Is it you or is it me?

Do you ever walk away from a conversation feeling worse about yourself than you did before the conversation?

I do. Sometimes. When this happens I ask myself, “Was that them or was that me?” Was I being thinned skinned, as my mother told me I was or were they being superior, mean, passive aggressive?

Yesterday I reached out to a co-worker by asking her some “How are you questions?” I listened to her answers, nodding, laughing. I felt interested. I was getting her. Then she asked me a specific question about myself concerning an issue that was public enough  for her to know some details. As I responded, she interrupted with a moralistic sounding interjection. What I heard her saying was…if only I had thought like her I wouldn’t be in this jam.

“Wow I was stupid. I should have known this. She did. That’s because she is a better therapist than me.” My mind was racing.

I began to give her more details, hoping my explanations would explain my decisions.  I was grasping for her understanding. I was feeling increasingly pathetic. The more I told on myself the more I seemed to reinforce her “take” on my situation. I finally stopped talking. Defeated. I walked away not liking myself as much as I did before we engaged. I walked up the stairs to my office with heavy feet.

Since this was not my first I-am-inadequate rodeo, I knew what I needed to do. Over the years I have developed coping strategies for this kind-of-thing.

  1. I decide I never liked her anyway. I call on my best-junior-high-mean-girl to internally trash talk her. My adolescent self believes this will make me feel better.  It never does.
  2.  I decide I better get busy being a better, stronger, more successful version of myself. I’ll take a class. Read a book. Dress more sophisticatedly. Share less of my vulnerability. I usually just feel tired at the end of this option and take a nap.
  3. I eat some chocolate. I haven’t found a down side to this.
  4. I call a trusted friend to vent hoping they will agree that she is just not that nice. I love it when my smart, loyal, accomplished friend says, “Yeah I always thought that of her too. You poor thing. I think you are wonderful.” For a moment I feel victorious.
  5. I ask myself what got touched in me that I am reacting so strongly. This one is the hardest and the least fun…”Really? Do I have to look at myself again? Do I have to get honest about me? Damn!” Sometimes it helps do combine this one with #3.

So after quickly moving through #1, #2, skipping #3 & #4 — since I had no chocolate or time to call a friend — with a sigh I moved into #5.

I remembered the book The 4 Agreements by Miguel Ruiz. The 2nd agreement is Don’t Take Anything Personally. The premise is that what others say is more about them then me. That we all come from our own projections that are a result of our view of the world. The stories we make up.

This was comforting. I realized that my co-worker had her own reasons for commenting the way she did that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with her experience. I no longer had to be angry at her or quickly read a self help book.

Not taking anything personally is liberating.

But, it may not be the finish line.

If the relationship is significant enough to me I realize I need to say something about how I felt as a result of what was said. Even though I am not taking it personally I may still feel bruised. So coping strategy #6 is talking to the person about how I felt when they said what they said. (I lied, this one is harder than #5.) It takes courage and trust in the relationship to be strong enough for vulnerable honesty.

Deciding when to speak up and when to let-it-go is a constant process of discernment.

Chocolate makes this easier…

 

 
waxseal2

 

 

 

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…

Each morning, on my “power walk” route, I pass an older gentleman, standing in the same spot, looking out over the city. Perhaps this is his morning ritual. Each morning he tells me I look beautiful as I trudge by him. Recently he added that my nails looked pretty too.

I dismiss these compliments somewhat automatically. Is he kidding? I’m sweaty. I haven’t washed my face. Or showered. I do not resemble the young women that pass me on the left in their color coordinated Lycra. I wear an old sweat shirt from the kids high school sports teams  — a politically incorrect Native American’s profile plastered on the front. I did recently buy some pretty snazzy sneakers though…although I don’t think they are called sneakers anymore.

I easily decide he doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Today on my way back past him he added, “You look like a movie star.” I smiled. “Lily Tomlin, that’s it, you look like Lily Tomlin.”

Really?

