her that I can take care of her by myself.

I only became aware of the infant about a year ago–mainly because I was neglecting her so badly it was affecting my health. I wouldn’t feed her when she was hungry. I wouldn’t soothe her when she was upset. I yelled at her when she cried for no reason. If Social Services could have seen how I was treating her, they definitely would have intervened. After awhile I was having so many physical problems that I was forced to attend to her needs. It was starting to affect my tennis.

I’ve had to get to know my infant the same way any parent gets to know their child: by paying close attention. You don’t automatically know which cry is the hungry cry, the poop cry, or the tired cry; you learn from experience. She is usually upset when I wake up on the weekends because I sleep in and throw off her feeding cycle. So if I’m feeling depressed or anxious when I wake up, I get something to eat because she’s probably hungry.

Or she could be crying because that’s what infants do when they wake up–especially after a nap. It’s funny that we just accept that young kids cry when they wake up without understanding why and without being mad at them for it. I wonder at what age we start expecting people to have a good reason to cry.

I guess some people do acknowledge that they’re in a crappy mood when they wake up and turn to things like coffee, cigarettes, and drugs to calm them down. Those are not good ways to comfort a baby, though. And maybe they’re not ideal for us, either, really. But that’s for another blog post.

She also gets upset whenever I’m rushing around, which is essentially all the time. She is very sensitive to transitions: leaving for work in the morning, rushing to a tennis match, rushing to the grocery store. I have no idea why. Maybe my stress upsets her. Or maybe I’m neglecting her when I’m on the run. This is the distress that is the hardest for me to be compassionate about.

So now there’s this mantra I have to say multiple times a day to soothe her: It’s OK. Everything’s going to be OK. You’re fine. Everything’s going to be fine. And when I’m frustrated, I add although I have no idea what you’re anxious about!  It’s a process, accepting that she deserves to be upset and comforted, even when it doesn’t make sense to me.

I know this probably sounds silly to some of you, but it works really well. I use this analogy often with clients as a way to get them to pay closer attention to what they need, to honor their feelings, to have compassion for themselves, and to learn how to take better care of themselves. It can work surprisingly quickly, once you reassure them that having all these parts doesn’t mean they’re crazy.

So if you ever find that you are arguing with yourself, or that you’re frustrated because your thoughts/feelings/actions don’t make any sense, you might want to ask what part of yourself you might be neglecting.

Self-Compassion

My compassion reserves are running low. In my last relationship I took the words of Jesus and Buddha literally about how we should be able to love everyone. It was practically a 3 year exercise in compassion. But by the end I wondered if perhaps I had misunderstood what they meant about loving others. It was a lot of work to have to channel Buddha and Christ just to tolerate being in his presence. I feel like I’m experiencing a backlash now. All those feelings I tried to deny are coming out with a vengeance. I guess I was supposed to have compassion for myself, too.

I’m not very good at self-compassion. Every time I try, the Inner Critic berates me for whining about my problems when I have a good life. I don’t know what pain is. I’m not living in a war-torn country. My life hasn’t been devastated by natural disasters or school shootings. All of the people I love are still alive. Who am I to complain?But surely I must have the right to honor my feelings. My suffering must count, too, if God cares about all of us. So I’m going to write about what’s upsetting me, without apologizing for it or justifying it or willing myself to be positive.

This week I will be moving closer to divorce. Filing forms. Getting documents notarized. More tears. More snot. You would think there would be a limit to how much it’s possible to cry over something. That 4 years would be more than enough time. I used to pray to God–plead, even–to tell me what I could do that would allow both of us to be happy. Leaving seemed like it would just make us both miserable. And it has. And I don’t see an end in sight for me, at least. I’m trying not to blame God or myself. But in this moment, my faith in a happy future is wavering and I feel like I deserve the pain.

I have 2 family members who are currently on the opposite ends of the bipolar spectrum. My brother is trying so hard but still feels terrible.  It hurts me that he’s hurting. My dad is manic. Mania feels great for the person experiencing it, but it’s hell for the rest of us. But what power do I have to make him see?  If he were my client, I could make him see our psychiatrist, get him on meds. But as a daughter, I am practically useless.

