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Excuses

I pride myself on being a warrior on the court. However, I’m beginning to realize that having a warrior mentality isn’t always a good thing.

I was feeling tired and run down all last week, which confused me. I hadn’t even played that much tennis. My schedule wasn’t too busy yet. What excuse did I have to be tired?

Yesterday I had no choice but to acknowledge that I’ve been tired because I’m sick. I needed to rest. But despite what I said in my last post about listening to my body when it said no, I decided that I should go to tennis practice, anyway, because I needed the steps.

And guess what? I played terribly. But my inner drill sergeant was relentless. Sickness is not an excuse to play badly. Did Jordan complain when he had the flu during the NBA Playoffs? Didn’t he continue to hit amazing shots? Now quit your whining and play better!

But I couldn’t will myself to play better. And I felt even worse when I got home. Then I started panicking because I was afraid that I wasn’t going to feel well enough to go to work.

My drill sergeant kept telling me that I’m not really sick. That’s just an excuse to get out of going to work. Would your colleges be lame and stay home if they were feeling the way you feel right now? Or your parents? Or your overachieving brother? They would not. So suck it up!

This is the problem with that warrior mentality of “no excuses.” Sometimes you push yourself so hard that you just make things worse.

If I had taken my sickness seriously, perhaps I would have gotten a sub for practice, since it was just practice and not the NBA finals.

And if I were being kind to myself, I wouldn’t let my drill sergeant get away with calling me a manipulative liar who is just trying to get out of work by claiming to be sick. Because that’s really not what I’m like at all. Not at all.

I’m not saying there isn’t a place for drill sergeants. Like I said, I am all about being a warrior on the court. But if you treat every practice like the World Championship is on the line, then you’re just going to end up falling asleep on the couch until 3:30 am, having panic attacks, and obsessing about whether you are going to be able to make it to work the next day.

This is a picture of my mixed doubles team, represented by what are supposed to be jungle animals to signify our inner warriors. I am the zebra. Don’t I look intimidating?

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Choices

When it comes to money, my mom and dad are on the opposite ends of the spectrum. My dad loves to buy things and does so often and freely with no regard for cost. My mom, on the other hand, doesn’t buy something unless it’s “half of half of half” off. Depending on the day, I can be on either end of the spectrum, but most of the time I am more like my mom. As a result, my relationship with money is plagued with anxiety and guilt.

For example, when my ex and I were at the airport on the way to our honeymoon, I bought a neck pillow because we had a long flight ahead of us. It had one of those tags that they have on mattresses that you aren’t supposed to remove under penalty of law, but it was annoying me, so I ripped it off, anyway.

Apparently this law exists for a reason, because after I ripped it off, all of those little white things started coming out of the gigantic hole I had created and were spilling all over the place. I had to throw the darn thing away. I was distraught about destroying my pillow less than 5 minutes after purchasing it and wasting $15. It was only fitting that I should have to spend the next 10 hours on the plane with an unsupported neck.

While I was berating myself for my obsessiveness, my ex bought another neck pillow and snuck behind me and put it around my neck. Unlike me, he did not obsess over buying stuff. This became a source of many arguments later, but at the time it was a sweet and loving gesture. He was not great with words, but this one action said everything I needed to know: it’s OK by me that you’re obsessive, and you still deserve a neck pillow.

When memories like these pop up, it activates the same cycle of thoughts. Am I doing the right thing? Is there anything more I could do to make things work? I go through the scenario of what it would be like if we got back together, and I always come to the same conclusion: things would be exactly as they were before.

I wish choices could be more clear-cut, like on a test. But life isn’t like school: answers are rarely 100% right or wrong. I have to remind myself that with any decision, there are things that I will lose. I can’t make the perfect choice. I cannot escape the sadness of having to give up the good parts of our relationship.

Memories like this one make me want to cry. But at the same time, I am also thankful. Even if things didn’t work out, he was a good guy. He was a good choice for many reasons. And even as we finalize our divorce, he continues to be kind and helpful. Not many people can say that at the end of a relationship.

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.

Good Fortune

Money can’t buy happiness. Beauty is only skin deep. Age is just a number. It may be an illusion that wealth, beauty, and youth bring happiness, but I have to admit, sometimes it’s still a convincing one.

Earlier this summer, when I was stranded in South Carolina waiting for my car to be fixed, I had the good fortune of staying with a friend from graduate school and her family. At the time, I had been on this kick about destiny, so her daughter recommended that I read Holes, by Louis Sachar. It’s about a boy who is sentenced to work at a camp for delinquent boys for a crime he didn’t commit. Although it didn’t seem like it at the time, he was exactly where he was supposed to be. I was working hard to stay positive about my situation, so I wondered if my reading “Holes” was meant to be, as well.

I asked my young friend what else I should read, and she recommended Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin. It’s about a Chinese girl named Minli who goes on a long journey to try to change her family’s fortune. In the end, she learns that family is the greatest fortune of all.

