How to Know You’re a Christmas Masochist

santa claus, christmasYou’re not a masochist, and yet, this time of year, you could possibly pass for one. Look at your calendar! Your to-do list! You take on more than you could possibly do, and aspire to even more. You raise your standards, your expectations, and your stress levels—all in the name of good cheer and a happy holiday.

What? Does it have to be like this? Nope. You can change your experience of the holidays—but you have to aware of what you’re doing first. Let’s start with five things you’re doing to yourself that are making things way harder than they have to be.

#1. You think you should make it all from scratch. Yourself. I get it—the homemade candy and cookies, the little handsewn soap pockets (not kidding, someone thinks this is a good idea). Then there’s the handmade hand-stamped wrapping paper with arty kitchen twine, the personalized holiday cards, and on it goes.If you’re a crafty person and love that this is the one time of year you get a good excuse to knit, of course, go for it. But if not, my advice: Pick one thing you’re going to make, and make it for everyone. Something easy, heartfelt, but not something that’s going to leave you sobbing at midnight on Dec 23rd.  Make one thing your thing this year, start early, be consistent, and keep it simple.

#2. You’re expecting people, personalities, and relationships to change, simply because it’s Christmas. Look, I have fallen prey to this myself. And yes, I like to think we can all rise to the occasion and above old petty arguments when the season is upon us. Unless you’re hoping Santa delivers an entirely new family to your door, you’ll find the same cast of characters there: your sister-in-law will ask the nosy questions she always does, your father will let your mother do all the dishes, and your Aunt Edna will ride your last nerve. You know this. Plan for it. The way to keep the peace is to let some things slide.

#3. You’re practicing mind reading on a daily basis (newsflash: you’re not a mindreader). You believe that you know what someone else is thinking right now, and often you expect the very worst. You assume your mother is judging your decision around where to spend the holiday; you are 100 percent sure your husband is thinking you’re spending too much money on gifts. When you believe them, you react to them—in the real world—and create tension where none need be. Make yourself a promise that before you jump to conclusions, about anything, you’ll ask the questions. Invite the conversation. Be honest about your concerns, rather than assume everyone is against you.

#4. You’re translating love into money. I’ve done it—overspent on people because I know I’ve been hard on them, or a straight-up bitch, and I’m sorry about it. When you replace your holiday budget with an emotionally triggered system, whereby you use money to fix problems in a relationship. Doesn’t work. So when you realize you’re stretching yourself thin in an effort to prove, signify, or reinforce an emotional bond, rethink it. Ask yourself if there are things you can do to improve or heal those relationships that have taken a beating this year—ones that don’t require a Visa.

#5. You’re treating your holiday as a marathon. How many times have you thought, I just need to get through this. As if the holidays are one long stretch designed to drain you of energy and joy. In fact, the holidays are meant to buoy and uplift—but they can’t if you see them as something to endure. Yes, it’s an incredibly busy time, and can be physically, emotionally, and spiritually draining. But if you view the time from now through the new year as a series of brief sprints with a whole lot of walking in between, you might actually enjoy it.

This post was written for meQuilibrium, the first-ever customized online stress management program.


 

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3 Ways the Law of Attraction is Fucking With Your Head

girl_daydreaming_imageYour thoughts are powerful things—they influence your behavior, your mood, your decisions. They determine what risks you take and which ones you don’t. But there’s one thing your thoughts cannot do: Manifest a perfect partner out of thin air.

Intellectually, you know this. But a smaller part than you care to admit remains under the sway of magical thinking. If you just had the right thoughts, the right circumstances would happen, and the right people would appear. I can see how you’d be tempted to think that way. But I beg you to stop.

Let’s all admit we read “The Secret”

Yup. I totally did. In the seven years since The Secret was published, featured on Oprah twice, and sold almost 20 million copies (yes, in that order), the popularization of the central core of the book, the Law of Attraction, still holds many under its Vulcan mind-meld grip (despite the take-downs, harsh criticism, and parodies). (Also, please watch this interview with Barbara Ehrenreich on The Daily Show—so worth it.)

I can see why: Who wouldn’t want to believe that all you have to do is think the right thoughts and the love (or car, or job, or money) of your dreams will find you?

Written by Donna Byrne and published in 2006, The Secret featured a cadre of “new thought” leaders (including James Ray, who not long after The Secret was published, was found guilty of negligent homicide in the deaths of three people who participated in his insane sweat lodge exercise). Citing quantum physics and the ubiquitous Law of Attraction, these experts tell us that like attracts like, and that your thoughts function as cosmic magnets that draw toward you what you project. Think good thoughts, get good things. Think bad thoughts, get what you deserve.

