Category Archives: perfectionism

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.

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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.

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.

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.

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 …