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Excuses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In the Zone

Want to be happier? Try adding some flow to your life.

Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s research indicates that engaging in activities that you find pleasurable and absorbing is one of the things that makes life worth living. When you are in flow, you are focused on the here and now. You experience a loss of self-consciousness and lose all sense of time. You feel like you can handle anything that comes your way.

Flow is what athletes feel when they are in the zone. Although I don’t consider myself athletic, I have experienced flow on the tennis court. It doesn’t always happen, but every now and then, the ball does exactly what I want it to. No channeling of inner warriors required: everything is effortless, unconscious.

Flow is not limited to sports. You can experience flow at work, during artistic activities, and in nature. Sometimes I’ve experienced flow with clients in therapy: I feel so connected to them in the moment that I know what they’re trying to say before they say it. Occasionally, I’ve experienced it when blogging: the words and ideas seem to be writing themselves, and they are perfect.

And there are those rare moments–usually when I’m at some lookout point–where I have a moment of clarity. I am Neo at the end of “The Matrix,” when he breaks the code and fights off the Agents with minimal exertion. The mysteries of the universe unfold. I feel joyful and calm at the same time.

Flow can also be interactive. Like Hazel and Augustus in “The Fault in Our Stars,” you stay up all night, sharing your life stories, and time stands still. Or like when you’re catching up with your best friend who you haven’t seen in ages, but you can pick up right where you left off, as if you talked just yesterday.

This weekend I was blessed to experience flow in all of these areas. I was at the Virginia district tournament with my tennis team, and I was in flow on the court. My team was in flow, and we made it to the finals for the first time ever. And all of the moments off the court were filled with joy, celebration, and camaraderie. Even writing about it is effortless. No self-consciousness. No demons. Just a pervasive sense that life is good.

Usually Mondays are hard for me, but today I am happy. In this moment, I am in the zone.

Orange Crush

Survival of the Fittest

I’m reading Little Princes, by Conor Grennan, and it’s making me reflect on how poor my survival skills are.

It’s about this guy who decides to volunteer in an orphanage in Nepal for 3 months to justify taking a year off to blow his savings and travel around the world. He ends up doing a lot more than that–reunites the kids with their parents, opens his own orphanage–which is both impressive and a little daunting.

One of the very first things that Conor describes is eating daal bhat with his host family. It is a dish made of rice and lentils and is very spicy. He suffers through a lot more than just eating a spicy dish, but that was enough for me to conclude that I am not fit to save orphans in Nepal. My GERD alone would lead to starvation, because this is what they eat for 90% of their meals.

Last year I was reading On Gold Mountain, by Lisa See, and there was one paragraph describing how families who were riding out west in covered wagons did not stop to pick up their kids when they fell out because they needed to make it out there before winter. That’s the only thing I really remember from the book, even though it had very little to do with the story.

I had no idea that riding out west in a covered wagon was so dangerous. I always imagined that their biggest problem was entertaining themselves without movies and iPods and video games. I didn’t realize they had to fight for survival. If I were alive back then, I think someone would have “accidentally” knocked me out of the wagon, what with my allergies and asthma and all. What good could I possibly be in anything that required sustained cardiovascular effort, like killing wild animals or chopping firewood?

I guess I don’t have to volunteer in Nepal or be able to survive in a covered wagon, but these are the kinds of random things that my inner critic will use against me. The whole time I’m reading this book, it lectures me on how I should be tougher, stronger, and more altruistic like Conor. And I call myself a warrior. Puh! I don’t think so.

I am always having to demonstrate to my inner critic why my life is worthwhile. I’m a psychologist. That’s something. And I captain a bunch of tennis teams. People hate captaining, so that’s doing something helpful. And I’m writing this blog, which is also helping other people. Isn’t that enough to justify my existence?

I’d like to think that there are many ways to save the world. We aren’t all fit to rescue orphans. Maybe some people focus on saving whales. Others minimize their carbon footprint. And some help the survival of our species by having children and raising a family.

And some people dedicate their lives to helping people practice self-acceptance. To helping people realize that they are worthwhile, regardless of what they can or can’t do.

So take that, inner critic!

Motivation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Birthday Reflections

So I’m reading The Fault in Our Stars for book club, which is told from the perspective of a 16 year old girl with cancer, and guess what? I still talk like a teenager. Yup. Some of her comments could have come straight from my blog.

Even though I turn 45 today, I guess I can consider this a compliment, since this is a best seller with a movie that is a box office hit and has gotten great reviews. So if I sound immature, at least it’s in a way that people can relate to. And if you’ve read the book, then you know that Hazel Grace is no ordinary 16 year old. For example, she refutes the adage that without pain, we cannot know joy by pointing out that “the existence of broccoli does not in any way affect the taste of chocolate.” I love that!

