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Category Archives: Blogging

Everything Ebbs and Flows

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One of the many things that’s helpful about having a blog that I’ve kept up for almost 5 years is that I see how much repetition there is in my life. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. That’s the reason why therapy doesn’t work in a day. Even if you can identify in that first session what the client needs to do, it takes a lot of repetition to change your mindset and your behavior. And yet, every time I reread an old blog post, I’m like, what the heck? I was doing the exact same thing 4 years ago?

Yesterday I published an old post I had written about my guilt over my sleep cycle on my FB page (which I encourage you to follow, if you aren’t already doing so). In this post my therapist had given me permission to stop obsessing about not being able to regulate my sleep cycle over the break and said that, when I needed to wake up early, I would be able to do it. Which was helpful in forgiving myself for what I perceived as my sleep sins.

And yet, guess what I did this summer? I obsessed about not being able to regulate my sleep cycle. I thought about it nonstop. Tried different strategies, all to no avail. No matter what I do, my sleep cycle naturally gravitates to its night owl pattern– falling asleep around 3-4 am, waking up in the afternoon. My brain is like a manic vampire–I cannot shut it up at night, and it cannot stand the light.

But now I’ve started work and, although I’m not sleeping any earlier, I wake up when I’m supposed to. I’m sleep-deprived, but responsible. So I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK if I can’t change my sleep cycle. That when I have to wake up early, I will. The same conclusion I came to on July 27, 2014. The same conclusion that I’ve probably come to after every break.

Sometimes I still get caught up in thinking that if I were more disciplined, more of an adult, perhaps I could get this sleep thing under control. Perhaps I could be more like a normal person. But yesterday, in a presentation that I gave on resilience, I used the following quote from Paul Gilbert, author of “The Compassionate Mind:”

So much of what we are has, in a way, little to do with personal choice. Therefore it makes little sense to blame ourselves for some of our feelings, motives, desires or abilities or lack of them, or for how things turned out.

So I have stopped berating myself (in the moment) and repeat my self-compassion mantra. You’re doing the best that you can. Am I, though? Yes. You really are. You always do. (I have to go through the whole dialogue every time. Obsessive, I know, but I can’t help that, either.)

I also repeat my mindfulness mantra to remind myself that the cyclical nature of my sleep problems is just how it is. Everything ebbs and flows. Everything comes and goes. No matter how hard I try, how disciplined I am, it will always be like this–semesters filled with sleep-deprivation punctuated with periods of night owl syndrome over the breaks. This is the ebb and flow of my life.

So I’m trying to accept it, just as it is.

I’m Obsessing

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I’ve written several blog posts about being obsessive (Obsessiveness, If There were a Prize For Most Likely to Obsess Over Nothing I Would Totally Win, Perception is Reality), and I haven’t written one in a while, so I thought I’d give you an update on whether I’m cured.

The answer is…no. I’m not cured. My brain has a mind of its own, and it really likes to think about the same things. Over and over. All the time.

Yesterday I was particularly obsessive for some reason. I repeated some items that I needed to write down on my grocery list over and over while I was trying to take a nap because I didn’t want to forget them. Which was really conducive to sleep, as you can imagine. Getting up and writing down the items would have been the obvious solution, but for some reason obsessing seemed like the easier choice.

And then there are those important decisions about the future that plague me like, what am I going to eat for lunch 3 days from now? Should I wear jeans on Friday? Should I weigh myself, since the results will probably be depressing? How can I stop from weighing myself, given that I’m obsessive? Should I risk eating chocolate today? Or am I willing to throw up over it?

The good news is, there are things that help me to obsess less. Medication helps. The other day I was remembering how often people use to tell me that they heard wonderful things about meds and I should really try them. I realize now that I was annoying the hell out of them and they wanted me to do something about it. And I have to admit, sometimes I annoy myself. But I am much less annoying than I used to be. So that’s something.

Practicing mindfulness and self-compassion helps. When I am in the midst of an obsessive episode, logic and reasoning are a waste of time. Telling myself to stop doesn’t do much, either. So I tell myself that I’m just obsessing. This is what the mind does. It’s not my fault. I’m doing the best that I can. It’s painful, but at some point it will subside. And then I try to be nice to myself until it does, no matter how long that takes.

Tennis helps. Regardless of whether I win or lose, I feel better afterwards. My mindset shifts, and the things I obsessed about all day become a distant, irrational memory. I had a meditation instructor tell me that I like tennis because it’s a way of practicing mindfulness, so maybe tennis is the most effective way of practicing mindfulness for me.

