Tag Archives: awareness

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.

    reiteration

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

    When I’m anxious it’s very difficult for me to smile, and as a result I look serious or angry or mean. Ironically, inside I’m terrified. I just want people to like me. The response I got from Ms. D reinforced my anxiety, and it was appropriate given my comment and how I looked. I really shouldn’t take it personally, because she’s responding to my social anxiety not my true personality, but I still do.

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

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

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

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

    ***

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

    life means suffering

    Leisure Time

    This post got me thinking ..

    Even though I’m not working, the past few months have been pretty hectic for me. School work has been slowly piling up as the semester moves on. I’ve also been experiencing quite a bit more depression as of late. Some days I can’t do anything at all for school, and so I’m always having to play catch up. This blog has also been taking up a lot of my time. Writing and doing research for posts, responding to comments and emails, etc. I spend at least an hour on a social anxiety message forum each day, as well. Talk therapy, hypnotherapy, yoga, meditation, CBT … it all adds up. It’s all too much.

    I can’t imagine adding a job to the mix. Dealing with my anxiety is a full-time job in itself, and I feel like I have to push myself more and more to overcome it–and I’m starting to think that’s not the right answer.

    And when I look ahead, all I see is stress, and this stress leads to anticipatory anxiety. November is a mess: I have a wedding to go to, there’s Thanksgiving, and I have to give two class presentations. December’s even worse: Christmas, New Years, and party after party after party, all of which I probably won’t go to, which will make me feel like crap (actually, it already is).

    My days are so full I have no time to think and just be present. I think we’re all conditioned to believe that if we’re not doing something productive, then we’re just wasting time. (Again, this is fuel for my perfectionism.) As a whole, we need to slow down, we need to relax, we need to enjoy (and learn to accept) our leisure time. I cannot keep going at the pace I’m at; it’s not helping to ease my anxiety; in fact, it’s doing just the opposite: it’s fueling it.

    I want to do less. I need to keep up with school work, but I want to put less pressure on myself to always stay ahead. It’s okay not to get an A on every assignment; it’s okay to turn an assignment or two in late; it’s okay to fail–sometimes it’s the only way to learn. I want to put some boundaries on how much I work on this blog and answer emails and browse message forums. I want to take the train less and bike and walk more. Instead of taking the elevator I want to take the stairs. Instead of manically trying to fill my days with activity after activity after activity, I need to slow down and learn to accept my thoughts and anxieties and depressions, rather than pushing them aside–and hiding.

    I want to have time for myself. I want to have time to think. And live. And be.

    interview success

    So, as many of you know, I had a group interview yesterday. The interview was originally scheduled for last week, but I canceled last minute because I was overwhelmed with anxiety. Fortunately, I found a good, partially true excuse and was able to reschedule for yesterday.

    I already had one interview with them a few weeks back with the library director. It went well. It was very relaxed. We talked about my future and what areas I’d like to work in–nothing too formal. At the end of the interview, she mentioned that she wanted me to come back in to meet with her and the rest of the librarians. I said fine. On the way out, I asked her how many librarians worked there and she said ten, and she also said that out of those ten there are a few who aren’t receptive to interns.

    That information hit me hard–not only am I going to be interviewed by ten people; not all of them want me there to begin with. And since I take everything personal, I took this personal.

    This set off my hypothetical mind; I began thinking of different scenarios of what this interview would be like. Mostly I just pictured ten librarians sitting across from me, asking difficult question after difficult question. Me, barely able to breath, stumbling, blushing, sweating.

    My original interview was on a Thursday, and we scheduled the next one for the following Monday. I was a mess that weekend. Actually, I think I probably wrote a post about it. Anyway, the anxiety intensified to a point where I couldn’t function. I couldn’t sleep Sunday night and had to reschedule for yesterday.

    From that point until today, though, I’ve been doing great. So what’s different about this past week from the week before?

    Well, for starters, my thoughts haven’t controlled me. The negative thoughts were still there–they just didn’t dominate my consciousness. Part of this is attributed to CBT, the other part mindfulness. By becoming aware of my thoughts, before they took control, I could use cognitive techniques to ensure that they wouldn’t take control.

    Next, I began to use meditation to help me relax. Two hours before the interview, I was laying in the bath, listening to a meditation. Once I got out I felt at peace. This feeling carried me into the interview.

    Finally, I hashed out the situation with my hypnotherapist on Friday, meaning: we tried to look at my hypothetical scenarios in a different light.

