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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.

Blessings in Disguise

Remember how my car broke down on the way to my friend’s wedding? Well, it turned out to be more of an inconvenience than an extra day and $1000. Try 2 extra days and $3000.

I tried my best to have a good attitude about it. I made a list of the things I was thankful for. I tried to put a positive spin on everything. It helped some, but it was still annoying.

You know what helped the most? I looked at the service ticket when I got home and it turned out that my rear brakes were 95% worn. I kind of thought they were unresponsive, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I’m actually thankful that my car broke down. I was speeding because I was late for the rehearsal dinner, and if I had to break suddenly, things could have been much worse. Maybe breaking down wasn’t a punishment for having a bad attitude after all. Maybe God was looking out for me.

I often tell clients that the events that they think are terrible at the time may turn out to be blessings in disguise. This is also supported by research on happiness. I mentioned in a previous post how people who become paraplegics from car accidents return to their baseline level of happiness after about a year. Sometimes they are even thankful for the accident, because it moved their lives in a more positive direction.

I guess if you’re really cynical, you could argue that they’re just rationalizing to make themselves feel better. I don’t think this is true, but even if it were, so what? Our beliefs are more compelling than reality, anyway. I’d love to be irrationally grateful.

This holiday weekend has been tough for me. Holidays are the hardest because they are supposed to be filled with family, friends, and food. And in this case, fireworks. I am 0-4. I think about how I’ve spent the 4th of July in the past. Some of the most recent ones were far worse than I could have imagined. Now that I’m single, the best I can hope for is that holidays won’t be as lonely and depressing as I think they will be. This one is about what I expected. (Unless Federer wins tomorrow. Then it will all be worthwhile.)

My tendency is to beat myself up for my single status. I must deserve it because of all the terrible relationship decisions I’ve made. Or maybe I’m just unlucky. Or maybe at some point in the future, I’ll look back and realize that this period of solitude was also a blessing in disguise. I’m not completely convinced of this, but I’m trying to be hopeful.

These are the flowers from the wedding. It has nothing to do with blessings, but I think it’s a cool picture.

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.

Strength

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month and Mother’s Day, I am featuring a guest blogger, my youngest brother Romeo Barongan. He has been featured in several posts, including Hard Core Fan, The Best Valentine’s Day Gift, and Let it Go. This post is an example of how good things can come from depression–like wisdom, gratitude, love, and strength.
 
