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Smile: It Gets You Free Stuff. And Followers.

Appearances can be deceiving, even when you’re trying to be honest.

Today was a terrible day. I don’t want to waste an entire post on the details, so I’ll just hit the highlights:

1.  I spent 2 and 1/2 hours hanging out with the cable guy. This was after having a different cable guy show up at 8 a.m. yesterday and after multiple conversations and chats with customer service reps whose only troubleshooting advice is to tell you to unplug your cable box and turn it back on again.

2.  The office where I get my allergy shots randomly closes fairly often. So often that, to avoid getting into trouble, they’ve asked me to call ahead to make sure they are there. Which is ridiculous, because their job is to be there when the clinic is open. So today I didn’t do it. And guess what? They were closed!

3. I had to spend a bazillion dollars on a mattress today. OK, maybe not that much, but you know how I am about spending money. I have been sleeping on the same cheap mattress for 17 years. I only gave in because my back and hips hurt. And since I’m doing this whole self-care thing, I figured I should invest in a good mattress. Plus I had to get the reclining thing because of my stupid GERD, which was also expensive.

OK, that was a little more ranty than I meant it to be, but I had to give you some context about what my mindset was when I walked into the mattress store. When Mr. Salesman asked me how I was doing, I told him about the cable guy, the doctor’s office, and how he was robbing me of my savings. He told me that I didn’t seem like I was in a bad mood because I was smiling. Which is true. I’m always smiling, no matter how upset I feel. I told him not to be fooled.

After our transaction was complete, Mr. Salesman asked me what I do for a living. I told him I was a psychologist, and he was surprised by this. He said that all of the psychologists and psychiatrists he knew were super uptight, and I was super laid back.

What the hell? I don’t think I could have possibly had a worse attitude when I came into the store. And I’m pretty sure I’m just as uptight, if not more so, than most mental health professionals, given my various mood and anxiety disorders. Can my pathological smiling response really make me seem laid back and happy when I am actually pissed off? I don’t get it.

But I guess it’s a good thing. Because I made him give me every possible free thing he could throw in. Plus I told him that he needed to start following my blog. I also told him tonight’s post would be dedicated to him. So here you go, Mr. Salesman!

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Mind and Body

Truce

My body has a mind of its own.

For example, when I’m playing singles, I’ll tell myself not to hit a low percentage shot, like an overhead from 3 feet behind the baseline. But then my arm will be like, I can totally hit this shot from back here! It will be ESPN-worthy! And it will defy me and hit an overhead from 3 feet behind the baseline. And then I’ll yell at my arm: Are you trying to lose? Because that’s what’s going to happen if you keep hitting that shot!

This is why I don’t tell people what I’m saying to myself during a match when they ask.

Weight loss is the same way. I can eat healthy and exercise and count calories and nothing happens. Sometimes my body will even defy the laws of nature and I will gain weight. However, if I go through a divorce, I lose weight without even trying. Apparently, my body doesn’t like marriage. Which is fine, I guess, but divorce is a pretty radical weight loss strategy, and you can only get so many of them.

My body also likes the GERD diet, in which I can’t have anything 3 hours before bedtime or before exercise. Which is ironic, because I used to make sure I ate during these times, thinking I was doing my body a favor by preventing hypoglycemia. It’s also unfortunate, because I happen to like food.

I’m trying to get my body and mind to realize that we are all on the same team. Lately when I play tennis, the conversation goes more like this:

Mind: You’re good at defense, right?

Body: Yes! I am awesome at defense!

Mind: Well if you can just get all her shots back in this next game, there’s a good chance we can win it. Don’t try to put it away. Just keep it in play.

Body: I can totally do that!

Mind: Great! I have faith in you!

I know. It’s weird. But I swear, it works.

Since I’m on a relationship hiatus, I’ve been much more emotionally stable, so my body is pretty happy about that. The GERD diet, however, continues to be a struggle. I need food before a match, and sometimes I’m not awake long enough to give myself a 3 hour window before eating. And the matches are usually at night, so I can’t always finish eating 3 hours before bedtime without staying up even later than usual. And I cannot live without coffee and chocolate indefinitely.

So I’m trying a mindfulness approach where I check in with myself and see how my body is responding. I test the limits of what and how much I can eat, how much I can play tennis, and how little sleep I can get away with before my body rebels. But when it says no, I don’t push any more. I back off.

My mind and body are getting along better these days, but it is by no means a perfectly harmonious relationship. I’m committed to making this relationship work, though, because divorce is not an option.

Being Neighborly

Today was one of those tough, lonely days. Even when the day starts out slowly, I usually have tennis in the afternoon, which helps me to feel productive. But no tennis tonight because of the rain. So it was hard to will myself to wake up after a long nap when there was nothing to look forward to but errands.

