A Bitchy Pregnancy Blog – A First

I’ve been pregnant for just over five months now, and I feel like I’ve avoided bitching about it as much as possible. Everyone says, “What a wonderful time” and all this nice stuff about it, and it’s almost as if they expect you to then be always positive about it. Sorry. It’s not always a positive time. Sure, it’s exciting, and yes, it’s amazing, babies growing, etc. But does it deserve positive thoughts every day? I would say not. Nobody’s naturally happy all day every day, and so we can’t expect pregnant women to be either.

Since we’re pregnant for 9 months, I think we should allowed at least 9 days of bitchy. At the very least. At least one per month. And I’m betting this will occur when the most changes are occurring, or at least when people notice them the most. Today is one of those days.
I slept maybe 2 hours last night. I can’t fall asleep early anymore; we’ve been going to bed around 2 a.m. every day for the past week (thank goodness for vacation). I then wake up around 5:30 having to pee, and then I can’t fall back asleep. I get so hungry I have to eat. I finally fall back asleep around 8:30, and wake up feeling unproductive and hungry at 10:30. I took a nap today but don’t always, but I woke up more tired than I was before I slept. And of course when I woke up, I was hungry.

Today has really been the first day that I’ve noticed being hungry every three hours. I told Mike I feel like I never get full; even after eating I feel nauseated (which usually indicates tired or hungry for me). While I can function ok on Christmas break like this, I’m not sure how well I’m going to do when we have to start work again on Monday.

And it’s not easy making sure that everything I eat on the “eat everything in sight” diet is healthy. At some points I’m just thinking, “What will fill me up sufficiently so I can sleep for a few hours?” Today I had a bagel, a bag of carrots, a cup of pasta with broccoli and cheese, two pieces of pizza, a hotdog, and two more pieces of pizza. That was over the course of the day. Add to that the sweet drinks (sweet tea, Diet Coke, and hot cocoa) that my second trimester body craves. Second trimester is all about the body sugars for growth. Makes me wonder which of the diets out there will be best for me once this whole process is over. With today being New Year’s Eve, everyone’s talking about weight loss in the New Year; Michelle says I’m supposed to ignore those commercials and the skinny people on them because they don’t apply to pregnant people. After 33 years of being female, it’s hard to.

I’m done writing for today – I have to go make my before bed hot cocoa and put a bag of carrots together to put next to my bed for if I wake up.

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Helping the Helper

When I teach classes about counseling or to students who want to be counselors in the future, we talk about “helping the helper.” I make sure they know that being a caregiver of any sort is challenging, emotionally draining, and really truly physically tiring. It’s no joke, I tell them – we talk about health psychology research that tells us that caring for others (or one other) takes mental and physical energy that can cause symptoms in the caregiver themselves. So I tell my students this, not to scare them, but so that they know that self-care is necessary. Therapists and any caregiver in general need self-care. It doesn’t matter if you are a therapist or if you work with terminal children; you need self-care.

Or if you’re a caregiver for a terminal or sick spouse.

Today I came home from work and took a nap, like I do. Mike had gone to the grocery store to get dinner after work, which he hates. When I woke up, it was almost dark and the TV was on, but there were no dogs or humans in the house. The groceries were on the counter. I put on shoes and found Mike and the dogs sitting in the driveway. He was drinking beer(s) and had been chain smoking. I knew he had wanted to do work for his classes, so I knew these behaviors were nonproductive (therapist speak).

I knew he had already cleaned up the kitchen, which before I got pregnant he would not have done. He has completely changed from the lax “relax then do what needs to be done” to “do what needs to be done then relax” person (which is more like me), probably due to the fact that I can’t do these things myself anymore (which he knows bugs the crap out of me). But I also know my husband; he goes rounds with mood disorders sometimes, depression particularly. Drinking a bunch instead of doing schoolwork was not a good sign, to my trained eyes.

As I walked up, he stated, “I already did the dishes.”