    “What’s your worst fear?” she asked me.

    “To get up at the end and have to go down a line of ten librarians, shaking each of their hands,” I said. “They’ll see how much I’m sweating.”

    “Do you really think it will be like that?” she asked.

    As soon as she said that it was clear: there’s no way it would be like that. I may have to wave goodbye, but shaking hands with ten people sounds absurd, and it certainly wouldn’t all be in one line. I always feel so much better after playing out scenarios in my head. Seeing just how absurd my thinking can be, reminds me that my logic can be irrational at times.

    The interview, itself, went well. I met only with the library director and one other librarian–no biggie, especially since I was expecting ten people. I did have to engage in a formal interview, but it went well. The director called one of my references earlier today. I think I got. Hurray!

    Time and Perfectionism

    Time, or lack there of, fuels my perfectionism. We’re conditioned to believe we have less and less of it, which is driven into us over and over again by advertisements. I don’t own a TV because, frankly, advertisements make me feel like crap–and that’s the point. I avoid advertisements anyway I can, but this subtle reminder–that time is decreasing–is all around me.

    For example, on my way to the library today, to work on schoolwork, I saw a delivery truck for McDonald’s, a man typing on his blackberry in the elevator, cars speeding everywhere–all reminders that I need to do more with less. Instead of wasting time cooking a meal, I should just pick up something quick at a fast-food restaurant. Instead of trying to relax on my commute, I should be sending an email or text or something from my blackberry. Instead of biking–a longer, more enjoyable form of commuting–I should get a car so I can get from point A to point B quicker.

    All this is happening in my unconsciousness; I’m not consciously telling myself I should forfeit a healthy meal for a crappy one, in other words. But when I start craving lunch and all I can think about is grabbing something quick so I can get right back to work, it’s pretty clear to me how the actions and choices that we (society) make as a whole affect me, negatively.

    What’s more, the people who are highly-revered in our society are those who do more with less. Those who make efficient decisions, sacrificing themselves and the world around them.

    And it’s the people who try to live consciously who really suffer. I want to have time to make a healthy, home-cooked meal; I want leisure time; I want to commute to places responsibly. And yet, somewhere inside I’m telling myself that unless I work 60 hours a week and make $80K (so I can buy crap I don’t want or need) I’m inferior. Unless I sacrifice my ideals and beliefs for cultural norms, I’m a failure. No matter where I go or how much I try to shield myself from advertising and consumerism, it’s still there, all around me–and I have to be a part of it, even though I really don’t want to.

    ***

    I went downtown the other day to people watch. I sat in the same spot for about an hour, watching the business professionals go about their day. It was stressful for me because everyone looked stressed–never quick enough, never good enough, never smart enough plastered on their faces. I felt sorry for them (in the same way that I feel sorry for myself).

    At one point two men came out of an office and lit up cigarettes. They smoked in silence for awhile until a bum passed by and sat down next to them. The men moved away as the bum snickered at them. I could see them laughing at the bum–or what I perceived as laughter, at least. Anyway, right there in front of me were two extremes: the business professionals conformed to cultural norms while the bum rejected them; the business professionals educated, the bum not (presumably), etc. But how different are they?

    I’m not convinced there is that much difference, but I’m positive that I don’t want to be either of them.

    on binging

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Perfectionism: Past, Present, and Future

    Like most kids, I experienced lots of changes when I entered middle school. Most of my good friends from elementary school attended different middle schools, and that, coupled with the enormous pressure to fit in, meant a lot of change for me. I had to find a new clique–and fast. And I could no longer just be me. I had to be something different, something better and more profound. Suddenly, I desired popularity–everybody had to like me and seek me out for friendship.

    Again, I wasn’t the only one experiencing change, but taking genetic factors into account, I believe change was harder for me (boohoo, poor me). I scrutinized, analyzed and reflected on everything I did, every move I made. Sixth grade was a very difficult year, and it was probably difficult for a lot of my peers. It’s a normal process for kids to go through, but for me, it was the start of my perfectionist tendencies–and the beginning of Social Anxiety Disorder.

