Monthly Archives: October 2010

reiteration

I want to go over something I briefly touched on earlier this week. In the post life means suffering, I said–

When I’m anxious it’s very difficult for me to smile, and as a result I look serious or angry or mean. Ironically, inside I’m terrified. I just want people to like me. The response I got from Ms. D reinforced my anxiety, and it was appropriate given my comment and how I looked. I really shouldn’t take it personally, because she’s responding to my social anxiety not my true personality, but I still do.

Essentially, I felt like I got criticized by Ms. D, my girlfriend’s half-sister, and I took it personally. But when I took a step back and analyzed it a little more objectively, I felt like she was attacking my anxiety, not my true self.

This is important because I take everything personally. When a co-worker’s having a bad day and doesn’t smile at me, it must be because I didn’t smile at him first. When a friend’s angry at someone else but he takes it out on me, it must be because I did something wrong. When a librarian is aggravated because she is busy and gets pulled from her schedule to meet me, she must not like me. When I’m with an acquaintance and there’s an awkward moment of silence between us, it’s because I’m boring and don’t know what to say. Whenever something goes wrong, it’s my fault because there’s something deeply wrong with me.

None of those are my fault, none mean there’s something wrong with me. They’re just negative situations which can be interpreted in a number of different ways, and more often than not, I find the negatives: it’s my fault and they don’t like me, personally.

Awareness is key. When someone negatively judges me, real or imagined, because of how I act when I’m flooded with anxiety, they aren’t attacking me personally–they’re attacking the anxiety.

***

Have a great weekend, and enjoy Halloween–if you have/celebrate that.

life means suffering

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therapy and medication

My therapist doesn’t get it. Or maybe it’s I who isn’t getting it? I told him on Tuesday that I struggle through so many simple things most people take for granted, like saying hello, or making small-talk after saying hello, saying goodbye, shaking hands, smiling, playing with children ..

His response: “You went to an interview. Did you shake hands? Did you make small-talk? Did you smile? Did you say goodbye?”

I nodded several times.

“So, you showed up and engaged socially,” he said. “You were there–that’s the most important thing–and it sounds like it went well.”

I usually show up to things. I usually make small-talk. I usually smile. I usually shake hands, hello and goodbye. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I don’t feel comfortable doing any of those things. The problem is that I feel like an idiot while doing them. I think people are watching me closely, scrutinizing every move, and making negative judgments. After I leave, I think people are thinking, Wow. Mike really doesn’t know how to engage with people.

The problem is that I’m 27 years old, and yet I feel like I have the social skills-set of someone half my age.

But then again, I got the internship, so maybe I am okay. Maybe I’m not as bad as I think. Maybe everything will be okay. I don’t feel like it, though, and right now, my thoughts are in control of me.

***

In other news, I went back to the psychiatrist on Tuesday, as well. Now that my mood swings are a little more stable, the anxiety can be addressed once again. I don’t want to go on another SSRI, so my psych suggested Klonopin. .25 mg, twice a day. I don’t like being on a cocktail of drugs, and I don’t like being on benzos, especially everyday .. but then again, I don’t like anxiety.

So I’m going to give it a try.

Also, he made me feel very little by saying that my problems are minimal compared to others. He even said that it’s like I’m walking around and I get a tiny pebble (the anxiety) in my shoe, stuck between my toes, and I’m too lazy to get it out. So, not only are my problems tiny, but I’m not doing enough to alleviate the problems. Yes, I’m skeptical towards drugs, and, no, I don’t like taking them, but I think I am doing a lot to help ease the anxiety.

Leisure Time

This post got me thinking ..

Even though I’m not working, the past few months have been pretty hectic for me. School work has been slowly piling up as the semester moves on. I’ve also been experiencing quite a bit more depression as of late. Some days I can’t do anything at all for school, and so I’m always having to play catch up. This blog has also been taking up a lot of my time. Writing and doing research for posts, responding to comments and emails, etc. I spend at least an hour on a social anxiety message forum each day, as well. Talk therapy, hypnotherapy, yoga, meditation, CBT … it all adds up. It’s all too much.

I can’t imagine adding a job to the mix. Dealing with my anxiety is a full-time job in itself, and I feel like I have to push myself more and more to overcome it–and I’m starting to think that’s not the right answer.

And when I look ahead, all I see is stress, and this stress leads to anticipatory anxiety. November is a mess: I have a wedding to go to, there’s Thanksgiving, and I have to give two class presentations. December’s even worse: Christmas, New Years, and party after party after party, all of which I probably won’t go to, which will make me feel like crap (actually, it already is).

My days are so full I have no time to think and just be present. I think we’re all conditioned to believe that if we’re not doing something productive, then we’re just wasting time. (Again, this is fuel for my perfectionism.) As a whole, we need to slow down, we need to relax, we need to enjoy (and learn to accept) our leisure time. I cannot keep going at the pace I’m at; it’s not helping to ease my anxiety; in fact, it’s doing just the opposite: it’s fueling it.

