Quelling Anxiety, Letting Go of Perfection


Imagine your neighbor upstairs left the water running over a holiday weekend and flooded your apartment. The damage is major, and you need to move out and into a smaller apartment with your two dogs, two kids and husband, for four and a half months. Imagine the babysitter you hired to help with your kids the week of the move canceled on you and you cannot find a replacement. Imagine your moving date is fast approaching and you are still negotiating the lease for your rental, coordinating with movers, fighting with your contractor and waiting to hear if insurance will reimburse you in full for your repairs. You are not packed at all for your move, let alone for your upcoming trip for Thanksgiving. Yes, you are going away right before this major move. Imagine the stress, anxiety and panic you feel, especially if you are the type that is super organized. I am talking about an uberorganized person, the type who color-codes everything and loves to make lists. How are you going to pack everything?

If you can imagine all of this, you have taken one step into my world, because I am describing my life right now. My anxiety was so intense that I couldn’t handle it. All of the sudden I realized that there was no way I was going to get all of my packing done, and a feeling of calm overcame me. A perfectionist faced with certain imperfection has no choice but to let go and laugh at the absurdity of the situation. I know that the movers will come, and I will move. I don’t expect the process to be smooth or easy, but I know it will get done. There are many different ways to move, and throwing stuff into poorly labeled boxes is one way that I will be getting to know well.

Sometimes you need to let go of perfection.


Stating the Obvious: How to Overcome Hurdles


What I am about to write might seem obvious, but sometimes the obvious needs to be said. Let’s say you have trouble getting started on a blog post, getting it together to go to the gym or getting ready to go to bed, which is my problem. What do you do?

The first step is to identify the hurdle you are facing. With blogging, the hurdle could be as simple as being lazy about turning on your computer or setting up your laptop. Once you identify your hurdle, you can take steps to overcome it. If your hurdle is getting your computer ready, you can set it up a couple of hours before you want to write or the night before, so you have no excuses and nothing to slow you down.

With exercising, the hurdle could be not wanting to change from street clothing to exercise clothing. You might be perfectly willing to exercise or interested in exercising, but too tired to make the transition. Once you identify your hurdle, you can take steps to overcome it. If you know you have trouble shifting gears to get ready for the gym, you can take steps to smooth the transition. You can set your exercise clothing and sneakers out and pack your bag for the gym in advance. When the time comes for you to exercise, you will have fewer hurdles to prevent you from going, since everything is already set up and ready.

My personal hurdle might seem absurd. I have trouble getting ready for bed. When it is close to bedtime, I find myself falling asleep in my clothing on my bed or on the couch. I eventually get up and get ready for bed, but I stay up much later than I should—and for no good reason. What is holding me back from getting ready for bed? I am tired at the end of the day, and the steps I need to take to get ready for bed seem daunting to me, so I delay. You might be wondering what I do to get ready, but I can assure you it is nothing unusual. I change into my pajamas, floss and brush my teeth, take my vitamins, use eye drops and apply lip balm.

My hurdle is my process for getting ready for bed, which I consider lengthy, especially when I am tired. The solution to my problem is obvious, yet I’ve been struggling to get myself to bed for at least ten years. The solution is to do as much as I can before bedtime so that my bedtime ritual is simpler and shorter. I can put my pajamas on earlier in the evening and take my vitamins with dinner. As soon as I am done eating for the night, I can floss and brush my teeth. That will leave me only needing to use my eye drops and apply lip balm right before bed. That doesn’t seem so bad.

Sometimes it helps to state the obvious.


Lying, Stealing and Empathy


What mental line do you have to cross to think it is okay to lie and steal? What does it take to feel empathy for the liar and the person who steals? My friend, whom I’ll call Robin, was upset because a woman she had hired to help with her four kids was dishonest. The woman, whom I’ll call Karla, was driving the oldest child to and from gymnastics so my friend could take her younger kids to their activities. Robin paid Karla by the hour, and Karla would lie about the time she picked up and dropped off the car from Robin’s house. My friend knew the truth because her garage had a sensor that told her when her car entered and exited the garage. She and her daughter Jessica both liked Karla, so Robin found a way to deal with the issue of Karla’s overstating her time in a way that would not embarrass Karla. Robin observed to Karla that the trip was taking longer than Robin expected and suggested that Karla take a faster route to and from gymnastics. Karla got the idea that Robin was paying attention to the time and started reporting her hours accurately.

