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Perfectionism: Past, Present, and Future

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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judgments, criticisms and star trek

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

For example–

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

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

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

“To avoid deceiving oneself,” Data said.

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

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

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

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

social anxiety’s downward spiral

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

social anxiety vs. shyness

I’m so sick of hearing people say Social Anxiety Disorder is just another way of saying someone is extremely shy or introverted. I’ve even heard someone argue that social anxiety is just a euphemism for shyness–which doesn’t make any sense to me. Sure, shyness and introversion are generally a part of social anxiety, but they are not the only parts. Not every shy and/or introverted person has Social Anxiety Disorder.

So what’s the difference?

Well, shyness and introversion can make life difficult at times but you generally pull through. You go to parties and other social gatherings, you make speeches in school, you accept promotions at your job, etc. They’re difficult, in other words, but you still get through them. With Social Anxiety Disorder though, it becomes almost impossible to engage socially, even in the most basic social situations. You have difficulty standing in line at the grocery store, you can’t talk on the phone, you avoid all social situations, etc.

Shyness makes life difficult; social anxiety makes life impossible.

With that said, I think in our society people jump to hasty conclusions, demanding drugs when drugs may not be needed. Sometimes people who are just shy may be diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder and be given drugs, and this has hurt the people who really do have the disorder, as it gives everyone a bad name. But not everyone operates in this manner; there is legitimate suffering going on. People need to be conscious of this before they trivialize someone’s problems.

my perfectionism

  1. Internal: I hold myself to ridiculously high standards
  2. External: I hold others to ridiculously high standards
  3. Social: I believe others are holding me to ridiculously high standards

If I had to guess, I’d say that most people suffering from social anxiety can probably relate to at least the first and the third types of perfectionism. We think people are judging us, and so we hold ourselves to an even higher standard. We really just want to fit in, even if it’s not right for us.

For example (and this is an example of the first type of perfectionism), I have this idea of what “normal” is. It’s having friends and a job and a relationship–and balancing (perfectly, of course) my days with each of them. In this ideal, I go to work in the morning, talk to friends on my breaks and maybe see one after work, and then go home to my girlfriend or wife for dinner. All the while, being social, enjoying myself, and keeping busy. After dinner, we hang out in front of the TV, or we browse Facebook, or we go out with friends. This is how “normal” people go about their day. It’s jammed full of one social event after another.

I don’t want to live like this (and I can’t), but to a certain degree, I hold myself to that ideal because I want to fit in. I think I should be living that life, and since I’m not and maybe never will, I feel like shit all the time.

I hold myself to impossible standards I don’t even want to begin with.

This type of perfectionism is not limited just to social events; once it became a part of my life, it multiplied itself exponentially, touching everything–what I major in in college, what I do with my life, what type of food I eat, etc. What’s more, our consumption-driven society exasperates my perfectionism, as well: we’re affected by so much–bombard with so many different advertisements, so many different people telling us what we should buy and who we should be–it’s almost impossible to make any decisions without outside influence–and that influence is what influences my standards.

Even though in some cases I’ve made decisions for me, I think most of the time, I’m conforming to the standards of society. Whether I like it or not, I’ve always just wanted to fit in. I just want to be a statistic, lost in the crowd.

Further, I’ve missed out on a lot of social development, and my peers seem adept at certain things that I struggle at. They can smile when someone says hello. They can make small talk. They can laugh and joke. I can’t keep up with them. They’re perfect, and I’m not. I really need to go through like a social skills training program or something.

With regard to the third type of perfectionism, I feel like I have to conform to everyone’s standards. I have to be everything to everyone. I can never be me.

In fact, I don’t really know who I am anymore. I’ve gone through life trying to please others so much, I’ve forgotten who I really am. I’m lost in various characters and roles–roles I can’t really portray because they’re not really me. No wonder I’m anxious: I’m trying to be something I’m not. But who am I? If I strip away the labels (anxious, depressed etc.) and the roles I conform to, there’s nothing left because I’ve forgotten who I really am. There’s probably just a scared sixteen year old waiting for his mother to come back. Waiting for someone to take care of him (me) again.

As for the second type of perfectionism, I wouldn’t think many people suffering from socially anxiety can relate to it–but I really don’t know. I can relate because after I get passed the first and third types, I start judging others.