“I know,” I responded, standing in front of him. I could see tired, depressed, and frustrated on his face. “Want to come in and get your schoolwork done?”

He snorted. “I’m too drunk for homework.”

“Ok, I’ll make dinner then. Did you work on your PowerPoint at school today?”

“Yeah, I got all the pictures I need, I just have to put it together.” He paused. “It’s tough,” he mumbled, looking away. And I knew he wasn’t just referring to schoolwork. So I went and got him another beer and left him alone on the tailgate of his truck.

Monday he took a Botany test and didn’t do as well as he would have liked, and he had been pretty proud of that grade before this test. The PowerPoint was supposed to bring it back up. He wanted to impress his teacher, but was having trouble with the computer program on OpenOffice. And he had a paper due, but couldn’t get his program to make graphs like he wanted to look cool (and I had no idea how to do them to help). He also has a wife who is sick, tired, can’t breathe, and can’t do anything short of work and sleep. So all the cleaning, cooking, cleaning after cooking, pet care, etc. has fallen to him. And he’s done it all without complaining, even going above and beyond to do things that make me happy.

Typically, drinking by yourself (if you’re my husband) indicates the middle of a spiral of depression. But I’m pretty sure this is his version of helping the helper. And that’s ok. I’ll bring you a beer for that. So tonight I made dinner – granted it took a while because I had to sit down a few times. And he kept asking if I was ok. And I was because whenever I sat down I was putting my feet up on a footstool he bought for me.

Mike’s right; it is tough. No two ways about it. Being there for someone else, hell practically being someone else (doing all the things they normally do) is tough. And if you’re the helper, you need to have that time to deal with it however you deal with it. But I applaud you for doing it, and I’ll let you know that the person you’re helping appreciates it more than you know.

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Pleased to be Happy to create Contentment (Positive Psychology Part I)

Fairly recently, some researchers in psychology have become less focused on the negative stuff such as mental disorders, aggression, and emotionally hurting others. Instead these researchers have been focusing on positive psychology; they’re viewing behavior and mental processes (psychology) from a positive rather than a negative view. They’re asking questions like the following:
– “Why do we help others? How can we get more people to help others?”
– “What makes people happy? Do they really know what makes them happy?”
– “How can we help people with depression to not just decrease their symptoms but decrease their symptoms and then enjoy their lives?”

I tend to reference music a lot in my thinking – for some reason I think in music, and I see things in snapshots (thus why I take lots of pictures). Talking about positive psychology reminds me of something Petey Pablo said on his 2nd album – “Had a little vacation, enjoyin’ life; but that’s what you’re supposed to do when you get there, enjoy your life. You know [what I] mean, ‘cuz this ain’t promised to us tomorrow, we can lose this shit tonight, ya understand what I’m sayin’?” (“Part 2”, 2004). If you don’t speak Petey, he’s saying that every day that we have of our life is when we’re supposed to be enjoying it – not tomorrow, not once I finish my degree, not once my kids are out of the house – NOW. And that’s a big question of positive psychology – how can we help people to recognize this and think/behave accordingly?

Over the next few months we’re going to talk about that. We’ll start off small. But I have to say, there’s no learning without participation. So if you want to read my blogs and disregard them, go ahead – but my thought is, couldn’t you be doing something with that time that you enjoy rather than sitting here reading something that you don’t enjoy? But anyway, I digress. I’ll ask you to do some stuff. It may or may not be eye-opening, depending on whom you are. I will promise though that somewhere along the way, you will learn about yourself and/or someone you know, and that will help your way through life. A lot of what I’ll talk about is based on the writings of Don Lucas (2010). Reading Don’s book and working with him every day has definitely influenced my ways of thinking about positive psychology and life in general. I will also talk a lot about where Don and I disagree though (and he would love to have that conversation).

