in a safe place

For longer posts, dealing more with theory, I usually start writing them three or four days, sometimes weeks, before I post them. I have an idea in mind, and I like to watch it grow, like a piece of art. As of late, though, my moods have been fluctuating so much that I often times abandon my original idea altogether or change it so much that it barely resembles its original form–which is the case for this post (the latter issue, that is).

***

Put simply, I had to give two class presentations this past week. One on Thursday, and the other on Sunday. I haven’t had to do any sort of public speaking in over a year, so I clearly was very nervous/anxious going into it. I decided to try to get some of my thoughts out to help not only understand the anxiety (and where it’s coming from), but alleviate it as well. What you’ll soon find out is that the presentations went well. Sure, I was nervous, but I did fine, probably better than most people, in fact.

Anyway, here are some highlights–

Anticipatory anxiety hit me on Wednesday: I feel like shit. My stomach is tense and wound up in a knot. I’m having trouble swallowing. I’m sweating. I feel like I should take an Ativan or something, but I sort of feel like I’m becoming dependent on them. But none of my relaxation strategies are working. I’m sick (with a cold), so I can’t go running. I don’t know what to do.

Honestly, I’m mostly worried about the questions after the presentation. What if I won’t be able to answer them because I’m flooded with anxiety? What if I sound nervous? What if I fail?

I eventually calmed down, but anticipatory anxiety returned before my presentation (no surprise there): My presentation is in less than 3 hours. I’m in denial (sort of). I just ate, took an Ativan (1mg) and a Propranolol (10mg), and went over my presentation again. My stomach is tense. I’m sweating pretty bad, especially under my arms, and I feel an impending doom. I know the negative thoughts are hidden under this doom, but I’m scared to see what’s under there. I wish I had therapy tonight–and I wish even more that I hadn’t skipped therapy on Tuesday (because I was/am sick).

Again, the presentation went fine: It’s over. It didn’t go bad at all. I got hung up on one question, but overall, it went really well. I feel stupid for making a big deal out of nothing. About five minutes before the presentation started, I chatted with the professor and the other students. I then stood up, shook my body all over, and then went to the mirror and smiled (to make sure I still could). This helped to calm me down. I can now strip off my sweat-stained undershirt and move on.

Anticipatory anxiety started again on Sunday, about seven hours before my next presentation. I’m starting to feel a bit nervous. I feel that impending doom again. It’s scary because I don’t know what lies beneath. It’s unknown. Thoughts, on the other hand, are tangible, while this feeling is not. I can hold thoughts. I can touch them. They are real. But I’m too scared to find those thoughts.

Then two hours before the presentation depression hit: I’m depressed, and I DON’T GIVE A SHIT ABOUT THE PRESENTATION. I don’t know where these feelings came from or why I’m having them. Maybe they’re connecting with this doom feeling?

The depression wore off for the presentation, leaving me with anxiety, but it came back immediately after: Well, the anxiety  pushed the depression into the background. I took an Ativan (1mg) before the presentation. Again, the presentation went well, and, again, the anticipatory anxiety was much worse than the actual presentation. I feel good about the week, but depression is hitting me again. I’m scared.

***

By the end of the night I was really low. I binged on food, drank a big beer, and had a cigarette (the first one since the wedding)–nothing helped. I woke up feeling even lower. What’s going on? I asked myself. I had a fairly good week. I mean, I not only got through the presentations, I did really well. I should be feeling good. I should be feeling great. As always, though, there’s much more going on than what meets the eye.

Actually, depressions usually hit me after successful social situations because that part of me that wants to be messed up–that part that likes having social anxiety, that part that I know, that part of me I think is me–flexes his muscle and brings me down. He, my anxiety, wants to maintain control. Does that makes sense? However, I still think there’s more there.

I’ve been triggered by quite a few things this week, namely this post and this post and this post and the movie Black Swan.

For the sake of length, I’ll try to not go into too much detail.

As some of you know, I’ve been dealing with this question as of late–Without social anxiety, who am I? The answer is a resounding I DON’T KNOW!, which is exactly why I’m so scared to find out, which is exactly why I sometimes like my anxiety–and even fuel it. My illness is warm and fuzzy; it’s familiar; in some ways, it’s all I know about myself.

There’s also my perfectionism, my need to always be perfect. I can’t make mistakes. I can’t have any flaws. I have to anticipate every move. I have to always be on the guard. And yet, perfectionism, is about mistakes, because a perfect human is flawed. Thus, by not allowing myself to make mistakes, I prevent myself from not only being perfect, but knowing what it means to be truly human. There is a part of me that does want to let go, but I’m still wrestling with the question of what exactly that means–and how to go about doing it when all I know is rigidity and repetition and compulsion.

But maybe I got a glimpse of what it was like to not be hindered so much by anxiety or my perfectionism this week? I engaged with people and was able to give two presentations without feeling too much anxiety. I also let go (somewhat) during them. I allowed myself to fail a bit on the question and answer section afterward. I could of been more thorough. I could have answered them better. But, frankly, I didn’t give a shit. I also have a huge, 15-page paper–30% of my grade–due on Thursday that I haven’t even started–and, again, I don’t give a shit.

I’m wondering, am I feeling depressed because I’ve seen a glimpse of myself in a new light–without so much anxiety and perfection–and not liked what I saw? Or is my ego (my anxiety) just flexing it’s muscle, wanting to maintain control?

***

Finally, without my anxiety, I’ll have to deal with deeper issues–

I really hate this system I’m living in. As reminded here, we’re just living a joke (capitalism) and our lives are the punch lines.

Here, I’m left with the difficult question of how do I fill this void inside of me? I’m continually looking to the future for happiness. That is, my next goal, my next achievement, my next cure, etc. What happens when there is nothing left to cure? What happens when I actually have to start living, and what if I really don’t believe there is any point to living besides not dying?