Now…I think Lily Tomlin is funny as hell, but I don’t think she is pretty. I actually think she is a bit homely, in an Edith Ann kind-of way.

For as much as I thought I had disregarded his compliment, I noticed the impact his comparison had on me. My feet felt heavier.

Almost home, my front steps in the distance, I realized I had “done it again.” I had dismissed a compliment but readily believed a slight — even though I knew he hadn’t meant it as such. Why was being compared to someone I didn’t think was particularly attractive a perfect fit, while being told I looked pretty rolled off my back?

Do you do this?

I remember many years ago speaking at a conference for therapists. I was the last speaker on the last day of the conference. Not a great placement.

I did my talk. I saw heads nodding which I took as a good sign. People were a bit ansi to get on their way, but I thought I held their attention.

At the end of the presentation I read through the participants evaluations. They were filled with good to excellence scores and comments. Except for one person, who clearly HATED me and everything I said. She, I assume it was a ‘she’ from her floral penmanship, wrote that my presentation was not based in the real world of addictions, that my ideas were pompous and that I should park my Mercedes at the door.

Ouch. The air left my lungs.

“But I don’t own a Mercedes,” I countered to myself as I read her responses. “I once had a Oldsmobile Bravada but got rid of it because I felt pretentious driving it.” I wanted her to know this.

I drove home hunched over the wheel, replaying her assessment of me. Not one of other kind, positive, complimentary comments, from the other 100 evaluations, made it into my long term memory.

I was told as a kid, more often than I needed to hear, “Don’t get too big for Scanyour britches.” Or worse yet, “You’re getting to big for your britches.” I had been caught thinking well of myself. I had the audacity to consider myself, even for a moment, special, smart, funny, or cute. If my mom got the faintest whiff of my ego’s presence she would escort it quickly out of the room.

I didn’t learn to believe well of myself.

My mentor in grad school told me that 50% of the people were always going to like me and 50% would not. He suggested, for me to have a happy life, I might want to stand with the 50% that liked me.

Huh. Novel idea in my world. What if I did?

So I will take the compliment. I chose to believe I look pretty — just like Lily Tomlin. My nails look pretty too. Not bad for a Thursday morning. I will take all the positive comments that come my way until I begin to believe them.

It takes 7 compliments to undo 1 criticism.

But whose counting?

XO

waxseal2

 

 

 

You will be okay…

Many years ago, when Jena was young, her dad and I spent an overnight in Pittsburgh. She hated when I went away. She called me at 10pm, missing me. I talked with her and with Barb, our babysitter/nanny/pseudo grandmother/family friend. Jena decided she was okay and would go back to bed. At 11pm the phone rang again. I used my best soothing voice to reassure her and to remind her that we would be home the next day. She settled down, her breathing softening. She said she thought she could fall asleep. I told her I loved her and we hung up. At midnight the phone rang again.

You get the picture. I tried every thing I knew to comfort her. Barb did the same. Each time we settled Jena, an hour later she was upset again, calling. Finally at the 3am call I was exhausted. “Jena, you are going to be okay!” There was silence on the line.

“Oh. Okay. Why didn’t you say that before? Night Mom, see you tomorrow.”

I was dumbfounded as I snapped my cell phone shut for the last time that night. Why hadn’t I said that before? I had spent the entire night consoling, convincing, and conjoling her that my being away for a night was not a big deal. I had tried to come up with solutions, distractions, even bribes.

But what she needed from me was to acknowledge our separation was a very big deal to her and to assure her she would survive it. She needed me to know something that she was unable to know…that she would be okay.

Sometimes that is all we need. To have a trusted other hold our strength when we can’t find it. We have all been there. So far in with no visible way out. Our minds tell us we will always be stuck in this scary place. We lose ourselves and our hope.

