Tag Archives: acceptance

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.

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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.

structure AND chaos

Please note: This is my entry for June’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is hope and despair.

***

Structure is my one true love. I love going to bed every night at ten and getting up at six. I love running three miles on Wednesday, five miles on Friday, and six miles on Sunday, and I love knowing that my distance for each of those days increases by ten percent each and every week. I love reading a chapter from a book on my commute into work every morning and then another chapter at night before bed. I love planning activities way in advance, so when I do have to deviate from my schedule, I can plan accordingly.

I could go on and on and on.

Structure serves a purpose for me: it provides hope amongst chaos. It’s also synonymous with perfection. When I know exactly what I’m doing and when I’m doing it, I can remain free from uncertainty, and anxiety stays somewhat at bay.

The problem becomes when uncertainty, chaos, and despair creep back in, which is inevitable. This sends me into a downward spiral. When an unexpected social situation comes up that keeps me out late and floods me with anxiety, I get worn down and it takes a few days to recover. The more deviations, the longer and harder it is for me to recover.

For those who don’t know, last January I entered a downward spiral that stole all hope and ended in two hasty suicide attempts and one well thought out attempt that probably would have killed me if I had carried it out. There’s plenty of triggers to look at, but I think my obsession with structure is the main culprit.

Up until that point I thought I had everything under control–that is, I had developed a set of routines that I thought were impenetrable. However, I went from only going to school online and being subject to few real social situations to having a full-time job and an internship. It was too much. They broke down my structures so much I couldn’t recover. And so I gave up.

I let myself be taken by chaos. I let myself fall further and further down. Granted, I started planning for suicide, which ironically in itself brought structure. But for the most part, I let all structure go.

Now that I’m stable and can look more objectively at what happened, I know that I need structure. I’m just that type of person. The question, though, becomes–How can I have structure but still allow some chaos and uncertainty in without letting it destroy me?

I don’t have an answer. But I do believe it starts with awareness. It starts with knowing that life is full of uncertainties and I cannot possibly plan for every little thing. I mean life isn’t some science experiment with set variables, yet so far it’s been my best defense against anxiety to treat it as such. I am learning that there is a balance between structure and chaos; it’s not an either/or situation. There will always be hope and despair in my life, sometimes at the same time–and I’m learning that that’s okay.

no direction

There’s no way around it: the depression has lifted. Unfortunately, now that I’m no longer depressed, I have to deal with the triggers as well as finding preventions so I don’t get trapped again.

I feel good so far about Nardil. I’m still in the early phase, so I’m on a very low dose and experiencing no side-effects (but no benefits either), but I do feel hopeful about this drug. I’ve never felt good about medication in the past. I question it. I think about it too much–Is it working? Is this me or the medication? Etc. But I’m not doing that this time. I have faith, I guess.

The bigger issue for me is what direction should I go in career-wise. I feel stuck. I don’t like my accounting job–and I dislike my boss even more–but I could stick it out just because it’s easy if it paid more. My boss, on the other hand, believes I want more from the job. He wants me to eventually take over running the business. Again, I have no idea what he sees in me. Regardless, the work is not something I particularly like doing and I don’t feel like the work helps people–so I’m not fulfilled at the moment.

Then there’s my education. For those who don’t know, I’m in graduate school, training to become a librarian. I have 3 classes left to take. I guess this is the ideal path for me because I may get more enjoyment out of the work and it definitely helps people. But I’m worried that I won’t be able to find a job after I graduate. I wish I could just push my worries aside, let things happen, and worry about finding a job when I’m actually finding a job .. but that’s not me.

So, at the moment I feel lost. When the episode of major depression hit, I had just started my accounting job. I cannot ignore that. I think that when you’re already dealing with mental health issues, dissatisfaction with other life circumstances–i.e., my job–can make it seem like your issues are even more insurmountable, which exasperated my depression.

I have no answers right now, and I probably won’t have any answers for a while. One day I may be content with my circumstances, just not today. I guess that’s okay for right now.

a little down

I’ve been feeling a bit low the past few days. I really miss Kansas City and my family. Talking on the phone with them just isn’t the same.

I’ve been running a lot. I signed up for the San Francisco Marathon. Running has become something to live for. I love it. I can’t explain it. I’ve never felt like I had any true hobbies or anything I’ve really loved in this world, but I do think I’ve found something–and it’s actually healthy.

I’m still waiting to hear back about the eight jobs I applied for at the public library. I’m already starting to lose hope. I applied for some teaching English jobs abroad for after I graduate in August.

Nothing much is happening right now, really.

I am thinking about ending therapy and just seeing my hypnotherapist and continue doing CBT with her. CBT has made such a tremendous difference in my life. It’s great! I know my hypnotherapist isn’t formally qualified to be working on CBT with me, but she’s recovering from social anxiety herself and has used CBT extensively–so I feel like she’s more qualified than my therapist.