All seemed to be going well until Robin asked Karla to get gas while Jessica was at gymnastics. Robin gave Karla more money than the gas would cost, but when Karla returned the car, there was no change. Robin asked for the receipt, but Karla said she didn’t have it. Karla acted as if all the money had gone to filling the tank, but Robin knew that there should have been change based on the cost of gas, the amount of gas the car needed, and the amount of money she had given Karla.

“How could she lie like that?” Robin asked. We talked for a while, and we decided that Karla had convinced herself that it was okay to take money from Robin because Karla needed the money and Robin seemed to have so much of it, that Karla thought lying and stealing were justified given her life circumstances. Karla was from Puerto Rico but living in New York to earn money to support her family back home. Her family was struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, living with relatives in a cramped house without running water or electricity. Even before the hurricane hit, Karla’s family had been struggling to make ends meet. We understood that Karla was in survival mode and getting money to support her family trumped ethics and honesty for her.

Robin decided that she could not have Karla help her around the house because Karla had shown herself to be someone who would steal, but Robin was comfortable with Karla continuing to drive Jessica to gymnastics. My friend decided that she could work around the issue with the gas money by requiring a receipt when Karla got gas. Robin understood how much Karla and her family needed the money and wanted to find a way to keep Karla employed. Karla was a kind person and a safe driver.

How can we view a person who lies and steals with empathy? The answer is that we must try to understand the person’s circumstances and what it is like for that person to walk in his or her shoes. We cannot view someone’s behavior through a black and white lens of right and wrong. We must be able to see nuance.

The Ten Commandments say “Thou shalt not steal.” Do you think there are circumstances when lying and stealing is understandable, if not justified?



Unhealthy Competition–What is My Problem?


A woman I wanted to befriend rejected me. I found out that she moved to a big apartment, and I decided that I wanted to move too. Clearly, I do not deal well with rejection. See my post “Making Friends:  Understanding Rejection.”

I started looking at listings for bigger apartments. I showed my husband floor plans. I called a broker to set up an appointment to see the new apartments. I thought about how I was going to get my apartment ready to show for sale.

The crazy thing is that I love my apartment. I love it so much that as a claustrophobic person, I found a way to deal with the small elevator in my building. See my post “Adapting to Phobias:  A Claustrophobic Gets Stuck in an Elevator.” My husband and I both love our apartment. Before I found out that this woman had moved, we were talking about whether we should look for more space in the city now that we have a second child. We decided together that it was not worth the extra cost to move to a bigger apartment, which would come with a larger mortgage and higher maintenance. We decided that we preferred a lower overhead to a larger apartment.

I realized that I was the living, breathing definition of unhealthy competition. I started to think about the difference between healthy and unhealthy competition.

What is unhealthy competition? What is healthy competition?

Unhealthy competition happens when you compete with others for the wrong reasons. In my case, I was competing because I felt rejected. I felt bad that this woman did not want to be my friend, and I wanted a bigger apartment to show her that I was worthy of her friendship. One way to tell if you are engaging in unhealthy competition is to ask yourself if your motivation is consistent with your authentic self. In my case, I was acting contrary to my authentic self because my authentic self did not want to move. My interest in moving was stirred up by rejection, not by authentic feelings of wanting more space.

Healthy competition means competing with others in pursuit of a goal that is true to you. With healthy competition, your motivation has nothing to do with defeating a specific person or proving anything to anyone other than yourself. You have a goal that is yours and competing helps you to achieve your goal. I’ll use the sport of tennis as an example. When two players are in a match, they are competing, but the competition isn’t (or shouldn’t be) personal. The two players use (or should be using) competition to improve their individual games because they love tennis. Healthy competition happens when individuals compete to improve themselves or their skills. Healthy competition is not personal.

