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Monthly Archives: April 2015

If There Were a Prize for Most Likely to Obsess Over Nothing, I Would Totally Win

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Next week I am going to a week-long meditation retreat on self-compassion in California, and I am freaking out about it. I didn’t realize the meditation part would be such a prominent component of the training until after I signed up. After I found out that they recommend that I pack a zafu meditation pillow–which I had to buy–and a yoga mat. And that I need yoga-type clothing.

I do meditate every day, but more of the 5 minute variety before I go to bed. Not the sit-on-the-floor-on-a-zafu-pillow-and-meditate-for-a week kind of meditation.

I am anxious about the typical things that would make someone not choose a meditation retreat, like not being able to get on my phone, iPad, or computer. And flying. And what impact the severe drought in California will have on my trip.

But I am also obsessing about seemingly insignificant and therefore maddening things like, will I be able to sleep if I can’t recline my bed because of my stupid GERD? Would a zafu pillow, a yoga mat, a GERD pillow, and yoga-type clothing all fit into my suitcase? I could bring a gigantic suitcase, but would they think I’m high maintenance?

Do I even have yoga-type clothing? If I wear tennis stuff, would that be weird? Do I need long-sleeve shirts? What will the temperature be? Because sometimes even when it’s hot outside it can be cold inside because of the air conditioning. Although maybe they don’t crank up the air conditioner at a meditation retreat, even when it’s hot. If it is hot.

The list goes on, but you get the idea.

Intellectually, I know people who have chosen to go on a self-compassion retreat probably aren’t going to be judging me for my luggage or for wearing the wrong thing, but I can’t stop obsessing, nonetheless. Which is why I signed up for this retreat.

But I realized something last night that helped me to accept my obsessiveness. I was watching this biography on one of the up-and-coming tennis players, and I noticed that all of the great athletes were super competitive and full of energy even when they were kids. Their parents had to get them involved in something at all times so they wouldn’t explode.

Obsessing is the mental equivalent of a hyperactive child. Sometimes I do it because I’m anxious, but sometimes it’s just because I need something to think about. Even if it’s just what I’m going to have for dinner tomorrow. Or what order I should do my errands in. Or how many inches I should take off when I get my hair cut. There’s all this energy in my brain, and the only way to burn it off is to obsess.

So maybe if I could channel my obsessing into something useful, like those hyperactive kids who became world-class athletes did, I could become famous, too. Maybe I could use my powers for good instead of evil. Well, not evil. But something more productive. So I wrote this blog post to see if that would help. Although I’m pretty sure I’m just going to obsess about the stats after I publish it.

If anyone has ideas about useful ways to channel my obsessive energy, I am open to suggestions.

Undeserving, Part 2

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There’s a scene in “Good Will Hunting” where Will and Skylar are in bed, basking in the glory of love, when Skylar asks Will to move to California with her. This scene ends in an argument in which Skylar asks Will to look her in the eye and tell her he doesn’t love her, and he does. Even though he obviously loves her.

People think that when we get the thing we want–the loving relationship, the great job, the coveted degree–we will be happy. But sometimes when we get what we want we get depressed, like I did after I got my Ph.D. Or we start a fight, like Will did. Or we sabotage our marriage, like my first husband did.

I’ve had several students in the past few weeks who became suicidal in the midst of good fortune. I explained to them that sometimes we have to bargain with that part of ourselves that tells us we are not worthwhile. If you just let me have this one good thing, I promise I will pay for it by making myself suffer. I still won’t let myself believe I deserve it. Which they totally understood.

After having this conversation several times on Friday, I finally understood that this is what ended my first marriage. Everyone told me he thought he didn’t deserve me, which I sort of understood on an intellectual level, since he called himself a poor, half-breed bastard. But I never really believed it, because I thought he was the best guy I had ever known. And I still think that.

And I realized intellectually that he tried to end our marriage a month after we finally got the house of his dreams, and we were finally making money, and our lives were finally stable. But it still didn’t make sense in my heart, because even after we signed the divorce papers, he told me it was the saddest day of his life. Which was consistent with what he said on our wedding day, which he said was the happiest day of his life.

But on Friday, I finally understood how he felt. He didn’t deserve to have all of these good things happen to him. He felt like my clients did, who became suicidal when they were about to get what they wanted. Except instead of killing himself, he destroyed our marriage. And it hurt my heart to feel how worthless he felt. I could finally feel his sadness instead of my own.

When I explained the bargain we make with our inner demons to one of these clients, he commented on how overwhelming it was to believe he thought he was that bad. But I reminded him that there is also a part of him that knows he is good. Which is why he is in therapy. Why he is alive today.

This is also why, at the end of the movie, Will decides to move to California with Skylar. Because even though some part of ourselves may tell us we are undeserving, we can ignore that part and choose to love ourselves, anyway.

Anxiety vs. Fear

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I finally finished The Gift of Fear. I know I’ve already written a post about it, but I feel so strongly that every woman should read this book that I thought I would write another one. It has changed the way I think about fear.

