Category Archives: past

perspective

Although my head is still in a fog, I think I’ve gained some perspective not only about the wedding, but the last year of my life, as well. Despite what most people are saying around me, I feel I’ve taken quite a few steps back over the past year. I wouldn’t say I’m moving backward, but I wouldn’t say I’m moving forward either. It’s more like I’ve been stagnating; some things have definitely gotten worse, while other things are better.

The basis of this post, by the way, comes from two major events that have happened this past week or so. One being the wedding, and the other my one-year anniversary with working with my therapist.

I can’t ignore the fact that I am not the person I was one year ago. I’ve changed in many ways, good and bad. I’m really an entirely different person. I went to a wedding a year ago, and it really wasn’t that bad. I felt some anxiety, but I got through it. The wedding on Saturday, however, was a much different experience. I was completely flooded during it and could barely communicate, let alone smile.

So, what’s different about me? Let’s take a look–

Anticipatory anxiety. My anticipatory anxiety is much worse now than one year ago. The dreading and worrying is much more intense, and it starts to happen earlier and earlier. It’s even been so bad that I’ve had to avoid certain social situations altogether. I never avoided situations a year ago; I’d be scared to go, but I’d still go.

Depression. Like my anticipatory anxiety, my periods of depression are much more intense and they last longer. I’m usually knocked on my ass two days a week, unable to do anything, and I have a breakdown about once a month.

Mood swings. The lows are much lower today, and the highs higher. I’m constantly swinging from low to high, as well; in a typical day, I usually have at least one or two swings.

Binging. I didn’t consciously binge a year ago. That is, I wasn’t purposely binging to elevate my mood. Today, I know how to control my moods through binging; and, consequently, I’m binging a lot more.

Isolation. 14 months ago I quit my job; moved in with my girlfriend, away from my roommates and friends; and started an online graduate program. I quickly became isolated and stopped hanging out with friends. My best friend moved to NY last January. I pretty much have to rely on my girlfriend for support and someone to hang out with.

Joy. I do not get pleasure out of the activities that used to relax me. I don’t enjoy reading, writing, meditating, yoga as I did a year ago. I don’t really enjoy much anymore, actually.

Medication. I’m on some serious medication now. Lamictal, Klonopin, Ativan, Propranolol. What’s next? Just seeing all the pill containers reinforces my beliefs that I am fucked up and broken.

Therapy. Yes, I am in therapy now–isn’t that a good thing? I don’t know. I’ve had to admit that I have issues and that I need to work through them. Instead of internalizing everything, I’m having to face my beliefs, feelings, and fears. I’m not convinced this is a good thing. I’m moving too fast; it’s all too much to handle.

Beliefs. I’m also finding out that my beliefs are extremely rigid. I sincerely believe that I am a bad person; no one likes me; I’m inferior to those around me; I can’t cut it in this world; I’m a fool, a failure, a loser; and I will never get better. These beliefs are obviously reinforced by my actions and social experiences. Each time I engage, my beliefs are reinforced. It doesn’t help either that I bounce from one huge, overwhelming group social situation to the next; there’s nothing in between because I’m so isolated.

Awareness. It all comes down to awareness. I am much more aware of things going on inside my body. I can recognize when a depression is coming (but it’s frustrating because I can’t stop it). I know about my beliefs and feelings (but, again, I feel powerless to change them). The major difference is that I understand why I feel the way I do, but I haven’t been able to change it, and so, I feel even more powerless, hopeless, and listless. I’m scared.

What’s more, last night my g/f said she’d like us to go to couples counseling. It feels like the beginning of the end. I can’t deal with anymore therapy at the moment. I can’t deal with unlocking more deep-seeded beliefs and feelings because I can’t deal with the ones I’ve already unlocked.

I don’t know what to do anymore. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I think they are, but I cannot dismiss the fact that I am more unhappy than ever.

Each day grows harder. The longer my beliefs stay the way they are, the harder it will be for them to change. Plus, my inadequacies are further reinforced each day as I go about my life watching all the other “normal” people function like I should be functioning. Every time I see someone smile, I tell myself I’ll never be happy, which only fuels my beliefs.

I’m stuck. I’m trapped. I’m really, really scared.

