Category Archives: labels

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.

in a safe place

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

***

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

Anyway, here are some highlights–

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

is social anxiety real?

Please note: I wrote this post for the first ever Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is diagnosis.

***

So, as many of you know, WordPress allows me to see what people search for to find this blog. As of late, I’ve had some alarming searches, namely–“is social anxiety real” and “is cyclothymia real.”

I guess it’s good that people are questioning their inner experiences, but I’d like to know to what end? Labels are dangerous. It’s very dangerous to define yourself by a set of labels (or diagnoses) because you limit yourself. For example, if you say, “I have social anxiety, so I should be acting a certain way,” you can literally limit yourself to those courses of action. I also believe that the pharmaceutical companies profit greatly on these labels. If they can make us believe we have something wrong with us (i.e., a particular diagnosis), when in fact there’s not, then they can profit at our expense.

I think it’s easy to forget that there is a big difference between experiencing some anxiety during social experiences and having Social Anxiety Disorder (more on this here).

However, diagnoses can also be good, namely because they allow you to get the treatment you need. If you don’t understand your inner experiences, it’s hard to get treatment. When I finally sought out professional help, I felt greatly empowered. I took back some control from my anxiety, but I also had to take responsibility for my well-being. In other words, I had to do the work inside of therapy and out, to learn strategies on how to manage my social anxiety.

In a sense, the people who conducted those searchers are right–labels aren’t real. They’re only the tip of the iceberg. When we label things (without looking deeper), we ignore the essence. We ignore what’s really going on. I think it’s good to question your labels and diagnoses, as long as you are still addressing your inner experiences–because those are real, without a doubt.

If you deny the way you feel, you only strengthen the negative emotions, in my opinion. You must learn to accept.

***

As for me, I’ve been suffering with social anxiety since high school. It took me a long time to figure out though what was going on. I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough and needed a stronger will to get through social situations. I’ve since found out that only makes the anxiety worse. Anyway, I was officially diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder in the Fall of 2008, and I was just diagnosed with Cyclothymia this past August. In both instances, I felt relieved, because I could finally explain what was going on inside of me–and start getting the treatment I needed.

EDIT: All the posts on the Blog Carnival can be found here

perfectionism or punishment?

Why are pdocs always late? I’m always having to wait at least fifteen minutes after our scheduled appointment time. It’s not fair. Because of I was late like that, I would probably get a lecture on the importance of being on time. It throws my day and all my structure off. On days I have to see him, I can never plan for anything after. Anyway this time I decided to say something–

“Right on time, as usual,” I said, quite passively. His non-response indicated that he didn’t appreciate my sarcasm.

I had high hopes for the session. I wanted to drop the other medications I’m on–Lamictal and Klonopin–and start taking Nardil, as a friend of mine with social anxiety has found Nardil quite helpful. The problem was/is that my pdoc hasn’t prescribed Nardil in over twenty years as he had a patient almost die while on it. You see, there are some dangerous food interactions, particularly alcohol, cheese, aging fruits and vegetables, some meats, soy, and so on. It’s quite alarming. You could eat the wrong kind of cheese and end up in a hypertensive state and have a heart attack.

But if the ends justify the means, I think I can live with the reduced diet–and the risks. My pdoc, however, wants to exhaust all other options first. So, he increased my dose of Klonopin and added Xanax into the cocktail (both of which, I might add, I’m having trouble filling due to insurance restrictions–so frustrating). Anyway, I came out of my appointment disappointed.

Oh, and I also got lectured.

My perfectionism came up. I told him I’m frustrated because I don’t have many friends, and outside of my relationship, I pretty much only hang out with my girlfriend’s family. And since she has a large family, I pretty much bounce from one large group social gathering to the next. I don’t believe that type of exposure works. I need gradual exposure. I need to see small successes and build from there. I won’t get any better if I continue going to huge social gatherings. But I don’t feel like I can opt out of them, either. Otherwise, I would just sit around the apartment, isolated.

