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Monthly Archives: September 2014

Living with No Regrets

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Today I went to the Verizon store to order my new iPhone since the one I have mysteriously started acting up right around the time the iPhone 6 was released. So clever of them to make cell phones that only last 2 years so that you have to buy a new one when your contract is up.

Because I obsess about spending money, I grilled the Verizon guy about every extra expense. Will I have to pay for postage when I mail my old phone in for my rebate? Is there a catch to getting the rebate? Do you make commission off the $10/month insurance policy? Is it possible not to pay the $30 upgrade fee? He seemed to take my questions in stride, even though I accidentally drank his bottle of water.

Despite my dad’s protests about not going into a more money-making career like medicine, I chose psychology, anyway. I wish I could have willed myself to do something that made more money. I just had a student ask me what career I would have chosen if I had not become a psychologist, and I honestly couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do.

On the one hand, not making a lot of money means I don’t have to feel guilty about living an extravagant lifestyle. But I am still envious of my friends and family for being able to afford things like nice houses and vacations in exotic locations. Although I don’t need those things to be happy, I am still materialistic enough to want them.

I admit, some of my anxiety about money has more to do with my uncertainty about my worth rather than my paycheck. Like a yo-yo dieter who is ever at war with her body, my attitude towards spending ebbs and flows. Once I spent 10 minutes obsessing over whether I deserved to buy a $1 candle. (I didn’t buy it.) Other times I’ve gone on $800 shopping binges to rebel against that part of me that says I don’t deserve a $1 candle.

I am trying to find some balance between these two extremes. I am trying to reflect on what things are worth buying because they make me happy. I hate cooking, so I’ve decided that eating out is worth it. And I love tennis, so I don’t limit how much I can play based on cost.

Last night, after obsessing for 7 months about whether or not to go on a tour of Germany and Switzerland this summer, I decided to take the plunge and go. I can’t deprive myself of experiencing the world until I make more money, because I might not ever make money off my blog. Plus, when I imagined looking back on this decision, I figured that the likelihood that I would regret going was low, but I am almost certain that I would regret it if I didn’t go.

I like the idea of making spending decisions based on regrets. I think I’ll have a much better relationship with money this way.

One Year Progress Report

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Today is my blog’s one year birthday. Woo hoo! Who would have thought that I could write 159 posts? Before I started this blog, I never showed anyone a single paragraph of anything I had written. And I had to do all this research just to figure out what a blog was. So blogging for a year is truly an accomplishment.

In honor of this special day, I thought I would see how far I’ve come in my practice of self-acceptance. My first 4 posts covered some of the most common themes in my blog, so I thought I would give an update on where things stand in these areas.

1. Night Owl Syndrome. I have come to the conclusion that, although my mood is vastly improved when I abide by a “normal” sleep cycle, I cannot get up early unless I absolutely have to. Now that I’m working again, I’ve been going to bed earlier (12-1 a.m.) and waking up earlier (7:30 a.m.), with an occasional short nap thrown in when I have time. Even though I prefer to sleep more, I function pretty well on 6-7 hours.

The only problem is, knowing this will not make me wake up early when I’m on vacation again. But I’m not going to worry about that right now. I’m just going to enjoy being in a good mood.

2. Divorces. As of August 14, 2014, I am officially divorced and am finally at peace with it. We are on as good of terms as we can be. In fact, he just strung my racket last week and informed me that I had a nail in my tire. My first reaction when he pointed out the nail was fear about not having someone around to inform me of things like the condition of my tires.

But then I thought that perhaps it wasn’t an accident that my ex happened to be there when I dropped my racket off and that he happened to notice the nail in my tire. Maybe God was looking out for me, just like when my car broke down on the freeway over the summer. So I will try to have faith that He will continue to do so.