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    trust

    I’ve talked a lot about trust in the past, particularly in this post where I discussed how I replace trust with constancy. Anyway, I came across an interesting comment on this post, and I want to address the questions left by the author–

    Trust is an interesting one though…you’ve maybe done it already but it can sometimes be useful to explore the following three areas:

    What trust means to you…
    What has to happen for trust to be there
    What stops you from trusting

    What does trust mean to me?

    Trust is hard to define. It’s much easier to describe the after effects–i.e., what happens after trust is established. In the most general sense, a trustful relationship is a peaceful relationship. When there’s trust, I feel comfortable calling the person and talking to him or her about anything; I don’t get hung up on my negative thoughts; I simply don’t care what the other person thinks of me. He can judge me all he wants; it’s not going to affect the relationship. Finally, and this may be the most important factor, in a trustful relationship, I not only trust the other person, but I trust myself as well. I’m not constantly questioning or analyzing my behaviors. I can be myself.

    Trust is important to me. I want and need to have open, trustful relationships with others. Trust is the willingness to be whoever I am in the moment. There are no walls. Or filters. There’s only me.

    What has to happen for trust to be there?

    Several things need to take place for trust to develop–

    Be honest: Being honest with yourself as well as with the other person. Your actions must match your words, as well.

    Be reliable and predictable: If you say you’re going to do something or be somewhere at a certain time, then do it and be punctual. Predictability is important, too.

    Have the willingness to share: Tell the person who you are, faults and all, and reveal what you want/need from the relationship.

    Take a leap of faith: All of the previous things don’t really matter if you aren’t willing to take a leap of faith. Trust means you have to open up. You have to put yourself out there. You have to put yourself on the line. You have to be willing to be hurt. You have to have faith that the other person will be there when you fall–and you have to be there, too.

    What stops you from trusting?

    I don’t like myself. In fact, most of the time, I hate myself. I’ve been hurt so much in the past and have gone through so many negative social experiences, that these hateful feelings are ingrained deep within. I can’t seem to penetrate these ancient beliefs; I can’t change them, in other words. Hate is there–and it may always be there.

    So, how can I let someone else in when I hate myself so much? If I don’t like what I see and feel inside, why would anyone else? I know exactly what I need to do–I need to learn to accept, appreciate, and love myself. But I don’t know how. Or rather: I do know how. I’m doing it right now. I’m going to therapy, I’m writing, etc. It’s just hard.

    Also, I can’t ignore empirical evidence. I have let some people in, and, more often than not, they run away. They must have seen something they didn’t like. And so, I’m no longer willing to take that leap of faith that’s so vital for establishing trust in relationships.

    Perfectionism: Past, Present, and Future

    Like most kids, I experienced lots of changes when I entered middle school. Most of my good friends from elementary school attended different middle schools, and that, coupled with the enormous pressure to fit in, meant a lot of change for me. I had to find a new clique–and fast. And I could no longer just be me. I had to be something different, something better and more profound. Suddenly, I desired popularity–everybody had to like me and seek me out for friendship.

    Again, I wasn’t the only one experiencing change, but taking genetic factors into account, I believe change was harder for me (boohoo, poor me). I scrutinized, analyzed and reflected on everything I did, every move I made. Sixth grade was a very difficult year, and it was probably difficult for a lot of my peers. It’s a normal process for kids to go through, but for me, it was the start of my perfectionist tendencies–and the beginning of Social Anxiety Disorder.

    I took every “failure” hard. When I didn’t get picked first for dodgeball in gym it wasn’t because I didn’t know the person picking very well or because I may not have done very well athletically the last time we played dodgeball, but because I was inferior, ugly, and altogether unlikeable. If I didn’t get an A+ on a math test I failed, and I had to do better the next time. I felt terrible when I didn’t get invited to a movie or to sit at a certain table at lunch or to a birthday party–all because of my inherent, negative qualities that everyone could see. I took everything personally. If I wasn’t first, I was last, and, more often than not, I was last. If I knew I couldn’t win at something, I wouldn’t even try. I stopped putting myself out there for friends, focusing less on things I couldn’t control and more on tangibles that I could control like my appearance and test scores.

    And, since it’s impossible to always be number one and in total control of everything, I began to withdraw. I withdrew from sports because I was no longer the most athletic person. I stopped hanging out with certain friends because they were smarter, better looking, or funnier than me. I stopped raising my hand in class because whatever I had to say was never good enough.