So let’s get started. Today’s topic? Name that emotion. “Huh?” you may be asking. Well, thanks for asking (at paying attention enough to wonder WTF). As children we’re taught some very basic emotion labeling. Some kids’ emotion labeling is so basic it only includes “happy” and “sad.” If that’s the case, that I can only label how I’m feeling as “happy” or “sad,” then how do I experience the world? I experience it only through the lens of these two emotions. What’s that like, you may wonder. “Not very fun,” I would answer. Now sometimes parents and teachers (those who give us our emotion labels) teach us some more descriptive words. “Angry,” “disappointed,” “scared,” starting to notice something? We learn a lot more negative emotion descriptors than we do positive ones. In fact, think about some positive emotion descriptors. I’m betting you could come up with a lot more negative than positive ones.

Typically, we learn that “happy” is where it’s at; it’s where we want to be. People forever lament, “I just want to be happy!” But here I pose a question – do you know what that means? Honestly. What does “happy” mean? How can you define it? Most of our definitions are going to involve a high level of a positive emotion and a lack of negative emotions. What Lucas (2010) has found is that when people talk “happy,” they’re really referring to three different emotions: pleasure, happiness, and contentment. Warning: reading on may turn what you think about yourself and what you do every day on its ear. Or you may completely reject it. But read on anyway.

As I said before, today we’re just working on recognition. In order to recognize something within yourself though, you have to know what it is. Pleasure can be seen as something small that gives us what I think of as that “positive spike” in our brain. It’s Homer Simpson’s “Whoo hoo!” It’s short term, but when it happens, it feels like a whoo hoo. It can last longer as well, but that’s the major point of pleasure – it is short term. What brings each of us pleasure can be pretty “individual;” most things that bring you pleasure may not give others that “positive jolt.” Lots of people learn from examples, so I’ll give you some examples from my own life that were pleasure-inducing (remember, short-term). – Realizing my favorite show is on TV and being able to watch it (“What?! A Law & Order marathon?! YES!!!!”). Eating a good dinner. Playing with my dogs. Smoking a cigarette. Listening to music that puts me in a good mood (if you ever need a pleasure jolt, Phish’s “Sparkle” always works for me). Watching a movie we enjoy (and especially one that makes us laugh – “Jackass” and “Jackass 2” always do this for me, as does “PeeWee’s Big Adventure”). Yesterday I got some iPhone covers that I ordered in the mail – “Whoo hoo!” Even just getting personal mail, for me, is a whoo hoo experience. – So these are all things that give us that pleasure jolt – we feel good while doing them, but typically the positive feelings decrease quickly after we’re done experiencing them.

Next up in terms of positive feeling longevity is happiness. “Happy” lasts longer than pleasure. Things that make us happy may be things that we describe as bringing us “joy, enjoyment, jubilation, glee, and delight” (Lucas, 2010, p. 108). Some things that create happiness (remember, a longer-term emotion than pleasure) are things like getting a new job (and expecting to enjoy it), setting a goal and working toward attaining it (but after attaining it the positive feelings seem to decrease, ever notice that?), meeting a new friend (or potential significant other) and building a relationship with them, getting married (but again, notice how the positive feeling does eventually decrease?), and spirituality/religion. What we notice with happiness is that eventually, we get used to that positive feeling, and it decreases in how positive it feels to us. This is what psychologists call habituation – our brain gets used to the positive effects of stimuli, and the effects of those stimuli decrease over time. In my mind, “happy” starts with “pleasure” – so a longer-term venture that creates happiness starts with that “jolt” or whoo-hoo moment.

Now for some examples and applications of these concepts. – When I met my husband, I experienced pleasure. We enjoyed each others’ company on an ongoing basis, making each other happy. But habituation will occur, and so in order to deal with that you first have to know to expect it, then recognize ways to deal with it. This is why marriage therapists are always telling people to “inject a little something different into your relationship.” If you don’t, you’ll see that people will habituate and then create other pleasure inducing activities (hello, adultery or trial separation “to figure out what I want”).

