Monthly Archives: September 2010

therapy, 9-28-10

Well, therapy this week continued right where we left off last Tuesday.

It was like I never left …

Last week I ended with- “Well, now I feel like I can’t bring anger into the room, which makes me angry.” And this week I began with- “I’m angry.”

I explained to Mr. J., my therapist, that I felt hurt because he didn’t listen to me last week. In our previous session, he made me angry because he changed the subject while I was in the middle of dealing with some difficult feelings, and he concluded that anger arose because the session was difficult for me–because I was trying to avoid something, in other words. I tried to explain that my anger was just anger but he didn’t listen.

He immediately apologized for not listening (which seemed sincere). I felt a lot better, and we moved on.

It’s interesting (and ironic, I guess) that I started going to therapy to get help with my relationships, and yet in the beginning of our session yesterday, we had to work on our relationship. A part of me thinks that was just a waste of time, but another part thinks that it’s great those feelings came up because my relationship with my therapist is a microcosm of how I view the world.

Once I become content with myself in therapy, and with our relationship, those feelings should extend to all my relationships.

***

Afterward, I told J. about my weekend (see the camping post, if interested), and we chose to look deeper at what’s behind my desire to keep my girlfriend away from my friends.

I’m very uncomfortable with my girlfriend connecting (or cathecting, as J. put it) with my friends, because in a past relationship my girlfriend “stole” one of my friends after we broke up–that is, for whatever reason, my friend stopped being friends with me (who I was friends with first) but kept hanging out with my ex. So I’m afraid this will happen again, and so my solution is to keep my girlfriend away from my friends, which is hard for me to do because she’s my “safe” person, so she ends up hanging out with most of my friends, and because she’s fun and outgoing and interesting (and I’m not) this makes me very uncomfortable (did I say that already?).

Why would so and so want to be friends with me when they can be friends with her–someone infinitely more interesting?

What’s more, I don’t have very many friends, and so I’m very protective of the ones I have, and I keep them at a distance because I’m afraid if they get too close, they’ll see the real me and then run the other way. Because of this I don’t have true relationships with them, and the relationships are very fragile.

“I don’t understand this behavior,” I told J. “I really want real friendships; I don’t like having to cling to my girlfriend all the time, but I just can’t seem to let my guard down. What can I do?”

“It’s simple,” he said. “Develop a relationship with yourself. Relationships come and go; the only constant is your relationship with yourself.”

If I can develop an inner relationships (sounds easy, right?) I will have stability in life no matter what comes my way, and the real me will open up. My friends will see this and will connect more with me.

Okay, sounds great. How do I do that?

“You’re doing it right now,” J. said. “We’re doing it together, you and I. I give you the space to be yourself–the real you, whatever that may be in the moment–in here, while you slowly open up to yourself. It’s a lifetime of work, but it’s necessary because you can’t have happiness and joy in your life if you don’t have affinity for yourself.”

“That’s too abstract,” I said. “It has no practical meaning for me now, in
the present. I don’t know what to do”

“You’re doing it.”

We sat in silence for some time.

“I know that you feel vulnerable and exposed in here,” he said breaking the silence, “but all I really see is a man trying to develop a relationship with himself. That’s all.”

“I feel like I’m twelve years old,” I said.

“You feel like you need someone to look up to and to take care of you?”

Yes. And I didn’t have anybody there–emotionally speaking–when I was twelve, but I do now–I have myself.

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my perfectionism

  1. Internal: I hold myself to ridiculously high standards
  2. External: I hold others to ridiculously high standards
  3. Social: I believe others are holding me to ridiculously high standards

If I had to guess, I’d say that most people suffering from social anxiety can probably relate to at least the first and the third types of perfectionism. We think people are judging us, and so we hold ourselves to an even higher standard. We really just want to fit in, even if it’s not right for us.

For example (and this is an example of the first type of perfectionism), I have this idea of what “normal” is. It’s having friends and a job and a relationship–and balancing (perfectly, of course) my days with each of them. In this ideal, I go to work in the morning, talk to friends on my breaks and maybe see one after work, and then go home to my girlfriend or wife for dinner. All the while, being social, enjoying myself, and keeping busy. After dinner, we hang out in front of the TV, or we browse Facebook, or we go out with friends. This is how “normal” people go about their day. It’s jammed full of one social event after another.

I don’t want to live like this (and I can’t), but to a certain degree, I hold myself to that ideal because I want to fit in. I think I should be living that life, and since I’m not and maybe never will, I feel like shit all the time.

