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Darkness and Light

Sometimes I feel like a less murderous version of Jekyll and Hyde. That’s one of the reasons why it’s so hard to get my sleep cycle under control.

I feel the most alive late at night. Before I go to bed I have all these ambitious plans for what I’m going to get done the next day. My mind is racing with ideas for my blog. It’s all I can do to keep myself from starting a post at 3 a.m. But I can’t, because I’ll run the risk of staying up all night and reversing my sleep cycle. A big no-no when you struggle with depression. So I take drugs to force myself to fall asleep, even though I like this version of myself the best.

By morning that cheery, motivated version of me is replaced by this sullen person who prefers sleep over life itself. No amount of yelling, begging, or bribing can get her out of bed before she wants to. And even after she gets up, she’s still in a bad mood for several hours. Why would anyone want to go to sleep at night if that’s who you have to face the next day?

In Jungian psychology, Jekyll and Hyde is an example of the persona/shadow archetype. Jung argued that, although most people would prefer to identify with their persona, it is important to acknowledge our shadow in order to be whole. Dr. Jekyll is so horrified by his dark side that he commits suicide in order to destroy it–which is the exact opposite of being whole.

This blog is probably the first time that I’ve publicly acknowledged my shadow. And I have to say, it is the thing that people thank me for the most. Because it gives them permission to acknowledge their own darkness. It assures them that they are not the only ones who feel and think the way they do. So Jung has a point. Who would have thought that acknowledging one’s darkness would be the thing that makes people feel the most connected to one another?

So maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on that sullen person I will see when I wake up tomorrow afternoon. She’s given me a lot of material for blog posts.

Guilt

I talked to my therapist last week. She gave me permission to stop feeling guilty about my sleep cycle. Told me that I have no reason to get up early, so I don’t need to worry about it. That when I have to wake up, I will do so.

It helped some. Today I woke up early for a tennis clinic. But then I took a nap afterwards, which was well-deserved but still somewhat guilt-laden. But I’m writing a blog post now, to prove to my inner critic that I am not completely worthless.

Those quotes about letting go kind of annoy me. If guilt were something I could just let go of, I would have done so long ago. It’s like telling someone who is anorexic to just eat. Put food in your mouth. Chew. Swallow. What’s so hard about that? I envy those people who find it so easy to be free of their demons.

Therapists often ask clients what it is that they fear will happen if they let go. I guess I fear that without guilt, I really will become a terrible person. Someone who doesn’t care if she hurts other people. Someone who is not living her life with integrity. Maybe I’ll go too far in the other direction. I’ve done it before.

In Shame and Guilt, Tangeny and Dearing argue that guilt is a healthy emotion. It let’s you know that you have done something wrong and motivates you to make amends, correct it. When you feel shame, however, you don’t just feel like you’ve done something wrong; you feel like there is something fundamentally wrong with you. You are broken beyond repair. Shame leads people to lash out and project their faults onto others. Or to lie and hide, avoid life altogether.

I guess I am somewhere in-between, because I worry that there is something wrong with me, but I am motivated–determined, even–to become a better person.

My latest strategy for coping with guilt about the past is to tell myself that I don’t have to continue entertaining this memory. I can take it out of the rotation. Throw that record out. Or in more modern terms, remove it from the playlist. I have enough things to feel guilty about in the present without revisiting every mistake I’ve ever made in the past.

For whatever reason, it works. In part because I think it’s funny, imagining myself tossing all these record albums behind me. It doesn’t get rid of all of the guilt, but it creates some space in my head for more guilt-free thoughts. That’s something.

Honesty and Trust, Part 2

“You should know; you’re a psychologist.”

Sometimes I don’t know. Sometimes I, too, am puzzled as to why people do the things they do.

I’ve been trying to make sense of why, despite my commitment to honesty, I remained in relationships with people who consistently lied to me. And I didn’t even like them very much. I have this tendency to try to make relationships work at all costs, even when I don’t like the person. Even when they do things that are inconsistent with my values, like lying. It’s maddening.

One of my exes told me up front that he was a liar. Still, my first instinct was to believe him. It’s too much work not to trust people, I think. But sometimes it was more costly to make myself believe that he was being honest. It’s hard not to beat myself up for trusting a self-proclaimed liar. Why would anyone do such a crazy thing?