Another example – last year I knew I needed a new laptop. Mine was going slower and slower (and I was getting more and more frustrated with it – I had habituated to how happy my old laptop was making me). So I did some research, and saw that HP had created a “tablet PC” that you could use as a laptop (obviously) but also it had a touch screen that you could “write on” with the supplied “pen.” I so coveted it. I did some more research, realized that was what I wanted (and justified the purchase because I was back in school), and bought one. Whoo hoo! I brought it home and played with it; I showed everyone how I could “write” on my screen and save notes. I imagined myself bringing it to work and conferences and utilizing its features. I was happy with my purchase. This was last August. Now, don’t get me wrong little laptop (that I’m currently typing on), but I have habituated. I don’t use the freaking tablet AT ALL. I’m trying to find new ways to do so (to rejuvenate my happiness with it), but it’s not really working out that well. So what has happened? I now covet a Macbook. Laptop adultery!

One further example. I love dogs. I love puppies especially, but I love watching them grow. I love watching them learn. I love watching their personalities develop over time. I love that they give you unconditional attention and love. I got my first dog (of my very own, not Mom’s Shih-Tzu) and she was a Chihuahua whom I named Lily. Bringing Lily home and buying her “puppy stuff” created the “whoo hoo!” experience. Then she peed on the carpet – yeah, we won’t talk about that. But I played with her (pleasure-inducing), we took walks (exercise is pleasure inducing because it releases “happy brain chemicals”), we snuggled on the couch (physical touch releases those same sorts of happy brain chemicals), she learned to pee outside (whoo hoo!), and I loved her very much. For about a year and a half, I was happy with just a Lily. Then…habituation (insert bad movie noise)! So what did I do? To my husband’s chagrin, I brought home another puppy! Whoo hoo! She was named Ivy (animals are named after plants in our house). She was…let’s just say, different from Lily. Maybe it was “second child syndrome,” who knows, but Ivy’s a grumpy pet slut (i.e., wants to be an only dog, wants your full attention, wants all the toys to herself, AND wants to be up in your face getting pet 24/7). About a year and a half later? I wanted another dog (and got one). You can see where this is going. If I continued in this way, there would be more dogs than…well, anything else in my house. Happy leads to habituation which leads to behaviors to search out more happiness (and repeat).

If this is the case, that happiness is really short-lived and we habituate to it quickly, then what is that “lifelong positive feeling” that we’re all searching out? That, my friends, would be contentment. Now you’re probably thinking, “No, contentment is complacency. It’s not good, it’s settling.” And I would say, “You know, up until a few months ago, I agreed with you.” But if pleasure is short-term, happiness is longer (but still not life-time), then what? Do you want to be happy? Or do you want something longer? Now granted, contentment is not as high intensity as pleasure or happiness. I will give you that, and that is one thing about contentment that I dislike. But to me, contentment involves that feeling of being at peace. All of your needs are met, you don’t have to worry about this or that, and you can really just…enjoy. As Petey Pablo said, you can “enjoy your life.” Contentment allows us to look up at the clouds with a kid and imagine where those clouds have been (and use them as Rorschach cloud-blots). It allows you to lay on the floor with the dogs in the sun spot they have found and take a nap with them (and get woken up to kisses or a paw in the face, as I often do). It allows you to see the colors of life, and enjoy them for what they are: nature’s art show. It allows you to enjoy being “in the moment.”

Do these things (pleasure, happiness, and contentment) exist completely separately from each other? No, not at all. Hell, we can experience all of them in one day (especially regarding different topics or areas of our lives like work, relationships, friends, etc.). So this is what I want you to do – start noticing when you’re feeling what. What brings you pleasure? What things are making you happy right now? When do you experience contentment? This is your homework until next time. What could it hurt, right?

References

Lucas, D. (2010). Being: your happiness, pleasure, and contentment. Plymouth, MI: Hayden-
McNeil.

Palbo, P. (2004). Part 2. Still writing in my diary: second entry. Jive.

