Self-Compassion

5 March 2011 § 4 Comments

Sasha and Tonks

On Monday our neighbors moved away.  In addition to being life-mentors for Hubs and me (they were several years ahead of us in similar PhD programs), they have a Border Collie-Great Pyrenees mix, Sasha, who is Tonks’ best friend.  Tonks regularly stayed with them when Hubs and I were out of town.  She loved to visit and just hang out with Sasha, so much so that after walks, she sometimes headed for their front porch rather than ours and stood at the door (solid as a 68-pound boulder) as we tried to convince her that it wasn’t time to see Sasha.  Their human friendship was one of support when Hubs and I became first-time doggie parents, joy as we were included in their wedding celebration last summer, and togetherness as we jointly shared disappointments and celebrated successes in grad school.  So now they’re off to post-docs and we can keep in touch through the miracle of the interwebs, but I just felt so terribly sad about Tonks losing her puppy pal.  She struggles so much to get along with other dogs that it felt like a huge blow for her favorite canine to move away.  I felt devastated as Tonks tried to go visit Sasha after our Tuesday morning walk, and my sweet momma cried with me and said that it was probably good for me to experience the inability to protect my “kid” from hurt.

All Monday and Tuesday, I felt consumed and helpless, and I struggled to sleep, function, and act normal at work.  Coaching practice on Tuesday night, I had a breakdown when some guys playing soccer yelled something (totally innocuous) and I yelled back at them (normally would have been able to laugh it off) and then started to just cry and cry.  My sweet team is used to a rather emotional coach, and they comforted me and went on with practice.  The best thing that any one of them said to me was, “It’s okay.  You can just feel sad.”

What a novel concept!  Given permission [from this wonderful, wise-beyond-her years friend] to just feel my feelings, I was able to spend the rest of practice recovering, go home and cry to sweet, always-supportive Hubs for another 45 minutes or so and then go to bed and wake up FEELING BETTER.  Wednesday morning I could talk to Tonks without crying, handle seeing the empty, dark neighbor house, and be productive at work!

And then my experiences were validated through the posted link on a friend’s Facebook page.  The gist:  most people wouldn’t expect someone whose lovely friends and neighbors had just moved away to just get over it.  My counselor would say, “Take time to grieve this.  It definitely is a loss.”  We are entitled to feel loss in our lives, to experience and grieve it in order to be able to move past it.  But what I was doing was just trying to act normal and feeling impatient with myself when I couldn’t!  This mode of dealing is just the opposite of self-compassion, and in order to be able to invite the joy again, I had to show myself a little grace.  I had a good cry and have returned to mostly normal life (though I am still crying as I write this post).

What might you be struggling with in your life that deserves a little bit of self-compassion?

Celebrate!

25 February 2011 § 1 Comment

I feel like I have had a helluva past couple weeks.  The combination of the imminent departure from Nashville of two women who are super-inspiring to me both scientifically and as friends, planning for and giving two presentations (one on my research, one leading a discussion for a first year grad course), my despair at things happening in the world, and hormones have made me feel INSANE.  Sad and crabby and seriously hungry (have I mentioned that I eat my feelings?).  What made it all worse was that the research talk that I gave on Monday basically reinforced an idea I’ve been having for a while that I’m on a directionless path to Science Nowhere.

This morning, this post appeared on one of my newly found favorite blogs, and it just feels perfect to share.  April of Blacksburg Belle uses a vivid “elephant and rider” analogy and says that in order to stay motivated, we have to celebrate each small thing that goes in a positive direction for us (or each tiny step the elephant takes).  So rather than dwell on my first paragraph, I want to share victories that happened this week:  On Tuesday, I met with a PI that I really like in order to plan a course we’re teaching this summer and the minute he asked how things were going I couldn’t stop crying.  He provided a paper towel for my tears and supportive listening ear for me.  I got to see my counselor on Wednesday, which is almost always amazing.  Thursday, I presented for my lab’s group meeting (super informal) and they gave me great advice on where to take my project so I can go toward Publicationville, which is on the way to PhD City.  But the best part about this week is that I feel elated and ecstatic because the discussion that I prepared to lead for the first year course happened today and it was AWESOME.  I felt well-prepared, the students were engaged and fun, we covered the material we needed to cover, and at the end of it I felt energetic and ready for the next challenge.

Sometimes the paths we’re on feel wrong, but I think that when we most need a nod that we’re going down the right one, we get it.  It also doesn’t hurt to motivate your elephant by celebrating the baby steps along the way.

