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Hiatus

I have always prided myself on being open to love, even after heartbreak. I’ve met people who have closed off their hearts after being betrayed by their loved one, and while I don’t judge them for their decision, it is not how I want to live my life. This is also why, although I’ve had partners who have been dishonest, I still choose to start off a relationship trusting the other person.

A few weeks ago, my therapist suggested that I consider getting a cat. She thought it would help to combat my loneliness and to discharge negative energy. As I mentioned in a previous post, I am not an animal person, but I, too, have considered getting a cat. But after talking to my friends about it and imagining what it would be like to have a cat here in my darkest moments, I have decided against it. For now, at least.

I realized after this deliberation process that I am not in a place where I am ready to love, take care of, or lose anyone or anything. I am not necessarily closing off my heart, but I still feel too vulnerable, too raw to be open to love at the moment.

I don’t like the person I have been in relationships. In my most negative moments, my inner critic uses this against me as evidence that I deserve to be alone. I think it has more to do with the super-empath in me who identifies so much with how the other person feels, I cannot separate my wants and needs from theirs. I think that’s one of the reasons I convinced myself that I loved people who loved me; I became what they needed me to be.

As cliche as it sounds, I really don’t know who I am or what I want in a relationship. I am hoping that if I can be free from the wants and needs of others, I will eventually have a better sense of what my own wants and needs are. I have already been surprised by how much I enjoy my solitude–most of the time. How freeing it is not to have my mood be so tied to how my partner is feeling. My mood is all over the place as it is. I now realize how overwhelming it was when I felt everything for the two of us.

So I’m taking a long overdue hiatus from relationships. I am hoping this will lead to wiser decisions about matters of the heart. And if the hiatus ends up being longer than expected, I can always take my therapist’s advice and adopt a cat.

Being Neighborly

Today was one of those tough, lonely days. Even when the day starts out slowly, I usually have tennis in the afternoon, which helps me to feel productive. But no tennis tonight because of the rain. So it was hard to will myself to wake up after a long nap when there was nothing to look forward to but errands.

I did finally manage to bribe myself to get up with kettle corn. (I ate all of it, so I’ll have to think of something else for tomorrow.) And I talked myself into walking to the mailbox to get some steps. I ran into some of my neighbors, who chastised me in a friendly way for not being social. Which made me feel like a terrible person, of course.

I mentioned in a previous blog that I don’t socialize with my neighbors as much as they would like me to. In addition to not being retired, playing tennis almost every day, and not having much in common with senior citizens, the truth is, I’ve never been very neighborly. I think it’s because I hate small talk. I avoid it at all costs.

To make matters worse, when I am home alone I am usually sleeping because it’s so unbearable to be awake when I have nothing to look forward to. I thought about telling my neighbors that. How I’m often too depressed to overcome my aversion to making small talk to be neighborly. That leaving the house to check my mail was a big step for me. But that seemed like TMI.

I know they genuinely want to get to know me and want me to feel welcomed, but I wanted to cry after talking to them. I felt like this was just one more thing I should be doing that I was failing at. Right up there with regulating my sleep cycle, adhering to my GERD diet, and getting 10,000 steps. I hate it that my inner critic turns everything into an opportunity to fail.

So I’m blogging about this incident to diminish my inner critic’s power to make me feel bad about myself. I’m doing the best I can do. There will always be more that I could be doing. I can only focus on my goals for today. I made it to my dentist appointment. I freaking walked to Kroger, which is a huge accomplishment (but sadly, only got me about 3,000 steps). And I am writing this blog post.

And I talked to my neighbors when I got my mail. Which wasn’t even on my list. So there!

Blessings in Disguise

Remember how my car broke down on the way to my friend’s wedding? Well, it turned out to be more of an inconvenience than an extra day and $1000. Try 2 extra days and $3000.

I tried my best to have a good attitude about it. I made a list of the things I was thankful for. I tried to put a positive spin on everything. It helped some, but it was still annoying.

You know what helped the most? I looked at the service ticket when I got home and it turned out that my rear brakes were 95% worn. I kind of thought they were unresponsive, but I didn’t think it was that bad. I’m actually thankful that my car broke down. I was speeding because I was late for the rehearsal dinner, and if I had to break suddenly, things could have been much worse. Maybe breaking down wasn’t a punishment for having a bad attitude after all. Maybe God was looking out for me.

I often tell clients that the events that they think are terrible at the time may turn out to be blessings in disguise. This is also supported by research on happiness. I mentioned in a previous post how people who become paraplegics from car accidents return to their baseline level of happiness after about a year. Sometimes they are even thankful for the accident, because it moved their lives in a more positive direction.

