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Posts Tagged ‘self-analysis’

Curing versus Healing

October 11, 2010 1 comment

Sorry for the lack of posting lately. Writing this stuff is really hard, so I don’t write it unless I really have something to say.

My therapy progresses. And I’ve learned some things, which are simultaneously informative, helpful, and very painful. I have to say that I am not enjoying this process, not at all.

I’ve realized, as I get further into this, is just what success means when you’re fighting social anxiety. Success isn’t a cure. There is no cure – it’s not an illness like an infection, where you take some medicine and it goes away. At least in my case, it’s more like an injury. You can help it heal, make it less crippling, but the damage will never completely go away. Iwent through years of abuse, and that left scars. Those scars are a part of me that I can’t get rid of. I can learn to change the role that those scars play in my life, to reduce their impact on my day-to-day interactions with other people, but I can’t eliminate that impact.

In one sense, realizing that is a good thing. Part of what had me feeling so hopeless for a while was the fact that I thought that what I needed to do was erase those scars – and I didn’t believe that I couldpossibly do that. So understanding that I’m not really trying to do that? It makes it much easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

But in another sense, it’s awful. It makes me so angry, so angry that I don’t really know how to put it into words… These bastards who abused me, who tortured me for their own pleasure – I will never be completely free of them. The things they did to me will always be an unescapable part of my life.

Another recent development in my therapy is flashbacks. Or, I guess, to be precise, awareness of flashbacks.

I mentioned a couple of posts back that my daughter just started middle school. My wife and I went to the back-to-school night at her school to meet her teachers. While we were in the math classroom, something happened which literally put me, in my own head, back in my seventh grade math classroom.

I’m not going to go into details, because I don’t want to say anything that could give away who I am. But someone, meaning well, did something that reminded me of what people used to do to let me know that I was going to be beaten up after class. And.. well, it’s a very hard thing to describe. I wasn’t hallucinating – it’s not like I didn’t know where I was. But simultaneously, like it was superimposed in my imagination over the real classroom that I was seeing, I could see, perfectly clearly, that seventh grade classroom, and the people in it, and the people who’d abused me.

It was a horrible, terrifying moment.

Talking to my doctor about that, and then thinking about it afterwards – I’ve realized that there is a strong element of flashback to a lot of my anxiety. It’s not at a conscious level, and it’s nowhere nearly as vivid as that night at my daughter’s school. But it’s there.

For example, I was at work, sitting in a lounge in my office, and a former coworker who I was friends with walked by, and said “Hey! Haven’t seen you in a while!” My immediate reaction was terror. Why? In my head… back in school, every time anyone said those words, “haven’t seen you in a while”, it was immediately followed by getting hit, or tripped, or banged into a wall. Again, I haven’t consciously thought about that in many years, but that’s been behind my reactions all along.

It scares me. It really does. That all of these things are still inside my head, still affecting me in such a direct way. Things that I really honestly believed I hadn’t remembered, things that I desperately tried to forget – they’re all there, they’re not forgotten, and they’re still affecting me.

Which, I guess, brings this post full circle. I’m never going to escape from the influence of these things. There is no cure. But, hopefully, I can heal, at least a little bit. My hope is that by understanding these influences, by understanding where my fear comes from, I can learn to at least reduce their ability to continue to warp my life. That, if I can’t be cured, I can at least recover some of who I could have been.

Bravery

September 28, 2010 Leave a comment

Before I started getting treatment, I talked to some on-line friends about what I should do.

I’ve suffered from social anxiety for a really long time. It’s something around thirty years that I’ve been dealing with it. Even if you distinguish between my experiences as a kid, and my trouble as an adult, it’s been twenty years since I graduated from college, and this anxiety trouble has plagued me in every job, every interaction in those years.

Once I finally decided to try to get treatment, people keep telling me about how brave I am to admit that I have this problem, and to do something about it.

I hate that.

The main reason I hate that probably isn’t what you’d expect. Like a lot of people with emotional troubles, I don’t take compliments very well. I’ve got a very negative self-image, and it’s very hard for me to reconcile nice things that people say about me with what I believe about myself. My gut reaction to most compliments is to believe that the complimenter is either deluded or lying.

But that’s not why I dislike it when people say that I’m brave to get treatment.

I’m not brave, I’m desperate. That might not seem like a big difference, but it really is. If people had told me that I need to be brave in order to get treatment, I never would have been able to do it. As it was, I was barely able to call the doctor to make an appointment the first time. The only way that I managed to do it was literally to program the doctors number into my phone through my Gmail contacts, so that I didn’t actually have to dial it! I just had to press one button.

