Tag Archives: judging

do we choose how others treat us?

This is my entry for July’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health. The topic is Stigma and Discrimination, which I interpreted liberally.

***

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the boundaries I set affects how others treat me. As some of you know, after my suicide attempts and subsequent hospitalization in an urgent care facility, I basically told my boss everything that had been going on. Why did I do this? Well, I trust him for the most part, he’s easy to talk to, and I need more people in my life who I can share my inner experiences with. In retrospect, this may not have been the best decision, but what’s done is done. I was in the midst of a crisis, and I may not have been thinking all that clearly. Things happen in a crisis.

Anyway, I also told him about the Nardil and about how it affects my diet (because he’s always trying to shove cheap pastries and hot dogs down my throat, which I can’t have while on Nardil).

Being who he is–older, somewhat wiser, and a wanna-be therapist–he likes to give me his opinions on my condition. For example, sometimes, when he’s stressed, he jokes around by saying things like, “I’d try to kill myself too if I just had the time.” I’ve spoken to him about this–about how that’s insensitive and is not something I want him joking about. He’s stopped. Other times, he gets serious and tries to tell me that, looking solely at my behaviors, I don’t need to be on medication, especially long-term.

Although, I appreciate that he cares, he has no idea what’s going on inside my head. Sure, my behaviors tell a particularly happy story about myself–a story that others interpret as the entire picture. I mean, I have a job. I’m in school. I have a girlfriend. I’m training for a marathon. All good things. Inside my head, though, something entirely different is going on. He, as well as many others, tend to forget this. I think we all tend to compare ourselves to others based on what we see. This is unfair not only to others but to ourselves as well.

Logically, it makes no sense to judge how we’re feeling on the inside to how others look and behave on the outside. I am incredibly guilty of this. It’s a huge reason why I suffer so immensely from social anxiety.

Anyhow, because I chose to disclose my condition and the fact that I am medicated, I have greatly altered my relationship to my boss. He has considerable power over me, even more so than he did before. He could use it against me if he wanted to.

So the question remains: Do I choose how people treat me based on what I disclose? The answer in my opinion is yes. Sure, there’s much more that goes into it than just that, but boundaries are a huge factor.

Most of the time I usually don’t disclose much of anything, and people think (at least in my opinion) that I’m distant, cold, boring, and that I perhaps don’t like them. In other cases, I disclose too much because I need emotional connection really, really bad. There is a happy/perfect medium which I haven’t exactly been able to find yet. Again, it’s something I’m working on, and, again, I believe one day I’ll get there.

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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.

trust

I’ve talked a lot about trust in the past, particularly in this post where I discussed how I replace trust with constancy. Anyway, I came across an interesting comment on this post, and I want to address the questions left by the author–

Trust is an interesting one though…you’ve maybe done it already but it can sometimes be useful to explore the following three areas:

What trust means to you…
What has to happen for trust to be there
What stops you from trusting

What does trust mean to me?

Trust is hard to define. It’s much easier to describe the after effects–i.e., what happens after trust is established. In the most general sense, a trustful relationship is a peaceful relationship. When there’s trust, I feel comfortable calling the person and talking to him or her about anything; I don’t get hung up on my negative thoughts; I simply don’t care what the other person thinks of me. He can judge me all he wants; it’s not going to affect the relationship. Finally, and this may be the most important factor, in a trustful relationship, I not only trust the other person, but I trust myself as well. I’m not constantly questioning or analyzing my behaviors. I can be myself.

Trust is important to me. I want and need to have open, trustful relationships with others. Trust is the willingness to be whoever I am in the moment. There are no walls. Or filters. There’s only me.

What has to happen for trust to be there?

Several things need to take place for trust to develop–

Be honest: Being honest with yourself as well as with the other person. Your actions must match your words, as well.

Be reliable and predictable: If you say you’re going to do something or be somewhere at a certain time, then do it and be punctual. Predictability is important, too.

Have the willingness to share: Tell the person who you are, faults and all, and reveal what you want/need from the relationship.

Take a leap of faith: All of the previous things don’t really matter if you aren’t willing to take a leap of faith. Trust means you have to open up. You have to put yourself out there. You have to put yourself on the line. You have to be willing to be hurt. You have to have faith that the other person will be there when you fall–and you have to be there, too.

What stops you from trusting?

I don’t like myself. In fact, most of the time, I hate myself. I’ve been hurt so much in the past and have gone through so many negative social experiences, that these hateful feelings are ingrained deep within. I can’t seem to penetrate these ancient beliefs; I can’t change them, in other words. Hate is there–and it may always be there.

So, how can I let someone else in when I hate myself so much? If I don’t like what I see and feel inside, why would anyone else? I know exactly what I need to do–I need to learn to accept, appreciate, and love myself. But I don’t know how. Or rather: I do know how. I’m doing it right now. I’m going to therapy, I’m writing, etc. It’s just hard.

Also, I can’t ignore empirical evidence. I have let some people in, and, more often than not, they run away. They must have seen something they didn’t like. And so, I’m no longer willing to take that leap of faith that’s so vital for establishing trust in relationships.