The world is a highly competitive place. My advice is to stay true to yourself and make sure you are competing for the right reasons.


Making Friends: Understanding Rejection


I was sitting at a table at a family carnival with my daughter and a woman and her two sons. I was happy to see that I had been assigned to the same table as this woman, whom I will call Josephine. I knew who she was before I got to the table, and I was excited for the opportunity to meet her. We exchanged names when we sat down, but beyond that, she was not interested in me. I felt disappointed and hurt. The experience got me thinking about friendships–how we make friends, how we choose friends, and what it means when someone is not interested in us.

How do we make friends? How do we choose friends?

We make friends with people with whom we have repeat interactions. In college, potential friends would be the ones who live in your dorm, the ones in your classes, the ones who do the same extracurricular activities that you do, and the ones who are friends with your friends. In adulthood, potential friends would be the parents of your children’s classmates, people from work, people from your place of worship, or your neighbors. In short, your pool of potential friends comes from the people you see most frequently.

In making new friends, opportunity is critical. You need to have occasion to see and talk to a person before you and that person can become friends. Chemistry is also important. You need to have enough in common with a potential new friend that you both enjoy talking to each other. You need to connect. In the case of parents with children at the same school who are friends, the fact that the children are friends could be enough of a foundation for friendship even if the initial chemistry is not there. People befriend other people with whom they share common interests. Children count as common interests.

Receptivity is necessary. For a friendship to form, both individuals must be open to a new friendship. When there is receptivity and the chemistry is strong, a new friendship can form from just one interaction. Repeat interactions can create the foundation for a friendship even when one party is not initially receptive or when the initial chemistry is low.

I think back to the time I met my best friend, whom I will call Kelly. I rejected her overtures of friendship when I first met her. Luckily for me, I had the opportunity to get to know her and change my mind. Through repeat interactions, my receptivity increased. I realized that she and I had much in common and that we had the potential for a great friendship. Kelly ended up introducing me to my husband. Some friendships form quickly, some take time.

What does in mean when someone is not interested in friendship with you?

It is most likely not personal when someone is not interested in you, especially after a single meeting. People are busy, and they are different in terms of their receptivity to new friendships. I think about my experience with Josephine and my experience with Kelly. I have been rejected, and I have rejected. What I’ve learned is that you cannot take personally a rejection by someone who doesn’t know you. Before you can truly judge if a person is not interested in you, you need to have repeat interactions. A person needs to know you before a rejection has any meaning.

You also cannot take personally a rejection by someone who does know you. You have no idea what that person is looking for in a friend or what is going on in that person’s life. An individual’s lack of interest in you could have nothing to do with you or everything to do with you. You might not be someone else’s type, but so what? There are plenty of people in the world, which means plenty of choices for friends. When people have interests in common, the opportunity to get to know each other, and receptivity to meeting others, friendships form naturally.

My advice is to be open to meeting new people. You never know how a new friendship could change your life.

Relationships: Picking Your Battles or Looking Away?


My friend tells me she is “picking her battles,” but I know she is looking away from the truth of her marriage. I want to shake her and say, “Are you kidding me?”

Let’s call my friend Lori to protect her privacy. I will also modify some facts to further protect her privacy.

Newlyweds Lori and her husband Marcus are decorating their new apartment together. When they talk about color, he prefers blue. When they talk about style, he wants modern. When they talk about fabrics, he prefers beauty over practicality. Lori has yielded to all of Marcus’ strong preferences. She seems to think that if she can explain each of his preferences, it makes sense for him to have such strong opinions and for his opinions to crowd out hers. She tells me that Marcus wants blue because he identifies with the color, that he wants modern because he grew up in a house that was traditional and he is trying to assert his independence, that he prioritizes beauty over practicality because his family didn’t have any style and he wants to have a beautiful home. She has come to believe that what he wants is what she wants.

She says that she doesn’t care about decorating, but I know otherwise. She tells me that she got to choose where they live, clearly trying to convince herself that she has voice in the relationship. I remind Lori that Marcus said he didn’t care where they live as long as he could take the subway to work. I wish she could see that choice where her husband has no opinion isn’t really choice.

