Category Archives: negative thinking

tattoos and hasty conclusions

I think I mentioned briefly in a past post that I had just got a tattoo–and if I didn’t, well I just got a tattoo. Not going into too much detail, I’m a fan of  dialectics–thesis, antithesis, synthesis–so I got a tattoo of a dragon, some waves, a peaceful river, mountains and a sun–all done in Japanese style–each representing a phase of the dialectic process, on my right arm.

Anyway, during my first tattoo session, which by the way was my first tattoo session for my first tattoo, I felt nervous/anxious/excited/etc./etc. I took an Ativan to help calm my nerves, which did very little if anything.

I had to take off my shirt, and even before the tattooing began, I was, to put it mildly, sweating horrendously (I brought a rag to wipe up the sweat from my underarms), not much worse though than any other social interaction. I was also wincing and wasn’t talking much to the artist who badly wanted to talk. Thankfully my girlfriend did most of the talking. Being a twenty year tattoo vet and slightly insensitive, about halfway through the session, he looked at me and asked, “Why is this so much harder for you that for everyone else?”

Shocked and caught off guard, I said, “It really hurts.” I left it at that.

I didn’t think much of this until a few days later when it hit me–I was pissed. Him saying that seemed akin to a therapist asking, “Why can’t you be like my other patients?” On the surface what he said was not only insensitive but extremely hurtful as well. It’s my job to sit as still as possible while getting a tattoo. The experience itself is mine, though. If I don’t want to talk that should be fine. If I want to wince that should be fine too. Shouldn’t that be somewhat expected, especially from someone who has been tattooing for that long? As soon as I started thinking about it, I realized just how angry I was. I also knew right away that that anger had been building and was ready to burst. I didn’t really know what to do with it so I just put the anger aside for a few days.

And that’s exactly what I did. Inspired by Layara, I came back to the issue when I had some time alone to think a day or two later and came to the conclusion that perhaps I had been jumping to hasty conclusions on what exactly he meant. He could have just been having a bad day and did in fact take it out on me. Maybe he really was just trying to ask if I was doing okay and it came out wrong. Whatever the reason, it’s not my fault. I did nothing wrong. It’s so easy for me to blame myself in situations like that.

Further, I tend to jump to huge conclusions based on the most minute types of behavior. For example–

  • If someone gives me a tired look while I’m talking to him or her then it’s my fault. They find me boring. They would rather be doing something else.
  • If someone doesn’t say hi to me and smile then I’m probably just not worthy of it in the first place and he or she really doesn’t like me.
  • Etc.

My point is that I have programmed myself to jump to very negative conclusions based on outward behavior, which has not served me. My hope is that one day I can catch myself making those hasty conclusions and and provide arguments or other scenarios to counter my irrational thinking. For now though, I’m doing my best to go back and look at situations and try to re-frame them, in order to attempt to objectify the situation more.

I go back to get my tattoo finished on Sunday. I’m excited, and the experience will be mine. If he’s not okay with that, I have the confidence now to let him know.

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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.

a setback

As expected, depression caught up to me last night. Along with it came intense claustrophobia, which brought anxiety and at times near panic; sadness; unfulfillment; and the inability to do even the most basic tasks.

I tried to just go with it, to let the feelings pass by actually feeling them, but they became too intense. I binged on food, which didn’t help, and then tried to binge on alcohol but after one drink I felt sick. I spent most of the night lying on my bed in the fetal position unable to move.

Suicidal thoughts returned in full force. I felt like I did two weeks ago. I’m disappointed with myself for succumbing to the depression and binging.

live or die, heads or tails

There is only one really serious philosophical question, and that is suicide. Deciding whether or not life is worth living is to answer the fundamental question in philosophy. All other questions follow from that.      – Albert Camus

I woke up last Friday certain that it would be my last day on this planet. I took an anti-emetic, as I was pre-loading, staggered into the kitchen, made toast, and then stared at a picture of my parents–all the while shoving back tears. On Thursday, I put up pictures of my family and girlfriend throughout my apartment. I didn’t want to be alone when I took the pills. They would give me strength. In a way, I would be doing it for them.

After breakfast, I started thinking about death–and what that means. I went to a window and pushed open the drapes, allowing the light to pour in. It wasn’t a particularly sunny day, but I still felt it’s warmth against my skin.

As a nihilist I haven’t given much thought about the after life. Whenever I do think about it, I just get pushed back to my nihilistic beliefs. What’s the point? No one knows for sure what happens after we die—it’s all subjective. Plus, even if I did believe in something after all this, I cannot imagine it resembles anything that’s depicted by popular religions. I do believe there is something out there, that connects us all. That connection is what I believe in, which is why I knew that if I had killed myself on Friday it would have affected so much more than I can possibly imagine.

