I Am My Own Nemesis Part 2: The Comeback Tour

side-mirror-reflection-klikk

Gotcha!!

A funny thing happens when I get what I want and am in a happy place in life. Having not yet mastered the practice of true detachment, any success or gain I have comes with a fear of loss. It’s a package deal. I thought I had gotten past that feeling, the one where I get what I think I want but am still unsatisfied and continue to chase that elusive momentary high. I thought I had progressed. I’ve done SO much work on myself in the past six years. As I leave my thirties I’m proud to say I’m a much different person than I was when I entered them, but it looks like I have more work to do.

I’m in a good place in life. No, scratch that, I’m in a VERY good place in life. I’ve made some gains that I would have NEVER thought would happen for me. Sometimes I can’t believe that this is all real. I had a good day today. Like, an Ice Cube song-worthy good day. I woke up feeling relaxed, ran some errands, and chilled out at home for a while. And then….there it was. BAM! Anxiety and sadness rushed in and grabbed me in a bear hug.

My mind wasn’t necessarily racing with erratic thoughts (it was still pretty focused on one or two things), but I know I was freaked out because my physical symptoms of extreme stress and anxiety manifested: my neck felt hot, I had visible tremors, my breathing was shallow, and I felt the telltale sign of when I’m really in it deep: a squeezing sensation in my chest. The telltale heart, so to speak. The pressure around my heart is a rare symptom and only happens when I’m feeling extreme stress, even if I’m denying that feeling to myself.

“I don’t want to feel this feeling again,” I said to myself as I nervously pawed through laundry. It wasn’t the anxiety that bothered me. It was the attachment that got my attention. That pesky act and thought of attachment has messed up my life in more than a few ways. It has caused me to sabotage my life with foolish actions based on foolish thoughts. Nope, I had worked too hard on myself. I was not going to let this happen again.

I tried to go about my afternoon but I burst into tears when I was chopping vegetables, and I hadn’t even tackled the onion yet. I don’t let myself cry in front of people anymore. I can talk to a trusted few people about things that are bothering me, but there are certain things that I have to work through alone. Processing it, mostly through journaling, helps me take an objective look at the situation and offers both some possible reasons and solutions. Sometimes I’m able to resolve my problem without seeking outside help. It has helped me avoid many unnecessary confessions and more importantly, unnecessary confrontations. I have a pretty good system going. It’s a lonely process, but it works.

Or maybe at least I think I have to do this alone. Maybe I’m making it too difficult for myself. I don’t want to share certain thoughts because I feel it will cloud someone’s vision of me and ultimately condemn me. I’ve been wrong on many occasions, but old habits die hard. I hate being vulnerable, and I’m afraid of being rejected and hurt. I’ve weakened my capacity to trust and have faith in either a person or a process.

So there I was, crying in my kitchen, and then…I laughed. I had caught myself red-handed. I hadn’t defeated my nemesis but I’d found that bastard hiding in the shadows.

About a year and a half ago I wrote a post called I Am My Own Nemesis. I discussed some of the ways doubt and self-sabotage can creep up on us. This line caught my eye:

“Fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.” The very first post on this blog is about fear.

And that’s what I’m feeling: good old fashioned fear. Fear of rejection, fear of loss, fear of pain, fear of giving more than I’m receiving (or conversely, taking too much), fear of offering love that evaporates against a brick wall, fear of losing my material comforts, fear of once again having to trudge through all this shit alone. Ha! Here I go again…

The good thing about all the work that I’ve done on myself is that I’m self-aware enough to catch myself when this happens. I’m a big believer in the law of attraction. It has worked too many times for me in my favor not to be real, especially the seemingly serendipitous steps of my (so far) successful career. It’s also worked against me. Like attracts like, and I know damn well if I dwell in anxiety, fear of loss, and fear of rejection I’m going to attract what I dread the most. I have ruined more than a few relationships with actions based on my (sometimes) unfounded fear. And with that fear comes attachment and dependency on something or someone else to make me happy. And with all that, I make choices that cause me to feel more fear and anxiety and pain.

I only allow myself conditional happiness, and that’s the problem. I really want to be in that constant state of contentment and more importantly confidence. I’m getting there one day at a time. When I’m on the other side and have finally overpowered my ultimate nemesis I’ll let you know.