Lori characterizes the individual interactions with her husband as “picking her battles.” She chooses not to see that each interaction is not individual but rather is part of a group of interactions that when taken together point to a problem—her husband is controlling. My friend doesn’t want to see that she is looking away from a personality problem, not “picking her battles.”

Let me share an example from my marriage of what I consider to be “picking my battles.” My husband hand feeds our dog on the weekends, even though I have told him numerous times that I don’t like when he does that because it makes it harder for me to feed her during the week, as I do not hand feed. My husband loves our dog to the maximum, and he thinks that hand feeding her is an expression of love and nurture. I think my husband is wrong, but I have decided that it is more important to him to hand feed our dog than it is for me that he not do so. I have chosen not to argue with my husband on this point because I’d rather save my energy for issues more important to our relationship. What I describe here is a single interaction that is not part of a bigger issue, unlike what I am seeing with Lori and Marcus.

Lori tells me that she is happy, and I believe that she believes that she is happy. The lady doth protest too much, I think. You might wonder why my friend would want to be in a relationship with a controlling partner. Here are my educated guesses. She is lonely and wants to be with someone. She has low self-esteem and thinks she can’t find anyone else. She is older and doesn’t want to miss the timing for having a baby. She feels safe and secure being married and doesn’t want to stand on her own as a single woman.

I have a radical proposal that I would like to share with her, but I cannot, so I will share it here. I think my friend should open her eyes and face the truth, which doesn’t mean she needs to leave her husband or get divorced, if that is not what she wants to do. She should admit to herself that she is choosing to look away because she wants to be married. Once she admits this to herself, she won’t need to devote so much time and energy to explaining why Marcus is firm in his opinions, why what he wants really is the right decision, why what he wants is also what she wants. She won’t feel upset, or she’ll feel less upset, each time she bends to his opinions. She will be free to spend her time and energy building other parts of her life. She can look for ways to find voice elsewhere, like with her friends or at her job. She can find a way to be happy, even if her relationship is lacking. She may one day decide that she wants more out of marriage than Marcus can give her, but that will be her choice.

Facing the truth is liberating. The problem is that people do not want to face the truth.

Beauty in Tragedy: The Attacks of September 11


9/11 Memorial

Yesterday I met a security guard who worked at the World Trade Center during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. He cleared the lobby of his tower before he escaped and the tower crashed down. His memories of that day haunt him; he is beset with anxiety. He remembers the bodies on the ground, the remains of the people who jumped to their deaths to escape the heat of the scorching flames. He lost his friends who worked security on the upper floors of the towers, including his best friend and his best friend’s wife who worked together.

On 9/11, the best friend’s four-year-old son became an orphan. The security guard told me how the little boy cried nonstop for days and days calling out for his mommy and daddy. I was so depressed when I heard that story. I thought of my four-year-old daughter, and my heart broke. I didn’t know how to lift my spirits after reliving 9/11 with someone who had experienced it firsthand.

I told myself that I cannot change what happened, that the past is the past. I thought about the little boy, who is now a young adult. On September 11, 2001, a kind, loving man, the security guard, took that little boy home with him and made the boy his son. The security guard and his wife opened their hearts and home to the little boy and became his mommy and daddy. While I cannot change the loss and sadness of 9/11, I can feel good when I think about good people doing good in the world. I can endure my feelings of sadness when I see that there is beauty even in tragedy.

Adapting to Phobias: A Claustrophobic Gets Stuck in an Elevator


Stuck in an Elevator

Do you need to conquer your phobias or is it enough to adapt to them? I believe that it is enough to adapt, provided you develop the tools you need to function reasonably well in society.

I am a claustrophobic, which means I have irrational fear of confined spaces. For me, the worst confined space is a crowded elevator. My first claustrophobic episode occurred when I was a young girl. My mother, two sisters and I entered a crowded elevator on the way up to the top of the Statue of Liberty. I started to panic, feeling like the walls were closing in on me. I was riddled with anxiety.