When I start feeling comfortable in relationships the judgments come out. This doesn’t happen very often, as I don’t feel comfortable with very many people. Parents, psychologists, girlfriends, to name a few. … Actually, let me rephrase: my mom, my current psychologist, and my current girlfriend. That’s it. Those are the people I judge. When they don’t live up to my expectations–usually the expectations I set for myself–I get angry. Some of it is projecting, and some of it is just me being pretentious.

I sometimes wonder if I actually did live up to my expectations more, would I be more pretentious? Would I just hold everybody to the standards and ideals I think everyone should live up to?

Sorry, I know this post is all over the place; I should revise because it’s not up to my standards … but then again, maybe I shouldn’t …

the social phobic

Aside from this blog, there just are not many others out there that deal specifically with Social Anxiety Disorder. I know I talk about other subjects on here, but the main focus is the anxiety. It’s why I created this blog. It’s what I’ve been struggling with for the past ten years or so. Sure, I’m plagued with other issues, like depression and disordered eating, but the main focus is the anxiety–all else manifests from the anxiety, in my opinion. With that said, one other blog of note, which deals specifically with social anxiety, is The Social Phobic.

I’ve been following this blog for a few months. Actually, following isn’t the right word because it hasn’t been updated since March. I’ve really just been reading the archives. I can see myself in the author’s words. It’s comforting to know there are others out there like me. One of the hardest things for me to deal with is the isolation and loneliness. I forget that others experience anxiety too, and I forget that Social Anxiety Disorder is one of the most prevalent anxiety disorders, affecting millions upon millions of people. It’s just not glamorized on TV or in movies. There are no documentaries on A&E. The disorder isn’t represented on The Real World or any other reality TV show. I can’t see myself on TV, or in any of my friends.

That’s why I think these words are so important, and that’s why I found The Social Phobic to be so enlightening. Like everyone, we need to have a voice, we need to connect, we need to be seen and heard. So when I read that first post on that blog, I knew I had to share my experiences too, and I knew I had to begin writing about those experiences in order to understand them and eventually name them.

***

I know I don’t have many readers yet, but I still want to hear from you if you’re reading this. What other sites would you recommend? Are there are other blogs out there that focus on social anxiety that I’m missing?

binge, lamictal, my story

Friday

I binged again last Friday on the usual: a super burrito and almost a quart of ice cream. It’s scary how the “usual” used to be a super burrito plus a pint of ice cream–and now it’s a quart! Anyway, I wanted to take a picture of the food because I want to keep visual records of my binges (because I think it will help make the binges seem more real after), but I didn’t because I had to eat the food immediately because I was feeling terrible. I didn’t have time to waste on finding the camera and arranging the food. I had to eat! I felt that bad.

After I jammed the food down my throat, I felt terrible. The depression seemed to increase and I felt shame, regret, and tension throughout my body. I wanted to eat more–a lot more–but there was no time because I had to go right to hypnotherapy after.

I’ve been seeing a hypnotherapist for my social anxiety since April. I really like the idea of hypnotherapy (intellectually speaking), but I’m just not getting very much out of it. I probably would have quit a while ago if I didn’t connect so well with my hypnotherapist, Ms. L. She’s suffered with social anxiety most of her adult life and is currently recovering from it. She’s really easy to talk to, and it’s just nice because I know she actually understands what I’m going through. I think a lot of therapists and psychologists don’t really know all that much about the disorder, and if they do, they only understand it on an intellectual level–they don’t understand it first hand. Because of this, I think it’s hard for them to have empathy, and it makes treatment difficult.

With that said, my hypnotherapist is not trained in clinical psychology–she only has her hypnotherapist certification. Yet I treat her as if she was a psychologist. As of late, we’ve been spending a lot less time actually doing hypnotherapy and more time just talking. I feel comfortable telling her my secrets because I know she’s been through the exact same things.

Hypnotherapy is sort of like a guided meditation. She guides me away from my thoughts and the external world to my inner thoughts and feelings and emotions. It’s very hard for me to move away from my thoughts and into the present moment. I don’t think it’s possible to ever truly shut off your thoughts, but I do think it’s possible to not let them control you–letting them just be there without attaching onto them. I’m not there yet, and so I think it’s important for me to work on meditating on my own and on other forms of healing. Being lost in my thoughts prevents me from going deep into my intuition and, thus, getting positive benefits from the therapy.