I did finally manage to bribe myself to get up with kettle corn. (I ate all of it, so I’ll have to think of something else for tomorrow.) And I talked myself into walking to the mailbox to get some steps. I ran into some of my neighbors, who chastised me in a friendly way for not being social. Which made me feel like a terrible person, of course.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I don’t socialize with my neighbors as much as they would like me to. In addition to not being retired, playing tennis almost every day, and not having much in common with senior citizens, the truth is, I’ve never been very neighborly. I think it’s because I hate small talk. I avoid it at all costs.

To make matters worse, when I am home alone I am usually sleeping because it’s so unbearable to be awake when I have nothing to look forward to. I thought about telling my neighbors that. How I’m often too depressed to overcome my aversion to making small talk to be neighborly. That leaving the house to check my mail was a big step for me. But that seemed like TMI.

I know they genuinely want to get to know me and want me to feel welcomed, but I wanted to cry after talking to them. I felt like this was just one more thing I should be doing that I was failing at. Right up there with regulating my sleep cycle, adhering to my GERD diet, and getting 10,000 steps. I hate it that my inner critic turns everything into an opportunity to fail.

So I’m blogging about this incident to diminish my inner critic’s power to make me feel bad about myself. I’m doing the best I can do. There will always be more that I could be doing. I can only focus on my goals for today. I made it to my dentist appointment. I freaking walked to Kroger, which is a huge accomplishment (but sadly, only got me about 3,000 steps). And I am writing this blog post.

And I talked to my neighbors when I got my mail. Which wasn’t even on my list. So there!

Self-Compassion

My compassion reserves are running low. In my last relationship I took the words of Jesus and Buddha literally about how we should be able to love everyone. It was practically a 3 year exercise in compassion. But by the end I wondered if perhaps I had misunderstood what they meant about loving others. It was a lot of work to have to channel Buddha and Christ just to tolerate being in his presence. I feel like I’m experiencing a backlash now. All those feelings I tried to deny are coming out with a vengeance. I guess I was supposed to have compassion for myself, too.

I’m not very good at self-compassion. Every time I try, the Inner Critic berates me for whining about my problems when I have a good life. I don’t know what pain is. I’m not living in a war-torn country. My life hasn’t been devastated by natural disasters or school shootings. All of the people I love are still alive. Who am I to complain?But surely I must have the right to honor my feelings. My suffering must count, too, if God cares about all of us. So I’m going to write about what’s upsetting me, without apologizing for it or justifying it or willing myself to be positive.

This week I will be moving closer to divorce. Filing forms. Getting documents notarized. More tears. More snot. You would think there would be a limit to how much it’s possible to cry over something. That 4 years would be more than enough time. I used to pray to God–plead, even–to tell me what I could do that would allow both of us to be happy. Leaving seemed like it would just make us both miserable. And it has. And I don’t see an end in sight for me, at least. I’m trying not to blame God or myself. But in this moment, my faith in a happy future is wavering and I feel like I deserve the pain.

I have 2 family members who are currently on the opposite ends of the bipolar spectrum. My brother is trying so hard but still feels terrible.  It hurts me that he’s hurting. My dad is manic. Mania feels great for the person experiencing it, but it’s hell for the rest of us. But what power do I have to make him see?  If he were my client, I could make him see our psychiatrist, get him on meds. But as a daughter, I am practically useless.

I’m afraid to answer the phone when my parents call. Which makes me feel horribly guilty, because I know their time on earth is limited and I will regret not talking to them more when they’re gone. But the call is almost always about something bad. Something I’m expected to fix. Or something I don’t want to do. At minimum, I’m supposed to be a receptacle for the stress, but I can’t take it. It’s too much. I’m not able to function afterwards.

So I have to be strategic about when I call or when I answer. It has to be a time when it will be OK if I fall apart. But since it’s hard to choose something where there’s a good chance you’ll fall apart, I often forget to call altogether. Which makes me feel even guiltier and reactivates the vicious cycle. I wish it could be easier. I wish there were some way I could be a good daughter but also protect myself.

It takes a lot of work to maintain my health. Since I have GERD, allergies, and exercise-induced asthma, I have to take shots, nasal sprays, pills, steroid inhalers, rescue inhalers. I’m not supposed to have coffee and chocolate. I can’t eat or drink 3 hours before exercise or bed time. If I drink too much during a match, I’ll even throw up water. It’s frustrating to have to worry about throwing up every time I play. Or brush my teeth, even. But giving up dental hygiene and tennis are not options.

My mental health is always hanging in the balance. It’s work to maintain my sleep cycle because of my night owlness. I can’t miss any of my drugs. I can’t miss Ativan for even one night. I meditate, pray, journal, exercise, and all of the other self-care strategies. But despite my best efforts, I can never make it to the end of the term without burning out before I cross the finish line. I can’t handle the stress of my life. I can’t get out of bed right now. It makes me feel weak. Inadequate. Unable to do the basic tasks of life.

