RSS Feed

Tag Archives: self-care

Listen Carefully

Last night I gave a presentation to some students about how to provide support to those who have been affected by the accident last November.  My advice is simple yet difficult to do:  listen carefully.

Most of the time we’re too focused on ourselves to listen to what others are saying.  We’re thinking about what we want to say, what we don’t want to say, whether the other person is listening to what we’re saying, what we’re going to do once this conversation ends.  You get the idea.

As I got better at listening, I noticed that people put out feelers about important aspects of themselves, just to test the waters–to see if anyone notices.

Once I was watching my ex play in a basketball tournament, and I had to sit with a bunch of wives I didn’t know who were also watching their spouses play.  I was having the usual conversation when I meet someone new.  What do you do for a living?  I’m a psychologist.  Oh, I bet you’re psychoanalyzing me right now!  Yup.  I’ve got you all figured out.

This was not the response she expected.  But she still asked more questions.  Do you specialize in anything?  Eating disorders, multicultural identity, positive psychology.  Interesting!  I had an eating disorder once.

Of course this got my attention.  It was my turn to ask questions.  At first I worried that she would be offended by my prying into her mental health history, but it was the exact opposite.   She had never told her story to anyone.  Back then no one talked about eating disorders.  Bulimia wasn’t even a diagnosis.  She wanted someone to hear what she went through.

This is always the response I get when I follow up on those feelers that people throw out there.

There’s nothing magical about being a good listener.  Anyone can do it.  The best way to get better at it is to pay closer attention to yourself.  We spend so much time trying to will ourselves to think, feel, and do what we think we should think, feel, and do that we don’t really know ourselves.  This is often what I do therapy:  teach people how to observe themselves without judgment.

It’s not easy to do.  It takes practice.  This blog is one of the ways that I practice listening to myself, and you can see how hard it is for me to do so in a nonjudgmental way.  But I am trying to treat myself the way I would treat anyone who I care about deeply, and I suggest that you do the same.

Because hopefully you are someone who you care about deeply.

In Need

I don’t like the word needy. I much prefer the word crazy to needy. Crazy can have many meanings, and not all of them are negative. Sometimes crazy can be a compliment. At least that’s how I interpret it when I’m feeling good about myself. Neediness, on the other hand, is never a compliment.

I admit I am sensitive to the word because I have been accused of being too needy, too demanding.  MI have tried to correct for this, but I don’t know how to distinguish my unreasonable demands from my needs.

I’ve tried to deal with it by giving my partner the benefit of the doubt. If he couldn’t give me what I needed, then perhaps it was a demand that I mistook for a need. How important is meaningful conversation anyway, really? How much contact is actually necessary for the survival of the relationship?

This approach hasn’t gotten me very far. I seem to have overshot my mark.  MMy therapist tells me that I cannot disavow my needs in order to make my relationships work. Sounds good to me. But how do you separate the needs that are necessary for survival from the ones that make people accuse you of being needy?

Let’s say that you came across a boy who you met in the woods while hiking one day, like the wild boy of Aveyron.  MYou feel bad for him so you invite him over for dinner. But he’s really hungry, so he eats all the food in your house and still wants more. Obviously, you wouldn’t blame the kid for this. You wouldn’t accuse him of being too hungry, because it’s not his fault he was abandoned in the woods to fend for himself.

Psychological needs are no different. Neediness is the product of prolonged emotional starvation. You may not be able to give the person what they need to feel satisfied, but that’s not their fault.  MIt’s not yours, either.

But it feels like it should be someone’s fault, doesn’t it? Someone should take the blame!

I prefer to reframe a needy person as someone who is in need. Perhaps their needs are so great that I can’t help them. That’s OK; I don’t have to be able to help everyone–although I do still try.

I am trying to think of myself as someone in need, too. I am just learning what these needs are, because I’ve spent my life focusing on other people. M There are a lot of them, and they have gone unfulfilled for a long time. I’m not blaming anyone for this, but I’m trying not to blame myself, either.

I’m just trying to make my way out of the woods.

