RSS Feed

Monthly Archives: November 2014

Out of the Mouths of Babes

Lately I have been reminded of why I never watch the news. Ignorance really is bliss, as far as my mental health is concerned.

I’ve been particularly disheartened by our inability to see things from the other side’s perspective. And I admit, it’s not easy for me to do, either. So I decided to try to see things from a fresh perspective by asking my eight year old niece about some of the fundamental questions that underlie the latest headlines. Here are the highlights from our interview:

Me: What is truth?

Sadie: Being honest.

Me: But what about when both people see the same thing but have different stories about it? What’s the truth then?

Sadie: Well, neither side is lying. I guess you could get another person who also watched and they could say what the truth is.

Me: What are you thankful for?

Sadie: Everything.

Me: Be specific.

Sadie: Leaves, hands, feet, legs, and pumpkins. (We were eating pumpkin waffles at the time. I have no idea why she said the other stuff.)

Me: What can we do to help people get along?

Sadie: Let’s say that I have a friend but my other friend doesn’t like her. I can tell my other friend that I’m going to play with this new person, and you can play with her, too, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to.

Me: What do you do when someone breaks the rules?

Sadie: Make them pay a fine.

Me: What if they break the rules again?

Sadie. Make them pay a bigger fine. And if they break them again make them pay an even bigger fine and put them in jail.

Me: How long should they be in jail?

Sadie: 10 years. Unless they do something really, really bad, like shoot the President. Then they should be in jail for life, because the President is the one who makes the rules.

Me: What are your strengths?

Sadie: Running and jumping.

Me: What are your weaknesses?

Sadie: Throwing and catching.

Me: If there were one new skill you could learn how to do, what would it be?

Sadie: To play basketball and football so that I won’t be scared of the ball. (Later that night she asked her mom if she could practice playing football outside in the dark.)

Me: Can you show me how to run like a girl? (See #LikeAGirl video.)

Sadie: OK…but it’s just running like anybody else.

Sounds like a girl who is ready to watch the UVA vs. Tech game on Friday! Go Hoos!

photo

I Just Don’t Get It

I just woke up (don’t judge me) and turned on the TV to find that Wilson will not be indicted for Brown’s shooting. I try not to use my blog for ranting, so instead I will write about my confusion, since I’m almost always confused about something when I write.

Sometimes, despite being a psychologist and despite my super-empath skills, I still can’t understand why some people do the things they do. I studied prejudice and discrimination when I was in grad school, so I can tell you the theories that attempt to explain why some people choose to hurt others to make themselves feel better. Ingroups and outgroups. Competition. Fear of the unknown. Just world theory. Projection of weaknesses. Id impulses.

But sometimes the hatred that fuels prejudice and discrimination is so intense that intellectual theories fail to capture the atrocity of these acts.

And this does not only apply to race relations. It also applies to the backlash that women get when they finally have the courage to come forward and say that they were sexually assaulted. It applies to people who try to share what the darkness is like during a depressive episode, only to have a loved one respond with a dismissive I don’t believe in depression. It applies to the demons that seize every opportunity to make us feel worthless, unlovable.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not immune to darkness. I judge. I criticize. I will attack someone’s vulnerabilities in an argument. I have sinned. I have given in to demons. But I cannot say that my instinctive response to anyone has ever been to hate them without cause. Fear them, perhaps. But not hate them. And I have never had the urge to hurt someone who didn’t hurt me first.

Hatred. Darkness. Evil. Perhaps these are subjects that go beyond what psychology can offer. Perhaps religion and philosophy can do a better job of explaining why. Although I haven’t heard an explanation from these disciplines that I find satisfying, either.

At least psychology has given me something to do during these moments that are beyond my comprehension. In these moments, when I feel helpless to provide any kind of meaningful contribution to make the world a more loving place, I can pray. I can practice compassion and lovingkindness.

And I can blog.

1264341_f520

Full of Myself

Positivity

I’m going to be on TV! It’s just a segment on the local news about tennis in our area, but I’ve never been interviewed on TV, so it’s kind of a big deal for me.  I initially didn’t want to be interviewed because I didn’t want to look fat. Which is superficial, I know, but it’s true. But I have to admit, I was pretty awesome. I love having an audience.

I feel self-conscious about writing this, because it feels like I’m being full of myself. But when I tell my therapist that I’m being full of myself, she says that’s a good thing. Full of yourself can mean being whole. Authentic. Come to think of it, most of the time I’m filled with demons, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and self-criticism. So maybe being full of myself isn’t such a bad thing.

In therapy, when clients talk about feeling self-conscious about sharing an accomplishment, I ask them how they distinguish between humility, bragging, and celebrating something good about themselves. Interestingly, the conversation often leads to a discussion about what it means to be a good person. About what God wants from us. Even though I never bring up God unless the client does.

I’m no theologian, but I think that God wants us to share our accomplishments, because they are a reflection of our gifts from Him. That using our gifts is a way of showing our appreciation for them. That sharing our accomplishments with the people who are important to us is a way of inviting them into this celebration.

So in the spirit of sharing my accomplishments with people who are important to me, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with all of you the good things that have happened to me recently.