    I told myself I didn’t really want the things I so desperately wanted. When I didn’t get invited somewhere, I always found an excuse why I didn’t want to go in the first place. This not only made me feel like shit; it fueled my perfectionism, as well. If you tell yourself you don’t want something that you really want, it only fuels the desire. So, by telling myself I didn’t want to go to the movies with friends, for example, this only intensified my desire to connect and be included.

    Even when I found a clique to hang out with, I still didn’t feel accepted. I had to always be on guard for the slightest signs that my new friends didn’t really want to be friends with me–they just “allowed” me to hang around because they felt sorry for me or something. Every word, every look, everything they did, I analyzed. And when you look at everything that closely, you’re bound to find something–and I did.

    Over time, the things I found built up until I couldn’t trust anybody anymore, and I dumped all my friends.

    ***

    Perfectionism is an ugly beast which has dominated most of my life. It started in middle school; its voice developed in high school and college, growing stronger and stronger; and it continues to control my life today–even in this very moment. As I write this, the voice in the back of my head is saying–

    No one likes you or your little blog. You can’t write and, besides, nobody cares about your thoughts anyway. You should just give up.

    ***

    So, now that I know all this, the obvious question for me is how do I control this perfectionist voice? I don’t think it’s a matter of control. I’m never going to be able to control my thoughts. Thoughts come, thoughts go. It’s up to me, though, to decide if I grab a hold of those thoughts and give them power or not.

    For example, just yesterday I had some negative thoughts regarding my therapy appointment–

    You’re not making any progress in therapy, they said. Your therapist is getting frustrated. Eventually he’ll quit on you; so you should quit first to avoid getting hurt.

    When they came I immediately told myself to STOP! In that moment I made a choice not to let my thoughts drag me down. Instead, I focused on something else, and eventually the thoughts went away, losing their power. This obviously took a lot of awareness and practice, practice, practice on my part. Honestly, nine times out of ten, I let my thoughts get the best of me. But I am learning.

    Changing my thoughts changes the way I feel, countering my perfectionist tendencies. It will take time and considerable effort, patience and persistence. The important thing is that I don’t give up because that’s what my perfectionist voice wants: to be fueled by my own pessimism.

    Past Decisions

    So, as you can tell, I like reflecting on the past. Call me a masochist, or whatever. But I enjoy stirring up memories and emotions from the past that I don’t normally touch on a day-to-day basis. I don’t think it helps alleviate the anxiety per se, but finding the sources helps me to better understand the world I’m living in today–which is a long-term goal of mine.

    That said, lately I’ve been reflecting on my time in school, specifically college, because most people I encounter with social anxiety have a lot of problems in classroom settings. I did not however, well not on the surface at least.

    Somehow I made it through my undergraduate studies without making one classroom presentation. I took a speech class, but it was on intrapersonal communication. I also chose an objective-based major (business), focusing on the sciences rather than the arts. Those classes relied more on facts than ideas and opinions. I felt fine participating in class discussions because I never had to reveal anything about myself. I could just say a quick fact and the attention would move to someone else.

    What’s more, I took five humanities classes, as I minored in Philosophy, and even in those classes, I found ways to not participate. On days where I knew professors would open up the class to discussion, I wouldn’t show up. I had no problem doing the actual work–readings, attending lectures, tests etc–but when it came down to actually sharing how I interpreted something in front of others, I could never do it. The same goes for the other humanities classes I took. It’s really hard for me to admit this, but I have a much stronger interest in the arts, and subjective knowledge in general, than  science-based subjects. If I could do everything all over again, I probably would major in Philosophy or English.

    Everything I do in life is so dependent on my anxiety. Every time I make a decision, I ask myself, Can I do this? Will my anxiety let me do this? It’s sad to think about how many times I’ve had to do something I don’t really like doing because I’m so hindered by anxiety.

    When will it end? Will I ever have control over my life?

    letter to my father

    My father is a very proud man. I’ve never understood him, but for the first twenty years of my life I lived in his shadow. He influenced my way of thinking, what I studied in college and how I viewed the world. I had a role-model, somebody I could admire and look up to. In my early-twenties though things began to change, or, more precisely, I began to change.

    I moved away, first to Poland and then New York and finally San Francisco. I saw new things and was exposed to new ideas, new ways of thinking. I finally got to see the opposites–the things my father rejects, and never converses about. The things that make humans unique.

    I started joining radical political groups and got rid of my car and stopped eating meat, anything to piss my dad off. For once, I wanted him to recognize me for me. I didn’t care anymore if he couldn’t see himself in me.

