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Monthly Archives: March 2015

Can’t You Take a Compliment?

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As much as I want to believe good things about myself, I am really bad at accepting compliments. It’s puzzling. Another one of those things I file under the “we’re not as rational as we think” category.

Like, once when this guy complimented me on my legs, I said, “Are you making fun of me?” I actually said that out loud, to his face, instead of the more common response of “thank you.” I really thought he was insulting me. That is how compliments get processed in my brain.

Can you imagine how hard it would be to be in a relationship with someone who, every time you gave them a compliment, they heard it as an insult?

That’s exactly why I’m not dating anyone. I don’t want to put some unsuspecting guy through that kind of torture.

Or like, when I was in grad school, my advisor thought I was great. He was always complimenting me in front of other students–which they found annoying–and he would tell everyone how I was the best grad student he’d ever had.

And you know what I thought? I thought he must have pretty low standards. He must not be a very good psychologist if he thought I was the best grad student he’d ever had.

So not only do I take compliments as insults, but I also think less of the person who has given me a compliment.

And yet, when someone gives me a compliment, I cherish it. I repeat it over and over in my mind, trying to make myself believe it. Trying to make myself understand that they were actually talking about me.

I’ve been thinking about all of these compliments that people have given me over the years. Even the ones from high school–which was a long time ago. And I have to say, it’s much more pleasant than the things I usually obsess about. It kind of makes me feel full of myself, but it still feels pretty good.

Perhaps I just have some kind of delayed processing disorder where information doesn’t compute in my brain until years later.

These days, I try not to seem as crazy on the outside as I feel on the inside. When someone gives me a compliment, I have trained myself to say “thank you.” I do not insult them. I do not try to undo their compliment by saying something insulting about myself.

Actually, now that I think about it, I still kind of do that. Because when someone says my hair looks nice, I usually reply with “Thanks. I finally washed it.” So I guess I still need to work on that part.

But still. I’m getting better at it. We may not always be rational, but we can become more aware of when we’re not being rational and try to align our feelings with our behavior.

So if you feel like giving me a compliment so that I can get more practice, I promise I won’t insult you.

Why Didn’t I Think of That?

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I finally convinced our book club to read A Hypnotist’s Love Story, by Liane Moriarty, and of course they liked it. They were initially concerned that I picked the book because I’m like Ellen, the hypnotherapist. Which, admittedly, I am. I am definitely the kind of person who would want to be friends with my boyfriend’s stalker. But I also think like Ellen.

I swear, I think Liane and I must be twins separated at birth–except that she’s not Filipino. Her dialogue sounds like it could have come straight from my blog. Or does my blog sound like her dialogue because I read the book a few years ago? No, I’m pretty sure I liked the book because she thinks like me. It gave me hope that I could be a writer, too.

One of the things we talked about was whether the portrayal of hypnosis was accurate–which it was–and whether it could be used for weight loss. It can, but it works best for things that we are motivated to do–like to avoid pain, reduce anxiety. It is less effective for things like losing weight and quitting smoking because people are ambivalent about giving up food and nicotine.

I was telling them how I encourage clients to use suggestions as a way to tolerate negative feelings. I tell clients to predict for themselves that at some point, perhaps even in a few hours, they will feel differently.

I also use it to get out of bed in the morning. Because I am a night owl, waking up early is torture. I used to let my inner drill sergeant get me out of bed: Wake up! Get out of bed already! What is your problem? Are you trying to be late for work? GET UP GET UP GET UP!!!

Hmmm. Maybe that’s why I wake up feeling anxious.

These days I allow myself to hit snooze twice, but the second time I tell myself that I might not even need to wait for the alarm to go off. I might be ready to get up in 5 minutes.

I’ve been sick for over a week now, which is really starting to get to me. I’ve cancelled tennis 5 freaking times, and I still can’t sing because my voice is hoarse from coughing. Not that I’m a good singer or anything; I just like to do it.