I hold myself to impossible standards I don’t even want to begin with.

This type of perfectionism is not limited just to social events; once it became a part of my life, it multiplied itself exponentially, touching everything–what I major in in college, what I do with my life, what type of food I eat, etc. What’s more, our consumption-driven society exasperates my perfectionism, as well: we’re affected by so much–bombard with so many different advertisements, so many different people telling us what we should buy and who we should be–it’s almost impossible to make any decisions without outside influence–and that influence is what influences my standards.

Even though in some cases I’ve made decisions for me, I think most of the time, I’m conforming to the standards of society. Whether I like it or not, I’ve always just wanted to fit in. I just want to be a statistic, lost in the crowd.

Further, I’ve missed out on a lot of social development, and my peers seem adept at certain things that I struggle at. They can smile when someone says hello. They can make small talk. They can laugh and joke. I can’t keep up with them. They’re perfect, and I’m not. I really need to go through like a social skills training program or something.

With regard to the third type of perfectionism, I feel like I have to conform to everyone’s standards. I have to be everything to everyone. I can never be me.

In fact, I don’t really know who I am anymore. I’ve gone through life trying to please others so much, I’ve forgotten who I really am. I’m lost in various characters and roles–roles I can’t really portray because they’re not really me. No wonder I’m anxious: I’m trying to be something I’m not. But who am I? If I strip away the labels (anxious, depressed etc.) and the roles I conform to, there’s nothing left because I’ve forgotten who I really am. There’s probably just a scared sixteen year old waiting for his mother to come back. Waiting for someone to take care of him (me) again.

As for the second type of perfectionism, I wouldn’t think many people suffering from socially anxiety can relate to it–but I really don’t know. I can relate because after I get passed the first and third types, I start judging others.

When I start feeling comfortable in relationships the judgments come out. This doesn’t happen very often, as I don’t feel comfortable with very many people. Parents, psychologists, girlfriends, to name a few. … Actually, let me rephrase: my mom, my current psychologist, and my current girlfriend. That’s it. Those are the people I judge. When they don’t live up to my expectations–usually the expectations I set for myself–I get angry. Some of it is projecting, and some of it is just me being pretentious.

I sometimes wonder if I actually did live up to my expectations more, would I be more pretentious? Would I just hold everybody to the standards and ideals I think everyone should live up to?

Sorry, I know this post is all over the place; I should revise because it’s not up to my standards … but then again, maybe I shouldn’t …

yesterday’s google searches …

… and my responses …

social anxiety can’t smile

I hear you on this. Smiling can be really, really hard, especially for photographs.

For photos I get really anxious beforehand because I’m worried how they’ll turn out, and this anxiety, in turn, makes it almost impossible to relax and smile. So I avoid them at all costs. I use excuses like “I’m the least photogenic person” or “I’m camera shy” to get out of them. I think people think I’m weird when I say things like that.

The only time I really feel comfortable when taking pictures is when I’m wearing sunglasses. I hold a lot of my pain and anxiety in my eyes, and I can pretty much cover the anxiety up everywhere else but there. My eyes don’t lie.

As far as smiling when you greet someone: just do what you can. You don’t need to produce a full smile. Just curl the corners of your mouth up a bit.

Make it look like you want to smile.

i lied to my girlfriend about my past

Everybody has things they want to hide from their past, and I think it’s not good to reveal things too quickly with someone. Our partners don’t need to know every little detail about everything.

With that said, I’m guessing you probably covered up something big, because otherwise you wouldn’t be searching for advice on Google. I don’t think it’s ever too late to open up and confess a lie. I’ve definitely had to make some difficult confessions. They were really hard, but I felt so much better afterward. You’d be surprised how forgiving people can be.

Give this some thought. How important is your girlfriend to you? Is she someone you can trust? Has she been there for you?

Again, everybody keeps some things tightly wrapped up. I’m afraid of my past, but it’s always there, guiding me in the present. You can’t run from it. But if it’s too painful you can cover it up. You probably had a good reason to lie. Maybe you were ashamed. Maybe you thought your girlfriend wouldn’t want to be with you anymore. If she really is important to you and you can trust her, I would open up to her. You’ll feel a lot better.

does cyclothymia get better?

This is an interesting question and one that isn’t easy for me to answer. I’ve been managing the disorder a long time (and it’s been pretty bad for at least the last year), but I just got the diagnosis a few weeks ago. So not only am I not qualified to answer this, but I don’t have much experience with it either.

But I’ve still got an opinion.