Facing up to doing something about a problem like this, about something that has been a dominant factor in my life for so long – it’s hard. It’s painful. And it’s frightening. It’s really, really scary.

I don’t feel brave. I feel scared, and sad, and frustrated. I feel like a coward who’s been hiding from the world for most of my life. It doesn’t matter whether or not that’s true. What matters is that that’s what I feel, and that those feelings are what I needed to fight through in order to try to get help.

When you say that someone who does manage to ask for help is brave, I can’t help but think that you’re making it more scary. When you tell me that I’m brave, I think that you’re telling other people who see/hear the conversation, who have the same problem, but who haven’t yet taken the step of getting treatment that if they want to get help, that they are going to need to be brave in order to do it. And that’s just raising the barrier, making it harder for them to take the first step.  At least for me, there’s a huge element of self-loathing to my social anxiety. I don’t have a good opinion of myself. When I think about a positive attribute like bravery, I just can’t make myself believe that I’ve got anything like that. It’s part of the problem that I need help with.

It doesn’t take bravery to get help. It takes need. If you need the help, you can find a way to work around your fear, and get it. It doesn’t take bravery.

Like I said, I had trouble calling the doctor to schedule an appointment. I literally couldn’t dial the number. I couldn’t get through it. I couldn’t push the correct 10 digits on my cellphone. So I took the email where my internist sent me  the name and number of the therapist, and cut-and-pasted them into a contact in gmail. Then I synced the contacts with my phone. And then the number was there – and all I needed to do was tap the doctors name in my contact list, and the phone dialed.

Even so – the first time I got the doctors answering machine, and managed to leave a message without including my phone number.  It wasn’t consciously deliberate, but I think that sub-consciously, that I didn’t want to leave my number, because that made it inevitable that she’d call me back. I had to call again the next day to actually leave a message with my number.

That’s not the behavior of a brave person. That’s the behavior of someone who’s desperate for some help. You don’t need to be brave to get help – you just need to understand that you need the help.  Adding bravery into the equation, making that into something necessary to be able to get help, it just makes it that much harder – because it makes you need to not just overcome your fear, but it also takes the self-loathing, and props it up as yet another barrier to be overcome.

Don’t be a “nice guy”

September 4, 2010 1 comment

When I went to college, for the first time, I actually had friends. In fact, for my last two years, I had one group of friends who were the first, and frankly only group of people where I’ve ever really felt like I fit in. Of course I still had my awkward moments – but they accepted me. I can’t say how much that meant to me. I’d never had that before, and I’ve never really had it since.

And then, a new girl joined the group. And I thought that I’d fallen for her. This began something that I’m now terribly ashamed of. But I think it’s worth talking about.

See, I was a “nice guy”. And I did all of the “nice guy” things. And let me tell you – “nice guys” are not nice guys. Knowing what I know about what was going through my head, and what I said about it at the time, I now look at people who claim to be “nice guys” but who can’t get dates, and I despise them. Because I know what’s going through their heads. I’ve been there. I thought those things, and I said those things, and Ibelieved those things. But the problem is, what you think, what you say, and what you believe don’t matter if they don’t match what you do.

I became absolutely obsessed with her. I was convinced that we were meant for each other. I did all sorts of crazy stuff for her. Multiple all-nighters helping her finish her assignments – even though I’d never done an all-nighter for myself. Buying her things she needed, driving her ridiculous places, just because I wanted to do things for her. Cooking meals for her. Writing really bad poetry. And so on.

We were absolutely inseperable. Except that she refused to date me. And I was so upset. Damn it, I was doing all of this stuff for her! I was spending money I didn’t have to do things for her! I was letting my own schoolwork slide to help her!

So I got angry, and we had a huge fight, and she didn’t want to have anything to do with me anymore. But I couldn’t accept that. I kept trying to see her, sending her letters, calling her, talking to her friends, etc.

Here’s the problem with all of that. I wasn’t doing things for her because I really cared about her and wanted to help her. I was doing things for her because deep down, my view of her was as a thing that I was buying with my efforts, not as a person who I was helping. I didn’t know what was going on in her head, and I didn’t really care. I believed that I cared. But… belief isn’t reality. I didn’t really care. I was upset because I thought that she owed me something. She was like a candy machine: I’d put in my money, and now, damn it, I wanted my candy bar. I didn’t think of it that way, of course. In my mind, I was a nice guy who was crazy about her, and who’d done so much for her, and it just wasn’t fair that she was interested in other guys, but not in me.

