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Psychological Energy Conservation, Part 2

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Despite the psychological energy conservation plan I came up with several months ago, I’m still struggling with the crash and burn problem.

I spent another weekend feeling exhausted and ended up canceling the plans I had been looking forward to. I no longer allow my inner critic to torment me by telling me that I’m just being lazy, because why would I be too lazy to go to a costume party and play tennis? Still, it’s frustrating to spend the entire weekend lying around the house watching TV.

To make matters worse, as soon as I have a little bit of energy, I try to do too much, because I feel like I’ve wasted so much time. And guess what happens? I burn out again, and the cycle repeats itself.

It helps that I have a blog where I have made public declarations about how I’m going to be more proactive about conserving my energy. And I have made some improvements. I am better at setting limits in my relationships. I try to go to bed earlier. I eat more mindfully. But there are other areas where I am still in denial. These include:

1. Hosting. I hosted a Halloween party that I obsessed about for weeks because I have a small place and I never cook and I had to do everything by myself since I’m single. Then my parents came up on Friday and we had another karaoke night, when ordinarily I would be spending the evening unwinding. For some reason, I didn’t think that trading rest for karaoke would affect my energy level.

2. Tennis. In my mind, tennis should not be tiring because it’s fun. In the summer I played 4-5 times a week, but now that I’m working, I only have the energy to play about 3 times a week, which my inner critic does not want to accept. But my body is like, too bad! That’s all I’m doing!

3. Football games. My brothers and I have season tickets, and this year they have been able to come to more games, so I really look forward to going. But it’s an all day affair that ends up affecting my entire weekend, because I don’t have much time to get anything done. Which means I’m really tired the following week. Again, this came as a surprise to me, even though it makes perfect sense.

4. Blogging. I know that blogging takes up energy, but once again, my inner critic is like, why should you be tired? You’re just sitting there typing and reading blogs. How hard can that be? You should be able to write 3 posts a week. But lately two posts a week is all I’ve been able to manage. Otherwise it starts to feel like a job rather than a hobby.

So I guess the lesson is that, while it’s important to have things to look forward to, fun things are tiring, too. Which is probably obvious to all of you, but it is somewhat of an epiphany for me. Guess I need to factor that into my energy conservation plan.

Inner Children and Rock Stars

Tomorrow is our annual Halloween party. Which has more recently been referred to as our annual Decade Karaoke Party since some people claim they do not like Halloween costume parties.

In a previous post, I jokingly referred to myself as a karaoke pusher, but some people have accused me of being too pushy in general. I’m not proud of it, but it’s true. When I want something, I’m relentless about getting it. It’s hard for me to take no for an answer. I will guilt trip people, wear them down, and resort to psychological tactics that are empirically proven to be effective in manipulating behavior.

I confess, my relentless pursuit of what I want has contributed to problems in my relationships. In fact, I am no longer in relationships with some of my accusers, and I’m sure that my pushiness contributed at least in part to the demise of those relationships. I am trying to be less pushy, but the truth is, I really believe that I am pushing people to do something that is good for them and that they want deep down.

In the 10 years that I have been hosting karaoke parties, everyone who has claimed to hate karaoke really did have an inner rock star. Sometimes it took more time and alcohol to coax that part out of them, but it was definitely in there.

I am even more certain that everyone has an inner child, because it is impossible to be an adult without passing through childhood at some point. And what child doesn’t like dressing up in costumes? None that I know of. And again, in my experience, when I have forced people to dress up for Halloween, they always enjoyed it in the end.

And in my defense, I may be pushy, but I am also patient. I don’t care if it takes them years before they fully participate in the festivities. I’m fine with them sitting there at the party pretending not to like karaoke and costumes for as long as they want. Because that is how confident I am that I will be right in the end. I mean, they keep coming to the parties, so they can’t hate it that much.

Although I have to admit, I have also been accused of always thinking I’m right. Which is also true, but I really am right most of the time, so I think those people are just sore losers.

Here are some pictures from past Halloween parties. Two of the people in the bottom picture claim that they don’t like karaoke, but you probably can’t pick them out, because they are all having a good time. More evidence that I am right about everything I just said.

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Saving Lives, Part 2

You know that song “It’s Not Easy,” by Five for Fighting? It’s one of my favorites–and not just because it’s a great Karaoke song. I don’t claim to be a superhero, but I can relate to how hard it is to be the one who is expected to help other people.

Today I saw a client who exemplifies why I became a therapist. His life is filled with traumatic stories involving drugs, alcohol, mental illness, and abandonment, yet he is amazingly well-adjusted–on the outside, at least. He’s never had a chance to tell his story. In fact, he’s been coming to the counseling center for almost 2 years, but there’s very little in his chart about his family history.

Not all my motives are altruistic, however. It’s gratifying to give someone what you wish you had received. It feels good to be important to someone. And in all honesty, when you work with clients like him, you are changed just as much in the process. I know it’s cliche to say that I get more out of it than they do, but it’s true.