Don’t Sweat Fools

talk-to-the-hand_o_33921

I had this boyfriend who would often say, “I don’t sweat fools,” meaning he tried not to let people rattle him, especially over petty, pointless things. I’ve found myself thinking that quite a bit throughout this year…well, alternating between that and my favorite line from the RuPaul song “Sissy That Walk”: “’Less they paying your bills pay them bitches no mind.” Better words were never spoken, Mama Ru. (Now sissy that walk!)

Saying you’re not going to let people get to you and actually practicing it are two different things. I struggle with it although it’s become easier over the years as my confidence has improved. When our values or our livelihoods are threatened, when our character is questioned, when human decency is trampled upon it’s hard to not take things personally…because many times it is personal. This is when I’ll have to tap into my taekwondo “indomitable spirit” and keep moving forward, fools be damned.

So I’m done. I’m tired of the BS and tired of giving my power over to people who ultimately don’t matter, whether they are acquaintances, old classmates, ex-boyfriends, coworkers, public figures, or total strangers. I’m making a commitment to myself not to sweat fools anymore. I’ve never had a very wide circle of trusted, favorite people to begin with, and that circle’s gotten a lot smaller in the last two months. I just can’t care anymore. It’s time to keep a LOT of people at arm’s length and insulate myself with the people I truly care about. Bye Felicia.

Maybe this—pushing away rather than embracing–isn’t the best way to cope with what has been a very difficult year, but it’s what I have to do to remain calm and in control. Perhaps that’s a bit nihilistic, but that’s how I’m feeling right now. And what a year it’s been. Beloved celebrities have died, violence is happening worldwide, illness and death have struck my family and friends, my workplace was turned upside down, and of course there’s been this vitriolic political landscape in the United States. Other than the nice respite of the summer Olympics, I think most of us can agree 2016 has been a rotten year. I think on December 31st many people will be welcoming 2017 with open, exhausted arms.

Most people don’t matter, not really, not in the big scheme of things. A good friend once told me, “What other people think of you is none of your business.” The people who are the most vindictive, bullying, and aggressive tend to be the most insecure. Why let someone else’s hangups (or highly charged Facebook posts) ruin your day? Why let someone else tear you down when you’ve worked so hard to build yourself up? Don’t sweat those fools! You’re too awesome to do that! Focus on the ones you love and on making yourself even more awesome.

Not sweating fools doesn’t have to be reserved for people who are the most overtly aggressive or mean-spirited. It’s a reminder not to sweat the small stuff. Loved one getting on your nerves? It will pass. Got a last minute work assignment dumped on you? Just get it done and don’t dwell too much on the person responsible. This will also pass. People being contradictory, indecisive, or running around like headless chickens? Rise above and don’t get pulled into the senseless panic. Did someone make a rude or ignorant comment? F—k ‘em. You don’t have time for fools. Other people don’t define who you are, nor are they responsible for your feelings…they don’t deserve that power over you.

I have let people abuse me, bully me, play mind games, or even just let what they said or did get to me when what they actually said or did wasn’t a big deal. I have taken offense by creating it from thin air. I have been subjugated to pettiness and cruelty,and I let them win. I don’t need to be afraid of anyone anymore, and neither do you. (Well, I’m a little afraid of my Grandmaster, but that’s a healthy fear.)

And I can’t ignore the fact that sometimes I am the biggest fool in my own life. I’m extremely harsh and judgmental of myself, especially when the world around me becomes more stressful. I tend to turn inward rather than lash out at people externally. I scrutinize everything I do or say. I ruminate on what other people have said and start to fantasize about confrontations. I isolate myself because deep down I believe I will be rejected because of aspects of my personality, looks, and past. I believe I have to shoulder my burdens alone because I don’t trust anyone to help me. I believe the only time I can be happy is when I’m practicing taekwondo in the dojang…

…talk about a buncha BS and giving my power away. I know, right? Looks like this whole not sweating fools thing needs to start with the woman in the mirror.

I Am My Own Nemesis

evil twin

When I received my new black belt uniform a few weeks ago, the first thing I noticed wasn’t the bright white fabric, colorful patches, or black lapels. I noticed this phrase on the packaging:

“I Am My Own Nemesis.”

This stopped me in my tracks. We usually see cheerful phrases like “Just Do It” (Nike) or “Impossible is Nothing” (Adidas) on our athletic gear. Yeah, I can do anything, especially now that I’m wearing this $50 dry fit running shirt! The company that packaged and sold my uniform may have the same motivation to pump up their customers, but their motto came with a warning and a dose of reality.