That’s the truth behind the facade of the “nice guy”. A “nice guy” is a man who believes that deserves something from women, regardless of what they think or feel. Women owe him because he’s been so nice to them.

So she cut me off. Completely. And I was almost hysterical for a while. How could she do that? To me, who’d done so much for her?

Some mutual friends sat me down and gave me a good talking to. I was being crazy, I was practically stalking her, I needed to pull back, get my shit together, and move on with my life. This talk accomplished absolutely nothing at the time, except that it planted a seed in the back of my mind.

The school year ended, I graduated, and left for grad school. A year passed, and I gradually gave up on getting her to talk to me again. The next year, my next door neighbor in my grad-school apartment was dating a guy that I got to be friends with. He was a really nice guy. But I couldn’t quite figure out his relationship with my neighbor. They were together a lot, but… he’d say things about her when she wasn’t around that just didn’t make sense. I mean, I’m this pathetically shy guy who barely talks to anyone… but I knew things about his girlfriend that he didn’t! He didn’t know much of anything about her! How could that make any sense?

She eventually dumped him, and he did start stalking her. And the things he was saying as he was stalking her? They were exactly the same things that I’d said a year or two earlier. (Except, thank goodness, I’d never reached quite his level of insanity.)

Seeing that, frankly, scared the crap out of me. And the seed that had been planted by my old friends started to sprout. I realized how awful I’d been. I realized how much I’d objectified her. I realized how much I’d tormented her.

I wanted to apologize. But how could I? She’d made it absolutely clear that she never wanted to hear from me again. And if I forced a contact – by whatever means – I’d be doing to her exactly what I was trying to apologize for doing. So I made a decision to respect her choice, and I didn’t get back in touch.

Another year later, she died, of aplastic anemia.

She’d been sick when I knew her. I knew she had anemia, but I didn’t know what kind, or how bad it was. She’d never volunteered it, and I’d never asked. Our mutual friends got in touch with me to ask if I wanted to go to her funeral. And they’d all known what she had. Even back when I was following her around, they’d known, and they’d assumed that I’d known. But I’d never actually listened to her enough to actually understand what was wrong, or how serious it was.

That’s how badly I’d treated her. She was deathly sick. She didn’t know if she’d live to finish college. And I didn’t know! I’d believed that I was head-over-heels in love with her, and I’d never actually paid enough attention to her to realize just how scared she was. And now that I knew that, so many things about the way she acted, the way she carried herself, the way she talked – they all started to make sense. And so it really hit me what I’d done. How I’d turned her into nothing more than an object, instead of a person.

For a long time, I argued that she’d used me. And when we first fought, she’d admitted that she’d used me. I held that memory like a shield up until she’d died: whatever I’d done wrong, she’d used me. She’d admitted it. She owed me!

But what I came to realize was that in a situation like that, someone can’t use you without your permission. She wasn’t asking for things; I was volunteering them. She accepted, knowing at least partially what it was costing me. In that sense, she used me. But I did volunteer for it. I made the offer, claiming that it was being made out of nothing but affection and friendship, when in reality, I was doing it with the expectation of getting paid back. Yeah, she used me… but I was trying to get her to use me, so that she’d owe me something in return.

I didn’t go to the funeral. I really wanted to. But… she’d made it absolutely clear when she was alive that she never wanted to see or hear from me, ever again. Going to her funeral, being there with her mourners – it would have been a violation of her wishes. It would have been a purely selfish gesture – going to the funeral to say goodbye, in a way that she wouldn’t have tolerated when she was alive.

So what brought this whole thing on?

The other day, I was google-chatting with one of my online friends. She mentioned that an old ex of hers, one who’d followed her around moping obsessively for years, had just tried to get back in touch with her. I had two reactions: I got really angry, and I got really depressed. Angry, because I know what’s behind that kind of behavior, and it really upset me. Here’s someone who’s kind enough to actually be friends with a monster like me, and look what’s happening to her! Look what’s being done by someone just like I used to be. And depressed because… my friend is being hurt, and it’s being done by someone who’s just like I used to be. I know how acting like that can hurt the target of your “affections”. I know, because I’ve done it. I’ve seen the pain in can inflict on its target; i’m responsible for doing that to someone.

