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Obsessiveness

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I’m kind of obsessive. I can’t blame people for being annoyed with me. Sometimes I annoy myself.

I’m an excessive planner.  For example, because of my GERD and exercise-induced asthma, I’m constantly obsessing about what and when to eat. Last night I made rice at 1 a.m. while I worked on this post because it will save time and decrease the likelihood that I will throw up on the court tonight.

Sometimes obsessing is a memory device. Like I’ll repeat a sentence that I want to say over and over until I see the person. Writing it down helps, but I can’t always do that–like when I’m driving. Lots of obsessing while I’m driving.

You know how I said that blogging is my new boyfriend? Well, I’m kind of a stalker girlfriend.  I will check my blog stats repeatedly–hundreds of times on the first day I publish a post. Thank goodness it can’t break up with me.

Sometimes I obsess like it’s a hobby. I might obsess about my next blog topic.  Or what my strategy will be in my tennis match. Or when I can schedule my next haircut and if I want to try something different, like get bangs.

Obsessing is the most painful when it is fueled by the inner critic or drill sergeant or perfectionism. Then it’s this relentless voice pointing out all my flaws (Your arms look fat in that picture!). Or when I’m not being productive (Get out of bed and do something!). Or how stupid I am for making a mistake (You shouldn’t have dated that loser!).

There are things that help. I take antidepressants, which also help with anxiety. And when the obsessing gets out of control, I take Ativan. I used to obsess for days rather than take the Ativan, but my psychiatrist reframed taking it as a way to have control over my anxiety. And I’m all about having control.

I also practice mindfulness meditation.  You’re not supposed to judge how well you meditate, so I will just say that I obsess about random things for 95% of the time while I’m doing it. But it seems to work, nevertheless.

I tell myself the same things I tell my clients. I remind myself that I don’t know what will happen and I can’t prepare for every possible scenario. To take one worry at a time. That no matter what happens, I will be able to cope with it. And that I have an excellent memory and won’t forget.

Most importantly, I try to accept that this is a part of who I am. Some people may not have to deal with obsessive thoughts, but everyone has to deal with something. This is my thing.

Since blogging has helped me accept other aspects of my personality, I thought I would try blogging about my obsessions. Sometimes it helps just to say them out loud. And it’s an added bonus when readers say they can relate.

I still obsessed all the way home about what to eat before and after tennis tonight and how to end this post, though. Oh well. I guess practice makes perfect.

A Just World

I am having deja vu. Before last term, we had not had a student death related to a car accident in over 10 years. Yet once again, another student died in a car accident earlier this week. Like the student last term, this student was very involved and visible in the community, was known for helping others, and was on the verge of graduating with a bright future ahead of her.

We tell students that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. But some coping mechanisms are more hurtful than others. She was probably driving too fast. People shouldn’t drink and drive. Stupid people die. 

When I was a graduate student, one of my favorite theories was the Just World Hypothesis. Because we want to believe in a just world, when something bad happens we assume that the person must have done something to deserve it.

I often hear just world explanations after a sexual assault. She was making out with him on the dance floor. She went back to his room. She didn’t fight it so she must have wanted it.  

The Just World Hypothesis is closely related to the problems with free will and blame. In order to preserve the belief that we control our destiny, we are willing to take responsibility for things that we don’t actually have control over.  

I can understand the need to believe that if you make the right choices you will be safe from harm. I want to believe this, too. Usually my attempts at control manifest themselves in perfectionism and excessive guilt.

I don’t know how much blame a person should be held responsible for. I don’t know how to make sense of all of the suffering in the world. But I know that the more I blame someone, the less compassion I have for them.

So I try to approach suffering in the same way I try to accept my feelings: it doesn’t have to make sense. I don’t have to know the reason why for suffering to exist. And I try to have faith that when something bad happens, I will be strong enough to handle it.

