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Monthly Archives: October 2014

Inner Children and Rock Stars

Tomorrow is our annual Halloween party. Which has more recently been referred to as our annual Decade Karaoke Party since some people claim they do not like Halloween costume parties.

In a previous post, I jokingly referred to myself as a karaoke pusher, but some people have accused me of being too pushy in general. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. When I want something, I’m relentless about getting it. It’s hard for me to take no for an answer. I will guilt trip people, wear them down, and resort to psychological tactics that are empirically proven to be effective in manipulating behavior.

I confess, my relentless pursuit of what I want has contributed to problems in my relationships. In fact, I am no longer in relationships with some of my accusers, and I’m sure that my pushiness contributed at least in part to the demise of those relationships. I am trying to be less pushy, but the truth is, I really believe that I am pushing people to do something that is good for them and that they want deep down.

In the 10 years that I have been hosting karaoke parties, everyone who has claimed to hate karaoke really did have an inner rock star. Sometimes it took more time and alcohol to coax that part out of them, but it was definitely in there.

I am even more certain that everyone has an inner child, because it is impossible to be an adult without passing through childhood at some point. And what child doesn’t like dressing up in costumes? None that I know of. And again, in my experience, when I have forced people to dress up for Halloween, they always enjoyed it in the end.

And in my defense, I may be pushy, but I am also patient. I don’t care if it takes them years before they fully participate in the festivities. I’m fine with them sitting there at the party pretending not to like karaoke and costumes for as long as they want. Because that is how confident I am that I will be right in the end. I mean, they keep coming to the parties, so they can’t hate it that much.

Although I have to admit, I have also been accused of always thinking I’m right. Which is also true, but I really am right most of the time, so I think those people are just sore losers.

Here are some pictures from past Halloween parties. Two of the people in the bottom picture claim that they don’t like karaoke, but you probably can’t pick them out, because they are all having a good time. More evidence that I am right about everything I just said.

HalloweenKaraoke

The Ebola Rule

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I just spent $1000 on a new water heater. Yay! Not.

Yesterday I slept in because I was exhausted. By the time I willed myself to get up and take a shower, there was no hot water. Which was puzzling, because I live by myself and I’m pretty sure I didn’t use any hot water in my sleep. So I had to take a cold shower–which is probably not a big deal to all of you rugged, outdoor types who do stuff like bathe in rivers, but it is to me.

In order to put a stop to the part of me that was whining about how I’m being punished for sleeping in by having to take a cold shower, I reminded myself that it’s not like I have the ebola virus. I know Richard Carlson’s immensely popular self-help book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff claims that it’s all small stuff, but that’s not true. Ebola is a big deal. But in his defense, I don’t think he knew about ebola back then.

By the time I got home last night, I was hoping that the hot water problem miraculously resolved itself, but it did not. So I looked at my water heater and saw that it was leaking, which was probably not a good thing. But since I know nothing about water heaters, I called my ex, my neighbor, and my brother just to make sure, and woke up at least one of them in the process. Which I kind of feel bad about, but who goes to bed at 9:30? My ex, that’s who.

So then I was hoping that it was going to be some simple solution like flip this switch or turn this knob and it will all be OK. But no. I had to get a new hot water heater, plus a few other adjustments that are required by law. Something about having the gas line at least 18 inches from the pilot light. Which the plumber wasn’t able to do because of how they built the space. I wasn’t really listening that closely because then I would obsess about how I could have died in a gas explosion all this time.

Because I obsess about not having enough money for emergencies, I reminded myself of the ebola rule again while I was writing the check. I have refined it a bit since yesterday. It goes something like this:

Step 1: Do you have ebola?

If Yes: Oh my gosh! You are so screwed! Get to the hospital!

If No: Get over it and pay the man $1000.

So that’s what I did.

I realize that this may not seem like a deep and meaningful post to many of you, but the ebola rule helped me to put this little inconvenience into perspective, so it was kind of an epiphany for me.

Sixth Sense

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I read recently that elephants can detect rain storms from 150 miles away. This is a helpful ability to have in Nambia, where it rains very little. Researchers aren’t exactly sure what the elephants are sensing but suspect that it might be related to their ability to hear very low frequency sounds, since this is also how elephants communicate with one another in herds.

I have been really anxious lately. Sometimes for no reason, which is really annoying. I know this sounds crazy, but sometimes I’m anxious about something that hasn’t happened yet. And it’s not because I’m worrying about something in the future. And it’s not that I’m psychic. I have no idea why I’m feeling anxious. But then something happens, and my anxiety makes sense. Except that the cause and effect is reversed.

I think I might be like an elephant. I think there’s something that I sense that goes beyond the usual 5 senses. I can sense distress from far away. Anxiety, like sound, is also a way that herds communicate. If you are in a pack of gazelles and one of the gazelles in the back sees a lion, it’s not like the gazelle can say, hey everybody! Run for your lives! We are about to be attacked! And whatever means of communication they use has to be instantaneous–like when we break suddenly to avoid hitting a deer. Even though you’re not supposed to do that.