On Friday we just talked. I told her about my depressions and how I was diagnosed with Cyclothymia. We both agreed that it would be best to hold off on any further sessions until I start getting relief from the depressions, as hypnotherapy can’t really help with something that’s biological in nature and the depressions are my main concern at this point. We scheduled our next session for the beginning of October. Hopefully I’ll be feeling a little better then.

During the session I also spoke about my frustrations with my mom: how whenever I talk to her she trivializes my issues by saying either, “Everybody gets anxious sometimes” or “You shouldn’t worry so much about what people think.” Which pisses me off, as you know. Anyway, Ms. L responded by saying, “Maybe your mom really wants to help, but she doesn’t know what to say. She’s trying to help in her own way. Maybe you should try telling her how she could help in the future.” This is something I hadn’t considered, and the more I think about it, the more I think she’s probably right. I engage in the same behavior sometimes: often when people are explaining their problems or issues I tend to respond by giving positive, practical feedback. I think sometimes people just need someone there to listen without judging–and that’s what I’m looking for from my mom. I just want her to listen. Maybe I should try explaining this to her?

After hypnotherapy I went for a run. I ended up running 3.5 miles with a belly full of ice cream left over from my binge . I gagged up stomach acid and chocolate ice cream every minute or so and just spit it out. I probably “threw up” thirty or forty times. So my binge turned into a purge. Wonderful.

Saturday

I started the Lamictal on Saturday. 12.5 mg. No side effects yet. But no positive benefits either. It’s too early to tell. I need to get up to the 50 to 100 mg levels before I’ll even begin to feel anything.

I hung out with a friend, Ms R., on Saturday. She suffers with social anxiety and depression and that’s how the friendship formed, but we have a lot more in common, as well: we’re both in graduate school studying information science, we’re both volunteering at a literacy center, we’re both interested in politics and literature, we’ve both lived in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. I really enjoy hanging out with her. Again, it just feels good being able to actually talk to someone about my issues and know that they understand because they experience them.

Oh and I also showered for the first time in like five days! Yay!

Sunday

I spent most of Sunday holed up in the library, working through my history with social anxiety (My Story). It was incredibly difficult and evoked a lot of emotions. There were times when I couldn’t go on because I got too emotional, but I pushed through. It’s a work in progress and my hope is to continue expanding it. I also hope that you can relate.

On Sunday, someone came across my blog by searching “unhappy with graduate school and depress” from Google. I’m glad to see that people are finding their way here, and I can relate: I’m in graduate school, and I’m not really happy with it. I’m going to school online, which doesn’t help me to develop socially, and I’m going into a field (library science) that isn’t exactly growing. I have to constantly remind myself that (a) I am in graduate school (sometimes it’s hard to tell because the program is online) and (b) the economy will bounce back. It’s been hard.

Anyway, if you read this, hang in there. I think you’ll eventually find something that you enjoy doing with your life if you continue searching.

Today

I’m in a hypomanic state today. I got up early, came to the library, and have been working on schoolwork and blog posts ever since. I read seventy-five pages for school and finished a project. I wrote this post and am working on another. I’ve posted comments on other blogs and message forums. I’m caught up on email. And I’ve only been in the library for about four hours. I feel good, though. It’s nice being caught up with school and being so very, very productive. Earlier I was feeling extremely–extremely!–anxious. But not anymore. I’m not sure what that’s about. Actually I am still feeling somewhat anxious (and happy), but I feel sad as well. This is me right now: 🙂 + 😦 / happy and sad / I’m smiling and frowning / I’m laughing and crying …

cyclothymia

Depression is here. It found me sometime last night. It was a busy night: I had therapy, and then my girlfriend and I went to dinner, and then we went to a bar afterward to see a friend of hers perform. Through it all I could feel the depression coming. I felt sluggish, lethargic, and uncaring. I remember thinking, I could be here, or I could be somewhere else. It doesn’t matter–I’ll still feel the same, while watching the band perform. Finally, when my head hit the pillow, there was no more doubt: I was depressed. I felt better in the morning, though. My girlfriend and I watched an episode of Star Trek and made waffles. We talked. We laughed. We joked. But then I left, and went to the library, and it’s back again. It must have been hiding. It wanted me to leave. It wanted me to be alone. And yet, I don’t feel that bad right now. I feel sad but not too sad. I feel tired but not too tired. I feel empty, irritable, and anxious–but not too empty, irritable, or anxious. I can still function, and that’s good, because I’m still behind on school. There’s no time this week to take days off; I can’t binge; I have to push through.

