Beginning Again with Self-Compassion: Part One

Dear Blogging Friends,

After my last post admitting the fact that I have no clue what I’m doing with my various blogs and social media pages, my faithful reader, Doug, said he voted for having this be more of a personal blog. Although appealing, it scares me for several reasons. One, I’ve been raised to be very private. (Why not just write in a  journal?)  In addition, some of the things I want to write about involve other people, who don’t want their stories told. I respect that. And then there’s this: a personal blog is, well, personal. Do I really want the world to know how messed up I am? I told my husband a few weeks ago, “I thought I’d be more together by age 52.” He so sweetly and earnestly said, “Being together is over-rated.”

You have been taught that there is something wrong with you and that you are imperfect, and there isn’t and you’re not.

-Cheri Huber

noname-19

But, at least for today, I’m going to go for it, and tell you what’s really going on with me.

My self-compassion practice has been a joke. My husband told me the other day that he thinks I’m still way too hard on myself.  I said incredulously, “Really?” I hadn’t even noticed. So I retook the self-compassion test on Kristin Neff’s website and I scored horribly–probably lower than I did when I first started this blog. Oh my gosh. I felt badly because I was feeling so badly about myself! Of course, I started to cry.

My first year of blogging went really well. I was learning to be kinder and more gentle with myself; I felt more peaceful. So what happened? I’m not sure, but here are a few theories (maybe not in order of importance–I’m figuring this out as I go):

1. Chronic pain has worn me down.

  • I’ve felt overwhelmed dealing with doctors and new medicine trials. I’ve had hopes dashed when a medicine gave me so many side effects I stopped taking it, and then read in my records I was labeled “noncompliant.”
  • I don’t have doctors I trust. I feel like I’m flip-flopping around too much, but I can’t find anyone I click with.
  • It’s frustrating having to weigh every decision based on whether I think I’ll be able to manage the pain, and how long I’ll take to recover.
  • The things I like to do the most are the things that exacerbate my pain.

One’s dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.

-Michael J. Fox

noname-24

2. Dealing with depression on top of chronic pain really sucks.

  • I’ve had a long, long history of depression, and I’ve come to realize that I have what’s called “treatment-resistant” depression. Despite lots of psychotherapy and lots of different medications, I have a very difficult time maintaining a stable mood. (And going through menopause definitely made me worse!) I’m not Bipolar with highs and lows–I just have varying degrees of lows, with just enough good days sprinkled in to let me know what I’m missing. My last psychiatrist retired, so I’m starting with a new one. Of course, she thinks the previous doc had me on all the wrong things, so I’m trying some new things, which is EXTREMELY scary for me. I am trying really, really hard. I didn’t read any of the information on side effects and am giving this a chance. It’s been two weeks and I’m afraid to be hopeful, but maybe I am, just a little bit.

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

-Mark Twain

noname-21

3. I have an over-active reptilian brain.

The reptilian brain is the part of the brain that deals with threats. From an evolutionary perspective, this part of the brain kept us safe from lions and tigers and bears (oh my!). When confronted with perceived danger, adrenaline kicks in and we swiftly move into survival mode. Our nervous system goes on overdrive and we can do amazing things–run quickly, fight off an enemy, or freeze until our enemy thinks we’re dead and leaves us alone. I would have been great in prehistoric times. But now? My brain is constantly scanning for things to go wrong, leaving me in worry-mode much of the time.

Also, as Kristin Neff pointed out: “…when the threat is to our self-concept, self-criticism does not work well. When you view yourself as the problem (I can’t believe I gained those 5 pounds back, I should’ve gotten an A on that test) the reptilian brain kicks in and attacks yourself, thus the self-critical self-talk.”

To top it off, as neuroscientist Rick Hanson describes it, my brain is like teflon for remembering positive events and velcro for remembering negative events. In actuality, the ratio of positive to negative events in my life is in my favor, but it often doesn’t feel this way. I forget the good.

What does this have to do with my self-compassion practice going awry? I think because these grooves are so deeply cut into my brain that I have to be very intentional to move out of this way of being. And I haven’t been very intentional (partly due to #1 and #2)

We have to have compassion for the self critic. Self-criticism comes from a desire to keep ourselves safe.

-Kristin Neff

noname-20

This is getting kind of long, but I’m not finished yet! I’ll continue in Part Two, hopefully in a few days. I want you to know how much I appreciate you reading this and all your support. I am going to begin again with self-compassion, this very moment, and know that it is okay. I’m okay, you’re okay, and everything is already alright.

You are imperfect, permanently and inevitably flawed. And you’re beautiful.

-Amy Bloom

Photos by Greg Markway, taken over the past few weeks.