My best guess is that I stayed with these guys because I wanted to believe in the version of themselves that they were selling. It’s who they wanted to be, and who I wanted them to be. I wanted to help them get there, even. You can do it! I have faith in you!

Plus, I knew they were lying because they were ashamed of who they really were. I was trying to do the whole unconditional positive regard thing that therapists do. Because that is the most healing gift that we can give to others. It works well in therapy, but not so much in romantic relationships. I realize now that there is a limit to how much you can allow someone to hurt you in order to prove to them that they are lovable.

I understand what it’s like to fear that people won’t love you or respect you if they knew what you’re really like. That is the purpose of this blog, after all. To challenge myself to show the world what I’m really like. And while I haven’t outright lied about who I am, I haven’t always shared the things that I’m ashamed of. Not even to my family–the people who do love me unconditionally.

So I guess we can all challenge ourselves to be more honest. Some people have further to go than others, but as long as we’re making the effort, that’s what counts, isn’t it?  Anyway, it makes me feel better about myself to frame my tolerance of dishonesty in this way, so that’s what I’m going with.

But I’m still going to be more selective about who I choose to be with from now on.

Wins and Losses

So I’ve decided that I love winning more than I hate losing.

After 11 losses spanning 2 seasons on my 7.0 mixed teams, I finally won last night. A hard-fought win that came down to the wire–my favorite kind. And my team won, too. Winning isn’t everything, but it sure helped my mood. And these days, I’ll take anything I can get to feel happy about.

I actually had 2 teams playing at the same time last night, because I play every league since I get depressed when I don’t have anything to do, as you know. We lost all 5 courts on that team, but that did not dampen my mood. Because like I said in the post on motivation, at the end of the day, I still had dinner with my friends afterwards. And there were a lot of them last night, spanning 3 different teams, including the opposing team.

I’ve had friends reach out to me because of my last two posts, reminding me that I can always call them when I’m feeling down. But in all honesty, the last thing I want to do when I’m feeling depressed is to contaminate someone else with my negative mood.

I once dated someone who accused me of wanting to be depressed–I guess because he couldn’t talk me into feeling better. I think depressed people are accused of liking their depression because it’s hard to be in the presence of someone who you can’t cheer up. That’s why people who are just trying to be helpful say unhelpful things, which makes you feel even more depressed. So I just avoid it.

But thankfully, God gave me tennis. No matter how bad I’m feeling, I can almost always motivate myself to play tennis. And the desire to win is so great that I forget everything and focus on hitting that ball. And after a few hours of doing this, regardless of whether I’ve won or lost, I feel like a different person. Plus we usually eat out afterwards, and I love food, too.

Tennis, friends, food, and blogging. That is a winning recipe for treating depression in my book.

Constructive Criticism

I have trouble giving constructive criticism. I prefer the passive-aggressive route: just avoid the person altogether, or put their call on speaker phone and do my blog homework while they’re talking.

I know this doesn’t reflect positively on me as a psychologist. When I have a client who has problems being assertive, I have all kinds of good suggestions. And they usually take my advice. Which is a perfect example of why I often think my clients are more courageous than I am.

Part of the problem is that I can’t stand hurting other people. If it’s a choice between being annoyed by them or hurting their feelings, I choose to be annoyed. Because I can take it. But all those annoyances start to add up after awhile. Like being bitten by 1000 mosquitos. And I’m allergic to mosquitos, too. That’s why I have to keep reminding myself to pick me.

The other obstacle is the whole hyperempath thing, combined with being highly self-critical. When I think of how I would feel if someone were to tell me that I brag about myself a lot, I would be mortified. I’d probably never speak again.

Sometimes the other person is so sensitive that they, too, will obsess about it for the rest of their lives. We can never have a conversation again where the person doesn’t think about it, apologize for it, justify their behavior. It’s painful. It feels just as bad as when they were annoying me, except now I feel guilty, too.

That’s why I prefer to be so attuned to how other people feel that I can sense their annoyance and figure out why without them having to say a word. Which, admittedly, isn’t a great strategy–especially when you’re prone to depression. Because afterwards you have replay every social interaction over and over, trying to figure out where you offended the other person.

