Tag Archives: irrational beliefs

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.

a familiar voice

My therapy session on Tuesday went a little better than usual. Usually when things get hard–that is, when we start going deeper–I shut down. On Tuesday I stayed with my t as much as I could. I feel good about myself (for once) for actually having stuck it out even though it was incredibly difficult. I’m giving myself credit where credit is due; it’s a strange feeling, to say the least.

Well, now that I am analyzing, and writing about, it, there were times I felt very frustrated and maybe did quit a bit.

We’ve been talking a lot about the cycles I go through. Anticipatory anxiety, social event, depression–and how each one is setup by my own negative beliefs about myself. My t is interested in my beliefs, because that’s where change will occur. I’m not sure I believe that. It’s hard for my beliefs to change if they’re constantly being reinforced by my actions. But in a therapeutic session we can only work on what’s inside me, not the outside world and what goes on around me. So, we talk constantly about my beliefs, which is frustrating.

There is a genuine part of me that does want change, that does want my deep, rigid beliefs to be exposed for what they are–lies. I want to be able to engage socially without that voice in the back of my head saying, You are no good. People notice you are anxious, and, consequently, they don’t like you. You will never be anything other than what you are right now. Logically, I know I have an innate worth, and I know sometimes I do appear anxious (but it’s not as bad as I make it out to be), and even if people do notice I am a bit anxious, they probably aren’t judging me or coming to conclusions that I am a bad person. But logic doesn’t always help. It’s what’s deeper that matters. And sometimes I do want those beliefs to change–or at least be challenged.

Which is what happens in therapy. Which is why I shut down sometimes. Why would I want those beliefs to change? They are me. Without them, I won’t know who I am. So, most of the time, I don’t want those beliefs to change. I just want to be able to live my life, while still thinking I am a piece of shit, which has been difficult thus far, obviously.

What’s more, sometimes it feels great to fail because it reinforces those negative, irrational beliefs about myself.

“It feels so good sometimes,” I told my t, “coming in here and telling you what a shitty weekend I had, because now I have something to point to. Now I have something to show you, and say, ‘See. I am messed up. There is something wrong with me.’ It’s fuel for the fire.”

“That voice is what I’m interested in,” he said. “That’s the voice that doesn’t want change, the voice that says you’re not good enough and never will be, the voice that says you should die. It’s a familiar voice. It’s something we need to shine light on. But when we look at it something happens in this room, something changes. You get flooded and leave.”

Anyway, during the session, I tried to open up about the voice, explaining when it comes out in social situations and how it’s, seemingly, out of my control during periods of anticipatory anxiety. I stayed with it as long as I could, but, inevitably, I shut down, relinquishing control. But I did stay with it longer than I have in the past, which is a step in the right direction. I just feel frustrated that I wasn’t able to open up more. I couldn’t find the words.

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 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.