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Learning to Trust My Instincts. And God.

You know how I had a horrible day last Monday? Well, things got even worse as the week progressed.

In my list of crappy things that happened that day, I did not include my oil change fiasco. I should stop going to this place because every time I go there, they screw something up. But this time, it could have killed me.

I heard a noise underneath my car after I got an oil change on Monday. At first I thought that they forgot to tighten the skid plate again, but after a few days it got so bad that I thought something was seriously wrong. Like my wheel was about to fall off or something.

I tried to put off going back until Saturday so that I wouldn’t have to miss any work, but by Thursday I was too scared to drive and decided to tow my car to the dealership. But when I asked the towing guy if he saw anything underneath the car, he said the skid plate was loose. So I took my car off the tow truck and drove back to the oil change place and told them to tighten the skid plate. And to renew my inspection sticker and rotate my tires. Even though this was the 3rd mistake they had made.

But the car was making the same noise after they supposedly fixed it. By then I had already canceled several appointments, and if I called the tow truck again, I would have to miss an entire day of work. So I took my chances and drove to the dealership, although it felt like I was risking my life to do so. But I didn’t know for sure. When I dropped the car off, a part of me was afraid they would tell me that they couldn’t believe I drove down there, but a part of me was afraid they would say there was nothing wrong with my car.

It turned out that the former was true. My wheel was barely hanging on, just as I suspected. And somehow, the mechanic who rotated my tires did not notice. All that time I was worried about spending more money, inconveniencing my clients, and being accused of overreacting. Now I am just thankful that I am alive. But this experience has reinforced some important lessons for me:

1. The “fool me once” expression is true. Giving someone a second chance is sufficient to prove that they won’t make the same mistake again.

2. I need to trust my instincts. I put my life at risk because I was afraid that I was making a big deal out of nothing. From now on, I’m putting my well-being first.

3. I need to have more faith in God. The night before I took my car in, I decided to trust that God would look out for me and to stop worrying about money. And even though my faith was shaky and my decision-making was questionable, God kept me safe on the road.

 Thank goodness God gives us multiple chances to believe.

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Full of Myself

Positivity

I’m going to be on TV! It’s just a segment on the local news about tennis in our area, but I’ve never been interviewed on TV, so it’s kind of a big deal for me.  I initially didn’t want to be interviewed because I didn’t want to look fat. Which is superficial, I know, but it’s true. But I have to admit, I was pretty awesome. I love having an audience.

I feel self-conscious about writing this, because it feels like I’m being full of myself. But when I tell my therapist that I’m being full of myself, she says that’s a good thing. Full of yourself can mean being whole. Authentic. Come to think of it, most of the time I’m filled with demons, anxiety, depression, guilt, shame, and self-criticism. So maybe being full of myself isn’t such a bad thing.

In therapy, when clients talk about feeling self-conscious about sharing an accomplishment, I ask them how they distinguish between humility, bragging, and celebrating something good about themselves. Interestingly, the conversation often leads to a discussion about what it means to be a good person. About what God wants from us. Even though I never bring up God unless the client does.

I’m no theologian, but I think that God wants us to share our accomplishments, because they are a reflection of our gifts from Him. That using our gifts is a way of showing our appreciation for them. That sharing our accomplishments with the people who are important to us is a way of inviting them into this celebration.

So in the spirit of sharing my accomplishments with people who are important to me, I thought I would take this opportunity to share with all of you the good things that have happened to me recently.

1. I finally had a good tennis season. I played great and won a lot of tough matches. Except to that one team that beat us three times, which contributed to my bad mood on Sunday. But even those matches were competitive and came down to the wire.

2. I made it through this week without having to miss work! This is one of the weeks with the highest likelihood of a crash and burn episode. So I’m making some progress in my self-care efforts.

3. This is my 3rd post this week, so I met my goal! And my last few posts have gotten me a few more readers, so in the race against my former blogger self, I’m winning!

4. That small taste of the limelight confirmed my belief that if I had my own talk show, I’d be way better than Dr. Phil. (Is that going too far?)