“It’s okay to avoid things,” he said. “In fact you need to take back control from your anxiety and start saying ‘NO!’ every now and then.”

“But then I’ll be completely isolated,” I said.

“You’re going to school, you’re starting an internship, you have a girlfriend–you don’t sound isolated to me.”

“I’m going to school online,” I countered, “which isn’t helping my anxiety. I’m scared to death of the internship. I’m too dependent on my girlfriend.” We sat in silence for some time. “I can’t help but think this way. I know my perfectionism is fueling my anxiety but I can’t control it.”

“Mike, it’s not perfectionism. It’s punishment. You’re punishing yourself for not being perfect, and by doing so, you’re giving control to your pain. You still have control, though, but you don’t feel like you have it anymore, because these beliefs of yours are so ingrained. I don’t think you’re challenging your beliefs enough.”

I’ve been in therapy for over a year–is that not enough? But he’s right. I do not feel like I have control. I feel like I am my anxiety. I am my beliefs. I am who I say and think I am. How does change occur, though? It’s easy to intellectualize this process, but that can only take me so far. Change is deeper, in areas that I don’t like to touch. In areas I don’t know how to touch. When I do touch them, I shut down, I get flooded, and I push away.

He also brought up the issue of learned helplessness. I’ve failed so many times in the past, I do not believe I can succeed. I’ve taught myself how to fail. I’ve let my anticipatory anxiety get the best of me. I think I’ll fail, therefore I will fail. But maybe–just maybe–being conscious of this will help me change? I hope so.

***

Later on in therapy that night, my therapist asked, “What does it mean to be perfect? What does perfectionism mean to you.”

“It means I avoid being judged negatively,” I said.

There’s more but I don’t feel like typing it out. It was a tough session, to say the least. He pushed right up against my beliefs, and I pushed right back, shutting down in the process. I feel like we’ve been at a standstill for some time now. Why does change have to happen so slowly?

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 Don’t Know

I don’t know what to say, but I feel like I should say something because I’m feeling so low. I’ve been trying to track my mood this week–and it’s been all over the place, as usual. But it’s been quite a bit worst this past day or so. I cannot deal with so many fluctuations in one day. In a span of three hours earlier, I went from low to high to low–and I don’t know why.

I don’t know what to say to my therapist tonight. I don’t know whether I should tell him about some of the thoughts I’ve had in my head these past few days. I don’t know how to distinguish between non-harmful suicidal thoughts and harmful one’s–and I don’t think he does either.

I don’t know what to say to my girlfriend when she leaves me tonight to go visit her family. I’m scared that I’m going to binge. I’m scared of the negative thoughts I’ll have. I’m scared of her being disappointed with me, again.

I don’t know what I’m going to say to people at the wedding. I don’t know who I’ll talk to. I don’t know how I’ll act.

I don’t know what to say to you. I’m sorry I’ve been so low as of late. I hope I start feeling better after the wedding. I hope you still like me, even though I’ve been so low. I’m not trying to grab attention or anything, I’m just being honest .. for once. I hope I can do the same in therapy tonight.

Leisure Time

This post got me thinking ..

Even though I’m not working, the past few months have been pretty hectic for me. School work has been slowly piling up as the semester moves on. I’ve also been experiencing quite a bit more depression as of late. Some days I can’t do anything at all for school, and so I’m always having to play catch up. This blog has also been taking up a lot of my time. Writing and doing research for posts, responding to comments and emails, etc. I spend at least an hour on a social anxiety message forum each day, as well. Talk therapy, hypnotherapy, yoga, meditation, CBT … it all adds up. It’s all too much.

I can’t imagine adding a job to the mix. Dealing with my anxiety is a full-time job in itself, and I feel like I have to push myself more and more to overcome it–and I’m starting to think that’s not the right answer.

And when I look ahead, all I see is stress, and this stress leads to anticipatory anxiety. November is a mess: I have a wedding to go to, there’s Thanksgiving, and I have to give two class presentations. December’s even worse: Christmas, New Years, and party after party after party, all of which I probably won’t go to, which will make me feel like crap (actually, it already is).

