Category Archives: negative thinking

reiteration

I want to go over something I briefly touched on earlier this week. In the post life means suffering, I said–

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.

Essentially, I felt like I got criticized by Ms. D, my girlfriend’s half-sister, and I took it personally. But when I took a step back and analyzed it a little more objectively, I felt like she was attacking my anxiety, not my true self.

This is important because I take everything personally. When a co-worker’s having a bad day and doesn’t smile at me, it must be because I didn’t smile at him first. When a friend’s angry at someone else but he takes it out on me, it must be because I did something wrong. When a librarian is aggravated because she is busy and gets pulled from her schedule to meet me, she must not like me. When I’m with an acquaintance and there’s an awkward moment of silence between us, it’s because I’m boring and don’t know what to say. Whenever something goes wrong, it’s my fault because there’s something deeply wrong with me.

None of those are my fault, none mean there’s something wrong with me. They’re just negative situations which can be interpreted in a number of different ways, and more often than not, I find the negatives: it’s my fault and they don’t like me, personally.

Awareness is key. When someone negatively judges me, real or imagined, because of how I act when I’m flooded with anxiety, they aren’t attacking me personally–they’re attacking the anxiety.

***

Have a great weekend, and enjoy Halloween–if you have/celebrate that.

life means suffering

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therapy and medication

My therapist doesn’t get it. Or maybe it’s I who isn’t getting it? I told him on Tuesday that I struggle through so many simple things most people take for granted, like saying hello, or making small-talk after saying hello, saying goodbye, shaking hands, smiling, playing with children ..

His response: “You went to an interview. Did you shake hands? Did you make small-talk? Did you smile? Did you say goodbye?”

I nodded several times.

“So, you showed up and engaged socially,” he said. “You were there–that’s the most important thing–and it sounds like it went well.”

I usually show up to things. I usually make small-talk. I usually smile. I usually shake hands, hello and goodbye. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I don’t feel comfortable doing any of those things. The problem is that I feel like an idiot while doing them. I think people are watching me closely, scrutinizing every move, and making negative judgments. After I leave, I think people are thinking, Wow. Mike really doesn’t know how to engage with people.

The problem is that I’m 27 years old, and yet I feel like I have the social skills-set of someone half my age.

But then again, I got the internship, so maybe I am okay. Maybe I’m not as bad as I think. Maybe everything will be okay. I don’t feel like it, though, and right now, my thoughts are in control of me.

***

In other news, I went back to the psychiatrist on Tuesday, as well. Now that my mood swings are a little more stable, the anxiety can be addressed once again. I don’t want to go on another SSRI, so my psych suggested Klonopin. .25 mg, twice a day. I don’t like being on a cocktail of drugs, and I don’t like being on benzos, especially everyday .. but then again, I don’t like anxiety.

So I’m going to give it a try.

Also, he made me feel very little by saying that my problems are minimal compared to others. He even said that it’s like I’m walking around and I get a tiny pebble (the anxiety) in my shoe, stuck between my toes, and I’m too lazy to get it out. So, not only are my problems tiny, but I’m not doing enough to alleviate the problems. Yes, I’m skeptical towards drugs, and, no, I don’t like taking them, but I think I am doing a lot to help ease the anxiety.

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.

on binging

I haven’t felt well the past few days. I’ve experience several ups and downs, including one period of depression where I thought I’d have to binge in order to bring myself back up again. Fortunately, I kept control and didn’t binge, and eventually my mood brightened and I began to function again.

It’s really strange that something so destructive (my binges) can make me feel whole again. I like to call it a release while my therapist calls it avoidance or suppression … regardless, I feel so much better after I binge. Actually, I want to step back: I want look a little closer at what happens before, during, and after a binge (because I just love breaking things down into tiny, manageable pieces). Without going into too much detail, before a binge I’m low–really low, obviously. My body, my mind, everything aches. There’s tension, there’s stress, there’s negative thoughts. Usually, I’ve stirred up some feelings or memories that I haven’t touched in a while. My brain feels mushy; there’s no other way to describe it.