3. Massages and Stress Relief. I love my job, but it is stressful. The commute is hard on my body, and seeing back-to-back clients is mentally and emotionally taxing. I’ve started getting massages again, but unlike a year ago, I don’t obsess about how much they cost anymore. I accept that it’s something I have to do for my body. I also have a phone session with my therapist once a month, even if I think I don’t need it, because I feel better when I talk to her.

And this year, I’m going to try working from home one day a week to cut down on my driving and to preserve my time for blogging. I’m a little nervous about waking up early and being productive that day I work from home, and about fitting all my clients in the other 4 days, but we’ll see how it goes.

4. Knitting and Relationships. I still love a challenge. I still like complicated patterns and I am still drawn to complicated relationships. I am proud to say that I have been single for almost a year, and I am surprised to find that I enjoy my freedom. I’m actually a little afraid to start dating again, because I don’t yet trust myself to know when a relationship may not be worth the effort. So for now, I’ll limit my challenges to complicated patterns.

My latest project received the most likes of anything I have ever posted on Facebook. Not sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult that my knitted top looks better than I do.

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Popularity

Pick Me

I was not very popular in high school. At least I don’t think I was. Although several years ago I talked to someone I went to high school with and he commented on how shy I was back then. Shy? Is that why people didn’t talk to me? I thought they just didn’t like me! So I’m open to the possibility that I have a distorted self-image.

At any rate, I know for sure that I did not do a lot of the things that were supposed to lead to popularity. I never drank or smoked or used drugs. I wasn’t a cheerleader, didn’t go to parties, didn’t go on the cool road trips like beach week. I did all my homework and studied for tests. Once I got 100 on a history exam and the teacher gave me a hard time for being a curve buster. The teacher. Talk about unpopular.

But I was OK with the choices I made because if you are a follower of my blog, then you know that I obsess about going to hell. So I was willing to forgo popularity to avoid eternal damnation.

But now, after a lifetime of escaping peer pressure and of preaching about the perils of social media as a psychologist, I find myself vying for popularity. In order to have a successful blog, I need followers, likes, tweets, shares, and comments. I had to open all of these social media accounts even though I have no idea what I’m supposed to do on them. I need to say stuff on these accounts that will make people like me and want to read my blog. The only problem is, self-acceptance never seems to be a trending topic.

I try really, really hard to use all of my knowledge of psychology to avoid getting down about how few followers, likes, tweets, shares, and comments I get. Here are a few of my strategies:

1. Perspective-taking. I remind myself that I have only been blogging for a year as of the 24th (my blog birthday!) and that it takes time to build an audience. In fact, my life will go on even if my readership never grows. And I would be perfectly content to write for this small group of people and for myself.

2. Intrinsic motivation. I remind myself that I am not in a race against other bloggers. I am not trying to win. The thing that drives me is to find out how far I can take it if I give it my all–to find out what I’m capable of.

3. Quality vs. quantity. I will probably never have a post go viral, which is OK. It’s more important to me that my blog is personally meaningful rather than popular–even if the only person it is meaningful to is me.

4. Honesty. Before I publish a post, I prepare myself for the possibility that people won’t think it’s as awesome as I do by reminding myself that the most important thing is that it’s true.

5. Control what you can control. I have limited control over what other people do. I can’t make them follow, like, tweet, share, or comment on my blog. However, I can control what I do, and the best way to get more readers is to write more posts.

So I am one post closer to my goal.

The Dilemma of Being Human

I am currently reading The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which is awesome! It’s about this guy who decides to walk several hundred miles to visit an old friend who is dying of cancer because he believes that it will keep her alive. His walk is a form of penance for all of the people he has failed, including himself. To make up for his passivity, he decides to take a leap of faith that he can walk 600 miles in yachting shoes without a cell phone, a map, or a plan, and be redeemed.

I like this book because it explores how loss and grief can change us and our relationships with the people we love. It has always bothered me that someone who had once been so important to us can become someone who we can’t stand the sight of. Even though it’s less romantic, I would prefer to think of love as a weed that sticks around no matter how hard you try to get rid of it rather than some high maintenance flower like a rose that is easy to kill.