Blogging helps. The act of writing down all of the things I’m thinking about is therapeutic. It’s a way of listening to myself rather than trying to cut myself off, telling myself I don’t want to hear it. And sometimes people read these posts and like them. Sometimes they even comment on them. So that’s more people who are listening, which makes me feel really good.

So if you have an obsessive loved one, listening is truly one of the most healing gifts you can give. They’ll be much happier with you than if you give them advice or tell them they’re annoying you and they should just stop talking. You don’t even need professional training to do it well. It may not cure the problem, and it is a strategy that is always at your disposal if you remember to use it.

And then you can refer them to this blog post and they will feel much less crazy.

 

Starting Over

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I’m always a little disappointed when people say they don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions. Call me Pollyannaish, but I believe in starting the new year with the intention to improve on the person I was before. Even if it means renewing my commitment to the same resolution, year after year.

Here’s why. After years of practicing and teaching mindfulness and self-compassion, and helping people choose goals that are actually in their control, I’ve come to realize that we don’t have control over a lot of things. Our genes. Our upbringing. The circumstances we find ourselves in. The behavior of others. None of this is in our control.

In fact, we can have the goal of being mindful and do something mindless a few minutes later. We can say I’m giving up chocolate and then eat some right before working out and get sick. (Which I did last night.) We can have the goal of working out but then decide to start tomorrow. (Which I didn’t do. I talked myself into working out. Yay!)

As intentional as I try to be, I make the same mistakes over and over. Pick ill-advised shots in tennis. Weigh myself three times in a row. Screw my sleep cycle up. Say yes instead of no.

But I don’t beat myself up over it…as much. I am more self-forgiving. Recently on my blog FB page I posted quotes from Mother Teresa, one of which says “God doesn’t require us to succeed, he only requires that you try.” I have always believed this to be true. This is how I reconcile the goal of being good with the inevitability of failure, given that we’re human. Knowing that we’re going to fail isn’t a reason not to try. It’s not about the end goal; it’s about how you choose to live your life.

I think of New Year’s resolutions as a way to embrace this philosophy, whether or not you believe in God. It’s a chance for us to decide what intention we want to begin the year with. How do we want to try to live our lives? If it happens to be the same resolution that you had last year, then that just means that your values haven’t changed.

This year my goal is to be more disciplined. Which seems simple but it applies to every aspect of my life. Disciplined in my sleep routine. In watching the ball. In practicing mindfulness. But mainly the 2 things I’m working on are strength training, because you don’t have to be athletic or talented to get in shape, and cooking, because I struggle with feeding myself.

I actually started working on these goals a few months ago. I joined the gym where Romeo works and work out at home when I can’t make it. And we started doing the Hello Fresh meals, which are expensive and a chore to cook and we’re both still hungry afterwards. But we don’t have to come up with meals on our own or grocery shop as much, and we’re becoming better cooks. And it’s harder to blow off cooking if you know you spent 20 freaking dollars on that meal.

Before I wrote this post I looked up my New Year’s resolutions for last year, and they were to focus on being mindful, compassionate, and accepting. And to write more blog posts. Being mindful, compassionate, and accepting have become a way of life for me, so I would say that I “succeeded” in those goals. But I only wrote half as many blog posts as I did in 2016. So I guess I’ll renew my commitment to blogging and see if I can improve in 2018.

No Regrets, Part 2

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Guess what? This is my 300th blog post! Woo hoo! I’ve been waiting for something really good to write about to commemorate this milestone, and I’ve finally come up with something that’s meaningful to me–learning how to live without regrets. To accept my life, exactly as it has unfolded, with all of the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

I remember the moment when the world was no longer my oyster–that I could no longer do whatever I wanted to do if I set my mind to it. After I got my Ph.D., certain doors had been closed to me because it took 6 freaking years to get it. And another year after that to get licensed. Starting all over again would be costly. Not that I could think of anything else I wanted to do. It was just the loss of having all those options that made me sad.

I felt the same way after I got divorced. Quitting my job and relying on my husband to support me was never an option, because I hated all domestic tasks, I didn’t want to have kids, and I always knew I was meant to be a psychologist. But when I realized that my income had been cut to less than half of what it was when I was married, I felt anxious. I feared getting fired, of being financially bereft, unable to support myself. Still, I chose freedom over financial security.

