Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Self-care strategy #6: find someone who gives a damn about me

Confession: finally got myself into a relationship. Given what an oddball I am, of course the bf ends up equally if not weirder than me. Most gratifying aspect of this relationship so far: the guy never invalidates my feelings, which so far has the greatest gaping wound in my life. My parents never take my feelings seriously; my friends and extended family are bored out of their minds about my rants and complaints. I know it won't last forever, but so far the guy actually listens to my babbles.  I'm used to people asking for my opinions and then ignoring them completely (I've have some not so supportive friends in my life), I'm always shocked when he agrees to go to a restaurant I pick, or see a movie that I suggest, or when he manages to validate my rants ("Sounds like you've been feeling misunderstood and ignored",  etc.) I feel like a small child for needing so much reassurance but it's really nice to be pampered like this.

Things I learn about myself: how severely insecure I am. For the first few months of the relationship, I kept expecting the guy to suddenly cut me off because I am too annoying or he figured out he made a mistake or he met someone who's a better fit for him. This stems from the fact that I have had many eligible guy friends whom I had crushes on who would tell me they think I'm a really nice girl but then go on to pursue prettier, more fun-loving, sweeter girls. I googled obsessively terms like "how can I tell if a guy likes me"; "What do men look for in a relationship"; "what qualities do men like about women", "why do guys fear commitment"; "why do men cheat"..... You get the drift. I was always the one who asked if he would be free the next weekend. During the week I would be in despair if he doesn't text me, so I would text him every night, and if he doesn't answer, I would be sad that I miss him more than he misses me, and I would nervously google "Do overly clingy girls drive men away". It's been several months now and judging from his manners I am finally reassured that he does enjoy spending time with me and that he doesn't get annoyed when I ask him to hang out on a week night. He's just not the proactive chaser type.

The learning curve: figuring out what types of Issues in daily life that deeply bothers the guy. I thought it's usually the girl in a relationship who are picky about the little things, but in this case it's the guy who complains that I installed new toilet paper rolls "the wrong way" (Seriously?). He hates the show "The Big Bang Theory" with a vengeance because he thinks the show paints an extremely belittling image of the nerd stereotype and people just laugh at nerds' awkwardness rather than intelligently humorous scripting (For me it's just a funny show and the main character is amazing at performing physical comedy and delivering the lines in a purposeful way). There are many other TV shows and issues that seem to seriously irriate him, which I cannot understand at the moment because they seem quite trivial to me. Since he's been so sensitive to my feelings, I don't want to invalidate how he feels, but I have been having some trouble seeing it from his perspective as to why he feels so strongly about those issues. The positive part is that since I don't have strong feelings about those issues myself, they don't stir up my emotions so we won't get into arguments over these things. I just have to be careful not to say things that might sound like invalidation, which I have done a few times by accident.

So far I feel pretty good about the status of the relationship, but to be honest I already think about coping strategies if a break up happens in the near future. This is a bad habit from being trapped in 6 years of grad school with way too little progress/accomplishments for the amount of time and efforts I put in. I keep thinking anout worse scenarios and making contingency plans for the case where I have to graduate with zero publications and that I get zero support from the supervisor in terms of career planning (I could teach English in Asia; I think I am competent enough to work at Starbucks, etc. That's how confident I feel about my education). The thing is nobody gives a damn that I felt this way, which made me felt like going to this particular grad school was the worst life choice I have ever made, and I have been regretting it ever since. Doesn't help that I had a fling about a year ago that didn't turn well, which was anticipated, but I was in this strange emotional mess such that I would burst into tears whenever the thought of that guy popped up in my mind. That's when I understood what people mean when they say "love is an addiction". I can be all scientifically minded about observing myself, and even finding it fascinating, but it doesn't stop me from being an emotional train wreck. The compulsive analyzer in me knows that the crying spells and heartaches will happen all over again should a break up happens soon, but the rational observer in me thinks the prognosis of this relationship is looking good for now. I'm crazy, I know. My family doctor one year ago refused to recommend psychotherapy (coz he doesn't believe in it; he trusts the anti-depressants more), so here I am analyzing myself to death. 