I also like the book because I’ve had this fantasy of walking the Camino de Santiago because some Catholics believe it will halve their stay in purgatory. I don’t know if I believe in purgatory, but if it does exist, I would definitely like to shorten my stay there. I can see why a pilgrimage would be therapeutic. It’s like self-therapy with a rigorous physical activity component.

Along the way, Harold meets people who share their own sorrows, which he feels both comforted and burdened by. The other night I read a line in the book that gave me pause: “Harold cold no longer pass a stranger without acknowledging the truth that everyone was the same, and also unique; and this was the dilemma of being human.”

This statement is at the heart of what my blog is about. I have always felt different from others in a way that makes me feel alone in the world. For being Filipino and for not being Filipino enough. For thinking too much and for being too shallow. For not being married, for being divorced, for not having children. For having depression and anxiety. Even without these specific differences to point to, I have felt fundamentally flawed in a way that I can’t quite put into words.

But as I blog about my flaws, I realize that other people feel just like I do–alone in their craziness. The details make us unique, but the pain of feeling separate from others is universal.

So in a way I feel like I am Harold Fry, on my journey to self-acceptance, but with a much less rigorous physical activity component. And as I tell my story, I give others the opportunity to reflect on their own story so that we can share the joy and pain of being human together.

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Photo: Maria Roman

Declaration of Independence

I am working with a client who was sexually assaulted and is thinking about taking her case to our judicial board. We talked about the levels of awareness that she went through before she could be ready to take this step. How at first she didn’t want to acknowledge what happened. Then she opened up to a few people who felt safe. Now she wants to make sure he understands that what he did was not OK. To force him to think about it the next time. She hopes to eventually share her story at Take Back the Night so that other people can benefit from it.

She knows that there will be people who won’t believe her. Who will blame her for what happened. She prepares herself by reminding herself that as long as she knows what happened, that’s all that counts. But that’s a hard thing to do–to face the judgment within us and around us. It takes a lot of courage to face that kind of scrutiny.

I like to think of this process as a kind of declaration of independence–from our demons, from judgment, from fear. It happens every time someone goes to AA and admits they’re an alcoholic. Every time someone finds the courage to say I have an eating disorder. I struggle with depression. I live in fear. In making this declaration, they take away the power that their condition has to make them feel weak. Defective. Crazy.

To a lesser extent, I think of my blog as a kind of declaration of independence. I’ve tried to hide these things about myself all my life. I don’t want to be held hostage by them anymore. I want to be able to embrace everything that makes me who I am–especially the things that I am ashamed of.

The president of the student organization I advise, Active Minds, told me that he reads my blog, which kind of freaked me out at first. But he thought it was the most powerful way to fight stigma and to let other students know that they are not alone in their struggles with mental illness, which is the primary goal of Active Minds. So he is finding ways to give students the opportunity to make their own public declarations. It is a wonderful feeling to know that this has come out of my willingness to share my vulnerabilities.

I’ve always liked the expression that freedom isn’t free. You have to fight for it. Although blogging has been a surprisingly supportive and positive experience, I am well aware that there will be times when someone will judge me for what I say. I try to prepare myself for it by doing what my client is doing–to remind myself that ultimately, the only person who counts is me. Then I take a deep breath and hit Publish.

Declaration of Independence

Some Things Never Get Old

A few months ago my brother called to tell me about a baby bear spotted in the parking lot where he lives, which is quite an anomaly because he lives in the city. He also sent me pictures and video clips. And he cracked himself up making up additional fake bear sightings: the bear was also seen going to Starbucks buying a coffee, having a beer at the local bar, etc.

He had the same obsession with bears as a kid and made similar jokes that were primarily funny because they made him laugh. Even though he is 38, he is still a kid in many ways. He continues to see the world as though he is experiencing it for the first time.