Valentine’s Day

13 February 2011 § 1 Comment

I am not in love with Valentine’s Day.  I think initially this feeling stems from the days in elementary school where they instated a rule that you had to give a valentine to everyone so that no one would feel left out and some people still got special, bigger valentines, while everyone else got the punch out Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle ones.  Or it may be that it was middle school when you could buy your special person a carnation (the Miller High Life of flowers) and attach a note that the student council would then deliver in your second period class and everyone saw who got a carnation and who didn’t.  A chili bowl haircut (through sixth grade) and taller than all the boys (through tenth grade) doesn’t really get you special Valentine’s gifts.  And in retrospect, none of this really matters at all to me.  I am happily married now and before I was with my husband, I had several “good” Valentine’s Days.  The point, though, is that I still remember how it feels to be the third-grader without the heart-shaped chocolate box in her bag or the only seventh grader in pre-Algebra without a dyed red carnation, so I really can’t get behind a holiday that has the power to elicit feelings of inadequacy and sadness in single people.  For the record, I’m not in love with S.A.D. (Singles Awareness Day) parties either.  The ones that I’ve been invited to are generally negative, and really, who needs an excuse to be pissed about something?

Culture in the U.S. (especially, I think, in the Southern U.S.) is so incredibly biased toward lasting, monogamous relationships, regardless of relationship quality, that people stay in toxic relationships because, were they to end the toxicity, they might feel unlovable and out of place in our culture that treats Valentine’s Day like the BEST DAY EVER (Quick! Go BUY something for your MATE.  Don’t have one?  Well, you’ll probably just need to go eat your feelings).  It is incredibly difficult to be single, not only because of the varying levels of yearning for a partner that one might experience, but because being an individual in America doesn’t actually mean much unless you have someone to share it with (or so we’re told by the endless onslaught of couple-y advertising, which is especially rampant this time of year).  Obsession with Valentine’s Day is just a symptom of a culture that drills the idea of something good (romantic relationship with gifts) ahead of teaching people how to actually cultivate a good thing (almost no one is taught how to effectively communicate with a partner, resolve conflict, show love).

And please don’t misunderstand me, I’m not against long-lasting, monogamous romantic relationships.  I am trying to have one of those RIGHT NOW (and hopefully so is Hubs).   The idea that he has to bring home flowers and chocolate and jewelry to make me feel loved, however, is ridiculous and an example of blatant consumerism that is the other part of my pie of reasons not to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  I know he loves me.  He shows me in a hundred ways every week that he does, and when I feel as though I’d like to have some sort of special acknowledgment of his love for me, I step back and try to evaluate what’s really going on in the marriage.  Is it that we’ve both been spending more time in lab than we have together?  Or that I’ve been doing the grocery shopping alone for the past few weeks?  Or maybe I just really do need a little extra attention in the form of flowers (maybe that he picks in a park to save money)?  But why should Valentine’s Day be the only day that I (or anyone!) gets recognition for being a lovely partner?

To live our best marriage, I think we need to embody the spirit of Valentine’s Day every day:  recognition and appreciation of each other.  This we can do in private, without buying tons of crap and making single people feel terrible.

And I love this moment we’re in

1 February 2011 § Leave a comment

This line from an Avett Brothers song describes nearly perfectly how I’m feeling about our marriage.  Hubs and I recently resolved to work on us, and in spite of still sometimes feeling like I’d like to throw a bag of dog poop at him, this moment is just right.  I came home from a weekend of coaching to a sweet and funny text (“Where you at girl?”) and a CLEAN house.  The floors vacuumed and mopped (pretty sure Hubs has not mopped our floors a single time since we moved into this house two and a half years ago!), cat boxes scooped, kitchen clean (including countertops), and recycling out in the bin where it belongs!

Coming home and seeing that he had listened to what I needed from him and honored me by making our house clean was the best way for this week to start.  I immediately expressed my undying love for both Hubs and the clean house, and we went to bed.  Starting out happy with each other not only because it was nice to be together after I had been away but because he had done this wonderful thing, though, has already made a huge difference in our relationship just in the past couple of days.  We have been laughing every day on our way to work, enjoyed grocery shopping together, and last night we had a real breakthrough.

In making plans with a friend, I offered to cook dinner Saturday night.  I forgot that Hubs is giving a tour to some prospective grad students on Saturday, most likely right up ’til dinner time.  He knows that I sometimes get stressed out with having guests when he’s not around to help me prepare, and as we were going to bed, we started to talk about the time for the tour, which he doesn’t know yet.  I felt myself get frustrated about the lack of information and planning, but instead of turning it into a big deal, I just decided to go to sleep (which is actually pretty uncharacteristic; I’m more of the turning-things-into-a-big-deal type).  This morning, I asked him very calmly whether he thought that we should cancel the plans, but we were able to decide together that it wasn’t necessary to cancel completely, but would probably just be less stressful to go out to eat with our friends instead.