Not coincidentally, he bears an eerie similarity to my first husband. It’s unfortunate that the compassion that helps me to be an effective therapist has not served me well in my romantic relationships.

I understand why. With my client, I can be there for him, but he doesn’t have to be there for me. Nor should he be. In a romantic relationship, it needs to be closer to 50/50. But when you are in a relationship with someone who has been traumatized, their needs always seem to trump yours.

Some people see the red flags right away and steer clear of these kinds of relationships. But to me, they look like those orange flags that the ground crew at airports wave to direct you to the gate. They are more like a signal to move in closer than a warning sign of imminent danger.

I haven’t yet figured out what to do with my empathy in red flag relationships. How do I ignore someone’s cries for help when every part of me tells me to go to them, comfort them, and help them feel better? Their pain is my pain, and I don’t want to be in pain.

One of the advantages of being alone is that there is finally room for me to register my own feelings. It turns out that I’m not as needy as I thought I was. But I wish I had someone who can do for me what I do for other people. Today, I wish I had someone to come home to so that I could tell him about my day. Blogging about it helps, but it’s not the same.

I am still hopeful that I can find a relationship where someone can be there for me.  But for now, I’ll try to limit my rescue efforts to my clients, my family, my friends, and myself.

Words

I’ve always been a good student. So last night I had to stay up until I finished my homework; I had to finish reading The Book Thief for book club today. I can see why it’s a best seller. It is beautifully written. It’s one of those books that makes me marvel at the power of words–spoken and unspoken.

In the book, Liesel has a love/hate relationship with words. Words were one of Hitler’s most powerful weapons, and she lost many people whom she loved because of them. But words also comforted her, connected her to other people, and ultimately told her story.

I rely a great deal on words in every aspect of my life–except tennis. But even there, you have to at least call out the score. Without words, I wouldn’t be able to sing Karaoke. I guess you can just make a bunch of nonsensical sounds, but that wouldn’t be as fun. The words don’t have to make sense–and I am often surprised to find out what the lyrics are at times–but you have to sing something.

I’m not really artistic. I can’t express myself through drawing or sculpting or dancing like my other family members. But I can write. And I like public speaking. So without words, I wouldn’t have a job. And I wouldn’t be able to blog.

When I write a blog post, I try to keep it as short as possible, so I have to leave a lot of words out. I am always relieved–and surprised–that people understand exactly what I was trying to say in the spaces between the sentences.

Sometimes I have an idea for a post but I’m not quite sure what I want to say. So I just write, because I know the idea is in there somewhere. I usually come up with something I didn’t expect to find. An ending that I hadn’t conceived of at the beginning. Artists often say they don’t create something from nothing; they’re just expressing an idea that’s already there. Sometimes that’s what blogging is like, too.

I spend most of my time listening to and choosing words carefully.  People think the hardest part of therapy is hearing people’s problems, but it’s not.  The hardest part is understanding what clients are trying to tell you and conveying that message back to them.  Again, the idea is in there somewhere, but they don’t quite know how to get it out.  In fact, therapists often say that the nonverbal communication is more important than the words themselves.

I guess that’s why what is left unspoken is meaningful, too. There were many times that Liesel wanted to say things but couldn’t bring herself to do it. I love you. I’m sorry. Don’t go. Sometimes we choose not to say hateful things. Sometimes we punish people with silence.

That’s the paradoxical thing about words. You need them, but you also need the space between them. And good writers like Markus Zusak know how to find the balance between the two.

I was trying to write a message about reading my blog in this doodle, but it ended up looking like someone typing on a computer. But that works, too.

Addiction

I’ve been thinking a lot about addictions lately.  Even before Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death.  I have never been the addictive type.  My history is so clean I would have made a great political candidate, if I didn’t dislike politics so much.  But Richard Rohr, my spiritual guru, says that everyone is addicted to something.  So I’m trying to be honest with myself about what that might be.

At times my hobbies have been like addictions.  When I first started knitting, I would crank out so much stuff that I made all my Christmas gifts in a month and still had scarves to give away.  Same thing with making jewelry.  I sold a lot of what I made, but all my profits went towards buying more beads.   And I can sing Karaoke for hours.  I hosted a small Karaoke party over the summer and we sang for 6 hours straight.

But knitters tend to be fanatical bunch.  Jewelry makers can be, too.  And for a Filipino, my Karaoke usage is average, at best.  Plus these hobbies tend to go in phases.  I’m in a knitting phase now.  I would describe my interest in these activities as obsessive rather than addictive.

The next addiction candidates would be tennis and sugar.  These two things are a consistent presence in my day-to-day life, and I cannot imagine living without either of them indefinitely.  Giving them up would require some kind of intensive inpatient treatment program, and even then the probability of relapse would be high.

But playing tennis and consuming desserts has not significantly impaired my functioning, and I’ve been able to cut back.  I am only playing 3-4 times a week to prevent injury.  And I don’t eat 3-4 desserts a day any more.  So I would classify myself as a heavy user but not an addict.