It was a stark reminder that I have a long road ahead of me. No matter how fast or forceful I am as a black belt, my deadliest opponent is lying in wait squarely between my ears. Mental discipline is a tenet of all martial arts, and can be more difficult to master than the physical demands. It’s fairly easy to hit a kicking bag (or another person) with a solid roundhouse kick, but trampling down our own doubts and fears can take years if not a lifetime to master.

The enemy nestled in our minds can attack us in many ways and in many incarnations. It can begin to drive us insane as we begin to doubt more and more our abilities to overcome adversity or accomplish goals. It often appears in these forms:

Fear: Fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of physical harm, fear of loss (money, relationships, stability, job, etc.), fear of being exposed or “found out,” which goes neatly in hand with self-doubt.

Self-Doubt: Doubt in our capabilities, intellect, choices, and many more. The more we doubt ourselves the more our sense of self begins to crumble. Doubt is like scraping a big eraser across a drawing of yourself; your essence begins to disappear. Doubt yourself enough and you will be frozen in indecision and fear. Self-doubt can lead to self-hatred, which is a very dangerous downward spiral.

Anger: Our inner enemy likes to be combative and paranoid, and it will convince you that the world is out to get you. Anger can often stem from a feeling of vulnerability and a deep fear of being hurt. When mired in anger we start to see conflict everywhere and begin to take every encounter as a confrontation. I have known people who created many enemies in their life simply because they began to assume the worst about everyone they encountered.

If there’s a silver lining about being your own nemesis is that you know the enemy better than you’ll ever know your other opponents. One way you can battle this Self Nemesis is by observation, which is a useful tool my fellow martial artists and I use in sparring. We don’t just rush into a fight with fists and feet flailing. We study our opponent and look for their strengths, weaknesses, and patterns to help us plan our attack and defense.

Are you beginning to feel overwhelmed by doubt, anger, or fear? Stop. Observe, and more importantly, observe without judgment. Don’t berate yourself for your feelings. Simply acknowledge them. You’re afraid? Well, that’s okay. What is it you’re afraid of? What’s the very worst that can happen? Are you 100% sure that what you fear will happen? Are you really and truly 100% helpless, or is there something you can do? Ask yourself if what you’re thinking is true or if you’re telling yourself lies. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.

Taekwondo has been my saving grace for overcoming low self-esteem and crushing anxiety. Sometimes when faced with a challenge at work or in my personal life (or most recently, trying to climb up onto a Bosu ball at physical therapy) I think, “Chin up, you can do it! You’re a black belt!”

There are real dangers and opponents out there, but sometimes the great nemesis is all in our heads. I’d love to see in the comments below your tactics for overcoming your self-doubt and fear. What do you do when you realize you are your own nemesis?

Stop Hating on Yourself with Unnecessary Apologies…Seriously, You Guys, Quit!!

stop-it-250x166

I seem to be on a body consciousness kick right now.  Yesterday I talked about not letting one’s aches and pains get in the way of happiness. Today I want to talk about the sh*t women say about their bodies. Cut it out, ladies, and stop apologizing for the way you look and what you do!

“Oh I’m horrible at yoga blah de blah blah blah,” a blonde woman babbled at me as I washed my hands in the locker room after a late evening yoga class. Usually after yoga I’m a little dazed—my eyes are bloodshot, my ponytail is askew, and I have that “just had a really long nap and am still kinda disoriented” look on my face. I’m lucky if I remember how to operate a vehicle and drive myself home. Was she talking to me while I had my back turned?

“I’m sorry, were you saying something to me? I didn’t quite hear you,” I said, confused as I turned to face her.

“Oh!” she cackled and swiped her hands in the air, “I was just saying how terrible I am at yoga, how I can’t bend and move like everybody else!” She looked like she was in her fifties, and she was petite, toned, and had pretty blue eyes and smooth (natural, not Botoxed) skin. What in the world was this woman talking about, and why was she telling me?? I’d never met her before and didn’t recognize her from yoga class. I rarely notice who’s beside me in that darkened exercise room most of the time anyway.

“What? Why would you say you’re horrible?” I said, going into my soothing concerned counselor voice. “You’re just doing what’s best for your body. Everybody’s different.” She cackled again nervously and ran out of the locker room before I could finish my little speech. It was a drive-by apology, and an unnecessary one at that. I had no idea why she felt she needed to apologize for her “performance” in yoga. It’s a practice, not a performance. Could she have possibly been intimidated by me and felt the need to apologize in my supposed yoga rock star presence or was she looking for commiseration from a fellow self-hater and ran off when she didn’t get it? I was baffled.