    Because of all these changes, I’ve become angry at my father, and my father has become angry at me. We rarely talk. When we do it’s awkward and forced. I say hello, he says hello, I ask how he’s doing, he says fine, and then I ask to talk to my mom. At the time of writing I haven’t talked to him in at least three months. I’m waiting for him to call–it’s his job, right?

    I’ll get to the point: I no longer want to be angry with my father, and I do not like this distance between us. There may always be geographic distance, but I’d like to be closer in a spiritual sense, or at least in a father-son sense. At this point, he’s less of a father to me and more of a long, lost friend. It’s sad.

    What’s more, I don’t really know how to repair the damage between us, if that’s even possible. But I think a good starting point is for me to start being honest with him.

    I think the most logical part to start with is his alcoholism. He’s been a functional alcoholic most of his adult life. It’s not easy to address because he’s not the quintessential alcoholic you see on TV or in the movies. He’s never hurt anybody in the family, and we rarely see him drunk. But he still has a dependence–and it has greatly affected our relationship.

    I’m also afraid of my father. He has such a big ego. Nobody can tell him anything that goes against his way of thinking, and so I think the only way to get through to him would be through writing–

    Dear Dad:

    I hope this letter finds you well. I know we don’t talk much, and so you must be surprised that you’re reading this right now, but I think this is something we can address later. For now, I want to jump to the point.

    For the past year or so I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing my past in order to understand how those experiences create meaning for me in the present. You, being my father, are a big part of that, obviously. You’ve had your say in who I am today, and I thank you for that. I have inherited a lot of great qualities from you. I deeply care about the world and the people in it, especially those I associate with–which is why I’m writing this right now.

    As you can tell, I’ve changed a lot since I moved away. I’ve taken the theories I learned from my childhood and adolescence–the things you taught me–and tested them in the real world. Some work, some don’t, and that’s okay. At this point in my life I think my most endearing quality is how open I am–I’ll listen to anything, I’ll give anybody a chance. Everybody has something to say, and everybody needs someone to listen to them. Right now I need you to be open, and I need you to listen.

    I strongly believe that you are an alcoholic. You are not a fall down drunk and you’ve never laid a finger on anyone in the family, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have an unhealthy dependence on alcohol. And it’s certainly impacted our relationship. Whenever I’m home, you’re always in the basement drinking, and when you’re not, more often than not, you’ve had too much to drink. Frankly, you’re less of a father and more like comic relief for me, as sad as that sounds.

    You can do whatever you want now. Your actions are your choice. But I am no longer going to be an enabler. If you want to continue drinking, I believe the distance will only increase between us, and our relationship will continue to falter. What you do now is your decision. I’ve made my choice. It’s time for you to make yours.

    I may never give this to him, but it still feels good to get it out in the open.

    judgments, criticisms and star trek

    I’m afraid of judgments and criticisms, real or imagined. I take them hard, at their face value, and I carry them with me, forever.

    For example–

    1. 17 years ago a kid on my school bus said I looked different (not in those words, of course), and I still believe I look different, in the exact same way.
    2. Ten years ago a classmate said I was stupid because I couldn’t verbalize my thoughts, because of my anxiety. Now, whenever I have trouble connecting with my thoughts, I tell myself I’m stupid.
    3. Two years ago a co-worker said I wasn’t approachable because I never smile. To this day, I still feel like I’m unapproachable, in every single situation, and I put immense pressure on myself to smile.

    To me, all judgments are objective truths. I know that sounds irrational–and it is–but sometimes my logic is irrational.

    In a Star Trek episode I watched today, Data found it puzzling that human beings feel the need to compete with one another. Counselor Troi clarified by saying, “Humans sometimes find it helpful to have an outsider set the standard by which they’re judged.”

    “To avoid deceiving oneself,” Data said.

    That’s exactly how I feel. The way I see myself is based not only on actual judgments, but on how I believe people perceive me. I use imagined, or hypothetical, judgments to paint a picture of myself, so I don’t deceive myself. They keep me in check, and they fuel my perfectionism.

    I don’t want to be judged so I visualize how people could judge me in a given situation, and then try to “correct” my behavior so I don’t fall prey to those very judgments.