I want to do less. I need to keep up with school work, but I want to put less pressure on myself to always stay ahead. It’s okay not to get an A on every assignment; it’s okay to turn an assignment or two in late; it’s okay to fail–sometimes it’s the only way to learn. I want to put some boundaries on how much I work on this blog and answer emails and browse message forums. I want to take the train less and bike and walk more. Instead of taking the elevator I want to take the stairs. Instead of manically trying to fill my days with activity after activity after activity, I need to slow down and learn to accept my thoughts and anxieties and depressions, rather than pushing them aside–and hiding.

I want to have time for myself. I want to have time to think. And live. And be.

life means suffering

Suffering is equally divided among all men; each has the same amount to undergo…. (Paul Bowles, The Sheltering sky)

***

Depression hit me on Wednesday–killing my positive, albeit hyper, mood–when I started analyzing the interview in my mind, over and over and over again, finding all the negatives .. I found a bunch, of course. I also had a difficult tutoring session (see previous post). This depression stuck with me until Thursday evening when anxiety took over while I was in the car with my girlfriend and her father, on our way to my girlfriend’s hometown to visit her family. I actually started panicking a little.

I know I need to connect more with people, especially with my girlfriend’s family, but it’s too hard. I can’t do it, and I really don’t want to, either.

On Thursday night I went with my girlfriend and her sister-in-law to a bar to watch a baseball game. I had two beers which really calmed me down. I felt calm the rest of the night, but I woke up depressed again on Friday and felt down throughout the day until my girlfriend’s brother arrived.

Her brother’s a lot like me–he suffers from anxiety and depression, he doesn’t really like people etc–but I actually think we’re too similar: neither one of us knows how to talk to the other, and a third-party needs to be present in order to facilitate conversation. Actually, I pretty much always need a third party. One-on-one conversation is the hardest for me, and, consequently, that’s when anxiety hits me the most.

Surprisingly, the anxiety wore off quickly, and I was able to relax for a bit after her brother arrived. We all talked for a while, and then I went to bed. My girlfriend joined me after some time.

Like clockwork, I felt depressed again in the morning. I went for a run, reflecting on my week, focusing on a letter I sent to my parents on Thursday. In it, I briefly described what I’ve been going through as of late, as well as my frustration with my family’s lack of emotional connection.

Some highlights–

I haven’t connected with either of you in a long time; and I’m angry and frustrated because of this. There’s so much distance between us—not just geographic distance but emotional distance. Our family has always been a very private family. We just don’t talk about things. I think that worked for us when we were all together, when we were seeing one another every day. But now that Jeff and I are both gone, that lack of emotional connection is catching up to us.

..

I have Social Anxiety Disorder. I’ve suffered with it for over ten years. I know that everybody experiences anxiety in social situations to some extent, but it’s much more intense for me, even debilitating. Often times the anticipatory anxiety is much worse than the actual anxiety I get in the event. Just last week, my anticipatory anxiety kept me from going to a job interview, for example. Also, after social situations, I continually brood on the negatives from the social event. This is self-defeating—it reinforces the anxiety, in other words. Recently, I’ve also been diagnosed with Cyclothymia. It’s a form of Bipolar Disorder—albeit a very mild form. I’m also a Perfectionist, an Introvert, extremely Shy, Highly Sensitive, and so forth …

..

You weren’t/aren’t perfect parents—and that’s okay. I’m getting to the point where I can accept that you weren’t the type of parents I wanted you to be. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m close.

As of writing, I still haven’t heard from my parents. I’m a little worried.

Anyway, I began to feel anxious on my run. I kept going over and over what my parents would say to me. Would they be mad? Or sad? Or concerned? Happy? Confused? .. These thoughts took me from the present moment. I really wanted to get away from my thoughts. I wanted to enjoy my run and connect with nature, but instead I got lost, and eventually trapped, in my own thoughts.

After my run my anxiety intensified, as everybody, aside for me, wanted to go visit my girlfriend’s sister (Ms. D) in Oakland and her baby and fiance–and we ended up going. I get really anxious around them because her fiance is really cocky and outgoing. I never know what to say around him. Whenever he even looks at me I just freeze. I can’t think, I can’t talk, I can’t do anything. I’m overcome with anxiety.

I also don’t really do well around children. I never know how to act or what to say. I feel like everyone is judging me: He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He probably has no experience with children. He’s an idiot.

I guess it didn’t go too bad. I felt stupid when Ms. D asked me how I was doing because I always say the same things: “I’m good. I’m just trying to get through school and find a job.” She gave me an awkward smile and nod, and thankfully the conversation moved on, the attention put on someone else.