Thanks for allowing me to share my accomplishments with you. I may not be in a relationship, but I do finally have people who care about the minutiae of my everyday life. And for that, I am grateful.

Depression vs. Sadness

Motivation 2

‘Tis the season to be jolly. Unless you are prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder like me. Don’t get me wrong–I still love the holidays. But there’s a better than average chance that I’ll be depressed in the midst of them.

Sometimes people ask me what the difference is between sadness and depression–especially if you have been depressed and are worried that you might be getting depressed again. In a previous post, I admitted that I don’t always know. It’s not like a pregnancy test that you can take and find out that you’re either depressed or “normal.” There are degrees of depression, and I have experienced almost every point on the continuum.

Last year after my breakup, I was alone for the first time since I was 14, and it was tough. I was sad that my phone rarely rang. That I did not automatically have plans for the weekend. That I was helpless when it came to things like changing my air filter.

My sadness turned into depression over the holidays because in addition to being alone, I had to be around my family, which stresses me out, tennis season was over so I wasn’t exercising and didn’t see friends, and my sleep was out of whack because I was off for 2 weeks. Still, it was nothing like the full-blown major depressive episode I had several years ago.

If sadness vs. depression were an SAT question, then sadness is to a cold as depression is to the flu. You can barely get out of bed. You do not have the energy to do simple tasks. You are in pain. You feel like you may die. But the difference is, when you have the flu, you may blame yourself somewhat for not getting your flu shot or for kissing a sick person, but you don’t hate yourself for being sick.

One of the ways I distinguish between depression and sadness is in how I respond to the “think of people who are worse off than you” strategy. When I was too exhausted to do anything the past few weekends, I would think about all of those people who are bedridden and how awful that must feel. And then I wanted to do something about it. So I said one of my neurotic prayers: God, if there’s any way that my praying for these people who are sick and bedridden can help them feel better, then please let that happen.

When I’m depressed, I think about people who live in war-torn countries, and how that’s far worse than being depressed. So who am I to complain? This is nothing. I don’t even have a good reason for being depressed. I’m just lazy and irresponsible. So get off the couch and do something, damn it!

Since this is the time of year when I am vulnerable to depression, I am hypervigilant of possible signs. So far I’m tired and stressed, but no self-loathing. And I haven’t missed any work (knock on wood). Maybe I’ll make it through this year unscathed.

Disaster Preparedness

Disaster Preparedness

A few years ago I went to the Titanic Museum in Knoxville. When you enter, they give you a card with a description of a person who was on the Titanic and you can find items related to that person as you walk though the museum. At the exit, there is a list of the people who survived and who did not. The people who were the most likely to survive were in first class because they had cabins at the top of the ship and had more time to get out, and the crew members because they were the first people to know that the ship was sinking.

I’ve heard of many similar scenarios, and the evidence is pretty convincing that having money increases your likelihood of survival. That’s one of the reasons why I obsess about having enough of it. I worry because I am single and don’t have someone else’s income to rely on if something were to happen to me. I worry because I am not able to save the recommended 6 months worth of salary in case of emergencies. I often have to use my savings just to cover my monthly expenses.

I am the kind of person who takes every safety recommendation to heart. When I went to the Philippines when I was 5, my aunt told me that I was teaching my 3 year old cousin about the dangers of playing with matches and how to stop, drop, and roll if you’re on fire.

After my first divorce, I realized that one of the reasons that I follow every recommendation about how to avoid disaster is because I didn’t have faith in God. I never had that exact thought, and I prayed every night that my husband and I would grow old together, but deep down I believed that making my marriage work was mostly up to me.

Part of the reason why I decided to go on the trip to Germany and Switzerland is because I realized that no amount of money can protect me from disasters. Since then, I’ve been telling myself what I tell my clients who worry about the future: I can have faith that whatever happens, I will have the strength to get through it.

I’m also taking a leap of faith that God will look after me if something bad happens to me. It’s a scary thing to do, because I know that some people lose faith in God in the face of tragedy. But God has always been there for me, so until I’m proven wrong, I’m going to keep on leaping.