I’m afraid to answer the phone when my parents call. Which makes me feel horribly guilty, because I know their time on earth is limited and I will regret not talking to them more when they’re gone. But the call is almost always about something bad. Something I’m expected to fix. Or something I don’t want to do. At minimum, I’m supposed to be a receptacle for the stress, but I can’t take it. It’s too much. I’m not able to function afterwards.

So I have to be strategic about when I call or when I answer. It has to be a time when it will be OK if I fall apart. But since it’s hard to choose something where there’s a good chance you’ll fall apart, I often forget to call altogether. Which makes me feel even guiltier and reactivates the vicious cycle. I wish it could be easier. I wish there were some way I could be a good daughter but also protect myself.

It takes a lot of work to maintain my health. Since I have GERD, allergies, and exercise-induced asthma, I have to take shots, nasal sprays, pills, steroid inhalers, rescue inhalers. I’m not supposed to have coffee and chocolate. I can’t eat or drink 3 hours before exercise or bed time. If I drink too much during a match, I’ll even throw up water. It’s frustrating to have to worry about throwing up every time I play. Or brush my teeth, even. But giving up dental hygiene and tennis are not options.

My mental health is always hanging in the balance. It’s work to maintain my sleep cycle because of my night owlness. I can’t miss any of my drugs. I can’t miss Ativan for even one night. I meditate, pray, journal, exercise, and all of the other self-care strategies. But despite my best efforts, I can never make it to the end of the term without burning out before I cross the finish line. I can’t handle the stress of my life. I can’t get out of bed right now. It makes me feel weak. Inadequate. Unable to do the basic tasks of life.

Just got a call from my lawyer friend that my paperwork looks good to go, so I guess I’ll be filing for divorce this week for sure. If you believe in God, feel free to say a prayer for me. If you don’t, send positive vibes my way.

Conspiracy Theories

Last year one of my players accused me of being part of a conspiracy that was designed to keep him from becoming a captain. For those of you who have never played league tennis, being a captain can be a crappy, stressful, ungrateful job that people have to bribe you to do with gifts, money, and parties. Most people would rather have root canal than captain a tennis team. No one would try to prevent someone from becoming a captain.

The conspiracy theories that people come up with in tennis are even more annoying than the head games people play to try to win. Earlier in the week I had to reschedule multiple matches because it rained for 3 days. Rain is a captain’s greatest enemy. Two out of the three matches were fairly easy to work out. But I spent 2 days arguing with the other captain about rescheduling the 3rd match, because every suggestion I made was perceived as some devious attempt to sabotage this captain’s opportunity to advance to districts on one of his other teams.

Let me tell you a little about districts. You do not get a million dollars for advancing. In fact, you have to pay a fee to play at districts. And since we do not have sponsors like professional tennis players do, you have to pay for hotels and travel expenses. And do you know what your prize is for winning your local division? A hand towel that you can only use one side of, because the other side says something like “Mixed Doubles Champion” in some scratchy iron-on that hurts your face.

I still try to win, of course, but I don’t care enough about winning to devise elaborate plans to sabotage the other team. As I mentioned in my post on loyalty, most of the time I don’t even have winning teams because it’s more important to me to play with my friends. Sometimes I care more about eating out afterwards than I do about the match itself. Sometimes I’m downright surprised when we win–which I admit is probably not a good thing.

Another conspiracy that people get all worked up about is coaching, which is illegal in tennis. Her boyfriend/husband is waving his hands. I think he’s coaching! So what if he’s coaching? He’s probably giving her some advice that she can’t do, anyway, because that’s what partners do. They tell you to do things like come to the net when you hate playing at the net. That’s why they fight on the court when they’re together. That’s probably why he’s in the stands and she’s playing with someone else. And even if he is coaching, she still has to execute.

People have accused me of being too trusting, and I admit it did not serve me well in some of my relationships. And perhaps it doesn’t serve me well in tennis, either. Perhaps I could have won more matches if I had followed my opponents into the bathroom to make sure they weren’t coaching. Or if I stacked my lineup and kept it top secret until right before the match and had extra players warm up and put them all on different courts to confuse the other captain. Perhaps I would be more competitive if I didn’t assume that most people are primarily out there to have fun like me.

But I choose not to live my life that way, even if it costs me a few wins. I’d like to think that if I live my life with integrity, it will pay off. And even if it doesn’t, at least I won’t be paranoid and miserable while I’m alive.