3 Crazy Ass Ideas, and How to Break “The Law”

Let’s take a look at how key premises of the Law of Attraction can do you more harm than good in the search for love and partnership.

1. If you want to meet a man, make room for his imaginary car in your garage.

A woman in The Secret swears that the reason she hadn’t met someone special yet was because she was taking up all the room in the garage and sleeping in the middle of the bed. Once she cleared up the garage and made room for her fantasy man’s imaginary Honda Prius, and started staying on her side of the bed, thank you very much, what do you know! He appeared!

Look. You can put a Gillette Mach 3 on your sink, but when you wake up there will not be a man shaving with it. And if there is, call the police.

Correction: Make room in your LIFE for someone special.

Look, if you like sleeping in the middle of your bed, by all means. My god. It’s your bed. Sleep the way you want. Two-car garage notwithstanding, it is a good idea to make room in your life for another person—and while that may mean doing a huge clutter clearing, or just purging your ex’s stuff.

But you should also clear room in your schedule—to go on dates, to go out with friends, to accept invites to dinners rather than justifying another night in. If you’re too busy to meet someone, you’re too busy to spend time with one.

 

2. You make bad things happen by thinking them.

Donna Byrne says that your thoughts don’t just control your life, but the world around you. You create the world with your thoughts.

…Did you catch that? You can control the universe with your mind! This is also widely  known as delusion.

And this is also where The Secret and I part ways. This is the ultimate sucker punch of the Law of Attraction—because it essentially shifts the blame of misfortune to you. Car accident? Your fault. Cancer? You manifested it, whether you like it or not. I’m sure there are more than a few nutjobs out there who truly believe that the people of the Philippines must have manifested that typhoon based on their sense of lack.

According to the Law of Attraction, you are a powerful transmission tower, emitting frequencies out into the universe more powerfully than any manmade machine. It’s as if every fearful or worried thought was a draft of an email in your mind that you never intended for anyone to see, but—surprise!—the Law of Attraction hit “Send” and now it’s out there!

Correction: Stop writing bad endings for yourself.

You don’t control the world with your thoughts—but you do control your actions with them. And if you think, and thus act, as if nothing and no one good is coming your way, it can be hard to stay open to possibility. I don’t think you’re magically manifesting lousy boyfriends, but you may be saying yes to men with the expectation that they will suck, because you already know they do. And voila! You aren’t psychic. But you are right.

Changing the way you approach people, situations, and pretty much every interaction you have with another human can and will affect the outcome. You don’t have to avoid all negative thoughts (good luck with that), but you must look at them with curiosity and compassion so that you can begin to shift your behavior in the world—and the way people respond to you.

 

3. You’re not manifesting hard enough.

Some women believe they’re just 10 pounds shy of being able to meet the right guy. If I were just thinner, taller, smarter, funnier, they think, love would be mine. Of course, you and I know love is not a beauty pageant or a talent contest.

(Read: Why you shouldn’t wait til you lose weight to date.)

But even if you have come to terms with who you are and how you look (no small feat, to be sure), you can start to wonder, Well, if nothing’s ‘wrong’ with me, then why aren’t I in love/coupled/married by now? That’s when it’s easy to fall prey to the lure of magical thinking—essentially, that it’s your fault for not thinking hard enough or wanting it bad enough.

Wrong.

Let’s get one thing straight: You are not alone/uncoupled/sans husband because you didn’t visualize correctly or acted as if you’ve already received the thing you want (another “rule” of the Law of Attraction, and which will definitely make you look and feel insane).

Blaming yourself for not thinking the right thoughts compounds stress and self doubt, and is no better than castigating yourself for not being the right weight.

Correction: Thoughts are nothing without action.

I knew a woman years ago who wanted a partner desperately. She spent a good chunk of time visualizing him: what he would look like, sound like, be like. She had a version of this perfect partner fully crafted in her mind, down to the fact that he loved eggs benedict, owned a cat, and subscribed to Rolling Stone.

Then one day, she met him. Or, someone very similar (turns out he’s allergic to eggs and subscribes to the New Yorker, but close enough). She fell instantly in love. She believes, in some ways, that those focused hours of thought created a psychic current that drew him directly to her.

It also helped that she put a profile on J Date.

 

No More Magical Thinking

It isn’t about what the Universe wants. It’s too busy expanding. It’s about what you want. And those who claim the world works by remote control are at least to some degree superstitious, lazy, and risk averse. (Read my rant on how fate is not your friend.)