One Year Progress Report

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Today is my blog’s one year birthday. Woo hoo! Who would have thought that I could write 159 posts? Before I started this blog, I never showed anyone a single paragraph of anything I had written. And I had to do all this research just to figure out what a blog was. So blogging for a year is truly an accomplishment.

In honor of this special day, I thought I would see how far I’ve come in my practice of self-acceptance. My first 4 posts covered some of the most common themes in my blog, so I thought I would give an update on where things stand in these areas.

1. Night Owl Syndrome. I have come to the conclusion that, although my mood is vastly improved when I abide by a “normal” sleep cycle, I cannot get up early unless I absolutely have to. Now that I’m working again, I’ve been going to bed earlier (12-1 a.m.) and waking up earlier (7:30 a.m.), with an occasional short nap thrown in when I have time. Even though I prefer to sleep more, I function pretty well on 6-7 hours.

The only problem is, knowing this will not make me wake up early when I’m on vacation again. But I’m not going to worry about that right now. I’m just going to enjoy being in a good mood.

2. Divorces. As of August 14, 2014, I am officially divorced and am finally at peace with it. We are on as good of terms as we can be. In fact, he just strung my racket last week and informed me that I had a nail in my tire. My first reaction when he pointed out the nail was fear about not having someone around to inform me of things like the condition of my tires.

But then I thought that perhaps it wasn’t an accident that my ex happened to be there when I dropped my racket off and that he happened to notice the nail in my tire. Maybe God was looking out for me, just like when my car broke down on the freeway over the summer. So I will try to have faith that He will continue to do so.

3. Massages and Stress Relief. I love my job, but it is stressful. The commute is hard on my body, and seeing back-to-back clients is mentally and emotionally taxing. I’ve started getting massages again, but unlike a year ago, I don’t obsess about how much they cost anymore. I accept that it’s something I have to do for my body. I also have a phone session with my therapist once a month, even if I think I don’t need it, because I feel better when I talk to her.

And this year, I’m going to try working from home one day a week to cut down on my driving and to preserve my time for blogging. I’m a little nervous about waking up early and being productive that day I work from home, and about fitting all my clients in the other 4 days, but we’ll see how it goes.

4. Knitting and Relationships. I still love a challenge. I still like complicated patterns and I am still drawn to complicated relationships. I am proud to say that I have been single for almost a year, and I am surprised to find that I enjoy my freedom. I’m actually a little afraid to start dating again, because I don’t yet trust myself to know when a relationship may not be worth the effort. So for now, I’ll limit my challenges to complicated patterns.

My latest project received the most likes of anything I have ever posted on Facebook. Not sure whether to take it as a compliment or an insult that my knitted top looks better than I do.

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Some Things Never Get Old

A few months ago my brother called to tell me about a baby bear spotted in the parking lot where he lives, which is quite an anomaly because he lives in the city. He also sent me pictures and video clips. And he cracked himself up making up additional fake bear sightings: the bear was also seen going to Starbucks buying a coffee, having a beer at the local bar, etc.

He had the same obsession with bears as a kid and made similar jokes that were primarily funny because they made him laugh. Even though he is 38, he is still a kid in many ways. He continues to see the world as though he is experiencing it for the first time.

I was not able to share his excitement about the bear sighting, but there are things that I never get tired of. This weekend I went to districts with one of my teams, and even though I didn’t win and my team didn’t win, I am happy. I feel blessed because I had the good fortune to experience some of those things that never get old. My list includes, but is not limited to:

1. Winning. I know winning isn’t everything, but it sure feels good when you do. Even though my team didn’t win, one of the local teams did, and we got to share in their victory celebration, which is almost as good. Especially when the celebration involves food. Plus UVA won, which means we have already tied our 2 wins from last season. And it was an upset against a top 25 team, which makes it even sweeter. Plus Switzerland advanced in Davis Cup this weekend, so I’m happy for Federer, too.