People can feel it when someone is anxious, too. I think that’s why people try to stop other people from feeling. Because they don’t want to feel anxious. And usually the anxiety isn’t adaptive. These days we usually aren’t feeling anxious because we are about to be attacked by wild animals. We’re anxious about something that isn’t life threatening at all–like an interview. Or because we slept through our alarm clock and are running late. Or because we are imagining how we would get to work if we broke our leg without having to call our ex. (I was really worrying about that a few days ago for some reason.)

The problem is, my instinct to move towards the source of distress isn’t like an elephant moving towards water. Moving towards water is adaptive. Moving towards danger is not. If anything, I should be running for my life, like the gazelles.

But then again, there are people who run towards danger. Like the firefighters and police officers in 9/11. In fact, when you talk to someone who has done something heroic, like jump into a river to save a stranger’s life, and you ask them what they were thinking, they say they weren’t thinking anything. They were just responding. So we do need people whose instinct is to run towards danger.

I have always considered myself risk averse, but maybe I’m not when it comes to psychological things. Maybe I’m like a psychological fire fighter. That doesn’t sound so crazy after all.

What Love is

You know that famous quote on love that they always recite at weddings? The one that starts with “love is patient, love is kind…?” I wrote a post about this Bible verse, but in my quest to discover whether I’ve ever known love, I thought I would revisit it.

Let me preface this exploration by saying that I am not usually the type who interprets the Bible literally, but since a lot of people agree on this definition of love, I figured it’s as good of a place as any to start.

So there are 15 things that love is supposed to be, and I would say that I exhibit 11 out of 15 of them on a good day. Which would be a 73. Which is a C. And as you know, a C is failing in my book.

I have problems with envy, anger, keeping record of wrongs, and selfishness. Selfishness, in particular, is the hardest one for me to improve upon. I try to be reasonable, but the truth is, I don’t want anyone to get over me. I don’t want anyone to be happier without me, even if I am happier without them. Even if I never hope to be with them again. And even though they want me to be happy.

In my defense, this verse doesn’t explicitly say that love is not selfish. It says that love is not self-seeking. This may be splitting hairs, but that’s what obsessive people do. Wanting to be loved the most is clearly selfish, but is it self-seeking? And if so, what is it that I am seeking?

I guess I want to be the most special person they’ve ever known. I want to be able to hold up that gigantic foam finger that says “We’re #1!” that sports fans wear, even when their team sucks. Except it would say “I’m #1!” So, even if it is narcissistic, our culture clearly condones the desire to be the best as socially acceptable, even when it’s delusional.

But that just sounds like a rationalization for my selfishness, so it doesn’t really alleviate my guilt. Plus maybe we, as a culture, shouldn’t be so focused on being the best, either.

But that is for another blog post.

Oh! I just thought of something that helps me to redeem myself!

So you know how I want to be a famous writer and have a best seller and make a lot of money some day? Well despite my desire for fame and fortune, I often pray that my brother’s blog on “The Walking Dead” will be more successful than mine. That he will be the one who knows fame and fortune. Because I will be happy regardless of what happens with my blog, but it would make him really, really happy to have some external validation of his talent. And I want him to be happy.

See? I am capable of putting someone else’s happiness before my own. I do know what love is after all. Because this is how much I love my family.

Love is

What Love is Not

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Sometimes I’m still not sure I know what love is.

I’ve said I love you many times, but often immediately after the relationship ended I was like, what the hell was I thinking?! It’s as if I had been in a trance, and once the person moved out of my empathy range, I could not understand how I ever convinced myself that I loved that person.

Once the person decided that they loved me, I felt obligated to love them back. I felt like it was my job to give people what they wanted, so I tried my best to focus on the person’s good qualities. In positive psychology research, being able to overlook your partner’s negative qualities is actually one of the best predictors of a happy marriage.

And admittedly, sometimes I would try to change the things I didn’t like about them so that they could be more like someone I could love. That’s part of the reason why I’m afraid to be in a relationship: I don’t trust myself to accept the person as they are. In my defense, sometimes I was responding to their desire to be helped. But sometimes it was just because there were things about the other person I couldn’t stand.

But isn’t that true in loving relationships, too? I’ve often heard couples say that there are days when everything their spouse does gets on their nerves. Just because you love someone doesn’t mean that you feel loving towards them all the time. This is what I would tell myself as a way to justify staying.

And like I’ve said before, if Jesus said we should love our enemies, then surely I can overlook the fact that this grown man picks his nose in public. Even though that was a good enough reason for someone to break up with Seinfeld.

In a couple of relationships I actually felt like I hated the person. My friends would explain away my hatred with the the old adage that there is a thin line between love and hate. But that wasn’t why I hated them. I hated them because they exhibited the kind of narcissism that characterizes psychopaths, and I was their latest victim. And I hated myself for trying to love someone who was a borderline psychopath.

