To share or not?…… the vulnerability hangover

I have realized that when it comes to open-ness, vulnerability and sharing, I have one foot in the idea that sharing and being vulnerable is healing and overall a positive thing and one foot in an old belief that perhaps comes from my culture, maybe parents or older relatives that “you shouldn’t be so open”, “some things are to be kept private”

My friend who has a podcast called “Sustainable Medicine” recorded a conversation of us for a podcast episode, asking me about my recent decision to quit my job, take a break from full time medicine and the time in my life when I felt very burnt out. As he would ask me the questions, the vulnerable answers would come to my mind and I would think “should I share this or share a less vulnerable version of it?”…. a part of me wanted to be as real as possible…. I wanted to tell any person who is listening and might be feeling the same anxiety and burn out that they are are not alone in all their thoughts and emotions and yet as soon as the words would come out of my mouth, I’d think about how my words can be judged by some people. 

After we had finished recording the podcast, I found myself not wanting to listen to it. It was hard to hear myself being vulnerable. I was wondering why am I having a hard time with this whole sharing and how much or how little to share. Why do I get a vulnerability hangover when I share? I write this blog and it makes it seem like sharing is easy for me. But the truth is, it is and it isn’t. Being open generally comes easy to me. But usually after I share something somewhat vulnerable, I get what I heard Brene Brown call “the vulnerability hangover”, which is when this judge in me wakes up and starts telling me how I shouldn’t have shared. This is probably the reason I stopped writing in my blog for over a year. 

I sat in inquiry (using Byron Katie’s method called the work) trying to figure out where I get this duality from. Wondering why I have a judgement about open-ness which is something that a part of me feels strongly about and frankly comes so naturally to me. 

Why do I judge something that is so me? 

I realized that I had gotten criticized by parents or elders as a kid or a teenager when I had shared what they thought should not have been shared “why did you tell so and so about this?” Or I’d hear in Farsi “you are so sadeh” which literally means simple but actually means gullible and in this context meaning not savvy enough to know what not to share with someone… mainly not to ruin your image. I guess the goal being to always give and maintain a good image. 

And come to think of it, the judge in me is also worried about image or what others will think of me after I share what I share and in general about being an open person. Will they think; whoa…. that’s too much sharing or will they feel uncomfortable hearing someone sharing about her insecurity? Will they like me less or think less of me? 

When I do the work of Byron Katie, the forth and last question is “Who would you be without this thought?” And in this case the judging thought is that somehow sharing is “bad.” Whenever I do the inquiry, I find so much freedom in question number 4. Who would I be without a thought that causes me grief? The answer is always a relaxed, pure me, just being me. When I did this exercise, asking myself this question, who would I be without the thought that sharing is (bad, stupid, unwise, approval-seeking, uncool, etc), I did find the same freedom. I’d be me. But then immediately came a fear… shit, what if without this thought, without this judgmental thought, I’d share too much. I’d somehow be really uninhibited and it would be unacceptable. 

And at the moment that this fear crept up is when I realized that I just hit the edge of my freedom at this moment and point in my life.

I remember I was in a meditation class of my favorite teacher and she always started the class with a personal story of some challenge she was facing and how meditation/mindfulness had given her insight in to the challenge. She’d share really vulnerable things like how she was getting older and had the fear of not being able to have children and had chosen to freeze her eggs or how she had gotten really irritated at her boyfriend earlier that day and had then had a moment of awareness which helped her not react. 

Her honest sharing was the reason I went to class. It was the reason I loved her class. I wonder if she ever experienced vulnerability hangover? If she did, I am glad she didn’t let it stop her from sharing. Her stories are still with me. They made me feel close to her and they made me feel less alone in my struggles. 

What to do with all these thoughts?

This morning I woke up with this subtle not so great feeling. Ugh what is the thought. What if I like him more than he likes me? What if I am more attached than he is?…. No in reality, the thought doesn’t even have a maybe in it. It doesn’t come as a question. It comes with certainty; “I like him more than he likes me.” 

So where the fuck is this thought coming from? I really don’t have any objective evidence for it but I know this is how my relationships go down. With this exact, subtle thought. It starts little like this and then festers. If I believe this thought, I subtly pull back. And then of course they react to me pulling back and then I get my self-fulfilling prophecy indeed fulfilled. Then I am sure he likes me less and I pull back more. 

So I do the only thing that I know usually helps me. Write and write. Write all my thoughts. What little word or phrase did I hear that has made my mind go there? When you are a sensitive person with a past that you believe as “failed relationships” and get attracted to unconventional guys who value their independence, it is easy to take little things as evidence for your story. The story I have in my head. I will need him more than he needs me. 

It was helpful to look at the little thoughts that were there as evidence behind this thought and to really ask my self; Is it really true what I am thinking or is it just habitual thinking? Just water down the old river. What is the habitual pattern of thinking for me? I start a relationship and slowly start to have thoughts like these that make me anxious or eat away at my peace and I can’t enjoy getting to know this new person that universe has brought in to my life. 

My habitual pattern is also to get really mad at myself when I have these thoughts. Why they hell do you think this way? Why can’t you not be so sensitive and just not take every little word as meaning something or other. But truth is that getting mad at myself does not help anything. 

So while struggling with all of these thoughts and feelings while trying to go about my day, I stopped and just remembered what I learned in this course I took “mindfulness self compassion” and I also remembered the promise I made myself a few months ago “I will never abandon any part of myself” and here is a part of me that is in pain (meaning anxiety, fear, confusion, etc) and the course said whenever there is pain, there is room for compassion. So I held this part of me that is so scared and confused, telling her she belongs too. It is ok if she is sometimes so sensitive towards every little word and is scared and even wants to pull back. I literally held that part of me like a scared child. It’s ok. You have the right to be here, even thought ultimately you are believing some thoughts that are not valid but still, you are here and if you are here, you deserve to be here. 