A few minutes later everybody was lively and talking about babies and weddings while I just sat in the corner, keeping silent, trying to pretend I was playing with the baby (and enjoying it). Finally, when the conversation was over, I shouted out, “I don’t think I’ve ever been licked so much in my life,” referring to their dog. Everyone turned toward me, looking at me as if they were surprised I was still in the room. I’m not sure why I said it, I really don’t. Well, actually I do: I wanted to be included so bad, I just said the only thing I could think of. No one really knew what to say. Finally, Ms. D broke the silence–

“Mike, no one really likes it.”

“I’m not complaining,” I said.

A few people laughed, awkwardly, and then the conversation moved on. I probably appeared like I was complaining, because when I said what I said I know my face was stoic. When I’m anxious it’s very difficult for me to smile, and as a result I look serious or angry or mean. Ironically, inside I’m terrified. I just want people to like me. The response I got from Ms. D reinforced my anxiety, and it was appropriate given my comment and how I looked. I really shouldn’t take it personally, because she’s responding to my social anxiety not my true personality, but I still do. She gave me the reaction I’ve gotten most of my life–the same reaction that fuels my anxiety. If she could only understand that I’m feeling something entirely different altogether on the inside she would probably respond differently. I came across as unfriendly and uncaring and yet on the inside I just wanted to connect and be heard. I wish she could have seen this. I wish everybody could see this. Social anxiety changes my personality so much–making it impossible for me to be myself.

I didn’t say much the rest of the trip. Depression followed me home. I carried it with me on Sunday and on in to today. Right now I’m analyzing and interpreting every single word spoken, every gesture, every facial expression from the weekend. I’m also beginning to feel anxious again because I have another social event tonight: dinner with my girlfriend’s former roommate.

***

I suffered constantly in one form or another this past week. When I wasn’t anxious I felt depressed, and when I wasn’t depressed I felt anxious, and when I wasn’t anxious or depressed I felt hyper.

I’ve been thinking more about suffering recently. I’m starting to believe that everyone suffers in their own way. If you alleviate one form, like starvation, another appears, like anxiety–so what’s the point of even trying? I think the answer can be found in the Buddha’s four noble truths. Suffering is all around us, it’s part of life, but it only affects us if we attach ourselves to them.

To me, that means suffering is a choice. I suffer because I choose to believe my thoughts. I choose to let them control me. That said, I’m not sure how to go about releasing, or detaching, my self from my thoughts, but I do believe I’m on the right path. I need to keep doing what I’m doing.

P.S. I got a haircut and nobody noticed. My hair used to be long, and I cut it really short. I thought for sure someone would say something which would open up a conversation, but no one did. I’m invisible.

What’s My Name Again?

I currently volunteer at the public library’s adult literacy program, Project Read. It’s very satisfying, and it gets me out of the apartment.

I started the program last November, and after going through training, I was assigned someone–let’s call him Mr. C–in January. So I’ve been working with him for almost ten months. For the first six months or so we met once a week for about two hours a session; and for the past 4 months we’ve been meeting twice a month, two hours each.

Anyway, things have been going well, until our meeting earlier this week, that is. We met, as usual. Started chatting, as usual. Baseball, weather, public transit, that sort of thing. Then the conversation drifted toward smart phones, and Mr. C mentioned that he just purchased one. I asked if he got a new number and he said yes, and then I asked for it and he gave it to me, and then he asked for mine, and as he was putting my number in his phone, he asked–

“What’s your name again? Mike, right?”

I froze. For the most part, I don’t get much anxiety around him. We’ve been meeting regularly for so long, I’ve been able to open up (somewhat). I think things can be very awkward between us, though. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I believe he can see this lack of confidence, but other than that, I feel relaxed around him. Because of this, I said exactly what was on my mind, without filtering it first–

“We’ve been meeting since January and you don’t know my name by now,” I said. This came out in a very harsh tone. I was pissed. “It’s Mike.”

I had to go to the bathroom to cool off. When I got back, I started editing his writing. We just moved on.

In retrospect, I’m angry at myself. I’m angry because I allowed my emotions to get the best of me. It’s not about him–it’s about me. There could be any number of reasons why he didn’t remember my name. Maybe he was trying to clarify whether I go by Mike or Michael. Maybe he has anxiety issues too and maybe he was flooded with anxiety when we met. I know I often don’t listen as well when I’m flooded. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. I’m angry at myself.

But I should be happy because I was able to be present and say what was on my mind without judgment and scrutiny, but–and there’s always a but–I still wish I could have been a little easier on Mr. C–and myself.

Yet another example of my perfectionism.

interview success

So, as many of you know, I had a group interview yesterday. The interview was originally scheduled for last week, but I canceled last minute because I was overwhelmed with anxiety. Fortunately, I found a good, partially true excuse and was able to reschedule for yesterday.

