Tag Archives: isolation

having a choice

I know this post probably seems to contradict my last past, but I’ve given my last post some thought. I do think that I fall more on the introverted side of things, yet when I’m in a social situation, I want to be seen and heard and enjoy being the center of attention. I guess I am an outgoing, socially anxious person. Sounds like an oxymoron, I know.

***

Anyway. My girlfriend is up visiting her family right now, and I’m feeling a little guilty that I’m not there. I chose not to go.

Right now, I’ve made a conscious choice to only engage in one social situation, outside of work, once per week. Whether that’s with one  of my friends or my girlfriend’s friends or her family it doesn’t matter–one per week. I’m very fortunate that I have a job right now that isn’t too demanding socially. I have to interact with my boss and co-workers and occasionally I have to engage with a few clients on the phone or in person, but it’s not bad at all.

It’s a pretty firm decision–to only engage in one situation per week–but every now and then I’ll allow another social situation or two depending on the situation and how I’m feeling. I don’t like feeling like there’s a quota in place–and my girlfriend especially doesn’t like that.

Anyhow, giving myself a choice is a powerful thing. In the past, there were times where I felt like I was being forced into social situations. I felt like I had no choice–that my girlfriend or friends were forcing this awful situation on me and I had no control. But I did have control. I made those choices to go, not them. Saying no to social situations is difficult to do. On the one hand, I don’t want to say no to too many, because I don’t want to avoid everything and become a hermit or something; but, on the other hand, it’s important for me to do what feels right for me. Getting flooded in every single social situation only reinforces the anxiety. I need to pick and choose social situations that I don’t get too flooded in to slowly immerse myself back into social situations that I find anxiety-proving–gradually increasing over time–so that I can eventually become a healthy social person (whatever that means). Avoiding too many situations as well just reinforces the anxiety. It’s all about balance.

The important thing is that I realize that it’s my choice to enter–and stay in–a social situation. Knowing that can help ease the anxiety in itself. And, although, I do feel guilty about not going with my girlfriend to see her family, I think it’s the best thing for me–and that’s what matters most.

***

With all that said, I’m feeling very lonely. I can’t ignore that. Yes, I do feel good because I do have a choice, but I miss my girlfriend and wish I would have gone with her to see her family. But I bet if I was there, I would be anxious and want to be somewhere else. I can never win, I guess. *Sigh*

What a pointless post. I wanted it to be optimistic because that’s how I felt like ten minutes ago, but now I just feel sad and lonely. Sorry.

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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.

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.

winter break

Again, my seemingly non-productive therapy session has turned into quite a lot of introspection. It prompted quite a few questions, and maybe a few shifts. It’s amazing how simple shifts (and insights) can seem like nothing–on the outside, to anyone else–but they can make a world of difference. Essentially, not a lot happened during therapy on Tuesday, but since then, I’ve been thinking a lot about the few things that did happen. I started writing a post briefly detailing each one, but I want to step back and hash each one out. So I’ll be recapping therapy for the next few posts.

***

First, today is the last day of the semester. I had to half-ass a paper, which is not my style (and honestly it felt good to turn it in incomplete [really jabbing my perfectionist side]), but other than that, I got everything done. I’m now left with a month and a half break before the start of the next semester, and I’m a little worried about how I’m going to spend this break.

What am I going to do with myself?

I am going to Kansas City, to visit my family, for 11 days around Christmas, which will probably be stressful, but at least I’ll get some social interaction.

That’s exactly what I’m worried about this next month: social interaction. Even though I am going to school online, just interacting in that format–message boards, conference calls–is better than nothing.

What’s more, my girlfriend and I have been entertaining the prospect of moving as of late to save money, live closer to the train, and to have roommates (so we can both be a little more social). I’m all for having roommates, but I hate the stress of moving, and I don’t want to be tied down by a new lease. So, I’ve been resistant. Anyway, on Tuesday night my girlfriend, frustrated with me, called me a hermit, which I did not appreciate.

I do things. I have (a few) friends I talk to (mostly online). I go out and buy groceries and go to the library and volunteer. I’m sure there’s more.

