Friday, January 20, 2017

My chat with a narcissist

This morning, I had a not-so-charming chat on social media with a narcissist. Given that people often report struggling with folks who have his Personality Disorder—and other Personality Disorders in the same categoryI thought I'd share my experience.

So, I realized in the first typed lines that I was dealing with this kind of troubled individual. Trying to exit from the conversation gracefully and quickly, I said, Have a wonderful day! 

This person replied, I always have a wonderful day. Feeling irritated and not quite ready to exit, I responded literally with an empty sentence, typing just a period ("."). There was a slight pause in response; I'd like to think it was because I surprised this person by "saying something without really saying anything." So, I finally get this response: I'm really an exceptional person, which confirmed that I was dealing with a narcissist. Clearly.

In that moment, I had the will power and wisdom to stop communicating, close the app, and walk away from my phone. I have some psych training, and I know that it's important to let narcissist have the last word. So, I went into my bathroom to begin my morning routine.

But here's the thing. During my shower, I kept going over in my mind what had happened. Questioning myself. Feeling irritated and defensive. Wanting to lecture the person about manners. Feeling petty for obsessing and being unable to let it go. Recognizing the strange desire to run to the bedroom, check my phone, and see if anything else had been said. Imagining the incredibly witty put downs I'd say in return.

DARN it! This person had really HOOKED me, had got under my skin. It took 5 to 10 minutes, but I worked on settling my mind, and finally used my mindfulness skills to distract and redirect my attention to my morning bathroom routine.

Now, it's quite possible that getting hooked like this is a personal weakness of mine, but I thought I'd share my experience just in case anyone else struggles with these types of interpersonal exchanges.

As I observed myself mentally spinning on my social-media exchange, I took away a few key points as to how a narcissist hooks people:
  •  The narcissist is adept at breaking social convention, "breaking the rules," if you will. These people feel that rules don't apply to them.
  •  Breaking the rules serves another purpose, however, in that it throws us Rule Followers off balance emotionally.  When we're thrown off balance, we're more easily manipulated.
  •  As was done in this case, the narcissist often breaks the rules "just a little bit" or in a sneaky way. This person began a conversation with a stranger by bragging. Now, on the one hand, no bank was robbed. On the other hand, social convention was broken. If I were to have called the person on it, the response would have been that NO SUCH THING happened and that the violation was a figment of my imagination: for example, perhaps explaining that this was merely an expression of healthy self esteem and that it was odd of me to misinterpret it, making it sound as if I had the problem. The end result of you questioning whether you saw or heard what you actually did, feeling confused, feeling defensive, and feeling off balance is what happens when you're a victim of "GASLIGHTING." This is when someone messes with your head so you can be manipulated. You can read more about gaslighting here.
  • It occurred to me that the SUBJECT MATTER of the discussion was completely beside the point. The PURPOSE of the conversation was to throw me off balance emotionally. When I responded with an empty sentence ("."), that was my way of saying, There's really nothing that I can say to you that won't produce more cray-cray coming back in my direction. So, please understand that, when you're dealing with a narcissist, don't get caught up in wild boasts, loud denials, aggressive accusations of unfair treatment, convoluted language, and lies. It's not the point. Messing with you is the point, plus what I'm about to describe in the next bullet....
  •  Finally, think of the narcissist as the consummate con artist, as a pickpocket. As you spin on the details of the off-putting or aggressive statements being thrown at you rapid fire, this person is working a self-serving agenda in the background. So, when a pickpocket bumps and distracts you with conversation, the main point of the exchange is not what's being said; it's her hand removing the wallet from your back pocket or your purse 
So, what's the point?

First, don't engage. At all, if possible. After the exchange, keep your distance.

Next, keep a keen eye on your back pocket or purse.

And finally, use your mindfulness skills to immerse yourself in an activity to clear your mind of the toxic exchange, reminding yourself that it's normal to feel off-balance after encountering this type of sick person. IT'S NOT YOU! Shake it off as soon as you can, and get back to fully engaging with the most important thing...YOUR life, your passions, and your loved ones.  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Just feel it [period]

We lost our dog Q (short for "Questionable Lady") a few weeks ago. Our poor girl suffered a stroke—which I hear is rare for dogs. She seemed to recover for a few weeks afterward, but then she developed a complication that left her unable to eat. As all pet owners understand, even though we wanted very much to prevent her from suffering, it was very hard to say good-bye.