1. I finally had a good tennis season. I played great and won a lot of tough matches. Except to that one team that beat us three times, which contributed to my bad mood on Sunday. But even those matches were competitive and came down to the wire.

2. I made it through this week without having to miss work! This is one of the weeks with the highest likelihood of a crash and burn episode. So I’m making some progress in my self-care efforts.

3. This is my 3rd post this week, so I met my goal! And my last few posts have gotten me a few more readers, so in the race against my former blogger self, I’m winning!

4. That small taste of the limelight confirmed my belief that if I had my own talk show, I’d be way better than Dr. Phil. (Is that going too far?)

Thanks for allowing me to share my accomplishments with you. I may not be in a relationship, but I do finally have people who care about the minutiae of my everyday life. And for that, I am grateful.

Running My Own Race

I am a terrible runner. That’s why I decided to take up running 16 years ago. I like to challenge myself to do things I suck at. I wanted to prove to myself that I could run for more than 5 minutes. My husband at the time, being the competitive athlete that he was, said he would train with me if we ran a 5K at the end. Which was intimidating, but I liked the idea of having a running partner, so I agreed to do it.

So we started a 10 week program for beginners. By the last week you were supposed to be able to run for 35 minutes. I couldn’t imagine getting to that point, but in the first week you only had to walk for 2 minutes and run for 1 minute for 7 laps, which was totally doable. So I just focused on my goal for that week and trusted that if I did that every week I would be able to run for 35 minutes by the end, whether I could imagine it or not.

We never made it to the last week but we ran the race, anyway. And it was even more embarrassing than I imagined. We were so far behind everyone else that we couldn’t see a single runner ahead of us. We were even behind the police officer who was supposed to follow the last runner, so we missed part of the route and ran past the finish line in the wrong direction. We assumed people were supposed to cheer when you got to the end, but no one did. So we kept running.

The police officer realized his mistake and told us to run around the block to make up for the segment of the route we missed. We came in second to last, and I finished the race in 36 minutes. But I came in 3rd place in my age group because there were only 3 people in it. I love awards, so I was like, woo hoo! When is the next race?

So we ran 5Ks for a few years before I rediscovered tennis. It always hurt, I never got runner’s high, and I hated everything about it except the sense of accomplishment when I crossed the finish line. Sometimes I would place if it were a small race, but I was still always one of the last runners. Women pushing baby carriages would pass me by. Sometimes I was barely in front of the walkers. But I just focused on my goal, which was to run faster than I did in the last race.

I’ve been struggling lately with posts where bloggers say how many followers they have or how many views a particular post has gotten.  It makes me feel like I’m wasting my time. Sometimes it makes me want to give up. But I don’t. Because even if I don’t have a large audience, I know my blog means a great deal to the small group of people who read it. And that small group of people is still larger than the number of clients I see in a week.

Recently I decided that I would use my running mentality whenever I read a post with numbers in it. I will focus on writing and promoting and trust that in the end, I will get to where I want to be. I will focus on my own progress rather than on the people who are passing me by. I will focus on my own race.

So far so good.

running

Turning Pain into Posts

IMG_0495

Yesterday was not a good day.

Yesterday, for the first time in his 16 year career, Federer withdrew from a major tournament, and I had planned my entire day around watching the match. That may not sound like a big deal to most of you, but to a Federer fanatic like me, it’s downright traumatic.

Then I played tennis and lost to the same team for the 3rd time in a row. Plus my opponent accused me of making a bad call. Which would ordinarily make me worry about going to hell, but instead it just pissed me off.

Then my doubles partner thought it would be funny to insult Federer because he knows how much I love him. Which was the last straw. So I punched him in the arm. Hard. Twice. No, three times. Twice in his right arm, and then when he turned away from me in self-defense, I punched him in the left arm. Then I paid for his dinner because I felt guilty about my violent outburst. Although I still think he deserved it.

During dinner he gave me the same old advice that everyone gives whenever someone is upset. Something along the lines of how it’s all about your attitude and he doesn’t even let the big things bother him. Which pissed me off even more. But instead of hitting him again, I just told him he was lucky.

Sometimes I can tell myself to think about all those people whose lives suck more than mine does and it helps me put things in perspective. Like when I had to pay $1000 to replace my water heater and reminded myself that at least I don’t have Ebola.

When I’m depressed, it just makes me feel ashamed that I can’t think positive thoughts, count my blessings, and call to mind the less fortunate. What right do I have to be depressed, given that I have a good life?

When I’m anxious, these strategies just freak me out, because I start thinking about how someday someone that I love will be in poor health. Someone that I love will die. Someday I will be less fortunate than I am now. So then I start panicking about the passage of time and I have to take an Ativan.

And sometimes it just makes me mad. Because I’m a psychologist so it’s not like I’ve never thought of these strategies. In fact, I practice them all the time. They obviously haven’t been reading my blog! But then I feel guilty because they’re just trying to help. I’m just being too sensitive. And I can’t just go around punching people when they piss me off.

