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

 

 

 

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