Here’s where motivation guru Lisa Nichols makes good sense: “Your ability to generate feelings of love is unlimited…love everything you can. Love everyone you can. Focus only on things you love, feel love, and you will experience that love and joy coming back to you.”

You must love to be loved. And love isn’t a happy thought; it’s an action, an effort. If you dream of love but act out of fear, you’re not going to find what you want.

Except you don’t need a quantum physicist to tell you that.

A version of this story appeared on yourtango.com

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Failure Is Brutal Even When It’s Small. So, Play Big.

I suffered dual blows recently: a minor physical injury, and major blow to my self esteem. And for a while, I wasn’t sure which was worse.

I pulled a tendon in my foot. Sure, it hurt like a railroad spike to the sole for a few days. I hobbled and mooned about, feeling sorry for myself. But the fact is, the body is magically self healing; self esteem is not. I don’t question the value of my foot because of this minor slip-up. The other, however, throws everything into question.

What Happened

rejected red square  stamp

Take more risks, and you’ll have more failures, it’s good for you!

On Monday, I got a letter from the theater where I’ve been taking class for over a year. I’d applied for consideration to a higher-level class, which requires approval, as opposed to just a credit card. I wasn’t a hundred percent sure I’d get in, but I felt pretty good about it, since the group of friends I met in Level 1 had been taking class, moving up through the levels together, having a great time. I had improved significantly, and had performed well in my last few shows. My two friends and I submitted our names and hoped for the best.

Instead, I got a letter of decline. I was told there were too many applicants, not enough spots. Which I believe, by the way. But what hurt was that my two friends had been accepted. Do I believe I’m so unspeakably bad and untalented I couldn’t get in? No. But still, someone had looked at the list of names and when they got to me, thought, “She can wait.”

No matter how you slice it, it hurts. What also didn’t help matters was that my blood sugar was dropping rapidly, and I was 15 minutes from being straight-up hangry. And in that moment, I turned to glass. I felt myself go rigid and sharp, dangerously fragile, as if, at any moment, I could shatter. Tears started in the corners of my eyes, like tiny shards.

So I was feeling particularly vulnerable as I walked into Home Depot moments later, but held it together long enough to weigh the pros and cons of 12v vs. 18v power drill. I went with the Milwaukee 12-Volt with two lithium batteries and a built-in light, in case I ever have to assemble IKEA furniture in the middle of a blackout.

Then I cried the whole way home. This wasn’t the first time I’d lost it on the streets and subways of Manhattan. But if you’re going to have a breakdown, this is the city to do it in: People don’t freak out or whisper or stare. They look at you, nod and give you your privacy. They’ve been there.

I knew this, too, was a minor letdown in the grand scheme, not a failure with a capital F. I had risked nothing (it’s not like I had publicly embarrassed myself), and lost nothing; I could and would try again. But this was fucking with my belief system.

Imposter Syndrome: Worst Fear Made Real

Like many women, I suffer from Imposter Syndrome, a lifelong condition in which you attribute any modicum of success to the fact that you’ve done a great job of fooling people.

And any failure, even the most small and insignificant can cause an IS flare-up, wherein this inner fiction becomes real: It’s true; I’m not good enough. I’ve been found out. The toxic power of even a smallish failure can call into question every compliment or encouraging word, questioning its authenticity and intent. I haven’t been lying to everyone else; they’ve been lying to me. 

This is the danger of seeing yourself as an on/off switch: You’re either good or bad, a success or a failure; you either have potential, or you’re a joke. It’s a lose/lose.

Will I get over it? Of course. I only have to look back to my freshman year, when I auditioned for the Boston College Dance Ensemble with a friend who was literally a prima ballerina (tip: Don’t stand next to a prima ballerina at a dance audition). She got in (duh); I didn’t. I cried for days, questioned whether I should dance at all.

Then, I got my ass into dance classes, re-auditioned, got accepted, and by senior year, I was the fucking director.

Years later, in my first year as an editor, I attended this big health expo, where you go and schmooze with the ad sales team and their clients. But word got back to me that the ad reps weren’t all too psyched to bring me around, and many didn’t. They weren’t sure how great of an asset I would be. I was mortified—and angry. I remember roaming the expo floor, nibbling samples of organic chocolate as I cried to my boyfriend on the phone. “One day they’ll beg me to go with them!” I swore.

And within a few short years, they were. I became an ad sales favorite. I was that good. Sometimes I turned them down.

Yeah, so, now what?

So here I am again: A newbie in another environment, where I have zero cred or experience. I chided myself at my response to this: Who did I think I was, waltzing in the door, assuming everything should come easy? 

