Category Archives: labels

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.

am i really an introvert?

Yes and no. That’s the simple answer, of course. I mean, none of us are completely introverted or extroverted; we’re all floating somewhere in between. So, what I really mean is–Am I really more introverted than extroverted?

Being socially anxious, I think it’s easy for me to automatically assume that I am an introvert, and label myself as such.

In fact, all my life I’ve been labeling myself introverted and shy, and yet in social situations I desperately want attention–I’m just too afraid to get it. My perfectionism keeps me from talking and obtaining attention which further fuels my social anxiety. Inside I am a narcissist, and I really, really want attention. But when the spotlight is on me–I mean really on me–I do what I can to get it off me as quickly as possible because I’m afraid of being judged, and as soon as it’s off there’s a sense of relief but not long after that I feel like crap again because I want that attention back. It’s a lose-lose situation.

I wonder how many of us out there, who are socially anxious, are actually more extroverted than introverted?

structure AND chaos

Please note: This is my entry for June’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is hope and despair.

***

Structure is my one true love. I love going to bed every night at ten and getting up at six. I love running three miles on Wednesday, five miles on Friday, and six miles on Sunday, and I love knowing that my distance for each of those days increases by ten percent each and every week. I love reading a chapter from a book on my commute into work every morning and then another chapter at night before bed. I love planning activities way in advance, so when I do have to deviate from my schedule, I can plan accordingly.

I could go on and on and on.

Structure serves a purpose for me: it provides hope amongst chaos. It’s also synonymous with perfection. When I know exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it, I can remain free from uncertainty, and anxiety stays somewhat at bay.

The problem becomes when uncertainty, chaos, and despair creep back in, which is inevitable. This sends me into a downward spiral. When an unexpected social situation comes up that keeps me out late and floods me with anxiety, I get worn down and it takes a few days to recover. The more deviations, the longer and harder it is for me to recover.

For those who don’t know, last January I entered a downward spiral that stole all hope and ended in two hasty suicide attempts and one well thought out attempt that probably would have killed me if I had carried it out. There’s plenty of triggers to look at, but I think my obsession with structure is the main culprit.

Up until that point I thought I had everything under control–that is, I had developed a set of routines that I thought were impenetrable. However, I went from only going to school online and being subject to few real social situations to having a full-time job and an internship. It was too much. They broke down my structures so much I couldn’t recover. And so I gave up.

I let myself be taken by chaos. I let myself fall further and further down. Granted, I started planning for suicide, which ironically in itself brought structure. But for the most part, I let all structure go.

Now that I’m stable and can look more objectively at what happened, I know that I need structure. I’m just that type of person. The question, though, becomes–How can I have structure but still allow some chaos and uncertainty in without letting it destroy me?

I don’t have an answer. But I do believe it starts with awareness. It starts with knowing that life is full of uncertainties and I cannot possibly plan for every little thing. I mean life isn’t some science experiment with set variables, yet so far it’s been my best defense against anxiety to treat it as such. I am learning that there is a balance between structure and chaos; it’s not an either/or situation. There will always be hope and despair in my life, sometimes at the same time–and I’m learning that that’s okay.

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.

always wishing i was somewhere else

I’ve spent most of my life dreaming of either being somewhere else or being someone other than who I am. For example, for the longest time I wanted to be a writer. I spent over five years working on a novel. I put that dream on hold last year and started writing flash fiction. I got a few stories published, but I gave up after that. My perfectionism makes writing really, really hard. Plus, I can’t handle rejection. I guess it’s not even really like I thought I could be a writer; it’s more like I used the thought of possibly being a writer to propel me forward, through my depressions.

Lately, I’ve used running to push me through. In the past, I’ve put my hope in life transitions, like going to college or moving to New York, to get me through the day. I remember when I made the decision to move to New York and bought my one-way ticket how good I felt. No matter what was going on in the present, just the thought of that ticket made everything better.

