Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Empathy, Part 2

I had an epiphany a few weeks ago. I realized that I don't have to like someone to have empathy for them.

That helps to explain why, when I worked in daycare, the toddlers who cried all day every day for weeks on end were attached to me. Because I picked them up and held them, which you weren't supposed to do. I didn't particularly like them at that point, because I didn't really get to know them until they stopped crying, but I couldn't stand it that they were in pain.

According to The Art of Empathy, empathy is not limited to human beings. You can have empathy for art, nature, music, books, and animals. This helps to explain another aspect of my behavior that I have always found puzzling. I am not a big animal lover, but I feel bad for animals when I think they're unhappy.

When I went to Busch Gardens in Florida, which has awesome habitats for animals because of its Africa theme, I did psychological assessments of all the animals. Most of them were happy. The otters swam right up to us to greet us. This hippo put on a show for us. The gazelles were happy because they didn't have to worry about predators attacking them. This hyena seemed downright neurotic, pacing back and forth right in front of the window. The gorillas seemed pensive and potentially depressed.

So maybe I'm not so crazy after all. Maybe that's just that one of the downsides of being a super-empath--it's hard to turn off that instinct to help others. If I meet a guy and he has one of those 4 impediments in a potential mate, I think, that's the guy for me! And the more impediments, the better. Even if don't like him that much. Even if he lies, which I detest.

From now on, my #1 criterion when I decide to date again is that I have to like the guy. Which would probably be an obvious pick for most people, but I can be a slow learner sometimes.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Honesty and Trust, Part 2

"You should know; you're a psychologist."

Sometimes I don't know. Sometimes I, too, am puzzled as to why people do the things they do.

I've been trying to make sense of why, despite my commitment to honesty, I remained in relationships with people who consistently lied to me. And I didn't even like them very much. I have this tendency to try to make relationships work at all costs, even when I don't like the person. Even when they do things that are inconsistent with my values, like lying. It's maddening.

One of my exes told me up front that he was a liar. Still, my first instinct was to believe him. It's too much work not to trust people, I think. But sometimes it was more costly to make myself believe that he was being honest. It's hard not to beat myself up for trusting a self-proclaimed liar. Why would anyone do such a crazy thing?

My best guess is that I stayed with these guys because I wanted to believe in the version of themselves that they were selling. It's who they wanted to be, and who I wanted them to be. I wanted to help them get there, even. You can do it! I have faith in you!

Plus, I knew they were lying because they were ashamed of who they really were. I was trying to do the whole unconditional positive regard thing that therapists do. Because that is the most healing gift that we can give to others. It works well in therapy, but not so much in romantic relationships. I realize now that there is a limit to how much you can allow someone to hurt you in order to prove to them that they are lovable.

I understand what it's like to fear that people won't love you or respect you if they knew what you're really like. That is the purpose of this blog, after all. To challenge myself to show the world what I'm really like. And while I haven't outright lied about who I am, I haven't always shared the things that I'm ashamed of. Not even to my family--the people who do love me unconditionally.

So I guess we can all challenge ourselves to be more honest. Some people have further to go than others, but as long as we're making the effort, that's what counts, isn't it?  Anyway, it makes me feel better about myself to frame my tolerance of dishonesty in this way, so that's what I'm going with.

But I'm still going to be more selective about who I choose to be with from now on.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wins and Losses

So I've decided that I love winning more than I hate losing.

After 11 losses spanning 2 seasons on my 7.0 mixed teams, I finally won last night. A hard-fought win that came down to the wire--my favorite kind. And my team won, too. Winning isn't everything, but it sure helped my mood. And these days, I'll take anything I can get to feel happy about.

I actually had 2 teams playing at the same time last night, because I play every league since I get depressed when I don't have anything to do, as you know. We lost all 5 courts on that team, but that did not dampen my mood. Because like I said in the post on motivation, at the end of the day, I still had dinner with my friends afterwards. And there were a lot of them last night, spanning 3 different teams, including the opposing team.

I've had friends reach out to me because of my last two posts, reminding me that I can always call them when I'm feeling down. But in all honesty, the last thing I want to do when I'm feeling depressed is to contaminate someone else with my negative mood.

I once dated someone who accused me of wanting to be depressed--I guess because he couldn't talk me into feeling better. I think depressed people are accused of liking their depression because it's hard to be in the presence of someone who you can't cheer up. That's why people who are just trying to be helpful say unhelpful things, which makes you feel even more depressed. So I just avoid it.

But thankfully, God gave me tennis. No matter how bad I'm feeling, I can almost always motivate myself to play tennis. And the desire to win is so great that I forget everything and focus on hitting that ball. And after a few hours of doing this, regardless of whether I've won or lost, I feel like a different person. Plus we usually eat out afterwards, and I love food, too.

Tennis, friends, food, and blogging. That is a winning recipe for treating depression in my book.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Battle Against Depression

I really wish that so much of my existence did not revolve around obsessing about sleep. I'm tired of writing about it, and I'm sure you're sick of reading about it. But this is the reality of my existence at the moment, and I am committed to being honest about my current state of mind.

Today was another day that was filled with sleep. It makes me feel like such a failure. My colleagues don't struggle to make it to work because they can't get out of bed. The physicians in my family never even take a sick day. Some depressed people manage to take care of their families. I can barely take care of myself. What is my excuse for my weakness?

Then I thought of physical conditions that leave people debilitated. Migraine headaches. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Lyme disease. Do the people who suffer from these conditions feel paralyzed with guilt and shame when they can't get out of bed? Or do they accept their fatigue as being part of their illness rather than a personal failing?

I think about the recommendations I give to clients who are depressed. Exercise. Get sunlight. Be social. Regulate your sleep cycle. If someone had the flu, you would tell them to rest. Listen to your body. But with depression, we tell people to ignore what their bodies and minds are telling them and to do the opposite. Fight it! Don't give in!

Don't get me wrong. I do all of these things when I can, and they work. After sleeping most of the day, I forced myself to do laundry, get some lunch, wave at my neighbors, put together my tennis schedule for the new league, and play tennis for 3 hours to make up for my lack of steps from yesterday. And I'm writing this blog post now. 

Because if I gave in to the desire to do nothing, I wouldn't really be trying to get better. I wouldn't be taking responsibility for my illness. But I don't think it's fair to hold it against someone if their depression is so severe that it's too much effort to go outside and get sunlight. Because sometimes I'm that person, too.

When I have a client who cannot will themselves to follow these recommendations, I don't judge them for it. But I tell them to keep trying to do them. And no mental health professional that I know would tell a client that if they felt like they need to sleep they should listen to their bodies and rest.

There is an article circulating on the internet about how for some depressed people, positive reframing doesn't work. Telling the person to be positive actually makes them feel worse. That it's better to support them by expressing empathy for their feelings. 

Perhaps someday, researchers are going to find that listening to your body when you are depressed is sometimes more effective than fighting it with wakeful activities like forced exercise and socialization--two things that can be difficult to do even when you're not depressed.

I'm going to do my own case study to see if this works.

Monday, July 14, 2014

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!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

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.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

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.