My days are so full I have no time to think and just be present. I think we’re all conditioned to believe that if we’re not doing something productive, then we’re just wasting time. (Again, this is fuel for my perfectionism.) As a whole, we need to slow down, we need to relax, we need to enjoy (and learn to accept) our leisure time. I cannot keep going at the pace I’m at; it’s not helping to ease my anxiety; in fact, it’s doing just the opposite: it’s fueling it.

I want to do less. I need to keep up with school work, but I want to put less pressure on myself to always stay ahead. It’s okay not to get an A on every assignment; it’s okay to turn an assignment or two in late; it’s okay to fail–sometimes it’s the only way to learn. I want to put some boundaries on how much I work on this blog and answer emails and browse message forums. I want to take the train less and bike and walk more. Instead of taking the elevator I want to take the stairs. Instead of manically trying to fill my days with activity after activity after activity, I need to slow down and learn to accept my thoughts and anxieties and depressions, rather than pushing them aside–and hiding.

I want to have time for myself. I want to have time to think. And live. And be.

life means suffering

Suffering is equally divided among all men; each has the same amount to undergo…. (Paul Bowles, The Sheltering sky)

***

Depression hit me on Wednesday–killing my positive, albeit hyper, mood–when I started analyzing the interview in my mind, over and over and over again, finding all the negatives .. I found a bunch, of course. I also had a difficult tutoring session (see previous post). This depression stuck with me until Thursday evening when anxiety took over while I was in the car with my girlfriend and her father, on our way to my girlfriend’s hometown to visit her family. I actually started panicking a little.

I know I need to connect more with people, especially with my girlfriend’s family, but it’s too hard. I can’t do it, and I really don’t want to, either.

On Thursday night I went with my girlfriend and her sister-in-law to a bar to watch a baseball game. I had two beers which really calmed me down. I felt calm the rest of the night, but I woke up depressed again on Friday and felt down throughout the day until my girlfriend’s brother arrived.

Her brother’s a lot like me–he suffers from anxiety and depression, he doesn’t really like people etc–but I actually think we’re too similar: neither one of us knows how to talk to the other, and a third-party needs to be present in order to facilitate conversation. Actually, I pretty much always need a third party. One-on-one conversation is the hardest for me, and, consequently, that’s when anxiety hits me the most.

Surprisingly, the anxiety wore off quickly, and I was able to relax for a bit after her brother arrived. We all talked for a while, and then I went to bed. My girlfriend joined me after some time.

Like clockwork, I felt depressed again in the morning. I went for a run, reflecting on my week, focusing on a letter I sent to my parents on Thursday. In it, I briefly described what I’ve been going through as of late, as well as my frustration with my family’s lack of emotional connection.

Some highlights–

I haven’t connected with either of you in a long time; and I’m angry and frustrated because of this. There’s so much distance between us—not just geographic distance but emotional distance. Our family has always been a very private family. We just don’t talk about things. I think that worked for us when we were all together, when we were seeing one another every day. But now that Jeff and I are both gone, that lack of emotional connection is catching up to us.

..

I have Social Anxiety Disorder. I’ve suffered with it for over ten years. I know that everybody experiences anxiety in social situations to some extent, but it’s much more intense for me, even debilitating. Often times the anticipatory anxiety is much worse than the actual anxiety I get in the event. Just last week, my anticipatory anxiety kept me from going to a job interview, for example. Also, after social situations, I continually brood on the negatives from the social event. This is self-defeating—it reinforces the anxiety, in other words. Recently, I’ve also been diagnosed with Cyclothymia. It’s a form of Bipolar Disorder—albeit a very mild form. I’m also a Perfectionist, an Introvert, extremely Shy, Highly Sensitive, and so forth …

..

You weren’t/aren’t perfect parents—and that’s okay. I’m getting to the point where I can accept that you weren’t the type of parents I wanted you to be. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m close.