The question really is: Is Cyclothymia a mood disorder or a psychological disorder? If it’s the former then it’s more of a chemical imbalance that should be treated with medication. If it’s the latter it should be treated with psychotherapy. But let’s not think in absolutes because the world never ever works like that. Let’s just say it’s both. Meaning: There’s probably some chemical imbalance that’s been exasperated by our experiences; thus, a combination of drugs and therapy should be used to manage it.

I use the word manage because I don’t think it will ever go away. Yes, things can get better, but I don’t believe mood swings will ever disappear.

I mean, it’s okay to feel sad sometimes, and it’s okay to feel happy and euphoric sometimes, too. As long as you are somewhat content with the swings and they don’t control your life, the disorder is manageable.

I’m not there yet, and it may take a while for me to get to that point, but I’m hopeful (when I’m feeling good, at least) that I’ll be able to get there.

Some day.

camping

I went camping in Big Basin over the weekend with a friend (Ms. M), my girlfriend, her brother, and two of his friends. It was rough weekend.

I hadn’t seen Ms. M. for quite some time, and, honestly, I think that my girlfriend connects more with her than I do at this point. But since I have very few friends, I’m very protective of the ones I have, so I’ve tried to keep my girlfriend and Ms. M. somewhat apart. (Which is a separate issue altogether.) Anyway, I rode down with her on Saturday, and it didn’t go well.

I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to somewhat reconnect with her. I had to say the right things. I had to be funny, witty, and interesting. I put so much pressure on myself and I worked myself up so much beforehand that I had to take something. I wanted to take an Ativan, but I took Propranolol by mistake. All my pills are getting mixed up because I have to cut them and I keep all of the cut halves together, in the pill cutter.

Mental note: pink = Ativan, round and white = Propranolol, triangle = Lamictal. Or maybe that’s pink = Propranolol, round = … ?

Anyhow, I didn’t live up to my expectations on the car ride. I didn’t always say the right things (I never do), and I wasn’t funny enough or witty enough or even interesting (I never am, never am, never am); and thus, I was very anxious throughout the ride. I think the second I got in the car in fact, I just wanted to be somewhere else. It was a different kind of hell being in that car with her, but it was still hell.

When we got to the campground, I stopped worrying about conversing with Ms. M. and started worrying about meeting my girlfriend’s brother’s girlfriend and her friend. They arrived with my girlfriend a day earlier. I was actually supposed to go with them but I avoided it, opting instead to ride with Ms. M. on Saturday.

Once I got through the formal introductions (which I think I’m great at)–

  • To my girlfriend’s brother’s girlfriend: “It’s nice to meet you.” (Smile, shake hand.)
  • To my girlfriend’s brother: “It’s nice to see you again. (Smile, shake hand.)
  • To my girlfriend’s brother’s girlfriend’s friend: “It’s nice to meet you.” (Smile, shake hand.)
  • To my girlfriend: “I missed you.” (Smile, hug, kiss.)

–I didn’t know what to do, what to say, or how to act. I wanted so much to make a good impression, but I really just sat there at the picnic table while everybody else conversed. I didn’t need to be there. Nobody cared.

After a quick breakfast, Ms. M., my girlfriend, and I went to Santa Cruz so they could register for the triathlon. I wasn’t in it but I wasn’t about to stay behind with the others. On the drive into town, I sat in the back, while my girlfriend and Ms. M. conversed, while I consciously told myself I wasn’t going to compete with them (or anyone) to say things: instead, I’ll just be quiet until there’s an opening. What that really meant: I just won’t talk and feel like shit because I’m not talking. I just stared out the window, wondering how I’d get through the weekend and why I was there to begin with. They acknowledged me once during the whole ride, commenting about how quiet I was.

I didn’t need to be there.

Back at the campground, I avoid conversation by taking a nap–and by that I mean I pretended to. I stayed awake, hoping that someone would say something bad about me so I could confirm my suspicion that I am a piece of shit. It didn’t happen, though, but then again, no one seemed to mind that I wasn’t around. I got up around 5:00 to help make dinner.

After dinner we all sat around the fire talking–everybody except me, that is. I didn’t say much to anyone the rest of the night.

Put simple, I felt very depressed throughout the day. But was my depression caused by my anxiety, or was it a mood swing? Probably both. I binged on Friday night and felt like shit (even more depressed) in the morning, and I think I went into the weekend feeling depressed, because of a mood swing, and then that depression made it even more difficult to engage socially, which, in turn, brought me down even further.

