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Telepathy

I went though a period where I was really into books about Near Death Experiences. It started when I went to this training on positive psychology, and the presenter said that the book My Descent Into Death, by Howard Storm, is the only written account of someone who went to hell before he went to heaven.

I already knew all the stuff about positive psychology since that’s one of my areas of expertise, but the story about this guy got my attention. I had to find out what someone could have done that would be bad enough to go to hell. It was surprisingly innocuous. But I’ll save that story for another post.

One of the things that struck me the most in the book was Storm’s assertion that we are capable of communicating with other people without words and across space and time. I’ve always felt this was true–especially with people whom you’ve known. You know that expression about someone tugging at your heartstrings? That’s how I imagine it happens. Some invisible wire connects your heart to theirs when you meet someone, and you can communicate with them through this wire.

I actually tested this out last week. I was thinking about this guy and I texted him later to find out if he could feel it, and he said he did. He named the time of day and everything. And he’s not someone who would ordinarily be thinking about me.

Sometimes I’ve tried to communicate with people after a break up. Usually there are things that I want to say that I no longer have the opportunity to say. Things that I could never say in person, or that I didn’t realize at the time.

For the longest time I was mad at my first husband for ruining our marriage. But every now and then I’ll remember something about the way I treated him, and I’ll tell him that I understand why he had to leave. That I’m not mad anymore. It makes me feel better to think that I can still tell him things, even if we never see each other again.

This is also the book that went into great detail about how angels play a role in our day-to-day life. So when there are important messages that need to be delivered, I pray that God will send an angel to someone. My high school teacher and her daughter recently lost their husband/father, so I’ve asked God to send extra angels their way to surround them with strength and love. He can even take some of mine if they need more. Sometimes that’s what I do for clients, too, when I don’t know how else to help them.

You know that confrontation problem I mentioned in my last post? So far, the closest I’ve come to telling him that he needs to get on meds is to ask an angel to whisper it into his ear while he’s sleeping. Because if the message comes from God, he might believe it. If it comes from me, not so much.

Maybe I can even do the same thing I did with my friend: ask him if he’s gotten any messages from God lately. If nothing else, it could be a good opening for the conversation.

Interventions

I’m not good at confronting people. Which is ironic, because one of the things I do in my job is coach students on how to confront their friends about having an eating disorder. And I think I give pretty good advice, too. But I guess I’m not as brave as these students are.

Because confronting their friend will most likely put a strain on their relationship. It’s rare that the person who is being confronted says, you’re right. I do have a problem and I want to get help. Thank you for saying something. Confronting them may just be one step in a long series of steps toward getting help. It may not get the person into the counseling center right away, but it may plant the seed of recovery in their mind.

I’ve had many clients with eating disorders acknowledge that even though they would have denied having a problem at the time, they still wanted someone to say something about their 30 pound weight loss. And I’ve heard many clients in recovery say that although they were mad at the people who tried to help them at the time, they played an important role in the process of accepting their disorder.

I know all of this, but I’m still afraid to do it. Maybe they’ll be angry and yell at me, and I hate being yelled at. Or maybe something else will happen that will feel terrible, but I can’t put into words what it is that I fear. So I have to think about what day I want to ruin. What day I want to be incapacitated. I haven’t found that day yet. But I need to, because I gave my word that I would say something.

I don’t even have to do it in person, since I live so far away. I just have to make a phone call. And in my defense, I have tried to call a few times, but the whole time I was praying that he wouldn’t answer. Luckily for me, he didn’t. He never answered and never called back, which is unusual. Perhaps he knows why I’m calling, and he doesn’t want to have this conversation, either. Which makes it that much harder to force it to happen.

I ordinarily pride myself on accepting challenges, mental toughness, and doing the right thing. But in this case, nothing has motivated me to move closer to having this conversation. Not prayer, or meditation, or talking my therapist. Not even guilt and shame.

So I thought I’d blog about it and see if that helps. I’ll let you know.

Suffering and Compassion

I have a confession to make. I did not go to church yesterday. I don’t really have an excuse, except that I can’t get out of bed unless I absolutely have to because of my sleep problems. And because I rarely go to church. In all honesty, I’m not a very good Catholic (but still a good person–most of the time). But I do try to go on Christmas, Palm Sunday, and Easter, at least. So for my penance, I thought I would write about what Holy Week means to me.

