Sunday, January 31, 2010

Waiting for the Life You Envision

Growing up, I had a general timeline in mind – a vision of what I assumed my life would look like as I aged and how I would feel over the course of the years. I imagined going to college, meeting life-long friends and making memories, working my dream job, falling in love with “The One,” and eventually having a family. I thought that this would all happen in an orderly manner, similar to the predictability of a Disney movie storyline.

As a teenager, I reasoned that an event would occur, such as going to college, which would effectively signal the start of my personal Disney storyline. I recall being in high school and seeing college kids who had returned home for the holidays. They seemed so much older and wiser. However, when I went off to college, I pretty much felt the same as I had in high school. Since college didn’t seem to be the event that triggered the start of my timeline, I suspected that graduation would signal the start of my Disney story. Again, I didn’t feel much difference having earned a bachelor’s degree and I certainly didn’t feel like I was following my timeline.

Shortly thereafter, I was reflecting on the numerous events that had taken place in my life that I had not envisioned as part of my timeline and I realized that while I was waiting for my storyline to begin, my life was already happening. My timeline had begun a long time ago, but I’d had difficulty recognizing this because my life wasn’t exactly how I’d envisioned it would be. With this new understanding, I was able let go of my preexisting timeline and I became much more accepting of the path that my life had taken. I had been so preoccupied by the milestones on my timeline that had yet to occur that I’d completely disregarded the events that had happened, such as going to college. Since I spent so much time waiting for my timeline to begin and a lot of time thinking about what hadn’t happened, I wasn’t focused on what was currently going on in my life. I’ve found that focusing on and staying present takes practice.

With the beginning of a new year, I encourage you to reflect back on all that’s taken place during the prior twelve months. Note the twists and turns that veered far from the familiarity and safety of any preexisting timeline. Think about events that did not meet your expectations. Without judging yourself and your decisions, contemplate what you might have done differently. Then, let stressful incidents melt into your memory and appreciate each as a learning experience. Try, also, to let go of any preconceived notions for the New Year. Instead of dwelling on the past or waiting for the future, focus on appreciating where you are currently. This will allow for greater understanding and acceptance of where your unique path has brought you up to this very point in time.


Katherine Anson, MA, LPC

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Road Trip, Anyone?

Many people have an activity or a ritual that they find relaxing, therapeutic, etc. This could be anything from sitting in a bubble bath to sky diving. Recently a friend of mine mentioned that she had engaged in an activity that she found surprisingly relaxing: a good old fashioned road trip. She said, “It felt as good as going to therapy!” With the tough economic times and the holidays around the corner, this year many people are traveling by car to see loved ones. The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be chaotic, but that does not mean the journey to your holiday destination also has to be stressful. Below are some ideas on how to make that holiday road trip a more enjoyable one.

As In Life, Know Your Destination (Keep it Attainable)

I know a couple who are both teachers and they enjoy camping. Every summer they pack up their car and set out to an undetermined destination. They bring their gear and an atlas and set out on the open road wondering where their next stop will be. I think this couple’s story is a unique case, one that may give some people anxiety or make another person very happy. One variable this couple has in their favor is time. I would imagine many people have a limited amount of time on how long they can travel for the holidays. They would like to make the most of their winter break. With that being the case, before setting out for a road trip it is best to know the destination and how to get there. If the destination and the route are pre-determined, it will help alleviate some stress while traveling. As in life, deciding what the goal is can be the first step in determining which “road” to take. The more tools a person has (an atlas, GPS, directions, etc) the less chance they have of getting lost. If there is a detour in the road, he/she will be better prepared to continue on his/her journey .This can also be similar in life, when setting out to complete a goal it can be easier to achieve if a person has the “tools” of a strong support system, a relaxed state of mind, etc. to help meet his/her goal.

Keeping a road trip destination attainable was a subject my husband and I learned early on in our relationship. We realized our average limit of being in the car together was three hours although since then it has been stretched to eight to ten hours depending on how exciting the destination is (i.e., Yankee Stadium, Grand Canyon). There have been times starting out on a road trip where my excitement clouds my thinking into believing sixteen hours in the car is possible for one day. On the other hand, there are some road warriors out there who may not think twice about being in the car for half the day. This philosophy can also be applied when it comes to setting life goals; sometimes breaking down a long term goals into a handful of short term goals feels more realistic and less overwhelming. My point is to know what feels reasonable and comfortable for the length of the road trip destination to avoid burn out before you reach your halfway point. (Some people spend half their day in the car and the idea of a road trip sounds dreadful, this is when we are thankful for airplanes). I have discovered the more excited I am about a trip the longer I may feel comfortable in the car. The comfort of a road trip may also depend on the company with you in the car.