I have a choice: Walk away, miffed and indignant, or I can keep learning, and taking the risk of doing a thing I don’t know if I’m any good at. Part of me thinks, maybe it’s a sign that this isn’t for me, that I should be doing something else. But that’s a loser mentality if you ask me, because it ascribes all responsibility for what I pursue to external forces. Not a fan of that.

The irony of all of this is that not a few hours before the letter came, I had been talking to a client of mine, women-in-business expert Bethany Williams, author of CEO of You, about failure, of all things. She was saying that it’s not whether you fail, but when. Failure is that path you take to get to where you want to be. No one who succeeds at anything ever got there by sidestepping failure. Those losses are a badge of honor.

“I don’t think I’ve had enough failures,” I said. Shit. I couldn’t win at losing, it seemed—I didn’t have enough badges yet.

“I’m going to guess that it’s because you haven’t taken enough risks,” said Bethany.

Maybe she’s right. If so, I have no other option in the face of failure, but to risk again. And again. And neither do you. Playing small doesn’t hurt less—and it gets us nowhere. So I might as well risk bigger. That’s what I’m going to do. And so should you.

(Read why you should get rejected more.)

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Pull Yourself Together: Get a New Bra

Screen-shot-2011-08-16-at-1.17.35-PM

The Showstopper may not be available anymore, but there’s one that’s invisible under t-shirts! Click to see!

When I feel like I’m all over the place, literally and figuratively, I know it’s time to get a new bra. Maybe two. I’m serious. Don’t overlook this vital piece of your wardrobe–though I’m guessing you do, since, like me, you probably get dressed on autopilot and never realize how tired your titslinger has become.

While you wear a fraction of your wardrobe over the course of a month, your bras work overtime. And no matter how many you have crammed into your drawer, I’m willing to bet 20 percent of them are doing 80 percent of the heavy lifting, pun intended.

I was faced with the bedraggled state of my brassiere in the dressing room at Victoria’s Secret last weekend. I had come for the perennially on-sale underwear (5 pair for $26). And thought maybe I’d try on a few bras too. I took off my shirt. And good God. Had I left the house in this? My bra was loose and sagging, straps twisted and worn. When I bought it, the bra had been nude…or was it white? Alas, at this point, I could not tell.

This was going in the trash. Today.

I slid on a top-shelf Victoria Secret bra (the kind that doesn’t go on sale) called The Showstopper. Smooth and seamless, this frosted coral beauty held my girls in a loving, satiny embrace, and I thought, This is what I should feel like all the time. Buoyant. Uplifted. Pulled together.

There was a study not too long ago, published in Psychological Science, that looked at the real-life effects of acting out metaphors; i.e, thinking out of the box, putting two and two together. Turns out, these metaphors derive their power from reality: literally thinking inside or outside of a box does change how you come up with ideas and solutions. Fascinating stuff.

So it’s not a stretch to say that if you’re currently toting your tits around in an ill-fitting, threadbare, seen-better-days brassiere, it’s going to undermine your sense of support–not to mention let gravity take its toll.

It also goes without saying that if you haven’t been fitted by a pro, you need to be. Women are notoriously shitty at knowing what bra size they are. And until I was fitted at a la-di-da lingerie shoppe (and it was a shoppe, not a shop) on the Upper East Side, I had been wearing a 36B, when I’m really a 34C (or 32D, but those are tough to find). WORLD OF DIFFERENCE. And the day I wore a bra that fit, it was like going from a golf cart to a Lexus.

So, get thee to a shoppe or to plain old Vicky Secret and get some new shocks on your system. You can’t expect to feel supported, strong, or resilient if your boobs are sagging and jostling at every bump in the road.

This has been a public service announcement. Ok, not really.

Hobbies Are for Losers

How’s that stamp collecting treating you?

Hobbies are for losers. I say this because the people who are in it to win it, to do something real, something big, something life changing, don’t call it a hobby; they call it their life.

Of course our lives consist of things that we do for fun, relaxation, things that don’t feel like work. I get that. Just because you like baking doesn’t mean you need to open a bake shop. But what I’m telling you is that the hobby mindset is a cop-out. You want to spend hours every day or whole weekends putting ships in jars? Have at it.

But chances are the thing you want to do, that you feel most passionate about, that you would love to do “for real,” is something you’re calling a hobby because it lowers the stakes. Makes it feel safer, smaller, under control. If you’re good at something you’re “not really trying” to do, then you get to be good at your hobby. But you’re also chickening out.