I’m also thinking of getting off the Lamictal. I do not think I have Cyclothymia. I think my deep depressions happen within the context of social anxiety.

I am starting to accept myself more. I am who I am inside–and I am starting to be okay with that. I do have limitations, but I do have many positives as well–like all people. Most days I am happy and feel good about the future. I am excited (well, most of the time) about starting my internship in a few weeks, and I am just overall liking the direction I am going.

Finally, I want to give a shout out to Nick over at The Social Phobic. He’s been away for a while but now he’s back. He inspired me to start my blog and writing about my day-to-day experiences with social anxiety.

Thanks Nick. I hope all is well.

back in san francisco

I got back yesterday. Honestly, I miss Kansas City and my family. Even though we didn’t get to talk about the letter, I think a lot was accomplished, and I had a lot of fun with my family. My relationship to them is different. On the surface, we’re the same, but deeper down, I think there’s more understanding between all of us. It’s strange being back. I feel like a part of me is still in Missouri. I feel like I could walk out of my apartment right now and be back there.

***

I’ve been thinking more about this blog and decided that I want to spend less time on it–and the “blogsphere” as a whole. I’m getting a lot out of writing about my issues, and I am so grateful for all the support I’ve received. I cannot thank you all enough. I am going to probably spend one day a week posting, answering comments, and reading other blogs.

That said, I am feeling a lot better about life in general. I’m doing more, engaging more, and, for the most part, I’m happy. There are days where I feel down, but, at the end of the day, all feels right. I think it’s a combination of all my interventions–and, again, your support. Also, over the holidays, I think I finally realized that social anxiety is my choice. That is, it’s my choice how much of my soul I put into social anxiety. I am the one in control. Social anxiety is not who I am. It’s not my friend, it’s not my child–it’s a part of me, but it’s not me.

Finally, I got runner up for Best Neurotic, Stress-Related and Somatorm Disorders Blog over at Mental Nurse for the 2010 TWIM Awards. I’m surprised, especially considering how new my blog is. Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks to them and to those who voted for me.

I hope everyone is well. I’m looking forward to catching up on my favorite blogs later today. And Happy New Year!

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.

is social anxiety real?

Please note: I wrote this post for the first ever Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is diagnosis.

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So, as many of you know, WordPress allows me to see what people search for to find this blog. As of late, I’ve had some alarming searches, namely–“is social anxiety real” and “is cyclothymia real.”

I guess it’s good that people are questioning their inner experiences, but I’d like to know to what end? Labels are dangerous. It’s very dangerous to define yourself by a set of labels (or diagnoses) because you limit yourself. For example, if you say, “I have social anxiety, so I should be acting a certain way,” you can literally limit yourself to those courses of action. I also believe that the pharmaceutical companies profit greatly on these labels. If they can make us believe we have something wrong with us (i.e., a particular diagnosis), when in fact there’s not, then they can profit at our expense.

I think it’s easy to forget that there is a big difference between experiencing some anxiety during social experiences and having Social Anxiety Disorder (more on this here).

However, diagnoses can also be good, namely because they allow you to get the treatment you need. If you don’t understand your inner experiences, it’s hard to get treatment. When I finally sought out professional help, I felt greatly empowered. I took back some control from my anxiety, but I also had to take responsibility for my well-being. In other words, I had to do the work inside of therapy and out, to learn strategies on how to manage my social anxiety.

In a sense, the people who conducted those searchers are right–labels aren’t real. They’re only the tip of the iceberg. When we label things (without looking deeper), we ignore the essence. We ignore what’s really going on. I think it’s good to question your labels and diagnoses, as long as you are still addressing your inner experiences–because those are real, without a doubt.

If you deny the way you feel, you only strengthen the negative emotions, in my opinion. You must learn to accept.

***

As for me, I’ve been suffering with social anxiety since high school. It took me a long time to figure out though what was going on. I just thought I wasn’t trying hard enough and needed a stronger will to get through social situations. I’ve since found out that only makes the anxiety worse. Anyway, I was officially diagnosed with Social Anxiety Disorder in the Fall of 2008, and I was just diagnosed with Cyclothymia this past August. In both instances, I felt relieved, because I could finally explain what was going on inside of me–and start getting the treatment I needed.

EDIT: All the posts on the Blog Carnival can be found here

where is my mind?

Yesterday I ran into one of my girlfriend’s friends on the street. I didn’t see her, and if I had I would have done all I could to avoid her, but she spotted me and approached me. She said hi and gave me a hug and we asked each other how’s it going. We both said “good” and then I bent down and petted her dog, and then we said goodbye. Simple, harmless social situation, right? Wrong.