As an adult, I take elevators, but I avoid crowded ones whenever possible—the exception being if I am running late and decide I’d rather endure panic than be late. If I have the choice, I take an escalator rather than an elevator. It may be surprising to hear that I live in a building with a small elevator that resembles a mahogany coffin. Before I moved into my apartment, I needed to practice going up the elevator one floor at a time, one day at a time, until I could ride to the top of the building. I love where I live, so it was worth it for me to get comfortable with the elevator.

Getting stuck in an elevator is one of my biggest fears. A few years ago, this fear became a reality. I was in my building riding up to my apartment with my two dogs, when the elevator stopped. I felt like I was about to have my first panic attack. For me, this episode was about life and death. I felt like if I let myself have a full-blown panic attack, I would die. I didn’t want to die, so I went into survival mode. I lay down on the floor of the elevator, took deep breaths and closed my eyes, transporting myself somewhere else. I had no experience with meditation, but I got myself into a meditative state.

My cell phone was working, but my battery was low. My security blanket when I ride elevators is my water bottle—I carry it with me in case I get stuck, but this time I had forgotten my water bottle. I was stuck in the elevator waiting for the mechanic to come, without my water bottle, and the mechanic was stuck in traffic. I did not know that I could have called 911 to have the fire department rescue me, as this was my first time stuck in an elevator. After I was stuck for an hour and fifteen minutes and the mechanic was still forty-five minutes away, the superintendent of the building called 911. It took five minutes from the time of the call to the time I was rescued. Needless to say, I love the fire department.

I felt so good about myself after my release, like I was a survivor. I felt like I had survived an avalanche. I was so proud that I had conquered my claustrophobia. I even thought that I was cured, but the episode turned out to be a display of strength, not a cure. Today, as I have always done, I take escalators instead of elevators. I avoid crowded elevators whenever possible, and when I find myself in a crowded elevator, I panic and pray that we do not get stuck. Usually, I can breathe through my anxiety, but sometimes it doesn’t subside until I get out of the elevator.

I have adapted to my phobia, not conquered it. Adapting works just fine for me. Although I avoid situations that I consider high risk, such as extremely crowded elevators, I live reasonably normally, which includes taking elevators, because I know that I have the tools that I need to survive should I find myself stuck again. I can take deep breaths and close my eyes. I can sip water, should I remember to bring my water bottle with me. Most importantly, I know that I can call the fire department. May there always be cell phone service, and may I never forget my cell phone when I am in an elevator.

Anxiety in a World of the Unthinkable


We live in a crazy world of mass shootings and bombings. How can we live without fear and anxiety? How can we feel safe?

I choose not to recount the episodes of terror that our nation and the world has faced. Most everyone knows of the horrid shootings, violent bombings and the senseless loss of life.

Our president, local law enforcement and our spiritual leaders speak of the “unthinkable” when talking about these tragedies. In simple terms, “unthinkable” means something about which it is too upsetting to think.

Although the unthinkable can happen, the way to live in this unpredictable world is simply not to think about the horrible things that could happen, not to think about the unthinkable. If you spend your time thinking about the unlikely but tragic possibilities in life, you will bring anxiety upon yourself and paralyze yourself with fear. Your dark thoughts will crowd out good, positive ones. It is not healthy or helpful to think about what could go wrong that you cannot control. I am not saying that we should blindly go about our lives not thinking about risks. There are ads on the New York City subway that say, “If you see something, say something.” We must be aware of our surroundings.

In this unpredictable world, we can make choices about how we want to live our lives, meaning where we want to go and what we want to do. We can come up with individual plans for how to deal with the risks of our day, however remote. Right now, I would feel too vulnerable to enjoy myself at an outdoor event with a large crowd of people in an open, unsecured space. That is just me. Our leaders would tell us to stand up to terror by carrying on with our lives and living without fear. I’m still a work in progress.

Once you decide what you are comfortable doing and what you are not, which I will call your “plan,” then follow your plan and try your hardest not to think about worst-case scenarios. The secret to thriving in a world where the unthinkable sometimes happens is to control your thoughts so you do not think about the unthinkable. Should a bad thought creep into your consciousness, swat it away with an imaginary fly swatter. There is so much to do and accomplish in life, and so much potential for joy. Embrace life and do not let fear and anxiety consume you.