I guess if you’re really cynical, you could argue that they’re just rationalizing to make themselves feel better. I don’t think this is true, but even if it were, so what? Our beliefs are more compelling than reality, anyway. I’d love to be irrationally grateful.

This holiday weekend has been tough for me. Holidays are the hardest because they are supposed to be filled with family, friends, and food. And in this case, fireworks. I am 0-4. I think about how I’ve spent the 4th of July in the past. Some of the most recent ones were far worse than I could have imagined. Now that I’m single, the best I can hope for is that holidays won’t be as lonely and depressing as I think they will be. This one is about what I expected. (Unless Federer wins tomorrow. Then it will all be worthwhile.)

My tendency is to beat myself up for my single status. I must deserve it because of all the terrible relationship decisions I’ve made. Or maybe I’m just unlucky. Or maybe at some point in the future, I’ll look back and realize that this period of solitude was also a blessing in disguise. I’m not completely convinced of this, but I’m trying to be hopeful.

These are the flowers from the wedding. It has nothing to do with blessings, but I think it’s a cool picture.

The Courage to Be Vulnerable, Part 2

I’m humbled by the feedback that I’m an inspiration, but to be honest, I’m not quite sure what people mean by that. I can understand how people could read my blog and think, wow! I’m not so crazy after all! But I don’t see how it can be an inspiration. Unless it inspires people to be honest about the stuff they are afraid to share with other people.
In one scene in the book A Fault in Our Stars, (which I love!), Hazel and Augustus are in the Anne Frank House watching a video of Otto Frank. After reading Anne’s diary, he concludes that parents don’t really know their children.  I would venture to say that we never really know anyone unless we have the opportunity to read their diary–or blog.

Our inquiries about people’s lives are fairly superficial. We ask people how they’re doing when we greet them, but any response beyond “I’m fine” would be TMI for most. Recently I asked a friend how her husband was doing because I heard he had been sick. She said he has his good and bad days. I’m sure some people don’t want to go into more detail, but maybe some people do. Maybe they feel like the person is just asking to be nice. To let them know they care without really wanting to hear the details.

I am one of those rare individuals who likes to tell people everything that’s going on in my life when I greet them. Well, not everyone. Just the ones who will tolerate it. I’ll even do it before they have a chance to ask me how I’m doing.  I’ll just bombard them with the minutiae of my day the moment I see them. Because I spend most of my time alone with no one to talk to, I am willing to break protocol. Admittedly, this stuff isn’t particularly inspirational, but at least I’m consistent in my self-disclosure.

I do think the world would a better place if we could all risk being a little more vulnerable. If we could all admit that we are human, I think people would feel a lot better about themselves. It does take courage to put yourself out there, but taking that risk also requires good listeners. People who are willing to be present and bear witness to our humanity without judgment.

So I am thankful to all of the readers out there who are willing to bear witness to my humanity. You are the ones who make courage possible.

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.
 

The Perfect Solution

I am currently living in a patio home subdivision for retired people where the average age is around 80. But that’s OK. It’s small, but I live alone so I don’t need a lot of space. I don’t have to do any landscaping, snow removal, etc. All of the neighbors look out for each other so I am notified of any burglars or bears in the vicinity. There are 2 other people my age who live here, although I never see them. And it is a substantial improvement from the apartment I lived in before I found this place. And it’s a miracle that I was able to buy it at all, so I’m thankful for my humble abode.
 
I feel bad because my neighbors want me to be more social, but that’s not going to happen. First of all, I have a job. And because I have a 45 minute commute and play tennis in the evenings and on weekends, I don’t spend much time at home. And even if I were home more often, I wouldn’t spend my spare time socializing with senior citizens. Not that there’s anything wrong with them. They’re all perfectly nice. I just don’t have a lot in common with them.
 
Last year one of my neighbors had a party for her 88th birthday. I tried to will myself to go, but no amount of guilt and shame could motivate me to do it. Last week someone called me to let me know that my neighbor’s aunt died and when the funeral was. I hate funerals. I avoid them at all costs. So I certainly wasn’t about to go for some aunt of some neighbor who I barely know. Another neighbor keeps inviting me to go to church with her. I think she’s trying to convert me.
 
Although everyone looks out for each other because of the increased likelihood that someone really could fall and not be able to get up, they still probably wouldn’t think to check on me because I’m never home. And if I had some emergency, it would probably be late at night when everyone is asleep. And even if I could work up the courage to call one of them in the middle of the night–which is unlikely since I feel so guilty for being such a terrible neighbor–I doubt they would be able to lift me, given their own physical limitations.
 