Strength is not about how I look on the outside; but about what I’m made of on the inside. It’s not about how much weight I can lift; but about the burdens I’m able to bear….what I’m willing to endure when the cause is just. After a life of trying to keep up with the Big Boys in the gym, I’ve learned that strength isn’t about the body but the soul. In honor of Mother’s Day, I wish to acknowledge my own Mom for helping me realize the definition of true strength. While I have been striving to acquire strength of body, my Mom has consistently demonstrated strength of character.
I feel the need to create some context for the journey about which I will relay shortly. My parents are both successful professionals. They reared three over-achieving children. And then I came along to round our family of six. I’m not selling myself short or looking for pity; I’m no failure. But growing up as the youngest child in a household so rift with talent created a seemingly impossible path to follow. To worsen matters, people outside the family often chided me for my privileged upbringing. They would disregard my success with statements like, “Anyone could do that if their parents had the money yours do.” They disparaged me for my work ethic in the classroom & relative inexperience in blue collar affairs. “Spoiled rich boy should learn to do real man’s work & get his hands dirty every once in a while.” I wanted to prove that I was a “real man.” I had to show the world that I wasn’t the sheltered doctor’s son that they accused me of being. I would force the world to see that I was indeed strong.
I hit the gym hard. I tried to be more “blue collar” without the benefit of knowing exactly what being blue collar actually meant. It was an unusually painful separation when I finally moved out of my parent’s house to strike it out on my own. We’re such a close family with traditional Eastern culture values; I think my parent’s perceived it as a mild insult when their then 25-yr-old youngest son decided to leave their house. But I was driven by the need to establish the obligatory self-sufficiency that comes with adulthood. I had to prove not only to the world but to myself that I wasn’t the helpless youngest son of a privileged family. I had to prove I was normal; that I was “strong.”
The older I’ve gotten, the more I appreciate how amazing my parents are. Dealing with the often overwhelming constant bombardment or adult responsibilities is enough to suffocate me on most days. My career barely involves a fraction of the level of pressure & high stakes that characterized my parent’s careers—and yet, they were able to succeed & still have the time to make me feel like I was the center of their universe. All this year, I’ve been struggling with a life crisis that I tried to keep to myself & resolve on my own. I didn’t want to worry my poor Mother who has more than enough on her plate. I just had to “cowboy-up” & go it alone. But I recently broke down & shared my struggle with her. It’s ironic: I spent most of my 20’s trying to establish my independence in an effort to uphold my obligations as an adult. Now in my late 30’s, I realize that no matter how much I “grow up”, I’ll never outgrow a parent’s love. And I’ll never be too old to realize how much I love & need my parent’s in my life.
I used to think that I was strong after a good workout in the gym or after standing up to a bully twice my size. But then I see my Mom at 70-yrs-old adapt to the computerized healthcare industry to order to extend her 40-year career as a doctor. I see her remain active in the Church & community on her off days. I see her remain the dutiful wife to my Father. And I benefit from her seemingly never-ending support in my own life. I was looking at myself in the mirror after a solid workout this morning when I began to think that strength is too great a quality to be measured in a single act; & certainly too immense to assess through anything we can see in a mirror. With my reflection staring back at me, I realized that I had been strong on this day; but there were far more days when I hadn’t been. With Mom, there’s never an off day. Her love knows no limits. Her commitment to those she loves never wavers. Today, I want to thank her for helping me realize where true strength lies—otherwise, I could have spent my whole life looking strength in all the wrong places instead of summoning it from my own heart.  Even on my best day, I’m not half as strong as my Mom is every day. But I am making progress. For example, I used to be afraid of telling the people in my life how important they were to me—-afraid of sounding sappy or weak. But now, all I’m afraid of is failing to be sincere. I love you, Mom. Thanks for everything. And Happy Mother’s Day to you & all the Mothers out there. Oh, & if you haven’t already done so; please don’t be afraid to let your own mom what she means to you. Thanks for reading.
 

 

100th Post!

One of my favorite books of all time is What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty. It was our most popular book in our Remedial Book Club; we actually had a meaningful discussion about it for the entire meeting. Ordinarily we talk about the book for 30 minutes–mostly about who would play the characters if the book were turned into a movie–and then we eat, drink, and gossip about people in the tennis community for 2 hours.

The book is about a woman who falls off her bike in spinning class and loses her memory of the past 10 years. In her current life, she is about to turn 40, has 3 children, and is going through a bitter divorce. After the accident, she thinks she is 29, madly in love with her husband, and is about to have her first child. The book also follows the stories of Alice’s mom, sister, and grandmother, all of whom are in the process of letting go of grief. In addition to being hiLARious, the book also makes you reflect on who you have become and what you thought your life would be like.

I am now in the process of filing for divorce, at my husband’s request. I am glad that I waited until he was ready, because now he understands why our marriage can’t work. I have a better appreciation for the significance of rituals. Even though it’s just a formality, since we’ve been apart for almost 4 years, the legal aspect of it has reawakened my grief about losing him. Of all the people I’ve been with, he is by far the one who was the most stable, reliable, and trustworthy. It saddens me that this wasn’t enough to make things work.

I will be 45 in a few months, and I would have never predicted that this is what my life would look like. Although it is still sad and scary to be alone at times, I am thankful for this opportunity to get to know myself better. I am still experiencing compassion fatigue from my last relationship, and I really want my next one to be different.

I’m currently reading The Art of Empathy, by Karla McLaren. It’s the first book I am aware of that teaches hyperempaths like me how to keep from burning out. I’m hoping that this will help me be more intentional about my next relationship. I’m hoping that it’s possible to break the pattern of relationships that you’ve grown up with and that you’ve followed all your life and to start anew.