I would have never allowed myself to do this before. I used to think that if I am giving room, or saying ok to a part of me that says “I am not liked” or “victim” or “needy” that it will get worse, but what I have realized that it doesn’t. In my case, accepting and loving all of me, even the parts I really wish I didn’t have, actually feels much better ultimately and makes me be able to think more clearly. 

I realized the thought is: what if the kind of closeness I want in my relationship is not what he wants. What if I am fooling myself and making it seem like I want a more distant relationship. The truth is that I don’t exactly know what kind of relationship I want. It’s been so long since I was in a a long term relationship. 

We walk around together talking about how unconventional our lives are and I find myself out of the blue saying “I don’t think there is anything wrong with living in two separate houses and having a relationship like that, some people do it”. Or that “we don’t have to label anything” and I totally and utterly believe it when I say it. 

And then out of the blue I wake up and I also have thoughts like “what if we are dating for months and months and he never introduces me as his girlfriend or what if he wants tons of space to himself, or what if I want to live with him and he doesn’t” Which one of these thoughts are really me? When I am thinking the former thoughts I feel ok about myself. I feel independent and when I think the latter thoughts, I judge myself for being needy.  So realizing this, again, I decide to not judge the thoughts, but see them as my children.………  if you are here, you belong…. It’s ok for me to want more closeness and if he doesn’t, then we want different things and maybe I won’t be with him ….. it’s ok… it’s ok… it’s ok…. It doesn’t make me needy or lesser or not as strong….. it’s ok” 

And that’s exactly what happened. After having this brief moment of accepting all my children; the needy, the scared, the confused, the one in doubt, the one who wants to pull back, the one who may want more closeness than this guy may want, I reached some moments of clarity. 

I realized that the opposite of this could be true as well. In fact I’ve also been there. I could be with a guy,  and he is dropping his life to be with me every moment. He is only wanting to spend his time with me over his other friends. He is telling everyone I am his girlfriend after only some weeks of knowing each other and asking me to do the same. He is planning his entire life around me….. and I can easily imagine the thoughts I would have at that time. Of course I would initially be happy that someone I so admire, is so in to me but I can see that I will probably have thoughts like “do I really want to be with him everyday of the rest of my life? Do I really want to only be with him and have such an exclusive relationship where I am not free to meet and experience conversations and friendships with other men (and I don’t mean sexually but even just friendships) ….. I started to remember my first relationship of almost 10 years and how enmeshed our relationship was….. no room to meet anyone else, no room for new experiences, only me and him all the time and our small circle of friends. I know I don’t like that. I know I’d feel suffocated in that. 

And then the clearest thought hit me. These are all just thoughts. None of it is real. The mind is always looking to improve our situation by pointing out possible “threats”. In the first scenario my mind is trying to look for how I can get hurt, how I can be more attached to him than him to me and can get hurt that way, how my needs may not be met. In the 2nd scenario (remembering my first relationship), the threat is losing my independence, losing my experiences of fun and new, being bored, mundane-ness. 

But what is real? Reality is that at this very moment, I am sitting very comfortably on this seat, typing my thoughts on my laptop, in this adorable, cozy cafe where everywhere I look gives me a good feel, sipping really good coffee in no physical discomfort.  Looking up, there is a few people here in this cafe. There is a plant hanging, a dog curled up comfortably sleeping on the floor, the barista busy pouring coffee, a woman at the bar sipping her coffee. It’s a cold day here and I have my jacket on and feel warm. 

What is really missing? What is the problem? Nothing. 

And what was the problem this morning when I was having all these thoughts. Nothing. I was in the shower, warm water with perfect pressure pouring over my head. Nothing hurting in my body. I had soap, shampoo, everything I needed. And yet, my thoughts about what could be in the future, and what that or this means is exactly what was taking me out of realizing the comfort of the present time and in to discomfort of the unsatisfactory imagined future. 

Really it comes down to this; observe your thoughts, question them, don’t identify with them and in my case, don’t hate on yourself for having the thoughts. As one of my favorite teachers, Byron Katie says “I love what I think, and I’m never tempted to believe it.”

….. and if I can be brave and honor where I am, then also talk to the person I’m in this relationship with, ask him my questions from a place of kindness, and trust what unfolds.

Who pays for the date?

A few nights ago I was in a gathering with some friends. Somehow this topic came up. A friend was recounting a story of years ago when he had been on a dinner date with a girl. He was saying how he hates it when the girl pretends like she wants to pay, slowly taking out her wallet and making a fake offer that she wants to pay or split the check, but all the while wanting the guy to pay for the bill. Apparently on that date, he had let her pay and she had then become sour-faced. 

As I was hearing the story, I was feeling a mix of confusion and a bit of shame. I was thinking “Wait, what is so wrong with that? Isn’t it better to offer than not, even if you ultimately think the guy should pay for the first date?” I asked my friend, how he would have preferred it. That she just sat there and let him pay or to mean it and pay for their dinner? He said he thinks that it is the guy’s responsibility to pay for the date and so yes, he would have preferred it if she sat there and didn’t give this fake, lukewarm offer. And in return, she can buy him a nice thoughtful gift after their second date. It was interesting to me hearing this from a guy who I think of as a forward thinking person.