I am proud of us for several reasons: 1. We averted a potential fight.  2.  We did so by calmly talking it out and thinking ahead.  3.  We did all of this while both of us are under the same amount of stress as we always are!  And I am convinced that we were able to accomplish all these wonderful things because of the optimism that we both felt by coming home to each of us being happy on Sunday.  I want to live our marriage like this all the time.  I want to always feel like we’re anticipating potential problems and handling them in a grown-up way.  I want to be able to come home and be joyously happy to see my husband (whether or not he has cleaned the house) because now I know that choosing to feel super-wonderful about us in just one moment makes all the moments that follow amazing, too.

Reactive Dog Victory!

27 January 2011 § Leave a comment

Tonks is a pup who is the sweetest of sweet to us, to guests in our house, to people on the street, to cats, and to kids.  She is a lover and only wants to be petted.  When it comes to other dogs, though, we’ve struggled just about since we’ve gotten her to curb her reactivity to other dogs while on the leash.  The on the leash part is important because she actually does fine with most other dogs in houses (like her BFFAE, Sasha, a great pyr/border collie mix that lives with our neighbors, or her “pup-uncle” of pee rug fame) and goes to a doggie boarding place while we’re gone and hangs out very happily with other dogs there.  On the leash, though, she can be crazy and scary.  She’s so big and has such a big bark that if she has a reaction to another dog, it’s a WAY bigger deal than it would be if the pup-in-law reacted to other dogs, which he does actually.  People give us scared looks or looks like, “Why can’t you control her?  Is she going to chomp my face off?”  She’s also so distinctive looking that now people recognize us in the neighborhood and go the other way.

We have worked REALLY hard since we got her and realized that she has this issue to address it.  We’ve done a private consultation and three dog classes with a really awesome animal behaviorist.  Tonks is now a Canine Good Citizen and soon we’re going to do an evaluation to see if she can become a therapy dog.  She has come a really long way, but it can still be overwhelming and stressful to see another dog and have the possibility that she will have a bad reaction.  How we normally handle these situations is to avoid them at all costs.  Example:  if a dog is coming  straight at us on the sidewalk, we cross the street or u-turn and go the other way.  This plan of action means that Hubs and I are super vigilant on walks in order to not put Tonks in situations that would lead to bad reactions, thereby reinforcing negative behavior. Our trainer taught us that the problem behavior is Tonks’ way of addressing a scary situation:  she sees another dog and the unknown of the other dog’s behavior is overwhelming to her, so she lashes out with movement toward the dog, barking and growling (a.k.a. “fire-fighting”) to show the other dog that if she was even thinking of trying anything, she had better think again because Tonks MEANS BUSINESS.  Often, when we do the u-turn once Tonks has seen the other dog and tell her, “We’re not meeting that dog,” she does just fine, which demonstrates to me that the trainer is right and Tonks is just worried.  By removing her from the situation, we greatly reduce the problem behavior.

Yesterday, though, we were in a situation that normally would be double plus bad.   We had just started our walk on the busy street on which we live, came out of our walled townhouse complex, and turned left to see a neighbor jogging with her dog that Tonks sort of knows but has reacted to in a mixed way in the past.  They were coming straight at us and we were faced with extremely busy road on our right and wall to the complex on our left.   No chance to cross the street or go up into a yard to give the other dog a very wide berth.  In certain cases, Tonks refuses to do a u-turn and put her back to the other dog (too scary?) and this occasion was one of those.  So I basically went for my only option and positioned Tonks and me on the little piece of grass between the road and the sidewalk.  I squatted down beside her and scratched her chest and said in a silly (though not babyish) voice, “We’re not gonna meet that doggy.  No way!”  And she licked her nose and flicked her tongue (two dog calming signals; read about them in this book) and didn’t growl or bark or even go toward the dog.  They passed us in a quick minute and then we kept walking.  Tonks shook it off almost right away (another calming signal!), and I was so proud.

Happy one year and one week Complete Family Day, Tonks!

On Being All Right

18 January 2011 § Leave a comment

In the weeks since the new year, I have been feeling utterly demotivated and exhausted.  I have been fighting against every single thing happening in my life, from science to crafting to love, and it is time-consuming and demoralizing.  I started out the year with bad science news (not actually that unusual, bad science news happens in the lab every day and far more often than good science news; bench science is really hard to get right), which led to me not making myself work in lab, which leads to more non-success.

The thermofax machine, about which I was so excited, arrived and immediately didn’t work as described.  Ebay is really great about buyer protection, and it wasn’t a problem to send it back.  It was a headache and heartache, though, because I had to file a claim, wait for response from the seller, and deal with the disappointment of not getting to use it to create.  Furthermore, today 3M emailed me the manual for the machine I just sent back, and I think that if I had the manual last Friday, I might not have needed to send the machine back.

