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Tag Archives: self-care

Learning to Put Myself First

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It seems that for some people the idea of compassion entails a complete disregard for or even a sacrifice of their own interests. This is not the case. In fact, you first of all have to have a wish to be happy yourself – if you don’t love yourself like that, how can you love others? – Dalai Lama

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Last Sunday a friend of mine was talking about how her priest was retiring because of compassion fatigue. That witnessing the suffering of his parishioners all those years had depleted him, and he had nothing left to give.

In the post What Compassion is Not, I talked about the misconceptions that lead some people to believe that compassion enables people to be lazy, unproductive members of society. But there are also misconceptions about compassion that can lead to burnout. Here are some of the ones I’ve written about in my blog.

1. Date your enemies. When Jesus said to love your enemies, I took this a bit too far. Yes, I do try to put myself in the other person’s shoes. To recognize that we are all capable of good and evil. But I also thought it meant that if I didn’t want to date someone because of race, SES, mental illness, red flags, etc., then I was judging them, and judgment is bad. So I should try to overcome my prejudice and go out with the person, anyway.

This has lead to disastrous consequences in my personal life. It would have been kinder to both of us if I had just acknowledged that we were not compatible from the start.

2. Love your neighbor more than yourself. I know that the quote is actually to love your neighbor as yourself, but somewhere along the line, I came to believe that my needs were less important than others. If I could help someone, I should, whether it hurts me or not.

Blogging has been the best reminder to put my needs first. Since I’m always preaching self-care, it would be hypocritical not to take care of myself. Plus, since I have made blogging a priority, before I take on a new task, I ask myself how many blog posts it will cost me. And even if it costs me one post, I won’t do it.

3. Practice compassion perfectly. Technically, evaluation should not be a part of compassion at all, but tell that to my Inner Critic.

In my last relationship, I hated the guy for a year after we broke up, and I felt terrible about this. Despite my best efforts, I could not make myself let go of my anger. But when you are practicing compassion, you must have compassion for yourself first. So I would tell myself that this is where I am at the moment. Not yet ready to let go of my anger toward this person who hurt me. And that’s OK. When I’m ready, it will happen.

And it did.

If you are interested in learning more about how to practice compassion, I recommend Jack Kornfield’s compassion meditation. It is one of my favorites.

Mantras

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It is in our faults and failings, not in our virtues, that we touch each other, and find sympathy. It is in our follies that we are one.

– Jerome K. Jerome

Last semester I had a client who was talking about how a close friend seemed to be taking an interest in her, but she wouldn’t let herself believe it. Even though she wanted to believe that someone could find her attractive and desirable. Part of that whole undeserving thing I talked about in a previous post.

Lately I’ve been trying to help clients come up with mantras to counteract their inner critics. In this case, her inner critic kept saying, “Why me?” Why would he like me? What do I have to offer?  To which I replied, “Why not you?”

So this became her mantra. And I liked it so much, it has become one of mine, as well. Along with other mantras that I have come up with to counter my inner critic.  Here are a few of them:

1. Why not me?  This mantra now replaces the oft-repeated “Who do you think you are?” To think that you can find the one decent guy who is not in a relationship. To think that you can find an agent. A publisher. Readers. To think that you can improve your rating in tennis.

Other people do it. It’s not beyond the realm of possibilities. Might as well tell myself this instead and see what happens.

2. Everything’s going to be OK.  This may sound overly Pollyanish to some, but for me it is a source of comfort. After all, this is what we say to babies and children to calm them down. And as you know, I am a new parent, just beginning to learn how to soothe my inner infant.

3. I’m doing the best that I can.  This is to counteract my inner critic’s relentless evaluation that I suck. I can’t function without sleep like “normal” people. I can’t make it through a semester without crashing and burning unless I vigilantly focus on taking care of myself. My blog isn’t widely read. I can’t cook. I throw up when I play tennis. I don’t make enough money.

But I really am trying. And I’m trying to be OK with effort rather than results.

4. The purpose of life isn’t to be productive.  I was sick for my entire vacation this week. Five days in my house doing nothing but watching bowl games and knitting. No steps. No meals with friends. No tennis. No New Year’s celebrations.

My drill sergeant has tried to bully me into being productive, admittedly with some success. But for the most part, I’ve been able to tell myself that my only task at the moment is to get better. To rest. To care for myself. Regardless of what other people do when they’re sick. My life is worthwhile, whether I get my laundry done or not.