I barely slept that night, but I woke up on Sunday feeling a lot better. My girlfriend and Ms. M. left early for the triathlon, while I stayed behind to help the others pack up the campground. I ended up staying with them most of the day, watching the triathlon. I never really felt comfortable but I got by.

Pic of the athletes warming up:

I love watching endurance events because everyone gets so emotional. At the end of the race, I hung out by myself watching the runners cross the finish line. Some laughed. Some cried. Some shouted. Each one evoked emotion inside of me, and I started crying at one point. It was therapeutic.

When my friend crossed the finish line I gave her a big hug. I felt the connection between us. It felt good.

On the ride home, my elevated mood rose even higher. I couldn’t stop talking. What’s more, I was witty and funny and interesting and felt no anxiety, and I didn’t really want to say goodbye.

Overall, Sunday was a much different day than Saturday. On Saturday I felt so depressed I couldn’t converse with anyone, and during the night I felt suicidal. I didn’t feel even the least bit depressed on Sunday. I sought out social situations and spoke up rather than hide.

I hope others didn’t notice this swing.

Finally, I want to end with some positive thinking. I don’t think my girlfriend’s brother’s girlfriend liked me very much. I don’t really know why I think this, but I could just sense it. She didn’t really talk to me much and when she did it felt forced and she gave me some funny looks. I know it could be anything, but I’m interpreting it negatively. Interestingly, I feel somewhat okay with that–I’m not a bad person because someone doesn’t like me. There isn’t something inherently wrong with me because someone doesn’t like me. I don’t need to change something every time I come across someone who doesn’t like me.

Rinse. Repeat.

I hope everyone’s day went well, and I hope this good mood of mine lasts for a few more days!

Poland, part 1

n 2005 I met a girl, fell into a relationship, and abandoned all my friends. I couldn’t handle maintaining the friendships because of my anxiety (and my issues with constancy), and besides, I had a girlfriend who took care of all my needs. Why would I need anybody else? My friends thought otherwise, and they kept calling me–wanting me to hang out, wondering where I’d disappeared to. I never answered their calls, but they just kept on calling. I felt guilt and shame and regret and remorse. I just wanted them all to go away. I needed a clean break–and one finally came. Poland.

After living together for only three months, my girlfriend and I decided to study abroad together. She’d lived in Hungary for a year with her family and really enjoyed many parts of Eastern Europe. I didn’t care where we went–I just wanted to get away. We … err she chose Poland, and we left in January of 2006. I told almost no one. Finally. I got the break I needed. I left everything behind, hoping I could start over.

In the weeks before moving, I pictured my girlfriend and I only spending time with each other when we were there. I knew there would be other Americans there, but I didn’t want to get to know them. My girlfriend had other ideas, though. She wanted to connect with others and make the most of her experience abroad. So in those first few days in Poland, my girlfriend hung out with others and made friends while I stayed hidden in my dorm room. I cried a lot. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to feel comfortable talking to others. I wanted so badly to be anybody but myself. My depression coupled with the terrible weather meant I barely left the dorms. I don’t remember much from those first few weeks, but I do remember taking a lovely stroll downtown braving the cold and the fog and the snow and the slush–

This hiding continued for about two weeks, ending when I decided to escape again by running home. At the time my mom was going through chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer, and so I told everybody I was extremely upset about her cancer–which was partially true–and I fled back home. Finally. I could relax again. But right when I got home, the depression hit again. I felt like a failure. I just wanted to go back. Things will be different, I told myself. I’ll be different. I booked my plane ticket back to Poland the very same day I landed home in Kansas City.

My time at home was hard. I slept late. I sat around watching TV and playing video games. I cried. My parents didn’t know how to help because they didn’t know what was wrong with me. My dad ignored me altogether, but my mom confronted me one day, asking me why I came home. I said I didn’t know. I wanted so badly to open up to her and tell her all the things bothering me. But I didn’t. I passed up another opportunity to connect with a family member.

On the plane ride back to Poland I promised myself I would be someone different. I would make connections. I would be popular. This of course didn’t happen. I spent the rest of my time in Poland miserable, hiding in my room, planning out how things would be different when I got back to America. Now I honestly don’t remember much from the remainder of my time there. I can tell you that it was hard. I can tell you I felt depressed. I can tell you I felt like dying. Beyond that, though, there’s only some flashes here and there. I’m not going to detail them … yet. I may come back to this someday and fill in what I remember or start a new post or something. But right now, I’m exhausted. I can’t think about this anymore.