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

therapy and medication

My therapist doesn’t get it. Or maybe it’s I who isn’t getting it? I told him on Tuesday that I struggle through so many simple things most people take for granted, like saying hello, or making small-talk after saying hello, saying goodbye, shaking hands, smiling, playing with children ..

His response: “You went to an interview. Did you shake hands? Did you make small-talk? Did you smile? Did you say goodbye?”

I nodded several times.

“So, you showed up and engaged socially,” he said. “You were there–that’s the most important thing–and it sounds like it went well.”

I usually show up to things. I usually make small-talk. I usually smile. I usually shake hands, hello and goodbye. That’s not the problem. The problem is that I don’t feel comfortable doing any of those things. The problem is that I feel like an idiot while doing them. I think people are watching me closely, scrutinizing every move, and making negative judgments. After I leave, I think people are thinking, Wow. Mike really doesn’t know how to engage with people.

The problem is that I’m 27 years old, and yet I feel like I have the social skills-set of someone half my age.

But then again, I got the internship, so maybe I am okay. Maybe I’m not as bad as I think. Maybe everything will be okay. I don’t feel like it, though, and right now, my thoughts are in control of me.

***

In other news, I went back to the psychiatrist on Tuesday, as well. Now that my mood swings are a little more stable, the anxiety can be addressed once again. I don’t want to go on another SSRI, so my psych suggested Klonopin. .25 mg, twice a day. I don’t like being on a cocktail of drugs, and I don’t like being on benzos, especially everyday .. but then again, I don’t like anxiety.

So I’m going to give it a try.

Also, he made me feel very little by saying that my problems are minimal compared to others. He even said that it’s like I’m walking around and I get a tiny pebble (the anxiety) in my shoe, stuck between my toes, and I’m too lazy to get it out. So, not only are my problems tiny, but I’m not doing enough to alleviate the problems. Yes, I’m skeptical towards drugs, and, no, I don’t like taking them, but I think I am doing a lot to help ease the anxiety.

life means suffering

Suffering is equally divided among all men; each has the same amount to undergo…. (Paul Bowles, The Sheltering sky)

***

Depression hit me on Wednesday–killing my positive, albeit hyper, mood–when I started analyzing the interview in my mind, over and over and over again, finding all the negatives .. I found a bunch, of course. I also had a difficult tutoring session (see previous post). This depression stuck with me until Thursday evening when anxiety took over while I was in the car with my girlfriend and her father, on our way to my girlfriend’s hometown to visit her family. I actually started panicking a little.

I know I need to connect more with people, especially with my girlfriend’s family, but it’s too hard. I can’t do it, and I really don’t want to, either.

On Thursday night I went with my girlfriend and her sister-in-law to a bar to watch a baseball game. I had two beers which really calmed me down. I felt calm the rest of the night, but I woke up depressed again on Friday and felt down throughout the day until my girlfriend’s brother arrived.

Her brother’s a lot like me–he suffers from anxiety and depression, he doesn’t really like people etc–but I actually think we’re too similar: neither one of us knows how to talk to the other, and a third-party needs to be present in order to facilitate conversation. Actually, I pretty much always need a third party. One-on-one conversation is the hardest for me, and, consequently, that’s when anxiety hits me the most.

Surprisingly, the anxiety wore off quickly, and I was able to relax for a bit after her brother arrived. We all talked for a while, and then I went to bed. My girlfriend joined me after some time.

Like clockwork, I felt depressed again in the morning. I went for a run, reflecting on my week, focusing on a letter I sent to my parents on Thursday. In it, I briefly described what I’ve been going through as of late, as well as my frustration with my family’s lack of emotional connection.

Some highlights–

I haven’t connected with either of you in a long time; and I’m angry and frustrated because of this. There’s so much distance between us—not just geographic distance but emotional distance. Our family has always been a very private family. We just don’t talk about things. I think that worked for us when we were all together, when we were seeing one another every day. But now that Jeff and I are both gone, that lack of emotional connection is catching up to us.

..

I have Social Anxiety Disorder. I’ve suffered with it for over ten years. I know that everybody experiences anxiety in social situations to some extent, but it’s much more intense for me, even debilitating. Often times the anticipatory anxiety is much worse than the actual anxiety I get in the event. Just last week, my anticipatory anxiety kept me from going to a job interview, for example. Also, after social situations, I continually brood on the negatives from the social event. This is self-defeating—it reinforces the anxiety, in other words. Recently, I’ve also been diagnosed with Cyclothymia. It’s a form of Bipolar Disorder—albeit a very mild form. I’m also a Perfectionist, an Introvert, extremely Shy, Highly Sensitive, and so forth …

..

You weren’t/aren’t perfect parents—and that’s okay. I’m getting to the point where I can accept that you weren’t the type of parents I wanted you to be. I’m not there yet, but I think I’m close.

As of writing, I still haven’t heard from my parents. I’m a little worried.

Anyway, I began to feel anxious on my run. I kept going over and over what my parents would say to me. Would they be mad? Or sad? Or concerned? Happy? Confused? .. These thoughts took me from the present moment. I really wanted to get away from my thoughts. I wanted to enjoy my run and connect with nature, but instead I got lost, and eventually trapped, in my own thoughts.