Travel Companions: Friends or Foes?

My friend (who I mentioned at the beginning of this post) said one of the reasons her road trip was an enjoyable one was because of who was with her in her car: her boyfriend of five years. She said the last few weeks before the road trip were really busy for her because she finishing up graduate school. She and her boyfriend had hardly seen each other. The road trip gave them a chance to really talk without any distractions; the hardest decision of the day was picking out an audio CD. This is an example of how a road trip can help you escape the monotony of everyday life and spend quality time with loved ones.

Not everyone has experienced pleasant road trips; I have heard some traveling horror stories (i.e. driving in a packed mini van with the in-laws during a snowstorm). Travel vehicles are tight quarters and they may seem even smaller when traveling with a less than ideal companion. This flashes me back to a time when my family and I were taking a road trip to Myrtle Beach. Before we were even out of the driveway, my sister and I “drew” an imaginary line down the middle of the back seat to “mark” the territory the other person could not cross. Am I suggesting the next time you are on road trip with your mother-in-law you tell her she cannot cross over the middle seat? No. It may be nice to be accommodating to all travelers (including yourself). Try taking turns being co-pilot, choosing radio stations, picking lunch spots, etc. This may improve the less than ideal travel conditions if everyone can pick something they find comforting while in the car. You may find yourself in a similar situation in life, working with people you do not particular care for or family members that drive you nuts. This is an example of trying to make the most of a situation by doing some compromising. This brings me to the next topic. If you do not have an ideal travel companion at least you can have cool accessories to help make the trip more tolerable.

Road Trip Necessities: Pleasant Conversation, Soulful Tunes, and A Book on CD……..

As I mentioned above, there are many “tools” to help make a road trip more enjoyable. My family and I would play a game similar to the Book of Questions. We would each take a turn asking each other life questions.

· What would you do if you won the lottery (my mom’s favorite)?

· If you could invite four people (dead or living) to your dinner party, who would they be?

· If you had to listen/watch to the same song (movie, TV show) the rest of your life, what would it be?

· Would you rather be invisible or have the ability to fly?

· If you were stranded on a desert island what five things what would you want with you? Which five people?

· If there was a movie about your life, who would you cast to play you?

I think if we would have attempted this game at home, it would not have lasted as long. Some one may get up from the table or would have to be somewhere else. Since we were stuck in the car together for a lengthy amount of time, it forced us to get creative. We also had an opportunity to get to know each other on a different level. Without playing this game, I am not sure if I would have known that my dad would like to dine with Abraham Lincoln. The next time you are on a road trip, try turning down the radio and turning up the conversation. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

I will also confess that my musical tastes have been expanded, thanks to our family road trips. I know many words to songs from Les Miserables, Phantom of the Opera, Miss Saigon, etc. My mom would always explain the stories and messages behind the musicals before we listened to the soundtracks so we had a better understanding of the music. I would bet my bottom dollar I would have left the room or turned up my Walkman (I was born in the 70s) if my mom or dad would have put those tunes on at home. To prevent show tunes overload, each family member would be given a chance to play their own music (as long as it did not blow out the speakers or mention profanity). Needless to say, my parents benefited from this rule. This can also be done with audio CD’s. My friend who had the positive road trip experience said that she and her boyfriend picked out a bunch of audio CDs of books they have been meaning to read. She said it was a great way to catch up on their reading and a chance to discuss the book with someone.

Taking the Road Less Traveled

I noticed a common theme when I am in the car; I am always trying to get to my destination as fast as I can. As I mentioned in the second paragraph, road trips can be much more enjoyable when time is on your side. Also, I do not consider sitting in traffic on the Kennedy for two and half hours a road trip even though it may take the same amount of time. The last road trip my husband and I were on was from Phoenix to Flagstaff, AZ. It was recommended to me by a fellow intern that if time allowed we should take the (longer) scenic route through Sedona, AZ. We were pressed for time to make a family party, but we decided to take the suggestion. See the picture below of what we would have missed if we took the faster route. Being on this mini road trip helped me to stop and slow down and to “smell the roses”, by taking in the gorgeous scenery. In the future, I hope I can apply this philosophy to other areas of my life.

DISCLAIMER: I am not suggesting a road trip is a substitute for therapy. I think a road trip can be an enlightening experience.

Kristy Hatch is a practicum intern student at The Awakening Center. She co-leads the ANAD support group on Tuesday evenings & can be reached at (773) 929-6262 x 12.