You see, I thought the transitions would change me. I thought moving to New York or running seventeen miles or writing a book would change who I am–that is, I would no longer be depressed or anxious. This thinking not only took me out of the present moment, it pushed a lot of negative feelings aside. Instead of dealing with my problems, I focused on the future–something that doesn’t even exist–and suppressed my feelings and emotions.

I think this deep, all-encompassing depression I’m feeling now is all those feelings and emotions catching up to me. I’m running out of options. I’ve tried a lot of things. I can’t run anymore. I have to be present–and the present is complete shit when there’s no hope.

Maybe awareness will save me?

crisis

I think part of the reason why I haven’t been writing much on here is because all I’ve really thought about these past few weeks is how I’m going to kill myself. I told myself it’s not good to entertain my suicidal thoughts in the past, and so I promised myself I wouldn’t do it on here–so instead I’m just doing it in my head. Anyway, I don’t want to talk about them, but I do want to start writing regularly again.

As many of you know, I was doing CBT for a few months last year. I thought it was working, and, I guess, to a certain degree it was. I was feeling a little better about myself, which, in turn, made social situations a little easier. But what I’ve come to realize is that no matter how good I do, I’m never good enough. I still think I’m a piece of shit, regardless. So what’s the point of changing my behaviors when my underlying feelings about myself are so negative?

So I’ve given up on CBT.

I also gravitated toward running. I thought that was helping me, emotionally. Sure, it was taking my mind off things, but I think it was really just suppressing a lot of my feelings.

Anyway, I originally had a point I wanted to make and I’m too tired to connect the dots so I’ll just get right to it. I think that deep down I am a good person. But no one really sees that because of the anxious front I put up. I have a good heart, but I just don’t belong .. anywhere.

That voice in my head–my ego–which tells me I can’t change and so I shouldn’t even try is getting stronger and more powerful. More and more, I divert my attention to him. I don’t know why I have to suffer anymore. I don’t know why I feel guilt for killing myself when I haven’t even done it, nor have I seriously tried it. I feel guilty for something I haven’t even done. Why?

Our culture is definitely more manic as a whole than depressive. We jam pack our days with activities, leaving little room for rest or thought. And when someone feels depressed we try to prop them up and when that fails, we medicate them. We don’t try to understand them. It’s just another case of people being afraid of something they don’t understand.

I wonder how many people have felt such a deep depression that I’m going through. How many people have dealt with an existential crisis like this? I mean I want to die. I don’t want to be here anymore–and it’s not fair that I feel so much guilt over that. No one asked me if I wanted to be here, so I don’t owe anybody anything. Does that make me selfish?

And yet, even as I write this I can hear another voice–a voice that wants to survive.

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.

phone therapy

Three posts in as many days! I don’t know what’s come over me. 🙂

***

So, since my therapist is out of town this week we arranged to have our regular session over the phone yesterday. I was dreading the session most of the day, even more than usual actually because I don’t like talking on phones. I don’t like checking voice mail. I don’t like seeing/hearing others talk on their phones. I don’t like hearing them ring (or vibrate, in my case). I cringe when I hear other people’s phones ring. I’d get rid of mine, but that probably wouldn’t be smart for someone with social anxiety.

It must have something to do with the fact that there are no distractions over the phone. It’s me and the other caller–that’s it. There is no one else to take the spotlight off me. There are no external distractions either, like television or eating or music or a movie, etc. But there are no distractions like that in therapy anyway, so I don’t know what I was so afraid of.

Anyhow, about thirty minutes before the session started, tension, nervousness, and anxiety hit. I just wanted to get it started (or over with). My stomach hurt, and I began sweating a little under my arms. I felt like I was getting ready to go to a large social gathering or something. I think it must have been the combination of the phone and pre-therapy jitters.

I’m probably freaking out about nothing, I told myself. So I’m going to stop  indulging in my negative thoughts. Once I became aware of what was happening and told myself to stop, I felt better.

***

The session started like all our other sessions. We talked a little about how this–therapy over the phone–is new territory for us and what not. I wish we would have explored my phone-phobia a little more. I brought it up, but we quickly turned to other things.