He went on to bring an analogy that made me realize how much gender roles are still alive for all of us. This friend lives in a nice cabin-like house surrounded by woods and he mentioned that if I am sitting here with my girl and a scary noise comes from outside, obviously I am the one getting up to check on it, not her.  This got me asking him and the group about their opinions on gender roles. For example, whether cooking is the woman’s role, etc (which interestingly no one ever thinks, or at least would admit to) 

As thoughts were circulating in my head of “what kind of person this makes me that I have also done the lukewarm offer in the past”, another friend mentioned how he hates it if the girl just sits there and doesn’t at least make an offer and that he wouldn’t let her pay for the first date but expects her to pay for the next thing they do together. 

At that moment, I realized a couple of things:

1- Here is a group of relatively young, educated and as far as I know progressive men who totally differ in their views and feel very strongly about their opinions on this topic.

2- If even amongst my own circle, people can’t agree on this topic, then how can any one person be right? 

3- There is no reason for me to feel guilt or shame about however I’ve been or decide to be about this topic as long as it is true to my own ethics and beliefs which seem to evolve all the time. 

In my first relationship in my 20s, I was with a guy who was old-school and Iranian and very over-protective and considered it his role as a man to take care of me. And yet we were both around the same age and didn’t make much money and although he would get the bill most times especially when we were with groups of friends, but I remember a period when he was unemployed and I paid when we went out. Although I do remember he didn’t feel good about it. 

Later as I became single and entered dating life in my late 20s and 30s, I always felt awkward just sitting there and letting the guy pick up the check without at least making an offer. And I guess, if I got honest with myself, the ideal way I saw it, is that I offer and he rejects my offer and pays for at least the first few dates and then after that, sometimes he lets me pay and other times (more times) he pays. 

Throughout the years, I have met men (friends or dates) who get offended if the girl offers to pay and men who get offended if the girl doesn’t offer to pay or doesn’t pay equal times. 

And so many conversations with girlfriends come to my mind. 

One girlfriend (a doctor) told me that while on a second date, with the check sitting on the table and the guy (a lawyer) not having made an effort to pick it up, she straight up told him that she believes that the guy should pay for all dates (and this guy, who is now her husband, obliged from that point on)….. When I heard this I thought, wow, gutsy, good for her for voicing what she believes. 

Some other tidbits of conversations around this topic that I remember are: 

“A man wants to feel like a provider and when he pays for the date it makes him feel like he has taken care of the woman”

“If you feel like you are worthy, you will let the guy pay and spoil you and if you are insisting to pay, then you have issues around worthiness and you should work on it” 

Another girlfriend said when she first met her husband, they talked about this issue and he told her, I’ll pay for big stuff and you pay for little stuff. Interestingly as they went in to the marriage, there were periods that she financially supported him. 

And a recent conversation with a friend (also a doctor) who feels conflicted about wanting a guy who makes more money than her and pays for the dates and also feels guilty and ends up splitting the bill on most of her dates.

I still don’t know how I feel about this. But I know that as a woman who makes a doctor’s salary which may be higher than other jobs, and as someone who has been interested in dating not just doctors, but men from different walks of life and careers who may make less money than me, and living in an expensive city such as LA, I don’t see it as fair for the guy to have to pay for every date. I also, somehow feel that some of the guys I have dated in the past who didn’t let me pay for anything, had this expectation of me to be somewhat of a trophy girlfriend with my appearance or mannerism, etc. So I have been really leaning more towards having an equal and maybe a friendship – feel in dating, where perhaps we’d alternate paying for things.

Having said this, there still exists a part of me, maybe the conditioned part, maybe the evolutionary wired part, that does like it when once in a while the guy really takes charge and says “I am taking you out”, makes plans and pays for the date, especially the first date.

Reflecting on all of this, the thing that I am most sure about at this point in my life, is that there is no one recipe or hard rule that would apply to all relationships. I feel that with every person, there is a new opportunity to see how we would be as a duo. An analogy I heard that resonates with me is that a relationship is like a play doh/dough that slowly and together you play with and get to mold it in to the shape that works for both of you and perhaps if you stay together long term, the shape of this dough continually evolves as both people grow and keep making new agreements that are unique and work for the both of them.

This being me… whoever that is

It was many moons ago but I remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I was on the phone with my sister, asking her what I should text this guy I had gone on a date a few nights prior. I was asking if what I had planned to text him sounded good (I guess a mix of witty, cute, sweet and yet not too sweet, that shows I like him but not too much, etc, etc). This wasn’t unusual in my circle of friends where we’d be hanging out and someone would ask if their planned text message was good enough to send or if they should say something different. On that day though, instead of her usual response, my sister surprised me and asked “Why do you think I would know better than you?” I didn’t think much of what she said at the time and went on with my quest for the perfect text. 

But in the past decade or so, her words have come to me at times and more so recently.

As the etched words of Bob Dylan on my necklace remind me “All I can do is be me, whoever that is” 

All these efforts for self-love over the many years had not really driven this point home as well as recently when I went to a Byron Katie School of work. And while there, sitting with myself, questioning some belief, I started to realize how incredibly relaxing and freeing it is to let myself be. Whatever comes out. 

I recently met a guy I like and as we were texting back and forth, I found myself thinking if the text I had just sent him was good. What if he misunderstands it or thinks I am too much of something or not enough of something else and likes me less. And it hit me, perhaps for the first time that the words that I had just texted, was ALSO me, however perfect or imperfect it may be to him. Obviously when I sent it 30 seconds ago, it seemed good enough to me and yet 30 seconds later I am not so sure. 

The title of Byron Katie’s book “A mind at home with itself” gave me this idea…..  What if, god forbid, I accepted my mind? The crazy, monkey mind that has fear and anxiety- causing thoughts in it…. Of course I don’t like my mind when it gives me self-deprecating or fearful thoughts. And yet, what if I accepted it? I mean, these thoughts are running through my mind anyways and hating on them and trying to ignore them doesn’t work for me (It may work for others but not for me). Resisting them and hating on them doesn’t make them go away. They circle right back again. Yet, questioning their validity with kindness makes them slowly lose their grip on me and evaporate and not circle back as strongly. 