Since I have reached my goal of 100 posts, I thought I would also take stock of my blogging life, which is much more positive. This blog is the first time that I’ve shared my writing with others, and I am so proud of what I have written so far. Even prouder than I was when I finished my dissertation.

I’ve been trying to write on and off for about 10 years now but only took it seriously a few years ago. Until then, I never realized how demon-filled the writing process was. Every time I sat down to write, Perfectionism, the Inner Critic, and the Drill Sergeant were all there to meet me, reminding me of how much I suck. So to commit to blogging 3 times a week–and to share the most vulnerable parts of myself in every post–is a huge accomplishment.

However, now that I’ve learned more about publishing, I am forced to accept that the odds of writing a best seller are not great, and even if it does happen, it won’t be any time soon. I’m not going to give up, of course, because I never give up, but I’m trying to focus more on the process of writing rather than the end result.

I’m trying to approach blogging the way I approach tennis. I’ve made $60 in prize money, which was several years ago when I won the 35 and over singles division of a tournament. (I was also the #1 rated 35 and over singles player in Virginia that year!) But I spend hundreds of dollars a month on tennis, so as a money-making enterprise, it’s a failing business.

But that’s OK. I’m not doing it to make money. I play tennis because it’s fun, because it challenges me, and because I have made wonderful friends. Although my romantic relationships have been a disappointment, my friendships have far exceeded my expectations.

Blogging is also fun and challenging, and I enjoy getting to know my readers and other bloggers. And it’s way cheaper than playing tennis. So I’m going to set another goal, which is to write another 100 posts by my blog’s first birthday, which is September 24.

Hope to see you then!

Patience Isn’t Always a Virtue

I looked it up. While it is included in some lists, in Catholicism the 7 virtues are faith, hope, charity (the theological virtues), prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance (the cardinal virtues). Since I at least grew up Catholic, I’m going to use this list, because I’m not patient at all, and I don’t want to be unvirtuous.

My greatest strength is probably fortitude. I never give up in a match, even if I’m down 0-6, 0-5. I continue to play tennis, even though it makes me throw up. I will do everything I can to make a relationship work, even if it’s a lost cause.

Last week I had a client who started antidepressants and experienced a sudden onset of suicidal ideation, which sometimes happens in young adults. As she was describing what it felt like, I realized that I had experienced the same thing when I got back on meds, even though I was not a young adult. But I was on a higher dose than I was before. In retrospect, it turns out it was too high; I had a lot of side effects that I had attributed to the depression.

I didn’t think much of it at the time because I always have some suicidal ideation when I’m depressed, but it was definitely different. It was what psychologists call ego dystonic. As my client put it, my brain told me in the most illogical way that suicide was the next logical step to whatever I was thinking. If I didn’t have the energy to walk over to the fridge and get a milkshake, my brain would say Well why don’t you just jump off the balcony, then? It freaked me out. I would yell back. No! I don’t want to do that! I want to live!

So I fought the thoughts off until the meds kicked in. At the time I thought I was weak, but when I recognized myself in my client’s story, I realized how strong I am.

Patience, on the other hand, is a different story. Patience also requires strength, but in a quieter, more peaceful way. And as you know if you’ve been reading my blog, I am loud and obsessive. You can’t will yourself to be patient the way you can will yourself to save break points. In fact, although this blog is about practicing other quiet, peaceful things like self-acceptance, compassion, gratitude, and forgiveness, I have never included patience in that list until today. Probably because it seems impossible to achieve–even for a warrior like me.

As I mentioned in the post on obsessiveness, I can only focus when I meditate about 5% of the time. But it still works. I am definitely less anxious, better able to tolerate my emotions, and more compassionate. Maybe patience is the same way. Maybe if you at least have the intention of being patient, even if you suck at it, it will still work. That’s what they say in Buddhism–in a less judgmental way, of course.

Might as well give it a shot. Whether or not it’s a virtue, it’s still a good quality to have.

Memory

I love the movie “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” I love the idea that even if you take the memories away, the love between two people remains. And I like the message that we must experience pain in order to experience joy. But lately I’ve been wishing I could erase the painful memories from the past 10 years.