2. Tennis. When I started playing tennis again 14 years ago, I was obsessed with it. I played at least 4-5 times a week–sometimes 2-3 times a day–and would drive to different cities to play. I played in every league and tournament. I feared that at some point I would grow tired of it, but I think I’m even more obsessed with it now than I was back then. One of the members of the winning team is in his late 70’s, and he still loves tennis. He is still competing, still winning, still talking trash on the court. I hope I am fortunate enough to be just like him when I grow up.

3. Shopping. Ok, I know this one is superficial, but it’s true. I love shopping. I got to buy cute tennis clothes, which is something I don’t have access to ordinarily. And they were on sale. Not half of half of half, as my mom prefers, but still a pretty good deal. And I’m going to wear my new outfit to my singles match tonight. I will probably lose, but I will look good doing it.

4. The Beauty of Nature. On the way to the tournament I drove through the Rockfish Valley. Initially I was so anxious about getting lost that I didn’t pay attention to my surroundings. But when I entered the valley I was in awe of how beautiful it was. It was absolutely breathtaking. I never get tired of the beauty of nature. I never tire of looking at the sky at sunset. Of the changing of the seasons. These are the times that I have those moments of clarity. These are the moments that bring me closer to God.

5. Friendship. One of the things I love the most about tennis is the friends I have made and continue to make. This weekend I got to spend time with some of my closest friends and reconnect with old ones. As I got to know some of my teammates off the court, I felt like I was meeting them for the first time. Spending time with friends, getting to know people better, and adding to my tennis family never gets old.

It really is true that some of the best things in life are free. Except for shopping. Shopping is never free. But a 30% discount on everything in the pro shop is pretty nice, too.

Some things never get old

Nostalgia

Nostalgia

Today I heard a song on the radio that reminded me of my first husband. Memories of him come up every day–sometimes multiple times a day. Depending on the memory, I may feel a variety of emotions, but I almost always miss him. I almost always wish he could still be in my life.

I’ve always liked romantic movies like “Bridges of Madison County” where two people love each other but can’t be together. I guess in some ways the appeal is that you can experience the intensity of their love without having to be in pain yourself. Because in real life it’s pretty terrible, living with so much longing.

I know I’m not unique in this regard. I’ve seen the Facebook posts where people remember someone they love. I’ve heard people say the pain never goes away–that you just get used to living with it. The prospect of losing someone I love and facing a lifetime of pain has always terrified me. And then I remember that it has already happened.

It’s not that I spend my life pining away for him. I have a good life. I have a loving family and good friends. I love my job. I love tennis and blogging and college football. I have things to look forward to–like Federer being in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. (So exciting!) And yet the sadness is still there, right alongside the happiness.

People have this misconception that you can’t experience positive and negative feelings at the same time, and this is perpetuated by the field of positive psychology. That’s why they tell you to think happy thoughts and count your blessings and remind yourself of why you’re better off without him. These strategies help some, but they don’t make the sad feelings go away.

I don’t allow myself to pray that God will put him in my path again. That would be too close to having hope, and I’m afraid to have hope. That seems like a delusion that wouldn’t serve me well.

Today I considered the possibility that God hasn’t put him in my path for a reason. Perhaps he is a different person from the one I knew, and I wouldn’t like this person as much. Perhaps knowing about his life would hurt me more than not knowing.

The scene that stands out to me the most in “Bridges of Madison County” is when Meryl Streep tells Clint Eastwood that she can’t run away with him because eventually it would turn what is extraordinary about their love into something ordinary. That they would grow resentful of one another and their resentment would destroy their love altogether. That the only way to preserve their love is to walk away from it.

I’ve had many opportunities to pursue the ones that got away, and the encounters were ultimately disappointing; the fantasy was always better than the reality. And now I have no fantasies left to sustain me. No daydreams about what might have been if I had chosen a different path. In some ways it’s a good thing because I don’t have to live with regret. But there is something to be said for having something that you can dream about.

Perhaps God is allowing me to keep my dream without giving reality a chance to destroy it. Perhaps God is helping me to preserve the memory of our love as I knew it. That possibility gives me some comfort–for the moment, at least.