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The Psychology of People Who “Hate People”

You’ve most likely met someone who says that they “hate people,” “don’t like people,” “think people are stupid,” or some variant of that. Humans are social creatures, so how is it possible that some people “hate” all others? Do these people really mean what they say?

A week ago I was sitting outside the Westin San Antonio on the River Walk after a conference with three engaging folks. Someone mentioned that they did not like people, and we all agreed that generally, we did not like most people. An awkward silence ensued – if none of us liked “people,” what were we doing sitting around with people? Were we not enjoying the discussion and the company? I quickly made a point to say something to the effect of, “I don’t like most people, I should say that. Because I am enjoying sitting here with you all.” Everyone agreed, and we moved on with the conversation.
This discussion got me thinking though – of the four people in the discussion, all of us were educated and worked in areas that required working with others. I teach college and interact with students, other faculty, and staff all day long, not to mention the fact that I am married (to a person) and have friends (who are people). I realized that the statement “I don’t generally like other people” means something other than what the words represent (otherwise, what am I doing?).

After years of introspection, observation, and education in psychology, I have come to a conclusion. It’s not that we (myself included in this group) don’t like most other people. Instead, people who state this have very high expectations for other people. Realistic or not, these expectations guide their interactions with others. As you can imagine, most people (the ones we don’t like) don’t measure up to these high expectations.

What is it then that we are expecting? In all honesty, we are expecting a miracle – we want others to understand us, to recognize our moods and interact with us accordingly, to know what we believe to be appropriate for certain situations (and behave accordingly), to know what we’re interested in and discuss it intelligently with us (because we are knowledgeable about it, or at least believe we are), and to think about things in the same way that we do. With all these expectations, I literally cannot understand how it is that someone with these views DOES find people that they “like.” Thinking about myself (and others) in this way, I wonder, “How the hell do I have friends? How did I get married for God’s sake?” I think the answer to this comes in the development of these expectations.

As we grow up, our personalities are influenced by both genetics and our environment. We find certain likes and dislikes, or maybe we’re taught them; either way, we have them. We interact with others, and those interactions can be positive, negative, or somewhere in between (or different for each interaction). We got off into the world and inspect others based on what we have learned is “right.” We’re told by society and our parents that we’re supposed to have friends and people that like us (and vice versa). For the group of “people haters,” it is possible that their experiences with others were more negative than positive – they started off with high hopes for others (that were learned through childhood and adolescence), but found most others soundly “lacking” in meeting their expectations. They began to form a “schema” or mental representation that others do not meet their standards. This view isn’t conscious, we’re not aware that we have high standards and that others aren’t reaching them. But we’re aware that “something’s not right.” That something translates into a view that “I cannot expect others to meet my expectations,” which could then translate into “I don’t like most people.”

So if this is the case, that people have created this view of disliking most others throughout their lifetimes, how do they have friends? How do they get married? I’ll tell you – they find each other. In my observations, most people who don’t like people have friends who…don’t like most people. My husband and I connected on this very issue. When you meet others who feel similarly, you recognize that “I don’t have faith in people” very quickly. You start talking about friends and realize that both of you have few of them. And people who “don’t like people” are typically standoffish about creating friendships. While they may have many acquaintances (who they may not really “like”), they have few friends. But typically they “mate for life,” meaning that once they have a close friend they work very hard to maintain that friendship.
The question then becomes how do they “get” friends? The answer – very carefully. “People haters” are typically standoffish at first, and weary of quick emotional connections. They are always watching others for signs that this person is “not like them.” But a “people hater” is also very astute as to what the other wants – refer back to The Miracle List. So if you want to make and keep a friend, as a “people hater,” you listen. You engage in dialogue. You remember what the other likes and do it for them/give it to them. Essentially, you demonstrate to them that you are “worthy” of friendship by being The Miracle.

So what have we learned about the person who says they “hate people?” We’ve essentially learned that they have high expectations of others, so high that their expectations are difficult to meet. They’re standoffish because yes, they are evaluating you for your worthiness. If you “pass the test,” you’ll know because they will lower their guard and may tell you about the negative experiences that they have had that have led them to where they are.