Last night I tried to tell myself that in the grand scheme of things, nothing that happened that day was a big deal. I counted my blessings. I thought of Ebola. Nothing worked. So finally, I gave up fighting it and told myself that it’s ok that I’m upset about Federer’s injury. About jokes that I find mean-spirited. About losing. Being called a cheater. Having to listen to unhelpful advice. About being in a bad mood in general. I reminded myself that at some point, I would not be upset anymore. Perhaps I would even feel differently in the morning.

I did feel better when I woke up. Not happy, but better. Then I remembered that pain makes for good blog posts. So I started writing, which finally gave me something to be happy about.

So when all else fails, there’s always blogging.

Do Something that Scares You

Decisions

Sometimes anxiety is a good thing.

The other night I gave a presentation on anxiety to Active Minds, the student organization whose mission is to raise awareness and reduce stigma about mental illness. I began the presentation by reminding everyone that anxiety is not always something we want to get rid of. It motivates us to act. It socializes us. And it warns us when we are about to do something scary.

But sometimes it’s good to do something scary.

When I started my blog, it never occurred to me to use an avatar, because the point was to get people to know me so that they would buy my book someday. Plus, anonymously blogging about vulnerability seemed hypocritical. But I have to admit, sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doing, telling people all my deep, dark secrets, and I wish there were a way I could take it all back.

Some posts are scarier than others. The post that I wrote a few weeks ago, Undeserving, was one of the scarier ones, because what therapist admits to having the exact same fears that her clients have? Publishing it felt a bit like standing in front of people naked and saying, go ahead; judge my body.

Which nobody did, thank goodness. Not to my face, at least. Although the most vulnerable posts are always the most popular, knowing this won’t make it less scary to bare my soul the next time. Because anxiety has no memory. It does not distinguish between past, present, and future. It does not know the difference between reality and fantasy. In the moment, there is only fear.

Actually, I am growing accustomed to baring my soul before friends, family, and strangers. But the thought of standing naked before students and clients still terrifies me. Therapists are supposed to be blank screens. At minimum, they use self-disclosure with caution. They certainly don’t let clients know that they struggle with anxiety and depression and that they don’t think they deserve to be loved.

Last night a student from the school newspaper emailed me some questions about Seasonal Affective Disorder because she’s writing an article about depression. I realized this was an opportunity to publicize my blog, since my last post was on this very topic. But the thought of doing so gave me an anxiety attack, so I decided to sleep on it.

Plus it was midnight, and I promised myself I wouldn’t start working on stuff after midnight so that I don’t screw up my sleep cycle. Even though I ended up staying up until 1:30 a.m., anyway, doing pointless stuff like playing Sudoku and Minesweeper. What is wrong with me?!

But I digress.

This morning I answered the student’s questions and told her about my blog. Part of me hopes that it will lead to a thousand new followers, and a part of me hopes that she ignores the reference to my blog altogether. In any case, I did it; I pushed myself to do the thing I fear the most, as far as blogging is concerned.

And I have to say, it feels pretty good.

Depression vs. Sadness

Motivation 2

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Unless you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder like me. Don’t get me wrong–I still love the holidays. But there’s a better than average chance that I’ll be depressed in the midst of them.

Sometimes people ask me what the difference is between sadness and depression–especially if you have been depressed and are worried that you might be getting depressed again. In a previous post, I admitted that I don’t always know. It’s not like a pregnancy test that you can take and find out that you’re either depressed or “normal.” There are degrees of depression, and I have experienced almost every point on the continuum.

Last year after my breakup, I was alone for the first time since I was 14, and it was tough. I was sad that my phone rarely rang. That I did not automatically have plans for the weekend. That I was helpless when it came to things like changing my air filter.

My sadness turned into depression over the holidays because in addition to being alone, I had to be around my family, which stresses me out, tennis season was over so I wasn’t exercising and didn’t see friends, and my sleep was out of whack because I was off for 2 weeks. Still, it was nothing like the full-blown major depressive episode I had several years ago.

If sadness vs. depression were an SAT question, then sadness is to a cold as depression is to the flu. You can barely get out of bed. You do not have the energy to do simple tasks. You are in pain. You feel like you may die. But the difference is, when you have the flu, you may blame yourself somewhat for not getting your flu shot or for kissing a sick person, but you don’t hate yourself for being sick.

One of the ways I distinguish between depression and sadness is in how I respond to the “think of people who are worse off than you” strategy. When I was too exhausted to do anything the past few weekends, I would think about all of those people who are bedridden and how awful that must feel. And then I wanted to do something about it. So I said one of my neurotic prayers: God, if there’s any way that my praying for these people who are sick and bedridden can help them feel better, then please let that happen.

When I’m depressed, I think about people who live in war-torn countries, and how that’s far worse than being depressed. So who am I to complain? This is nothing. I don’t even have a good reason for being depressed. I’m just lazy and irresponsible. So get off the couch and do something, damn it!

Since this is the time of year when I am vulnerable to depression, I am hypervigilant of possible signs. So far I’m tired and stressed, but no self-loathing. And I haven’t missed any work (knock on wood). Maybe I’ll make it through this year unscathed.