I really like the reading of the Passion. It’s the place where I can relate the most to Jesus because it is where he is the most human. One of my favorite parts is where Jesus is praying in the garden of Gethsemane. My interpretation of his prayer goes something like this: God, I will do this if I have to, but if there’s any way that I don’t have to, please let me know. To me, this shows that even the Son of God was afraid of the suffering that he was about to face, and I find great comfort in that.

I have said a version of this prayer many times. In the last few years I have started asking God what He wants me to do, which is always a little scary. What if it’s something that will be painful? But I figure if God asks you to do something, it’s best to say yes. So my prayer goes something like this: God, if there’s anything that I’m supposed to be doing, let me know, and I’ll do it. But please give me the courage to do it, too. 

The other part I like is where Jesus cries out on the cross, asking God why He has abandoned him. I find comfort in this, too. One of the things that has always been difficult for me to comprehend is how God can allow people to suffer needlessly. I talked about this in my post on God’s Will. But when I think about the Passion, I don’t know where I even got the idea that we are not supposed to suffer. If anything, the life of Christ shows us that no one is immune to suffering. Even if we’re really, really good, it’s still going to happen.

Lately I’ve been talking about empathy as though it were a curse because it’s overwhelming to have to feel other people’s pain all the time. But I know it’s a gift to be able to give someone the experience of knowing how they feel. For me, reading the Passion is a reminder that Jesus is with us in our suffering, because he has suffered, too. Which is literally what compassion is about.

A few years ago my niece was obsessed with Jesus. Even though it was Christmas, she wanted to know more about how Jesus died on the cross. The next year she drew this picture as a Christmas card. I guess for her, the Passion is also the most memorable part of the life of Jesus.

2014 Blog for Mental Health Project

“I pledge my commitment to the Blog for Mental Health 2014 Project. I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others. By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health. I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.”  
A Canvas of the Minds

Sometimes we make the most important decisions in our lives without consciously knowing why we made them at the time.I knew that I wanted to become a psychologist since I was in high school. At the time I wasn’t fully aware of being depressed in the clinical sense. Being anxious was so much a part of my personality that I didn’t think I had an anxiety disorder. And I definitely wasn’t aware of any mental illness in my family. I had no idea at the time that depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety would impact every aspect of my life–in both positive and negative ways.

It’s probably not surprising that I have been negatively affected by mental illness. But as I write this post, I realize that there have been positive things about it, too. I have learned the most important lessons in life through suffering and loss.

Even as a therapist, when I heard clients make comments about how they had a bad week, it didn’t fully register how horrible that week was for them. In part because clients don’t elaborate unless you ask them to. Unless they are certain that you really want to know. And because they are embarrassed about it. Ashamed, even. But after going through my worst depression 5 years ago, I have much more compassion when clients make these offhanded comments.

I admit, during that period there were times when suicide would cross my mind. But there were two things that kept me from seriously entertaining it. One is that my dad would be devastated, and I feared he would never recover if I went through with it.

The other reason is that if I took my own life, it would undermine everything I ever said to my clients about how pain passes. That one day when they look back they will realize how strong they were at the time. That they will learn lessons from their suffering that it takes some people a lifetime to learn. How can you believe anything your therapist said if she committed suicide? That would be the ultimate betrayal.

So I spent months willing myself to get better. I went back to therapy, started meds again, meditated and prayed, and forced myself to play tennis and spend time with friends. And I did get better. And everything I said about realizing my strength, becoming more compassionate, and acquiring wisdom were all true. I would have never chosen depression, but we usually don’t choose the experiences that teach us the most about life.

People often ask me how I can listen to client’s problems all day long. In all honesty, I can’t imagine what else I would do for a living. It feels more like psychology chose me. And when I hear a client’s story, I always have hope that together we can change the plot for the better. After all, I always root for the underdog. I am the eternal optimist. And I never back down from a challenge.

There was a time when I would never have told this story about my struggles with depression and anxiety to my students or clients. Or even friends and family. But now I want to share it with the world, because every act of courage benefits someone else. My blog is proof of that.

Anger

Have I mentioned that I have problems letting things go?

That’s why I obsess so much. And why I stick with knitting projects that make my life miserable. And why I try to make relationships work at all costs. And why I have a hard time forgiving myself.

It’s also why I can hold on to anger for so long. I know some people like anger because it’s more empowering than feeling hurt, but I hate it. It’s downright painful. If I could will myself to let go of anger–or any emotion, for that matter–I would. And even though I know better, I still get mad at myself for not being able to stop being angry.