***

Yesterday was a busy day for me, mentally speaking. I had a session with my therapist, as well as my psychiatrist who diagnosed me with cyclothymia after reading over and discussing my blog post with me from September 11th. (Yes, I gave it to him! It’s still hard for me to believe.) Put simply, cyclothymia, or cyclothymic disorder, is a mild form of bipolar disorder, characterized by mood swings ranging from mild or moderate depression to euphoria and hypomania. From the minds at the Mayo Clinic:

With cyclothymia, you experience periods when your mood noticeably fluctuates from your baseline. You may feel on top of the world for a time, followed by a low period when you feel somewhat blue. Between these cyclothymic highs and lows, you may feel stable and fine.

Compared with bipolar disorder, the highs and lows of cyclothymia are less extreme. Still, it’s critical to seek help managing these symptoms because they increase your risk of bipolar disorder. Treatment options for cyclothymia include psychotherapy, medications, and–most important–close, ongoing follow-up with your doctor.

Honestly, it felt good to get the diagnosis. It was a big relief to find out that what I’ve been going through is something tangible, something real, something that other people experience as well. I’m not alone, and I don’t have to continue experiencing it alone. It’s treatable. There’s other options besides the short-term relief from binging. Now, there is some disagreement in the psychological community about whether cyclothymia is a mood disorder or a personality disorder. It seems like most medical professionals treat it as a mood disorder, though. It’s biological in nature. It’s a chemical imbalance. And thus, I should respond to medication.

My psychiatrist prescribed me Lamotrigine (or Lamictal). According to Wikipedia:

Lamotrigine is an anticonvulsant drug used in the treatment of epilepsy and bipolar disorder. … Like many other anticonvulsant medications, Lamotrigine also seems to act as an effective mood stabilizer, and in fact has been the only FDA approved drug for this purpose since lithium, a drug approved almost 30 years earlier. It is approved for the maintenance treatment of bipolar type I. Chemically unrelated to other anticonvulsants, lamotrigine has relatively few side-effects and does not require blood monitoring in monotherapy. The exact way lamotrigine works is unknown.

Interesting, although a little scary they don’t know how it actually works. The side effect to worry about is a rash–a life threatening rash. Sounds absurd. But I’ll be on the look out. (If I see it, maybe I’ll let it grow! SUICIDE BY RASH!) If this medication is effective it should help with the social anxiety too, because If I’m not quite as depressed when I enter a social situation, I should be able to handle the situation better because I’m not as negative. I’m not going to start the medication until I’m fully caught up with school work. My last depression put me behind, and I’m still trying to catch up. I guess I’m a little worried that the medication’s side effects are going to put me into a zombie-like state, much like Zoloft. I’m so skeptical toward medication in general. I’ve read too many dystopian novels.

Must. Stay. Positive. Or try to.

Even though cyclothymia is treated as a mood disorder, I think it’s important for me to address this in my psychotherapy sessions too. I’m already fairly aware of the mood swings I go through, and I can feel the warning signs when I’m about to become depressed. But I think therapy can help me become even more aware of how this disorder affects me, as well as providing rational coping techniques to help with my depressions. I really need to find something besides food to cope with. I want something positive that I can do to ease myself back to my “normal” states. Further, I think there’s always much more to mood disorders than what meets the eye. Pills alone are not the answer, in other words. I have a feeling that my fragile psychological state coupled with social anxiety brought on these extreme mood swings. I still believe the social anxiety is my primary concern, and I know that some of my depressive states come directly from my anxiety. Continuing to address the anxiety while being mindful of the mood swings is my new goal in therapy–and in life.

There’s also a part of me that thinks cyclothymia isn’t a real disorder. Everybody goes through ups and downs. Everybody gets depressed and goes through periods of excitement and euphoria every now and then. Why do I need medication for something that everybody goes through? It’s different in my case because the swings don’t seem to be triggered by anything–they just happen. For most people, their swings are the result of something that happens in their lives, like getting married or getting fired from a job, etc.. When the ups and downs come from nowhere, it causes anxiety and frustration because I don’t feel like I have control. It’s okay for someone to feel down because something negative or bad happens, but it’s not okay to feel down for no reason, especially when it happens over and over and over again. Severity and frequency are factors as well. When I’m depressed I sometimes get so low I can’t function. I can’t see anyone. I can’t talk, smile, or laugh. I can’t work on schoolwork. My life gets put on hold, and sometimes I feel suicidal. The lows are becoming more and more frequent too. It’s not okay for me to be knocked on my ass two days a week, every week. I’ve really only been aware of these cycles or swings for the past few months, but I know they’ve been going on longer. I remember telling my therapist like six months ago I binge at least twice a month to get out of depressions. The swings are happening more and more. Twice a month is something I can handle; five or six times, I can’t. I need help, and I’m finally getting it.