I remember an episode of the TV show “Friends” where Chandler is getting ready to go on a date and the group’s advice to him is “Just be yourself, but not too much yourself”. That’s the kind of advice that can subtly drive me crazy. A part of me thinks I am too much, too open, too nice, too independent, too needy, too naive, too a lot of other things. 

So in this journey of self-acceptance, I have realized that when I am sitting here thinking of the perfect text and writing, deleting it and re-writing it, that I should just send what I am thinking as corny or dorky or whatever as it may sound cause that is ALSO me. Sometimes my words are witty and funny or whatever is acceptable to myself and sometimes they are not and yet it is all a part of me. And someone who wants to be with me, will inevitably see all of it. 

It feels so much more freeing and relaxing since I have adopted this. The minute a self-doubting thought comes to my mind about what I said the night before, I think it was THE ME at that time and it was supposed to be like that.  And if I turned this guy off because he didn’t like what I said or did, then he wasn’t meant to be. I’ll be sad to not see him, but I will get over it. After all, if I don’t like my own company including my own thoughts, how can I expect someone else to like it? 

And I know as clear as I feel about what I am writing here today, that next month, I may totally be driving myself crazy over what I said and how I should have said or done it better. Hopefully if that happens, I can come back and read these words that my sane mind is writing right now and remind myself that it is all ok because all of it is part of me and this being human. 

This Deep, Old River – post break up mental loop

I open my eyes and look up at the willow tree behind my bedroom window. Normally I love waking up to this tree. But on this day I have too much pain in my heart to appreciate its dancing leaves.  As soon as I open my eyes, I remember the night before and the breakup and feel that aching in my chest. I lay there in my bed and ask myself what is really making me hurt right now? I know If I am honest with myself, this pain is not really from the end of this particular relationship or this guy, but really it is from a sense of hopelessness.
My mind telling me “You will be alone and lonely forever”, “You somehow fuck up all your relationships”, “You pick the wrong guys”
And then I think, how am I gonna tell all my friends? Why did I introduce him to so many friends so early? I want to just curl up and not be. I don’t want to be me. To be this person who I don’t understand why she ends up alone. Is she too loving or not loving enough? too needy or too independent? too picky or not with good standards? I don’t know.
I lay in my bed thinking I just wanna hide. I am never writing a post in this blog. What was I thinking writing about my life. Hopeless thoughts circulate in my head so fast and settle in my heart so deep that I am finally in that place that gets me to ask for help. Ask that higher power, something wiser than my mind, for help.
After begging my Soul/God/Universe to help me, I go on my phone and do a google search for “book on breakup” and a bunch of books come up and I don’t like any of them. I scroll all the way down and see a cover of a book. A silhouette of a person holding a gun to his head with a red heart in his chest and this catches my attention. It says “Love yourself like your life depends on it”.  I’m curious and I start to listen to the audiobook and the author/narrator’s voice is so genuine. Like he could be a friend. So I buy it.
This book is not really about breakups. But the story of a start-up, silicon valley guy who hits rock bottom; a failing company, sickness, death of a friend and a relationship break up all at the same time and in the depths of darkness and hating on himself and his life, he decides to just love himself.
Obviously it is not the first time I hear of self-love. I have been trying to love and accept myself for some time now. But obviously I still don’t really or I guess fully love myself. I know this because here I am, after a breakup and my thoughts are that I am sick of being me and wanting to hide.  Every time I start a new relationship, if my feelings don’t develop for the guy, I hate on myself for not being able to like a decent guy or if I feel that I haven’t been liked enough by the guy, I question myself and wonder if I am likable enough. How is that for “self-love”?
So I started listening to this audiobook and slowly it instilled hope in me. Because it reminded me of the truth with this perfect analogy.
A river bed is paved slowly though rocks. Over the years, with enough time and intensity, the river bed gets deeper and deeper. And every time it rains, the water finds its way down the path of least resistance, down the the old paved river bed.
Our thoughts are also like that water down the mental river.  Over the years, having heard and learned one way of thinking, we form these deep mental rivers and with every situation, like this breakup, same thoughts get generated, same chain of neurons firing in the brain. Water down the same river.
Beliefs such as “If I am single and my relationship didn’t work then something is wrong with me”, or “If it hasn’t happened, it will never happen”, etc.  Maybe for others it is “If I don’t have a career or am in debt, I am a loser”, “If I am fat and can’t lose weight, I am a failure”, etc. The mind, left to itself repeats the same stories, the same loops, mostly ones that at their core have a message of not-enough-ness.
I know that I am not the only one who gets caught in these mental loops.  I hear it from my friends, family and patients too. I can listen to my friend about her self-deprecating beliefs and realize the false-ness of it and wanna shake her and say “You are amazing, you are a great mother” but her mental river is so deep that thoughts just go down that same river whenever her kid is screaming and she thinks she is a bad mom.
What I have come to realize is that trying to fix the mental loop by reasoning with it (in other words, with thinking our way out of it) doesn’t really seem to work. The only way out of the mental suffering is by shifting the focus of the mind to something else and this book’s suggestion is to shift it to love.
This guy, the author who decided to love himself by over and over saying “I love myself”.  Just repeating this mantra even if he didn’t believe it.
I used to always think of affirmations as fake. But I have finally come to see the value of an affirmation or mantra, one that you can at least partially believe in.
So on that painful day I decided if my mind is making me suffer with all its conditioned bullshit, then I am gonna just create a new river in my brain. It is not impossible. It took 40 years for the current river to be so deep, then I will start investing in a new river and maybe in 10 years from now, my default thinking will be different.
For me, I have created my own mantras that resonate with me. And every time I catch myself in the mental loops, I try to remind myself that this is nothing but an old river.
I don’t know if it is the mantras, or the analogy of the river, or if it is the years of working on myself, or really just asking help from that loving wisdom that I have come to realize always delivers and this time delivered me this book, but somehow the weeks following this past breakup ended up really not being as difficult as I had anticipated.
Kamal Ravikant, the author of this book, says that he almost didn’t publish his book for fear that his silicone valley peers may judge him for writing this kind of book and yet he wrote it anyways and it came to work like magic for me on that really down day. I’ve been hesitating about writing this post for the past month, also for fear of being judged, but ultimately I figure if I truly loved this human on this journey, aka, Me, then I’d be ok with her experiences. I wouldn’t hide her. I would share her story. And maybe it will give someone else hope too.