I can do it when it involves tennis. Especially when it involves wasting someone else’s time by being late, not showing up, etc. I may not think my time is valuable, but I won’t tolerate someone in my group or on my team who wastes other people’s time. But sometimes I still obsess about how I did it. Maybe if I had said it differently, I wouldn’t have hurt their feelings.

The reality is, sometimes there’s no way you can give negative feedback without hurting the person. And it’s not really my job to make sure that no one ever feels pain. Sometimes pain is necessary. It lets us know that we need to change something. And if something’s bothering me enough to tell them about it, then I am definitely hoping for change.

Sometimes I wish I could be one of those people who are so oblivious that they don’t care that they’re annoying. Someone who can dismiss criticism with some rationalization. Or someone with a really bad memory for negative feedback. But I can’t. I’m me. Empathic, sensitive, guilt-ridden me.

Perhaps I can think of this as yet another opportunity to practice self-acceptance.

The Courage to Be Vulnerable, Part 2

I’m humbled by the feedback that I’m an inspiration, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure what people mean by that. I can understand how people could read my blog and think, wow! I’m not so crazy after all! But I don’t see how it can be an inspiration. Unless it inspires people to be honest about the stuff they are afraid to share with other people.
In one scene in the book A Fault in Our Stars, (which I love!), Hazel and Augustus are in the Anne Frank House watching a video of Otto Frank. After reading Anne’s diary, he concludes that parents don’t really know their children.  I would venture to say that we never really know anyone unless we have the opportunity to read their diary–or blog.

Our inquiries about people’s lives are fairly superficial. We ask people how they’re doing when we greet them, but any response beyond “I’m fine” would be TMI for most. Recently I asked a friend how her husband was doing because I heard he had been sick. She said he has his good and bad days. I’m sure some people don’t want to go into more detail, but maybe some people do. Maybe they feel like the person is just asking to be nice. To let them know they care without really wanting to hear the details.

I am one of those rare individuals who likes to tell people everything that’s going on in my life when I greet them. Well, not everyone. Just the ones who will tolerate it. I’ll even do it before they have a chance to ask me how I’m doing.  I’ll just bombard them with the minutiae of my day the moment I see them. Because I spend most of my time alone with no one to talk to, I am willing to break protocol. Admittedly, this stuff isn’t particularly inspirational, but at least I’m consistent in my self-disclosure.

I do think the world would a better place if we could all risk being a little more vulnerable. If we could all admit that we are human, I think people would feel a lot better about themselves. It does take courage to put yourself out there, but taking that risk also requires good listeners. People who are willing to be present and bear witness to our humanity without judgment.

So I am thankful to all of the readers out there who are willing to bear witness to my humanity. You are the ones who make courage possible.

Birthday Reflections

So I’m reading The Fault in Our Stars for book club, which is told from the perspective of a 16 year old girl with cancer, and guess what? I still talk like a teenager. Yup. Some of her comments could have come straight from my blog.

Even though I turn 45 today, I guess I can consider this a compliment, since this is a best seller with a movie that is a box office hit and has gotten great reviews. So if I sound immature, at least it’s in a way that people can relate to. And if you’ve read the book, then you know that Hazel Grace is no ordinary 16 year old. For example, she refutes the adage that without pain, we cannot know joy by pointing out that “the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” I love that!

Still, I find it ironic to discover that I still talk like a teenager as I hit what is irrefutably middle age. I thought I would be OK with it, because it’s not like I didn’t know I was middle-aged. And as long as I don’t hit a prime number, I’m usually fine. And 45 is divisible by 3 and 5, so I figured I was safe until I turned 47. But no. Mother Nature likes to rub it in your face that you are becoming an old lady, and I received a couple of early birthday gifts just to make sure I was aware of this.

Before someone sends me that quote about how old age is a privilege that not everyone gets to benefit from, let me preempt you by saying that I am grateful for my life. It’s just that signs of getting older bring up that feeling that I talked about in the Beginnings and Endings post. Sadness about the loss of gifts that I had not even been aware of until I began to lose them. Anxiety about the losses to come. Panic about how fleeting time is.