Last night my friends were trying to help me come up with solutions for how to deal with emergencies. Maybe I should get one of those life alert buttons. Or maybe I should get a lanyard and wear my phone around my neck at all times. Or since I’m a warrior, maybe I could crawl to my phone or my iPad, even if it takes me hours to reach it. So if I ever post “Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up!” be sure to check on me.
 
I’ve been watching the commercials for an assisted living facility in my area, and it hit me that this is the perfect solution. If I lived in one, I wouldn’t have to worry about living alone because help would be right there on the premises! Plus meals are included, so I’d never have to cook. And after doing some research, I discovered that they also provide housekeeping, laundry services, and grocery shopping! I could literally spend all my free time writing, watching and playing tennis, knitting, making jewelry, and hanging out with friends. Heck, I could probably even pick up another hobby.
 
My friend told me that you have to be at least 55 to live in one of these facilities. By then I would also qualify for the 55 and over division in tennis and hopefully dominate on the court if I’m still healthy. So I guess that’s something to look forward to in case this whole relationship thing doesn’t work out.
 

100th Post!

One of my favorite books of all time is What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty. It was our most popular book in our Remedial Book Club; we actually had a meaningful discussion about it for the entire meeting. Ordinarily we talk about the book for 30 minutes–mostly about who would play the characters if the book were turned into a movie–and then we eat, drink, and gossip about people in the tennis community for 2 hours.

The book is about a woman who falls off her bike in spinning class and loses her memory of the past 10 years. In her current life, she is about to turn 40, has 3 children, and is going through a bitter divorce. After the accident, she thinks she is 29, madly in love with her husband, and is about to have her first child. The book also follows the stories of Alice’s mom, sister, and grandmother, all of whom are in the process of letting go of grief. In addition to being hiLARious, the book also makes you reflect on who you have become and what you thought your life would be like.

I am now in the process of filing for divorce, at my husband’s request. I am glad that I waited until he was ready, because now he understands why our marriage can’t work. I have a better appreciation for the significance of rituals. Even though it’s just a formality, since we’ve been apart for almost 4 years, the legal aspect of it has reawakened my grief about losing him. Of all the people I’ve been with, he is by far the one who was the most stable, reliable, and trustworthy. It saddens me that this wasn’t enough to make things work.

I will be 45 in a few months, and I would have never predicted that this is what my life would look like. Although it is still sad and scary to be alone at times, I am thankful for this opportunity to get to know myself better. I am still experiencing compassion fatigue from my last relationship, and I really want my next one to be different.

I’m currently reading The Art of Empathy, by Karla McLaren. It’s the first book I am aware of that teaches hyperempaths like me how to keep from burning out. I’m hoping that this will help me be more intentional about my next relationship. I’m hoping that it’s possible to break the pattern of relationships that you’ve grown up with and that you’ve followed all your life and to start anew.

Since I have reached my goal of 100 posts, I thought I would also take stock of my blogging life, which is much more positive. This blog is the first time that I’ve shared my writing with others, and I am so proud of what I have written so far. Even prouder than I was when I finished my dissertation.

I’ve been trying to write on and off for about 10 years now but only took it seriously a few years ago. Until then, I never realized how demon-filled the writing process was. Every time I sat down to write, Perfectionism, the Inner Critic, and the Drill Sergeant were all there to meet me, reminding me of how much I suck. So to commit to blogging 3 times a week–and to share the most vulnerable parts of myself in every post–is a huge accomplishment.

However, now that I’ve learned more about publishing, I am forced to accept that the odds of writing a best seller are not great, and even if it does happen, it won’t be any time soon. I’m not going to give up, of course, because I never give up, but I’m trying to focus more on the process of writing rather than the end result.

I’m trying to approach blogging the way I approach tennis. I’ve made $60 in prize money, which was several years ago when I won the 35 and over singles division of a tournament. (I was also the #1 rated 35 and over singles player in Virginia that year!) But I spend hundreds of dollars a month on tennis, so as a money-making enterprise, it’s a failing business.

But that’s OK. I’m not doing it to make money. I play tennis because it’s fun, because it challenges me, and because I have made wonderful friends. Although my romantic relationships have been a disappointment, my friendships have far exceeded my expectations.

Blogging is also fun and challenging, and I enjoy getting to know my readers and other bloggers. And it’s way cheaper than playing tennis. So I’m going to set another goal, which is to write another 100 posts by my blog’s first birthday, which is September 24.

Hope to see you then!

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.

The Federer Fund

Have I mentioned that I obsess about money?