Recently I had a friend tell me that when you get older you become more forgiving of yourself. That might be true for normal people, but I’m no so sure it’s true for me. Because I’ve heard women say the same thing about being in their 40’s, and I’m pretty sure I’m just as self-critical and guilt-ridden as I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

I am having a hard time letting go of my anger about my last relationship, even though I’m glad that it’s over. I have made a concerted effort to turn to my friends and share how I feel, but in all honesty, sometimes it just makes me angry at them.

Most people aren’t very good at saying helpful things. Which is why I wrote the post on good intentions. I’m trying not to take it personally. Not everyone can be a good listener. I would be out of a job if everyone were. But it’s still frustrating to try to talk to someone about how angry I am, only to feel worse afterwards.

I’ve tried other things, too. I’ve prayed. I’ve meditated. I even apologized for being angry. Which doesn’t make any sense, really, but I was desperate for some shift in the intensity of my anger.

Today I tried 3 new things. First, I gave myself permission to be angry for a day.  Which had the unintended effect of making my anger seem forced and difficult to sustain. Sort of like the whole reverse psychology thing–although psychologists don’t actually call it that.

I also looked at a journal entry from right before the breakup. It reminded me that there were a lot of things that I tried to be OK with because I thought my anger and sadness and anxiety were a product of my neediness. Or a result of being too demanding. Or were figments of my imagination.

Now I realize that I felt those things for a reason.  I’m mad at him for letting me believe that my feelings were my fault. And I’m mad at myself for not trusting my feelings.  But reading that journal entry reminded me that my feelings are always legitimate–even if they don’t make sense at the time. So I have renewed my commitment to honoring my feelings.

The last thing I did was to give myself permission to blog about my anger. I have thought about doing it for some time now but decided against it until today because I thought it would be too negative. Even though I write a lot about negative things, I try to end on a positive note. I didn’t think there could be a positive note to end on in a post about unrelenting anger.

But then I remembered that the point of my blog isn’t to be positive. The point of my blog is to be honest. And my anger is just as much a part of me as anything else.

And you know what? I actually do feel better…for the moment. So blogging about it helped after all.

I don’t really have any art work that reflects anger so I thought I would feature some self-promotional art work instead.

God’s Will

It feels incomplete to talk about blame and free will without also talking about God’s will.  This one is the scariest of the 3 to write about, but I’m committed to being honest, so I’m making myself do it.

When I was in high school, my best friend’s father died of a heart attack in his early 40’s.  During the funeral, his best friend broke down crying while giving the eulogy.  My friend’s mom calmly took his place, saying that she believed her husband’s death was God’s will so she was at peace with it.

That really bothered me.  I was glad that it gave her comfort, but I could not fathom how God could want someone to die.  If deaths are God’s will, how can it be a sin to commit suicide?  Or murder, for that matter.  Or acts of terrorism.  All of these deaths would just be a part of God’s plan; these people were simply fulfilling their roles.  In fact, sin wouldn’t even be possible.

There is someone in our tennis community who is reaching the end of her battle with cancer.  Although I did not know her well, I was struck by how positive and kind she was when I met her last year.  She was in the midst of chemo at the time, and she was my opponent on the court.  And she kicked my ass.  Which was both impressive and upsetting, given my competitive nature.

I have been praying for her and her family, but I struggle with what to ask God for if death is, in fact, part of God’s plan for her.  I know some people don’t believe in God for this reason.  Or if God exists, they don’t want to worship a God who would allow people to suffer.  I wouldn’t go that far.  It is clear from the life of Christ and the teachings of Buddha, and probably most religions, that no one is immune to suffering.

I accept that, but it’s still hard to tolerate.  I try to imagine what it would be like to be her or her loved ones, but I can’t.  My brain won’t let me go there.  It’s too painful.  Too much to bear.  I can’t envision surviving a loss like that, even though I know that somehow I would if I had to.

I do my usual prayer.  Because we’re allowed to ask, even if we don’t always get what we want.  God, if at all possible, please let her have a miraculous recovery.  And then I say a more realistic prayer.  Please minimize their suffering to the extent possible.  Please  surround them with love, to mitigate the pain. 

I am no theologian, but based on the story of Adam and Eve, one thing is for certain: God wants us to have free will.  We, too, have the power to say no.  We can choose not to follow God’s plan.  We can choose not to love God, or not to love at all.

In the midst of tragedies, the people involved always say that they are humbled by the outpouring of love and support from people they don’t even know.  That it does mitigate the pain.  So I will continue to pray for this member of the tennis community and her family.  If love can ease their pain, then I will choose love.

