May 23, 2021 – Self Improvement

If I’m being totally honest, I’d much rather discuss home improvement. That’s one topic I feel pretty confident about. Need to know how to lay tile? Check! What’s the best wood to use for fencing? Check! Is natural gas preferable for heating, or is electricity better? Check! Are solar panels worth the investment? Check! Which countertop material works best for someone on a budget? Double check!! Look, between my husband and myself, we have resurrected three pretty down-and-out homes. I have learned more about wiring and drywalling and plumbing and landscaping and siding than I’d care to admit to. When it comes to home repairs or improvement, you name it, I’ve probably had some exposure to it in one form or another. However, when it comes to self improvement, that’s a whole ‘nother matter! It’s not that I haven’t made efforts throughout my life to ‘improve’. It’s just that it’s much more difficult to ‘measure’ improvement when it comes to self.

Not only is it difficult to measure ‘self’ improvement, it seems like the ground is always ‘giving way’ beneath me so I never quite know whether I’ve made progress or just keep ending up back at square one. It’s human nature to revert back to what we learned from our parents/guardians/caregivers and what I learned is to a) run away from a situation when it seems too difficult to surmount, b) cut people out of my life when they hurt or disappoint me, or c) pick myself apart if neither a or b solves the predicament I found myself in. Oh, how I love to do that! My inner critic is quite bold and highly opinionated! And whenever I ask her for feedback, she usually responds with, “Don’t mind if I do!” No, she doesn’t need any help when it comes to assertiveness, she’ll give me an earful if I give her a chance. You should have heard her last night when I tried out my brand new lighted magnifying mirror! What the heck was I thinking buying that blasted mirror? Clearly I’m a glutton for punishment.

That mirror should have come with a warning label like a pack of cigarettes, except rather than saying, “This product may be hazardous to your health and could result in death,” it would say something more like, “This product comes with a guarantee. Our company guarantees that once you take a look at your reflection, you will become extremely disappointed. If you were under the impression that your appearance and the condition of your skin wasn’t half bad, this device will quickly shatter that myth.” After I got over the shock of how hairy I actually was (I mean, I knew I was hairy but come on!), I got a chance to really look (with impressive clarity) at the condition of my skin and let me tell you, that was a real ‘eye opener’! Given the opportunity to do it again, I probably would pass. Nobody needs to see all of that stuff (broken capillaries, ‘brown spots’, random bumps, sags and bags, wrinkles and furrows) up close! I much prefer the somewhat distorted mirror above my sink. It’s much more forgiving and far less judgmental.

I guess I’ve danced around the topic of ‘self improvement’ enough so I probably should just dive in. The reason I wanted to talk about it is because I finally got a chance to see my therapist (after a nearly 4-month hiatus) and during our session, she recommended that I purchase a self-help workbook called ‘Don’t Let Emotions Run Your Life’. At her behest, I ordered it. I’m not much into ‘workbooks’ but she said it’s one of the better ones out there so I figured I’d give it a try. The thing is, I’m stuck. I feel disconnected and withdrawn and have little desire at this point to be around people in any way, shape, or form. I have learned throughout my life that people never fail to do one thing as far as I’m concerned, they never fail to disappoint. Of course, when I use the term ‘people’, I am including myself. And therein lies the problem, I am all but certain that I tend to project onto others the disappointment that I have with me, myself, and I. If you think I have high standards for you, you should see the ones I have for myself!

Needless to say, I’m trying to do and be better. Just like most people, I’m a ‘work in progress’. Sigh. Why does life have to be so damn hard?!! I did finally get around to buying the book and have actually managed to crack it open. The first chapter of the workbook asks several questions about events from my past that are specifically about anger, sadness, and joy/love. It asked about what happened when I was the most angry, or the most sad, or the most joyful, how I responded, and whether it (my response) made the situation better, worse, or the same, and how long the emotion lasted (seconds to days). It’s tough to pinpoint the time when I was the most angry or the most sad, let alone the most joyful. When responding to the question about anger, I immediately thought about the woman at my last job that was so good at ‘pushing my buttons’. Specifically, I focused on the time when she asked if I had ever used the business credit card to make personal purchases. To understand how angry I became, if lasers could have shot out of my eyes, I would have torched her on the spot.