That said, it really ticked me off because there is a part of me that is afraid that she is right. Maybe I am becoming a hermit. I may not be there yet, but I’m slowly pushing people away and becoming more and more isolated. I’m scared.

At least I’m aware now and, hence, can make changes. I’d like to spend this break reading, writing, and running, but I probably should do some volunteering, (re)connecting with friends, and hanging out with my girlfriend’s family as well. Maybe I’ll join Toastmasters.

perfectionism or punishment?

Why are pdocs always late? I’m always having to wait at least fifteen minutes after our scheduled appointment time. It’s not fair. Because of I was late like that, I would probably get a lecture on the importance of being on time. It throws my day and all my structure off. On days I have to see him, I can never plan for anything after. Anyway this time I decided to say something–

“Right on time, as usual,” I said, quite passively. His non-response indicated that he didn’t appreciate my sarcasm.

I had high hopes for the session. I wanted to drop the other medications I’m on–Lamictal and Klonopin–and start taking Nardil, as a friend of mine with social anxiety has found Nardil quite helpful. The problem was/is that my pdoc hasn’t prescribed Nardil in over twenty years as he had a patient almost die while on it. You see, there are some dangerous food interactions, particularly alcohol, cheese, aging fruits and vegetables, some meats, soy, and so on. It’s quite alarming. You could eat the wrong kind of cheese and end up in a hypertensive state and have a heart attack.

But if the ends justify the means, I think I can live with the reduced diet–and the risks. My pdoc, however, wants to exhaust all other options first. So, he increased my dose of Klonopin and added Xanax into the cocktail (both of which, I might add, I’m having trouble filling due to insurance restrictions–so frustrating). Anyway, I came out of my appointment disappointed.

Oh, and I also got lectured.

My perfectionism came up. I told him I’m frustrated because I don’t have many friends, and outside of my relationship, I pretty much only hang out with my girlfriend’s family. And since she has a large family, I pretty much bounce from one large group social gathering to the next. I don’t believe that type of exposure works. I need gradual exposure. I need to see small successes and build from there. I won’t get any better if I continue going to huge social gatherings. But I don’t feel like I can opt out of them, either. Otherwise, I would just sit around the apartment, isolated.

“It’s okay to avoid things,” he said. “In fact you need to take back control from your anxiety and start saying ‘NO!’ every now and then.”

“But then I’ll be completely isolated,” I said.

“You’re going to school, you’re starting an internship, you have a girlfriend–you don’t sound isolated to me.”

“I’m going to school online,” I countered, “which isn’t helping my anxiety. I’m scared to death of the internship. I’m too dependent on my girlfriend.” We sat in silence for some time. “I can’t help but think this way. I know my perfectionism is fueling my anxiety but I can’t control it.”

“Mike, it’s not perfectionism. It’s punishment. You’re punishing yourself for not being perfect, and by doing so, you’re giving control to your pain. You still have control, though, but you don’t feel like you have it anymore, because these beliefs of yours are so ingrained. I don’t think you’re challenging your beliefs enough.”

I’ve been in therapy for over a year–is that not enough? But he’s right. I do not feel like I have control. I feel like I am my anxiety. I am my beliefs. I am who I say and think I am. How does change occur, though? It’s easy to intellectualize this process, but that can only take me so far. Change is deeper, in areas that I don’t like to touch. In areas I don’t know how to touch. When I do touch them, I shut down, I get flooded, and I push away.

He also brought up the issue of learned helplessness. I’ve failed so many times in the past, I do not believe I can succeed. I’ve taught myself how to fail. I’ve let my anticipatory anxiety get the best of me. I think I’ll fail, therefore I will fail. But maybe–just maybe–being conscious of this will help me change? I hope so.

***

Later on in therapy that night, my therapist asked, “What does it mean to be perfect? What does perfectionism mean to you.”

“It means I avoid being judged negatively,” I said.

There’s more but I don’t feel like typing it out. It was a tough session, to say the least. He pushed right up against my beliefs, and I pushed right back, shutting down in the process. I feel like we’ve been at a standstill for some time now. Why does change have to happen so slowly?

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.

    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.