Between our “goods” and me bending down to pet her dog, there was a moment of silence. Lots of silence. In reality, it lasted no more than two or three seconds, but in the moment it felt much longer–and I started to panic. She looked away, as if she saw the panic on my face. Was she searching for an escape? Did the silence make her uncomfortable too? What did I do wrong?

The questions caused even more anxiety, deepening my panic, and my mind went blank–but why? Why did my mind go blank? Why did I start to panic? What’s so wrong with a little silence?

In those seconds, my heart raced, I felt tense, my body grew heavier and heavier. I could feel the dampness in my hands and the sweat dripping from my armpits down my side toward my waist. When I got home I stripped off my shirt, discarding the evidence (sweat) and curled up in bed. Such a simple social interaction went wrong, and it ruined my night.

But back to the issue: What’s so wrong with a little silence? I think silence between two people is very intimate. A lot of information is exchanged. I can’t hide behind my words or the other person’s words. I have to be there, in the present moment, with another–with someone I think is better than me. The intimacy causes me to panic, which causes me to put immense pressure on myself to break the silence, which causes anxiety.

Again, it comes back to being comfortable in my own skin. If I had been comfortable, I could have dealt with the silence without panicking: letting it pass naturally and then saying something else or just saying goodbye.

trust

I’ve talked a lot about trust in the past, particularly in this post where I discussed how I replace trust with constancy. Anyway, I came across an interesting comment on this post, and I want to address the questions left by the author–

Trust is an interesting one though…you’ve maybe done it already but it can sometimes be useful to explore the following three areas:

What trust means to you…
What has to happen for trust to be there
What stops you from trusting

What does trust mean to me?

Trust is hard to define. It’s much easier to describe the after effects–i.e., what happens after trust is established. In the most general sense, a trustful relationship is a peaceful relationship. When there’s trust, I feel comfortable calling the person and talking to him or her about anything; I don’t get hung up on my negative thoughts; I simply don’t care what the other person thinks of me. He can judge me all he wants; it’s not going to affect the relationship. Finally, and this may be the most important factor, in a trustful relationship, I not only trust the other person, but I trust myself as well. I’m not constantly questioning or analyzing my behaviors. I can be myself.

Trust is important to me. I want and need to have open, trustful relationships with others. Trust is the willingness to be whoever I am in the moment. There are no walls. Or filters. There’s only me.

What has to happen for trust to be there?

Several things need to take place for trust to develop–

Be honest: Being honest with yourself as well as with the other person. Your actions must match your words, as well.

Be reliable and predictable: If you say you’re going to do something or be somewhere at a certain time, then do it and be punctual. Predictability is important, too.

Have the willingness to share: Tell the person who you are, faults and all, and reveal what you want/need from the relationship.

Take a leap of faith: All of the previous things don’t really matter if you aren’t willing to take a leap of faith. Trust means you have to open up. You have to put yourself out there. You have to put yourself on the line. You have to be willing to be hurt. You have to have faith that the other person will be there when you fall–and you have to be there, too.

What stops you from trusting?

I don’t like myself. In fact, most of the time, I hate myself. I’ve been hurt so much in the past and have gone through so many negative social experiences, that these hateful feelings are ingrained deep within. I can’t seem to penetrate these ancient beliefs; I can’t change them, in other words. Hate is there–and it may always be there.

So, how can I let someone else in when I hate myself so much? If I don’t like what I see and feel inside, why would anyone else? I know exactly what I need to do–I need to learn to accept, appreciate, and love myself. But I don’t know how. Or rather: I do know how. I’m doing it right now. I’m going to therapy, I’m writing, etc. It’s just hard.

Also, I can’t ignore empirical evidence. I have let some people in, and, more often than not, they run away. They must have seen something they didn’t like. And so, I’m no longer willing to take that leap of faith that’s so vital for establishing trust in relationships.

constancy

Maintaining friendships is very difficult for me. This is a very complicated issue and one that isn’t easy to talk about, but I’ll do my best to explain it.

It all comes down to trust. I don’t like who I am on the inside, and so I keep people at a distance because I’m afraid they’ll see who I really am and run the other way. By not letting people in though, trust does not develop. Trusting others is risky, and I think people need to put themselves out there in order to build trust. This includes opening yourself up to others by showing them who you really are, speaking your true feelings, and revealing secrets–all of which I don’t do. Without trust, relationships become disposable. There is no replacement for trust; yet, I’ve spent my whole life replacing trust with constancy.

Constancy is stability; it’s being faithful and loyal.  Constancy is part of trust, but it’s definitely not a replacement. In my case, constancy develops through repetition: the more I see somebody, the more I feel comfortable around him or her. It’s vital for my personal relationships. Without it, there is only anxiety.

