I Am My Own Nemesis Part 2: The Comeback Tour

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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.

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You ARE Something (Other People Believe It, So It’s About Time You Did)

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I’ve recently changed job locations within the company where I’ve been employed for the last nearly 13 years. It’s a bit of a homecoming since I returned to the hospital where I first began my career with the company. After a six year stint at our corporate office in an adjacent city, it was time for me to come home. A few weeks in I got a life lesson in how our perceptions of ourselves, who we are, and what we deserved can at times be flawed at worst, underestimated at best.

Last Monday the director of the department (I don’t report to her but we work together, and she manages the department where I’m now located) offered me a bigger office that had just recently been vacated. My initial reaction was to say no—(1) I was pretty sick from an upper respiratory infection and was out of it when she asked (2) I was being too impulsively sentimental and attached to my first “real” little office, and most importantly (3) I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by looking like the new kid who breezed in and took one of the biggest offices. We’d all gone through a difficult work situation that left many people feeling sensitive and vulnerable. I didn’t want to contribute to that…which is ironically a bit arrogant of me to make the assumption that I was responsible for everyone’s feelings and moods. I worry too much about what other people think under the guise of wanting to take care of everyone. All that’s done is cause unnecessary stress and heartache.

The next morning I changed my mind, took her up on her offer, and by the afternoon I was all moved in. I love my new space. It’s huge. I can even practice a form in there (slightly modified but still) if I wanted to. It turns out my assumptions about my adopted work team were unfounded. They’d wanted me to have that big office from the beginning and were very happy that it was finally mine. Several of them even stopped by and said so. Due to the nature of my job I have a lot of meetings, and many of them are very private coaching meetings. I needed a larger space so my guests and I could be comfortable.

The afternoon that I moved in to my big office I hosted a meeting with one of my coworkers and a mutual friend, a hospital leader whom we’d both worked with on different occasions. My coworker mentioned a recent disappointment she’d had on the job. She was feeling pretty down when one day she was contacted out of the blue by a recruiter. She ultimately didn’t take the offer, having decided to stay where she was, but she was flattered by the attention.

“It just felt good to know that I AM something to someone,” she said. The other woman and I nodded and smiled in understanding. I thought about how important it is to feel that, and it often takes an outside perspective to remind us of what we were too blind, self-conscious, distracted, or even self-centered to see in ourselves.

“I think you underestimated the support you were going to get when you came here,” the department administrative assistant told me the next day when was helping me set up my phone. Maybe, but I think it was more of a case of underestimating myself. I didn’t think I deserved the big office. I didn’t think that the work I did was important enough or that what I did mattered to other people. It took other people pushing me into a new space (literally) for me to see that hey, I do make a difference after all. I AM something.

So take that opportunity. Take what is being offered to you on a platter. Take the big office. Enroll in a college course. Apply for that job. Sign up for your first taekwondo class. Tell that person you love them. What is scarier? Acting on what you want or continuing to live in doubt, controlled by fear and anxiety? Say yes. Take it. You are worth it. You deserve it.

You ARE something.

Turning Lemons Into Limoncello

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Last week I took the second worst yoga class of my nineteen-year practice. Taking yoga at gyms rather than a traditional yoga studio has always been a crapshoot. I have had some incredible teachers over the years. I have also had some who weren’t great. Thankfully I learned enough from the incredible teachers to recognize the difference. Although it was a pitiful class, it offered a great learning experience in patience, self-reliance, and making the best of a disappointing situation.

The worst yoga class I’ve ever taken was about a year or so ago. It was taught by a woman who was subbing for my regular Saturday teacher. She seemed like an aerobics instructor who had tacked on a weekend yoga workshop so she could teach more classes at the gym. Between the snarky, possessive comments she made about her poor whipped husband in front of the entire class and the bitchy, sarcastic little jokes she muttered every fifteen seconds I was unimpressed. After a few squats, lunges, and other ridiculous dance-y moves that weren’t any asanas I’d seen before I rolled up my mat and left.