I added another part–Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

Poland, part 2; or: the socially anxious traveler

disordered eating

Well I broke two of my rules this week: No more than one post per day and five posts per week. This is my third post today and my sixth this week–and there’s still two more days left in the week.

I’ll keep this short.

After my second post today, I felt really anxious. I immediately went home, downed .5 mg of Ativan, and watched Curb Your Enthusiasm with my girlfriend. I felt a little better afterward so I came back up to the library to work on schoolwork. My anxiety was no where near as bad as it was earlier, but I felt much more depressed.

I’m not sure where those feelings were coming from.

I think stirring up a lot of emotions from my post earlier didn’t help. Plus I’m going camping this weekend with my girlfriend, her brother, and some friends. I may have to call a friend later to coordinate a ride. I’m feeling pretty anxious about all that. Oh and I also increased my dose of Lamictal from 12.5 to 25 mg.

Anyway, I left the library around 5:00 and binged. Super burrito. 28 oz of ice cream. Plus a handful of kale. (I need my veggies, too.) I also drank a beer. I probably shouldn’t have drank because I took an Ativan earlier. Oh well.

That’s two binges this week. At what point does disordered eating become an eating disorder?

No more than one post per day and five posts per week

changing beliefs

My beliefs about myself and about the world have significantly changed over the past few years. But why hasn’t that lead to any significant changes? Why is my thinking still so irrational during social situations? Why is change so slow? In theory, I know I’m fine. I know I’m smart and I know I can carry on a conversation and I know I’m fairly attractive. In action though (when I’m in the midst of a social situation) I tell myself I’m an ugly idiot who can’t engage socially with others. There’s a huge disparity in how I look at myself in the comfort of my apartment or even in therapy (objectivity) versus when I’m in the middle of a group social situation (subjectivity).

I want to look at some examples. I’ll start with a belief about myself I know is true when I’m not in an anxious social situation, and then I’ll counter it with what I believe in a social situation (in bold).

  1. I am not ugly. I may not have been the best looking during my formative years, but I’ve changed. I no longer have bad acne or an under bite. People are staring at my jaw. They can see my under bite. I wish I didn’t have these scars from acne. Why do people always have to just stare at me? What can they see that I can’t?
  2. I’m intelligent, witty, funny, and interesting to talk to. People don’t want to hear what I have to say. They’ll laugh and think my opinions are stupid. I just won’t say anything at all. But I really want to say something. Maybe if I just say some joke really quickly that will be enough. Why can’t I just feel calm and relaxed and speak about myself like everyone else. Why can’t I be witty and funny like everyone else?
  3. Nobody is inherently better than me. Some people may be better at some things than I am, but I’m better at some other things. Everybody has their own strengths and weaknesses–that’s what makes us human. These people are beautiful and perfect. They have no flaws that I can see. All my flaws are exposed. People can see them. I can’t hide. They can see right through me.
  4. People are not talking about me behind my back. They are not laughing at me. They do not have a secret system setup (of glances, of nods) to subtly communicate with one other about me. People are talking about me, telling one other how awkward and stupid I am. They are also laughing about me. What else could be so funny? At the very least, everyone is having negative thoughts about me.

There’s more but I have to stop there. This is too hard for me.

So what’s going on here? If I truly believe my thoughts outside of social situations, then they should carry over into social situations. Why don’t I believe them? It’s because I tell myself that no matter what I’m going to fail. It doesn’t matter what I believe. It doesn’t matter how smart or funny I am–I’m going to fail. But I don’t think just changing those thoughts will help. I can’t just say, “I’ll be fine in this situation” or “I’m going to wake up tomorrow and not feel anxious.”

The work has to be done on changing my beliefs, but I need to have the overall belief that those changes will help–which I don’t have.

I think that changing beliefs works like this–

I state my irrational belief, then state a rational (counter) belief, and then hopefully a synthesis will occur: where I pick the truth from each belief, and hopefully that will change my overall belief to a more positive one. Once the belief has changed, I then test that belief in a social situation. So far, my new beliefs haven’t stuck and so I go right back to my old beliefs. But maybe, somewhere deep within, my beliefs have shifted a bit, and eventually the new beliefs will become set. It just takes practice and a lot of time to change–both of which I don’t feel like I have.

***

By the way, when I started writing this post I felt good. I felt calm and collected. Now I just feel terrible. I’m extremely anxious, and I feel depressed. Stirring up these thoughts hasn’t done me any good. Hopefully in the long run this blog will help, but right now, in the present, it’s doing more harm than good.