I was not able to share his excitement about the bear sighting, but there are things that I never get tired of. This weekend I went to districts with one of my teams, and even though I didn’t win and my team didn’t win, I am happy. I feel blessed because I had the good fortune to experience some of those things that never get old. My list includes, but is not limited to:

1. Winning. I know winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good when you do. Even though my team didn’t win, one of the local teams did, and we got to share in their victory celebration, which is almost as good. Especially when the celebration involves food. Plus UVA won, which means we have already tied our 2 wins from last season. And it was an upset against a top 25 team, which makes it even sweeter. Plus Switzerland advanced in Davis Cup this weekend, so I’m happy for Federer, too.

2. Tennis. When I started playing tennis again 14 years ago, I was obsessed with it. I played at least 4-5 times a week–sometimes 2-3 times a day–and would drive to different cities to play. I played in every league and tournament. I feared that at some point I would grow tired of it, but I think I’m even more obsessed with it now than I was back then. One of the members of the winning team is in his late 70’s, and he still loves tennis. He is still competing, still winning, still talking trash on the court. I hope I am fortunate enough to be just like him when I grow up.

3. Shopping. Ok, I know this one is superficial, but it’s true. I love shopping. I got to buy cute tennis clothes, which is something I don’t have access to ordinarily. And they were on sale. Not half of half of half, as my mom prefers, but still a pretty good deal. And I’m going to wear my new outfit to my singles match tonight. I will probably lose, but I will look good doing it.

4. The Beauty of Nature. On the way to the tournament I drove through the Rockfish Valley. Initially I was so anxious about getting lost that I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings. But when I entered the valley I was in awe of how beautiful it was. It was absolutely breathtaking. I never get tired of the beauty of nature. I never tire of looking at the sky at sunset. Of the changing of the seasons. These are the times that I have those moments of clarity. These are the moments that bring me closer to God.

5. Friendship. One of the things I love the most about tennis is the friends I have made and continue to make. This weekend I got to spend time with some of my closest friends and reconnect with old ones. As I got to know some of my teammates off the court, I felt like I was meeting them for the first time. Spending time with friends, getting to know people better, and adding to my tennis family never gets old.

It really is true that some of the best things in life are free. Except for shopping. Shopping is never free. But a 30% discount on everything in the pro shop is pretty nice, too.

Some things never get old

Self-Soothing

Self-soothing

While some people acknowledge having an inner child, I have an entire internal family. This includes a child who I call Sophie, but also an inner infant–a part of me that doesn’t have the words or the awareness to express what I’m upset about. This idea of an inner infant was confusing to some readers, so I thought I would describe her in more detail.

It is as though I am a new mother with a baby that is easily upset but I have no idea what’s wrong with her or how to comfort her. And obviously she can’t tell me because she’s a baby. And I am not a patient mother. I am in a hurry. I don’t have time for this.

My therapist would always tell me that I haven’t learned ways to soothe myself–to comfort myself, calm myself down–which is part of the reason why I’m so anxious. I sort of understood but not really. I was kind of like, well then tell me how to soothe myself!

But now I realize that learning how to comfort yourself is a lot like getting to know your baby. You learn from trial and error how to distinguish the hunger cry from the tired cry. You learn the idiosyncratic things that make her feel better–like driving around the block, or putting music on, or cradling her in a certain way.

I’m currently reading The Art of Empathy, and in the chapter I just finished, McLaren gives some examples of ways that babies and children soothe themselves. Some of them I wouldn’t have thought of as attempts to self-soothe–like toe-walking, foot stomping, and fidgeting. It made me realize how often we tell children to stop doing things that are annoying us when they are just trying to make themselves feel better.

I am slowly learning how to be a better parent to myself. I am trying to be more patient when I appear to be anxious for no reason. I am trying to be more compassionate. More comforting. More understanding. It’s unfortunate that being mean to myself comes so naturally but being nice to myself takes so much practice.

But that’s OK. I’m willing to put in the work to get to know myself better. And I have a lifetime to practice.