Recently I spent time with a friend who had been sick for 3 weeks. She was exhausted, angry and afraid she would never be well again. I told her, with maternal assurance, that she would be well again, that it was just really hard for her to trust that right now. Her smile spoke her appreciation. Some part of her knew that, but it was buried under her current panic. The same was true for Jena. Some part of her knew she would be okay. I simply reminded her.

And that is sometimes that is all we need.
waxseal2

 

 

 

It feels like Sunday morning…

Some times it is so simple. The special things.

It’s Sunday morning. I am unloading the dishwasher. Tom is cooking breakfast. Eggs. Bacon. Grits. Yo-Yo Ma on the stereo.

I feel at home. I feel grateful. It is these simple things that occur, at a time when I am available to appreciate them, that move me to gratitude and to tears. In these moments I know I am the luckiest woman alive.

The smells of breakfast evoke a memory of a Sunday morning spent with a long-ago friend. We didn’t know each other when we were co-eds at the University of Delaware, but we met through a mutual U of D friend when we both moved to Richmond Va after graduation. We immediately liked each other and decided to get an apartment togther. We found a third floor apartment on Grace Street, in the Fan district of the city. At that time the Fan was considered an unsafe area by those living in the suburbs. To us it was artsy, diverse and the kind of dangerous we loved as 21 years olds. The complex was three, old, southern, brick buildings with a tree filled courtyard in front. Our apartment had French doors opening to a roof terrace with lovely hard wood floors. And it was affordable on our inks-not-dry-on-the-diplomas incomes. Perhaps because we needed to share the space with very large cockroaches. Something neither of us knew about since we were Yankees.

Diane and I sometimes made Sunday morning breakfast together. Music in the background. Good smells filling our look-mom-no-hands sanctuary. I felt like a grown up. I felt like how I imagined it would be when I was on my own. In my own life. In these moments I forgot I was lonely and very broke. I got a job as a bank teller, which was not my strong suit as my drawer never settled. My manager liked my people-skills and knew I wasn’t enough of a math-master-mind to steal from them, so he kept me. I was also homesick for my college roommates who were living together in Philadelphia. When they threw a party they would call me. They passed the phone and I talked to everyone just like I was back at school. When I hung up I would feel a pit in my stomach and question my decision to strike out on my own. (Why I randomly picked Richmond to move to, without a job or knowing anyone is another story. One that has unfolded many times throughout my life uncovering well held family secrets.)

It was the smells and simplicity of this morning that caused me to time traveled 34 years. I tried to describe to Tom what I was feeling; my amazement at my young self, my friendship with Diane, my love for my college roommates, my appreciation of a slow Sunday morning. After several attempts landed on, “It feels like Sunday morning.”

Gratitude born of simplicity gives me hope. I am relieved that I don’t have to do, or have, or be the grand gestures. I also know I have to be moving at a slow enough rate of speed to notice.

XO

waxseal2

 

 

 

Seeing myself through another’s eyes…

I feel chronically busy. And never done. My TO-DO list keeps growing despite my check marks of completion.

I have a low grade anxiety as I triage. Each task feels urgently important and well passed its intended finish date. When I do take action — sorting through 10 years of bank statements, retirement accounts, bills, etc., to de-clutter and reclaim the spare room/office I have longed for — I torture myself by mentally rehearsing my unfinished project inventory.

I try soothing my over-active mind, as my 2008 Capital One statements cut into my fingers leaving painful paper cuts, convincing myself that I am doing exactly what I should be doing. One thing at a time, I coo. Unfortunately I don’t believe myself.

The other day I found the CD of a workshop my friend Kathleen and I did in 2006 with Christine Page, MD. In this weekend workshop Christine led us through a kind-of psycho-drama using each participant’s astrological charts. It was fascinating, disturbingly accurate and very insightful. Christine recorded each persons session for later listening.

Eight years later I found the CD in my sorting. I slipped it into my car’s sound system as I headed out for the day for a bit of easy listening. I forgot how much I hate the sound of my recorded voice.