Mistakes

You know how I hate making mistakes? Well I made a big one last week, and now my inner critic is in full force. I am having a hard time forgiving myself, so I thought I’d blog about it.

Intellectually, I know that everyone makes mistakes. But my inner critic tells me that everyone else is allowed to make mistakes. I, on the other hand, am on strict probation: one mistake will lead to dire consequences–failing, getting fired, going to hell, losing everyone’s respect, etc. I don’t know what I’ve done to warrant this zero tolerance for errors, but it must have been pretty bad.

I am trying to put things in perspective. I try to remind myself that, although some people could judge me harshly, God does not have a zero tolerance policy for errors. God knows that I am not perfect and does not hold me to the standards that my inner critic does.

I gave a sincere apology for my mistake. I didn’t lie, get defensive, or evade responsibility. I acknowledged what I did wrong and that I am aware of the consequences of my error. That I am committed to making amends. While this should move my transgression into the somewhat healthier guilt category, I am still feeling quite a bit of shame about it.

My inner critic wants to make sure that I am taking this seriously. That I am not one of those people who superficially apologizes without being genuinely sorry. That is one of my pet peeves, and I don’t want to be a hypocrite by doing the same thing. So I keep reminding myself that this is a big deal–which only serves to reactivate the cycle.

I am trying to call to mind all of the sage advice on forgiveness, perfectionism, and letting go. Advice that I, myself, have given to other people. It seems to help them. Why doesn’t it help me? Why am I not improving faster? I envy people who can read an inspirational quote on social media and feel better. People who are simply able to turn off the obsessive soundtrack of shame in their head. Or who listen to a different soundtrack altogether.

So I am also trying to remind myself to honor my own timetable. That self-improvement is not a race that I have to win. In fact, I’d settle for a participation award. I tell myself that at some point in the future, perhaps even later today, I will be able to put things in perspective. And if it takes longer than that, I’m talking to my therapist on Tuesday.

Luckily, tennis is on all day today, which I am hoping will be an effective distraction until I have my moment of clarity.

Almost Whole

“Things that are broken can be made whole.” That’s my favorite line in Little Princes.

Conor Grennan did not volunteer at the orphanage in Nepal for religious purposes. When he decided to start a non-profit organization for the sole purpose of rescuing 7 of the orphans he met from drug traffickers, he still did not think he was doing God’s will. But there were so many miraculous incidents that allowed him to succeed in his mission of finding these orphans, and their parents, and reuniting their families, that he decided to buy a Bible so that he could rediscover God.

This line was actually spoken by Conor’s friend, Liz, who would eventually become his wife. She confessed to him that she was married and divorced by her mid-twenties. She felt so broken and ashamed at the time that she stopped going to church. She tells Conor that “God used that time of great sadness to reclaim me, to redeem me. Things that are broken can be made whole.”

Isn’t therapy, too, about making people whole? Isn’t that what I’m trying to do with my blog? I have never thought of it in those terms.

I have always feared that there was something fundamentally wrong with me. Like I was born with some kind of crack in my foundation that becomes apparent whenever I make another mistake. My therapist said that perhaps these cracks are there to allow me to breathe. I didn’t believe her when she said this, and I was annoyed that she was trying to turn my fundamental flaw into something positive. Those darn therapists! Always trying to see the positive side of things.

I signed and notarized the divorce papers a few days ago. Usually every step forward makes me cry, but this one did not. Not yet, at least. Maybe it was because I had it notarized by my tennis partner after our match and went to lunch with my team afterwards, which did not leave me any time for self-reflection. Or maybe I’m finally beginning to accept that this is the right thing for both of us.

In any case, I did not beat myself up for leaving or for failing to make things work, as I usually do. I did not let my inner critic tell me that this is what I deserve. I can’t say that I am at peace with the whole thing, but I am further along than I was when I wrote the first post on divorce.

In this moment, I am focusing more on my blessings than my losses. Perhaps this means I am on my way to becoming whole.

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.