I already had one interview with them a few weeks back with the library director. It went well. It was very relaxed. We talked about my future and what areas I’d like to work in–nothing too formal. At the end of the interview, she mentioned that she wanted me to come back in to meet with her and the rest of the librarians. I said fine. On the way out, I asked her how many librarians worked there and she said ten, and she also said that out of those ten there are a few who aren’t receptive to interns.

That information hit me hard–not only am I going to be interviewed by ten people; not all of them want me there to begin with. And since I take everything personal, I took this personal.

This set off my hypothetical mind; I began thinking of different scenarios of what this interview would be like. Mostly I just pictured ten librarians sitting across from me, asking difficult question after difficult question. Me, barely able to breath, stumbling, blushing, sweating.

My original interview was on a Thursday, and we scheduled the next one for the following Monday. I was a mess that weekend. Actually, I think I probably wrote a post about it. Anyway, the anxiety intensified to a point where I couldn’t function. I couldn’t sleep Sunday night and had to reschedule for yesterday.

From that point until today, though, I’ve been doing great. So what’s different about this past week from the week before?

Well, for starters, my thoughts haven’t controlled me. The negative thoughts were still there–they just didn’t dominate my consciousness. Part of this is attributed to CBT, the other part mindfulness. By becoming aware of my thoughts, before they took control, I could use cognitive techniques to ensure that they wouldn’t take control.

Next, I began to use meditation to help me relax. Two hours before the interview, I was laying in the bath, listening to a meditation. Once I got out I felt at peace. This feeling carried me into the interview.

Finally, I hashed out the situation with my hypnotherapist on Friday, meaning: we tried to look at my hypothetical scenarios in a different light.

“What’s your worst fear?” she asked me.

“To get up at the end and have to go down a line of ten librarians, shaking each of their hands,” I said. “They’ll see how much I’m sweating.”

“Do you really think it will be like that?” she asked.

As soon as she said that it was clear: there’s no way it would be like that. I may have to wave goodbye, but shaking hands with ten people sounds absurd, and it certainly wouldn’t all be in one line. I always feel so much better after playing out scenarios in my head. Seeing just how absurd my thinking can be, reminds me that my logic can be irrational at times.

The interview, itself, went well. I met only with the library director and one other librarian–no biggie, especially since I was expecting ten people. I did have to engage in a formal interview, but it went well. The director called one of my references earlier today. I think I got. Hurray!

Time and Perfectionism

Time, or lack there of, fuels my perfectionism. We’re conditioned to believe we have less and less of it, which is driven into us over and over again by advertisements. I don’t own a TV because, frankly, advertisements make me feel like crap–and that’s the point. I avoid advertisements anyway I can, but this subtle reminder–that time is decreasing–is all around me.

For example, on my way to the library today, to work on schoolwork, I saw a delivery truck for McDonald’s, a man typing on his blackberry in the elevator, cars speeding everywhere–all reminders that I need to do more with less. Instead of wasting time cooking a meal, I should just pick up something quick at a fast-food restaurant. Instead of trying to relax on my commute, I should be sending an email or text or something from my blackberry. Instead of biking–a longer, more enjoyable form of commuting–I should get a car so I can get from point A to point B quicker.

All this is happening in my unconsciousness; I’m not consciously telling myself I should forfeit a healthy meal for a crappy one, in other words. But when I start craving lunch and all I can think about is grabbing something quick so I can get right back to work, it’s pretty clear to me how the actions and choices that we (society) make as a whole affect me, negatively.

What’s more, the people who are highly-revered in our society are those who do more with less. Those who make efficient decisions, sacrificing themselves and the world around them.

And it’s the people who try to live consciously who really suffer. I want to have time to make a healthy, home-cooked meal; I want leisure time; I want to commute to places responsibly. And yet, somewhere inside I’m telling myself that unless I work 60 hours a week and make $80K (so I can buy crap I don’t want or need) I’m inferior. Unless I sacrifice my ideals and beliefs for cultural norms, I’m a failure. No matter where I go or how much I try to shield myself from advertising and consumerism, it’s still there, all around me–and I have to be a part of it, even though I really don’t want to.

***

I went downtown the other day to people watch. I sat in the same spot for about an hour, watching the business professionals go about their day. It was stressful for me because everyone looked stressed–never quick enough, never good enough, never smart enough plastered on their faces. I felt sorry for them (in the same way that I feel sorry for myself).

At one point two men came out of an office and lit up cigarettes. They smoked in silence for awhile until a bum passed by and sat down next to them. The men moved away as the bum snickered at them. I could see them laughing at the bum–or what I perceived as laughter, at least. Anyway, right there in front of me were two extremes: the business professionals conformed to cultural norms while the bum rejected them; the business professionals educated, the bum not (presumably), etc. But how different are they?

I’m not convinced there is that much difference, but I’m positive that I don’t want to be either of them.