This “Anxious Attached”

I have a love and hate relationship with the beginning of dating, when you meet someone you like. After a long time. someone who all of a sudden activates all that bundle of hope, longing, desire, excitement, anxiety, fear, obsession and shear terror that was filed away somewhere in the archives of my psyche while i’ve been living in my semi-comfort zone.
The comfort zone that I have so ardently clung to for over a year, not wanting anyone to disturb it by bringing out this bundle of emotions.
And now I find myself in it again. From the moment it hits me that I am drawn to someone. It really feels like an instant moment. At first my mind is just evaluating and analyzing “this is good about him and this is not” and then something somehow shifts and I am not even thinking anymore and just liking this person in front of me. Somehow as I find myself feeling drawn and attracted to him and just as I am starting to enjoy the feeling of liking someone, quickly and oh so quickly my thoughts start again and this time they are evaluating and analyzing me “does he like me? Am I interesting to him? Am I still interesting to him? does he still like me?”
And maybe that’s what makes that bundle of emotions. This constant shift of the mind from me to him, from him to me. The mind that constantly and vigilantly discerns every word and every move and attaches a meaning to it. This means he doesn’t like me, this means he does. This means he would be this way or that way. All of this formed by years of learning how things should be. How things look when someone likes you.
How did this bundle come to be? I remember when I met my first boyfriend when I was 18. I remember I had what I guess was called “butterflies”, these little jittery feelings in my solar plexus while I thought of him. Butterflies were not the most comfortable feelings but they were signs of excitement and meant I liked him. The butterflies finally stopped moving around so much and the jittery feeling gave way to ease and comfort when he showed me his vulnerabilities and I realized how much he liked me.
Some years later, I found myself with butterflies again. This time, though, the butterflies couldn’t calm down because the guy, unlike my boyfriend of age 18, didn’t hold my hand, telling me his vulnerabilities and leading me to the shore of ease and safety. He’d shower me with affection and attention, only to withdraw in to his shell and disappear, and then bring his head out briefly enough as the butterflies were disappearing, for them to come pouring in to my chest again. Maybe as this book “Attached” calls it, he had
Avoidant-Attachment where he just wasn’t comfortable with emotional intimacy or maybe he was just confused.
However, more than a few of these encounters with the Avoidant-Attached types through the years, has been enough to take that girl and throw her in to a bundle of emotions that seems to have a life of its own. This bundle that seems like a monster and comes alive with vengeance when I start to like someone, comes alive like a thief of sanity.
How I wish I could get rid of it. Just inject some high dose sedative in to this bundle to go to sleep forever, to not constantly be in fear and wonder what is gonna happen, what does this moment or that mean.
Reading this book, “Attached”, recommended by my friend who also seems to suffer from some relationship anxiety, which I would have never thought given how cool, calm and amazing she always is, until I shared with her about my anxiety, I realized my attachment type is “The Anxious Attached”. Great! That sounds lovely! The other two alternatives in this book are avoidant attached and secure attached.
How I would give anything to switch to that secure attached. But as life has it, this is where I am right now.
But the truth is that at the moments when for whatever reason my anxiety rises up and envelopes me again, knowing my attachment type is of no help whatsoever. It is as if my mind goes in to a seizure, repeating the same mantra over and over.
No amount of trying to talk myself out of it is that helpful. It just spirals down to “look at how anxious you are. you are horrible, he will pick up on your energy and know you are anxious. you are a turn off”
One night, early in this relationship, when I had not heard from him and was particularly feeling anxious and no amount of self-cognitive behavioral therapy was helping, I just felt so desperate about my anxiety and just started begging every deity I have ever known to help me with it; God, universe, my Soul, higher self, divine mother, Guru Ram Das and even my own dad who passed away some years ago, reminding him that my anxious attachment is at least party due to him and if he has any power to help me, to do so.
And somehow in the midst of that surrendering, I started to hear the sane voice, that which I call my Soul’s voice which is the only solace for me, reminding me “It is all good my love. There is nothing to worry about. You are loved and taken care of” which of course the minute I hear this I start to sob. It is like coming home.
That calm, wise voice that reminds me, that no matter what my attachment type is or how anxious I am or how this way or that way I am, I am also a million other things. That I am all of me.
And that the only way out of this bundle of emotions is through it. And that even though it feels at times, like those butterflies have turned in to monstrous birds, clawing inside my chest, that I can get through this and it is worth it.
My Soul, who tells me that my anxiety is not my fault. That the more I forgive myself for it, instead of hating myself for it, and forgive life’s experiences that have led me here, the more this bundle dissolves. That instead of hiding in shame about these anxieties, fears and attachment style, to own it, write about it and accept it.
And that the right man for me will love me for all of me.
That this is life. We come in a package with all our “good” and “bad”. And that real love is not just to love the “good” but also the imperfections of the other person. And that the only way this will happen is to allow all parts of you to unfold as the relationship unfolds and trust. Trust! Trust that wether he will be there tomorrow or not is all in divine unfolding.
That you are carried through it all, the single days, the dating days, the relationship days, the scary days, the exciting days and the anxious days. You are carried even though it doesn’t feel like it.