I began to remember where I was in my life in 2006 — separated for 2 years, pretty much single parenting and beginning to experiment with dating. The uncertainty and fear I felt back then filled my body as I sat at a stop light. It was a tough time.

In this tender moment my voice from “Christmas Past” came through the car speakers. I heard myself disclose that I believed when I got everyone and everything taken care of — my kids, my marriage/divorce, my eventual move to the city–then I could have the life I wanted. When everyone else was happy and taken care of, then I could be happy.

Hearing this, as I accelerated through the green light taking myself to the next place on the list, I had an aha moment. My kids are good and are taking care of themselves. My new husband is low maintenance. I have moved to the city and am settled. So what’s my problem? According to my 2006 criteria I should be at peace with myself.

Unfortunately, wherever-you-go-there-you-are. I realized in this come-to-jesus moment that I recreated my belief system with new criteria. Now I tell myself, when I get the house completed; the kitchen refurbished, hard wood floors installed, the deck enlarged, etc., then I can have the life I want.

Apparently in my world there will always be more TO DO.

Kathleen called while I was writing this post. I shared my aha moment with her. She listened and laughed as only an old, dear friend who knows you well, can. She told me about me through her eyes. I liked the woman she described. Talking with her helped me see that I have the life I want. I am writing, working a vibrant practice, traveling, enjoying Tom, my kids, my friends, taking advantage of the cities many blessings and slowly getting my home in order.

But even more importantly, she helped me feel better about me. Seeing myself through her eyes let me off my own hook of never enough, never done.

Perhaps if we see ourselves through our loved ones eyes we will hold ourselves with more compassion. Is this true for you?

XO

waxseal2

 

 

 

I Make Myself Smile.

I have a friend that talks to herself as she settles into any comfie chair. “Okay”, she says making little noises of satisfaction as she readjusts herself, “This is good.”

Initially I thought this was very odd behavior. Doesn’t she know I can hear her, I asked myself with a less than veiled judgement? Is she talking to me? Is she crazy?

As is ALWAYS the case when I judge another, within 2 weeks I am eating my words and doing the very thing I criticized. So as I fell into the couch after a particularly long day and overheard my murmuring, “Okay. Alright. This is good,” I couldn’t help but smile at myself. I was humbled.

What I judge in others I will meet in myself.

This comeuppance also happens when I use the words ALWAYS or NEVER. As in, “I would never do that,” or “I always do this.” When I hear these words pop out of my mouth I have learned to TAKE THEM BACK. (Notice I didn’t say always.) I say, out loud to myself, and to whomever I have made my pronouncement, “I take it back. I take it bad. I take it back.” Three times seems sufficient.

I know I will do it or say it. I will make that wrong turn and scare a pedestrian. I will thoughtlessly take up the whole locker room bench, spreading my stuff out as I change. I will carelessly say something that hurts someone. And…I will talk to myself.

Now I talk to myself regularly. I like it. I enjoy hearing my thoughts outside of my head. It feels strangely relational. Caring. It makes me smile. It also makes me wonder if this is early dementia. Or aging. I didn’t talk to myself when I was younger. I didn’t fart as much either.

The other day I was unloading the back seat of my car, strategically organizing my computer bag, lunch bag, boxes of kleenex and purse onto my shoulders and under my arms before I crossed the street to my office. Once I was equally balanced on both shoulders, like a well-packed mule, I stepped into the street.

When I reached the middle of the street, where PAT buses fly, I heard myself say, like a parent speaking to a child, “You didn’t even look before you stepped into the street.”

Silently I answered. “But I listened. I didn’t hear any cars coming.” I said it like a defensive adolescent.

I cleverly responded, aloud, “But what if an electric car was coming. You can’t hear them.”

I had me. Good point. Lesson taken. I smiled, acknowledging this verbal exchange between me and me in the middle of the street. I also looked around to see if anyone had heard me. Thankfully I was alone.

If a woman talks to herself and no one is there to hear, did she make a noise?