I didn’t mean to. But that’s no excuse.

So… any “nice guys” out there who see this? If you’re obsessing over a woman, you need to take a look deep inside yourself, and think about the target of your obsession. How well do you really know her? Are you really, truly doing things because you care about her, or are you doing them because you want something in return? If your really care about someone, and they don’t want to see you anymore – if you really care, you should care enough to respect their wishes. Grow the fuck up, and don’t be an asshole like me.

Self-Narratives

For a long time, I completely denied the reality of my problem. I insisted that I was just shy. Nothing wrong with me, nothing! I really convinced myself of that.

Now, after finally admitting that I’ve got this problem, and that it’s something real, when I look back at some things from my past, I realize that many of the stories I told myself, the things that I believed about myself, are completely wrong.

I believed that my whole social anxiety thing was better when I was in college. It really wasn’t. But I made excuses for some of the things that it caused. What’s strange about that is that the excuses are a whole lot worse than the reality.

When I first started college, I was an engineering major. I flunked out.

The story that I’ve believed for so many years is that the reason I flunked out was because I don’t think like an engineer.

But… looking back honestly? That’s not why I flunked out. It was a contributing factor… but the real cause? I skipped labs – because I was afraid of being in the lab with a bunch of strangers. I didn’t go to professors office hours – because I was afraid of interacting with the professors. I skipped the small-group recitations in the large-section classes, because in those sessions, I would have had to interact with my classmates.

Even in my non-major classes, I was getting terrible grades. Why did I nearly flunk a course in Arthurian Romance, when I’d already read every text we looked at in class? Because at my undergrad school, I had to take a bus from to get from my previous class to the lecture hall where that class was. And that bus frequently wasn’t fast enough to get me there on time – I’d be five minutes late to class. The professor was used to that, and generally didn’t even start on time, because so many people were straggling in. (It was the last normal class session of the day, so it was easy for him to just finish a few minutes late.) But… if I showed up five minutes late, I’d be the focus of attention from the other students when I walked in. So I just wouldn’t. If I couldn’t make it on time, I’d skip it. I ended up skipping two thirds of the lectures.

But I completely ignored that, and blamed my failure on my not being smart enough, not being good enough, not having what it took to be an engineer.

Part of that was the culture of the school. When I did flunk out, I was called into a meeting with the head-freshman dean of the engineering school, who literally gave me a lecture about how I was a failure who wasn’t good enough. He said engineers are special, they’re an elite group of really smart, really talented people – and I just wasn’t good enough to be one of them. No shame in that, you’re just not good enough.

Lovely guy, him.

But I thought he was an idiot even before that lecture. So I really can’t blame anything about what I believe on that. He certainly wasn’t a big influence on me or my beliefs. I believed it because it gave me cover for what I really didn’t want to admit.

Which is that, when it came to interacting with other people, I’m broken.

Back then, I was still someone who believed that people with psychological or psychiatric problems were weak. And I’d rather be a moron than admit to myself that I have that kind of weakness.

Looking back at it now, it seems so stupid. But that’s what I thought then, and that laid a crazy foundation for a lot of what I built into my image of myself.

A Subway Thought Study

August 24, 2010 1 comment
One of the main things that I’m doing as a part of my therapy right now is an exercise. I’m learning to analyze my own reactions to the social situations that make me uncomfortable. My doctor has a worksheet that I’m supposed to fill out as soon as possible after an incident. I don’t try to do it every time I feel any kind of anxiety; I’d be spending all of my time doing nothing but filling them out! But I try to do at least one each day.
The form has four sections:
Feelings
A set of checkboxes. I’m supposed to say what
I’m feeling (anxious, sad, guilty, angry, …), and how intensely I feel it.
Situation
A quick in-the-moment description of the situation. No judgements here:
just the facts.
Automatic Thought
Exactly what was I thinking? Here I’m supposed to start by just
writing, in the moment, what I was feeling. Then I’m supposed to pick
it apart: how much did I really believe what I was thinking at the time,
and now, looking back at it after, how much do I believe it?
Behaviors
What did I do? What were the results of what I did?
We’re very early in the process, so that’s all we’re doing now. I assume that we’ll eventually get into something like attempting to think about alternative things I could have done, or something like that.

For example, yesterday, I was riding the subway on my way home from work. I was wearing a very geeky shirt. It said /(bb|[^b]^{2})/. That’s a geek joke; it’s “To be or not to be” written in a programming language. Some guy on the subway saw my shirt, and complimented me on the shirt, and said something about “I bet not many people outside of your office understand that!” He was being friendly. There was nothing mocking about it – just another geek sharing the joke.