No, I don’t think you should work around the clock or be in work-brain all the time. Nor do I think you shouldn’t DO anything else but your job. One guy said it perfectly on Twitter: “I gave up hobbies when I was a kid. I only have time for passions now.”

If what you’re doing–all the cool things you’re doing–are a passion and feed you and your vision of your life in some way, great. It’s the hobby mindset that is the problem, and doing things just to do them, that ends up being a problem. (P.S. If you’re really happy doing what you’re doing, great. Then you’re not who I’m speaking to. If the shoe doesn’t fit, don’t wear it. But if you want to throw that shoe at me, must mean I’ve hit a nerve.)

I Don’t Have Hobbies

I always drew a blank at the hobby question on an application or questionnaire, and then later with online dating profiles. I wondered why I didn’t have a hobby. I worried I should pick one up. Then I realized how fucking stupid that is. I realized that I don’t have a hobby because I take everything I do seriously. I don’t play at things I like. I go for them full throttle.

I’m a writer, always have been, and wrote poetry since I was a kid. But I never once called it a hobby. I went on to earn a masters of fine art in poetry, and write and edit at a major national magazine. I didn’t get there by writing as a hobby.

I also take improv classes. I don’t aspire to be a full-time improv actor, but I do want to explore performing in that way for real. I use what I learn in those places to fuel the bigger vision of my life–to be a performer. I don’t excuse it as “just a hobby.” It’s what I’m learning to do now.

What about you? That book you’re toying with, the blog you’re kinda sorta doing but not really, the acting or art classes you’re taking–if you view it as a hobby, it’s going nowhere fast. And that’s because you don’t really believe you could do it–or, you’re afraid to admit it.

Why People Have Hobbies

You know why people need hobbies? Because they fucking hate what they do. (Not everyone, but a lot.) They spend hours at a job they detest or in a place they hate or even with a person they’ve grown to loathe. Or, maybe they’re not miserable, but they’re bored or stressed, and do lots of little things to “take the edge off.”

But is that what you want? Really? To take the edge off? To make a life you don’t love tolerable, palatable, ok? Not me.

The person who puts their dreams/desires/yearnings on hold or jams them into a tiny box labeled “hobby” aren’t doing enough to achieve what they want–and that may not mean to be a superstar. It may be to continue to learn and try new things, maybe become expert. Great. Just stop calling it a fucking hobby. Hobbies by design risk nothing. No one will be disappointed if you don’t finish a project or improve at something. It was just a hobby, after all.

To start taking something seriously requires that you do some soul-searching, ask yourself what you really want, what you’re afraid of. People don’t like to face these questions. And hobbies give you the best excuse in the world to be too busy to do it.

My ex-boyfriend disagrees with me. “Not everyone wants to do something big or be someone like you do,” he said one night, exasperated. He swore up and down that some people want simple, quiet lives. I don’t believe him. I think, if given the chance, everyone would like to be able to do something meaningful, and perhaps even influence and excite or even teach others. When you call this shit a hobby, you do it and your own passions a disservice.

Take it from The King of All Media

Howard Stern is one of the most influential and successful radio broadcasters of all time–perhaps THE most. He does that thing well. And in the many years I’ve been faithfully listening, I’ve heard him try hobby after hobby. He tried chess but quit because he knew he’d never be that great at it. He’s incredibly driven and was never going to be ok with being just ok. In recent years he’s taken up photography, and he apprenticed himself to it and is relentlessly focused on it. “I want to be the best,” he said, “as good as any professional. I don’t do half assed.”

To call something a hobby is to apologize for either not being good enough or not trying hard enough. And that’s not enough for you. That’s not what makes a life transformative, exciting. You’re not here on the planet to bide your time with hobbies until you drop dead. Your life is not a pet project. So stop treating it that way.

How Jury Duty Has Turned Me Into a Bitch on Wheels

Jury duty should be humbling: You must do your civic duty, after all. You are reminded that, unfortunately, no, you do not have a choice in the matter. It’s one of the few snags of living with freedom and justice for all–someone’s gotta serve on the jury. Period. You’re reminded that you don’t live in a bubble, but in a city, in a community, where bad and unfortunate things happen, and that community needs you to weigh in. And no, you can’t reschedule or move this obligation around like a salon appointment.

But in an age when anything you schedule can get unscheduled (and often does) with a single digital stroke, jury duty is immovable, dense, and slow. And it’s turned me into an intolerable bitch.

Our job as grand jurists is simple: We don’t determine anyone’s guilt or innocence. We decide if there’s enough evidence for the case to go to trial. That’s it. We don’t have all the evidence. There will be no dramatic bearing down on the defendant, or “You can’t handle the truth!” moments. There are some interesting moments, like when a witness who didn’t speak English broke down in tears. And then there are the rest of the moments.