This Being Single – “Finding Love”

While driving home a few week ago, I was listening to a podcast I recently came across in which people write letters about a topic of conflict and the hosts give them advice. I had listened and liked a few of their episodes, so, when I saw an episode titled “The One”, I was intrigued. It was an episode on single women ages 20-50, who had written to the hosts about feeling very anxious regarding not finding “The One”.

As the episode was coming to an end and they kept reading snippets of the letters, the final thoughts of the hosts (who are incidentally both married) were something like “Well, some of these women will find love but maybe some of them will never find love.” I literally felt my self reaching to turn off the volume as I couldn’t bear to listen anymore.
Later I reflected on what had made me feel such resistance to their words that had conjured up this mixture of anger, sadness and shame. I realized what was affecting me was this notion that you either Find love or Not. It was of course not the first time I had heard these words but somehow it was the first time the meaning behind the words really hit me.
I remember a few years ago, when laughingly, I told one of my yoga teachers that my love-life is nonexistent. He asked me why do I say that, that do I not feel love in my life, to which I responded that of course I do feel love but what I mean is the romantic love.  He knew what I had meant, but was trying to get me to pay attention to my choice of words and phrases.
I obviously didn’t think much of what I said and even thought he was being fastidious. But as I reflect on my emotional reaction to this podcast, I realize that the sense of shame around being single is directly tied in to these phrases and these beliefs.
This phrase “To Find Love” somehow denotes that the feeling of “being loved” only comes with finding and being with a romantic partner and if you happen to be single all your life, then you have basically never found and lack love.
Is this really true?
Do all married or paired-up people experience a constant feeling of being loved, connected, desired, understood and supported because they have a partner?
Do they never feel disappointed, frustrated, angry, sad, disconnected or even lonely?
If you have any honest married friends they would tell you, that they have a mix of all of these emotions on different days. They would tell you, that sometimes while even sitting next to their significant other they feel disconnected and lonely. And these are not marriages or relationships that are “not working”. These are the realities of human-ness.
I even wonder how many people go in to a marriage with the notion and expectation that once married, you should feel loved at all time and if not, then the marriage is not working. I know I used to think this during my long term relationship.
A truly brave married woman, once told me, that at times she has felt lonely, even though her hand is in her husband’s hand, who is being loving to her. But she is not really feeling the love because at that moment she is feeling insecure or not good about herself.
And this being single… this supposedly “not having found love”. Is this really true?
I ask myself; do I not, many times, feel loved by (and for) all those who are in my life, or come in to my life, from family and friends to many other experiences that bring that feeling of connected, understood, supported, and even desired? And do I not feel the same spectrum of emotions?
Why is it that we have come to think, agree and believe that being single means “lacking”? Especially for a woman.
I realize the desire for companionship can be a very intrinsic and even primal desire and may even come from a desire for having children with a partner. And not having found that companion or that imagined future with children is a disappointment.
But every time I have felt more than just disappointed, every time I have felt shame and despair for not being in a relationship, I have come to realize that it isn’t just about the desire for a companion, but to a much larger extent, it is because being single is looked at as “lacking” and that I am in this boat of “singles”, the boat of those who are unloved.
This book “The Four Agreement” comes to my rescue so often. It says that there are these societal agreements that somehow everyone has agreed on (maybe even unspokenly and unconsciously) and yet everyone suffers from them. Somehow throughout the years we made this agreement that if you find a partner, you are ok, you are loved, and basically you are on the right track to “happily ever after” and if not, then you are not.
It is becoming really clear to me that there is no emotion that is exclusive to the single life that I will not have once in a relationship or married. Sadness is sadness. Envy is Envy. Joy is Joy, Love is Love and even loneliness is loneliness whether single, in a relationship-but-not-married or married-with-children. Maybe the reason or subject bringing up the emotion will be different in single life vs. married life but the emotion itself is the same.
Today, I say to myself and to all of my fellow single sisters, that while looking for that life partner, just remember there is nothing lacking about you because of your single-ness and when and if shame or despair comes creeping up on you, just befriend it and ask it why is it here. Because it will not lie to you. It will remind you of the agreement you have bought in to, the agreement that has no basis, the agreement that blocks you from feeling love. And Love is Love!
As the great Persian Poet, Rumi says “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it”

Nothing Means Anything!

What does it mean to live with your mom when you are turning 40 and single?

A few months ago I decided to move in with my mom. I don’t know why exactly. I loved my apartment in MarVista so much. It was my sanctuary. But maybe because I felt like I needed a change and it would help to save some money to be ready for that change. And  I would get to be close to my mom and my favorite furry creature, Hooloo, my mom’s kitten.