This time I didn’t leave although I kinda wanted to. The woman teaching the class seemed very sweet, sincere, and also insecure, so I thought it would be bad form to walk out  on her…even when I realized with horror that she was playing a Celine Dion album in its entirety I didn’t want to be rude and storm out. It wasn’t downright horrible. It just wasn’t a yoga class. It wasn’t well organized, had no logical flow, and no explanation of “poses” (if you could call them that) to those who were new to yoga. Interestingly enough she did ask if anyone knew the Running Man and Peacock poses. Does every white woman in a pair of Lululemons make those poses a life goal or something? I quietly got my Crow on and silently willed her to focus on the basics, which she didn’t have much of a grasp of. Y’all, we didn’t even do savasana.

So I stuck it out for an hour. I decided that I would make it a good class for me and what my mind and body needed. I took full advantage of the opportunities to stretch and release my sore muscles that I had abused the day earlier in the dojang. I reminded myself to not let my thoughts wander or become impatient. Whether it was yoga or just a disjointed stretch class led by a very inexperienced teacher, this was the time for me to be quiet with no distractions–no phone, no computer, no TV, no taekwondo, no emails, no housework. Perhaps this was even better than a more traditional yoga class because it forced me to face head-on what was unfamiliar and uncomfortable.

And before anyone jumps on my back for being a judgmental, anti-Yogic, ahimsa-eschewing snob…no, I’m not. I don’t think that woman was a bad person or even a bad teacher. She was trying her best with the information and experience she had. What she taught just wasn’t appropriate for the situation, and I have the right to point that out, which I did to the gym staff after the class was over. Call it a stretch class or relaxation class, but don’t call it yoga. Calling it yoga would be very misleading to those who are new to the practice.

My favorite yoga teacher might counter me and say, “But, don’t you realize, Melanie, that IS yoga.” In a way, he would be right. Yoga is not a fancy pose or a pair of fashionable stretch pants. It’s the union of body, breath, and mind. That union could take place in an ashram or standing in line at the grocery store. Yoga begins and ends within.

So what’s the lesson to learn from this? Sometimes in life we don’t get what we expected or thought we signed up for. We find ourselves in situations that may be somewhat familiar but are still Bizarro, uncomfortable versions of what we’re used to. We may have to adapt and change more quickly than we wanted. We may have to take the initiative to make the best of a situation without the guidance of anyone else. I will not return to this woman’s class, but I will remember the challenge it presented to me to take charge of an unpleasant situation and make the most of it.

A Surprising Way to Snap Out of It

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Sup, tornado! Wanna fight??

Sometimes, for reasons that make sense and just as often for reasons that don’t, I get sad. The feeling can overtake me in a flash. It’s not dissimilar from the Texas storms that mark the beginning of spring (and more pointedly, tornado season): suddenly the sky turns greyish-green, the tornado sirens are wailing, the rain starts pounding sideways, and the household lights flicker. It can be terrifying and paralyzing, and then just as quickly as it began, it’s over.

Recently I was hit with one of those emotional “rain squalls” and found myself hunched at my dining table with my head in my hand and tears streaming silently down my face.  It just happened, and while I knew it wasn’t for a rational reason, I gave in and let it take over for a few minutes. I knew it would pass, but it was agonizing.

Then I popped up out of the chair and did something I’ve never done before when I’ve been upset and overwhelmed:

I did a taekwondo form.

I stood in ready stance at one end of my living room, took a deep breath, and launched into what we call “Koryo One” at my dojang. This is a rarely practiced form that is different from the well-known and universal “Koryo” black belt form. At our school a student learns Koryo One as a bo dan in preparation to test for first degree black belt. To read more about “Koryo One” click here. To read more about the universal “Koryo,” click here.

Anyway, our Koryo One is a short but powerful and interesting form. It has eye punches and face smashes, and you can’t get much better than that in a form. Going through the form only took a minute or two, but I immediately felt better. The tears had dried, my breathing was steady, and my mind was calm. I decided to see what happened when I tried another one.

I did Koryo Two, or what is better known as the universal black belt form “Koryo,” and was especially forceful with the knee breaks and throat grabs. I played around with the timing and tried to incorporate some of the things I’d been tweaking earlier in the week in class.

Not bad. I was feeling a little better.

I kept going through a short list of my favorite forms that are especially strong and beautiful: Keumgang (yes, really, after all the confusion of learning, it I love it), Palgwe Chil Jang, and Palgwe Sah Jang.