You’d think this would make me humble. But it doesn’t. I’ve been absolutely intolerable since I started on the grand jury, 2+ weeks ago. I squirm in my seat like a bratty and entitled adolescent, dying to check my phone or be anywhere but here.

Aside from the sheer tedium of court proceedings (if someone reads another affidavit I’m going to start foaming at the mouth), I feel a little put-upon. Sure. I feel like I’m doing everyone who’s NOT currently in jury duty a favor. Because I kinda am. I’m snarky and impatient, and even picked a fight with some douchey guy who thought I was rushing him to vote. (I swear I wasn’t. I was trying to clarify what the group wanted to do. OK, and he was douchey and I pushed his buttons on purpose.)

Is it that I don’t want to be there? Partly. But the power of indictment has put a gavel in my hand. What I lack in control over my life this whole month, I’m taking out in entitlement, and it’s not pretty.

I started by indicting my fellow jurors, (#jurybaby), because every day she breaks out a baby blanket and suckles–not sucks, suckles–her fingers. She naps during proceedings and wakes up at break time to watch cartoons on her laptop. Without headphones.

I’ve indicted the court warden, whom I sensed from the getgo (the soft-looking flesh, stooped posture, bad jokes) was weak and ineffectual and so desperate for recognition you could steer him with a single finger. And now, this douchey, dour-faced dude with shellacked hair makes a sideways jab at what he called my “snarky” remarks, for which I will repay him a thousand more snarky remarks.

People on the street are not safe from my indictments–this one for blocking the stairway to the Q train, that one for yammering on his cell phone and cutting the line at Duane Reade. I’ve sent them all imaginary summons.

And you know what? I’m not proud of this. Flush with my newfound, limited power, I’m quick to brandish the sharp end of my judgment, which, by the way, is always half cocked. I turn the blade on myself as well: I’ve been kicking myself around the apartment for not writing that article pitch, for not cooking a decent meal for myself in days (how long can toast count as a meal), for spending money on things that aren’t an absolute necessity, for not reading, thinking, sleeping, meditating, exercising enough. For being so curt and snarky and rigid–a person I don’t want to be.

Here’s what jury duty does: Shows you a cross-section of your community, most of whom seem like normal, workaday folks, some who are clearly on the fringes of normal behavior, and some of whom may have just woken up on a subway bench and wandered in. But it also shows me how, in any group of people who share a task and a room and hours on end together, a community forms, like it or not.

It also reveals to you who you are–simply because there’s no one in there you’re trying to impress or persuade. And as that saying goes: True character reveals itself in how you treat people who have nothing to offer you. I realize my compulsion is to control and produce a situation, to entertain and broadcast while attracting attention. It is what it is. And so in this group, as in others, I find roughly the same percentage of people whom I like, despise, and avoid, as well as those who are either charmed or incredibly irritated by me. It doesn’t make me think I should change–but it does make my petty tendencies abundantly clear.

When we were dismissed on Friday, I walked out with two of my unlikely cohorts, a UPS delivery man and another guy whose name I don’t even know. The three of us tend to reign in the chaos during our ‘deliberations.’ We joked about the douchebag and how sensitive and prickly and crazy everyone is. One of them fist-bumped me with a smile as he crossed the street. “Some of us are just the alpha dogs, and that’s the way it is.”

I just think I need to put my alpha dog on a leash.

Why I’m Afraid I’ll Ruin Christmas

Why? Because I’ve ruined a few. And not just Christmas–pick any holiday, really.

It happens the same way every time: I drive up with the best of intentions, sipping coffee on the Merritt Parkway, indulging in caffeinated visions of familial joy. I think, “I’m going to be really nice this time. And fun. And if I can’t say something nice, I won’t say anything at all.”

And then I get there and the caffeine is worn off to a dull buzz in my head, and I can ride on fumes only for so long.

My anxiety isn’t what you think of when you think of anxiety: nerves or panic or worries. Mine is a sharp, retractable blade, and with every passing hour, I feel myself becoming a human box cutter, with the unforgiving edge of it sliding up further and further until I know someone’s going to get hurt.

I can’t blame my family, really. I can’t blame anyone but me. They can’t win. They’ve tried. This is my struggle, always. I get restless, impatient. Defensive if they ask me personal questions, offended if they don’t. I take the opposite side of any argument and push against it mindlessly until I break the skin, and someone says, “What the hell’s the matter with you?!” And that’s when the blade starts to roll back down, but it’s too late. I’ve done the damage. Again.