So I moved in December. And even though I was worried I may regret it, I have not really missed my former beloved apartment at all. But despite having made this move voluntarily and with really no financial necessity, and despite having actually enjoyed it so far, from the kitchen’s view of these beautiful birch trees where I sit and have my breakfast, to the recent snuggles when Ms. Hooloo allows it, to my mom’s sense of humor and her home cooked meals, to the shorter commute to work, to this adorable room that my feng-shui master of a friend set up for me, despite it all, this move has given my monkey mind a field day whenever it goes in to that self-critical mode, adding to my list of inadequacies how not only am I turning 40 but I am living with my mom. And even when I remind my mind that I have chosen this not because of a lack of career or money but it still insists that none-the-less this living situation leaves much to be desired.
I was having dinner one night with a friend of mine before the move and when I told him I am moving in with my mom, he reminded me of a Seinfeld episode when George is moving in with his parents.  Jerry’s stand-up line was that it is never a good sign when you are moving in with your parents… like you never say: “my career is going great and I am moving in with my parents or I am in a new relationship and I am moving in with my parents, etc”…. It was a funny episode and my friend was merely trying to make me laugh. I know he thinks no less of me for moving in with my mom.
But it reminds me of the book “The Four Agreements”. How we have made these agreements for certain things to mean something and even when it doesn’t mean that, the mind is so fixated on it that it can’t see it clearly any other way. We make everything mean something.
Another night I was at dinner with some new friends and when I told them I moved in with my mom, a few of them voiced their disbelief of how I was even capable of living with my mother at this age. But one new friend who is from Spain actually praised me saying: “This is a great sign that you can live with your mom, most people in this country can’t stand their families.” Clearly what “living with parents” means to him was different than what it means to Jerry Seinfeld, my friends and myself or at least that part of my mind that is saying all of this.
I have had multiple patients of mine in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, and even older tell me in such shame that they live with their parents. Many of them have made this choice for financial reasons or other reasons, even to take care of their parents, but this living situation is one more thing they add to their list of failures. I always remind them to not listen to this voice and not make their living arrangements mean anything more than it is. And although I mean what I say to them it with all my heart, but I guess my own mind is still entangled in the same unhealthy agreements.
The agreement that my mind has learned, the one that it uses to subtly torture me is that at every stage in your life, your life has to be in a certain place and have a certain look and if it isn’t there, even if you chose it not to be, then at least it has to be justified by something else more amazing. Like if at 40 you are not married with kids doing DIY projects with your kids and renewing your vows with your husband who dotes on you, then you should be a renowned professor, or have published several books or be traveling the world or be a high-ranking progressive political figure or like my beloved uncle, be involved in many philanthropic, creative projects around the world.
Whaaaaaat? I ask my mind; so you mean that being a physician, even a sub-specialist who sees the most rare cases, treats patients in pain and suffering every day and tries to treat them like her own family is not enough?
How about someone who tries to be honest and say I don’t know when she doesn’t know and to try to look for the answers, who tries to be real, tries to practice mindfulness, tries to do right as best as she can? Isn’t that enough? Isn’t it more than enough? Isn’t as enough as anyone else?
Mindfulness says to watch your thoughts non-judgmentally and to not identify them as you. To basically see them come and go instead of totally being in them. Like you are standing in that space between the water in the waterfall and the rock behind it. And when I watch these thoughts, sometimes I totally see their bullshit. But what really helps me, what actually changes these thoughts to completely different thoughts is remembering and literally tuning in to the voice of that Wise part of my Self, or what I call my Soul.
Soul, who speaks in whispers and I usually hear it best while on a good run or something meditative or maybe after a good cry. This voice that is so incredibly loving and says: oh my love, of course it is enough. Not because you are a doctor and not because of your education or degree or what you are accomplishing or even because you are practicing mindfulness, but because you are you, you are here, you are a living, breathing child of this universe, you are part of the universe and the universe itself. You are enough because you are alive and trying. Waking up every morning and taking another step on this journey.
My Soul’s voice reminds me that nothing means anything, only what you attach to it, only what meaning you give it.
It is not where we live, who we live with, what we do, what we have accomplished and what we haven’t, what we look like, how many friends we have, how many likes we get on our posts. It is not any of these that makes us lovely, lovable, and loved. It is because we are here, we breathe, and we try our bests even when that best is not perfect.

A Life Candy or a Partner? 

I remember that weekend day in Spring of 2010 so vividly when I was down and disappointed over my last relationship which had not worked out. My dad who had been sick for a while but tried to go for daily walks asked me to go for a walk with him. As we slowly walked to his pace, he asked me why I was down. I normally didn’t like sharing my emotions with my parents especially my dad because there was always a lesson he would give me in it, but my dad had changed in the last years of his life. He had stopped preaching and started being more real.  So I took a chance. I told him I was disappointed… why was it so easy for my friends to be with someone and I couldn’t?…. I remember how angry I got at his answer, when he said “well, maybe you don’t really want a relationship, subconsciously”… I interrupted him in frustration “what does that even mean? that my conscious wants something and yet my freaking subconscious is leading my life. That would seem like a cruel punishment”