As I was thinking about this post, one of my FB friends messaged me and asked me to write something about codependence.  And that’s when it hit me:  I am addicted to unhealthy relationships.  Ostensibly because I want to help people, but needing to be needed is a form of addiction, too.   In the post on solitude I talked about how ashamed I feel for tolerating so much crappiness to avoid being alone.

Based on my experience as a therapist, I know that many people have the same problem.  Often clients come in for a relationship addiction.  Their friends and family are sick of listening to them.  They know they should break it off, but they can’t.  They live in secrecy because they’re still in contact with the other person.  If someone came up with a detox program for unhealthy relationships, they could probably make a fortune.

I guess in a way I have completed my own self-imposed detox program.  And for the first time in 30 years, I did not use another relationship to ease the pain.  I rank this accomplishment right up there with defending my dissertation.  Maybe even higher.  Because after my dissertation I got depressed because there was nothing left for me to accomplish.  But as far as relationships are concerned, it’s all up from here.

Interestingly, I started this blog right before the breakup.  It wasn’t conscious, but I guess at some level I decided that the energy I was investing in my relationship would be better spent writing.  And blogging helped me tremendously during the breakup process.  I don’t think I could have made it this far without it.

So until someone comes up with a detox program for unhealthy relationships, I would highly recommend intensive blogging as a treatment strategy.

Friendship, Part 2

Warriors in Training

When I was in grad school, I didn’t have many visitors because it was a long drive and there was not a lot to do in the middle of Ohio.  So I saw my family and friends infrequently, and every time I said good-bye I felt this overwhelming sadness–and not just because I wouldn’t see them for a long time.  I was also sad because when I was with them, I was completely myself, and I rarely felt free to be myself.

Part of the problem was that the feeling of being different followed me well into my adult years.  I wasn’t like the other grad students.  I watched reruns of The Flintstones and Gillian’s Island rather than keeping up with what Koresh was doing in Waco.   I wasn’t spending 70-80 hours a week on grad school stuff.  I didn’t listen to the right music, didn’t hang out at the cool coffee places.

I moved around a lot during that time, too.  While I was with my first husband, we moved almost every year because he was never happy where we were–which turned out to be more about him than our location.  Still, I didn’t mind the excuse to not get too close to anyone.

When I finally moved back to Virginia and became a part of the tennis community here, I was a little freaked out.  There was no way I could avoid being a part of the gossip, what with my failed marriages and all.  Plus, I only dated tennis players, so everyone knew who they were.  I had no place to hide; giving up tennis was not an option.  I had to let people know what I was really like.

Of all the gifts that tennis has given me, my tennis family is the best one of all.  These are the only other people who I can be myself around without obsessing afterwards about what I said or did.  They have seen me throw up on the court.  They’ve been there when I’ve gotten kicked out of restaurants for being too loud.  They don’t judge me for always being hungry and constantly having to pee.  They don’t expect me to make anything for potluck dinners because they know I can’t cook.  (But I do bring the Karaoke and board games.)  They even indulge my grandiosity by calling me the Queen.

Often the feedback I get about my blog is about how honest I am.  In an I wouldn’t do it, but good for you! kind of way.  I’m tired of hiding.  I spent the first half of my life trying to be like everyone else.  I want to spend the second half being myself.

Friendship

Last night we had our 2nd Annual Charlie Brown Christmas Party.  The party was named after last year’s tree, which looked like this:
 
 
This year the tree was more normal looking but my friends were more comedic, as you can see in this picture:

We even had prizes for Christmas attire:  Ugliest sweater, Most Festive, and Prettiest Sweater.  Guess which person won each prize from the picture below:

I am so thankful to have such good friends.

In my first marriage my husband and I were everything to each other–just like in love songs and romantic movies–but we didn’t have many friends.  Perhaps at some level we feared that if we told people what our relationship was really like, they would see how fragile our marriage was.

I believe that lessons are often learned from tragedy, pain, and hardship–particularly lessons you don’t want to learn.  What I learned from that relationship is that no single person can be everything you need.  And when you lose that person who has tried to be your everything, you are left with nothing. 

So I vowed never to allow myself to be that socially isolated again, and I have done a pretty good job of honoring that commitment.  In addition to playing and captaining all of those tennis teams, I also organize most of our social events and play the MC at the parties, making sure that our time is evenly spent between eating, singing karaoke, and playing board games. 

However, I am still more inclined to play the role of therapist with my friends than friend in need.  And I use all the same excuses that my clients use for not asking for help:  I am a burden, a broken record, a person whose feelings may be too much for other people to handle.  A person who is too needy, too demanding.

I’ve spent today the way I spend most Saturdays–tired and alone.  I did text a few friends.  And I talked to my brother.  And I’m writing this blog post.  So I’m trying to reach out.  But it will always be more natural for me to help than to be helped.

Perhaps whenever I have doubts about whether my friends want to be there for me, I can look at the deranged elf pictured above and remind myself that only someone who cared deeply about me would pose for a picture that can be posted for all the world to see.