I approach the family house warily, like a werewolf praying the moon doesn’t come out, afraid that sometime during dinner, I’ll grow fangs, snarl and bay, and have to throw myself out of doors where I belong. Or maybe that’s the wrong metaphor. Perhaps I’m more like a vampire, struggling to resist my own appetite for blood. And the whole thing will end, as it does, with a wave of overwhelming self-loathing and guilt.

This past Thanksgiving, it started when we didn’t sit down to eat fast enough (for me, anyway). When the conversation never strayed past the suburb where they live. When I got bored or restless or both. And then it escalated: I asked my sister why her 5-year-old daughter was stuttering like that and if she was worried. I dropped a few f-bombs in what I thought was out of earshot of the kids, but wasn’t really. I think I said “ass” a few times. But the real problem was when I cursed and then QUESTIONED her anti-cursing rule. That’s my hateful go-to: Violate a law, and then question the law altogether.

“Terri,” my sister says, glaring at me, pausing for effect. “Stop it! Watch. Your. Mouth.”

“Right. Because if they hear a curse word, they’ll probably grow up to be serial killers.”

“That has nothing to–just shut UP. It’s offensive, and every parent I know feels the same way.” Just then her 6 year-old boy, the sweetest boy under the sun, strides in stark naked.

“Offensive? The word ‘ass’? You know what I find offensive? Your son walking around with his junk out.”

“Terri just SHUT UP,” my brother-in-law said. His eyes were livid. That was the end of the conversation. When it starts, it’s nearly impossible to reverse. It wreaks havoc in one direction. I hated myself again.

On the eve of Christmas Eve, I’m making a promise to myself this time that it’ll be different. And I’m doing EVERYTHING I can to make this happen: Run in the morning, meditate at night, upped my dose of Lexapro (just for now), become aware of, not possessed by, my feelings. Assume the best. Don’t react. Don’t say that. Don’t, don’t, don’t.

I’m praying for a silent night, indeed.

 

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Take the Holiday Pledge to Not Freak Out This Year

Click on the pledge to get free stuff.

I’m not one to totally freak out over the holidays. Then again, I don’t have five kids to buy for or a ton of relatives coming to my house to eat a meal I planned and executed on my own. And yet, many of you do. This can cause no small amount of stress indeed.

I do fall prey, however, to ideas of things I could be or should be doing, like make peppermint bark to give away as gifts, or decorate my 300 sq ft apartment. This I call falling into the “wouldn’t it be nice if” trap of the holidays–as if, during the busiest time of year, you’re somehow going to have more time to do stuff. Right.

Regardless, holidays present their own brand of stress for reach of us. Whether that’s fear of not being perfect, fear of friction at a family event, or just a general dread about being able to do what needs to be done. It’s all like a heightened, holly-scented state of chaos. We react to the blink of holiday lights and the familiar din of Christmas music in a kind of Pavlovian consumer response, causing us to all but ooze cortisol.

But as with anything you want to change (i.e., being stressed), you have to get in front of it and decide to handle things differently. You have to set an intention. To that end, I’m happy to share a Holiday Pledge that I helped create for a client of mine, meQuilibrium, the first-ever customized, subscriber-based online stress management program.

The idea is this: Since it’s easier to prevent a fire than put one out, holiday stress management starts now, not later.  The pledge (featured above and here) is a promise to do things differently this year. And in so doing, to take back the holidays as a time of joy, sharing, and even relaxation (imagine that). I think we could all use that.

There is a gimme to this, too (because what would holidays be without gifts?). What happens is this: When you click on the pledge,  you’re taken to a pledge page, and you have the opportunity to put your info in and get something for free: 6 weeks of unlimited access to the meQ program, which includes a free stress assessment and a series of video tutorials (featuring moi, your trusty guide. It’s true–I shot, performed, and edited all of them in my teeny tiny apartment, though you’d never know it).

Six weeks. That should get you straight through the holidays at least! meQ teaches you the tools to assess and address your most potent sources of stress. Not just by telling you to just bliss out, but by harnessing the science of cognitive behavioral therapy and proven techniques to shift your stress response. You’ll see.

Meantime, I encourage you to share the pledge with whomever you think could use it! We just ask that you include this link if you share the pledge (www.mequilibrium.com/holiday-pledge).

So don’t wish for a Merry Christmas this year; decide to make it that way. Starting, like, right now.

Feel free to share the pledge. And spread some joy.

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Why We’re Lousy At Packing Light

Photo courtesy of carryology

I’m packing for a big trip and doing what I always do when I pack: Reinvent the wheel.

