Category Archives: theory

do we choose how others treat us?

This is my entry for July’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is Stigma and Discrimination, which I interpreted liberally.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the boundaries I set affects how others treat me. As some of you know, after my suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalization in an urgent care facility, I basically told my boss everything that had been going on. Why did I do this? Well, I trust him for the most part, he’s easy to talk to, and I need more people in my life who I can share my inner experiences with. In retrospect, this may not have been the best decision, but what’s done is done. I was in the midst of a crisis, and I may not have been thinking all that clearly. Things happen in a crisis.

Anyway, I also told him about the Nardil and about how it affects my diet (because he’s always trying to shove cheap pastries and hot dogs down my throat, which I can’t have while on Nardil).

Being who he is–older, somewhat wiser, and a wanna-be therapist–he likes to give me his opinions on my condition. For example, sometimes, when he’s stressed, he jokes around by saying things like, “I’d try to kill myself too if I just had the time.” I’ve spoken to him about this–about how that’s insensitive and is not something I want him joking about. He’s stopped. Other times, he gets serious and tries to tell me that, looking solely at my behaviors, I don’t need to be on medication, especially long-term.

Although, I appreciate that he cares, he has no idea what’s going on inside my head. Sure, my behaviors tell a particularly happy story about myself–a story that others interpret as the entire picture. I mean, I have a job. I’m in school. I have a girlfriend. I’m training for a marathon. All good things. Inside my head, though, something entirely different is going on. He, as well as many others, tend to forget this. I think we all tend to compare ourselves to others based on what we see. This is unfair not only to others but to ourselves as well.

Logically, it makes no sense to judge how we’re feeling on the inside to how others look and behave on the outside. I am incredibly guilty of this. It’s a huge reason why I suffer so immensely from social anxiety.

Anyhow, because I chose to disclose my condition and the fact that I am medicated, I have greatly altered my relationship to my boss. He has considerable power over me, even more so than he did before. He could use it against me if he wanted to.

So the question remains: Do I choose how people treat me based on what I disclose? The answer in my opinion is yes. Sure, there’s much more that goes into it than just that, but boundaries are a huge factor.

Most of the time I usually don’t disclose much of anything, and people think (at least in my opinion) that I’m distant, cold, boring, and that I perhaps don’t like them. In other cases, I disclose too much because I need emotional connection really, really bad. There is a happy/perfect medium which I haven’t exactly been able to find yet. Again, it’s something I’m working on, and, again, I believe one day I’ll get there.

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having a choice

I know this post probably seems to contradict my last past, but I’ve given my last post some thought. I do think that I fall more on the introverted side of things, yet when I’m in a social situation, I want to be seen and heard and enjoy being the center of attention. I guess I am an outgoing, socially anxious person. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know.

***

Anyway. My girlfriend is up visiting her family right now, and I’m feeling a little guilty that I’m not there. I chose not to go.

Right now, I’ve made a conscious choice to only engage in one social situation, outside of work, once per week. Whether that’s with one  of my friends or my girlfriend’s friends or her family it doesn’t matter–one per week. I’m very fortunate that I have a job right now that isn’t too demanding socially. I have to interact with my boss and co-workers and occasionally I have to engage with a few clients on the phone or in person, but it’s not bad at all.

It’s a pretty firm decision–to only engage in one situation per week–but every now and then I’ll allow another social situation or two depending on the situation and how I’m feeling. I don’t like feeling like there’s a quota in place–and my girlfriend especially doesn’t like that.

Anyhow, giving myself a choice is a powerful thing. In the past, there were times where I felt like I was being forced into social situations. I felt like I had no choice–that my girlfriend or friends were forcing this awful situation on me and I had no control. But I did have control. I made those choices to go, not them. Saying no to social situations is difficult to do. On the one hand, I don’t want to say no to too many, because I don’t want to avoid everything and become a hermit or something; but, on the other hand, it’s important for me to do what feels right for me. Getting flooded in every single social situation only reinforces the anxiety. I need to pick and choose social situations that I don’t get too flooded in to slowly immerse myself back into social situations that I find anxiety-proving–gradually increasing over time–so that I can eventually become a healthy social person (whatever that means). Avoiding too many situations as well just reinforces the anxiety. It’s all about balance.