Night Owl Syndrome, Part 2

I started this blog with a post about the stress of trying to regulate my sleep cycle.  Particularly since it was the beginning of the year and I had been off for 3 months–plenty of time to revert to my more natural night owl state.
 
I am in the same predicament this week, except that my sleep cycle is even more out of whack than usual.  In addition to the normal job stress and abrupt transition into having nothing to do at the end of the term, I was also dealing with the fallout from the student death and extended periods of loneliness and isolation.  I fell into a pattern of going to bed at 4 am and waking up at 4 pm, with a few hours of wakefulness in between.  And as usual, I was racked with guilt and self-loathing about this.
 
My dad and two of my brothers are also night owls.  While my family was together over Christmas, my dad hardly slept at all, and when he did it was well past 2 am.  One of my brothers went to bed around 6 am.  The other brother woke up around 6 pm.  Yet they did not appear to be racked with the same guilt and self-loathing as me.
 
Which is the reason why I originally started this blog.  Accepting who I am, including my obsessive tendencies, problems with guilt, and wacky sleep schedule, takes continuous practice.  If I neglect to do it, I fall prey to depression and anxiety.
 
And writing about how I was feeling during that period definitely helped.  It was cathartic.  It helped me to remember what I tell my clients. It provided me support, positive feedback, and extra angels.  And some of the most depressing posts were among the most popular ones, so I know I’m not alone.
 
Perhaps I should start recommending blogging as an important component of self-care.  Right up there with sleep, exercise, food, and mindfulness.
 
Last night I went to bed before 1 am without having to rely on extra Ativan.  And I woke up at 7 am because I had a doctor’s appointment.  That’s as close to a “normal” sleep cycle as it gets for me.  So going back to work has been a good thing.  Still,  if I didn’t have to go back this week, I wouldn’t have.
 
Fortunately, sometimes you are forced to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not.
 

 

Empathy

Sometimes you can have too much empathy.

One of the reasons why it seems like I want to save the world (which I don’t–just the people I’ve met) is because I can feel other people’s pain as though it were my own.  When they are hurting, I’m hurting. So it’s really for selfish reasons that I help other people; I don’t like being in pain.

When I worked in day care after I graduated from college, the children who had the most difficult time adjusting were the ones who were attached to me.  In case you are worried about your children being in day care, rest assured that there were some kids who loved it so much that they didn’t want to go home. 

But not these kids.  These were the kids who cried from the moment their parents dropped them off until they picked them up in the afternoon.  And this would go on for weeks.  It actually drove me crazy.  I didn’t feel positively towards them at all.  Which is why I could never understand why they were attached to me.

Now I think it’s because I could feel their pain, so I would break the rules and hold them all day because it’s the only thing that comforted them.  And it turns out that being held is one of the best ways to soothe people.  So next time you’re feeling upset, ask for a hug from someone you care about.  Or do something that feels like a hug, like take a warm bath or wrap yourself up in a blanket.

Sometimes I feel like I’m a receiver that picks up the emotional equivalent of radio waves.  I’m bombarded by all of these feelings, all the time.  Sometimes I don’t even know where they’re coming from.  I wish I could just turn the receiver off every now and then, or at least turn down the volume.  Anything to have some relief from the constant noise.

The best solution I’ve been able to come up with is the yes and no thing: yes to what I want, no to what I don’t want.  I need to choose the people who I’m around more carefully.  If it’s someone who doesn’t take responsibility for dealing with their own feelings, I need to stay away.  I can barely deal with my own feelings.

It sounds cold and calculated, but I always tell clients that if it comes down to you and someone else, you have to pick you, because there’s no guarantee that anyone else will.

So from now on, I’m going to try to pick me.

Photo courtesy of  Maria Roman

Yes and No

Being alone isn’t as bad as I thought it would be.  Relationships are an area where I take on challenges without asking myself whether it is worth the effort, so it’s a nice change of pace to have energy to expend on myself. 

When I was in school, the reason why I was a good student is that I did what teachers told me to do.  It never occurred to me that not doing the reading or homework and not studying were an option.  I also try to fulfill my job responsibilities because I’m afraid that if I make one mistake I’ll get fired.  