The more I thought about it though, I realized that wasn’t (by far) the angriest I’ve ever been. I was much more angry when I flew home to spend time with my mom and nearly left the very night I arrived because of the way my niece was behaving. As I recall, my mom and I were engaged in a conversation in the kitchen when my niece sauntered past. True to form, she ignored me, even after I cheerfully greeted her and said, “Hello.” I thought at first that maybe she hadn’t heard me so I didn’t react at first. However, when it happened a second time, I was no longer able to keep my cool. “Nice!” I remember saying as she walked by a second time, looking past me as if I didn’t exist, “That’s very adult of you!” What made matters worse is once she left the room, my mother said very matter-of-factly, “Just ignore it. Don’t let it bother you. That’s just the way she is.” Ack!! I just wanted to scream. It’s no wonder that my niece has turned into a ‘mental minion’. No one ever corrected her when she was out of line.

Sad to say, but after I thought a bit more about past events that angered me, I realized that I somehow managed to overlook the one event that really stirred up the venom in me, far more than any other event that took place. What was it that angered me so much that if lasers could have shot out of my eyes, and fireworks from my fingertips, they would have? Oh, it was just a minor thing, certainly nothing to get too worked up about. I was just living my life and thinking everything was hunky-dory, and then my husband decided to have a full-blown mid-life crisis. I should have known something was amiss when he insisted on purchasing a brand new, sporty two-door coupe in sunburst orange. That’s just not his style. I’m not going to go into all the sordid details but looking back, that has to be the angriest I’ve ever become in my entire life. When it all came to a head, I screamed so loud and cussed so much, I’m surprised the neighbors didn’t call the cops and report a domestic disturbance.

The saddest I’ve ever been? Let me count the ways. No, don’t get me started, we’ll literally be here for days. I undoubtedly became quite sad after my husband had his mid-life crisis. It truly broke my heart. But I get sad and depressed over lots of things. I spent at least two weeks over the Christmas holiday (last year) in one of the most depressed states I’ve ever been in. I didn’t want to talk to anyone and I didn’t want to be around anyone. All I endeavored to do was try and survive until January rolled around. January eventually did roll around and I was able to snap out of it…but it wasn’t easy. I get sad when I hear about kids getting abused, I get sad when I see how divided my family has become, I get sad when I think about my oldest sister (who passed away when she was 31). I also get sad when I make a meal for my husband and one of my hairs ends up in his entrée, or when I don’t get invited to a party, or when someone says something to or about me that is callous and/or cruel. I can come up with all kinds of examples. What I still cannot figure out, however, is when I was ‘the most sad’.

I’ve barely started the workbook and I’m already hitting roadblocks. The ‘Joy/Love’ question has really got me scratching my head. My goal is to actually work through all of the exercises and get something out of the experience and not do as I usually do, which is get about two chapters in and then donate the book to the nearest thrift store. I think that’s what the person ended up doing who had the book before me. There are only a few pages with sections highlighted in pink and then the rest of the pages are pristine. Once the person who had it before me lost interest, they must have dropped it off at Goodwill, because that is where I happened to come across it. It cost me a whole $6.71. If I don’t get anything out of it, at least I can be reassured that I didn’t blow a bunch of money buying it new. Fingers crossed, I’ll get more out of it than the previous owner did. If I can take anything away from this book, I hope it teaches me how to let stuff ‘roll off my shoulders’ more and not take everything so personally. I’m so weighted down by all the crap I’m carrying around on my shoulders, it’s a miracle I’m still able to stand upright.

And on that ‘cheery note’, I’d better go. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and thanks for stopping by!

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