ALWAYS,

 
waxseal2

 

 

 

Inspiration for a Monday morning

We happened to flip through to the Grammy’s last night.  As with any television awards show we watched with distraction. Folding laundry. Paying bills. Organizing for the week ahead.

Until…a bright, red haired Cyndi Lauper introduced a duet by Carole King and someone I didn’t know, Sara Bareilles. I love Carole King. Her songs comforted and inspired me as a teen. I was braver because of her words.

I sat down to watch. With all of my attention. I felt goosebumps as these two women, Carole older, Sara younger, sang and played their pianos to each other and to me.

I was still moved this morning, so much so I decided to share it with you.

Sit down. Enjoy.

Carole King and Sara Bareilles

 

 
waxseal2

 

 

 

Why do I feel bad when I compare myself to perfect people?

I know, I know, there are no perfect people.

That is what I tell myself when I am comparing myself to the woman standing in front of me in the check out line in Whole Foods.  A beautiful 60-ish woman, who is toned (specifically no giggle arm or belly), artistic yet casually dressed, well spoken with kind words to the check-out woman and the guy bagging her well chosen groceries. I am certain she has kept her girlish figure even though I imagine she has birthed babies.

I think her oldest is probably a brain surgeon who has developed a miracle non invasive procedure to help menopausal women remember their children’s birth dates. Her youngest is most likely a rocket scientist who is developing a garbage collecting space rocket to gather all the crap we have imagesleft up there…as evidenced in the movie Gravity — the debris blowing Sandra Bullock dangerously far away from the mother ship. This woman smiles warmly, with perfectly straight still white teeth, as she hands me the separator that will distinguish her stuff from mine.

She is not perfect. I am sure. I tell myself she has problems too. I even begin to make up some fictitious dilemma to soothe my screaming ego. I bet she can’t eat a whole bag of chocolate covered pretzels while watching a Big Bang rerun.

I always lose when I play the comparison game because I judge myself against people I decide are better than me, smarter than me, wealthier, funnier, cuter. As I age I compare myself with others who can get off the floor faster or remember where they parked their car.

So why do I do it? Why do you? I know that you do…but if miraculously you don’t, don’t tell me, cuz I will compare myself to you.

Perhaps it is the grass is always greener…or the 1960’s parenting technique of comparing kids to their more successful sibling or neighbor kid in an attempt to motivate Junior to learn his spelling words.

It is a lousy motivational technique.

In my family I was the shining star. The Hero child. It was as good a role as any, I guess, but I always had to succeed. Do well. Bring home accolades. And when I did, my brother, who was the Rebel child, hated me more each day. I came to learn that being the object of comparison sucks too.

Either way we lose.

Either way we feel bad about ourselves.

The truth is we don’t know what goes on for others. What we tell ourselves is simply a story that we have make up. Some of it may be true, most of it probably is not.

How do you feel when you compare yourself to another? 
waxseal2

 

 

 

You call me a Bitch…like it’s a bad thing…

27 years ago, in the Chicago Airport, I wanted to get home to my 6 month old son. My X and I were on a layover gone bad. The ticket agent informed us that we were not leaving any time soon since the plane to Pittsburgh was indeterminately delayed. This was not the answer I wanted to hear. I needed to get home to Landon.

I instinctively pulled myself up to my full 5-feet-10-inch height and leaned over the counter, closing the distance between myself and this unsuspecting man’s face. I informed him, in a dangerously quiet voice, tears in my eyes, that I had a son I needed to get home to and I WOULD be leaving soon. Very soon. And he was going to make it happen.

He did. He found a flight that got us home late that evening. Maybe he was glad to get me out of there. Maybe he was a dad and understood my panic. Either way he sent me home.

My X, Landon’s father, called me a Bitch for speaking to the ticket agent that way. I was infuriated by his lack of support that expressed itself in his name calling. I was also a bit ashamed of myself for acting badly to that nice man behind the ticket counter.