I’ve made some really costly mistakes. I waited forever before I was willing to try meds, and I kept going off of them even though I got depressed every time. The last time was so bad that I went to bed every night terrified that I would be too depressed to make it into work the next day. I would lie on the couch for hours, trying to endure the pain of existing. I was so indecisive that I would cry, trying to decide whether or not I should go play tennis. Tennis! I impatiently waited every day for the meds that I restarted to kick in and provide me a little bit of relief. I’ll never stop taking them again, because I don’t think I could survive another depressive episode.

I’ve stayed in really horrible relationships because I was afraid to be alone. I felt ashamed about this, and I knew people judged me for it, but being alone seemed like it would be worse than being miserable. Now I realize that the problem with not being alone isn’t that it made me a bad or weak person. The problem is that it has taken me a really long time to distinguish my feelings from someone else’s. To figure out how to care for myself, give myself what I need. To realize that I am enough, all by myself. I wish I had learned this sooner, but I was too afraid of rejection and abandonment to be able to envision personal growth.

I have been so bad at saying no to people that I crashed and burned all the time and then wondered why I was so depressed and tired. I thought my job was to give other people what they wanted, no matter what it cost me. Otherwise I was a bad person. Or people wouldn’t like me. Or they would change their minds, decide that I wasn’t worth having in their lives. I had to be indispensable to be worthwhile.

It’s not so much that I am glad that things turned out exactly as they did. It’s more that I can’t go back and change anything, even if it could have made my life better. I can’t beat myself up anymore over all those mistakes and add the pain of regret on top of the pain of life itself. That’s what practicing self-acceptance, mindfulness, and self-compassion have taught me.

I am where I am now in part because I started this blog. Because I’ve written 300 posts and shared all of these struggles with whoever was willing to listen. It has helped so much for people to respond and say, thank you for voicing my own experience. Thank you for being who you are, for making the same mistakes that I have made, for showing me that it’s OK to be who I am. Starting this blog has been one of the best decisions I have ever made, and it has given me back far more than I have given. So thanks for reading and inspiring me to keep at it.

Four Years Later…

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My blog is 4 years old today! Can you believe it? That is a lot of writing. And a lot of self-disclosure. I’m relieved that you have to sort through almost 300 posts to get to some of the more personal ones. If you’re that dedicated to my blog, then you’re entitled to hear my deep, dark secrets. The ones I’ve written about, at least.

Like the title of my blog says, my goal has been to practice self-acceptance. To accept that I don’t have to try to fit myself into some narrow definition of what it means to be normal. And I think I’ve come a long way. I’m kinder to myself and others. I’m more accepting of the curve balls that life throws at me. I worry less about the future and other things I can’t control.

Patience is still not one of my strong points. It drives me crazy how slowly change occurs. I went to a meditation conference this summer and the presenter said some quote about how changing ourselves through mindfulness is like changing a mountain with a feather or something really soft. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I remember thinking, seriously? It takes that long? Why not just blow the freaking thing up? I need progress and I need it now, gosh darn it!

But I guess we’ve seen what happens when our strategy is to blow up the things that we want to change. So I’m slowly learning what my mind and body need, how to soothe myself, to set boundaries, to say no. I try to pace myself, to be realistic about what I can accomplish, to accept all my feelings and flaws. But I make a lot of mistakes. So I also practice forgiveness, remind myself that I’m doing the best that I can.

I’m still not in a relationship, which sometimes feels like an accomplishment and sometimes a failure. But I guess it’s not something I’m graded on. I’m proud of myself for breaking the pattern of needing to be in a relationship, no matter how unhealthy it was, as though my life depended on it. I haven’t given up hope on the possibility of finding a healthy one. But it’s difficult to imagine how I can carve new neuronal pathways in the Grand Canyon of my mind. I don’t want to keep going down all of those well-traveled routes that have led to so much heartache. In the meantime, spending time with my friends and playing tennis will have to suffice.

Living with my brother has helped with practicing mindfulness and gratitude. I feel especially thankful that he has taken over most of the cooking responsibilities. It allowed me to come home last Monday night after a weekend of tennis at sectionals and a full day of clients and go to bed early without worrying about what and how I was going to eat. So even though I took him in a year ago to take care of him, he is taking care of me, as well. A good reminder that things really do turn out OK, no matter how dire they seem at the time.

A few weeks ago, in an effort to teach her how to practice self-compassion, I told one of my clients that everything about her is ok exactly as it is. Every thought. Every feeling. Even as they change from one extreme to the other, moment to moment, day after day. Even if they don’t make any sense, last longer than she wants them to. That she can accept every flaw, forgive every weakness, because all of this is what it looks like to be human.

