Tag Archives: anxiety

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

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the healing light

So, even though I haven’t talked much about it, I see a hypnotherapist once a month. In fact, I think this is the only post where I’ve mentioned it.

Anyway, so I used to see her–my hypnotherapist–once a week, but a few months ago I went down to every other week, and after last session we agreed to just once a month. It’s expensive, and I honestly don’t get much benefit out of it. It’s hard for me to relax and really get into the sessions. I get much more out of meditating on my own. That said, she is recovering from social anxiety herself, so I enjoy talking with her, as I know she knows exactly what I’m going through. She gives me the empathy that I’m missing from my talk therapist.

Also, she has encouraged me to do CBT therapy, and has provided me with materials, and so she sort of keeps me accountable. I update her once a month on my progress, in other words.

***

Last week she emailed me, asking me to write down every single social interaction that went well for me. For the most part I’ve been doing that (in the Achievements section), but she had me document everything, no matter how small. So, if I bumped into my neighbor and smiled and said hello or something, I’d make a note of it. It surprised me just how many interactions I had. I am much more social than I thought, even though I still feel isolated. It’s just the social interactions I do have are very superficial, aside for with my girlfriend. I’m missing deeper connections. But that’s no surprise.

So in yesterday’s session, we talked about that for a while, and then we got on the subject of the wedding from a few weeks back, and we decided it would be best to do a hypnosis around it–even though I am feeling much better about it (time heals all wounds, I guess).

Anyhow, she guided me into a relax state by having me focus on my breathing–slow, deep breaths, inhale five seconds, exhale ten. My thoughts are usually elsewhere at that point–e.g., making to do lists, thinking about future social situations–but yesterday, I let them float on like clouds, not letting them take me. I stayed present, in my body.

She then had me visualize my inner self, as a healing light. Viewing myself like this, I pictured the “true” me, not the me with anxiety, not the me happy or sad–but the me, that just is. The me that has worth for just being me.

Next, she had me visualize a specific social situation from the wedding that didn’t go well for me. I immediately pictured a one-on-one conversation I had with my girlfriend’s brother-in-law. We talked for like thirty minutes at the dinner table. It was very awkward. I was a mess. I was sweating and slightly shaking. I couldn’t sit still. Meanwhile, he looked as if he didn’t want anything to do with me. He kept looking around (maybe trying to find someone else to join in or for him to escape to) and he didn’t really offer anything to the conversation. I don’t know. It’s hard for me to describe. He just didn’t give off the vibe like he wanted to talk to me. But then again, I probably didn’t either, because I didn’t want to be there in the first place.

Anyway, in the hypnosis, my therapist had the present inner me–this healing light–approach myself, in that awkward social situation. This light pulled me aside, taking me away from the conversation and the wedding itself.

“What would you say to yourself now,” she asked rhetorically, “to calm yourself down and make yourself feel better in that moment?”

She paused for several minutes to let the question sink in. Eventually, I answered it internally–

“It’s okay,” I’d say. “It’s not the end of the world that you’re feeling so anxious; everybody probably feels a little anxious–but it’s okay that you’re feeling more anxious. People are so wrapped up in there own anxieties and issues (and the bride and groom) that they probably don’t notice you, or your anxiety, at all. I know it’s hard, but you’re here. You’re not hiding in the bathroom or fleeing. You’re here, facing your fears, and that’s an accomplishment in itself.”

Afterward, I kept visualizing this inner, healing light. I could almost feel it all around me, touching me. When she brought me out of the hypnosis, I felt calm, collected, and grounded. I felt at peace.

Over the next few days she wants me to continue to think of those rational thoughts I told my other self at the wedding, to help them sink deeper into my brain. I wish I would have seen her directly after the wedding, when I was really depressed and could only see the negative aspects. Maybe next time I’ll be able to use this strategy in the event. That is, I’ll be able to step back and gain perspective to help ease some of the anxiety.

is social anxiety real?

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

***

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

perspective

Although my head is still in a fog, I think I’ve gained some perspective not only about the wedding, but the last year of my life, as well. Despite what most people are saying around me, I feel I’ve taken quite a few steps back over the past year. I wouldn’t say I’m moving backward, but I wouldn’t say I’m moving forward either. It’s more like I’ve been stagnating; some things have definitely gotten worse, while other things are better.

The basis of this post, by the way, comes from two major events that have happened this past week or so. One being the wedding, and the other my one-year anniversary with working with my therapist.

I can’t ignore the fact that I am not the person I was one year ago. I’ve changed in many ways, good and bad. I’m really an entirely different person. I went to a wedding a year ago, and it really wasn’t that bad. I felt some anxiety, but I got through it. The wedding on Saturday, however, was a much different experience. I was completely flooded during it and could barely communicate, let alone smile.