Still, I find it ironic to discover that I still talk like a teenager as I hit what is irrefutably middle age. I thought I would be OK with it, because it’s not like I didn’t know I was middle-aged. And as long as I don’t hit a prime number, I’m usually fine. And 45 is divisible by 3 and 5, so I figured I was safe until I turned 47. But no. Mother Nature likes to rub it in your face that you are becoming an old lady, and I received a couple of early birthday gifts just to make sure I was aware of this.

Before someone sends me that quote about how old age is a privilege that not everyone gets to benefit from, let me preempt you by saying that I am grateful for my life. It’s just that signs of getting older bring up that feeling that I talked about in the Beginnings and Endings post. Sadness about the loss of gifts that I had not even been aware of until I began to lose them. Anxiety about the losses to come. Panic about how fleeting time is.

I am afraid I am not one of those brave souls who will embrace aging with grace and dignity. I’m pretty sure I’m going to go kicking and screaming, fighting it every step of the way. I guess this is one of the downsides of being a warrior.

I’ve been thinking about what I could say in this post for several days now. I was really struggling with how to make it positive, since my goal is to be honest, and I have honestly been in a place of sadness and anxiety about getting older.

But I pray about blog posts, too. I pray that God will give me the inspiration to come up with something to say that will be helpful to someone, even if that someone is just me. So far, God has always answered this prayer. Today was no exception.

This morning, as I warned my inner critic that it was not allowed to make me feel guilty about sleeping in on my birthday, I leisurely checked out my birthday messages on my phone and FB, and I was humbled by how many of them there were so early in the morning. Well, early in the morning for me, at least. And I got the message: the one gift that will grow with age is love.

The feelings of love that I have for others will only deepen, as will their love for me. And as I get older, the more people I include in the circle of who I care about. Blogging, which I also consider a gift from God, has dramatically increased the number of people who have been brought into my life. So I have a great deal of love to look forward to, for as long as I may live.

Plus, I will always have an inner infant, Sophie, and now a teenager, as well as a slew of other parts in my internal family. They are always vying for my attention, letting me know that they are there, whether I want to hear from them or not. Through the process of blogging–and aging–I am learning that these parts I’ve been at war with also love me, although they show it in ways that are sometimes annoying.

So I am thankful to God, and to all of you, for reminding me on my birthday how blessed I am with love.

Swashbucklers Anonymous

My name is Christy Barongan and I am a swashbuckler.

I mentioned in a previous post that I’m reading The Art of Empathy in an attempt to help me with my hyperempath problem. I finished the chapter on empathic love, and it is so true of me that it freaked me out. I almost had a panic attack and had to take a nap afterwards.

In this chapter she lists 4 impediments in a potential mate: 1) a lack of emotional skills, 2) an active addiction, 3) unhealed childhood trauma, and 4) the presence of a toxic ex-mate. These impediments are practically criteria for a relationship for me. I like challenges, but come on! This is ridiculous! Reading this list drove home the fact that most my relationships had little chance of succeeding from the start.

Ironically, reading this chapter also helped me to not beat myself up about my relationship choices. I am drawn to people with these problems for the same reason that I chose to be a psychologist. I want to help people. I believe everyone is capable of turning their life around, and I am confident that I can help them do it. I never back down from a challenge, and I never give up. These are all qualities that I’m proud of.

However, I am beginning to realize that every challenge has a cost. Even if I do something I enjoy, like play tennis, write a blog post, or talk to my brother, it drains me mentally and physically. Which is OK. I love doing these things, so it’s worth it. But in the past, having the ability to help someone was reason enough to do it. Whether I wanted to do it or not was irrelevant because my wants and needs didn’t count. And I never paid attention to the impact that giving so much of myself had on my well-being.

In a way, that’s one of the benefits of being prone to depression and anxiety and of having allergies, GERD, and asthma. Now I have to pay close attention to everything I do and how it will affect me. I have to be intentional about all of my choices. It’s a pain, but it forces me to take care of myself.

Also, when I choose to do something challenging, most of the time I’m not too attached to the outcome–except in relationships. I’d like to move up to 4.0 in tennis, but if I don’t, I’ll just keep trying. Same with writing a best seller. I know the odds aren’t in my favor, but I enjoy the process, and if it never happens I won’t be devastated. I don’t even take it personally when I can’t help a client get better.

If I had the same attitude in relationships–that I gave my best effort, and that’s all I can do–then perhaps I wouldn’t feel like such a failure in them.

It also helps that McLaren calls people like me swashbucklers rather than codependents or love addicts. She describes swashbucklers as people on a heroic journey filled with impossible tasks and mythical beasts. Sort of like relationship warriors. But like Odysseus at the end of his adventures, I think I’m ready to come home.

Maybe I can use my superhero skills to save myself.  After all, who is better qualified to help me than me? I don’t even have to do it alone. I could create a support group for hyperempaths. A 12 step program for swashbucklers, if you will. I think it could be a big hit.

So if you’re interested in participating, let me know.

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.