In the days that followed, there were moments of pain when we were reminded of Q: seeing her folded up cage, reaching for two leashes instead of one, and so on. Also, there were doubts. Occasionally, I wondered if I'd gotten her care soon enough after her stroke. Was there anything else I could have done? Did we make the right decision to let her go when we did?

One time while I was taking a nap, I remembered how Q liked to curl up in a ball behind my knees as I was sleeping on my side. In an attempt to comfort myself, I imagined her snuggled in there right at that moment. It was an attempt to feel as if she was still with us, in part. I did feel some relief, and I smiled.

The next time I took a nap, I tried to imagine Q's presence again, didn't work. It didn't comfort me. My mind became unsettled, and it bounced from attempting to invoke pleasant memories of her to second guessing our recent decisions. 

Two things occurred to me then. The first is that this was a reminder of how I over relied on fantasy to comfort myself when I was a child growing up with my alcoholic father in a very chaotic, unpredictable home. It was my main method for feeling in control and having some power.

When I played basketball in the back yard, I was playing against Larry Bird in the NCAA finals. When I hit the tennis ball against the brick wall of the elementary school for hours at a time, I was hitting a passing shot against Bjorn Borg or John McEnroe to win Wimbledon. I drew my own comics. I pretended I was a rock star as I sang along with my favorite songs. 

It took me well into adulthood to use less fantasy and to use better, more mature ways to feel competent and secure. 

The second thing that occurred to me was that I was mentally scrambling, trying to find a way not to feel hurt about Q's passing. So, instead of staying stuck up in my head, I took a few deep breaths, and I made a gentle request of myself: Quiet down and simply FEEL. Just "miss her," OK? Nothing more, nothing less.

Just miss her.

Once I calmed myself and just sat with my feeling, it was more manageable. She's gone. I can't undo or redo the past. I feel sad. But it's OK. I'll manage just fine.

Since then, a wave of sadness will wash over me from time to time, but it doesn't last long. We did our very best to be humane and to prevent Q's suffering; now I was doing my best to avoid any unnecessary suffering of my own.

I'm very thankful for the time she spent with us. RIP, Q!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Muscle building for older guys

Let me lead with a disclaimer: I'm not a personal trainer. Use this post as "food for thought," and run all ideas past a fitness professional and your doctor before making decisions about any rigorous exercise routine.

I share this information because it works for me and because clients have asked me to share it.

First, I've found that the most important thing is to start off with easy, light lifting and work up gradually. That way, over time, I came to understand what my 54 year-old body can tolerate. For example, I found out that I tolerate 2 weight lifting sessions a week; more than that, and I feel too tired, achy, and foggy headed. I also found that, if I go more than one week without lifting, I needed to work back into my routine slowly, starting with the lowest weights. (Several times when coming back from a longer layoff often due to a vacation, I pulled a muscle or tweaked my rotator cuff.) Finally, I need at least 2 days of rest in between weight-lifting days to recover, but 3 days work better.

Second, I recently aggravated some elbow tendinitis when I decided to use some twisting motions on a few dumb bell lifts (military and and chest). I saw some younger men doing these motions, presumably to work more muscles, particularly in the forearm. However, a few weeks after I started using these motions, I developed an achy elbow. So, for older weight lifters, I recommend not going below a 90 degree angle with your elbows when doing presses and keeping your wrist angled in the same direction, if possible, during the entire lift. In summary, the less twisting at the wrist and elbow, the better. 

Third, I found that my body can't tolerate most high-intensity techniques. (For example, when I pyramid, I pyramid down, not up. Also, I lift heavy weights slowly.) Following from that principle, I use a planned weight lifting technique called Periodization. This technique was developed in the Eastern Bloc countries in the late 80s for their Olympic weight lifters. The basic idea is to move from lower weights and higher repetitions to higher weights and lower repetitions.