So, what’s different about me? Let’s take a look–

Anticipatory anxiety. My anticipatory anxiety is much worse now than one year ago. The dreading and worrying is much more intense, and it starts to happen earlier and earlier. It’s even been so bad that I’ve had to avoid certain social situations altogether. I never avoided situations a year ago; I’d be scared to go, but I’d still go.

Depression. Like my anticipatory anxiety, my periods of depression are much more intense and they last longer. I’m usually knocked on my ass two days a week, unable to do anything, and I have a breakdown about once a month.

Mood swings. The lows are much lower today, and the highs higher. I’m constantly swinging from low to high, as well; in a typical day, I usually have at least one or two swings.

Binging. I didn’t consciously binge a year ago. That is, I wasn’t purposely binging to elevate my mood. Today, I know how to control my moods through binging; and, consequently, I’m binging a lot more.

Isolation. 14 months ago I quit my job; moved in with my girlfriend, away from my roommates and friends; and started an online graduate program. I quickly became isolated and stopped hanging out with friends. My best friend moved to NY last January. I pretty much have to rely on my girlfriend for support and someone to hang out with.

Joy. I do not get pleasure out of the activities that used to relax me. I don’t enjoy reading, writing, meditating, yoga as I did a year ago. I don’t really enjoy much anymore, actually.

Medication. I’m on some serious medication now. Lamictal, Klonopin, Ativan, Propranolol. What’s next? Just seeing all the pill containers reinforces my beliefs that I am fucked up and broken.

Therapy. Yes, I am in therapy now–isn’t that a good thing? I don’t know. I’ve had to admit that I have issues and that I need to work through them. Instead of internalizing everything, I’m having to face my beliefs, feelings, and fears. I’m not convinced this is a good thing. I’m moving too fast; it’s all too much to handle.

Beliefs. I’m also finding out that my beliefs are extremely rigid. I sincerely believe that I am a bad person; no one likes me; I’m inferior to those around me; I can’t cut it in this world; I’m a fool, a failure, a loser; and I will never get better. These beliefs are obviously reinforced by my actions and social experiences. Each time I engage, my beliefs are reinforced. It doesn’t help either that I bounce from one huge, overwhelming group social situation to the next; there’s nothing in between because I’m so isolated.

Awareness. It all comes down to awareness. I am much more aware of things going on inside my body. I can recognize when a depression is coming (but it’s frustrating because I can’t stop it). I know about my beliefs and feelings (but, again, I feel powerless to change them). The major difference is that I understand why I feel the way I do, but I haven’t been able to change it, and so, I feel even more powerless, hopeless, and listless. I’m scared.

What’s more, last night my g/f said she’d like us to go to couples counseling. It feels like the beginning of the end. I can’t deal with anymore therapy at the moment. I can’t deal with unlocking more deep-seeded beliefs and feelings because I can’t deal with the ones I’ve already unlocked.

I don’t know what to do anymore. Maybe things aren’t as bad as I think they are, but I cannot dismiss the fact that I am more unhappy than ever.

Each day grows harder. The longer my beliefs stay the way they are, the harder it will be for them to change. Plus, my inadequacies are further reinforced each day as I go about my life watching all the other “normal” people function like I should be functioning. Every time I see someone smile, I tell myself I’ll never be happy, which only fuels my beliefs.

I’m stuck. I’m trapped. I’m really, really scared.

    inhale, exhale, slow down

    As you know, the last few days have been tough. I started feeling better yesterday afternoon though, but the depression hit again on my way to therapy. I didn’t want to rehash everything that’s been happening; I didn’t want to think about anything any longer. I just wanted relief and understanding, and, surprisingly, I got it last night in therapy–sort of.

    ***

    Most sessions start with me manically describing every detail of my week; it’s like a giant exhale. I don’t feel much at that point, because it’s all very shallow. There is a little anxiety, I guess, because I’m processing everything so fast. I want to get everything out there in the open and let my therapist decide what to look at. Inevitably, at one point or another, he stops me, asks me to take a deep breath, and slow down. I smile. There’s no more anxiety, but now I don’t feel anything at all–which is sometimes worst.

    Sometimes I say a few more things, sometimes I don’t, and then he decides what to focus on, and more often than not, it’s the things I don’t want to touch; it’s the subject I speed through even quicker, hoping he won’t hear it. I like this about him; he knows what I don’t want to touch, and he makes me touch it. Anyway, we talk for a bit about the subject, still superficially. I’m a little anxious; I can feel the tension creeping up from my stomach, like a tank slowing filling with water. And then it happens–

    “What’s beneath?” he asks, knowing I’m going to shut down. “What are the underlying beliefs–that’s what I want to know about.”