I think it’s partly due to my Catholic upbringing.  I’m a rule-follower to begin with, but I also fear that if I break the rules I will go to hell.  If I call a ball out, I’m afraid I’ll go to hell because I wanted the point so badly.  So usually I just call everything in, which is sometimes to my advantage because my opponent wasn’t expecting to play a ball that was a foot out.

I used to have this prayer where I would ask God to forgive me for all my sins, intentional and unintentional, because I thought, what if I’ve sinned and I didn’t realize it?  Then I couldn’t ask for forgiveness and I might go to hell.  So I figured this prayer covered all the bases.

Most of my relationships weren’t of my choosing.  If someone liked me, I would date him because I thought that would make him happy.  Feeling ambivalent was not a good enough reason to say no because my feelings didn’t count.  And it’s hard for me to end relationships because I’m not allowed to hurt anyone.  Although I often ended up hurting them, anyway.

This is also the reason I became a psychologist and feel compelled to save the world.  If someone is hurting, then it’s my job to help them if I’m able to do so.  It doesn’t matter if I want to do so, whether I like the person or not, how stressed I am, or how much energy I have to expend.

My superhero family members also share this sentiment, as I mentioned in a previous post.  They are even more extreme in terms of putting other people’s needs first, even if it hurts them.  So I really haven’t had good role models for setting limits.

But thanks to this blog, I’m beginning to set limits.  I’ve quit that crazy writing job where I was spending 10-12 hours on articles that gave the most superficial advice possible for $25.  I ended a relationship and am learning to be alone.  I have narrowed down my extra-curricular activities to tennis, knitting that dress for my niece, and writing/promoting my blog.  Which is still a lot, but it’s an improvement for me.

My new rule is to say yes to what I want and no to what I don’t want.  I said this 3 years ago, but sometimes it takes awhile to do what you know you need to do.  So I’m trying not to beat myself up about that. 

So from now on, it’s yes and no.  Hopefully.

Self-Care

Remember how I said I was following all the stress management guidelines and still feeling overwhelmed? Well that day there was a car accident with 11 students involved, 1 who died and 3 who are still in critical condition. The entire college community is grieving, and we have been slammed at the counseling center.

Every day, multiple times a day, I preach the importance of self-care, which includes:

  • Sleep: I get at least 6 hours but could use more.
  • Eating:  I never skip a meal and eat relatively healthy.
  • Exercise:  I try to play tennis 3x/week and stretch before bedtime.
  • Down Time:  I give myself plenty of down time. One of the perks of living alone.
  • Putting your needs first:  I am terrible at this.

In my defense, most helping professionals are pathologically helpful and run the risk of burnout. In fact, if there were an award for Most Likely to Help Other People Until You Collapse, the physicians in my family would be competing for first place.

I forced my dad to read the blog about him, and after he read it he admitted that spending decades on call 24-7, covering every physician who went out of town over the holidays while we stayed home, probably contributed to his depression. When my dad was sick, my mom saw both of their patients and took care of my dad. My brother recently had sinus surgery and was told to take off at least a week from work but went back after 3 days.

So relatively speaking, I’m actually a slacker in my family.

I have been feeling the loss of not having someone to come home to, someone who I can talk about my day with. I have made an effort to reach out to friends, and they have been incredibly helpful, but it doesn’t take the place of having that person who knows everything that’s going on with you on a day-to-day basis, whether they want to or not.

So I’m doing what I can to take care of myself. I went to dinner with friends last night. I was dead tired but it was a rare opportunity to see my tennis mom, who recently abandoned me by moving to South Carolina. She reminded me of the hazards of my “save the world” mentality. I defended myself by saying that I’m not trying to save the world–just the people I meet. It just so happens that I’m meeting a lot of people right now.

And I’m going to a movie tonight after I go into work to facilitate a debriefing session. I’m a little worried about being too drained afterwards but I’m making an effort to do something other than sit at home alone all weekend.

And I’m writing this blog. This is the one place where everything gets to be about me. I get to talk as much as I want without being interrupted, there are people who are interested in what I have to say, and the feedback is almost always positive. And for this I am thankful.