Living the Questions

photo-61My blogging and social media is a mess! Despite seriously thinking about giving up blogging due to my chronic pain, I somehow have three blogs that I can’t part with. I have this blog, The Self-Compassion Project, and two on Psychology Today. The first blog I started over there is called Shyness is Nice (named after The Smiths song). The other is called Living the Questions (named from the Rilke quote to the left).  I’ve been doing this for about two years and I haven’t really found my voice on any of these blogs.  Writing books was so much easier for me!

A few days ago, I impulsively thought I should change my Facebook page name from The Self-Compassion Project to Living the Questions, so it would at least match one of my Psychology Today blogs.  I submitted the change to Facebook, not thinking they would approve it. I heard they were pretty picky about such things. The very next day, however, they had approved the change. Now I realize that I will have hundreds of links to change on my Psychology Today posts. Plus, I’m not even sure if I’m happy they approved it. I wonder if I could write Facebook back and say I made a mistake? I obsess over everything!

Who knows? Maybe this will free me up to write more on this blog. Really make it a personal blog, and not worry if I post too many pictures of my dogs, or that I write silly things, or that I’m inconsistent in posting.

Anyway, I just thought I’d let you know that if you notice the Facebook name change, it’s because I do not know what I’m doing!

 

The Courage to Be Ordinary

my_collage_by_Fuzel-3It’s the end of the year. People are blogging about their favorite memories, their biggest challenges, and their hopes and plans for the new year. I haven’t had the energy for introspection. And I’m okay with that.

Instead, I’m making a simple plan: embrace being ordinary, even average. In our culture of striving for excellence, this plan is going to take courage.

Here are some gems I found to inspire me, and maybe you, too…

***

“Often we take for granted just being ordinary. We feel the constant pressure to compete, to excel, and to be special. The fact is most people are average with respect to any particular human characteristic. That is the definition of average. And yet many are not satisfied with the average or ordinary and tend to be discontent and always striving. It is a great relief and healing when you realize that just being ordinary and your ordinary life are wonderful gifts.”

Healing Zen, by Ellen Birx

***

“Now I see that the journey was never meant to lead to some new and improved version of me; that it has always been about coming home to who I already am.”

Magical Journey: An Apprenticeship in Contentment, by Katrina Kenison

***

Perhaps most tragically, when we work so hard to be special, there is no time to be alive! No time to open our arms to the simple, the average, the everyday. Which is where 99.9% of the life happens and where we get to be who we are!

In Celebration of Being Ordinary, by Jennifer Louden

***

“I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.”

Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger

Wise Women Share Thoughts on Self-Compassion

selfcompassionsaturdayUnderneath virtually all of our suffering lies a lack of self-compassion. When Jill Salahub, author of the blog, A Thousand Shades of Gray, realized this, she began the series, Self-Compassion Saturdays. She interviews women bloggers (artists, writers, coaches, and a psychologist—me) all about self-compassion: what it means, what it looks like, and what they still want to learn. Jill is putting together an e-book based on these interviews. Be sure to subscribe to her blog so you don’t miss it when it’s complete!

I’ve shared highlights of each interview on my Psychology Today blog . Sorry to make you click over–search engines (and Psychology Today) don’t like it if you put the same content two places. Click here to read the full post. Thanks!

Anne Lamott on The Big Picture

anne_lamott_credit_sam_lamott_final_small_custom-7e5d0b9ab1f825f3b80131f7594ab88e8c3f9039-s6-c30I recently read Anne Lamott’s newest book, Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair, and fell in love with her writing, her perspective. I immediately started following her on Facebook.

She shared this today, and I think it might be everything you need to know about life.  Seriously. I’m going to print it out and keep it in my purse to look at frequently. I want to share it here because I know some of my readers aren’t on Facebook, and I don’t want anyone to miss this!

*****

Last night, at Arborlawn United Methodist Church in Fort Worth, the last of 14 cities on the book tour for Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Repair, a woman in her late twenties raised her hand and asked, “What is the big picture? I do a lot of things that I love and value, but don’t have a clue what it all means.”
The crowd was actually hushed, as if I might have the secret launch codes, and could answer this for all time.

I said, “Welcome to the monkey house,” stealing one of Vonnegut’s titles. Everyone of every age roared with friendly laughter, because we’re all in the same boat. We ALL think we missed school the day that the visiting specialists stopped by our 2nd grade classroom to distribute the pamphlets on what is true, who we are, how we are to live with the great mystery of life, how to come through dark times, how to awaken. We’re all sort of winging it, trying to learn self-love and respect, trying to be here, now, sometimes, and live lives of meaning and joy.

You do a LOT of things you love and value? That’s the big picture.

You’ve learned about radical self-care, and putting your own oxygen mask on first, yet also have discovered that we can only be filled up by service, by giving? Are you laughing enough? Are you saying “No” enough? Have you taken to heart that “NO” is a complete sentence? That no one over 40 must EVER again help anyone else move to a new house? That no one over 50 must EVER chair a yard–or-parking lot-or garage sale–for a church, or a high school sports team?