I had to leave book club early to pick up some drugs, and one of my friends half-jokingly gave me the suggestion that I was going to feel better. I thought that was funny. But then I thought, why am I not using it to get better? Or to stop obsessing. Or for all kinds of things.

So I’m going to start using suggestions for everything. You are going to be focused with your clients today. You are going to play awesome in your tennis match. You are going to write a fantastic blog post. You are going to publish a book.

So far so good. I do feel better today. And I was ready to get out of bed after 4 minutes.

Why I Love Sports

So I’m sick again. Which really sucks. I thought there was some unspoken rule that you can only get sick once per season. That if you spent a week of your Christmas break in quarantine with nothing to do but watch bowl games and knit until you develop carpel tunnel syndrome, you paid your dues to the virus gods. Apparently I was mistaken.

Since it’s just me and my inner critic, I spend a lot of time trying to alleviate my guilt about having to cancel all my therapy appointments and being unproductive. It’s not my fault. I have to put myself first. At least I don’t have a terminal illness. Life isn’t about being productive. At least I get to watch tennis and basketball.

In an effort to obsess about something more positive, and as a tribute to March Madness, I thought I’d share my top reasons for why I love sports.

1. Athletes are the best reality TV celebrities. I have much more admiration for Roger Federer for his athleticism, his demeanor on and off the court, his love of the game, and the way he handles his celebrity status than I do for Kim Kardashian. Who somehow is able to obtain sponsorships and ample media coverage despite having no talent that I’m aware of.

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2. Bonding time with my friends and family.  My brothers drive several hours to come to Charlottesville to watch UVA football games, and we’re not even good. Last weekend my friends came with me to the ACC tournament to cheer UVA on. Even though we lost, we had great conversations, ate a lot of junk food, and have a good picture to show for it.

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3. Rivalries. Ordinarily I am all about compassion and accepting differences, but sports is the one place where I allow myself to villanize Virginia Tech. It’s almost as much fun to watch them lose as it is to watch UVA win. And when we play each other, I have a chance to witness both of these things at the same time. Tech may have won in football, but UVA beat them twice in basketball. So take that, Hokies!

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4. Sometimes I win. When I started playing tennis again 15 years ago, I wanted to find out what I could accomplish if I gave it my all. But I had pretty modest expectations. I didn’t think it was possible to actually win tennis tournaments. I didn’t even know it was possible to compete as a team. And I definitely never imagined that I would be on teams that would advance to districts. For someone who doesn’t consider herself an athlete, that’s pretty darn good!

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5. Sometimes you hit the lottery. Last year, when no one was paying attention, UVA won the ACC regular season and tournament championships. And we got the #1 seed in the NCAA tournament. This year, although sports analysts acknowledge that UVA could win it all, no one has chosen them in their bracket. But that’s OK. It may be a long shot, but that’s why we watch sports: there’s nothing like the thrill of victory that’s against all odds.

So Go Hoos!

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This is Who I Am

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Once when I was in therapy I remember telling my therapist that I was like Fred Flintstone. I yelled. I wanted to be right all the time. I wasn’t as good of a friend and a spouse as Barney was. In retrospect, I now realize that the show was about Fred, so people clearly liked him, despite all of his flaws. But at the time, it was a painful realization.

This was a common theme in therapy. How ashamed I felt about being all the things that you weren’t supposed to be. Too loud. Too sensitive. Too controlling. Too needy. Too high maintenance. I couldn’t stand being me. And I couldn’t respect anyone who thought I was great. They clearly must not have very good judgment. So I treated them badly. Which made me feel terrible about myself.

That’s why I treated life like a test. I felt like I was the wrong answer. I had the wrong opinion on everything. I listened to the wrong music. I didn’t have good table manners. Didn’t know anything about current events.

That’s why I got a Ph.D. and got married and tried to have kids. Why I changed my oil every 3,000 miles. Why I force myself to eat vegetables. Which doesn’t have anything to do with being a good person, but somehow all of the big and small rules became equally important to follow.