    What’s more, more often than not, “correcting” my behavior means mimicking how others act. I need to fit in so bad because I don’t want to be judged, I can never be who I am. I can never be me. I just stay in the background, avoiding people and keeping my mouth shut.

    Finally, this form of thinking–trying to guess future judgments–takes me out of the present moment and causes undue anxiety. By not being present, and instead focusing on the future, I take myself out of a non-threatening situation (because these thoughts usually come when I’m either doing nothing or something mundane) and put myself into an anxious, hypothetical situation, which causes anxiety and stress that would not be there.

    social anxiety’s downward spiral

    Social anxiety feeds off of negative energy, thoughts, and feelings–anything negative, really. Those negatives grow with the anxiety, drowning out anything positive. When you’re given a compliment, you don’t believe it. When you get an A on a paper, it’s not good enough. When it’s sunny, you close the shades. Eventually, you completely succumb to those negative feelings. They keep you a float, they are who you are; and they grow and grow and grow until one day you wake up in the morning and immediately filter out anything positive. You only see the world in darkness, there is no light. At that point you lose hope. You’re crippled. Everyday social interactions are almost impossible to manage. You have Social Anxiety Disorder.

    If you’re reading this, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. But if you don’t you may be wondering, How does all this start?

    Unfortunately, there isn’t a clear answer, in my case at least. I can go on and on about what I feel in the present, how I’m going to feel in the future, and how I felt in the past, but it’s not easy for me to pinpoint where and when social anxiety started to manifest.

    That said, I still think the answer lies in the here and now. Looking at how I interpret the world in the present, should help me understand the past.

    Social anxiety started the very first time someone verbally judged me. This set off a chain reaction, causing the anxiety to grow and grow, settling into the debilitating form it’s in today. In my case, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact judgments, because there’s nothing glaring. There’s no red flags or neon signs, no arrows pointing me where I need to look.

    In school I got picked on quite a bit because I was different looking. I had an under bite, bad acne, and red hair. Kids made fun of me for being different. To this day, I still wonder if people can see my under bite and acne, even though they’re gone, and I’m still conscious that my hair color is different from most others. Outside of school I remember my aunt commenting one time about how I look like I’m not having a good time. Somehow my facial expression was conveying something negative. I’m always worried about my expression. I really believe that my resting facial expression is negative.

    Hearing these judgments made me wonder, Is everyone judging me negatively? And I started asking that question during every single social situation, and as the anxiety grew, I began asking it before and after each situation as well. Finally, I started avoiding social situations altogether so I wouldn’t have to ask such questions.

    What’s more, the answers to that question were, more often than not, negative, which fueled the anxiety even more. I could never be good enough. I could never be smart enough. I could never be the way I thought I should be. I set myself up for defeat, in other words. Over time I began to see things in a much different light. I could no longer see the positives; negatives were the only things I could relate to. This lens or filter blocked out part of the world. I wasn’t seeing the world for what it really is; I was seeing it how I wanted to see–that is, how my social anxiety wanted me to see it.

    You see, social anxiety is a being. It needs nourishment and attention, just like you and me. Those come in the form of negative thoughts, and as I fed it, it demanded more and more. Once it grew big enough, it exerted its will whenever it wanted. It no longer demanded food–I was perfectly willing to feed it myself. And as I fed it, I engaged less and less in the world, and that question–Is everyone judging me negatively?–came up more and more. Suddenly I couldn’t go anywhere or see anyone without wondering whether they were judging me.

    With questions came answers, and with answers came more questions. … It’s a vicious cycle that, at its worse, leaves me debilitated, broken. I’m afraid of people, or, more precisely, I’m afraid of what they think of me.

    I’m at the point where I can’t stop the questions, or the answers. It’s very, very frustrating being aware of my destructive behaviors yet not being able to stop them. This behavior is deep within me; it’s all I know. When I enter a social situation, the question is there before I can stop it, as well as the answer. It happens in less than a second. How can mindfulness work with something that happens so quickly?

    As time goes by the anxiety plants it self deeper and deeper into me. The longer I went without seeking professional help, the worse the anxiety got. It wasn’t until I said enough is enough, I cannot deal with this anymore on me own, I need help, that I actually could halt the downward spiral. And I believe I’m starting to reverse the process–I’m starting to get my life back.

    I know I’ll never be completely free from anxiety, but my hope is that one day I’ll be able to smile, for I know I’ll be able to recapture some of the experiences I missed out on. I have a long way to go.