Tag Archives: control

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.

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illusion of control

When I am alone or with one or two people who I feel comfortable with, I am at ease. My body and mind are calm. I can loosen up, be myself, and have fun. Why would I want my body to be in any other state? Why would I want to insert uncertainty into my life? Why would I want to relinquish control? I don’t, and so anxiety comes into the picture, which says–

“Why would you want to be anywhere else but where you are now? You don’t know these people or the situation. They may make you feel bad about yourself or inferior. You have no idea what’s going to happen.”

So, my anxiety is trying to protect me from uncertainty. Anxiety is really on my side. When looked at it like this, anxiety is just my rational mind trying to convince me to stay put, to not change, and when I listen to it, there is a payoff: I stay in control. But this also reinforces the anxiety and makes it harder the next time around to go into the social situation.

Anxiety is a logical response to the world. No one wants to feel unconformable, no one wants to be put down or hurt, and anxiety manifests to help protect us from that.  What our anxiety doesn’t know and what we sometimes forget is that anxiety is always going to be there no matter how much we isolate ourselves. For example, when I used to be more isolated and not leave the apartment. I would feel in control most of the time, but every now and then I’d hear my neighbor walking up the stairs, and I’d think- Maybe he’ll stop at my door and knock. What will I do then? I could ignore him, but maybe he knows I’m home. I’ll have to answer. Then, he’ll see what a mess I am.

Control is an illusion. I have very little control over my own life or the outcomes of specific situations. Yet, I’ve convinced myself that I do. Throughout my life when I didn’t have control, I gave power to my anxiety. I’m slowly taking the power back by not giving into the anxious thoughts as much and telling myself that I do not have total control–and never will.

It’s not that people don’t like me–it’s that they don’t know 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.