***

I gave a copy of the blog post to both my psychiatrist and therapist. I left the writing in its original format, so they know it comes from my blog and they know its name as well so they could find it pretty easily. They could also find my previous blog too where I went into great detail about what happens during some of my sessions with them. They may not like that I’ve been so candid about it. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I care, but then again, I don’t care. I probably should have removed the information about my blog, but I didn’t, and to be honest, I really didn’t event think about it. I guess I really don’t care. I am going to continue talking in great detail about my sessions because it’s important to me, and it helps me integrate and process everything–which helps me heal.

With that said, I do care about the journey I’ve been going through with both my psychiatrist and therapist. Therapy, especially, is a sacred, intimate experience. I don’t take it lightly. I respect my therapist and everything that’s happened between us. He’s letting me take him somewhere within me. I do not think writing about the process diminishes any of that. In fact, I think it strengthens it because writing has made it easier for me to go deeper in sessions. It’s brought understanding and clarity. Sharing my process with others is intimate, as well. The healing process shouldn’t, and isn’t, just about two people, my therapist and I. It’s about everyone. Keeping the process hidden doesn’t do any good. There are too many books out there that deal with social anxiety and depression after the fact–after the person has been through the healing process. This skips the journey altogether and shows us the destination, which doesn’t help, because the journey is the destination. By providing insight into my journey, I believe that I’m giving others the chance to see themselves in me and to pick out the parts of my process that may work for them. And that’s worth sharing.

On that note, last night when I told my therapist that my psychiatrist diagnosed me with cyclothymia, he didn’t have much of a response. We talked a bit about me attaching onto labels, but we moved on to something else afterward. I asked him about whether we need to specifically address cyclothymia in our sessions or if it’s unnecessary because it’s more biological in nature. He gave no response. I realize now that his none response was really a response. By not giving an answer, he was saying that it’s something we address by not addressing it. We just continue doing what we’ve been doing, and by doing that, it will be addressed.

***

Finally, I want to talk about labels. Yesterday I was given another label to add to the mix. What does that mean? Put simple, I have Social Anxiety Disorder and Cyclothymia. And I mean that subjectively. If I opened up the DSM right now and looked up both those disorders, I could probably read a little about myself–but in a detached, objective sense. I am much, much more than the words in the DSM, and I try my best not to limit myself to the judgments and feelings behind those words. My therapist is right: By constantly telling myself I have Social Anxiety Disorder, I’m also constantly saying that I’m a loser, I’m not good enough, and I’m a failure. Those labels are powerful, in other words. They’re weighed down by emotions and judgments. For me labels are still important, though, because they allow me to get the treatment I need and sometimes they are just easier to deal with.

We use labels or names everyday to define our world. When you go out for a walk you may see trees, birds, houses, people, stores, cars–all labels. How often do you go deeper and ask yourself what’s behind those labels? What really is a bird? What’s at its essence? Have you really looked at one before, seeing it for what it really is? How is it connected to you? How do the decisions you make affect that bird, and how does that bird affect you? I think it’s important to address those questions from time to time. It keeps me grounded. It keeps me connected. But I don’t think it’s necessary to see the world like that all the time. If I did, I wouldn’t have time for anything else. That’s why we create labels. When I see a bird, I think, That’s a bird, and then I move on with my day. The same can be applied to the labels I’ve put on myself. Sometimes it’s okay to just say, “Yes, I have Social Anxiety Disorder and Cyclothymia.” It’s okay to say it like that, as long as I understand there’s much more to it than that. (I alluded to this in my last post.) These disorders are subjective; they affect us differently. As long as I’m aware of that, I think it’s okay to just say sometimes that I have Social Anxiety Disorder and leave it at that. If I went into great detail all the time, I would never get anywhere.