Finally, here I’m reminded that these feelings I’m having are temporary. In fact, I’m feeling much better now–but even that is temporary.

How did I know that someday–at college, in Europe, somewhere, anywhere–the bell jar, with its stifling distortions, wouldn’t descend again?  ~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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21 responses to “in a safe place

  1. I apologise that my post triggered you.

    • Oh no worries, it was more in a good way. Your post, along with a few others, triggered some deep questions. I tried to think of a better word than triggered, but I just couldn’t think of one.

  2. Ah, that makes sense. 🙂

    This is a very good post. Being triggered into thinking, and perhaps feeling, is not always such a bad thing.

    • Yeah, I think it helped me release some emotions, and so I am feeling better now.

      Speaking of which, I read your post. I hope you feel better soon. 🙂

  3. Eek. I am also sorry that my post triggered you.

    I’m glad you made it through your presentations successfully. As I was reading your post, I was anxious for you!

  4. Lots of insights there, and unanswered questions. Sure we say we hate our disorders, but we find comfort in what we are used to. It might be worse to be healthy, what would we use as an excuse when we screw up, or make fools of ourselves? You sound like a very introspective person as well, I can’t remember if I asked you this before, forgive me if I have, do you know your Myers Briggs type? Introspective and introverted = lots of thinking about ourselves and our motivations. Is that good? I don’t know. Sometimes I like to be distracted from my introspections.

    • Hey Harriet. You haven’t asked–I’m an INFP. Have you taken the Ennegram test? You can take a simple one here- http://similarminds.com/test.html. I’m type 4.

      • Hey Mike, I’m an INFP too. The best type. 😉

      • I’m INFJ. I have taken the Enneagram and from what I remember I am type 4 also. I might have to take it again to refresh my memory. Being an I is tough, just because lots of people don’t understand introversion. And being an NF is tough because we are so introspective and emotional. Sometimes I think I just need to accept the way I am rather than change to try to fit in with the world. On the other hand, living in our society requires us to communicate and associate with people on a daily basis, so it helps to be able to do that easily!

      • I definitely think it is possible to communicate with people daily, while also accepting who we are. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with us; there is something wrong, though, with how we have interpreted the world. We may need more alone time than others, and we may need more time to process things, but we still can certainly communicate with people daily. We just have to have balance. If we work all day, instead of going out with people at night, we unwind and process instead.

        Obviously, this is the ideal, and it’s something that may not be attainable, at least not all the time. I think balance implies perfection. Anyway, I understand where you’re coming from.

        BTW- have you seen the proposed new definition of introversion for the DSM- http://www.dsm5.org/ProposedRevisions/pages/proposedrevision.aspx?rid=473

        Terrible.

      • Wait, introversion is a mental disorder? Hello? That’s supposedly 50% of the population (although most of them are in hiding so it seems like the majority is extroverted). I’m sure insurance companies will hate this.

      • *Splutters* There’s nothing wrong with being an introvert! Imagine if the whole world was made up of extraverts! I doesn’t bear thinking about… 😉

  5. I’m glad you got through your presentations and that they went well. Now you just have to get yourself to write that paper. I’m still adrift and like you…I’m starting to not give shit which can be a more dangerous place to be in. I don’t have any answers or suggestions for you, Mike…just some mindless but heartfelt support. Be well.

    • Thanks! I think I’m just going to turn in a something half done and just see what happens. I don’t really care anymore. That said, don’t do what I do–keep on working, you can do it! 🙂

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  7. I can relate to a lot of the things you’ve mentioned in this entry. I have such a problem with sweating. It’s really what caused me to take action on SA. I use to break out in sweat (facial) while waiting in lines. It usually is worse during the summer (weather?). It’s not so bad during the winter for me. For some reason, or maybe I’m just realizing it now, but I’ve started to sweat unusually more in the under arm area. I know and feel when it’s about to happen. I have that flush feeling and when I lift my shirt, I can just feel the heat escape.

    However, a lot of those sweating episodes I use to get attacked with seem to be under control. I’d like to think it’s due to CBT and cutting out coffee.

    You raise a good question that got me thinking. “Who are you without Social Anxiety?” Would I still be shy? Would I be more outgoing? Would I at least not break a sweat?

    As always, I enjoy your entries. I got your comment on my site. I linked my name to my youtube account.

    Take Care,

    Josh

    • Oh man, that flush feeling and the warm sensation are the worst. Even if I’m not feeling anxious in my mind at that point, as soon as I feel those sensations, I tell myself I’m anxious–and the downward spiral begins.

      I wrestle with that question a lot. Even though I don’t like who I am with anxiety, at least it’s tangible and familiar.

      Thanks! I’ll check out some of your videos later.

  8. Hey Mike —

    I similarly had a good week of achievements over difficulties imposed by the disorder. Like your post, I noticed how I can become down on myself in the aftermath.

    For me personally, I struggle through. The demand that my ego proposes then is “why can’t you do these things without the struggle?” The memories of a time when I did then are recalled. It’s as if I am a ghost of my former self.

    And then there is just the exhausting nature of having to do these things and experience high anxiety. Plus, for people like us, the horizons are to be ever expanded. Taking those next steps means the same struggle in an elevated context.

  9. For me, it’s less like I’m a ghost and more like I’m an entirely different person. I can remember myself before anxiety, and after. There’s no in-between.

    And yes, the next steps are exhausting to think about. I wrote about my struggles with those thoughts as I was interviewing last month for an internship that starts next semester. A part of me didn’t want to get the internship at all because I’ll have to face more and more social situations and challenges.

    Thanks for the comments! 🙂

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