As I was going through the forms I thought about the advice I had given some younger students the night before: “Make it look powerful. Don’t just walk through it; you’re in a fight. Make it POP!” I remembered how I demonstrated power to the students: as I was glaring at them out of the corner of my eye to make sure they paid attention, I lunged forward into a front stance and snapped my fists forward into a double gut punch. I let out a sharp exhale and imagined clocking someone in the sides. POP!

When my emotions tried to take over again, I fought harder against my invisible enemy. My blocks were strong, my kicks were sharp, and my transitions were smooth. I was light on my feet (mostly so I wouldn’t disturb my downstairs neighbors) and highly alert. There was no feeling of terror or paralysis as long as I was kicking my mind’s butt. The flash flood was over.

It felt appropriate to end my little cool-down session with Palgwe Pal Jang, a form that according to taekwondo tradition, symbolizes a return to earth and a sensation of becoming grounded. By the time I finished my set I even had a little smile on my face.

I stood still for a moment as my breathing slowed and realized that my mind was completely quiet. I didn’t feel drained as one might after a good long crying session. I felt more that I was cleansed. Out of curiosity I tried to muster up the stress and anxiety I had been feeling earlier, and I simply couldn’t. My mind was too quiet and empty to put forth the effort.

We do not have to become terrified or paralyzed when feelings of sadness, anger, stress, or fear loom over us like a storm cloud. We can observe the emotions for what they are (a passing storm), and let the rain wash through us as we stand strong. I regained my power through my forms. For others it might be prayer, meditation, a deep breath, or a long run that helps them refocus and regain a sense of calm. Whatever it is, find what grounds you, and stand strong.

Crowdsourcing

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Yesterday I didn’t feel too jazzed about “cardio night.” My allergies have been acting up since Friday, so I was headachy, grumpy, and phlegmy, plus my right…um…“high hamstring” still had shooting pain whenever I did a front or roundhouse kick on that leg. However I knew I needed to get out of the house and get some exercise, and I know I always feel better once I get some sweat and endorphins flowing. When I arrived a white belt class was still going on, and a few advanced students had trickled in to quietly warm up. As I squinted and creaked and stretched by the barre I was approached by a little blonde red belt who sells Girl Scout cookies and has developed quite the hook kick. She began peppering me with questions about red-to-black belt training.

“Do you want to be a black belt?” I asked, raising my eyebrow. She nodded emphatically.
“Then you’ll have to work hard. Do remember your form?” I asked, leaning down to look her in the eye.
“Yes, but it’s confusing,” she said, miming some of the motions of Palgwe Chil Jang.
“Okay, we’ll work on that after this class is finished. We have to be quiet until then.”
She gazed at the white belts and mused, “I like watching them sometimes.”
“You can learn how to teach by watching a white belt class,” I said. “You have to know how to do that to be a black belt.” She nodded again and started mumbling all the things white belts have to learn under her breath: stretch kicks, front snap kick, low block…

Once the white belts had scattered I rushed her out onto the mat and soon convinced a fellow bo dan and a red belt who is testing for black tip on Friday into joining us. Even though I sounded like I was smoking a pack a day I quickly started to feel better as I walked the kids through the form. I smirked with pride when my fellow little bo dan took it upon herself to explain to the blonde red belt a particularly difficult part of the form.

It was a great class with lots of variety to keep us on our toes and infectious enthusiasm from other students. We giggled when a black belt (and incidentally the only one who speaks Korean fluently) did the wrong kick when we were told to do “hyeo chun cha-kee”–I’ll give you a hint; it’s NOT jump snap kick. We muttered compliments and words of encouragement to each other during fast paced rounds of flying kicks.

By the end of class I still had a dry throat and the sniffles and couldn’t tell if I had a mild fever or I was just my usual roasting man-sweaty self, but I felt much better. I enjoyed the thrill of a good workout and had the feel-good fuzzies when I coached some of the younger kids.  Being around like-minded people I care about definitely helped lift my spirits.

Meanwhile tonight I am sitting at home pouting because I am coughing way too much to make it through a vinyasa yoga class…I even start hacking in savasana. Meh. You win some, you lose some.