Category Archives: cbt

tattoos and hasty conclusions

I think I mentioned briefly in a past post that I had just got a tattoo–and if I didn’t, well I just got a tattoo. Not going into too much detail, I’m a fan of  dialectics–thesis, antithesis, synthesis–so I got a tattoo of a dragon, some waves, a peaceful river, mountains and a sun–all done in Japanese style–each representing a phase of the dialectic process, on my right arm.

Anyway, during my first tattoo session, which by the way was my first tattoo session for my first tattoo, I felt nervous/anxious/excited/etc./etc. I took an Ativan to help calm my nerves, which did very little if anything.

I had to take off my shirt, and even before the tattooing began, I was, to put it mildly, sweating horrendously (I brought a rag to wipe up the sweat from my underarms), not much worse though than any other social interaction. I was also wincing and wasn’t talking much to the artist who badly wanted to talk. Thankfully my girlfriend did most of the talking. Being a twenty year tattoo vet and slightly insensitive, about halfway through the session, he looked at me and asked, “Why is this so much harder for you that for everyone else?”

Shocked and caught off guard, I said, “It really hurts.” I left it at that.

I didn’t think much of this until a few days later when it hit me–I was pissed. Him saying that seemed akin to a therapist asking, “Why can’t you be like my other patients?” On the surface what he said was not only insensitive but extremely hurtful as well. It’s my job to sit as still as possible while getting a tattoo. The experience itself is mine, though. If I don’t want to talk that should be fine. If I want to wince that should be fine too. Shouldn’t that be somewhat expected, especially from someone who has been tattooing for that long? As soon as I started thinking about it, I realized just how angry I was. I also knew right away that that anger had been building and was ready to burst. I didn’t really know what to do with it so I just put the anger aside for a few days.

And that’s exactly what I did. Inspired by Layara, I came back to the issue when I had some time alone to think a day or two later and came to the conclusion that perhaps I had been jumping to hasty conclusions on what exactly he meant. He could have just been having a bad day and did in fact take it out on me. Maybe he really was just trying to ask if I was doing okay and it came out wrong. Whatever the reason, it’s not my fault. I did nothing wrong. It’s so easy for me to blame myself in situations like that.

Further, I tend to jump to huge conclusions based on the most minute types of behavior. For example–

  • If someone gives me a tired look while I’m talking to him or her then it’s my fault. They find me boring. They would rather be doing something else.
  • If someone doesn’t say hi to me and smile then I’m probably just not worthy of it in the first place and he or she really doesn’t like me.
  • Etc.

My point is that I have programmed myself to jump to very negative conclusions based on outward behavior, which has not served me. My hope is that one day I can catch myself making those hasty conclusions and and provide arguments or other scenarios to counter my irrational thinking. For now though, I’m doing my best to go back and look at situations and try to re-frame them, in order to attempt to objectify the situation more.

I go back to get my tattoo finished on Sunday. I’m excited, and the experience will be mine. If he’s not okay with that, I have the confidence now to let him know.

having a choice

I know this post probably seems to contradict my last past, but I’ve given my last post some thought. I do think that I fall more on the introverted side of things, yet when I’m in a social situation, I want to be seen and heard and enjoy being the center of attention. I guess I am an outgoing, socially anxious person. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know.

***

Anyway. My girlfriend is up visiting her family right now, and I’m feeling a little guilty that I’m not there. I chose not to go.

Right now, I’ve made a conscious choice to only engage in one social situation, outside of work, once per week. Whether that’s with one  of my friends or my girlfriend’s friends or her family it doesn’t matter–one per week. I’m very fortunate that I have a job right now that isn’t too demanding socially. I have to interact with my boss and co-workers and occasionally I have to engage with a few clients on the phone or in person, but it’s not bad at all.

It’s a pretty firm decision–to only engage in one situation per week–but every now and then I’ll allow another social situation or two depending on the situation and how I’m feeling. I don’t like feeling like there’s a quota in place–and my girlfriend especially doesn’t like that.

