Tag Archives: present

job hunt

I’m tired. I’ve been applying for jobs the past few days, which is very exhausting because I have to continually fight the negative thoughts.

I read a job description, and I immediately pick out everything I can’t do. These cant’s have nothing do do with me not being qualified–they are the social aspects of the job. Behind every single can’t is a negative experience, or failure on my part, from my past. For example, if one of the qualifications is that I need to be able to to work independently and as a team member, I immediately think back to my former job when I failed at this; or, more precisely, what I perceive as failures. I was fine with working independently, but I had trouble working with others, socially speaking. I never knew what to say or how to act. I questioned everything I did .. every .. little .. thing.

I also put up a difficult front. My anxiety caused me to appear stoic and unapproachable. This, coupled with shyness and introversion made it difficult to connect with people. My co-workers thought I didn’t like them, which couldn’t be further from the truth–I so desperately wanted everyone on my team to like me. (Why do I let other people’s opinions affect me so much?) But I couldn’t break through this pressure. Day in and day out, I wanted to make connections, to show that I was a valuable member of the team, and to not make any mistakes .. and everyday I failed in some way.

The more and more jobs I look at, the more and more I tell myself I can’t do something–and the more I rehash something from the past. I am just rehearsing my failures, and the more I do this, the more I believe that I am a failure, and eventually I get locked in a cycle.

Fortunately, because of CBT, I am aware of all this, and can break through the cycle; nevertheless, it’s still exhausting having to continually fight my negative thoughts. You see, each thought means much more than it should. These perceived failures are in the past. I am a different person now, and I am capable of so much. I can do anything I want. Yet, I forget this as I apply for jobs. My exhaustion has lead to a small depression, and now I’m feeling hopeless–all because of my negative thoughts, which are just based on distortions of my past (they are irrational interpretations, in other words).

What’s more, I’m applying for jobs I don’t necessarily want.

I want to work in the public library, but none are hiring because of the economy right now. I’m worried that when I do graduate (next summer) and get a degree, I’ll just have to go back to some office job. I’m trying to prepare for that now. Maybe if I get some simple part time job, I can slowly immerse myself back into the “real world.” I think if I wait and jump back into a stressful office job in the summer, it won’t go very well. I need gradual exposure in order to learn how to manage my anxiety.

So, I’m stressed, worried, and anxious about the past and the future. I’m not present. In conclusion, I’m concerned–

  1. I won’t be able to use my degree to get the job I want.
  2. I won’t be able to find a job at all (and if I do, it will be similar to what I did in the past and I’ll just be miserable again and end up quitting).
  3. Because I won’t be able to find a job or quit some other job, I won’t be able to pay rent and I’ll either have to move in with my girlfriend’s family (if they’ll take me, of course) or move back to Kansas City with my family (again, if they’ll take me).
  4. As a result, I will be a failure.

Do you see how powerful thoughts are? I have to continually remind myself that I am capable of anything. I may have struggled in the past, but I am changing. I just need to try to take it slow, gradually exposing myself to situations I’m afraid of–and, above all, stay present.

I guess I could always fall back on something like this if I can’t find a job.

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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.

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.

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.

What’s My Name Again?

I currently volunteer at the public library’s adult literacy program, Project Read. It’s very satisfying, and it gets me out of the apartment.

I started the program last November, and after going through training, I was assigned someone–let’s call him Mr. C–in January. So I’ve been working with him for almost ten months. For the first six months or so we met once a week for about two hours a session; and for the past 4 months we’ve been meeting twice a month, two hours each.

Anyway, things have been going well, until our meeting earlier this week, that is. We met, as usual. Started chatting, as usual. Baseball, weather, public transit, that sort of thing. Then the conversation drifted toward smart phones, and Mr. C mentioned that he just purchased one. I asked if he got a new number and he said yes, and then I asked for it and he gave it to me, and then he asked for mine, and as he was putting my number in his phone, he asked–

“What’s your name again? Mike, right?”

I froze. For the most part, I don’t get much anxiety around him. We’ve been meeting regularly for so long, I’ve been able to open up (somewhat). I think things can be very awkward between us, though. I don’t really know what I’m doing, and I believe he can see this lack of confidence, but other than that, I feel relaxed around him. Because of this, I said exactly what was on my mind, without filtering it first–

“We’ve been meeting since January and you don’t know my name by now,” I said. This came out in a very harsh tone. I was pissed. “It’s Mike.”

I had to go to the bathroom to cool off. When I got back, I started editing his writing. We just moved on.

In retrospect, I’m angry at myself. I’m angry because I allowed my emotions to get the best of me. It’s not about him–it’s about me. There could be any number of reasons why he didn’t remember my name. Maybe he was trying to clarify whether I go by Mike or Michael. Maybe he has anxiety issues too and maybe he was flooded with anxiety when we met. I know I often don’t listen as well when I’m flooded. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. I’m angry at myself.

But I should be happy because I was able to be present and say what was on my mind without judgment and scrutiny, but–and there’s always a but–I still wish I could have been a little easier on Mr. C–and myself.

Yet another example of my perfectionism.

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.

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.