Judgment

There are certain personality types that are sensitive to being judged, and I have one of them.  It takes very little criticism for me to feel ashamed that I have done something wrong.  Sometimes I interpret neutral comments as criticism.  And in some cases, I’ve even interpreted positive feedback as criticism.

Once my first husband was talking about a picture of Alicia Keys and commented on how she had big hips.  I replied with, Are you calling me fat?  Which really annoyed him.  I kind of thought it was funny but true.  Even if I get what is intended to be a compliment about having an athletic build, I take this to mean that I look fat.  This is why it’s better to refrain from comments about women’s bodies in general.

Although I have never had an eating disorder, I can relate to being obsessed about my body.  I also have a similar personality to the types of people who develop anorexia.  I am prone to anxiety and depression.  I am perfectionistic.  I am highly motivated to avoid harming others, even if it means hurting myself.  And I am so sensitive to criticism that I never forget a mistake.

This is why I am drawn to Buddhism–especially the practices of mindfulness and compassion.  I find comfort in the idea of letting go of what I “should” be thinking, feeling, and doing.  That I can accept whatever is true of myself at this point in time, without judgment or criticism–even if it’s something that I hope to change.

I often point out to clients when they are using judgment words to describe their feelings.  For example, if you say I feel pathetic, the word pathetic is not a feeling.  There is no emoticon for pathetic.  Sometimes it’s actually hard to come up with a feeling word.  Usually when you can’t think of one, you’re probably feeling ashamed.

Even when we’re successful in describing our feelings, we often get judged for them.  For example, if I say I feel depressed, someone might say You shouldn’t feel that way.  You should be happy because you have so much going for you.  This is meant to make me feel better about myself, and perhaps it works for some people, but it never works for me.

Sometimes I have tried to point out to the person that they are judging me, but people who judge others are often sensitive to being judged.  So they usually get defensive and say they were just trying to be helpful–that I’m being too sensitive.  So then I judge myself for being too sensitive.

But I am all about controlling what I can control.  Today, I realized that I can’t control whether someone else chooses to practice nonjudgmental acceptance of my feelings.  I can only control what I say to myself.

I can also choose not to share my feelings with people who judge me.  I think I’m going to start doing that, too.

46 Lessons Learned from Blogging

Since the original intent of my blog was to help other people, I thought I’d provide a cheat sheet of the lesson in each post (except for the random ones).  That way, you don’t have to go back and read the whole blog if you don’t want to.  But hopefully you will!

1.  Night Owl Syndrome:  Prejudice against night owls is a form of discrimination that has been perpetuated in part by Ben Franklin.

2.  Massages:  Massages are not as relaxing when you obsess the entire time about how much they cost.

3.  Knitting and Relationships:  Challenge yourself every now and then, but you don’t have to knit a dress.

4.  Positive and Negative Feedback:  It’s easier to believe erroneous negative feedback than it is to accept legitimate positive feedback.