It made me think about how many of us, myself included, fall into that self-conscious “I’m not worthy” mindset when we feel we need to impress someone or worse, apologize for our mere existence. Many years ago I was strolling through the underground walking path in the hospital where I worked. They had mile markers and little encouraging signs, so it was common to see employees in scrubs and business suits power walking the maze around the laundry and the morgue. I came to a dead end, turned around, and politely stepped out of the way of a heavy-set woman going the opposite direction. She stepped back, allowing me the right of way and as she gazed at me with a haunting longing in her eyes she whispered, “You go ahead….Skinny.”

It wasn’t a hateful epithet or laced with any sarcasm. She said it with this creepy sad hopefulness, almost…ugh…reverence. First of all, I’m not. Skinny girls have straight up and down bodies and wear bandeau bikini tops without worrying that anything will fall out. Nothing wrong with that. I don’t care; it’s just not me. I wear petite sizes but I’m short and have an hourglass figure. Nothing wrong with that either. I don’t care. Second of all—my size does not mean I’m better or worse than anyone else. She gave me the right of way because I was thinner than she was? What kind of self-esteem deficit did she have? I was so embarrassed for both of us that I ran (okay, power walked) back down the hallway as she stared sadly after me and cowered in the corner.

And here’s where I out myself as a long-time self-playa hater and apologizer for my very existence. I used to hate my body so much that I wanted to die either by my own hand or by cancer or some other horrible illness. The apologies didn’t stop with my looks. Even if I didn’t expressly say “I’m sorry,” for a long time I carried an attitude of shame. I apologized when I entered a conversation, when I made a suggestion, when I made a weak argument, when I proposed an idea, when I was forced to say ‘no,’ when I was intimidated by a man I thought was better than me, and even in taekwondo when I screwed up a self-defense technique or a kick. All of it was based on fear of being rejected and of not being a perfect little people pleaser.

There’s nothing wrong with apologizing as long as it’s sincere and relevant to the situation, but it’s become overused in our neurotic, self-conscious society. I notice that women especially interject “I’m sorry” into their conversations or use it instead of “excuse me” when they pass someone in the hallway. Remember, I even did that when I was hit off guard by the rambling blonde in the gym locker room (even if it was her own damn fault for mumbling to me when my back was turned). If I say “I’m sorry,” maybe it will soften the blow. Maybe it will show that I still revere the other person’s dominance.

Nope. I’m done. No more apologizing unless it’s necessary. I’m taking up space and oxygen on this planet, and I’m not going to cower and apologize for it. If you don’t like the way I look how ’bout I punch you in the eye and fix that little problem for you? If I offend or hurt someone or do something out of line then of course I will apologize. I’m way too empathetic to let myself off easy on that one. But apologizing as a way to soften the blow of my own crushing insecurities? Or to punish myself and justify my horrible sin of being less than perfect? No. No more.

STOP APOLOGIZING. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL AND AWESOME.

Ha! Made Ya Flinch!

flinch_forehead
It’s become a running joke that I flinch when a kick is thrown at my head during free sparring. In situations outside of a taekwondo school one might think that this is a perfectly normal reaction. Something startles us, we flinch. It’s human nature.

Flinching doesn’t help when a hard object is flying straight at your head. When I flinch I become completely ineffective: I squinch my eyes shut, hold my breath, and usually end up blocking with the wrong hand and get clipped anyway. I stop thinking clearly and instead panic even though by now I’ve come to expect head shots during sparring. I’m such a psycho about learning taekwondo that I cackle and goad my instructors into doing it again so I can break my bad habit.

I’ve always flinched, whether it was a reaction to the threat of physical harm or emotional harm. My first reaction has been fear. I was a doormat for most of my life and haven’t quite fully forgiven myself for being such an easy target for abuse and bullying from people very close to me to absolute strangers. I always kept my head down, smiled politely and silently through tight lips when someone was rude, and didn’t protest lest I “make waves.” In the case of some of my romantic relationships those metaphorical flinches drove me further into my shell and my insecurities. I didn’t want to be anything less than perfect and complacent out of fear that they would leave (which they all inevitably did anyway). My fear of being harmed (further fueled by the fear of being rejected) made me shut down completely or build up to an explosion.