Let me first say that I am thankful for my memory, lest I be struck down with dementia for being ungrateful. It helps in my job because clients expect you to remember everything they’ve told you from the first session on. And when you see 30+ clients a week, that’s a lot of stuff to remember.

The most painful memories help me to have more compassion for other people’s suffering. When I was depressed, I could not conceive of any possible value that could come from my pain. But now that my brother is depressed, I am better able to help him because I know what he’s going through. You’re not afraid to sit with other people’s pain once you know firsthand how lonely it is.

My memory also helps me capture the intensity of my feelings when I write about my experiences, which hopefully makes my blog better. I am guessing that most writers have good memories and intense feelings. But sometimes it can be a tough combination. That’s probably why writers are so neurotic.

Lately there have been some memories that I wish I could forget. Or at least remember without feeling like it’s happening all over again. It’s almost like having PTSD, reliving these hurtful experiences every time they pop up.

Yesterday I remembered how my first husband told me while we were separating that I have a heart of gold. He said it was the happiest day of his life on our wedding day and the saddest day of his life when we signed the divorce papers. How can you feel that way about someone and still choose to leave them? What good does it do to have a heart of gold if it doesn’t help you make a relationship work? In a way I am thankful that he was loving through the entire process, but sometimes I wish I didn’t remember how I felt at all.

The letting go process in my second marriage has been just as painful. It hurts just as much now as it did 4 years ago. It still makes me cry. Every step we take away from each other renews my sadness. When will this grief subside? That whole one year estimation is a bunch of crap. I wish I could just forget the past 4 years–all the pain and all the stupid things I did to try to ease the pain that just made things worse.

The only memories I would miss from the past 4 years are the first trip when my mixed doubles team went to districts, getting Federer’s autograph at the Cincy tournament, and UVA’s basketball season this year. Which makes me seem like some superficial sports fanatic, but it’s true. In my defense, part of what made these experiences memorable is that I shared them with my friends and family. I’m sure there were other positive memories worth holding on to during that period of time, but I can’t think of any at the moment. Right now, all I remember is the pain.

The only good thing about this second divorce is that it helps me understand how you can love someone and still let them go, even when it breaks your heart. I’m not angry at my first husband any more for leaving. I understand why he did it. It doesn’t alleviate the pain of either loss to realize this, but I have a better appreciation for how complex love and marriage are. That’s something.

Today I’m not able to do the things I try to focus on in my blog–practice self-forgiveness, self-acceptance, and self-compassion. But maybe tomorrow I’ll feel differently.

Stop Doing Bad Things

At the risk of sounding completely inconsolable, I have to admit, I don’t find most of the self-help articles on social media helpful.

Take, for example, the article 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. I have no problem with the suggestions themselves, but I don’t like advice that begins with the word stop. In therapy, if after the first session I were to say “You’re problem is that you look exclusively to others for happiness. Stop doing that,” I’m not sure the person would come back.

Research supports the idea that stop statements are not helpful, because when you say something like “stop being idle,” you put the idea of being idle in the person’s head. If you’ve taken psychology classes, you’ve probably heard the example “don’t think about a pink elephant.” You probably weren’t thinking about one before, but you are now.

A lot of people do find advice like this helpful, and that’s great. Personally, it makes me feel more judged than inspired. I respond better to strategies that emphasize empathy and compassion, self-acceptance, and forgiveness. And I prefer suggestions that encourage me to be the best version of myself to admonitions for doing things wrong.

If I were to come up with a list like this, here’s how I would paraphrase their recommendations:

1., 13., 19., & 20. Spend time with people who bring out the best in you.

2. & 23. Have faith in yourself; it’s the best investment you’ll ever make.

3., 25., & 26. Commit to being honest with yourself and to others.

4., 21., & 27. Put your needs first. Period.

6. & 8. Practice forgiveness of yourself and others.

7., 23., & 29. Take risks, even if it means that you will fail.

9., 10., & 28. Happiness cannot be found out there in the future; it comes from within, in this moment.

11. & 12. You can move forward, even when you don’t feel ready.