I’ve relied on that connection for a long time; it gets me through the day; it provides meaning to my life. Depression took it away. I cannot extract meaning from anything anymore, and, although I still believe on a theoretical level that this connection exists, I no longer feel it deep down—and that’s where it matters. It’s hard to do anything when faced with a meaningless life.

On Friday everything pointed toward death. I felt so certain about it. Sure, the week before I tried to kill myself and couldn’t go through with it, but something felt different on Friday. I didn’t feel happy or terribly sad. I may have spent the majority of the day crying, but those tears were okay. The days leading up to Friday were much worse. I was in agony thinking about the shit-storm of pain I would be leaving behind. But on Friday, the path seemed clear. I could do no wrong.

But then when it came down to it–after I took the final anti-emetics, after I deleted all my email and everything from my hard-drive, after I scheduled an email to be sent to my girlfriend on Sunday, after I lined up the pills, after I took one last look at myself in the mirror–I couldn’t do it. Terror rose up from somewhere unknown, pushing the depression and pain aside.

A part of me wanted to go on. Where was this part of me a month ago when I was living like I had a month to live?

On Saturday I felt numb. I barely ate. I guess numb and starving is better than binging and suicidal (my normal state). I cleaned everything up. Out of sight, out of mind. And now, it’s like it never happened. I feel myself moving on to the next phase, without giving much thought to my suicidal feelings.

This is how I operate. I push things aside. I move on. I adapt. I do not dwell, and I do not feel. It’s like a game. One minute I’m suicidal, and the very next everything’s okay again. There’s never been any balance in my life. All or nothing. This way, or that. The suicidal feelings flicked off (unconsciously) and now I’m not even taking them seriously. I don’t know how close to death I came, but this is something that should demand attention, yet I am somewhere else, in the future, trying to plan my life, as always.

My answer to Camus is this: Life and death are the same. Neither matters to me. My desire to live didn’t keep me alive; my fear of uncertainty kept me going.

P.S. Today is my birthday and the only person I heard from is my dentist (via email). I guess it doesn’t help that I’ve pushed almost everyone away these past few months and that I got off Facebook and that my phone doesn’t have a battery. But it’s nice because I get to reinforce all the negative feelings about myself–nobody loves me or cares about me, because nobody even realizes it’s my birthday. I am nothing.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Chapter 1

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend that I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit … but, my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

Chapter 4

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter 5

I walk down another street.

***

I love that poem. It’s from There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk by Portia Nelson. I feel like each chapter represents a stage of my recovery.

Chapter 1 encompasses my middle school and high school years, when social anxiety began to develop. I started avoiding social interaction by ending friendships and isolating myself; developing powerful, yet irrational beliefs and attitudes; and reinforcing those same beliefs and attitudes with my thoughts and actions–all while being unaware.

The years (early college) which make up Chapter 2 are even harder than the previous years, as I’m in denial. I know that I am an introvert and highly sensitive, yet I know there’s much more to it than that. That is, I know there’s some deeper issues. I avoided them by locking myself in sexual relationships, avoiding friendships, and abusing alcohol. I was absolutely miserable, yet I put up a happy, normal facade. I hid my problems well, and that’s the only way I knew how to cope–because I didn’t know what was wrong or where to seek help.

Chapter 3 represents my latter college years and the year I spent in New York after graduation. By that point I knew I suffered from Social Anxiety Disorder. I knew I kept people at a distance because I was afraid of what they may see inside. And I knew I needed to seek professional help, but I didn’t. Again, I coped by drinking and denying; however, those tactics began to lose their power because I knew there was a deeper issue.

Today, I’m somewhere after chapter three but before five. (I don’t want to say I am in Chapter 4 because sometimes I feel like I’m beyond it and sometimes I feel like I’m not even there yet). I am seeking professional help. I am aware of my thought processes and where they can take me. I know not everybody is a fan of CBT–or its wording and metaphors–but it has greatly helped me. I know, for instance, that certain thoughts will lead me down familiar roads, and I know at the end of those roads, there is nothing good there. I know that if I continue to take those roads, I will continue to feel a certain way. I haven’t totally changed my habits, but I am getting closer. I think Chapter 5 is in sight.

Now, for those who are at an earlier stage, there is no shame, because how you are feeling is not your fault. You are not explicitly choosing to feel anxious or depressed. We’re all at different stages, and we’re all in this together. What’s more, recovery is not linear. You don’t go from bad to good to better to best. Sometimes I’m in Chapter 4; other times I move back to Chapter 2–but, in the end, I am moving forward. More and more of my time is spent in the latter Chapters.

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