I am afraid I am not one of those brave souls who will embrace aging with grace and dignity. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go kicking and screaming, fighting it every step of the way. I guess this is one of the downsides of being a warrior.

I’ve been thinking about what I could say in this post for several days now. I was really struggling with how to make it positive, since my goal is to be honest, and I have honestly been in a place of sadness and anxiety about getting older.

But I pray about blog posts, too. I pray that God will give me the inspiration to come up with something to say that will be helpful to someone, even if that someone is just me. So far, God has always answered this prayer. Today was no exception.

This morning, as I warned my inner critic that it was not allowed to make me feel guilty about sleeping in on my birthday, I leisurely checked out my birthday messages on my phone and FB, and I was humbled by how many of them there were so early in the morning. Well, early in the morning for me, at least. And I got the message: the one gift that will grow with age is love.

The feelings of love that I have for others will only deepen, as will their love for me. And as I get older, the more people I include in the circle of who I care about. Blogging, which I also consider a gift from God, has dramatically increased the number of people who have been brought into my life. So I have a great deal of love to look forward to, for as long as I may live.

Plus, I will always have an inner infant, Sophie, and now a teenager, as well as a slew of other parts in my internal family. They are always vying for my attention, letting me know that they are there, whether I want to hear from them or not. Through the process of blogging–and aging–I am learning that these parts I’ve been at war with also love me, although they show it in ways that are sometimes annoying.

So I am thankful to God, and to all of you, for reminding me on my birthday how blessed I am with love.

Interventions

I’m not good at confronting people. Which is ironic, because one of the things I do in my job is coach students on how to confront their friends about having an eating disorder. And I think I give pretty good advice, too. But I guess I’m not as brave as these students are.

Because confronting their friend will most likely put a strain on their relationship. It’s rare that the person who is being confronted says, you’re right. I do have a problem and I want to get help. Thank you for saying something. Confronting them may just be one step in a long series of steps toward getting help. It may not get the person into the counseling center right away, but it may plant the seed of recovery in their mind.

I’ve had many clients with eating disorders acknowledge that even though they would have denied having a problem at the time, they still wanted someone to say something about their 30 pound weight loss. And I’ve heard many clients in recovery say that although they were mad at the people who tried to help them at the time, they played an important role in the process of accepting their disorder.

I know all of this, but I’m still afraid to do it. Maybe they’ll be angry and yell at me, and I hate being yelled at. Or maybe something else will happen that will feel terrible, but I can’t put into words what it is that I fear. So I have to think about what day I want to ruin. What day I want to be incapacitated. I haven’t found that day yet. But I need to, because I gave my word that I would say something.

I don’t even have to do it in person, since I live so far away. I just have to make a phone call. And in my defense, I have tried to call a few times, but the whole time I was praying that he wouldn’t answer. Luckily for me, he didn’t. He never answered and never called back, which is unusual. Perhaps he knows why I’m calling, and he doesn’t want to have this conversation, either. Which makes it that much harder to force it to happen.

I ordinarily pride myself on accepting challenges, mental toughness, and doing the right thing. But in this case, nothing has motivated me to move closer to having this conversation. Not prayer, or meditation, or talking my therapist. Not even guilt and shame.

So I thought I’d blog about it and see if that helps. I’ll let you know.

Psychological Energy Conservation

Being single has its advantages. I never realized how much energy I was expending on compromising and trying to make things work. It’s lonely at times but much more relaxing. So much so that I think I’m going to give up all of my high maintenance relationships. Maybe it will help me cut down on my crash and burn days.
 
In fact, I’m thinking about promoting a psychological energy conservation campaign modeled after Go Green. Instead of Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, my slogan is Refrain, Reframe, Reevaluate. Since my tag line is less intuitive, let me elaborate.
 
1.  Refrain.  I’m going to do a better job of setting boundaries. Before, if someone asked me to do something, I felt like I had to do it if I was capable of doing so. Whether I wanted to or not was irrelevant. Or whether it was in my best interest to do so. But you know what? I can just say no. No, I’m not available at that time. No, I don’t want to go to that wedding. No, I don’t have room for you on my team.
 