Ram Dass said he thought that when it was all said and done, we’re all just walking each other home. That’s the meaning, I think. That’s the big picture.

You’re not squandering your time racing around all day doing meaningless bullshit, multi-tasking, and always feeling like you’re behind on your homework? If not, that’s what it all means. Rest is a spiritual act.

My pastor once told us that you can trap bees in jars without lids, because they look straight ahead, muddling around, panicking on the floor of the jar, bumping into the glass sides, because they don’t look up. If they did, they could fly to freedom.

You’re learning NOT to chase the mechanical rabbits at the Greyhound Race Track, of fame, drama, achievement, ownership? You’re pursuing a creative call of some sort, now? You’re not pretending that you are going to get back to writing, singing, dance, as soon as this or that happens–ie as soon as you graduate or retire, or your youngest leaves home? You’re doing it NOW, badly, herky-jerkily, as a debt of honor? That is the bigger meaning of it all: creation.

You’re living as if you may have a year or so to live, and want to make the most of it, savor and be filled, by spending time with those you love most, much of it outdoors in the beauty of our Mother? Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”

So are you out there, shaking your head with amazement, smiling about the earth’s wild sweet beauty? That is the bigger picture. That is the meaning: wonder, presence, immediacy, being HERE. Like my teenage friend Mason says in Stitches, “I had brain cancer. I was in a coma. Then I was HERE again.” Are you here?

That’s the big picture.

Around Here Lately

I thought I’d share some random pictures and a few thoughts about life around here.

photo-53The coolest thing: I met with some graduate students from Taiwan. One of them contacted me because she had read both of my books on social anxiety disorder and was going to be at the University of Missouri for a cultural exchange program. She wanted to interview me for a class project. I hope to write a whole post on this–it was so, so neat. She had brought her Chinese edition of Painfully Shy, all highlighted, and wanted me to sign it. She said it was a miracle that we met, and asked for a hug when we said good-bye.

An interesting tidbit: They all said that being quiet in Taiwan was revered. It was the shy, quiet students who were popular and who were selected by teachers to be class presidents. It sure was confirmation of this research study.

Real Life: Greg sitting in the recliner, holding Larry up like a baby, shoes on the floor, stuff all over the counter-tops, and me being sneaky taking pictures.photo-56

 Lots of Walks: When I feel sad about all the things I can’t do with my chronic pain, I remember that there are lots of things I can do, like take walks around the neighborhood. The sunsets have been gorgeous.photo-57

Life Make-Over Fail: Greg says I sound like a walking women’s magazine. I’ve been talking to him for at least a month that after baseball season was over (our St. Louis Cardinals were in the World Series) we were going to have a “Life Make-Over.” We were going to watch less TV, eat better, exercise more, spend less time on the computer… It was all supposed to start on November 1. Well, we did horribly over the weekend.  Greg watched LOTS of football (but to be fair, he didn’t feel well). I even told myself I wasn’t going to eat my nightly ice cream, but I did. We didn’t exercise.  This is why you should never try to start things on the first of the month or on a Monday. It feels too much like a diet and instant rebellion kicks in.photo-60

Funny: Larry looks a bit like Einstein. They both have the static hair thing going on.my_collage_by_Fuzel-2

Still Pondering Existential Issues (some things never change):photo-59

Happy People have Happy Habits

Happiness is circular.

Happy people have happy habits,

which in turn, makes them happier.

Here’s a list of habits that have a high chance of giving you a happiness boost. (This links to my Psychology Today blog’s newest post.)

A few weeks ago I went to a continuing education day-long workshop on developing positive emotional habits. The presenter was a psychologist and a comedian, so it was one of the better workshops I’ve been to.

Here are a few key points:

  • Happiness has many influences: 50% is our based on our “set point” (temperament/genetics); 10% is based on our circumstances; and 40% is based on intentional activity.
  • Despite increases in our standard of living, Americans are no happier than they were 60 years ago.
  • Money brings happiness to the extent that it alleviates poverty; beyond that, it does little to increase sustained happiness.
  • Developing skills to increase happiness/contentment is not frivolous. Happiness is linked to many important life outcomes such as health, problem-solving ability, creativity, less depression and anxiety…

Okay, I don’t know what you’ll think about this, but the presenter said this has been determined the world’s funniest joke (according to the Richard Wiseman LaughLab):

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls the emergency services.  He gasps: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says: “Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: “OK, now what?”

Did that make you laugh or groan?

I hope you’ll click through and read my post on Psychology Today: 15 Habits to Cultivate Lasting Happiness.

Photo credit: D. Sharon Pruitt