Anyhow, giving myself a choice is a powerful thing. In the past, there were times where I felt like I was being forced into social situations. I felt like I had no choice–that my girlfriend or friends were forcing this awful situation on me and I had no control. But I did have control. I made those choices to go, not them. Saying no to social situations is difficult to do. On the one hand, I don’t want to say no to too many, because I don’t want to avoid everything and become a hermit or something; but, on the other hand, it’s important for me to do what feels right for me. Getting flooded in every single social situation only reinforces the anxiety. I need to pick and choose social situations that I don’t get too flooded in to slowly immerse myself back into social situations that I find anxiety-proving–gradually increasing over time–so that I can eventually become a healthy social person (whatever that means). Avoiding too many situations as well just reinforces the anxiety. It’s all about balance.

The important thing is that I realize that it’s my choice to enter–and stay in–a social situation. Knowing that can help ease the anxiety in itself. And, although, I do feel guilty about not going with my girlfriend to see her family, I think it’s the best thing for me–and that’s what matters most.

***

With all that said, I’m feeling very lonely. I can’t ignore that. Yes, I do feel good because I do have a choice, but I miss my girlfriend and wish I would have gone with her to see her family. But I bet if I was there, I would be anxious and want to be somewhere else. I can never win, I guess. *Sigh*

What a pointless post. I wanted it to be optimistic because that’s how I felt like ten minutes ago, but now I just feel sad and lonely. Sorry.

an example of avoidance

Yesterday my boss asked me to go downtown today to pick up some tax documents at the state’s local field office. I didn’t think they could provide the documents, but I didn’t have the nerve or desire to argue with him so I reluctantly agreed.

I’ve had to go to this field office a few times before. Each time, I’ve had to endure a rather difficult social situation because the receptionist is very attractive and socially adept. In other words, she’s beautiful and perfect, and I’m not. These thoughts happen in a split second and ensure that I will fail. Now, CBT has taught me to catch these thoughts before they happen, to counter them with positive, rational thoughts. But this never seems to happen quick enough. I sum up that she’s perfect and place her on a pedestal before my rational mind has a chance to kick in–and I’m left playing catch up.

Anyhow, earlier I started having anticipatory anxiety about the situation: Not only would I have to face this perfect being but I also don’t feel comfortable asking for the documents since I don’t think they could provide them. And so, I started coming up with ways to get out of going–

  1. I could lie to my boss by telling him that I went and that they either didn’t have the documents or couldn’t give them to me.
  2. I could call in sick.
  3. I could call the tax office to see if they could even provide the documents.

The third choice seemed the most logical, but I’m terrified of making phone calls, especially when I have time to think about what I’m going to say beforehand, so I wanted to do the first choice. Eventually though, I talked myself into calling, which was horrible in itself, but I found that I was right: They couldn’t give me the documents after all.

I’m now beating myself up, telling myself that it wasn’t that bad and I shouldn’t have been fretting about the situation at all. I’m also disappointed in myself for avoiding another social situation.

Why can’t I look at the good parts? I mean, I made the phone call even though I was terrified and obtained an answer without lying. Those are positives, I guess.

If I’m not perfect then I’m nothing at all.

a little down

I’ve been feeling a bit low the past few days. I really miss Kansas City and my family. Talking on the phone with them just isn’t the same.

I’ve been running a lot. I signed up for the San Francisco Marathon. Running has become something to live for. I love it. I can’t explain it. I’ve never felt like I had any true hobbies or anything I’ve really loved in this world, but I do think I’ve found something–and it’s actually healthy.

I’m still waiting to hear back about the eight jobs I applied for at the public library. I’m already starting to lose hope. I applied for some teaching English jobs abroad for after I graduate in August.

Nothing much is happening right now, really.

I am thinking about ending therapy and just seeing my hypnotherapist and continue doing CBT with her. CBT has made such a tremendous difference in my life. It’s great! I know my hypnotherapist isn’t formally qualified to be working on CBT with me, but she’s recovering from social anxiety herself and has used CBT extensively–so I feel like she’s more qualified than my therapist.