I can also resist the urge to help people when helping them means hurting myself. My rationale in the past has been that I can take it, so it’s OK. I can lose sleep. I can get my heart broken. I can sacrifice my time. But it’s not OK. I always tell clients that you have to put yourself first, because you can’t rely on other people to do so, even if they love you. If its a choice between you and someone else, pick you. So I’m picking me.
 
2.  Reframe.  I waste a lot of time beating myself up for things I can’t control. Like being angry, or anxious, or exhausted. So I’m trying to reframe my feelings in a way that helps me to be more accepting of them.
 
Lately, when my inner critic gives me a hard time for obsessing, I stand up for myself. Of course I’m obsessing! That’s my thing. That’s what I do. Why wouldn’t I be doing it right now? That shuts him up. And it actually helps me to stop obsessing.
 
And I’ve come up with another part to help me be more forgiving of myself for my anger. I think of my anger as a bouncer who is trying to keep people who have hurt me from getting back into the club. Because I’m standing at the door saying, of course you can come in! Make yourself comfortable. Can I get you anything? The bouncer gets mad at me when I do this, and who can blame him, really. Someone needs to be strong enough to kick these people out.
 
3.  Reevaluate.  I need to do an energy assessment after I crash and burn, rather than assume it happened because I’m a crazy, weak, bad person. If I choose to blog during lunch instead of take a nap and catch up on sleep, I might be tired later in the week.  Same thing with staying up until 2 a.m. Or choosing to captain 2 teams at the same time. Or playing 5 times a week. I can do it, but I have to be ready to pay the consequences later.
 
I can become more aware of what I need, rather than judge myself for what I think I should need, if I were a normal person. I can allow myself to do what works best for me. I’m the most productive after 7 p.m., so that’s when I’m going to get my chores done. I’d rather work nonstop for 2 hours than leisurely spend the day working. And my favorite time of day is between 11 p.m. and 2 a.m., so I’m going to let myself enjoy those hours, even if it means that I’ll sleep until noon the next day.
 
I’m thinking this campaign could really catch on. Think how much more energy we would all have for the things that are important to us if we used it more wisely. Heck, I might even win the Nobel Prize like Al Gore.
 

Beginnings and Endings

I don’t do well with endings. 

Yesterday, as I began my 2 day drive back home, I started feeling anxious for no reason–until I remembered that I always feel anxious at the end of a trip. I was so relaxed during my vacation that I forgot how stressful my life was. Even tennis, which I love more than anything, feels like a job that I have to get used to again. The emails, texts, and calls about team registrations, lineup changes, and board meetings began before I made it home.

I always obsess over the passage of time at the end of a trip. How quickly it seems to go. The things I fear about getting older and watching other people get older. The more I enjoy myself, the stronger this fear is.

The next time I see my niece, she won’t be 7 anymore. I asked her to stop getting older when she turned 5, but she didn’t listen. Of course, I enjoy her just as much now as I did then, but there is something sad about the parts of her that are left behind every time I see her. Interests that are no longer cool. I don’t really know how to put this feeling into words, although I’m sure there are some sentimental parents out there who know what I’m talking about.

I’m the same way with books that I love. I dread coming to the end of them because then I will have to say good-bye to this world and these characters whom I’ve grown fond of. Sure, you can read the book again, but it will never be like the first time, when you didn’t know what to expect.

I used to obsess so much about having to say good-bye that I couldn’t enjoy the time I had left with the person. Then, after they were gone, I would cut off my feelings for them so that I would not have to mourn their absence. Not on purpose, of course. In fact, it made me feel like some cold-hearted person. I think that’s why I’m so bad about keeping in touch. 

Today I had the realization that, while I was sad about the end of my vacation and the drive home, I also had a lot to look forward to. The beginning of summer. The start of new tennis leagues. More road trips–including one to see my niece again at the end of summer. In fact, I will be with her on her birthday, when she turns 8.

Perhaps instead of thinking of time as being linear, with clearly demarcated beginnings and endings, I can think of it as cyclical, like the seasons. That way, beginnings and endings are right next to each other. And while I may not be able to go back to a specific point in time again, whenever the cycle repeats itself, I can pay homage to that memory, and add another one to go with it.

And I can blog about it, which always seems to help.