As of writing, I still haven’t heard from my parents. I’m a little worried.

Anyway, I began to feel anxious on my run. I kept going over and over what my parents would say to me. Would they be mad? Or sad? Or concerned? Happy? Confused? .. These thoughts took me from the present moment. I really wanted to get away from my thoughts. I wanted to enjoy my run and connect with nature, but instead I got lost, and eventually trapped, in my own thoughts.

After my run my anxiety intensified, as everybody, aside for me, wanted to go visit my girlfriend’s sister (Ms. D) in Oakland and her baby and fiance–and we ended up going. I get really anxious around them because her fiance is really cocky and outgoing. I never know what to say around him. Whenever he even looks at me I just freeze. I can’t think, I can’t talk, I can’t do anything. I’m overcome with anxiety.

I also don’t really do well around children. I never know how to act or what to say. I feel like everyone is judging me: He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He probably has no experience with children. He’s an idiot.

I guess it didn’t go too bad. I felt stupid when Ms. D asked me how I was doing because I always say the same things: “I’m good. I’m just trying to get through school and find a job.” She gave me an awkward smile and nod, and thankfully the conversation moved on, the attention put on someone else.

A few minutes later everybody was lively and talking about babies and weddings while I just sat in the corner, keeping silent, trying to pretend I was playing with the baby (and enjoying it). Finally, when the conversation was over, I shouted out, “I don’t think I’ve ever been licked so much in my life,” referring to their dog. Everyone turned toward me, looking at me as if they were surprised I was still in the room. I’m not sure why I said it, I really don’t. Well, actually I do: I wanted to be included so bad, I just said the only thing I could think of. No one really knew what to say. Finally, Ms. D broke the silence–

“Mike, no one really likes it.”

“I’m not complaining,” I said.

A few people laughed, awkwardly, and then the conversation moved on. I probably appeared like I was complaining, because when I said what I said I know my face was stoic. 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. She gave me the reaction I’ve gotten most of my life–the same reaction that fuels my anxiety. If she could only understand that I’m feeling something entirely different altogether on the inside she would probably respond differently. I came across as unfriendly and uncaring and yet on the inside I just wanted to connect and be heard. I wish she could have seen this. I wish everybody could see this. Social anxiety changes my personality so much–making it impossible for me to be myself.

I didn’t say much the rest of the trip. Depression followed me home. I carried it with me on Sunday and on in to today. Right now I’m analyzing and interpreting every single word spoken, every gesture, every facial expression from the weekend. I’m also beginning to feel anxious again because I have another social event tonight: dinner with my girlfriend’s former roommate.

***

I suffered constantly in one form or another this past week. When I wasn’t anxious I felt depressed, and when I wasn’t depressed I felt anxious, and when I wasn’t anxious or depressed I felt hyper.

I’ve been thinking more about suffering recently. I’m starting to believe that everyone suffers in their own way. If you alleviate one form, like starvation, another appears, like anxiety–so what’s the point of even trying? I think the answer can be found in the Buddha’s four noble truths. Suffering is all around us, it’s part of life, but it only affects us if we attach ourselves to them.

To me, that means suffering is a choice. I suffer because I choose to believe my thoughts. I choose to let them control me. That said, I’m not sure how to go about releasing, or detaching, my self from my thoughts, but I do believe I’m on the right path. I need to keep doing what I’m doing.

P.S. I got a haircut and nobody noticed. My hair used to be long, and I cut it really short. I thought for sure someone would say something which would open up a conversation, but no one did. I’m invisible.

What’s My Name Again?

I currently volunteer at the public library’s adult literacy program, Project Read. It’s very satisfying, and it gets me out of the apartment.

I started the program last November, and after going through training, I was assigned someone–let’s call him Mr. C–in January. So I’ve been working with him for almost ten months. For the first six months or so we met once a week for about two hours a session; and for the past 4 months we’ve been meeting twice a month, two hours each.

