Category Archives: cbt

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.

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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. 🙂

high to low and back again

I started writing this post yesterday afternoon, and it was originally called, stable .. for now, but nothing I wrote felt right, and by the evening I had abandoned it altogether. Some highlights–

I’ve been fairly stable since the wedding. That is, not depressed. I’m caught up with schoolwork again, and I’m starting to enjoy activities again, like reading, writing, running, and cooking. (I even went to a yoga class on Friday!) I’m looking forward to seeing my student on Wednesday and tutoring in general (I volunteer at an adult literacy center), as well as Thanksgiving. (I’m not delighted about being around fourteen people, but I do want to see if my mood holds up and how, or if, that will affect the outcome of the social situation. Plus, I want to test out some of my new cognitive techniques. So, it’s not so much about the social situation itself; it’s more about seeing whether I can get through it without being flooded with anxiety [an experiment, really]. And I’m actually feeling more confident that I will be able to do just that, and if I don’t–NO BIG DEAL!)

I’ve been doing lots of CBT lately. I still don’t know whether it’s working or not–whether it’s affecting deeper change–but I do know that it’s changing the way I think. I’m more positive and upbeat. I haven’t been engaging in my normal destructive behaviors of finding faults in the past and using those to ruin the present, etc. It’s a strange feeling, really. I’m not comfortable with feeling good–or, more precisely: not feeling bad. I guess I’ve just been feeling neutral lately. I look to the future and I don’t get the hopelessness that I got a week ago; it’s more like a staleness.

Finally, I’m also excited about trying a new drug. I’m not comfortable with taking Klonopin daily, so I’m going to talk to the pdoc on Tuesday about trying an MAOI–Nardil. A friend of mine who also has social anxiety is on it and I have noticed a huge difference in her behavior. Yes, MAOIs have some pretty bad side effects and you have to be on a strict diet to avoid hypertension, but maybe the ends will justify the means (for once)? I just have to talk my pdoc into it, because he had a patient die while on Nardil because s/he ate the wrong kind of cheese (aged) and didn’t seek medical attention.

Anyway, somewhere between writing and watching a football game and reading and taking a bath, my mood changed. By the end of the night, I was pretty low. Actually, I could feel my mood turning pretty much throughout the evening. My energy level dropped, and I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do. I’ve been pretty hyper (or hypomanic) this past week. I’ve bounced from activity to activity to activity. I haven’t given myself much leisure time or given myself time to think about things, which is good and bad. Sure, I didn’t think about the bad things, but I also didn’t get to process and own my negative feelings. I pretty much suppressed everything throughout the week, and maybe some of the those feelings were coming up while I was writing.

It’s a strange feeling knowing that your mood is going to turn. I started to panic a little, actually. I wanted to do everything I could to stop it from happening. I stopped writing altogether, and I tried to just sink into the feelings a little with the hopes of crying. I always feel better after I cry. I think it allows some of the feelings to release. It’s healthy. But it’s very hard for me, especially now that I’m on medication. I need to find more triggers. Last week I found a good song that brought me into tears almost immediately but I played it like ten times over the week, so when I listened to it last night, nothing happened. I need to find more triggers. What works for you?

I’m also very stressed about school and the holidays in general. I have three papers and two presentations to do in less than a month. The papers are no big deal. Sure, they’ll be a lot of work, but I’m more worried about the presentations. For those who don’t know, I’m in an online graduate program studying Library and Information Science. I’m becoming a librarian. Anyway, the presentations are done over a conference call, and even though they aren’t in person, I’m still a little upset about them. CBT is helping, though–I may have had lots of anxiety in the past, but I’m doing better. And it may not go exactly how I want it too, but I will get through it–and it will be okay. Again, I don’t know how much of that’s suppressing my feelings and how much of that is subtly dealing with the feelings but not letting them take control. I don’t know.

The holidays are another big thing. Thanksgiving is coming up. As I said before, I’m going over to my girlfriend’s brothers, where fourteen people from her family will be there. I am still hopeful that I’ll be able to get through it without getting flooded–with the help of Ativan and Propranolol, of course. I’m counting on there being a little anxiety there, just not the debilitating kind like I had at the wedding. I want to be able to converse with people and smile and not have to worry about sweating through three sets of shirts and looking like a complete idiot all the time.

I’ll address Christmas at a later date.

So, with my mood rapidly changing, and without being able to release some of the pent-up emotions through crying, I went to bed feeling like I’d wake up feeling even worse. But here I am. I feel a little down, a little stressed and depressed, but a little happy and hopeful too. Maybe I avoided a depression? I don’t know, only time will tell. But for now I am going to continue with what I’m doing: schoolwork, running, keeping myself busy.

Oh and I probably won’t be updating much until the end of the semester (12/9). I hope you are all doing well, by the way.

Finally, I’m curious how you deal with things when you know your mood is getting ready to turn. Do you just accept it, knowing you can’t change it, and try to do your best to weather the storm? Or are you more proactive about it–are there ways for you to avoid the depression altogether, or at least lesson the severity of it?

Thanks for reading, and I look forward to hearing from you. 🙂

i will fail

I’m in a bad place right now. I have to go to a wedding next Saturday. It’s actually a three-day event (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), but I think I’ve managed to find good excuses for the other two days; but even still, I’m feeling really bad about it. I dislike the groom and his family because they’re all very outgoing and seemingly don’t understand people who are shy and quiet, let alone people like me who can’t engage even in the simplest of conversations.

I tried working on some CBT earlier, but what’s the point when I’m feeling so depressed? There’s this constant voice in the back of my head saying, YOU WILL FAIL. I counter it with- “I’m going to be all right. My feelings are not always rational. I’m just going to relax, calm down, and everything will be OK” and a load of other coping statements .. but that voice is still there.

Next weekend I will fail. I’ll be flooded with anxiety and won’t be able to say anything, let alone smile. I’ll have to hide in the background, hoping no one notices me, relying solely on my girlfriend to help me through conversations.

This wedding will ruin the rest of the this week and probably the week after. I’m scared. Wish me luck.

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

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!