Every year my college friend and I have an Inner Child Reunion. During our first reunion a few years ago, I introduced her to Sophie and she realized that she had a part of herself that was not allowed to play. So we make it a priority to get together for a few days over the summer for an extended play date. This year we could not find a mutual time to meet, so she decided to bring her son and meet me at my brother’s house because I had to babysit my niece. So it was a double reunion since she, my brother, and I all went to UVA.

As usual, my friend and I lamented over the very adult burdens of money, weight gain, and aging, but without the same level of obsessiveness as before. Perhaps it was because spending several days with 4 adults and 2 actual children, in addition to our inner children, left us with less energy for lamentations. Or perhaps it was because being together helped us to be more grateful for what we have.

I’m not gonna lie. We did not become enlightened beings over the past few days. We would still like to make a little more money, lose a little weight, and slow down the aging process. But we were also reminded that we are blessed to have family and friends who enjoy singing and recording “Let It Go” for hours on end, several days in a row. How many other people can say that? (I would post one of the videos but it’s kind of embarrassing.)

Perhaps it is no coincidence that I finished “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” last night, at the conclusion of our Inner Child/College Reunion. Grace Lin was right: gratitude brings good fortune.

The Battle Against Depression

I really wish that so much of my existence did not revolve around obsessing about sleep. I’m tired of writing about it, and I’m sure you’re sick of reading about it. But this is the reality of my existence at the moment, and I am committed to being honest about my current state of mind.
 
Today was another day that was filled with sleep. It makes me feel like such a failure. My colleagues don’t struggle to make it to work because they can’t get out of bed. The physicians in my family never even take a sick day. Some depressed people manage to take care of their families. I can barely take care of myself. What is my excuse for my weakness?
 
Then I thought of physical conditions that leave people debilitated. Migraine headaches. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Lyme disease. Do the people who suffer from these conditions feel paralyzed with guilt and shame when they can’t get out of bed? Or do they accept their fatigue as being part of their illness rather than a personal failing?
 
I think about the recommendations I give to clients who are depressed. Exercise. Get sunlight. Be social. Regulate your sleep cycle. If someone had the flu, you would tell them to rest. Listen to your body. But with depression, we tell people to ignore what their bodies and minds are telling them and to do the opposite. Fight it! Don’t give in!
 
Don’t get me wrong. I do all of these things when I can, and they work. After sleeping most of the day, I forced myself to do laundry, get some lunch, wave at my neighbors, put together my tennis schedule for the new league, and play tennis for 3 hours to make up for my lack of steps from yesterday. And I’m writing this blog post now.
 
Because if I gave in to the desire to do nothing, I wouldn’t really be trying to get better. I wouldn’t be taking responsibility for my illness. But I don’t think it’s fair to hold it against someone if their depression is so severe that it’s too much effort to go outside and get sunlight. Because sometimes I’m that person, too.
 
When I have a client who cannot will themselves to follow these recommendations, I don’t judge them for it. But I tell them to keep trying to do them. And no mental health professional that I know would tell a client that if they felt like they need to sleep they should listen to their bodies and rest.
 
There is an article circulating on the internet about how for some depressed people, positive reframing doesn’t work. Telling the person to be positive actually makes them feel worse. That it’s better to support them by expressing empathy for their feelings.
 
Perhaps someday, researchers are going to find that listening to your body when you are depressed is sometimes more effective than fighting it with wakeful activities like forced exercise and socialization–two things that can be difficult to do even when you’re not depressed.
 
I’m going to do my own case study to see if this works.
 

Motivation

In the Wimbledon final today, the commentators were discussing how Federer loves winning more than he hates losing, which is why he can shake off losses and stay motivated. However, in Andre Agassi’s autobiography Open, Agassi repeatedly states that he hated tennis, but he hated losing more, and that mindset worked pretty well for him.

It got me thinking: is it better to be motivated by love or hate?

There have been times in my life when I’ve been more motivated by hate than love. Even though I did well in school, I didn’t love it. I just hated failing, and anything less than a B was failing. So I mostly got A’s, but I can’t say that it brought me much joy to get them.

I used to be obsessed with my weight when I was in my 20’s and 30’s, so I was much more disciplined back then about exercising and watching what I ate. I weigh more now, which doesn’t thrill me, but I can’t say that I was happier when I was thinner. Every now and then I will get into that obsessive mindset again, but then I decide that I’m just going to stop looking in the mirror so much. Because even if it’s an effective weight loss strategy, it’s just too painful to hate my body.

I know I said in a previous post how it’s more important for me to play with friends than it is to win, but I have to admit, losing is starting to get to me. I haven’t had a single win in either of my mixed doubles teams this year. Still, losing hasn’t diminished my love for the game or my motivation to get better. I can’t say whether I love winning or hate losing more. I think it’s more accurate to say that I love competing and I love the fight, and that is all the motivation that I need.

Plus, win or lose, at the end of the day, you still get to have dinner with friends afterwards. And for me, food is the greatest motivator of all.