I’m also thinking of getting off the Lamictal. I do not think I have Cyclothymia. I think my deep depressions happen within the context of social anxiety.

I am starting to accept myself more. I am who I am inside–and I am starting to be okay with that. I do have limitations, but I do have many positives as well–like all people. Most days I am happy and feel good about the future. I am excited (well, most of the time) about starting my internship in a few weeks, and I am just overall liking the direction I am going.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Nick over at The Social Phobic. He’s been away for a while but now he’s back. He inspired me to start my blog and writing about my day-to-day experiences with social anxiety.

Thanks Nick. I hope all is well.

going home

Before I start, I just want to preface this post by saying that I am experimenting with a higher dose of Ativan at the moment, and I am feeling quite stoned. So, just keep that in mind. 🙂

***

I’m going home on Friday. Actually, I shouldn’t call it home. San Francisco is my home; Kansas City is where I grew up. Anyway, on Friday I’m going back to my hometown to see my family for the holidays. I’ll be there a total of ten days, which is probably seven days too long!

I have plans to see a few friends, but other than that, I’ll just be hanging around my family–which actually could be difficult because of the letter I sent them a few months back (part 1, part 2). I don’t know what to expect; or, what I want to talk about. I have no agenda, in other words. I guess that’s good. I’m not expecting to make deep connections with my family, but I would like to talk about the things in the letter a little more in-depth. I do want to have closer relationships with my mom, dad, and brother, but I also want to relax and have fun at home, as well. I don’t want it to be a constant therapy session. On the other hand, if nothing is talked about, I will be greatly disappointed in myself. I just need balance. Regardless of what is said–if anything is said–we are already closer because of that letter. I have already accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish (I just feel pressure to keep moving forward), and my trip is a victory in and of itself.

One thing I am starting to stress about is seeing my relatives (on my mom’s side) for Christmas. I haven’t seen them in years, and I know they all really want to see me. My cousins are all around my age, and they have husbands and wives, and each of them have two kids. I’m a little behind. My aunt and uncle are really religious, so I know they disprove of me and my lifestyle–and so I know they’ll be judging me negatively.

Actually, let me step back: They may not be judging me at all. Maybe they’re proud of the things I’m doing. They know how passionate I am about helping people and how much I want a career where I can make a difference in this world. But then again, they know I am somewhat of a nihilist, as well. I do believe there is meaning in the world, but it’s subjective. That is, beyond science and reason, everybody has their own beliefs. Those beliefs are not right or wrong. I think in my aunt and uncle’s situation, though, they are so attached to their beliefs, they have become truths.

Anyway, my point is is that I have no idea how they view me or what’s going through their head–I am not a mind reader.

So, in the past, I usually got flooded with anxiety around my aunt and uncle and my cousins and their families. I’ve never really interacted with their children (because I didn’t know how and was afraid of being judged by the adults); and so, I just ignored them. I feel pressure to make more of an effort to engage with them.

Plus, I know the attention is going to be on me most of the time, as they haven’t seen me in years, which I do not like. But, it will be okay. I will slow down and use some of the cognitive techniques I’m learning to ease my anxiety. I’ll also be able to fall back on my meds if things get a little too rough.

I’m trying to remind myself that the present is not the same as the past. In the past, I may have been flooded with anxiety around them, but that’s the past. I will probably handle it better. It will be all-right, regardless.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

***

I love that poem. It’s from There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk by Portia Nelson. I feel like each chapter represents a stage of my recovery.

Chapter 1 encompasses my middle school and high school years, when social anxiety began to develop. I started avoiding social interaction by ending friendships and isolating myself; developing powerful, yet irrational beliefs and attitudes; and reinforcing those same beliefs and attitudes with my thoughts and actions–all while being unaware.