I wish I could go back to that day and hug my dad and just listen to what he had to say. He died a few months after that and I was left to figure out all this on my own.
In later years I pondered my dad’s words over and over again. If my subconscious doesn’t want a marriage then what does it want and why does a part of me thinks she wants it…. I analyzed it in therapy and with myself….and I journaled and wrote and asked myself why did I want a man? why really? I started putting in to practice what I learned from that healer and lovely teacher I met in 2012, Siri Gian, who taught me how to ask questions, listen and differentiate between the voices of that Wise part of myself (Soul) and the other every day-self  or ego and write down the answers.
And the answer was kind of mind blowing and kind of really obvious. I thought I wanted to have a relationship. I even thought maybe I wanted to get married but when I got honest with myself I saw that the desire wasn’t so much to find a partner in life. It was really to have someone whose love, affection and attention would make me feel good, someone that with him I would never feel lonely, someone who would be my arm-candy and life-candy. The candy that would take away any of life’s bitterness and replace it with only sweetness.
And really come to think of it, that’s what I thought love is. Someone who will sweep you off your feet and then love you every day. And any time you feel down, he will lift you up by his love. Just like all the books I had read growing up in Iran which all started with “he saw a glimpse of her and fell in love with her, not with one heart but with a hundred hearts” And the movies I had seen and the couples who seemed to have that at least from a distance and on the outside.
And yet all the marriages around me growing up seemed to not have that. Women close to me whose marriages seemed tumultuous and flawed. Women who always seemed not happy from what their husbands did or didn’t do.
To me it seemed either people are trying to tolerate a marriage that is unhappy and love-less or there is this perfect love where the imperfections are even cute and the girl will pull away and the guy always chases her…. always!
When those bits of my subconscious finally became conscious, my initial reaction was that of self-judgement but eventually with mindfulness and sitting with it all, the voice of that Wise-Self came to my rescue every time. and here is what I realized. That this kind of expectations of a man as a life-candy is exactly the recipe for bitterness. For disappointment and heartache when I’d inevitably come face to face with his insecurities, with the moments that he is in his own head, or in self-doubt.
At these exact moments, if I am in it for him to make me feel better when I feel insecure, to make me feel loved, then it will feel like a love-less marriage.
Yet, if I am able to hold space for my own insecurities, to be aware of all the human parts of me that want affection and attention and feel lonely at times, if I can hold them like little children, then even when my partner is in his own insecurities and unable to hold me in his love, I can just see it for what it is, not project more to it, not make it about me and go in that downward spiraling and reacting. And when he is feeling good about himself and can give love, then it is just the icing on the cake of my own self-love.
I still don’t know exactly what that healthy relationship would look like for me but I am starting to realize that a life with someone else, no matter how smart, kind, cool and confident, will be marred with the same highs and lows of feeling loved and cared for and then feeling unloved, insecure and lonely that paints the canvas of my single life.
And here is what I wish I could tell my Dad that I am even starting to understand that this subconscious mind of mine is not an unfair, cruel punishment keeping me away from that ultimate happy marriage but it is the mystery of me that unravels in this journey of my life, one experience at a time, one disappointment at a time, one reflection at a time, and one breath at a time.

Insecure or Confident?

I don’t know what age I was…maybe 18… maybe younger, when I heard phrases like “Confidence is the most important thing”, “Confidence is sexy”, “Confidence is the most attractive attribute of a woman”
Whenever I had insecure thoughts in my head, which were not uncommon, especially when it came to how I looked, it would quickly follow by the acute realization that I am not confident since I have these thoughts.
I would sometimes see these women who seemed to somehow embody confidence in my eyes. Most times I didn’t really know them well. Maybe it was at a party, I would see a girl who didn’t seem shy, was beautiful, had a perfect body, or dressed beautifully, or seemed to have an air of detached-ness about her, or maybe a handsome or seemingly “cool” man next to her, looking at her with desire.
Without really knowing anything about her, merely based on her demeanor or looks I would think  “Gosh, she looks so confident. I bet she doesn’t care about what anyone thinks of her. I wish I was confident like that” And of course, having been told how confidence is important, I tried to hide all those areas where I lacked confidence. In fact I didn’t even see it as some areas of insecurity. I didn’t see it as shades of gray. I saw it as black and white. That this person has confidence and I don’t. Either you have it or not.
So, I just learned how to hide it. I learned how to never show my insecurities. I learned to act the opposite of what insecurity wanted me to do. I tried to make friends with confident people. And I tried to be social and outgoing and make it seem like I don’t care about what others think. And I don’t know if I did any of this consciously.
What is ironic is that everyone I chose to be friends with, based on how confident they appeared, when I actually got to know them well, I realized they also have insecurities. And the more they were aware of their insecurities and allowed me to see them, the more I connected with them and the closer our friendships became.
I remember I was talking to a friend who was telling me about how she has felt insecure about this or that in herself and realizing the insecurities makes her feel even more insecure.
This friend is a woman who is an amazing surgeon and one of the most beautiful women I know. She is someone I wished to be be friends with when I first met her in the hospital and saw that same air of confidence in her. She was quite and kept to her self and I took this as confidence and even slight detached-ness which I had come to associate with “coolness”. Little did I know that this was her “shyness”.
I don’t know at exactly which point in time, this big, impossible mountain of misconception about “insecure” vs. “confident” started to slowly chip away. Maybe it was after meeting my teacher, Siri Gian, the healer who taught me how to listen to that inner wisdom, that loving voice that speaks in whispers and for most of my life I wasn’t hearing it over the shouts of the other insecure voices. Or maybe it was in Azita’s yoga classes; a yoga teacher and psychologist who would open the class by genuinely sharing about her own vulnerabilities and emotions. Or maybe it was watching Brene Brown’s ted talks. Or maybe it slowly happened through all of these experiences and still happening as I sit with Homeira, my beloved therapist and teacher every week.
And that mountain started to chip away to this realization; That confidence is not a lack of insecurity, just like courage is not a lack of fear. It is wether we are aware of the insecurity, can accept it, not judge ourselves for it, love ourselves despite of it and look at it honestly and see the unreality of it.
After having talked to many brave women; doctors, artists, lawyers, engineers, dentists, journalists, housewives, mothers, etc, everyone seems to have insecurities around something or other. For someone it is around a body part that they try so hard to perfect, or around money or career or family or children or lack of children or status or partner or lack of it or health or a personality trait or so many other issues.
I know I have many insecurities of my own, but here is the amazing part of this past years of awakening to all of this, that the more I accept where I am, the more I get honest with myself instead of putting up a facade, the more I stop labeling myself as insecure and projecting perfection of confidence on to others, the more I breathe through any insecure feelings that come up and remember that this isn’t real, it doesn’t define me and is merely based on what I have bought in to, the more the insecurities release, shift and transform to real confidence. Not confidence based on having it all, but confidence based on accepting it all.
Thank you all the women (and men) who have bared your Souls with me, putting down the masks we all wear for some seconds or minutes or hours, showing me a piece of your insecurities and helping me heal mine. I am passing it on.