Here is a picture of my only winning team this season. Which I am not captaining, of course.

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Joy and Pain

I finally saw The Fault in Our Stars the other day. I thought that the movie was true to the book but wasn’t long enough to include all the scenes that I loved. But I guess no one else would be interested in a 10 hour movie.

One of the things they left out was the discussion of whether we need to experience pain in order to know joy. In the book Hazel repeatedly says she doesn’t believe this: “the existence of broccoli in no way affects the taste of chocolate.” I thought that this was such a compelling argument that for awhile I forgot all of the research I’ve read that supports the joy-pain connection.

Hazel worries about how her death will hurt the people who love her. She is afraid that her parents won’t have a life after she dies. She pushes Augustus away because she doesn’t want to be a grenade. But Augustus cannot be dissuaded: “you don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do have some say in who hurts you.”

This whole joy and pain thing is actually why I have so much trouble with endings. I look forward to having the summer off but by the 2nd day of summer I start obsessing about how my vacation is running out. I suffer from existential anxiety about death and aging. Even coming to the end of books like this one is difficult because I don’t want to have to say good-bye to characters like Hazel and Augustus.

When I read the book I didn’t fully appreciate Hazel’s obsession with knowing what happens to the characters at the end of “An Imperial Affliction,” which ends in mid-sentence because the narrator dies of cancer. But after watching the movie, I understand. Hazel wants reassurance that life will go on for her parents after she dies.

I’ve always thought that life was kind of cruel in this way. My heart may be broken but the world doesn’t seem to care. Life goes on, despite my pain. It’s kind of insulting, really.

But now I think it’s a good thing. Life isn’t like a book or a movie that begins with joy but ends with pain–and wisdom. Life is more like a series of stories, where we have more joy–and pain–ahead of us. More people to love. More summers to look forward to.  More books to read. So I’m looking forward to the next installment.

I think this doodle looks like lightning bugs.

Mental Hygiene

Negativity is like a virus. Even if you are vigilant about taking your meds, challenging irrational thoughts, praying, meditating, and practicing self-acceptance, forgiveness, and compassion, it just takes one negative comment–one careless psychological sneeze–and you’re contaminated.

I’ve had 3 people sneeze on me today. In an effort to avoid contaminating you with too much negativity, I’ll just tell you about the most egregious of the 3 incidents.

I had my follow up appointment with my psychiatrist today. Thank goodness I only have to go twice a year. It’s a 3 and 1/2 hour drive round trip for a 30 minute appointment, and there’s very little about that 30 minutes that is therapeutic. While my psychiatrist knows his drugs, he’s not a particularly good therapist, to put it mildly. Which is OK, I guess, because I have a therapist. But I have to talk about something.

Because I have chronic sleep issues due to my night-owlness, I confessed that I’ve been struggling with regulating my sleep cycle now that I’m not working. Every time I tell him what time I go to sleep and wake up, he makes this judgmental face that looks like he just sucked on a lemon. Then he proceeds to tell me what the research says about the importance of waking up at the same time every day, especially when you have a history of depression. How I need to get morning sunlight, I shouldn’t take naps, I need to be more disciplined, blah blah blah.

I am not good at constructive criticism, but I did manage to say that I’m trying. That I spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing about sleep. So much so that it probably interferes with my sleep. He can read my blog if he wants proof.

But I wish I could say something more honest. Something like, you make me feel like crap when you make that stupid face and give me a lecture on sleep hygiene that I already know by heart because I am a clinical psychologist, in case you’ve forgotten. Every time I see you, you just give my inner critic ammunition to tell me how I’m failing at sleep hygiene and that I suck. You are supposed to be helping me with my mental health–not making it worse. Oh, and by the way, your waiting room smells like mold and you need to clean your freaking office and water your damn plants. It doesn’t reflect well on you that your plants are dying! 

But I don’t want to come across as being too negative.

Does anyone ever give their doctor honest feedback when they do something unhelpful? I try to imagine what my reaction would be if a client brought to my attention that my facial expression conveyed blatant disapproval of what a terrible job they’re doing of trying to get better. It would be a shock, no question. But I don’t want to convey disapproval and judgment, so I think I would want to know. I think I would try to be more aware of my facial expressions. But as I mentioned in a previous post, we are terrible predictors of how we will act in the future. So maybe I would just be pissed off.

Maybe I can think of this as an opportunity to practice constructive criticism. Maybe I’ll talk to my therapist about it and see if she thinks it’s worth it to say something. Not what I wrote above, of course. But something.

Or maybe I could just tell him that my latest blog post is dedicated to him so he should read it. That would be hilarious!

I’ll let you know what I do. In the meantime, I encourage all of you to do your part in preventing the spread of negativity. Please remember to cover your mouth before your criticize. (And not in that passive-aggressive way where you cover your mouth while you fake cough and mumble something critical under your breath, either. You know what I’m taking about.)

I think this doodle looks like germs.

Psychological Energy Conservation

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

Beginnings and Endings

I don’t do well with endings. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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