These are unsettling times, so if you find yourself suffering from fear and anxiety that you cannot overcome yourself, please seek out professional help. You may benefit from talk therapy and/or prescription medication. The world is a scarier place than it used to be, and there is no shame in needing help.

Wife’s Bill of Rights–Money of Her Own

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Does your husband control you because he makes all the money?

Here’s a fact pattern I’ve been seeing: The husband works, the wife stays home with the kids, the husband makes all the decisions on money, leaving the wife feeling helpless and controlled.

Let’s look at an example. The family lives in New York City, and the child is too young to be eligible for the school bus. The mother must take the child crosstown and uptown to get to school each morning. The commute involves three subway lines or one crosstown bus and one subway. Either way, the commute is exhausting for the mother. One morning it was raining and they were running late, so the mom jumped in a cab with her daughter. The commute was a dream, relatively speaking.

The wife tells her husband how hard the commute is with her young daughter and how life would be so much easier if they could take a cab every day. “We don’t have the money,” the husband responds, which sounds like a reasonable answer, except that money miraculously shows up when the husband wants to take the family on vacation or spend on himself. The wife is careful with money, buying herself clothing infrequently and not spending much when she does.

What should you do if your husband keeps tight reins on the money?

First, talk to your husband. Let’s assume money for transportation to school is the issue, as in the example. You could say, “It seems that when I want money for cabs, we don’t have the money, but when you want to go on vacation or buy a new television, the money shows up.” The husband will likely give an answer that makes sense on the surface, such as, “I had just gotten a bonus when I bought the new television, but we were running low on cash when you asked about the taxis.” What he says may or may not be true, but you’ll never know if you are in the dark about money.

You and your husband should be partners in deciding how you spend your money. The money is no less yours because you didn’t earn it. You are the support in your family that makes it possible for your husband to go out and make money. Sit down with your husband and get to know your finances. If it turns out you don’t have the money for taxis, you will understand and you won’t feel controlled. If you do have the money, you will be able to show your husband. Information will empower you.

Your husband may not intend to be controlling. Individuals have different preferences for saving versus spending, and your husband may be more of a saver than a spender. You will never know what motivates him unless you understand your finances. You will not be able to work out your differences unless you are informed.

How to spend money without feeling controlled?

Let’s return to my example where the wife watches her money carefully and doesn’t spend much on clothing. This woman would love to buy herself a new black dress for an upcoming party, but she is hesitant because her husband reviews the credit card statement and she doesn’t want to hear her husband’s comments, which could include, “Did you buy something?”, “Did you need a new dress?” or “That was an expensive dress.” Those comments make her feel controlled. There is a reason many women shop with cash.

Here’s a solution: You and your husband can get together each year, talk about finances and decide on a set amount of money that is yours and yours alone to spend on yourself or however you see fit. There is no reason the husband should not also have discretionary money for himself. I am focusing here on the wife because there is a vulnerability that comes from being out of the paid workforce, and I’ve seen a pattern of wives who do not work feeling controlled by their husbands on matters of money.

Now these husbands may not intend to be controlling. They may legitimately be stressed about money, and not knowing how much money their wives are going to spend can add to the stress. Budgeting discretionary money is a great solution. When the wife spends money out of her discretionary funds, the husband should have no reason to feel stressed because the wife is spending money that has been budgeted for her to spend. I recommend that the discretionary money be set aside in a separate bank account to keep things simple.

A woman who feels controlled by her husband regarding money should let him know how she feels and ask him to work with her to find a solution. She could say something like, “I’m feeling like you are looking over my shoulder whenever I buy something. I would like to be able to spend money without feeling stressed. Can we come up with a solution that would work for both of us?” She could then talk to him about the concept of budgeting money for her to spend. It doesn’t matter how much money a couple can afford to allocate. What matters is that the couple finds a solution where the wife can spend money without feeling controlled.