Anyway, things have been going well, until our meeting earlier this week, that is. We met, as usual. Started chatting, as usual. Baseball, weather, public transit, that sort of thing. Then the conversation drifted toward smart phones, and Mr. C mentioned that he just purchased one. I asked if he got a new number and he said yes, and then I asked for it and he gave it to me, and then he asked for mine, and as he was putting my number in his phone, he asked–

“What’s your name again? Mike, right?”

I froze. For the most part, I don’t get much anxiety around him. We’ve been meeting regularly for so long, I’ve been able to open up (somewhat). I think things can be very awkward between us, though. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I believe he can see this lack of confidence, but other than that, I feel relaxed around him. Because of this, I said exactly what was on my mind, without filtering it first–

“We’ve been meeting since January and you don’t know my name by now,” I said. This came out in a very harsh tone. I was pissed. “It’s Mike.”

I had to go to the bathroom to cool off. When I got back, I started editing his writing. We just moved on.

In retrospect, I’m angry at myself. I’m angry because I allowed my emotions to get the best of me. It’s not about him–it’s about me. There could be any number of reasons why he didn’t remember my name. Maybe he was trying to clarify whether I go by Mike or Michael. Maybe he has anxiety issues too and maybe he was flooded with anxiety when we met. I know I often don’t listen as well when I’m flooded. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. I’m angry at myself.

But I should be happy because I was able to be present and say what was on my mind without judgment and scrutiny, but–and there’s always a but–I still wish I could have been a little easier on Mr. C–and myself.

Yet another example of my perfectionism.

Time and Perfectionism

Time, or lack there of, fuels my perfectionism. We’re conditioned to believe we have less and less of it, which is driven into us over and over again by advertisements. I don’t own a TV because, frankly, advertisements make me feel like crap–and that’s the point. I avoid advertisements anyway I can, but this subtle reminder–that time is decreasing–is all around me.

For example, on my way to the library today, to work on schoolwork, I saw a delivery truck for McDonald’s, a man typing on his blackberry in the elevator, cars speeding everywhere–all reminders that I need to do more with less. Instead of wasting time cooking a meal, I should just pick up something quick at a fast-food restaurant. Instead of trying to relax on my commute, I should be sending an email or text or something from my blackberry. Instead of biking–a longer, more enjoyable form of commuting–I should get a car so I can get from point A to point B quicker.

All this is happening in my unconsciousness; I’m not consciously telling myself I should forfeit a healthy meal for a crappy one, in other words. But when I start craving lunch and all I can think about is grabbing something quick so I can get right back to work, it’s pretty clear to me how the actions and choices that we (society) make as a whole affect me, negatively.

What’s more, the people who are highly-revered in our society are those who do more with less. Those who make efficient decisions, sacrificing themselves and the world around them.

And it’s the people who try to live consciously who really suffer. I want to have time to make a healthy, home-cooked meal; I want leisure time; I want to commute to places responsibly. And yet, somewhere inside I’m telling myself that unless I work 60 hours a week and make $80K (so I can buy crap I don’t want or need) I’m inferior. Unless I sacrifice my ideals and beliefs for cultural norms, I’m a failure. No matter where I go or how much I try to shield myself from advertising and consumerism, it’s still there, all around me–and I have to be a part of it, even though I really don’t want to.

***

I went downtown the other day to people watch. I sat in the same spot for about an hour, watching the business professionals go about their day. It was stressful for me because everyone looked stressed–never quick enough, never good enough, never smart enough plastered on their faces. I felt sorry for them (in the same way that I feel sorry for myself).

At one point two men came out of an office and lit up cigarettes. They smoked in silence for awhile until a bum passed by and sat down next to them. The men moved away as the bum snickered at them. I could see them laughing at the bum–or what I perceived as laughter, at least. Anyway, right there in front of me were two extremes: the business professionals conformed to cultural norms while the bum rejected them; the business professionals educated, the bum not (presumably), etc. But how different are they?

I’m not convinced there is that much difference, but I’m positive that I don’t want to be either of them.