I still have nightmares about one of my exes. I’ve had dreams where somehow I am with him again and I feel panicked and trapped. Like Julia Roberts in the movie “Sleeping with the Enemy” where she walks into her house and sees her husband standing there, even though she faked her death and changed her identity in order to be free from him.

That can’t be good. That hardly sounds like love at all.

I don’t want to give the impression that all of my relationships could be turned into psychological thrillers. Most of them were good guys. And I truly loved the two that I married. The problem is that I never knew for sure whether I really loved someone until the relationship was over. Until they were far enough away that I could distinguish my feelings from theirs.

Yet another example of how empathy isn’t always a good thing.

These are not easy relationship patterns to change. But I have not given up hope. I like challenges. I’ve figured out knitting patterns that were beyond my skill level.  Surely I can learn to choose love, rather than have love choose me.

Self-Care, Part 2

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I had one of those days yesterday where it was hard to get out of bed. I was tired because I played 6 matches last week, and I stayed up until midnight writing a blog post the night before. I had a bunch of errands that I needed to do but nothing to look forward to as a reward for doing them. Eventually I did will myself to get up, and I took care of everything that I needed to do, but it took a lot of coaxing.

This was only a fraction of how bad it feels when I’m depressed. That’s why it’s so scary to think about going back there again. I know I’ve survived it and would probably survive it again, but it’s painful while it’s happening, trying to will yourself to get through every minute of every day.

Daylight savings time ends on October 25. I am nervous, because I can feel it already–the effects of the shorter days, the colder weather. Until a few hours ago, I hadn’t seen the sun in several days, which was contributing to my bad mood. In about a week we will be in the midst of the busiest time of the semester, which is always overwhelming, no matter how hard I try to manage my schedule.

I am trying especially hard this time to make self-care a priority. I’m trying not to let the drill sergeant yell at me unless absolutely necessary. I’m trying to say no to tennis when my body needs a rest. Trying to resist the urge to start writing a post at midnight. Trying to be realistic about what I can do and not compare myself to my colleagues, my family, or my friends.

I am making an effort to practice mindfulness, like I tell my clients to do. I’m making myself eat lunch away from my desk. I make sure I am registering every bite I take, rather than shoving the food into my mouth as quickly as possible. When I feel antsy and want to do several things at once, I take a deep breath, make myself stay in the present moment.

It’s really hard to make self-care a priority. Not only am I fighting my inner demons, but I’m also up against a culture that uses slogans like “I haven’t got time for the pain” and tells me to take drugs so that I can go to work when I’m sick. (I’ve always hated that commercial. I think it was for Dayquil.) And for all our preaching about self-care, mental health professionals aren’t much better at it in my experience, because we’re prone to putting other people’s needs before our own.

But I’m really committed to it this time. Consider this my public declaration to make myself accountable. If you see me publish a post at 1 a.m., remind me that I’m supposed to be in bed. If I’m being too hard on myself, feel free to call me on it. Remind me that I’m supposed to be kind to myself.

I’ll probably be annoyed with you, but that’s OK. You’ll never know, and it will be good for me.

Why Blogging is Better than Dating

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Last year I told you how blogging is my new boyfriend, second only in my heart to tennis. And after a year of bloggng, I’m proud to say that our relationship keeps getting stronger. I think that’s why I’m in no hurry to find someone. Because blogging is a much more suitable parter in many ways. For example:

1. Blogging is a much better listener. I talk a lot. I want to share every thought that I have about what book I’m reading, what new insight I have from my latest therapy session, what happened in my last tennis match. In my relationships I usually started conversations with, I have a bunch of stuff to tell you! Usually stuff that they didn’t find all that interesting. Go figure. But in my blog I can talk as much I want, whenever I want, and in whatever level of detail I want.

2. I sleep better at night. I know a lot of people say that one of the hardest parts of being single is sleeping alone, but I have to disagree. I sleep much better by myself. My blog doesn’t care about my night owlness and that I don’t get out of bed until the afternoon sometimes. It doesn’t get annoyed because I toss and turn a lot. It never pulls the covers off of me in the middle of the night. And most importantly, blogs don’t snore or sweat or fart.

3. My blog doesn’t care that I’m obsessive. I have to admit, I even annoy myself sometimes with my obsessiveness. So I understand why I get on other people’s nerves. But my blog doesn’t care. I can check my stats a hundred times a day and my blog doesn’t say it needs a break from me. I can talk about the same things over and over again, and my blog won’t be like, you’ve already said that. If I decide to wake up in the middle of the night and send out a bunch of friend requests or look for people to follow, my blog doesn’t tell me I’m crazy.

4. My blog is always there for me. There have been periods over the last year that have been lonely and painful. I don’t think I could have made it without my blog. It has given me an outlet and an audience that I’ve never allowed myself to have. It validates my feelings. It hears my confessions. It helps me to let go, but in my own time. And when I’ve shared some of my lowest moments, it connects me to other people and reminds me that I am not alone. That I am never alone.

So thank you, blog, for helping me develop a better relationship with myself, and with all of you.