Two years later, when our son had a febrile seizure, the doctors insisted on doing a spinal tap. Hearing Landon’s terrified screams from the procedure room, as he was being held down by a team of nurses, I got-in-the face of another man, the doctor. Holding his white jacket lapels–mostly to steady my weak knees, I breathlessly asked if the spinal tap was absolutely necessary. He said it was. My X later told me I was (again) being a Bitch.

I did not intentionally try to be the B word. I knew the rule; If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all. People wouldn’t like me if I was not nice. I was clearly aware, thanks to my moms early training, that it was my job to keep everyone happy-especially her. So I learned the act of pleasantness.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, author of one of my favorite books, Women Who Run with the Wolves, tells the story of being asked why she had to get so loud and angry when something negatively impacted her. She responded along the lines of, “Well, you don’t hear me when I am quiet.”

Why does an assertive woman get called a bitch? Why is standing my ground considered bitchiness?

When I reached my mid 30’s something began to change inside of me. I stopped feeling guilty for my edginess. In fact, I rather began to enjoy it. I liked speaking up, even if the other person didn’t like what I said. I didn’t stop being kind. I did stop being nice. There is a difference.

Several years into this transformation my X, once again, called me a Bitch. I don’t remember for what. I do remember thanking him for the compliment; explaining that I had been working very hard to develop this skill and I was glad he had noticed.

The world needs more bitchy women.

: )
waxseal2

 

 

 

Luv Ya

It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s casual. “Luv ya,” I call over my shoulder as I head out the door.

I notice when I choose this abbreviated endearment to express my love. I notice when someone chooses to say to me. I feel a bit empty. Not necessarily bad empty, just empty. Like eating fat free ice cream. It’s fine. It looks like ice cream. It’s cold. It’s just not that filling.

Even if I formalize it a bit more by saying, “Love you,” my emptiness lingers. I feel the missing “I.”

Try it yourself. Say, Love you. Now say, I Love you. Do you notice a difference?

I do. I feel me when I use “I” and I feel you when you say “I”. (DId that make sense? Hope so. I hope so.) When I say, “I,” I am owning what I say. I am in my words. I am in me. I am holding myself accountable. I said that. I meant that. And you know it.

Anytime I drop “I” from my sentence it changes the fat content of my message. “Miss you.”  “Understand.”  “Sorry.”

Recently, before heading out to do some shopping, I stopped at our local diner for a late breakfast. Two eggs over easy, bacon, no toast. Two pancakes. My favorite. A little protein to modify the effects of the sugar and white flour high/crash of the pancakes. I sat at the counter with the other single diners enjoying my urban life.

There was a young man sitting alone at the end of the counter. He was hard not to notice. He was not using his inside voice. His amplified banter with the waitress distracted me from my book. I wanted him to be quiet.

At one point his girlfriend texted him. Maybe his wife, but I hope not. He apparently was late for something they had planned and she was wondering where he was. He reported this loudly and jovially as he shoved a large fork-full of his hungry-man breakfast into his mouth.Unknown-1

After he swallowed, he shared his antidote for an angry girlfriend. He had clearly used it many times.  “Luv ya honey.” He was very proud of himself. He had the formula. “It works every time,” he confidently confided to the entire diner. “That’s all I need to say and she will be fine.” He went on eating and enjoying the company of the waitress.

I thought how lucky it was for me to hear since I had begun writing this post and wasn’t sure where to go with it. Now I knew. I also thought, how unlucky for this girlfriend to be taken in by manipulative words that sound like I Love You, but I imagine didn’t feel like it.

Perhaps that is the litmus test. Regardless of the I, or lack there of, do I feel loved when you say it to me?

Likewise, do I feel loving when I am calling over my shoulder my many variations of those 3 simple words? Do I mean it as a perfunctory sentiment? Do I mean it at all? Am I offering all the fat or 2%?

Just something to think about over breakfast…since I couldn’t concentrate on my book.

XO

 
waxseal2