The important thing is that I realize that it’s my choice to enter–and stay in–a social situation. Knowing that can help ease the anxiety in itself. And, although, I do feel guilty about not going with my girlfriend to see her family, I think it’s the best thing for me–and that’s what matters most.

***

With all that said, I’m feeling very lonely. I can’t ignore that. Yes, I do feel good because I do have a choice, but I miss my girlfriend and wish I would have gone with her to see her family. But I bet if I was there, I would be anxious and want to be somewhere else. I can never win, I guess. *Sigh*

What a pointless post. I wanted it to be optimistic because that’s how I felt like ten minutes ago, but now I just feel sad and lonely. Sorry.

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?

going home

Before I start, I just want to preface this post by saying that I am experimenting with a higher dose of Ativan at the moment, and I am feeling quite stoned. So, just keep that in mind. 🙂

***

I’m going home on Friday. Actually, I shouldn’t call it home. San Francisco is my home; Kansas City is where I grew up. Anyway, on Friday I’m going back to my hometown to see my family for the holidays. I’ll be there a total of ten days, which is probably seven days too long!

I have plans to see a few friends, but other than that, I’ll just be hanging around my family–which actually could be difficult because of the letter I sent them a few months back (part 1, part 2). I don’t know what to expect; or, what I want to talk about. I have no agenda, in other words. I guess that’s good. I’m not expecting to make deep connections with my family, but I would like to talk about the things in the letter a little more in-depth. I do want to have closer relationships with my mom, dad, and brother, but I also want to relax and have fun at home, as well. I don’t want it to be a constant therapy session. On the other hand, if nothing is talked about, I will be greatly disappointed in myself. I just need balance. Regardless of what is said–if anything is said–we are already closer because of that letter. I have already accomplished the things I wanted to accomplish (I just feel pressure to keep moving forward), and my trip is a victory in and of itself.

One thing I am starting to stress about is seeing my relatives (on my mom’s side) for Christmas. I haven’t seen them in years, and I know they all really want to see me. My cousins are all around my age, and they have husbands and wives, and each of them have two kids. I’m a little behind. My aunt and uncle are really religious, so I know they disprove of me and my lifestyle–and so I know they’ll be judging me negatively.

Actually, let me step back: They may not be judging me at all. Maybe they’re proud of the things I’m doing. They know how passionate I am about helping people and how much I want a career where I can make a difference in this world. But then again, they know I am somewhat of a nihilist, as well. I do believe there is meaning in the world, but it’s subjective. That is, beyond science and reason, everybody has their own beliefs. Those beliefs are not right or wrong. I think in my aunt and uncle’s situation, though, they are so attached to their beliefs, they have become truths.

Anyway, my point is is that I have no idea how they view me or what’s going through their head–I am not a mind reader.

So, in the past, I usually got flooded with anxiety around my aunt and uncle and my cousins and their families. I’ve never really interacted with their children (because I didn’t know how and was afraid of being judged by the adults); and so, I just ignored them. I feel pressure to make more of an effort to engage with them.

Plus, I know the attention is going to be on me most of the time, as they haven’t seen me in years, which I do not like. But, it will be okay. I will slow down and use some of the cognitive techniques I’m learning to ease my anxiety. I’ll also be able to fall back on my meds if things get a little too rough.

I’m trying to remind myself that the present is not the same as the past. In the past, I may have been flooded with anxiety around them, but that’s the past. I will probably handle it better. It will be all-right, regardless.

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.

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

two things I greatly dislike ..

.. and by greatly dislike, I mean hate.

First, I hate being referred to in the third person when someone is talking to someone else, and yet I’m present. It’s patronizing. And this only seems to happen when I’m around my girlfriend’s family. For example–

“I like the length of his beard and hair,” my girlfriend’s dad said to my girlfriend, while I was standing next to them.

“Does he know how to get home?” her brother asked her, while I was in the car.

“Can you picture Mike on the dance floor?” her other brother asked, as if I wasn’t there.

It’s like I’m there, but not really there.

Second, I hate it when someone is saying goodbye to a group and they shake everyone’s hands, except mine, give everyone hugs, but me, and wave goodbye and smile to everyone, but me. This happens a lot, and I’m left standing there feeling like an idiot (like I should have initiated some sort of goodbye), waving and smiling, without being acknowledged. It also leaves me feeling like I’ve done something wrong.

It’s as though as I don’t exist.

Does either of these things happen to any of you? Am I just blowing this way out of proportion, like most everything else?