After my run my anxiety intensified, as everybody, aside for me, wanted to go visit my girlfriend’s sister (Ms. D) in Oakland and her baby and fiance–and we ended up going. I get really anxious around them because her fiance is really cocky and outgoing. I never know what to say around him. Whenever he even looks at me I just freeze. I can’t think, I can’t talk, I can’t do anything. I’m overcome with anxiety.

I also don’t really do well around children. I never know how to act or what to say. I feel like everyone is judging me: He doesn’t know what he’s doing. He probably has no experience with children. He’s an idiot.

I guess it didn’t go too bad. I felt stupid when Ms. D asked me how I was doing because I always say the same things: “I’m good. I’m just trying to get through school and find a job.” She gave me an awkward smile and nod, and thankfully the conversation moved on, the attention put on someone else.

A few minutes later everybody was lively and talking about babies and weddings while I just sat in the corner, keeping silent, trying to pretend I was playing with the baby (and enjoying it). Finally, when the conversation was over, I shouted out, “I don’t think I’ve ever been licked so much in my life,” referring to their dog. Everyone turned toward me, looking at me as if they were surprised I was still in the room. I’m not sure why I said it, I really don’t. Well, actually I do: I wanted to be included so bad, I just said the only thing I could think of. No one really knew what to say. Finally, Ms. D broke the silence–

“Mike, no one really likes it.”

“I’m not complaining,” I said.

A few people laughed, awkwardly, and then the conversation moved on. I probably appeared like I was complaining, because when I said what I said I know my face was stoic. 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. She gave me the reaction I’ve gotten most of my life–the same reaction that fuels my anxiety. If she could only understand that I’m feeling something entirely different altogether on the inside she would probably respond differently. I came across as unfriendly and uncaring and yet on the inside I just wanted to connect and be heard. I wish she could have seen this. I wish everybody could see this. Social anxiety changes my personality so much–making it impossible for me to be myself.

I didn’t say much the rest of the trip. Depression followed me home. I carried it with me on Sunday and on in to today. Right now I’m analyzing and interpreting every single word spoken, every gesture, every facial expression from the weekend. I’m also beginning to feel anxious again because I have another social event tonight: dinner with my girlfriend’s former roommate.

***

I suffered constantly in one form or another this past week. When I wasn’t anxious I felt depressed, and when I wasn’t depressed I felt anxious, and when I wasn’t anxious or depressed I felt hyper.

I’ve been thinking more about suffering recently. I’m starting to believe that everyone suffers in their own way. If you alleviate one form, like starvation, another appears, like anxiety–so what’s the point of even trying? I think the answer can be found in the Buddha’s four noble truths. Suffering is all around us, it’s part of life, but it only affects us if we attach ourselves to them.

To me, that means suffering is a choice. I suffer because I choose to believe my thoughts. I choose to let them control me. That said, I’m not sure how to go about releasing, or detaching, my self from my thoughts, but I do believe I’m on the right path. I need to keep doing what I’m doing.

P.S. I got a haircut and nobody noticed. My hair used to be long, and I cut it really short. I thought for sure someone would say something which would open up a conversation, but no one did. I’m invisible.

judgments, criticisms and star trek

I’m afraid of judgments and criticisms, real or imagined. I take them hard, at their face value, and I carry them with me, forever.

For example–

  1. 17 years ago a kid on my school bus said I looked different (not in those words, of course), and I still believe I look different, in the exact same way.
  2. Ten years ago a classmate said I was stupid because I couldn’t verbalize my thoughts, because of my anxiety. Now, whenever I have trouble connecting with my thoughts, I tell myself I’m stupid.
  3. Two years ago a co-worker said I wasn’t approachable because I never smile. To this day, I still feel like I’m unapproachable, in every single situation, and I put immense pressure on myself to smile.

To me, all judgments are objective truths. I know that sounds irrational–and it is–but sometimes my logic is irrational.

In a Star Trek episode I watched today, Data found it puzzling that human beings feel the need to compete with one another. Counselor Troi clarified by saying, “Humans sometimes find it helpful to have an outsider set the standard by which they’re judged.”

“To avoid deceiving oneself,” Data said.

That’s exactly how I feel. The way I see myself is based not only on actual judgments, but on how I believe people perceive me. I use imagined, or hypothetical, judgments to paint a picture of myself, so I don’t deceive myself. They keep me in check, and they fuel my perfectionism.

I don’t want to be judged so I visualize how people could judge me in a given situation, and then try to “correct” my behavior so I don’t fall prey to those very judgments.

What’s more, more often than not, “correcting” my behavior means mimicking how others act. I need to fit in so bad because I don’t want to be judged, I can never be who I am. I can never be me. I just stay in the background, avoiding people and keeping my mouth shut.

Finally, this form of thinking–trying to guess future judgments–takes me out of the present moment and causes undue anxiety. By not being present, and instead focusing on the future, I take myself out of a non-threatening situation (because these thoughts usually come when I’m either doing nothing or something mundane) and put myself into an anxious, hypothetical situation, which causes anxiety and stress that would not be there.