  • So how did I feel?
The main thing? fear; not terribly severe fear, but definitely frightened. On a 1-100 scale, probably between 30 and 40. After the fact, sadness; again, somewhere in the mid thirties in intensity. After all, this guy was trying to be friendly, and I didn’t know how to respond in a way that would show that I appreciated the gesture.
  • What was I thinking?
How am I supposed to answer? What am I supposed to say? What does he expect from me? Should I just say “yeah, true”? Is that enough? If I say the wrong thing, what will he think of me? If I say anything, I <em>know</em> it will be the wrong thing. Anything I do is going to be the wrong thing. I’m absolutely, 100% sure that I’m going to do the wrong thing.
  • What did I do?
Initially, I froze. All of those thoughts were running through my head, and that took up pretty much all of my brainpower at the time. So I froze, with a blank stare on my face for a couple of seconds. He definitely noticed that weird blank stare – he had a sort-of concerned look on his face. And then I sort of nodded my head and smiled, said I was OK, and then turned away in embarrassment. Basically, I made myself look like an idiot. Not really because of anything I actually chose to do, but because of the way that I didn’t react because my mind was so busy racing with panic about needing to decide how to react. I created a self-fulfilling prediction about my own behavior.

Dreaming of Normality

August 22, 2010 3 comments

Having severe social anxiety (god, how I hate that term!) has caused me all sorts of problems. But the one that really upsets me most is that I have no friends, and no social life.

I  would dearly love to be someone who actually had friends that I could actually spend time with.  In real life, I don’t. There are people that I know online who I really value, but there is a difference between a friendship that only exists through the mediation of a computer screen, and a friendship that exists in real life. Some of my best online friends, I don’t even know their real names. I wouldn’t be able to identify them if I walked past them on the street.

And, most importantly, the sad fact is, if the people who I consider my friends online were to meet me in real life, not only would they not become my friends in the flesh, they’d most likely wind up not even being my friends online.

That’s not because there’s anything wrong with them. I don’t mean to suggest that they’d turn out to be awful people. They’re people who I genuinely care about deeply, and who I fully believe are terrific people.

The problem is all mine. Not that I’m a terrible person.  But because I’m so damned scared when I meet people that I manage to appear to be either distant, cold, and unfriendly; or manically insane. If I’m really me, I can’t even talk. I just fade in the background. Why would anyone want to hang out with someone who’d just spends their time hiding from the person they’re supposed to be hanging out with? But if I don’t hide, the only way I can cope is by basically pretending not to be me. And because that’s so damned hard, I wind up acting like a crazy person. I just don’t even know how to be normal.

I recently had two different online friends try to make arrangements to do something together in person. I turned both of them down. Not because I don’t want to meet them. I really do. But I know myself well enough to know that if I were to take them up on the offer, I’d end up regretting it.

I’m going through this painful process of therapy to try to get over this. But honestly, I have a very hard time believing that there’s any real chance it will work.

I don’t know who I’d be without this. This problem is such a part of me, it’s so deeply ingrained, that I can’t imagine what it would be like to live without it. I’m trying, I really am. It’s hard, and it’s painful – but I’m trying. But when I stop and honestly look at myself, and ask: do I really believe that I’m going to be able to change, to become a person who’s capable of having friends, of having a happy social life? No. I don’t really. I don’t really believe that it can happen.

Fear of Nothing

August 10, 2010 3 comments

I’ve only been writing this blog for three days, and I’m already starting to repeat myself.

But one of the things that I struggle with and that I completely don’t understand is: what am I so afraid of?

I mentioned yesterday that I didn’t want to admit that my son was hurt, because I didn’t want to deal with doctors and nurses at the hospital. A more honest way of putting that is that I am afraid of dealing with doctors and nurses at the hospital.

What am I afraid of? What do I think is going to happen?

Nothing.

That’s what makes it so strange. Even when I know, absolutely know that there is nothing bad that could happen, that there is no unpleasant outcome to fear, that there are no repurcussions… in short that there is absolutely nothing to be afraid of… I’m still scared. And not just a little bit – I’m paralyzed with fear.

Why?

What am I so damned afraid of?

I really don’t know. I think that if I did, I wouldn’t have such a problem. How do you overcome a fear when you don’t even really know what you’re afraid of?