You would think that after reading a book that talks about stalkers, serial killers, abusive partners, and mass shootings that I would feel more anxious than I already do. But that is not the case. If anything, I feel more confident now that I know that some part of me will alert me to danger if I listen to it.

According to De Becker, anxiety and fear are not the same thing. Anxiety derives from a root that means “to choke.” It is a state that we create in which we perceive danger that may or may not be present. Chronic anxiety actually prevents us from detecting fear because we are constantly on high alert.

De Becker goes so far as to say that we choose anxiety, but I think that’s a little extreme. If I could choose not to be anxious I would, obviously. But it’s true that I am often anxious even when I am not facing imminent danger. Like when I think about the plane rides that I will have to endure in order to get to California and Germany and possibly the Philippines this summer. I know that flying is safer than driving, but my anxiety is not convinced.

Fear, on the other hand, is a brief signal that sounds only in the presence of danger. While anxiety can be paralyzing, fear is energizing. It makes us do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do. Like fight a shark when it’s trying to eat us. (By sticking your finger in its eye, in case you ever find yourself in this predicament.) We can certainly dismiss this signal by denying that we’re in danger–which we so often do–but we can also learn to honor our intuition and pay attention to fear.

I saw a client last year who left me feeling physically sick. Like I had been poisoned. In all the years I’ve been seeing clients, I have never felt the way I did after meeting him. But after a few weeks passed, I told myself I was overreacting. He probably isn’t that bad.

But now I know he is. He’s not here any more, and I hope I never have to see him again. Something I would have never said before I read this book.

Although the book is about learning how to protect ourselves from violence, De Becker’s final message is actually a hopeful one. The world may be a dangerous place, but it is also a safe place. Most of the time there is nothing to fear. And if we learn to pay attention to fear when it is present, we can “see hazard only in those storm clouds when it exists and live life more fully in the clear skies between them.”

I will be sure to remind myself of this before I board that plane. But I’ll still take an Ativan, if necessary.

If You Don’t Keep a Journal, I Highly Recommend It

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I was feeling sad this week so I did what I always do when I’m sad: go back and read old journal entries to try to get some perspective on my current situation.

I don’t know how to put into words what a gift my journal has been to myself. It’s a surreal experience to remember all of the events I write about but to also feel as though I am reading my story for the first time. Here are a few of the things that I have learned about myself:

1 I think I’m hilarious. Maybe no one else would laugh out loud while reading my journal, but my jokes are funny to me.

2. I have been depressed a lot. My journals are biased in that I have more to say when I’m depressed than I do when I’m happy, but still. There are a lot of journal entries.

3. I really do need to trust my intuition. Some of the things I said were downright prophetic, but I had no idea at the time I was saying something important.

4. I’m a positive person. Which seems incompatible with being someone who has been depressed for so much of her life, but the proof is right there, in writing.

It was six years ago that I had my most severe episode. Last night I was reading my entries from around that time. Below is the entry from the week before I got depressed:

March 10, 2009

OK, so I’m finally reading this book on Life Coaching that I’ve had for years, and the first exercise is to make a list of what we want out of life. That seems like a pretty good idea. So rather than using my journal for focusing on the negative, maybe I can also use it to focus on how to make my life look more like I want it to.

I want to write a book.
I want to get paid to do public speaking—the motivational kind.
I want to help people live lives that are more fulfilling.
I want to be surrounded by people who remind me of what is good about myself.
I want to continue to improve as a tennis player.
I want to continue to have time for the things that I love.
I want to keep spending time w/ my friends.
I want to get better at enduring my feelings.
I want to be a more compassionate person.
I want to have more faith in myself.
I want to have some kind of successful business that gives me more freedom.
I want to be in good shape.
I want a personal chef!
I want to continue to develop my spiritual side.
I want to be loving in all of my relationships, including w/ myself.
I want to have more money in savings.
I want to have a better sex life.
I want to be a good wife and be in a healthy marriage.
I want my brothers to be happy.
I want my friends to be happy.
I want to approach life without so much fear.
I want to feel comfortable with whatever decision I make about children.
I want my ankle to heal!
I want to be comfortable with myself.
I want to have an impact on the world.
I want all my teams to win!
I want to be able to enjoy the present for as many moments as possible.
I want to feel like an expert in something.
I want to be wise.
I want to be able to make people feel.
I want people to love me and see me as lovable.
I want to believe that I’m lovable.
I want to believe in myself more.
I want to be a good therapist and teacher.
I want to be able to have a good balance b/t being honest and helpful and being intrusive and critical.
I want to be able to ask for help when I need it and accept it lovingly when it’s given.
I want to be more forgiving.
I want to be able to let go of anger, pain, doubt, fear, anxiety, and frustration.
I want to be able to age gracefully.
I want to be able to sleep when I want to!
I want to be creative.
I want to sing.
I want to spend time with my family.
I want to be able to be more appreciative of all of the wonderful things in my life.
I want my life to be meaningful.
I want to pee!
I want to be able to follow the serenity prayer.

That pretty much sums up what my blog is about. Which brings me to the last thing that I am reminded about myself:

I am the same person I have always been, striving to be the same person I’ve always wanted to be.