5. I’m just like everyone else. No better, no worse. I’m still a recovering perfectionist, but recovery is progressing quite nicely. Through blogging I have found that the kindness I receive in sharing my perceived flaws means as much to me as the compliments I get from my perceived successes.

So what’s your mantra? If you don’t have any, feel free to borrow mine if they help!

Smile: It Gets You Free Stuff. And Followers.

Appearances can be deceiving, even when you’re trying to be honest.

Today was a terrible day. I don’t want to waste an entire post on the details, so I’ll just hit the highlights:

1.  I spent 2 and 1/2 hours hanging out with the cable guy. This was after having a different cable guy show up at 8 a.m. yesterday and after multiple conversations and chats with customer service reps whose only troubleshooting advice is to tell you to unplug your cable box and turn it back on again.

2.  The office where I get my allergy shots randomly closes fairly often. So often that, to avoid getting into trouble, they’ve asked me to call ahead to make sure they are there. Which is ridiculous, because their job is to be there when the clinic is open. So today I didn’t do it. And guess what? They were closed!

3. I had to spend a bazillion dollars on a mattress today. OK, maybe not that much, but you know how I am about spending money. I have been sleeping on the same cheap mattress for 17 years. I only gave in because my back and hips hurt. And since I’m doing this whole self-care thing, I figured I should invest in a good mattress. Plus I had to get the reclining thing because of my stupid GERD, which was also expensive.

OK, that was a little more ranty than I meant it to be, but I had to give you some context about what my mindset was when I walked into the mattress store. When Mr. Salesman asked me how I was doing, I told him about the cable guy, the doctor’s office, and how he was robbing me of my savings. He told me that I didn’t seem like I was in a bad mood because I was smiling. Which is true. I’m always smiling, no matter how upset I feel. I told him not to be fooled.

After our transaction was complete, Mr. Salesman asked me what I do for a living. I told him I was a psychologist, and he was surprised by this. He said that all of the psychologists and psychiatrists he knew were super uptight, and I was super laid back.

What the hell? I don’t think I could have possibly had a worse attitude when I came into the store. And I’m pretty sure I’m just as uptight, if not more so, than most mental health professionals, given my various mood and anxiety disorders. Can my pathological smiling response really make me seem laid back and happy when I am actually pissed off? I don’t get it.

But I guess it’s a good thing. Because I made him give me every possible free thing he could throw in. Plus I told him that he needed to start following my blog. I also told him tonight’s post would be dedicated to him. So here you go, Mr. Salesman!

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Full of Myself

Positivity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Self-Care, Part 2

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I had one of those days yesterday where it was hard to get out of bed. I was tired because I played 6 matches last week, and I stayed up until midnight writing a blog post the night before. I had a bunch of errands that I needed to do but nothing to look forward to as a reward for doing them. Eventually I did will myself to get up, and I took care of everything that I needed to do, but it took a lot of coaxing.

This was only a fraction of how bad it feels when I’m depressed. That’s why it’s so scary to think about going back there again. I know I’ve survived it and would probably survive it again, but it’s painful while it’s happening, trying to will yourself to get through every minute of every day.

Daylight savings time ends on October 25. I am nervous, because I can feel it already–the effects of the shorter days, the colder weather. Until a few hours ago, I hadn’t seen the sun in several days, which was contributing to my bad mood. In about a week we will be in the midst of the busiest time of the semester, which is always overwhelming, no matter how hard I try to manage my schedule.

I am trying especially hard this time to make self-care a priority. I’m trying not to let the drill sergeant yell at me unless absolutely necessary. I’m trying to say no to tennis when my body needs a rest. Trying to resist the urge to start writing a post at midnight. Trying to be realistic about what I can do and not compare myself to my colleagues, my family, or my friends.

I am making an effort to practice mindfulness, like I tell my clients to do. I’m making myself eat lunch away from my desk. I make sure I am registering every bite I take, rather than shoving the food into my mouth as quickly as possible. When I feel antsy and want to do several things at once, I take a deep breath, make myself stay in the present moment.

It’s really hard to make self-care a priority. Not only am I fighting my inner demons, but I’m also up against a culture that uses slogans like “I haven’t got time for the pain” and tells me to take drugs so that I can go to work when I’m sick. (I’ve always hated that commercial. I think it was for Dayquil.) And for all our preaching about self-care, mental health professionals aren’t much better at it in my experience, because we’re prone to putting other people’s needs before our own.

But I’m really committed to it this time. Consider this my public declaration to make myself accountable. If you see me publish a post at 1 a.m., remind me that I’m supposed to be in bed. If I’m being too hard on myself, feel free to call me on it. Remind me that I’m supposed to be kind to myself.

