Category Archives: perfectionism

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?

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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.

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

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?