JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Getting to know my family

Posted by on Dec 28, 2019

It feels a little like a Hallmark channel movie, the joy I feel as I wake up this morning. A few weeks ago, I wrote about preparing for the holidays emotionally to help you, not really knowing it was for me. But it wasn’t really about helping, it was a confession, a hidden essay about pain, disappointment, and longing, using the holidays as a scapegoat. Mette, my sweet Mette, after reading the blog about how much I hate the holidays, asked me when that started. We were on our evening walk, one of my favorite parts of the day, and as we walked, I searched for the answer. There is something about moving the body to help move the mind, explore thoughts, not let feelings take over a sitting frame, and just having more oxygen from breathing more. As it turns out, I started hating the holidays when we built our first farm. Ironic to have this amazing space and all those wonderful horses and feel trapped. Horses are 24/7 every week of every year. Most days, that is great, but on holidays, not so much. Staff can be tricky, and they have holiday needs, too. So, for the last twelve years or so, I have worked on Christmas day, taking care of the horses, allowing Mette to go home to be with her family since we moved to Florida. Being Jewish, I assumed that the holiday wasn’t as important to me as to her, but I was wrong. What I discovered yesterday was that it isn’t about Christmas or Hanukkah per se, but about the time with family that I was missing. I have two sisters and a brother, and I am number three, yes, a typical middle child. Holidays were a special time for us growing up and it was usually our house where the congregating occurred. My mom loved to cook and host, at least I think she did, because everyone always came to our house. It was fun and celebration, with fighting and drama as garnish, you know, the usual stuff. When it wasn’t a holiday, there was still fighting and drama, especially between my parents, causing the closeness of us kids to form more out of protection than affinity. Either way, it stuck, and my sisters have been the most important people for my whole life. Both of them living in our native Pittsburgh,...

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Missing the fourth quarter

Posted by on Dec 21, 2019

Me & Dad, circa 1990 “Most people miss the fourth quarter,” she lamented after returning from an emergency trip to help her father get out of the hospital. Mette and I both have fathers in the fourth quarter, maybe even nearing the two-minute drill. The sport reference is really from the game of football so if you have not watched a football game ever, it is not convoluted at all. There are four, fifteen-minute quarters, and there are two-minute warnings at the end of the second and fourth quarters to signify half-time and the end of the game. Play changes in the dramatic and desperate two-minute drills as teams push to accomplish in two minutes what they have failed to do in the previous thirteen. Quite the metaphor. The pace quickens, player pulses follow suit, immediately transferring to the crowd, and depending on the closeness and stakes of the game, sweat becomes a factor. Desperation changes performance. For some, they rise to the occasion and out-perform under the added pressure. For others, they fold, choke, make mistakes, miss opportunities, and decision-making becomes derailed. Pressure, oh pressure. Pressure changes the brain and therefore changes performance. How they have dealt with the pressure of thirteen minutes should be some indication as to how the two-minute drill will go, but rarely does one predict the other. I say this not from some statistic, because I have not seen anyone bother to analyze the performance in these cases, but from almost five decades of watching football. The excitement of the fourth quarter is the unpredictability of it, you never know what will happen and if you leave the stadium too soon, you might miss the best part. Mette is a physician and did family practice and geriatrics for a long time. She saw more fourth quarters and two-minute drills than anyone should. She would come home from days of loss and talk about the gain…how the body was now out of pain, how the patient waited for the adult child to arrive and say goodbye before letting go, how peaceful it was for them. She called her patients “my babies,” which always made me think of the saying, “Once grown, twice the child.” She knows. And Mette is rarely flippant with her words, especially the serious ones. A jokester at heart, her seriousness is borne from a deep understanding of not just the...

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How do you prepare for the holidays?