I know that money can’t buy happiness–or at least there is a point of diminishing returns–and I am past that amount. But despite this knowledge, I still buy into the illusion that my life would be better if I made just a little bit more.

It’s not like I want to be a millionaire or anything. But I would like to have more money in savings. Especially now that I’m single. Because if I were to get fired or become disabled, I can’t count on anyone to support me. And I can’t save enough to have the recommended 6 month cushion–even if I were to cut back on every unnecessary expense.

Plus there are some luxuries I’d like to be able to afford. Research says that people are happier when they spend money on experiences rather than on things. I would love to be able to go to all of the Grand Slam tennis tournaments. And I would love to be able to semi-stalk Federer. Not in a creepy way. Just go to whatever event he’s playing in, even if it’s in Dubai or Halle, Germany.

Like many writers, I have the fantasy of having a best seller and making millions of dollars. But the more I read about publishing, the more I realize that this is about as likely as winning the lottery. But we all need something to fantasize about. Plus, someone has to win the publishing lottery. Why not me?

Sometimes it’s hard to be patient and focus on writing these blog posts, which I make absolutely nothing for, knowing that it will probably take years before anything happens–if anything were to happen. Federer might be retired by then.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m glad my blog is helping people. That’s why I started it. But is some monetary compensation too much to ask for when I am potentially helping more people than I do in my real job?

I’ve been brain-storming some ways that I can make money from my blog now, while Federer is still playing. You know how when you go on a tour and the guide tells you at the end that tips are greatly appreciated? I could tell readers that if they liked the psychological tour provided by this post, they can make a donation to the Federer Fund.

I think this strategy is better than charging people for buying a mini-book or putting ads on my blog. Not that there’s anything wrong with those strategies. I just think it would be more consistent with the theme of my blog to appeal to people’s altruistic side. Sort of a reciprocity thing.

I could even do a YouTube video where I charm people into making donations. I think I’m much more convincing in person. I could video myself looking sad because I’m watching Federer play on my low definition small screen TV from thousands of miles away.

I mean, if you had a chance to see shots like this one in person, wouldn’t you do whatever it takes to make that happen?

The Best Valentine’s Day Gift

I’ve gotten a lot better at this being alone thing.  But the one thing I have dreaded is today, Valentine’s Day.  The day that singles people everywhere are told that they suck.  It’s the first time in a long time that I have no one to celebrate it with.

Despite all of my declarations about how I was no longer going to subject myself to the media’s brainwashing after the Aqua-Fresh toothpaste incident, I still want to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Yes, its a made-up holiday, but so what.  It’s an excuse to eat chocolate, go to a nice restaurant, give and receive gifts.  It’s a chance to celebrate, and I’ll take any excuse I can get to celebrate.

But I’ve been trying to put this disappointment in perspective.  When I was married, both husbands forgot Valentine’s Day one year, and that really sucked.  So it’s not like being in a relationship guarantees that you’ll have a good Valentine’s Day.  To be honest, most of them haven’t even been that memorable.

In fact, the gifts I remember the most are the ones from my dad.  When I was younger he always bought a heart-shaped box of chocolates for my mom and me.  I had the smaller box, of course.  And last year he gave me this beautiful necklace with a gold heart pendant that says “For my daughter” on one side and “You are my pride and joy” on the other side.  What guy can compete with that?

And the best card I’ve ever gotten was from my baby brother, Romeo.  I was 16 at the time, and I was talking to a friend on the phone, lamenting the fact that I wasn’t going to get anything for Valentine’s Day—not even a card.

Then for some reason I was talking about my fears of death and getting old, which I told you about in a previous blog.  Romeo was playing on the living room floor, seemingly oblivious to my conversation.  But when he heard me talk about getting old, he stopped playing and said that he was afraid of getting old, too.  He was 9 at the time, so maybe the fear of aging runs in my family.


A few minutes later, Romeo came running down the hall, telling me that he made a card for me.  I had forgotten how quickly you can make a card when you’re a kid.  It was made with blue construction paper and a red crayon.  There were some hearts and a Happy Valentine’s Day on the front.  And inside he wrote that I didn’t need to worry about getting old and that he loved me. Or something to that effect.  I wasn’t able to read it very clearly, what with the tears and all.

After that I understood why parents prefer the cards that their kids spend 5 minutes making over the cards that their kids spend 5 minutes buying at Hallmark.  I have received many Valentine’s Day cards since then, and that one is by far my favorite.

Maybe it’s good that I was alone on Valentine’s Day this year.  My solitude has given me the opportunity to realize that I’ve never been alone on Valentine’s Day.  I’ve always been loved and always will be loved by my family.   And there’s no better gift than that, really.