    I took every “failure” hard. When I didn’t get picked first for dodgeball in gym it wasn’t because I didn’t know the person picking very well or because I may not have done very well athletically the last time we played dodgeball, but because I was inferior, ugly, and altogether unlikeable. If I didn’t get an A+ on a math test I failed, and I had to do better the next time. I felt terrible when I didn’t get invited to a movie or to sit at a certain table at lunch or to a birthday party–all because of my inherent, negative qualities that everyone could see. I took everything personally. If I wasn’t first, I was last, and, more often than not, I was last. If I knew I couldn’t win at something, I wouldn’t even try. I stopped putting myself out there for friends, focusing less on things I couldn’t control and more on tangibles that I could control like my appearance and test scores.

    And, since it’s impossible to always be number one and in total control of everything, I began to withdraw. I withdrew from sports because I was no longer the most athletic person. I stopped hanging out with certain friends because they were smarter, better looking, or funnier than me. I stopped raising my hand in class because whatever I had to say was never good enough.

    I told myself I didn’t really want the things I so desperately wanted. When I didn’t get invited somewhere, I always found an excuse why I didn’t want to go in the first place. This not only made me feel like shit; it fueled my perfectionism, as well. If you tell yourself you don’t want something that you really want, it only fuels the desire. So, by telling myself I didn’t want to go to the movies with friends, for example, this only intensified my desire to connect and be included.

    Even when I found a clique to hang out with, I still didn’t feel accepted. I had to always be on guard for the slightest signs that my new friends didn’t really want to be friends with me–they just “allowed” me to hang around because they felt sorry for me or something. Every word, every look, everything they did, I analyzed. And when you look at everything that closely, you’re bound to find something–and I did.

    Over time, the things I found built up until I couldn’t trust anybody anymore, and I dumped all my friends.

    ***

    Perfectionism is an ugly beast which has dominated most of my life. It started in middle school; its voice developed in high school and college, growing stronger and stronger; and it continues to control my life today–even in this very moment. As I write this, the voice in the back of my head is saying–

    No one likes you or your little blog. You can’t write and, besides, nobody cares about your thoughts anyway. You should just give up.

    ***

    So, now that I know all this, the obvious question for me is how do I control this perfectionist voice? I don’t think it’s a matter of control. I’m never going to be able to control my thoughts. Thoughts come, thoughts go. It’s up to me, though, to decide if I grab a hold of those thoughts and give them power or not.

    For example, just yesterday I had some negative thoughts regarding my therapy appointment–

    You’re not making any progress in therapy, they said. Your therapist is getting frustrated. Eventually he’ll quit on you; so you should quit first to avoid getting hurt.

    When they came I immediately told myself to STOP! In that moment I made a choice not to let my thoughts drag me down. Instead, I focused on something else, and eventually the thoughts went away, losing their power. This obviously took a lot of awareness and practice, practice, practice on my part. Honestly, nine times out of ten, I let my thoughts get the best of me. But I am learning.

    Changing my thoughts changes the way I feel, countering my perfectionist tendencies. It will take time and considerable effort, patience and persistence. The important thing is that I don’t give up because that’s what my perfectionist voice wants: to be fueled by my own pessimism.

    therapy, 10-5-10

    Therapy’s supposed to be safe. It’s supposed to be a place where I can share and my therapist can share, and I can grow and my therapist can grow, together. It’s an intimate bond between two people. In fact, there’s probably nothing more intimate than two people sharing the same space, just being who they are.

    “Therapy isn’t safe,” I told my therapist, J. “I can’t run or hide, and I can’t use distractions either. I can never get the attention off me. I have to be here, and I have to be present. I have to be me.”

    “You can’t protect yourself from the intimacy in here,” J said.

    He paused, and I looked away. When my eyes returned, I saw him looking at me–I mean really looking at me. I don’t think anybody has ever taken me in like that before. My eyes darted away again.

    “You can’t protect yourself from yourself,” he said, breaking the silence.

    He’s right: Therapy, like meditation, has only one demand–that I be myself. Simply me. Whoever that may be in the moment.

    And that’s why it’s not safe.

    I spend so much of my energy outside of therapy just trying to fit in and remain anonymous. By doing so I don’t live in the present moment, and I think people probably recognize this. When I’m feeling comfortable and can be present, people respond to me. They enjoy being around me. People like that; they want me to be there with them, not somewhere else. And if I am somewhere else, people can sense that too. Their response changes, they see me differently, which reinforces the anxiety.

    I’m very fortunate that I have a place where I can be present. I may not be present all the time in therapy–I can go places in my head, make lists, think about what I’m going to do outside of therapy etc.–but I really believe that I spend a little more time in the present moment each session, and that this present awareness is beginning to spread to other parts of my life.