5.  Karaoke Pusher:  Singing in front of other people is a good way to let go of fear.

6.  You Know You’re Filipino If…:  Things that embarrassed you as a kid will make great anecdotes when you get older.

7.  The Courage to be Vulnerable:  Sharing your vulnerabilities with others makes people feel closer to you.

8.  The Unathletic Athlete:  Even if you were picked last in gym class, you can still grow up to be an athlete.

9.  Tennis Courtships:  Someone needs to come up with a website that can help tennis players find a doubles partner.

10.  The Uses of Prayer:  Sometimes God answers your prayers by giving you opportunities rather than results.

11.  Boundaries:  Being Asian makes setting boundaries even more difficult than it already is.

12.  Massages, Part 2:  Don’t drink coffee before a massage–even decaf.

13.  Boundaries, Part 2:  Blogging is a good way to let people know that you don’t want to be told that you’re fat.

14.  Children:  Play with your inner child every now and then.

15.  Can Love Conquer All?  No, but it’s still worth the risk.

16.  Body Image:  Small gains are better than nothing.

17.  Hard Core Fan:  It takes dedication to root for a losing team.

18.  Warriorism:  When things get tough, channel your inner warrior.

19.  Self-Portrait:  You can learn a lot about yourself from doodles.

20.  Solitude:  Sometimes when you think you’re alone, you’re really not.

21.  Self-Acceptance:  We all have different parts of ourselves, many of whom don’t get along.

22.  Meet the Drill Sergeant:  Save your inner drill sergeant for emergencies.

23.  The Inner Critic:  Defy your inner critic every change you get.

24.  Thanksgiving:  Miracles really do happen.

25.  Perfectionism:  Blogging about mistakes can help you accept them.

26.  Stress Management:  Sometimes stress management can be stressful.

27. Self-Care:  Blogging is a good way to put yourself first.

28. Grief:  The best thing we can do for someone who is grieving is to be willing to listen to them talk about their pain.

29.  Yes and No:  Learn to say yes to what you want and no to what you don’t want.

30.  Blogging is My New Boyfriend:  You can’t fail if you never stop trying.

31.  Friendship:  Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

32.  Empathy:  If you’re high in empathy, choose your friends and partners wisely.

33.  Breakups:  If you’re relationship is ending, try to leave with love rather than hate.

34.  In Times of War:  Make choices you can live with, regardless of the outcome.

35.  Angels:  If you ask people to send you angels when you’re struggling, they will–and it works.

36.  Forgiveness:  For people with a harsh inner critic like me, self-forgiveness is the hardest part.

37.  Gratitude:  Practicing gratitude may not turn your depression into happiness, but do it, anyway.

38.  Love:  Our love may never be perfect, but I think God is OK with that.

39.  Forgetting:  Forgiveness is a process.

40.  Moms:  Moms are often unsung heroes, so thank them every chance you get.

41.  New Year’s Resolutions:  Restating your resolutions every year is not a sign of failure; it demonstrates that you are choosing to live intentionally.

42.  In My Head:  I thought I was weird for thinking so much, but it turns out that it means I’m a writer!

43.  Bipolar and Brilliant:  You can be brilliant and mentally ill, but you can also be dumb and refuse to take your medication.

44.  Night Owl Syndrome, Part 2:  It takes practice to let go of unnecessary guilt.

45.  Competitive Latch-Hooking:  Sometimes the sibling that was your mortal enemy in childhood becomes your most loyal blog follower as an adult.

46.  Honesty and Trust:  Surround yourself with honest people; it takes less energy than being paranoid.

 

Love

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
***

I don’t mean to sound blasphemous, but I’ve always had a problem with this definition of love.  I have never been able to love anyone in this way, nor have I ever been loved in this way.  Not from another human being, at least.  This may be the way that God loves us, but for me, this standard minimizes the value of the imperfect love that we offer to one another.

Being with my family for several days is a prime example of how painful and complicated love can be. We have all been impatient, unkind, envious, and proud with one another at some point.  I could go through the entire paragraph, but you get the idea.  Yet I have never questioned my love for my family or their love for me. It is the most enduring love that I have known and that I will know in this lifetime.

Perhaps it is my harsh superego and my perfectionism that tortures me with quotes like this one.  My demons turn what is supposed to be a helpful guideline for how to love into something that makes me feel inadequate and guilty. But I know that I am not the only one who feels this way.  I know many people who berate themselves and others for not being able to give and receive this kind of love.

The messages about love that have been most helpful to me are that God is love, and that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  I take this to mean that love for self, others, and God are all the same; you cannot truly experience one without the others.

This should come as no surprise to you if you have been following my blog, but for me the most difficult part is loving myself.  And this is often true for the people I see in therapy, too.  It helps to commit to loving myself when I think of it as a necessary part of the equation.

Surprisingly, blogging has been an opportunity to experience this trinity of love.  As I have mentioned in a previous post, I started this blog with the intention of helping other people.  I was not expecting it to be a way of receiving help.  And I certainly wasn’t expecting it to bring me closer to God.  Yet here is another post that ends with God.