The years (early college) which make up Chapter 2 are even harder than the previous years, as I’m in denial. I know that I am an introvert and highly sensitive, yet I know there’s much more to it than that. That is, I know there’s some deeper issues. I avoided them by locking myself in sexual relationships, avoiding friendships, and abusing alcohol. I was absolutely miserable, yet I put up a happy, normal facade. I hid my problems well, and that’s the only way I knew how to cope–because I didn’t know what was wrong or where to seek help.

Chapter 3 represents my latter college years and the year I spent in New York after graduation. By that point I knew I suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder. I knew I kept people at a distance because I was afraid of what they may see inside. And I knew I needed to seek professional help, but I didn’t. Again, I coped by drinking and denying; however, those tactics began to lose their power because I knew there was a deeper issue.

Today, I’m somewhere after chapter three but before five. (I don’t want to say I am in Chapter 4 because sometimes I feel like I’m beyond it and sometimes I feel like I’m not even there yet). I am seeking professional help. I am aware of my thought processes and where they can take me. I know not everybody is a fan of CBT–or its wording and metaphors–but it has greatly helped me. I know, for instance, that certain thoughts will lead me down familiar roads, and I know at the end of those roads, there is nothing good there. I know that if I continue to take those roads, I will continue to feel a certain way. I haven’t totally changed my habits, but I am getting closer. I think Chapter 5 is in sight.

Now, for those who are at an earlier stage, there is no shame, because how you are feeling is not your fault. You are not explicitly choosing to feel anxious or depressed. We’re all at different stages, and we’re all in this together. What’s more, recovery is not linear. You don’t go from bad to good to better to best. Sometimes I’m in Chapter 4; other times I move back to Chapter 2–but, in the end, I am moving forward. More and more of my time is spent in the latter Chapters.

job hunt

I’m tired. I’ve been applying for jobs the past few days, which is very exhausting because I have to continually fight the negative thoughts.

I read a job description, and I immediately pick out everything I can’t do. These cant’s have nothing do do with me not being qualified–they are the social aspects of the job. Behind every single can’t is a negative experience, or failure on my part, from my past. For example, if one of the qualifications is that I need to be able to to work independently and as a team member, I immediately think back to my former job when I failed at this; or, more precisely, what I perceive as failures. I was fine with working independently, but I had trouble working with others, socially speaking. I never knew what to say or how to act. I questioned everything I did .. every .. little .. thing.

I also put up a difficult front. My anxiety caused me to appear stoic and unapproachable. This, coupled with shyness and introversion made it difficult to connect with people. My co-workers thought I didn’t like them, which couldn’t be further from the truth–I so desperately wanted everyone on my team to like me. (Why do I let other people’s opinions affect me so much?) But I couldn’t break through this pressure. Day in and day out, I wanted to make connections, to show that I was a valuable member of the team, and to not make any mistakes .. and everyday I failed in some way.

The more and more jobs I look at, the more and more I tell myself I can’t do something–and the more I rehash something from the past. I am just rehearsing my failures, and the more I do this, the more I believe that I am a failure, and eventually I get locked in a cycle.

Fortunately, because of CBT, I am aware of all this, and can break through the cycle; nevertheless, it’s still exhausting having to continually fight my negative thoughts. You see, each thought means much more than it should. These perceived failures are in the past. I am a different person now, and I am capable of so much. I can do anything I want. Yet, I forget this as I apply for jobs. My exhaustion has lead to a small depression, and now I’m feeling hopeless–all because of my negative thoughts, which are just based on distortions of my past (they are irrational interpretations, in other words).

What’s more, I’m applying for jobs I don’t necessarily want.

I want to work in the public library, but none are hiring because of the economy right now. I’m worried that when I do graduate (next summer) and get a degree, I’ll just have to go back to some office job. I’m trying to prepare for that now. Maybe if I get some simple part time job, I can slowly immerse myself back into the “real world.” I think if I wait and jump back into a stressful office job in the summer, it won’t go very well. I need gradual exposure in order to learn how to manage my anxiety.