And the self-care efforts continue...

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Self-care strategy #5 - Don't take everything personally

So many times I get really worked up if people make a criticism of me or if they don't like me. I feel like I am not good enough, likable enough, smart enough, agreeable enough, that I lack social skills, patience, understanding, humor. I cringe when my flaws are verbally exposed by others.

I need to remind myself that nobody is perfect. Even those who seem effortlessly charismatic on the surface may feel insecure deep down. Overly charming people are either people pleasers or can be quite arrogant. People also assume a lot of things, especially if they come from a more homogenous culture. When they say, "This is how we always do things in my family/culture/country", I have to struggle not to snap back that "I didn't grow up in your family/culture/country and you have no idea what kind of (flawed) values were taught to me when I grew up. Your values do not universally apply to everyone in this world."

Decades of biting my tongue when others make quick judgements and criticism has made me seem overly aloof. I want to appear to be a warmer person but I think I have to allow myself to process everything that has happened to me rather than feeling bad when people say that I'm an adult now and can just suddenly make the switch to be totally confident and pretend my upbringing is over and does not influence me now at all.

When people make naive judgements I guess I need to  remind myself that they are lucky they grew up in a more conventional environment, but it also makes them understand less about the shadows and darkness in this world. It makes me more sympathetic to the less fortunate people. It feels burdensome but I have to find ways to accept my knowledge and experience as gifts.  

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Self-care strategy #4 -- Give thanks when I start feeling anxious or develop angry/sad thoughts

Feeling insecure and ruminating about "what should have been" are my brain's default programs. They get triggered whenever I'm alone (either commuting or at home), or whenever someone innocently says something trivial that triggers my shameful sore spots, I feel an intense emotion and then try to suppress it, and then angry, anxious, and/or sad thoughts come up right after that. This seems to be my pattern.

Strategy to deal with fear/anxiety/hurt/shame:

- If circumstance permits, sit cross legged, close my eyes, clear my thoughts and just focus on breathing and body awareness

- If it's not possible to go into meditative mode, think of three things to be immediately thankful for.
1. I am thankful I am an independent adult now and no longer needs to answer to my mother and my grad school thesis supervisor.
2. I am thankful I have so much freedom in my life. There are so many available options to me right at this moment and from day to day. People can say hurtful things to be but the words do not have direct consequences to my life situation.
3. I am thankful I am surrounded by so much beauty. I have so many friends who do not judge me and like me as who I am.

This helps me to shift my attention from my anger/fear of inadequacy to the options I do have available to me.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Self-care strategy #3 -- be more forgiving to self

I am the type who likes to write a list of plans for the next day, and then 70% of the items on the list don't get done. Then I get very frustrated with myself and give up. Typical perfectionist-procrastinator-self-destructive behaviour. This habit lowers self-esteem and doesn't get me anywhere.

Change of strategy:

- Still make lists, but don't feel bad when I don't accomplish things. Focus on the 30% that I did manage to accomplish. One might suggest that I list less things, but I'm an obsessive planner and I will write up things that needs to be done within 10 years if it comes up on my mind. So, before I master my skill for prioritization, I need to be more forgiving to myself.

Counterintuitively, being more self-forgiving releases my frozen/giving up behavior, and allows me to continue getting things done.

Another strategy:

- Schedule breaks and "do-nothing" tasks into my daily to-do items. Otherwise I will feel bad whenever I relax because there's still a gigantic list of things that needs to be done. Unlike many of my friends who seem to be comfortable scheduling a million activities (Drinking with friends! music concerts! Hiking, biking, learn a new sport! Writing classes! Language classes! All in one weekend!) into their lives whenever they don't have obligations, I feel like I seriously need a lot of down time.  I am happy if I do one extra-curricular activity on a weekend rather then ten things, even if they are all supposed to be fun. I don't know why I am so mentally exhausted, but I am, and I need to be firm about the type of lifestyle that suits me rather than to follow the paths of my seemingly more accomplished friends. I'm really hoping one day I will overcome my psychological fatigue and be more motivated again.