Striving to give and receive this kind of love is still a tall order, but for me, it’s a more hopeful goal than striving to love perfectly.

Q & A

Since no one asked me any questions in my recent blog survey, I thought I would just make up some questions and answer them, because I like to pretend I’m being interviewed.  Who knows?  Maybe I will be interviewed one day.

Q:  Do you ever worry that your clients are going to read your blog and decide that you’re too crazy to be their therapist?

A:  Yes.  All the time.

In fact, I recently found out that a parent of one of my clients read my blog on perfectionism, and for a moment it made me reconsider this whole blogging thing.  But she didn’t tell her daughter to transfer, so that was encouraging.  I’ve had clients transfer to other therapists before, so if they decided to transfer after reading my blog, I guess I can live with that.  You can’t be all things to all people.  Although I do still try to be.

Q:  Are the posts where you write about different parts of yourself based on any particular theory?

A:  The idea of conceptualizing our problems into separate parts of ourselves actually comes from two of my favorite theories: narrative therapy and internal family systems therapy.  In narrative therapy, a mental disorder is conceptualized as an entity separate from the client.  This helps the client and family stay focused on treating the problem rather than blaming the client for not getting better.  “Life without Ed,” by Jenni Schaefer, is one of the most well-known books that illustrates how this therapy works with eating disorders.

Internal Family Systems therapy is the other form of treatment that focuses on parts of the client.  The main premise is that these parts have become extreme in their efforts to help the person.  So for example, the inner critic tries to motivate you to do your best, but in an eating disorder this may mean starving yourself to be thin enough.  So in working with this part, you acknowledge that it has good intentions and try to come up with other ways that it can be helpful.  Ordinarily, we just feel overwhelmed by self-loathing, so this is a much better alternative.

I think the idea of parts can be useful for anyone as a way to have self-compassion and self-acceptance of the aspects of ourselves that we don’t like.  Usually these parts have a sort of archetypal feel to them, which is why people have the experience of thinking exactly like I do.  The reality is, this is how everyone thinks.  It’s just that no one wants to admit it because they’re afraid that it means they’re crazy.

Q:  Have you ever suffered from a mental illness?

A:  Yes.  I struggle with anxiety all the time.  In fact, I have been so consistently anxious all my life that I didn’t realize that it was severe enough to be a disorder until after I got my Ph.D.

I am also prone to depression and had a fairly severe episode at the same time my dad did about 4 years ago.  The other severe bout of depression that I had was when I was 18, and that was the last time my dad was depressed, too.  I’ve had a lot of less intense episodes of depression, as well.  I probably had dysthymia (a more chronic, lower grade depression) from the age of 13 until I started meds for the first time, which was when I was about 30.

I have to do a lot to make sure that I don’t trigger anxiety and depressive episodes, which is why I obsess so much about sleep, eating, exercise, meds, relaxation, etc.  Sometimes it doesn’t matter what I do, because sometimes life is just stressful and overwhelming.  But it is scary when I start feeling like I’m going back to that dark place.  Particularly with depression.  When I’m feeling anxious I can take an Ativan and that’s often enough.  When I’m depressed, there’s sometimes nothing I can do in the moment to feel better.  I can see why people self-medicate with alcohol and other drugs.  It is very painful to be depressed.

Q:  You mention that you want to turn your blog into a book.  What would the book be about?

A:  My plan is to blog until I have 100 posts.  Then I’ll pick the most popular posts and turn them into longer anecdotes. That way, even if someone has read my entire blog, they would still have a reason to buy the book.  A book would allow me to reach even more people, because then I’d get to make public appearances and have more visibility.

Although I am surprised at how much these posts are helping people already.  And if it turns out that I never get my book published, I will reach more people through this blog than I could ever reach through individual therapy alone. Plus blogging is a gift to myself, so I will continue to blog no matter what happens.

But I will get my book published, even if I have to do it myself.