What I’m Not

 

 

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We just took a trip to a resort in Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic. It was beautiful. The weather was warm and clear, and everyone was friendly. I wanted to enjoy this vacation. Last year was hard and I was looking forward to some R&R.   But the food, though plentiful, went from bland to awful.   The amenities promised were elusive or not as advertised.   The other travelers seemed to be content, but I couldn’t help notice the missing details, the absence of my desired holiday away. I would go for a run on the beach, grateful for the easy breeze, and the laps of the ocean. Yet, I kept thinking of all the things I didn’t like about being there. I was angry at myself for booking and paying hard-earned money for this trip. I kept playing back other vacations I should have taken. I was blaming myself for not being able to let it go. Why couldn’t I simply enjoy what I had. Why was I so upset? Why couldn’t I be a more spiritual being? There are so many who are scared for their families and loved ones. There are those dealing with death, health challenges, immigration issues. And, I am feeling sorry for myself for not enjoying the beautiful resort I was in. What kind of person am I? And, the self-criticism was relentless. I am not grateful. I am not selfless. I am not worthy.

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This is not a new theme for me. I have a long history of being hard on myself. I understand that it’s not productive, yet I don’t seem to stop. In fact with the time and space on vacation, I seemed to swim a little in the outdoor pool and swam constantly in a state of condemnation. As the week continued, I’d have moments of peace, thinking that this will be a really funny story with some distance. And there were other times when the inner monologue chattered on.

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I am not a published book author, I’m not a size 8. I’m not a home owner. I’m not a multi-millionaire. I’m not a doctor. I’m not organized. I’m not young. I’m not coordinated.” The list could easily continue. I am clearly aware of what I’m not. In fact, sometimes my mind is so crowded with what I’m not, there’s no room for what I am.

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What I am is a mother and a wife. I’m happy with my work. I have a private practice and work with amazing individuals. I’m a friend. I’m a sister and a daughter. I am a theater and arts lover. I’m a subscriber to theater companies and a member to a number of varied museums. I’m a walker. I love walking the city. I’m a Manhattanite. I’m funny at times, and critical at other times, I’m a foodie. Life is good. But it won’t always be good. Sometimes a vacation turns out to be a vacation from what I love. And being away gives me greater appreciation of what I have.

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So I’m thinking this vacation was about taking vacations every day from self-criticism. It taught me to spend less mind-space on what I’m not, and celebrate more on who I am. Maybe this bad vacation can have a good outcome.

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If nothing else, I’m blogging again. So, yeah, I’m a blogger, too.

Blog Break

 

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I wasn’t planning on taking a break from my blog, but that’s what happened. I’m glad I took this break. I’ve needed a breather in general for a while, and the blog was just a part of what I needed to put aside. I enjoy writing, but I noticed something as the weeks went by without penning a word. I noticed that I felt relieved at times, and frustrated at other times. Same circumstances, different responses.

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As the weeks went by I started criticizing myself. I was hard on myself for not writing even as other obligations loomed large. I’d think,  “If I don’t write on a regular basis it’s predictive of not publishing later.” I questioned myself. “Could my attention on family and professional training simply be an excuse?” Of course it can. Or, more likely, it’s the choice I’m making at this time.

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We all make choices. And each choice excludes another. To spend more time with family I give up writing. To choose a concert this summer I give up going out this weekend. To work more I give up a cleaner home. To write this I give up some sleep. We make choices large and small every day.   Tonight I chose to write this short piece. And tomorrow? We’ll I guess I’ll see what choices I make and how they translate.

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One imperative option is to take a break from self-criticism. Whether I have a blog post or I skip it, I am doing the best I can, as we all are.

 

 

 

 

Stop Everything

 

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For the past few days I’ve spent most of my time in bed with a hot water bottle. I had a lower back spasm that seemingly came out of nowhere. The first two days were difficult to get up and down. On second thought, difficult is an understatement. But with the pain came some important lessons I apparently needed to learn.

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The first was how kind and generous my family and friends were. I am usually a do-it-myself kind of person, sometimes to a fault. I am strongly independent. But there are moments I can become resentful when others don’t pitch in. It’s in these moments that I realize that I could use some help. But when I feel aggrieved my requests sound more like criticisms than inquiries.

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Since my mobility was impaired, I had to ask for anything I wanted. What happened felt like a flood of love and care. Emma, my daughter, and Larry, my husband, were very helpful. Emma didn’t give me her usual teen attitude, and Larry went out of his way to make sure I had what I needed. Friends offered to help., which meant the world to me.

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What surprised me most was when I called to cancel theater tickets for two shows, both theaters were more than accommodating. And when I had a time-limited gym class, they postponed it without hesitation. Normally I don’t ask for special requests. I want to, but I respect most rules and adhere to them. I can even be righteous when others don’t respect the rules. I know, not an attractive quality, but true, nonetheless.

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I think this back pain may help me to recognize the need to ask for help more often. It was great for accommodations when there were special circumstances. But it seems like an activity worth pursuing even when I just want or need something. It could be as simple as someone helping me with reaching a product high on a Fairway shelf, or it may be asking a favor of a friend or colleague. In any event, this is a time when the pain gave me a positive gain.

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Why Don’t I Like Her?

Ms. Garcia was fussy. She was tense and persnickety. She was one day old when I met her and addicted to meth. Understandably, she was not easily soothed.

Some of my best teachers were infants. There was a time years ago when I held babies at St. Luke’s Hospital in the nursery. It was a wonderful program initially created for newborns who were at risk for AIDS. But as crack grew to epidemic proportions, the program expanded to include drug-addicted infants. Most of the nurses were wonderful, but their work load was full, so they enlisted volunteers to help with the holding and feeding, giving the babies human touch when their families were unable to be there.

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What I found fascinating about the infants was that instinctively they felt more comfortable in some arms rather than others. While Ms. Garcia would allow me to feed her, Mr. Brown did better in the arms of Cindy, one of the pediatric nurses. We all had our favorites. Because so many of the infants were taken from their mothers following the birth, they were referred to as Mr. and Ms. So & so since few had been named.

One important lesson the babies taught me is that we are drawn to some people and not others. Prior to that, I worked so hard to have others like me. I was not a popular kid. The more I tried to fit in, the further down the social ladder I fell. It never occurred to me to check in with myself to see if I liked them. So from the time I was in elementary school I measured my self-worth by the acceptance of others. Not a winning strategy.

The babies taught me to trust my instincts. To listen to the feelings I have when around others. We all come up with reasons why we don’t like one person, or why we like another. But what I saw in the hospital nursery was that the reasons came later to us. We like whom we like. We see it most in dating. I dated a lot in my twenties. I met a lot of people who were very nice, but I still wasn’t interested in them. When I asked, I would say, “he was boring,” or, “we didn’t have the same interests.” But the truth was, it just wasn’t right. Not because of our interests, that was incidental to my initial experience with the date.

As a psychotherapist this lesson has been invaluable. Since I see psychotherapy as a path back to trusting oneself, the relationship matters. When asked for recommendations, I suggest meeting with a few therapists so a potential client has a chance of getting a good feeling about their prospective therapist. This might be the first step in learning to trust themselves.

I learned to trust myself after working with the infants, observing how and with whom they bonded.   I am grateful to the Misters and Ms.’s for this important lesson. The babies I held are in their twenties now. And I’m hopeful that they are returning to their natural state of being, in touch with their instincts. After all they gave freely and unknowingly, they deserve that, and so much more.

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