And the rug, which you heard about yesterday, was just another thing that I was really excited about and then felt disappointed by.  It’s normal in our lives to feel disappointment, but it crosses a line when relatively minor things paralyze us.  I have been in a mode where any tiny thing that goes not as I expect is devastating.  This way to live is neither productive nor realistic.  In reality, many people have way worse things happening to them.  Energetically dedicating so much of myself to feeling disappointed is completely unhelpful.  I have been awfulizing, as my mom would say.  And this post, from my soul sister kittiwake, just really hit me over the head with the problems I’ve been creating for myself.  (What are friends for?)

So today I make a fresh start and stop thinking about things I want to do and actually do them.  The science will work eventually if I work.  The right thermofax machine will come into my life and probably at a time that’s not right after the holidays when we’re feeling more like parting with the money I saved for it.  The rug is a lesson in how much of myself to invest in an uncertain outcome.  As Hubs would say, “You’re all right.”

Creative Mania!

7 January 2011 § 1 Comment

I am currently in an obsessive mode of finding new crafts to do and try.  Some of them have been in the works for a while and some I learned of just today.  It is my hope that in writing this post I can declare my intentions to the universe and in that way get back to actually doing what I’m supposed to be doing in lab (i.e. science) and quit reading craft blogs all day.  I always seem to have trouble getting back into the swing of being in lab after time off and right now I’m scared of the results that I think I’m going to get when I do this next step in my experiment.  So in avoidance mode, I will here detail current and future art type projects that I want to do:

First, and most exciting, I recently (yesterday) purchased a THERMOFAX machine from Ebay!  (Don’t worry; it wasn’t an impulse purchase, I’ve been saving and saving for this).  Thermofax is an old duplicating technology that was used before the copy machines that we’re all familiar with.  Using special film and carbon ink prints or drawings, you create a screen which can then be attached to a frame and used for screen printing.  I am SUPER PSYCHED.  I don’t have the machine yet and it’s sort of hard to know how well it will work since I bought it after only looking at photos, but I think it’s going to be amazing.  I’ve been wanting to start screen printing for a long time, but it turns out that to do traditional screen printing, you really need a utility sink and a way to properly dispose of chemicals.  Plus, exposing screens can be sort of tough.  So now I can print at home really fast.  I am really excited about combining screen printing with the Thermofax and photography.  I want to print cards with Zeda’s face on them, but the possibilities for working with both paper and fabric are really endless.  I owe most (if not all) of the inspiration to start screen printing to my aunt, who is a truly fantastic, innovative fiber artist and blogs at Existential Neighboorhood.

I made Hogwarts Robes for our (9 y.o.) cousin for Christmas.  It was amazing having them to give to her because I knew how much she would love them, but my sewing skills are still growing, and I really started that project pretty late (i.e. two days before I wanted to give them to her), so it ended up being a very stressful situation for both Hubs and for me (but I think actually worse for him).  If I sewed robes again, I think it would probably have to be a gift for someone as awesome as our cousin or I would have to charge in the hundreds of dollars.  I’m just too slow at sewing, plus I’m not sure if I feel good enough about the finished product to sell it.

I’ve made Waldorf-inspired dolls for two of my new baby cousins and the niece and nephew of a dear friend, but this is another one where I’m not sure that they’re professional enough to sell and they’re fairly time-consuming to make.  I have a sweet high school friend who is having a baby soon and I think I will make one for her this weekend, but this project doesn’t feel as exciting and inspiring to me as other things that I’ve been thinking about lately.

One thing that feels almost as exciting to me as screen printing with my on the way thermofax is using a scroll saw that I inherited from my grandfather to make toys (like this-check out the link for amazing and inspiring toys made by a friend’s sister-in-law) and bowls.  The saw is a cast iron one that needs a new blade and probably to be rewired to be electrically safe, so these projects are a little bit further off in the future.  I just need to do more research on how to rewire the saw myself or find someone here to do it for me.

Finally, felting has really caught my eye.  This project is one that I’ve never tried but it looks really fun and like you get good results relatively quickly.  You can either do felting of something knitted (if you’re into knitting or you can use upcycled wool clothes) in hot soapy water, as for these baby teethers or you can do needle felting.  As for needle felting, I saw several things that I love on Etsy that were really inspiring, and then it turns out that there are tons of books and online resources available that teach you exactly how to do it, what tools you need, and provide tons of inspiration.  For example, in this very helpful tutorial, I was inspired to make a turd.  The video really is helpful though.

I actually do feel pretty good putting all those plans out there.  I’ve said this before, but I think that when we feel a strong pull to do something creative, we should honor it.

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