In all of those years of seeing my therapist, the thing I remember the most was when she said she liked it that I felt things deeply. That I made life more vibrant. This was how she rephrased my shame about being too emotional. I had spent my whole life trying to be less. Until that moment, it never occurred to me that my excesses could be assets.

Yes, feeling things deeply means that sometimes I get depressed. I worry about everything. It’s hard for me to let go of my anger. But being emotional also allows me to be passionate about life, expressive in my writing, and compassionate for other people’s suffering. My excesses enable me to have a blog that helps other people feel less crazy about the things that make them who they are.

And my most recent epiphany is that it doesn’t matter if I can’t think of a way to turn one of my flaws into a strength. Like, I have no idea how counting all the time can be interpreted as something useful. But still. That’s what I do. This is who I am. And I want to accept everything that makes me who I am.

And you know what? It’s pretty liberating. It’s easier to write now, knowing that the only thing that matters is that my posts are a true reflection of how I feel and what I think, regardless of whether or not they’re popular.

Although I still want them to be popular. But that’s OK. Being someone who seeks approval is a part of who I am, too.

On Death and Dying

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I’m going to warn you up front that this post is morbid and depressing. I’m reluctant to write it, but this is what’s been on my mind, and I’m committed to writing what’s true. So here goes.

My friend’s father died last week, and I have been obsessing about death and illness since then. I am terrified of getting older and of dying. And I’m terrified of watching someone I love die.

If I could have, I would have asked my friend if his father was in pain. If he gave any indication that he was ready to let go. His doctor thought he would only live 9 more months, and it occurred to me the night before he died that perhaps he didn’t want to live that long. I imagined being in his father’s place, lying in bed, in pain, not being able to do anything. Not feeling like myself. Perhaps 9 months felt like too much.

When my dad was depressed, he looked like the walking dead. A shell of his former, manic self. It was painful to see him in that state for four years. But he got better, and every day I say a prayer of thanks for this. He is in full form now, reckless in his pursuit of happiness.

It’s disconcerting, all the crazy stuff he’s doing. But if he has to go, I guess he wants to do it on his terms, being fully alive when it happens. And to be honest, that’s how I want him to go, too. I don’t want to have to go through that again–watching him become less and less like himself until he is gone.

I also had the morbid realization that if I were diagnosed with a terminal illness, I would not have anyone to take care of me. No one to take me to my appointments, to make sure I got my meds, to bear witness to my suffering. I guess that’s why people get married. In sickness and in health, ’til death do us part.

Perhaps it doesn’t matter, because I don’t have any one who I need to live for, anyway. No children or spouse who relies on me. And I wouldn’t want to ask anyone in my family to put their life on hold to take care of me. I can barely ask for help as it is.

Maybe I wouldn’t even tell anyone. Maybe I’d just keep going to work and playing tennis and blogging until I couldn’t do it anymore. I don’t want to be known as the person who is dying during what little time I would have left to live.

That might be a problem with my commitment to honesty and vulnerability in my blog, though.

This is the most depressing line of thinking I’ve had about being single.

When clients are obsessing about things to come, I tell them that they don’t know what the will future bring. That when they get there, they can worry about it then. So I guess for now, I’ll take my own advice.

Learning to Listen to My Inner Bodyguard

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Did you know that the word intuition means to guard or protect? I just learned that in The Gift of Fear, by Gavin De Becker. If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend that you do. Thanks to De Becker, I can no longer be in denial about my disregard for personal safety.

De Becker says that intuition is always in response to something. That doesn’t mean that we will always make the correct prediction, but we owe it to ourselves to explore what that something is rather than trying to explain away or dismiss our fear.

I’m trying to pay closer attention whenever I get anxious. I’m trying to honor my fear. But I’m having trouble figuring out what my anxiety means because I am never sure what is intuition-based fear and what is pathologically-based fear, since I have an anxiety disorder.