46 Lessons Learned from Blogging

Since the original intent of my blog was to help other people, I thought I’d provide a cheat sheet of the lesson in each post (except for the random ones).  That way, you don’t have to go back and read the whole blog if you don’t want to.  But hopefully you will!

1.  Night Owl Syndrome:  Prejudice against night owls is a form of discrimination that has been perpetuated in part by Ben Franklin.

2.  Massages:  Massages are not as relaxing when you obsess the entire time about how much they cost.

3.  Knitting and Relationships:  Challenge yourself every now and then, but you don’t have to knit a dress.

4.  Positive and Negative Feedback:  It’s easier to believe erroneous negative feedback than it is to accept legitimate positive feedback.

5.  Karaoke Pusher:  Singing in front of other people is a good way to let go of fear.

6.  You Know You’re Filipino If…:  Things that embarrassed you as a kid will make great anecdotes when you get older.

7.  The Courage to be Vulnerable:  Sharing your vulnerabilities with others makes people feel closer to you.

8.  The Unathletic Athlete:  Even if you were picked last in gym class, you can still grow up to be an athlete.

9.  Tennis Courtships:  Someone needs to come up with a website that can help tennis players find a doubles partner.

10.  The Uses of Prayer:  Sometimes God answers your prayers by giving you opportunities rather than results.

11.  Boundaries:  Being Asian makes setting boundaries even more difficult than it already is.

12.  Massages, Part 2:  Don’t drink coffee before a massage–even decaf.

13.  Boundaries, Part 2:  Blogging is a good way to let people know that you don’t want to be told that you’re fat.

14.  Children:  Play with your inner child every now and then.

15.  Can Love Conquer All?  No, but it’s still worth the risk.

16.  Body Image:  Small gains are better than nothing.

17.  Hard Core Fan:  It takes dedication to root for a losing team.

18.  Warriorism:  When things get tough, channel your inner warrior.

19.  Self-Portrait:  You can learn a lot about yourself from doodles.

20.  Solitude:  Sometimes when you think you’re alone, you’re really not.

21.  Self-Acceptance:  We all have different parts of ourselves, many of whom don’t get along.

22.  Meet the Drill Sergeant:  Save your inner drill sergeant for emergencies.

23.  The Inner Critic:  Defy your inner critic every change you get.

24.  Thanksgiving:  Miracles really do happen.

25.  Perfectionism:  Blogging about mistakes can help you accept them.

26.  Stress Management:  Sometimes stress management can be stressful.

27. Self-Care:  Blogging is a good way to put yourself first.

28. Grief:  The best thing we can do for someone who is grieving is to be willing to listen to them talk about their pain.

29.  Yes and No:  Learn to say yes to what you want and no to what you don’t want.

30.  Blogging is My New Boyfriend:  You can’t fail if you never stop trying.

31.  Friendship:  Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it.

32.  Empathy:  If you’re high in empathy, choose your friends and partners wisely.

33.  Breakups:  If you’re relationship is ending, try to leave with love rather than hate.

34.  In Times of War:  Make choices you can live with, regardless of the outcome.

35.  Angels:  If you ask people to send you angels when you’re struggling, they will–and it works.

36.  Forgiveness:  For people with a harsh inner critic like me, self-forgiveness is the hardest part.

37.  Gratitude:  Practicing gratitude may not turn your depression into happiness, but do it, anyway.

38.  Love:  Our love may never be perfect, but I think God is OK with that.

39.  Forgetting:  Forgiveness is a process.

40.  Moms:  Moms are often unsung heroes, so thank them every chance you get.

41.  New Year’s Resolutions:  Restating your resolutions every year is not a sign of failure; it demonstrates that you are choosing to live intentionally.

42.  In My Head:  I thought I was weird for thinking so much, but it turns out that it means I’m a writer!

43.  Bipolar and Brilliant:  You can be brilliant and mentally ill, but you can also be dumb and refuse to take your medication.

44.  Night Owl Syndrome, Part 2:  It takes practice to let go of unnecessary guilt.

45.  Competitive Latch-Hooking:  Sometimes the sibling that was your mortal enemy in childhood becomes your most loyal blog follower as an adult.

46.  Honesty and Trust:  Surround yourself with honest people; it takes less energy than being paranoid.

 

Angels

I’ve been thinking about writing a post on angels, but since I’ve been feeling down it didn’t really fit my state of mind. But then “It’s a Wonderful Life” happened to be on last night, so I took that as a sign that I should go ahead and write the post.

For a long time I wasn’t sure what to believe about God. I was raised Catholic, but a lot of the beliefs of the Catholic church were not consist with my idea of God. Although Pope Francis is changing this, to some degree.