Posted by on Dec 14, 2019

It’s ironic that the “most wonderful time of the year” is also the most stressful. I watched the TED talk done by the man who sat in seat 1A on the flight that crashed on the Hudson. “Sully,” the captain, said three words as they descended in silent emergency, “Brace for impact.” The power of those words has never left me and when I feel especially worried, they seem to appear. When I worry about the holidays and the impending doom I fear I can’t control, I often think I, too, must brace for impact. As a psychologist, I sometimes feel the need to help others do the same. It is a conflict though, wondering if assuming or anticipating something negative helps to create it. Then, the cautious shrink, the one that hammers preparation, quickly bats the ball back over the net. Preparation is critical in each and every area of life. In performance, it is the key; you don’t just perform well consistently or over time without preparation. Sure, there are the one-off’s or happenstances, but to be intentional or reliable in your performance, preparation is the deal. As much as we don’t want to think about bad or negative things happening, how do we prepare for it while not forcing it to happen? It is a stressful time in general. The world is experiencing a kind of uncertainty that is unusual and incredibly disruptive. We have a division in our country not seen since we were only 34 states and less than one hundred years into this experiment of democracy. This division is frequently seen inside of families, with members falling on opposite sides of the fence. Add this to the “normal” family issues and Houston, we have a problem. Being defensive, or offensive in the sense of moving with offense, not “offending” someone, seem to be our only options. Finding middle ground feels impossible for some reason, perhaps because everything is so incredibly emotional. Even if your family all reside on the same side of the fence, someone you know or love doesn’t, and navigating that creates stress. Even the simple act of turning on the news or opening up an app on your phone can send your heart rate past comfort and release all kinds of stress hormones. When your body is in a stress-reaction mode, very little good can come from it. So, what...

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Underappreciated Joy

Posted by on Dec 7, 2019

Ah, the good ol’ days One of my best friends is in recovery. Let me define recovery here so we are all talking about the same thing. Jane, not her real name of course, is recovering from her life. Makes me think perhaps we all are. As a matter of fact, the more I watch her navigate her life, the more I’m convinced we are all in need of recovering from something. She is a marvel to watch, not just because I care so deeply for her, but because of the gusto with which she is facing her life. She is all-in on her life now, as if her life depends upon it. Funny how easy it is to live without being “all-in,” it actually had not occurred to me as possible until I watched Jane. The brain seeks the path of least resistance, always, this is science. What is the easiest, fastest, least energy-consuming way to get from point A to point B? If the brain had a motto, that would be it: survive by using the least amount of energy possible because you might need it to run from the Sabre tooth tiger in the tree someday. Save your energy, save yourself. Lazy is the norm based on the design of the brain. We are meant to be rather ordinary, actually. Wishing this came as more of a relief, I wonder what happened? The concept of “recovery” was a center piece at the corporate training company I used to work for. But it was all about energy recovery, not addiction or even surgical. How do we recover energy after spending it all so we can get up and do it again tomorrow? We have gotten quite good at spending energy, you know, the whole do-do-do thing and our endless “to-do” lists. Being exhausted is a badge of honor in the corporate, or any other world, now. “I’m so exhausted,” could be the theme song, well, for me, too. I have been “exhausted” for years now, how long have you been exhausted? I don’t think I know anyone who isn’t, my sixteen-year-old niece included. I was with her a month ago and was shocked by how tired she says she is all the time. I tried to remember what it was like for me when I was sixteen, a sophomore in high school, bored to tears, and having...

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Thanks…grieving

Posted by on Nov 30, 2019

For those of you that love the holidays, this is not for you. This is for the silent, or not-so-silent holiday sufferers, the ones who “closet” their disappointment, disdain, and dread of the holidays, carrying on as if they were like all the others, either loving or pretending to love the holidays. Dark, I know, but honest. Each year, I try to remember two things: what it was like to love the holidays, and when I lost that lovin’ feeling. Then, I count the days until January 2nd. It’s hard to trace and even harder to define. I find holidays and anniversaries a bit silly in general, but maybe that is just me. Why is it that we need a national holiday to connect to and express our gratitude? Have we become that ungrateful? Umm, yes. I think back to holidays as a child and they are nothing like the experience today. Again, I wonder if that is because of my innocent and unexperienced childhood psyche, you know, the one that wanted to find everything wonderful. Or, because things were decidedly simpler then and family feuds and fusses were had in person, on the phone, and later, via answering machine. Now, we text nasty, divisive notes to the ones we love, able to deliver at all times of day or night, to express our need to be heard and be right. It wouldn’t surprise me if civility is to be taken out of the dictionary soon…like so many other words that have literally lost their meaning. Thursday, I received a dozen text messages wishing me a happy Thanksgiving. Some from family, some being the only connection I had with that part of my family. Some from people I haven’t seen or heard from in months or even years. With each stranger’s text, I wondered if I was just part of the scrolling through the contacts obligatory or guilt-removing moment for the season. A part of me resents the intrusion on my day; the return obligation to celebrate something I loathe celebrating. I have no desire to play this game of Thanksgiving tag, but I do it anyway, because in truth, I care about them. A part of me appreciates the connection and a part of me resents it. The ire is confusing. I am not usually offended by a random or infrequent text, however, if it takes a holiday...

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