But you know, getting kicked in the head isn’t so bad. I always wear protective headgear and a mouthpiece so the worst that can happen is that I’m knocked off balance for a second or two. Sparring class is a safe place to experiment with how we deal with danger. No one is out for blood, and we’re quick to back off when the pain is too real or the violence is too intense. It helps us learn to think quickly and clearly and be confident enough to use our blocks, kicks, and punches with force.

Having a mean roundhouse kick or a strong punch is a plus, but there’s something to be said for a strong defense. I can block fairly well, but if I’m doubled over with my eyes closed that’s not going to do me much good. I should look my opponent square in the eye and knock their foot or hand away from my face with as much force and confidence as they are using to hit me. If someone in our life is trying to harm us we should defend ourselves with confidence. It’s setting a boundary. It’s saying, “No, you cannot do that to me. That’s unacceptable. You are not allowed to hurt me anymore, and I’m not going to apologize for standing up to you.”

“Spear-hand thrust to the face. It’s a fake so you get them to flinch. It throws them off balance, and you get their arm to bend back,” I said quietly as I guided my teenage bo dan partner through hand-to-hand practice a few nights later. We were practicing self defense techniques that involved painful wrist and elbow locks. It requires the person being attacked to be quick and calculating and work through their fear of being attacked. It turns the tables on the attacker–we use their own force and their own weight against them. We make them flinch and wince and crumble in pain. We overpower their brute arrogance with our cool confidence.

If something (or someone) makes you flinch, pause, open your eyes, and ask yourself why you are afraid. What can you do to stand up to that source of pain and fear? What can you do to turn the tables on it, set a boundary, and say, “Nope! You’re not going to hurt me anymore”?

Happy Fails to You

failure kirk

“Failure is the new awesome,” my yoga teacher said in his deep booming voice as we eased back into child’s pose after a hearty, vigorous vinyasa series. This is interesting, I thought as I breathed into the space between my nose and my mat. I wonder where he’s going with this?

“We’re afraid to fail. Some people say the opposite of success is failure. I beg to differ. Winston Churchill said, ‘Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.’ When you fail it means you’re awesome. It means you took a risk, you stuck you’re neck out.”

He then asked us to move into downward dog he added, “And if you want to stay in child’s pose for a while that’s OK too. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re listening to your body.” I propped my hips up but remained resting on the ground as the salted cashews and piece of salami I’d snacked on earlier this morning had suddenly conspired to form an angry ball in my stomach. (Hey, it was organic cashews and nitrate-free salami so don’t toss my halo in the trash yet…)

I don’t like failing. I don’t like embarrassing myself. I don’t like exposing myself as being less than perfect. But I’ve failed many times and came out on the other side as the winner. I’ve quit jobs, friends, relationships, classes, school programs, and hobbies and they all ended up being the catalysts for change and success that I couldn’t have envisioned being possible if I’d continued to cling to what wasn’t serving me anymore.

In taekwondo I have fallen flat on my back, been kicked in the head, endured countless injuries, and had to try things over and over and over for months or years at a time before I got my mind and body to click and do it right. In my last post I mentioned that I quit ballet and my college dance major, which set off a domino effect that landed me in the awesome life I have today. I’ve learned just as much, perhaps even more, from my “failures” than I have from my successes.

Later in the class we were balancing on one leg in warrior III/airplane (funny, there’s no Sanskrit term for “airplane pose”) with our upper body, raised leg, and arms stretched out behind us. He instructed us to lean, lean, leeeeeaaaan forward…and then dive into standing split. “You see?” he said. “You thought you might fail if you fell forward. But you ended up going exactly where you needed to go.” Sly, this yoga teacher of mine.

We did it again on the other side, and this time I was braver. I tipped my upper body straight towards the floor like a seesaw, stretched my arms and raised leg as high as I could toward the ceiling, dove my face as far down towards the mat as I could, all the while snickering and hearing my taekwondo instructor’s voice inside my head shouting, “Why don’t you do that during spin kick?? I always have to remind you to lean your shoulder back!!” If I fell, who cared? I was going to catch myself and land in the next pose anyway. I was going exactly where I wanted to go.

Are you afraid to fail? Are you afraid to even try because you’re afraid to fail? You might fail. You might fall on your face, embarrass yourself, and totally screw up your life. And you might not. Either way, the final outcome is in your hands.  You have the power to learn from your failures and use them as catalysts for success. Dive in! You’re awesome either way.

(Funny side note: earlier today I was wearing a Nike t-shirt that says, “Behold Awesome.” I guess we’re all on the Awesome Train today)