I’ll probably be annoyed with you, but that’s OK. You’ll never know, and it will be good for me.

Will Power

Like many of my middle-aged friends, I am trying to lose weight. I am not as obsessed about it as I was when I was younger and thinner because I am more accepting of my body now. But that also means I am less motivated. It’s even hard to will myself to do 10 minutes of stretching every day. 

In order to improve my motivation, I decided to look at some info on a workshop that I used to give on self-leadership. Good stuff. I ought to try it some time.

Here are some reasons why will power fails us:

1. We are more motivated to take action when things are going poorly than when things are going well. That’s why negative events stand out more than positive events: negative events require us to make some change. If things are going well, we can just maintain status quo. That’s also why anxious people like myself are often highly motivated–because almost everything feels like a crisis.

2. As we make progress towards our goal, we lose motivation because it takes more effort. This is related to the Pareto principle, or the 80-20 rule: 80% of our results comes from the first 20% of our effort. After that, it takes 80% of our effort to achieve the last 20% of the results.

For example, it is often easy for people to lose weight initially with minimal changes to their diet and exercise routine. But it takes a lot more effort to lose the last 10 pounds. So much so that people on diets are often perpetually stuck in the “I just need to lose 10 more pounds” stage.

3. The amount of will power we have is limited. Reseach by Roy Baumeister indicates that trying to exert self-control in one area of our lives leaves us less energy to exert self-control in other areas. So if you’re trying to change your eating habits, you will have less energy available to start exercising and vice versa. That’s why it’s better to focus on changing one thing at a time.

Despite these obstacles, it is possible to reach our goals. People do it all the time. So why not me? And why not you?

Here are some of the things that characterize people with willpower:

1. They try to understand why they’re not motivated. I was not motivated to lose weight for awhile because I just wouldn’t look at pictures of myself so that I could exist in a state of denial. That helped me avoid psychic pain, but now I think I need to be in a little discomfort. I don’t want to beat myself up over it, but I need to be honest with myself about how much weight I’ve gained.

2. They use their values to guide their behavior. Tennis is the greatest motivator for me. I want to play tennis for as long as I live, and doing so will require cross-training. So maybe I will try to remember this when I am feeling unmotivated.

3. They give themselves permission to fulfill their wants without feeling guilty. Because I work with students with eating disorders, I try to be careful about the message that I give about body image and I worry about how they will perceive my weight loss. But the reality is, my reasons for wanting to lose weight as a middle-aged woman are not the same as the reasons that students with eating disorders have. I can allow myself to honor my own needs. 

I know it’s still going to be hard, but perhaps writing this post will help me be more motivated. It certainly can’t hurt.

This tote has nothing to do with weight loss but it required a lot of will power because it was boring. It turned out nicely, though, so maybe I’ll knit another one.

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Positively Selfish

One of the hazards of working in the helping professions is burnout. People who are drawn to helping others run the risk of giving too much of themselves. In my case, however, I run the risk of burnout in my personal relationships more so than I do at work.

There are a lot of advantages to working in a counseling center. Even though you don’t make as much money, you have access to a lot of resources that you don’t have in private practice. I have colleagues, the student health center, deans, RA’s, and peer counselors who share the load. The most stressful periods of my job are predictable and time-limited: they occur around the middle of the semester and end around finals week. There are boundaries that are built into our schedule, as well. Appointments are 50 minutes long at the most. We don’t schedule clients past 5 pm or on the weekends. Students go home for breaks. We don’t see students after they graduate.

My personal life is a different story. Many of the people I love have emotional needs that they expect me to fulfill. Appointments are not time-limited. I am on call 24-7. I usually cannot terminate these relationships, nor do I want to. I have a hard time saying no to whatever they ask of me. And in many cases, I do not feel I am getting back as much as I am putting into the relationship because their emotional resources are more limited than my own. Which is not their fault. It’s just unfortunate for me.

That is part of the reason why I want a hiatus from loving and caring for anyone or anything new. No dating. No pets. Just me and my plants. I’m burned out; I want a more solitary job in my personal life.

I was telling my therapist the other day how this makes me feel selfish. She told me that I’m being honest with myself–more authentic. That we need another word that conveys positive selfishness. Which is kind of sad, really. What does it say about our culture that there would be no word for a healthy focus on oneself?

She nominated the word selful. Full of oneself, but in a good way. More like being whole. But it doesn’t roll off the tongue the way selfish and selfless do. Plus it looks weird. So I am open to suggestions.