I read lots of different books to try to find God. As I mentioned in a previous post, the books on Near Death Experiences (NDE) were the ones that were the most helpful. For one thing, they are poorly written. The authors have clearly never aspired to be writers, and often they didn’t want to write the book at all. So writing a book about their near death experience didn’t seem like a ploy to get published.

The most convincing of these books was “My Descent into Death,” by Howard Storm, because he went to hell before he went to heaven. Who would admit to that? Plus, throughout the book he continued to argue and complain to God and never seemed particularly pious, which made his account seem even more genuine.

Storm dedicates an entire chapter to angels at the end of his book. I have always liked the idea of angels but did not realize they were so numerous and so involved in our lives. I thought we might have a guardian angel and that there were a bunch in heaven, singing and rejoicing when we arrived, but that’s about it.

Storm says that angels always want to intervene and help us but aren’t allowed to do so unless God gives them permission. And when people with NDE’s come back to earth and are depressed about it, usually because they have sustained horrible injuries from their accident that take years to recover from, angels appear to them to give them encouragement.

Even research shows that praying for other people helps. My theory is that when we pray for someone else, God allows angels to intervene. So now most of my prayers include angels. If I’m having a really hard time, I ask God to temporarily send me a few extra angels to get me through. Or if someone I know is suffering, I tell God to send that person one of my angels so they can have extra.

And of course, when UVA is losing, I occasionally resort to prayer and ask God to send an angel to help them win.

The winter is always a hard time for me, because most forms of depression are affected by lack of sunlight. Plus I am still getting used to being alone and having to be proactive if I want to see anyone, and I don’t have much energy to do so. And this holiday I don’t have a lot planned to look forward to. Ordinarily, even if I’m feeling depressed, I can still get into Christmas. But not this year. I haven’t even bought my gifts yet, and usually I am compulsively early about everything.

But there’s still time, and I’m hopeful that at some point something will kick in and I will be able to embrace the holidays with the enthusiasm that I apply to all of the things I love. At least that’s what I pray for.

And if you believe in angels, feel free to ask God to send a couple of extras my way.

Photo courtesy of Jennifer Harvey Frye

The Uses of Prayer

LOVE UVA (2)

I often wonder whether God responds to prayers about sports.

I remember watching this football game where Boston College and Notre Dame were playing, and it was really close and dramatic. I can’t remember what year. Some time in the ’90’s. I’m sure there are sports fans out there who remember this game in more detail than I do. Anyway, they showed the players of both teams on the sidelines, kneeling and holding hands in prayer. I can’t remember who won, but clearly God could not answer the prayers of both teams.

Most of the time I try to pray for “noble” things when it comes to sports. For example, before my tennis team plays, I’ll pray that everyone stays injury-free, that we play to the best of our abilities, and that we are kind to ourselves, our partners, and our opponents.

And when I’m desperate, I pray that we win. But since I’m ambivalent about whether this is a good use of prayer, it usually goes something like this:

I know you’re busy with more important things and you probably don’t intervene in things like sporting events, but if it’s OK to pray for, please let my team win. I read that angels can intervene if you let them, so maybe you could just send one angel our way. If you say no, I totally understand.

It’s sort of a neurotic prayer, I know, but I’m a neurotic person, so what did you expect?

Today I really wanted UVA to win. My prayer was sort of like a conversation with God during our last drive:

God, you must have intervened when Maryland completed that pass on 3rd and 23, so if there’s any way you can keep this drive alive for us, please do so. Please let us get this one win.  We really need it. In fact, if we win, I’ll make my blog about prayer today.

And I have to say, there were some pretty miraculous things that happened to give us a chance to win: calls that went our way, unexpected turnovers on Maryland’s part, penalties that helped us complete first downs. Everything seemed to be poised for an upset. In the end our 2nd string kicker had a chance to win the game with a field goal, but he didn’t make it, so we lost by 1 point.

It was a heartbreaking loss, but I do believe my prayer was answered. I think the most we can ask for is to be given the chance to make something happen for ourselves, and we had that. The rest is up to us.

So I decided to write a blog on prayer, anyway.

P.S.  My friend who is a hard core ND fan knew what game I was talking about:
Nov. 20, 1993:  ND (#1) vs. BC (#17) in the last regulation game of the season; BC won 41-39.

P.P.S. They just showed Texas A&M players kneeling and holding hands while Johnny Manziel leads them in prayer. Their kicker makes a field goal with 4 seconds left, beating Ole Miss 41-38.