In my relationships, not hearing from the guy felt like life or death. I always thought it meant I was just really insecure. And sometimes that’s what it was. But sometimes it was because that’s how the guy felt about me. And because of the whole hyperempath thing, I couldn’t tell the difference between his fear of separation and my own.

Or sometimes it meant they were up to no good. But there’s always that doubt. Maybe I’m just being paranoid. And it’s not the kind of thing that is easy to confirm. It’s not like they’re going to admit that they’re doing something that would piss me off when they’re not around. But in retrospect, they usually were.

I also have a hard time saying no to any request. De Becker says that you should be wary of the stranger who ignores the word no. A guy who isn’t trying to hurt you would totally understand why you would not let a complete stranger into your house to use your phone.

And yet, back when I was in grad school and the UPS guy asked me if he could use my phone, I said yes. I wanted to say no, but it seemed rude. Maybe he would be offended. Luckily, nothing bad happened. But it’s still hard to forgive myself for putting myself at risk like that. And it’s hard to imagine how I will be able to overcome this deeply ingrained impulse to give people what they want.

It’s hard to trust my instincts because I want to believe that other people are trustworthy. I don’t want to live in a world where I have to be worrying all the time that people may be trying to hurt me. Although De Becker provides some pretty convincing stats for why I should be worried.

In another blog post, I talked about how I am trying to say yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want. Maybe I need to do the same thing with trust. If I have to choose between trusting my instincts and trusting another person, I need to choose me.

I need to let my intuition do its job.

In This Moment

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I’ve always been reluctant to tell people what kind of music I like, because it’s pretty mainstream. In fact, I’ll make that #11 on my list–my preference for Top 40. Some of my friends have criticized me for what they consider my poor taste in music: it’s so unoriginal. So superficial.

And it’s true that the lyrics usually aren’t profound, but sometimes they still touch upon universal feelings. That’s why even the sappiest of love songs can be appealing when you have a broken heart.

Yesterday on my drive home the song “Daylight,” by Maroon 5, came on the radio. Every time I hear this song I think of one of the long distance relationships I was in during high school. My boyfriend went to college 5 hours away, so we didn’t see each other often. And when we did see each other, I was so anxious by Saturday about him leaving on Sunday that I couldn’t enjoy our time together. No amount of reasoning could stop me from obsessing.

That’s what happens when you have an anxiety disorder. The things that other people find difficult, like saying good-bye, are intolerable. Adam Levine can still hold her close for one night, even if he’ll have to go in the daylight. I, on the other hand, would obsess about how sad I was going to be when that moment came and would end up ruining the whole evening.

Despite the intensity of my negative feelings, I have often chosen relationships that have been characterized by a high level of drama. Which doesn’t make any sense, I know. You would think that I wanted to be miserable. But love is like a drug–especially in the early stages–what with all the obsession and longing and all. Even though the cons outweigh the pros, you get addicted, anyway, because it’s not a rational process.

My relationships were like an addiction in that I craved connection, but no amount of contact was ever enough. And I would experience withdrawal during even the smallest periods of separation, yet I still preferred long-distance relationships.

That’s why I’m proud of myself for not being in a relationship. I’m learning how to tolerate my fear of being alone. And I’m learning how to live without the addiction of drama. And my behavior doesn’t seem as crazy and contradictory–in relationships, at least.

Other things have helped with my anxiety, too. I resisted meds for a long time, even though people begged me to take them for their sake, if not for mine. But I have to admit, even though I don’t like taking them, they make my anxiety bearable.

I also have a therapist who I can call when I’m freaking out. I meditate, which has helped me tolerate my feelings. And I practice mindfulness as often as possible.

One of my favorite mindfulness mantras is any sentence that begins with “in this moment.” In this moment, I am anxious. It’s hard to breathe. I am in pain. But in the next moment, I will feel differently.

And I always do.