When the actual decision is made (most of the time I feel like it’s already made for me beforehand) to go out to get food or alcohol–whatever I’m feeling like at the time, depending on the time of day (I never drink during the day, except maybe on the weekends or some holidays … ), etc–shame and guilt hit me. Before I even go to get the food, there’s guilt for what I’m about to do. But not enough guilt to stop me from doing it in the first place. At the store, when I’m picking up the ice cream or burrito or beer, the shame only increases. I feel like the cashiers know me by now. When they’re all together at some bar after work, they talk about me, referring to me as the “binger” or “loser”, that sort of thing. They know exactly how sad and depressed I am, because I wear my feelings on the outside. Everybody knows, for that matter.

After the food is obtained, my heart starts racing and my mood begins to lift. I have to get home as soon as possible. I race back, running up the stairs two at a time, and then consume … and consume … and consume. In all, it probably takes me less than thirty minutes to eat a burrito and a pint or quart of ice cream (my staples). If I’m drinking, though, I like to spread out six beers over a period of three or four hours. I hate getting drunk. My only goal is to get rid of the feelings.

The actual consuming is all done unconsciously. I usually plop myself in front of my computer, watching an episode of Star Trek or Seinfeld while shoving the food down my throat. There are no thoughts, the feelings disperse. Sometimes I’ll catch my reflection in the computer screen which causes me to pull back a little and assess the situation. I begin to feel shame, regret, remorse, anxiety … but before the feelings can take a hold of me I return to the food, unconscious once again.

When I’m done, the feelings begin to return little by little, but they’re different. Less tangible, and more abstract. They’re probably deeper in my body, too. Then, they start to grow again and I feel worse and worse, but, again, they’re still different. I’m not depressed or hopeless, but I just feel so much shame and regret. Eventually, those feelings disperse and I’m left with just a sense of contention. What’s done is done, my mind says. Pull yourself together. You have a future, you have worth. It’s like I have to hit some sort of rock bottom to see things clearly. When you’re down, the only place to go is up.

On Thursday I really felt giving into the temptation. The triggers were there, the environment was just right. But rather than giving in, I pushed through using a combination of awareness and cognitive techniques. I caught the thoughts before they could take control of me. I then distracted myself, and, finally, I replaced my negative thoughts with positive one’s.

It was a minor victory, but I learned something extremely valuable–I learned how to take back control. In the end, though, it’s not about controlling my thoughts or feelings or urges, because they may always be there; instead, it’s about not letting them control me.

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.

anxiety attack, interview, yoga

Wednesday night. I turned off all the lights, got into bed and shoved my head between two pillows. I felt ill. My head throbbed, my stomach hurt. I was sweating, and it was difficult to breathe and almost impossible to stop the negative thoughts. My heart pounded loudly. I could feel each and every beat, and I expected each one to be my last. After a few minutes, I got up and took an Ativan, and after it kicked in, I went to bed.

In the morning I took another Ativan and then went to an interview for an internship (in the spring) at an academic library. It went really well. I’m pretty sure I got it. I’m crawling back into the real world, one step (err, Ativan) at a time.

On that note, I’m a little closer to getting hired by the public library. I’ve been trying to get in for the last six or seven months or so. This week I found out I passed the civil service exam, and I’m currently tenth on the list for the position(s) I’m going for. My hope is that once the person in charge of hiring sees that I am in Library Science school, they’ll bump me to the top!

The rest of Thursday felt great, and I had all but forgotten Wednesday’s setback. You see, I was feeling down about something (probably resulting from anticipatory anxiety about Thursday’s interview) and fatigued. I wanted to just binge and watch Star Trek, but instead, I went to the gym and killed myself on the treadmill. I’ve been running a lot lately and need to take a break, so even though I didn’t go as far as usual, my run took a lot out of me. Once done, I staggered off the treadmill, skipped stretching, staggered down the stairs and into the shower, and then limped back up the stars and all the way home. And then I ate ice cream for dinner.

Yes, you could call that a setback. But it’s okay: I wasn’t perfect, and I’m fine with that. I don’t expect to feel good all the time.

The rest of Thursday went well. I met my girlfriend later, and we went to yoga.

“Slow your movements down,” the teacher said, “link it to your breath. Let your breath catch up.”

Maybe I should slow down, instead of always planning, thinking and anticipating, letting the world catch up to me? I try to live my life one step ahead, but I just don’t think I can do it anymore. I’m tired of living the way I am. I need change.

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.