Just got a call from my lawyer friend that my paperwork looks good to go, so I guess I’ll be filing for divorce this week for sure. If you believe in God, feel free to say a prayer for me. If you don’t, send positive vibes my way.

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.

Body Image

When I was 0-22 years old, I never worried about my weight.  I was naturally thin and my parents were always telling me that I ate like a bird.  But then something happened when I graduated from college:  my clothes no longer fit.

At first I thought, no big deal.  I’ll just start exercising, since I never did.  But I continued to gain weight.  So then I thought, I’ll just exercise every day and watch what I eat.  Still gained weight, but more slowly.  Finally, I resorted to obsessing about being fat 24-7, exercising every day, and watching what I ate.  Again, very slow weight gain plus a lot of suffering.  Maybe my metabolism started slowing down at 23.

Ironically, all of that time that I was gaining weight, I was still pretty thin.  Until I reached 40.  Now I look like I thought I did all of those years that I obsessed about being fat.  I know I’m not fat, but I’ve gained enough weight that my dad told me that I needed to eat less and he mailed me some appetite suppressants.  And I would still like to lose weight, although I’m not as motived as I was when I was younger. 

I specialize in eating disorders so I never do fad diets, starve myself, throw up, or anything else that would make me a poor role model.  Plus I love food.  So here are the middle-aged strategies I’ve tried for weight loss, based on effectiveness:

Not Effective:

  • Buy a gym membership and never use it.  I know a lot of people do this, but I obsess about money and I used to go to the gym every day, so I really thought it might work for me.
  • Obsess all day about exercising and when you get home fall asleep on the couch instead. 
  • Try to eat the recommended 1500 calories for weight loss and then binge at the end of the day because you’re starving.
  • Stare at your gut in the mirror every time you go to the bathroom.
  • Eat fast food for dinner because you hate grocery shopping and cooking.

Effective:

  • Play tennis as many times a week as your body will allow. 
  • Use a pedometer and obsess about getting steps.
  • Don’t look in the mirror.
  • Don’t look at any pictures or videos of yourself and only take head shots.
  • Look at pictures of other people your age who have gained weight so that you realize that this is just a part of getting older.
  • Cut 500 calories out of your 3,000 calorie diet.
  • Go on the GERD diet where you have to cut out all of the things you love to eat and avoid eating 3 hours before bedtime and before exercising. 

I am happy to say that I’m slowly losing weight at the rate of about .25 pounds every 2 months.  No one is going to use me as a poster child for weight loss, but as I say to my clients, something is better than nothing.

Massages, Part 2

You know those dreams you have where you’re naked in public?  For me I’m usually taking a shower outside, and once I realize it I’m like, what the heck?  Why am I out here?  There are people right over there!  Oh well.  I’ll just pretend it’s a perfectly normal thing to do. 

There are lots of theories for why we have dreams.  The two most common theories are that dreams reveal unconscious conflicts and that dreams are just a by-product of neurons firing in our brain and mean absolutely nothing.

While I think both of these theories are sometimes true, I have a 3rd theory:  sometimes dreams are dress rehearsals for our emotions to prepare us for unusual events.  For example, it’s not often that we have an occasion to run for our lives from zombies.  So dreams can be a useful way for end-of-the-world enthusiasts to prepare for the zombie apocalypse without inconveniencing the rest of us.

But what does this have to do with massages, you ask? 

I had my massage today, and it did not go well.  I drank a decaf coffee beforehand because I have GERD and I’m not supposed to have caffeine.  Or chocolate.  Two of my most favorite things in the world.  Usually I just have them anyway, but my acid reflux has been acting up lately so I behaved myself.

I went to the bathroom before my session because another one of my many annoying health problems is that sometimes I have to pee a lot.  Like every 30 minutes or so.  Especially if I’ve had coffee.  But it was decaf today so I figured one pee should be sufficient.

But no.  Apparently, there is something else in coffee that makes you have to pee, so I had to go badly during the massage.  I kind of have mini panic attacks whenever I have to pee and cannot get to a restroom but I was determined to stay the course and finish my massage.  So I tried all my psychological tricks to keep me focused, but to no avail; I wasn’t going to make it.

Unfortunately, the place where I get my massage has no restroom.  They share a space with a real estate agency next door, and that’s where the restroom is.  So once I gave in and told her I had to pee, she gave me a robe and I walked barefooted into the real estate agency and peed as fast as I could.  Usually I don’t see anyone when I go in there but of course there was a woman at her desk with a clear view of me looking like I’m about to jump in the shower.  Oh, and there were people in the front office of the massage place, too.

 It felt very much like the naked in public dream.

After my massage they apologized for not having a restroom but at least they don’t have to pay for that space, ha ha ha!  Whatever.  Not a relaxing massage at all, obviously.

Luckily I’ve had some practice for publicly humiliating experiences so I decided to blog about it instead of curling up in a ball and hiding from the world.

Massage!
Olindapully Photography (olindapullyphotography.com)