This would actually be a good thing to repeat to myself. My personal affirmation. I am, and will always be, a work in progress. But the more I write, the more I believe that I am ok, exactly as I am.

 

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

not perfect

You know what’s hard about having depression and anxiety? Having to go about your day, looking like you feel fine when you’re not. I know everyone feels this way at times, but it’s something that I have to focus on a lot. Like, perhaps people have to prepare for the possibility of a thunderstorm every now and then, but it is a daily threat for me. So I always have to carry an umbrella and think about what shoes I want to wear. Whether my outfit is appropriate. Whether or not I’m at risk of getting struck by lightning.

But then again, perhaps I underestimate how bad the weather is for everyone. Because when I listen to my clients and read my friends’ Facebook status updates, I am reminded that there are all kinds of people walking around in pain, looking normal on the outside. We all feel broken in one way or another. It’s so convincing, though, when people look like they have it all, isn’t it? So easy to believe that you are alone in your pain.

When people tell me they read my blog, they always say something about how vulnerable I am in it. They mean it as a compliment, but even though I’ve been doing it for over 3 years now, it always makes me feel self-conscious. Have I said too much? Did they read something that makes me look bad? Do they think less of me as a person? As a psychologist?

Still, it has been worth the risk, both because of how much I have helped other people and because of how freeing it has been. Of all of the things that I have done to battle my demons, blogging has been one of my most powerful weapons. And if there are clients who choose not to see me after reading my blog, I am learning to accept that I can’t be all things to all people.

I realized recently that choosing vulnerability is like choosing love: it’s risky, and you’re bound to get hurt, but it’s better than spending a lifetime trying to play it safe. It’s still hard to put myself out there and risk judgment and criticism, but most of the time it results in a meaningful connection with someone–perhaps even a complete stranger. Because now they know they are not alone. And I am reminded that I’m not alone, either.

Wouldn’t it be nice if more people were willing to take the risk of being vulnerable? If instead of seeming like we had it all together, we could be honest about our pain? I know it would be unrealistic to go around telling everyone about the holes in our hearts all the time. Sometimes when someone asks how you are, you just have to say fine or you won’t have time to get a coffee before your first client. But if you want to know the truth about how I’m feeling, I’ll tell you. And if you read my blog, you will definitely find out.

Control What You Can Control

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My friends on my tennis teams and in my groups often tell me, in a teasing way, that I am bossy. And I have to admit, it’s true. But it’s sort of necessary if you want to make sure that people show up to matches and for court times, because it’s very bad when people don’t. Which is exactly why people don’t like to captain and be in charge of groups. Who wants all that responsibility? No normal person, that’s for sure. So really, I’m doing everyone a favor.

One of the things that all of the books on compassion emphasize is how little control we actually have over our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Our genetic makeup, our upbringing, our circumstances in life are not in our control. In some ways, it’s a little disconcerting, given that so much of our culture is focused on the idea that we control our own destiny. This is why people don’t want to take meds (they’re for the weak-minded). Why we blame people who find themselves in less fortunate circumstances than our own (they’re just lazy). Why our failures are our fault.

When I tell people about this aspect of practicing compassion, skeptics are quick to respond with, you’re just letting people off the hook. You’re just giving people excuses for not taking responsibility. Which is not the case at all. Because the one thing that we are in control of is our intentions. To be loving or hateful. Forgiving or vengeful. Accepting or judgmental. And our instinctive response with ourselves and others is to be critical and judgmental. It takes a considerable amount of discipline and practice to counteract these negative responses. It is far more work than controlling, blaming, and shaming ourselves and other people.

I know it’s negative, but as I reflect on this past year, the first thought that comes to mind is that it really sucked. I know people have it worse, that people have harder lives than me, but a lot of it was still sucky. It would be unrealistic to aspire to a normal life, given how predominantly mental illness factors into every aspect of my life, but sometimes I wish it could be a tad easier. Just a little less painful.

I tell myself all kinds of things to try to keep from falling into a pit of despair. The most helpful strategy is a compassionate one. I cannot entertain these thoughts because they cause me suffering, and I don’t have enough energy to spare on unnecessary suffering. I must take care of myself or I won’t be able to function. I remind myself that I’m doing the best that I can. That all I can do is focus on getting through this moment. I need to take advantage of whatever small thing I can do to make myself feel even the tiniest bit better.

So this year my New Year’s resolution is to exercise more control over my intentions, which are to be mindful, compassionate, and accepting. Which means that I need to write more blog posts.