    I manage a few more sentences before shutting down. The remainder of the session is like pulling teeth. He brushes right up against my beliefs, and I push back. I get angry, frustrated, and very defensive. I feel attacked. I feel threatened. I feel like he’s not on my side. It usually gets to the point where I don’t say anything for the last five or ten minutes. We sit in silence. Sometimes he talks about how difficult therapy can be; sometimes he even congratulates me on coming in and doing the work, which is the last thing I want to hear in that moment. Thankfully, there’s a beautiful picture of the ocean right behind his chair. If I look long enough, I leave the room altogether.

    I become the ocean.

    ***

    Last night I did something different, though. I started out by talking about the thing I didn’t want to talk about: my suicidal thoughts.

    “I don’t know what to do when I have them,” I said. “It’s hard. Most days I just have them while walking down the street–looking up at every building, wondering if it’s high enough for me to die if I jumped off it. But over the weekend, the thoughts intensified. There was intention. I may have had a plan, I’m not really sure. When they get that intense, I’m not going to call you. I’m not going to call anyone. When I’m that low, I only want to binge because that’s the only way I know how to regain control.”

    I paused, letting this seep in. His facial expression changed; he was visibly upset. Sensing I had more to say, he nodded.

    “But I’m scared because binging is becoming less and less effective. I can’t rely on it anymore. I’m scared that I won’t be able to quickly pull myself out of my next deep depression.”

    I talked about the wedding, and the holidays, and my upcoming class presentations. I’m scared of them, yes, but they are not the cause of my suicidal thoughts. It’s easy to blame them, but the real culprit is beneath.

    “Tell me about the beliefs?” he asked, as always.

    “I’m a monster inside,” I said. “An ugly monster. I’ve made so many bad decisions in my life. I deserve everything I’m going through. It’s all my fault. People do not like me because I’m not like any of them–and I made the choice not to be like them. I will fail. I am a failure.”

    “There’s more there,” he said. “It’s in the room. We just nicked it.”

    At that point, I was flooded. I felt a bit nauseous. All I wanted to do was leave, but I didn’t. I never leave. I guess I like the pain, or I just don’t want to disappoint. I thought he was going to push back against my beliefs again, but he didn’t, something different happened–

    “You know,” he said, “if it becomes too much you can ask me to pull back. It’s okay.”

    He gave me exactly what I needed in that moment: space. I looked at the clock: five minutes left. Five minutes of silence and me staring at the ocean. I am that ocean, I told myself over and over and over again.

    I Don’t Know

    I don’t know what to say, but I feel like I should say something because I’m feeling so low. I’ve been trying to track my mood this week–and it’s been all over the place, as usual. But it’s been quite a bit worst this past day or so. I cannot deal with so many fluctuations in one day. In a span of three hours earlier, I went from low to high to low–and I don’t know why.

    I don’t know what to say to my therapist tonight. I don’t know whether I should tell him about some of the thoughts I’ve had in my head these past few days. I don’t know how to distinguish between non-harmful suicidal thoughts and harmful one’s–and I don’t think he does either.

    I don’t know what to say to my girlfriend when she leaves me tonight to go visit her family. I’m scared that I’m going to binge. I’m scared of the negative thoughts I’ll have. I’m scared of her being disappointed with me, again.

    I don’t know what I’m going to say to people at the wedding. I don’t know who I’ll talk to. I don’t know how I’ll act.

    I don’t know what to say to you. I’m sorry I’ve been so low as of late. I hope I start feeling better after the wedding. I hope you still like me, even though I’ve been so low. I’m not trying to grab attention or anything, I’m just being honest .. for once. I hope I can do the same in therapy tonight.

    i will fail

    I’m in a bad place right now. I have to go to a wedding next Saturday. It’s actually a three-day event (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), but I think I’ve managed to find good excuses for the other two days; but even still, I’m feeling really bad about it. I dislike the groom and his family because they’re all very outgoing and seemingly don’t understand people who are shy and quiet, let alone people like me who can’t engage even in the simplest of conversations.

    I tried working on some CBT earlier, but what’s the point when I’m feeling so depressed? There’s this constant voice in the back of my head saying, YOU WILL FAIL. I counter it with- “I’m going to be all right. My feelings are not always rational. I’m just going to relax, calm down, and everything will be OK” and a load of other coping statements .. but that voice is still there.

    Next weekend I will fail. I’ll be flooded with anxiety and won’t be able to say anything, let alone smile. I’ll have to hide in the background, hoping no one notices me, relying solely on my girlfriend to help me through conversations.

    This wedding will ruin the rest of the this week and probably the week after. I’m scared. Wish me luck.