I start from scratch and build my life from the ground up, starting with the very base needs (underwear, bra, deodorant, shoes) to the very specific and often imagined ones (how can I be on a beach without this fabulous rattan bag, even if it scratches my shoulder up? I need it!).

I do this. Every. Time.

Let me preface this by saying I have dreams about packing. Nightmares, rather. I’m always packing–for a train about to depart the station, for a flight to China that somehow I just found out I need to be on. In a recurring dream, I’m leaving college and trying to shove all of my stuff into boxes but nothing will fit or stay. It’s exhausting.

The Art and Obsession of Packing 

I’ll leave the dream part for my therapist to figure out. But the packing itself is ritual: It really is a study in life essentials–not just what you actually need (passport, wallet, clothes), but what you feel you need. The suitcase is a zippered confessional where I keep all that I want to be and do, and the things I’m afraid to be without. And because it’s a solemn ritual (as all confessions are), I must do it alone. I cannot pack with someone else in the room. I can’t talk to you while I do it. I need to focus.

I was forced to really think essential when, in my 20s, I went on a series of trips with my uncle, the late Rev. Robert Barone of the University of Scranton, who led study group tours to Jerusalem and Rome, and then a few other trips to different parts of Italy. It was always an amazing, eye-opening adventure, albeit, somewhat ascetic–we ate at the same restaurant every night, stayed in stripped-down pilgrims’ quarters on mattresses the size of steno pads.

But what made it particularly stringent was my uncle’s one rule: No checked baggage. You had to carry on, and it had to fit. So I learned to be very smart about making one carry-on piece of luggage and a backpack house three weeks’ worth of wardrobe and toiletrees, which, for a chick is no joke. I wore a lot of neutrals.

BEFORE that rule was strictly enforced (and part of the reason it was), I checked a bag and it was lost. And then you realize that what you counted on showing up with you, in this case my lumpy duffel, sometimes doesn’t; that life is unpredictable, and that it’s amazing anyone ever gets their luggage, quite frankly. So for a few days I walked around Jerusalem without my smart footwear, and in a lousy dress someone loaned me. And while it was annoying, it didn’t really matter. Though I did shriek with joy when the bag finally showed up, I won’t lie.

Why You Don’t Need to Bring That

Nowadays, I can check with abandon, and do. I’m about to depart for ten days in Israel to visit a friend, and I have done and packed every conceivable thing, down to teabags and nut bars and a ziploc full of bandaids. I have thought long and hard about footwear and the potential for blisters. I’ve thought through hats and bathing suits, sunscreens (mineral and spray, face and body). I’ve imagined myself walking through the streets of Tel Aviv (and what bag am I holding?), or skipping along the beach (flip flops, check, sunglasses, check). Climbing around the ruins in Petra (backpack, athletic sandals, got it, check).

But I stop myself when I get to the brink of, say, packing another long, floral summer dress. I talked myself out of this just now. First I think, this is why I bought these dresses–so they could see the light of day, traipse around the Mediterranean. But then you have to ask: Who is this trip for, anyway, me or them? Sure I’m tempted to throw the other one in, but I am coming down hard on myself and saying, C’mon. So you wear the one dress twice. Who gives a fuck.

Unpacking the Packing Urge

This is why I think we go through this rigmarole: Even though it’s just vacation, whether it’s five days or ten, you are leaving. And not to sound morbid, but you can’t be 100% sure if or when you’ll be back.

My theory is this: Overpacking is a stay against the unknown. As if the more you pack, the more you can somehow control the unknown (you can’t), or armor yourself against chaos or conflict (good luck). There’s a distrust in anything beyond our immediate comfort zone, and yet the best part of travel is feeling that worry, that distrust of the world, fall away–usually the minute you’re boarded on the plane, because whatever you don’t have now you will have to live without.

Still, we have to beat back that fear-based need to take home with us. We’re torn. I’m torn. Always. If it’s the sundress this time it’ll be shoes the next. What if I need it? You probably won’t, but try telling yourself that the day before you leave your house, your city, your country, your life. And so it goes.

So if there’s a good reason to travel, this is it, I think: to learn to let go of the things you know, embrace what you don’t, and believe that somehow, in some way, the world will provide. I am trying to teach myself that my needs aren’t always needs at all, but fears of the unknown, and that the more I open up to the unpredictability and pleasure of it all, the less I need to drag along with me.

(But it would behoove you to take antibiotics along, especially if you’re leaving the country. The world is wild and exciting, yes, but no need to suffer. There’s only so much of the world you can see from a toilet seat.)