I told him about how I was feeling anxious about Christmas, about how I’d be seeing my relatives. I told him how anxious I felt as soon as I found that out. We spoke about this for a while (mostly about how I’m afraid of interacting with my cousins’ children) before he said–

“You can push back if you want but what I think it all comes back to is self-acceptance. It’s okay to be introverted and reserved. It’s okay to be soft-spoken. But these things are not okay for you.”

He went on and on, and yet I was still stuck on his words push back. It had a negative connotation to it. To me, the words said–

Now you can push back, but if you do, you will be wrong because I am the therapist and I am right.

After he got done talking about self-acceptance, we were both silent.

“Where are you?” he asked, finally breaking the silence.

I told him the truth. I told him how I didn’t hear much of what he said because I was still stuck on him saying push back. I told him how I’m uber sensitive to his wording sometimes and how I’m afraid to stop him because I’m afraid he’ll say I’m just avoiding things (like he’s done in the past). We had a good discussion about that, and I feel a little better about it, actually. I think he understands better that when I do stop him, sometimes it’s not that I’m avoiding–it’s just that I want to say something and that should be okay. I don’t think there has to be a hidden/deeper meaning in everything.

One thing interesting that he did mention is that therapy is the one place where I can–and should–feel comfortable pushing back. A lot of times in life, I want to do that, but I just don’t have the self-esteem.

We then went on and talked more about the letter (part 1, part 2) I sent to my parents and how I can use that to start more discussions. I’m scared to talk more about it, yet I do want a closer relationship with my parents. I know my relationship with them hasn’t changed because of one letter. I have to keep moving forward, and I feel a lot of pressure to do that.

Finally, at the end of the session, I started getting flooded with anxiety, as I always do, and I checked out by browsing Facebook. When we finally said goodbye, I found myself looking at pictures of someone from high school who used to pick on me. Whenever I get on Facebook I’m unconsciously brought to the people who did me harm. I should probably bring that up in a future session, among other things. I’ll add it to the list.

an email

When I first moved to San Francisco, I went out of my way to find a tennis partner so that I could not only get exercise but find a friend as well. I found someone right away (via the internet), and it took some time, but eventually we became friends. We started hanging out more and more outside of tennis–grabbing food or a drink, etc. I enjoyed his company. He’s gay, and since I’m sort of up in the air about whether I’m straight, gay, or both (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this), there were some awkward moments.

He picked up on my feelings–and confusion–and questioned me by literally asking if I was attracted to him. At the time, I was slightly attracted to him (I guess?), but since I just started dating my girlfriend at the time, I lied to him and said I wasn’t. I think he could probably sense that I was lying, and so, long story short, we had a falling out.

The relationship sparked again after the rainy season when we started playing tennis again. We just didn’t talk about what happened. Anyway, we started hanging out again outside of tennis, and I finally told him the truth. It went something like this–

I don’t know if I’m attracted to you or not. I do think I have the capacity to love both sexes, but I am in a committed relationship, so that’s not something I want to explore at this moment. I do think, though, that I want a deeper friendship. I may be confused on what I feel on the inside, but I know I would like to be closer to you. I’ve never had a deeper friendship, outside of a sexual relationship, and so I don’t know what that’s like. I may have been confusing the feelings inside–instead of liking you more than a friend, I still wanted to be friends, I just wanted something deeper. And I still do.

I caught him off guard, he didn’t really respond–in fact I think he changed the subject altogether–and I haven’t heard from him since.

Anyway, I sent him a brief email last week–

How are you doing? I’m on break from school and heading to Kansas City next week to see the family. It was sort of sunny today, and it made me want to play tennis. Anyway, I miss hanging out.

Again, I put myself out there. I guess maybe he either had deeper, sexual feelings for me, or didn’t have any feelings at all. It just hurts that I tried to connect with someone and got shut down. Maybe I came on too strong, too fast? I’m tempted to send him an email detailing everything that’s been going on, as he doesn’t know I suffer from Social Anxiety Disorder–but I probably should just let it be. I tried, at least.

Anyhow, the point of this post is just to highlight how difficult it is for me to make deeper friendships. I’m scared to let other people in because of experiences like these.

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.