Tag Archives: awareness

tattoos and hasty conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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an example of avoidance

Yesterday my boss asked me to go downtown today to pick up some tax documents at the state’s local field office. I didn’t think they could provide the documents, but I didn’t have the nerve or desire to argue with him so I reluctantly agreed.

I’ve had to go to this field office a few times before. Each time, I’ve had to endure a rather difficult social situation because the receptionist is very attractive and socially adept. In other words, she’s beautiful and perfect, and I’m not. These thoughts happen in a split second and ensure that I will fail. Now, CBT has taught me to catch these thoughts before they happen, to counter them with positive, rational thoughts. But this never seems to happen quick enough. I sum up that she’s perfect and place her on a pedestal before my rational mind has a chance to kick in–and I’m left playing catch up.

Anyhow, earlier I started having anticipatory anxiety about the situation: Not only would I have to face this perfect being but I also don’t feel comfortable asking for the documents since I don’t think they could provide them. And so, I started coming up with ways to get out of going–

  1. I could lie to my boss by telling him that I went and that they either didn’t have the documents or couldn’t give them to me.
  2. I could call in sick.
  3. I could call the tax office to see if they could even provide the documents.

The third choice seemed the most logical, but I’m terrified of making phone calls, especially when I have time to think about what I’m going to say beforehand, so I wanted to do the first choice. Eventually though, I talked myself into calling, which was horrible in itself, but I found that I was right: They couldn’t give me the documents after all.

I’m now beating myself up, telling myself that it wasn’t that bad and I shouldn’t have been fretting about the situation at all. I’m also disappointed in myself for avoiding another social situation.

Why can’t I look at the good parts? I mean, I made the phone call even though I was terrified and obtained an answer without lying. Those are positives, I guess.

If I’m not perfect then I’m nothing at all.

three things (and four stages)

First, sometimes I cannot trust myself. Losing your capacity to reason isn’t quite as bad as thinking you can still reason when it’s clearly illogical (in retrospect, of course). I need to do my best to question my logic. Logic can be its own monster. That is, fallacies and distortions can build on one another, creating what appears to be logic–but it’s far from it. Staying connected with others and communicating more with them will help me stay on top of my own distorted thinking.

That said, I think there are instances where death makes logical sense–and suffering from mental illness(es) can be one of them. However, I owe it to others and more importantly myself to exhaust all options before even considering death. I need to grind away at each day no matter how difficult life becomes.

Second, killing myself will affect so many more people than I realized. I tried my best to push people away. But I now know that no matter how much distance I put between myself and others, they can still see me–and will be greatly affected by my loss in ways I cannot even begin to imagine. I thought I could simply die unnoticed. I was wrong.

Finally, I need structure now more than ever. In The Four Stages of Spiritual Development, the author, Scott Peck, posits that there are four stages of spiritual growth (from Wikipedia)–

  1. Stage I is chaotic, disordered, and reckless. Very young children are in Stage I. They tend to defy and disobey, and are unwilling to accept a will greater than their own. They are extremely egoistic and lack empathy for others. Many criminals are people who have never grown out of Stage I.
  2. Stage II is the stage at which a person has blind faith in authority figures and sees the world as divided simply into good and evil, right and wrong, us and them. Once children learn to obey their parents and other authority figures, often out of fear or shame, they reach Stage II. Many so-called religious people are essentially Stage II people, in the sense that they have blind faith in God, and do not question His existence. With blind faith comes humility and a willingness to obey and serve. The majority of good, law-abiding citizens never move out of Stage II.
  3. Stage III is the stage of scientific skepticism and questioning. A Stage III person does not accept things on faith but only accepts them if convinced logically. Many people working in scientific and technological research are in Stage III. They often reject the existence of spiritual or supernatural forces since these are difficult to measure or prove scientifically. Those who do retain their spiritual beliefs move away from the simple, official doctrines of fundamentalism.
  4. Stage IV is the stage where an individual starts enjoying the mystery and beauty of nature and existence. While retaining skepticism, he starts perceiving grand patterns in nature and develops a deeper understanding of good and evil, forgiveness and mercy, compassion and love. His religiousness and spirituality differ significantly from that of a Stage II person, in the sense that he does not accept things through blind faith or out of fear, but does so because of genuine belief, and he does not judge people harshly or seek to inflict punishment on them for their transgressions. This is the stage of loving others as yourself, losing your attachment to your ego, and forgiving your enemies. Stage IV people are labeled as Mystics.