So because constancy, rather than trust, is the glue holding my relationships together, my friendships never feel right. I always question them. I think the person doesn’t really like me. I think he or she is always talking negatively about me behind my back. I think he or she is always trying to find a way to get out of the friendship. I think he or she doesn’t even really like me. In reality, I am the one talking negatively about myself. I am the one trying to find a way out. I am the one who doesn’t like me.

The problems are with me, and yet instead of dealing with them, I project them onto others.

What’s more, I’m always searching for someone I can have a deeper relationship with. Everyone needs to have some deep friendships. We need someone to talk to about our feelings, someone to confide in and feel save with. I don’t get to have those things in my personal, platonic friendships so I seek out deeper, sexual relationships for my true friendships. Then once I do find that true friendship and start connecting, I abandon all of my disposable friends. I think it’s normal (to a certain degree) to desert friends when one enters into a relationship, especially at the beginning. In my case, it’s hard to view my life objectively at the start of an intimate relationship. I’m lost in euphoria, filled with happiness and excitement. When that phase is over though, people generally reconnect with friends, creating balance between their intimate relationship and platonic one’s. I however continue to cling to the sexual relationship.

So after I find a sexual partner and establish an intimate relationship I don’t reconnect with friends and so I just ignore them altogether until they eventually go away. There isn’t a malicious intent, and I’m not even really conscious of this behavior–it’s a coping technique because I lose the stability or constancy I once had in the platonic relationships.

Let’s look at this deeper. Why is it so difficult for me to reestablish relationships? It’s simple: because constancy is lost. That’s the one thing needed for my friendships to work. Some people can go weeks or months without seeing someone and still be “close”, and when they finally do see each other, “it’s like nothing changed.” They go right back to what they had before the separation. If I get separated from a friend for even a week (depending on the situation, of course), that relationship won’t be easy to pick back up. In a sense, I feel like I have to start over with that person.  Often times, it’s easier just to abandon it altogether.

Sexual relationships, on the other hand, are easy to maintain because I generally see my partner every single day. There’s constancy. Plus, I generally open up to my partner so there’s actually trust. But constancy is still more important. For example, if I’m dating someone and we see each other every day for a month and my partner decides one day not to see me, I’ll get very, very upset. I’ll feel depressed, lonely, uncertain. I’ll think my partner doesn’t really like me.

All this because of constancy.

***

The hardest relationships for me are the casual kind in which constancy haven’t been established. It’s the people I see semi-regularly but not regularly. The people who live in my building. Co-workers I’d see at work but not really know  (when I used to work). And those I have to say hello to at my girlfriend’s work. Even deeper relationships–like with parents or life-long friends–can become difficult and anxiety-provoking when I don’t engage with them for some time.

Again, part of the issue is that I’m just not comfortable with who I am on the inside. How can someone else accept me if I can’t even accept myself? I wonder what some of the other causes are? Maybe my parents didn’t give me enough attention? Or maybe I was afraid my dad wouldn’t come home from work–and maybe he didn’t for a while (like he went on a business trip or something)? With my hyper sensitive nature, issues that seem small or trivial to other people can have a profound, lasting effect on me.

Consequently, a number of events could have been the cause for me to have difficulty with relationships. I don’t think it’s that important to find causes from my childhood or adolescence. I do, however, believe it’s vital that I become more aware of this issue and learn to deal with it as it arises. Trying to maintain balance in my relationships is vital when I enter into an intimate relationship. I could also share this with my close friends–and maybe even talk with old friends about this so they have a better understanding as to why I suddenly started to ignore them. Finally, I need to work on becoming more accepting of myself so that I can build trust with people and let them in. By doing so, constancy becomes less of an issue.

***

I addressed this very issue in therapy a few weeks ago, and my therapist and I concluded that I lock myself into romantic relationships to protect myself. It’s a defense mechanism.

To summarize: It’s very difficult for me to maintain friendships because I don’t open up to people. I replace trust with constancy, which doesn’t really work. The friendships seem superficial and disposable–and in a way they are. When I’m not in a serious romantic relationship I strive to make friends, and I succeed. But there’s just something missing. I feel empty inside. That’s because I don’t allow people inside, to see the real me. Consequently, I settle into a relationship, somewhat open up, and allow that relationship to fulfill my interpersonal needs.

Fortunately, in my current relationship, I’ve recognized this past behavior and am trying to have more balance in my life. It’s been difficult.

“By giving yourself solely to the other person,” my therapist asked, referring to my past romantic partners, “is that your way of showing that you love and care for her?”

Of course not. I’m using them to protect myself from the world. Love is secondary. Up until my current relationship, I don’t think I’ve ever loved any of my romantic partners. There was an intense emotional feeling that I thought was love, but it was only there because I was being saved.