So, I’m stressed, worried, and anxious about the past and the future. I’m not present. In conclusion, I’m concerned–

  1. I won’t be able to use my degree to get the job I want.
  2. I won’t be able to find a job at all (and if I do, it will be similar to what I did in the past and I’ll just be miserable again and end up quitting).
  3. Because I won’t be able to find a job or quit some other job, I won’t be able to pay rent and I’ll either have to move in with my girlfriend’s family (if they’ll take me, of course) or move back to Kansas City with my family (again, if they’ll take me).
  4. As a result, I will be a failure.

Do you see how powerful thoughts are? I have to continually remind myself that I am capable of anything. I may have struggled in the past, but I am changing. I just need to try to take it slow, gradually exposing myself to situations I’m afraid of–and, above all, stay present.

I guess I could always fall back on something like this if I can’t find a job.

that’s not me

I had a great time at Thanksgiving (a large social gathering), and I’m even looking forward to seeing my girlfriend’s family again next weekend.

I had two class presentations last week that went well.

My anticipatory anxiety has been somewhat under control.

I still got depressed, though. But this past week, when I wanted to binge, I didn’t. Instead of focusing on my negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions, I went running–which lifted my mood in a positive, proactive way.

Today I volunteered in my neighborhood to help with graffiti removal. I made conversation and connected with a few people–and I felt confident doing it. There was a gathering afterward, at a local pizza restaurant, but I decided to skip it–I need to be careful to not do too much, too quickly.

Anyway, these past few weeks I haven’t been myself–and yet I have. When I read over this post, I immediately think, That’s not me. But it is. I am getting better, and I have some evidence to point to.

I can connect. I can converse. I can have a good time.

Bottom line: I am making much more progress than I think.

the healing light

So, even though I haven’t talked much about it, I see a hypnotherapist once a month. In fact, I think this is the only post where I’ve mentioned it.

Anyway, so I used to see her–my hypnotherapist–once a week, but a few months ago I went down to every other week, and after last session we agreed to just once a month. It’s expensive, and I honestly don’t get much benefit out of it. It’s hard for me to relax and really get into the sessions. I get much more out of meditating on my own. That said, she is recovering from social anxiety herself, so I enjoy talking with her, as I know she knows exactly what I’m going through. She gives me the empathy that I’m missing from my talk therapist.

Also, she has encouraged me to do CBT therapy, and has provided me with materials, and so she sort of keeps me accountable. I update her once a month on my progress, in other words.

***

Last week she emailed me, asking me to write down every single social interaction that went well for me. For the most part I’ve been doing that (in the Achievements section), but she had me document everything, no matter how small. So, if I bumped into my neighbor and smiled and said hello or something, I’d make a note of it. It surprised me just how many interactions I had. I am much more social than I thought, even though I still feel isolated. It’s just the social interactions I do have are very superficial, aside for with my girlfriend. I’m missing deeper connections. But that’s no surprise.

So in yesterday’s session, we talked about that for a while, and then we got on the subject of the wedding from a few weeks back, and we decided it would be best to do a hypnosis around it–even though I am feeling much better about it (time heals all wounds, I guess).

Anyhow, she guided me into a relax state by having me focus on my breathing–slow, deep breaths, inhale five seconds, exhale ten. My thoughts are usually elsewhere at that point–e.g., making to do lists, thinking about future social situations–but yesterday, I let them float on like clouds, not letting them take me. I stayed present, in my body.

She then had me visualize my inner self, as a healing light. Viewing myself like this, I pictured the “true” me, not the me with anxiety, not the me happy or sad–but the me, that just is. The me that has worth for just being me.

Next, she had me visualize a specific social situation from the wedding that didn’t go well for me. I immediately pictured a one-on-one conversation I had with my girlfriend’s brother-in-law. We talked for like thirty minutes at the dinner table. It was very awkward. I was a mess. I was sweating and slightly shaking. I couldn’t sit still. Meanwhile, he looked as if he didn’t want anything to do with me. He kept looking around (maybe trying to find someone else to join in or for him to escape to) and he didn’t really offer anything to the conversation. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to describe. He just didn’t give off the vibe like he wanted to talk to me. But then again, I probably didn’t either, because I didn’t want to be there in the first place.