As a “people hater,” I feel that this writing has put them in a positive light, but in all honesty I believe that their expectations are so high that they cause their own pain, suffering, depression, and negativity. Most of their expectations for others cannot even be met by themselves, yet they still maintain them and evaluate others’ worthiness based on them. Is this right? The only answer to this is, “This is,” meaning that it occurs. Right or wrong, people have these experiences; they hold these expectations. They evaluate themselves and others based on these expectations. With this knowledge, you are better able to understand what you and others mean when they say, “I hate people.”

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Things I’ve learned about myself this week (and it’s only Wednesday)…

Every day I try to learn something new about myself from the things that happen to me and how I react to them. So far this week, I’ve learned I hate ants in my house. First of all, I do hate the idea that there is an ant crawling on my counter tops, that is disgusting in itself. Second, I hate the thought that it may decide to crawl on me instead (and the fear of that makes me feel like I have bugs crawling on me all day). Third, I know where this comes from – it comes from my Mother. “Ants in your house mean your house is dirty or you don’t clean up after yourself enough,” she used to tell me. She would never allow me to have food in my bedroom so that we could avoid ANTS. The first time I had ants in my house in Victoria, TX, I freaked out because they were in my bathroom. Who eats in the bathroom. I didn’t. So where did they come from? Mike informed me that some ants like water and come in to the house through cracks in the walls. So I have decreased my ant/dirty house fears some, but not completely. So when I saw a bunch in the kitchen this week (around the coffee pot? they must be suicidal) I freaked out and and would not calm down until the kitchen had been cleaned, bug stuff was purchased and used, and Ted found where they were coming in from (and killed all the fuckers). Did I tell you that my Mom is coming to San Antonio to visit us on Sunday? Yeah.

I also “learned” I guess you could say that something (still not sure what) is making me into a raging anger pot. I don’t know if it’s stress, if it’s residual hormones from miscarrying, hormones from being pregnant again maybe (for the 4th time this year – remember, still not pregnant), worrying about my parents coming down to visit (“We’re only coming to visit you, not inspect your house” is a bullshit line from my mother and well all know this), or what. Usually the dogs licking me (“giving kisses”) makes me happy; right now it makes me scream at them. My laptop decided to revolt and not allow me on the Internet four tries in a row this afternoon, and it almost went through the window (after I screamed, “Damn you fucking WORK!” so the whole neighborhood could hear it and Mike, who was outside, wondered who I was screaming at). I literally think I have made my husband afraid of me. Sometimes he just gets this look, and says, “What?! What is wrong? What did I do?” and I just grimace and shrug, trying not to cry. “I don’t know,” I mumble and walk away. And I really truly don’t know. And I feel badly; I don’t want him to think I’m always mad at him because I’m not. I’m really not. And so now I’m crying. And I do that a lot too. Grey’s makes me cry, Alzheimer’s documentaries make me cry, stupid stuff. Tears. Of course the psychologists (or wanna-be-s) out there are thinking, “Ah, depression.” Been there, done that, got a case of meds that do nothing (or make life 100% worse) to prove it. I took this one that made me feel like I had schizophrenia for two days. I literally had no idea what was going on and couldn’t think, move right, talk right, anything. I just felt like I was dreaming and was waiting to wake up to the stupid crickets chirping alarm we have. Sleep? Getting enough of that. Plus I take meds to help with that. I eat…ok. I haven’t gained or lost any weight. I think my brain’s still stressed from moving. It’s like I have nothing here. I mean, sure, Mike’s here, and Kyle’s here more, and we have a Ted, but one can only enjoy those things for so long before one wants someone else, someone outside the house, to hang out with (that’s not the dogs).

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Little Dog

I apparently got the wrong little dog at the hospital. This one likes to eat books. We don’t eat books here. Or…perhaps she knows how important books are to me and is thus rebelling BY eating the books…thought to ponder.

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