14. Let people get to know you, even if it scares you.

5., 15., & 16. Make your standard of comparison the best version of yourself rather than someone else or some perfect ideal.

17. & 18. Negative experiences teach us lessons that we wouldn’t have chosen to learn on our own.

22. Think of mindfulness as exercise for your brain.

27. Practice gratitude regularly,  and thank the people who you are grateful for every chance you get.

It takes a lifetime to put these values into practice, so be patient, have faith, and be kind to yourself in the process.

I’m adding designer marbles to my doodle collection.

 

Midlife

I don’t like getting older. I even obsessed about it as a child.  When I was around 7, I remember asking my dad if you get to choose your age when you go to heaven, and he said yes. Every year I would choose my current age, because I was sure that the next year would be worse.

I had a plan for what I would do when I got old: I would use Oil of Olay to prevent wrinkles, Clairol to dye my hair, and Coast soap to bring me back to life–because that was their slogan, which I took literally. That shows you the power of advertising.

I didn’t consider myself middle-aged until I turned 43. I’m immature for my age in a lot of ways because I still live the life of a college student–a night owl with no children and no spouse whose work revolves around the academic calendar.

Although my mind is still somewhere in my 20’s, my body has proceeded at a normal developmental pace. Once I hit 43, I became far-sighted. My knees hurt all the time–not just after playing tennis 5-6 times in a row. I started dying my hair.

I don’t want other people to get older, either. Every year I tell my niece that she has to stay the same age. Whenever I leave my parents’ house, I feel anxious at the thought of seeing them sick or debilitated someday. I am terrified of losing them. I got a glimpse of what it would be like when my dad was depressed, and I did not handle it well.

I try to practice gratitude, self-compassion, and mindfulness to accept the aging process. I try to remember what I have to be thankful for in this moment, try to enjoy my blessings while I have them. I tell myself that lots of people have these fears–it doesn’t make me crazy. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad person.

It helps some. But I’m still afraid.

There are only two things that I look forward to about getting older. One is that I will continue to become a better therapist because I will have seen more clients, had more life experience, and will possess more wisdom.

The other thing is that my writing will improve for the same reasons. I have wanted to write a book since high school. In the 10th grade we had a writing assignment where we had to project what we would be doing in the future. I wrote a mock interview where I was 45, answering questions about my book.

So it’s no coincidence that I made my first effort to publish my writing through blogging at the age of 44. I realized that if I wanted to make something happen for myself, I had to start now.

So I guess that’s one good thing about being middle-aged: as you reflect on the first half of your life, you realize what you have to do to make the most out of the second half.

Moms

I watched the Secret Life of Walter Mitty on Christmas (Warning: Spoiler Alert!).  In addition to the theme of what it means to live a full life, I also liked the more subtle theme about how mom’s save the day.

For example, it is the mom’s cake that is used as currency for passage into forbidden territories. The mom’s piano is sold to cover Mitty’s worldly adventures.  The mom’s photograph of the piano leads Mitty to Sean O’Connell.  And ultimately, it is the mom’s rescue of the wallet that allows us to find out what the shot was on negative 25.

Yes, we want a life filled with risks and adventures.  But these risks and adventures are often made possible thanks to the home base that mom’s provide through their more mundane, everyday activities.

My mom is a superhero.  While I was home for Christmas, she hosted our Christmas Eve party. She cooked every day.  She went to work on Thursday and Friday–as a physician, no less–while the rest of us lounged around the house.  She carefully packed up our food in ice as my brothers and I left for home, one by one.  The only gift she asked for was that we all come home for Christmas.  This is the only gift she ever asks for, regardless of the occasion.

But there are disadvantages to having a superhero for a mom.  It’s impossible to live up to the example that she has set.  She often does know best, and I hate being wrong.  She is aware of her superhero status and takes every opportunity to remind me of it.  But I guess she has earned her bragging rights, and then some.

Often it is when children become parents themselves that they fully appreciate all that their moms have done for them.  I do not have children and do not plan on having any unless it is through divine intervention.  So the best I can do is to practice gratitude for all the big and small things that my mom has done to help me become the person I am today.

So this blog is dedicated to her, and to moms everywhere.