I for one believe that no one person is totally in only one stage at a time–we fluctuate across many stages throughout our  lifetimes, often residing in more than one stage at a given time and between stages as well. At this point, I find myself mostly in stage one. I still carry with me pieces from the other stages, but, for the most part, I unraveled, tried to kill myself, and now am left vulnerable, disordered, and reckless.

Now, I don’t believe that organized religion is the only means of finding structure in Stage II. I’ve decided to focus more on my job, as well as to start studying for an Enrolled Agent exam so I can move up in my company and get a raise. I’d also like to spend more time writing and connecting with others through my blog. Reading, exercising, and cooking are also on the agenda.

Sorting through the pieces of what’s left from my suicide attempt is all I can do at this point, and I need to take it slow, one day at a time.

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?

phone therapy

Three posts in as many days! I don’t know what’s come over me. 🙂

***

So, since my therapist is out of town this week we arranged to have our regular session over the phone yesterday. I was dreading the session most of the day, even more than usual actually because I don’t like talking on phones. I don’t like checking voice mail. I don’t like seeing/hearing others talk on their phones. I don’t like hearing them ring (or vibrate, in my case). I cringe when I hear other people’s phones ring. I’d get rid of mine, but that probably wouldn’t be smart for someone with social anxiety.

It must have something to do with the fact that there are no distractions over the phone. It’s me and the other caller–that’s it. There is no one else to take the spotlight off me. There are no external distractions either, like television or eating or music or a movie, etc. But there are no distractions like that in therapy anyway, so I don’t know what I was so afraid of.

Anyhow, about thirty minutes before the session started, tension, nervousness, and anxiety hit. I just wanted to get it started (or over with). My stomach hurt, and I began sweating a little under my arms. I felt like I was getting ready to go to a large social gathering or something. I think it must have been the combination of the phone and pre-therapy jitters.

I’m probably freaking out about nothing, I told myself. So I’m going to stop  indulging in my negative thoughts. Once I became aware of what was happening and told myself to stop, I felt better.

***

The session started like all our other sessions. We talked a little about how this–therapy over the phone–is new territory for us and what not. I wish we would have explored my phone-phobia a little more. I brought it up, but we quickly turned to other things.

I told him about how I was feeling anxious about Christmas, about how I’d be seeing my relatives. I told him how anxious I felt as soon as I found that out. We spoke about this for a while (mostly about how I’m afraid of interacting with my cousins’ children) before he said–

“You can push back if you want but what I think it all comes back to is self-acceptance. It’s okay to be introverted and reserved. It’s okay to be soft-spoken. But these things are not okay for you.”

He went on and on, and yet I was still stuck on his words push back. It had a negative connotation to it. To me, the words said–

Now you can push back, but if you do, you will be wrong because I am the therapist and I am right.

After he got done talking about self-acceptance, we were both silent.

“Where are you?” he asked, finally breaking the silence.

I told him the truth. I told him how I didn’t hear much of what he said because I was still stuck on him saying push back. I told him how I’m uber sensitive to his wording sometimes and how I’m afraid to stop him because I’m afraid he’ll say I’m just avoiding things (like he’s done in the past). We had a good discussion about that, and I feel a little better about it, actually. I think he understands better that when I do stop him, sometimes it’s not that I’m avoiding–it’s just that I want to say something and that should be okay. I don’t think there has to be a hidden/deeper meaning in everything.

One thing interesting that he did mention is that therapy is the one place where I can–and should–feel comfortable pushing back. A lot of times in life, I want to do that, but I just don’t have the self-esteem.

We then went on and talked more about the letter (part 1, part 2) I sent to my parents and how I can use that to start more discussions. I’m scared to talk more about it, yet I do want a closer relationship with my parents. I know my relationship with them hasn’t changed because of one letter. I have to keep moving forward, and I feel a lot of pressure to do that.

Finally, at the end of the session, I started getting flooded with anxiety, as I always do, and I checked out by browsing Facebook. When we finally said goodbye, I found myself looking at pictures of someone from high school who used to pick on me. Whenever I get on Facebook I’m unconsciously brought to the people who did me harm. I should probably bring that up in a future session, among other things. I’ll add it to the list.

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