So, start by dividing your workouts by body part. I have three weight-lifting workouts:
  1. Biceps, triceps, and forearms
  2. Shoulders, neck (traps), and back
  3. Legs, calves, and chest 
On one day of lifting, do one category (for example, biceps, triceps, and forearms). On your next lifting day, do the next category (shoulders, neck, and back). I do three sets but periodize only the first set, and I use mostly free weights. Pick a few exercises that leave you plenty of room to increase the weight over time (I plan two exercises for each body part, and I fill the rest of my routine with a few alternative exercises). So, I periodize a total of 6 exercises. Write down your lifting regime in a notebook, and bring your notebook to the gym with you.

Let's take a look at a possible schedule for a triceps pull-down (rope) exercise:
  • 15 repetitions at 40 lbs
  • 12 repetitions at 45 lbs
  • 10 repetitions at 50 lbs
  • 8 repetitions at 55 lbs
  • 6 repetitions at 60 lbs
Before scheduling your weights, make sure that you're fairly certain that these weights and repetitions are easily do-able. You can always move up quickly if they are way too easy. When you are finished, write down how many repetitions you managed to do. When you reach the weight for 6 repetitions, see if you can go past that and do more.

So, do one body-part category on every weight-lifting day, and increase the degree of difficult when you cycle back to a given body part. For example:
  1. During your arms routines, do 15 triceps rope-pull-down repetitions at 40 lbs for your first set. (Do what you can for the second and third sets.)
  2. Lift for your shoulders, neck, and back.
  3. Lift for your legs, calves, and chest.
  4. During your next arms routine, do 12 repetitions at 45 lbs.
This way, each body part gets plenty of time to recover, and you're increasing your weights gradually. Also, in a given week, you'll be lifting "heavy" on one body part and "lighter" on another, which overall taxes your body less.

If you find that you successfully lifted the heaviest weight only 6 times, then schedule your next period and increase all the weights by 5 lbs, as follows: 
  • 15 repetitions at 45 lbs
  • 12 repetitions at 50 lbs
  • 10 repetitions at 55 lbs
  • 8 repetitions at 60 lbs
  • 6 repetitions at 65 lbs
If you were able to do more than 6 repetitions on the heaviest weight, increase by more weight accordingly. For example, if you lifted the heaviest weight 10 times, then, on your next schedule might look like this instead:
  • 15 repetitions at 50
  • 12 repetitions at 55
  • 10 repetitions at 60 (because you were able to do this last time)
  • 8 repetitions at 65
  • 6 repetitions at 70 
Finally, nutrition matters. Probably the most important thing to do is to make sure that you're taking in enough protein. Once you've gotten your planned lifting in place, it's time to apply the formula: take in 75% of your lean (non fat) weight daily in grams of protein. 

So, I currently weigh approximately 215 lbs. I figure that my lean weight is probably close to 185 to 190 lbs. My protein intake should be approximately 140 grams of protein a day. A chicken breast is between 20 and 25 grams of protein. That's a lot of daily protein!

Here are specific nutrition tips:
  • I use a reduced cholesterol, whey-based protein that I get at a fitness nutrition store. (it was recommended that I not use soy-based protein, given its tendency to increase estrogen.) I usually drink two full-serving shakes a day, which give me 120 to 140 grams of protein. The rest I get in my regular meals.
  • Before every workout, unless I've eaten a meal recently, I eat something with some carbohydrates. I like eating a Kashi bar, which includes whole grains, some protein, and no high fructose corn syrup.
  • During every workout, I drink an energy drink that contains some Creatine.
  • I take daily Creatine supplements in capsule form (available from a fitness nutrition store).
  • I take an arginine based supplement to boost energy on the day I lift weights (available from a fitness nutrition store).
  • I take a daily supplement called Androbolix to boost my ability to build muscle (available from a fitness nutrition store).
Again, this is what works for me. Consult with your doctor and personal trainer to get expert consultation on what would be best for your nutritional needs and workout regime.

Also, as I mentioned in my recent update about my Belly Reduction Program, I take a break from all weight lifting and supplements during the first week of the month, and I use that as an aerobics-only week to reduce fat.

That's it! I hope you found some or all of this helpful.