Anyway, in the hypnosis, my therapist had the present inner me–this healing light–approach myself, in that awkward social situation. This light pulled me aside, taking me away from the conversation and the wedding itself.

“What would you say to yourself now,” she asked rhetorically, “to calm yourself down and make yourself feel better in that moment?”

She paused for several minutes to let the question sink in. Eventually, I answered it internally–

“It’s okay,” I’d say. “It’s not the end of the world that you’re feeling so anxious; everybody probably feels a little anxious–but it’s okay that you’re feeling more anxious. People are so wrapped up in there own anxieties and issues (and the bride and groom) that they probably don’t notice you, or your anxiety, at all. I know it’s hard, but you’re here. You’re not hiding in the bathroom or fleeing. You’re here, facing your fears, and that’s an accomplishment in itself.”

Afterward, I kept visualizing this inner, healing light. I could almost feel it all around me, touching me. When she brought me out of the hypnosis, I felt calm, collected, and grounded. I felt at peace.

Over the next few days she wants me to continue to think of those rational thoughts I told my other self at the wedding, to help them sink deeper into my brain. I wish I would have seen her directly after the wedding, when I was really depressed and could only see the negative aspects. Maybe next time I’ll be able to use this strategy in the event. That is, I’ll be able to step back and gain perspective to help ease some of the anxiety.

happy thanksgiving

I had a good Thanksgiving. My girlfriend and I stayed the night at her brother’s house on Wednesday. On Thursday, I got up early, went for a short run, popped an Ativan (plus my normal medication), and started cooking.

It was a relaxing morning, spent with my girlfriend and her brother and sister-in-law. I felt calm and at ease. I’ve been spending more time with them as of late, and thus am feeling a lot more comfortable around them. I wouldn’t say I’ve connected more with them; it’s more like I’m easing up a bit around them and overall less tense because I’ve been seeing so much of them lately (see my issue on constancy for more info).

I took another Ativan before the rest of the family arrived, and when they arrived (10 in all), I tried to stay as busy as possible–I helped in the kitchen, played with the cat, set the table, etc.–and, honestly, I felt good. In all, it was a success–and I actually enjoyed myself!

The medication really helped. Unlike in the past, I took it preemptively. That is, I took the Ativan as soon as I felt an inkling of anxiety in my body, instead of waiting until I was flooded. This helped to break the anxiety cycle. By taking the medication early, I didn’t allow the anxiety (thoughts and physical symptoms) to build on itself. In other words, I broke the cycle before I reached a point where nothing, not even numbing myself on alcohol, can bring relief.

I noticed a huge difference in my thoughts, as well. They weren’t as negative. More neutral, I guess. This can be attributed directly to CBT. It’s really starting to help, especially when coupled with medication. I’m breaking up the negative thought patterns and experiencing less anticipatory anxiety.

Speaking of which, this past week or two, I’ve been able to manage my anticipatory anxiety better. Writing, exercising, working on school, that sort of thing, has helped me to avoid my negative thoughts. Instead of wallowing in my negative thoughts, I’ve been active.

I mentioned in a previous post that I wanted to approach Thanksgiving as a social experiment–to see if I could avoid becoming flooded. Well, I succeeded, and I am proud of myself. I also felt very connected to people, and I do believe (for now, at least) that the people around me care about me and my well being. At the dinner table, we all went around the table saying what we were grateful for. When it came to be my turn, I said–

“I’m grateful for being surrounded by such wonderful people who care about me.” In my head I told myself that I was grateful for just being able to connect with my thoughts in a group social situation–and not feeling flooded from talking in a circle. (Usually when there’s a group circle where people go around introducing themselves or something, I get flooded. I DO NOT like those situations at all.)

Finally, as weird as this sounds, I’m actual looking forward to future social situations to see how I fare. I want to build on this success. I want to experiment more.

I want to say more, but I’m really tired (I’m sure that’s reflected in this post) and need sleep. So, I’m off to bed. Good night. I hope everyone is doing well. 🙂