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social anxiety

Therapy hurts. It hurts and hurts and it hurts some more. Two and a half days since my session and still I’m in pain.

I worry that this is bad therapy. This is exacerbated by a book I’m reading, a memoir written by a psychologist about her placements during training. It’s not a bad book, but her type of treatment does not involve having the patients suffer. The author is empathetic and listens to her patients’ stories….but any good she does happens pretty much right away, it’s obvious, and it doesn’t involve anyone going off for a week to feel worse than ever.

My therapy is not like that. At all. Nothing is obvious, everything moves by inches, if at all. It’s like a mess of stew where you can’t really tell what all the ingredients are, as opposed to a nice steak and baked potato.

The psychologist/author provides insights, but those insights do not seem to cause pain to her patients. Most books seem to skip over this part. Insight causes pain. Or at least, emotional insight does. It’s why people generally don’t wish to change, despite the level of suffering that’s brought them to a therapist. The pain of feeling this stuff is just too great.

As usual, we cover a bunch of stuff. Ron waits silently for me to begin. I cast around, usually say something about the traffic or the weather. He responds minimally and continues to wait silently. Sometimes I wish he would launch into some therapeutic topic, but no, he just waits.

I’ve been struggling with my job search, so I talk about that a bit. I tend to shut down when I’m trying to force myself to apply to things, which makes looking for work tricky. I shut down, then can’t remain upright, so I lie down and actually sleep. Which makes me more depressed, so then I spend the rest of the day trying to feel better.

At the same time, I have been doing activities again after the Christmas break. I tell Ron about three activities I went to, which I rated good, OK, and pretty bad.

The good was a choir I think I’ll join. It’s an unauditioned choir. They sing without written music, instead they learn songs from recordings. I’ve struggled with a choir in the past, but was amazed at how I was able to sing with this one without the stress and anxiety I’d had previously. I think it’s partly that it’s a very low key choir where the emphasis is on fun and enthusiasm rather than skill. But also, I really seem to have changed. I could still hear some of my anxious thoughts, but they didn’t take me over, so I was also able to enjoy singing out without worrying too much. The women around me were super nice, ensuring I got copies of the lyrics and chatting a bit. A good experience.

I was trying to tell Ron how I really could see I’d made progress, with about a decade between today and the last time I’d tried to be part of a choir. That gap really let me see a difference. Not sure he really got it, but to me it was a great sign that I have changed.

The OK was a book club I’d been meaning to attend for ages. I didn’t love it – not everyone got a chance to talk, and you kind of had to seize the spotlight if you wanted to give your opinion on the book. I did speak for a minute or two – I hadn’t liked the book much actually. Tried to come up with the reasons. I had reasons, but a big one was that it just didn’t grab me, which isn’t a great reasoned argument. So I felt awkward, but at the same time, I felt it was OK for me to sit there and listen, even if I didn’t feel part of it in quite the way I’d have liked. I wasn’t overcome with anxiety about what everyone else thought of me, and this too is progress for me.

And the bad. The bad led to some discussion of what my family is like, which is what seems to have set me off into this depressed bad time. Or maybe it’s mourning. Whatever.

The bad was a games afternoon at the pub. It’s a meetup group that plays boardgames, which sounds like a nice, low key endeavour, but isn’t. I had been to it before though, but this time the triggery parts of it just took over. It’s a large group, maybe forty people. We break up into smaller groups to play various games. The majority of participants are young men, tending to the nerdy socially awkward side. There were maybe two or three other women there, and I think I was the oldest person overall.

The people there seemed to be experts. Most new a great number of games already, or could relate the games to others they’d played, unlike myself. They were nice enough about teaching me the rules though. However, the rules were complex, and also the games needed a fair bit of skill – logic, or probability, or strategy. I became very anxious that I couldn’t remember all the rules, and then, that I would play badly. Which I did. It’s hard to be learning complex sets of rules for two hours, plus play with any degree of skill. And my fellow players were looking to be challenged. They took the games pretty seriously – they certainly weren’t an excuse to drink beer and chat.

So I got anxiety. I think I was likely switching a bit to kid space, and I know my voice got quite childish at times. The leader of the meetup actually came by our table a couple of times with a worried look asking how it was going, and later, I suspected he was worried about me perhaps. Who knows.

Anyhow. Nothing much happened. I left after two hours (they mostly stay for many hours apparently), feeling anxious and depressed. I felt like I hadn’t kept any kind of dignity and had been hijacked by really hurting young parts.

I try to explain to Ron. It’s as if I feel overwhelmingly stupid and incompetent. I am so afraid, when I hear the instructions, that I won’t understand, that it’s a self fulfilling prophecy.

This is an issue I also have had in my jobs, when I’ve been working. Young techie guys will explain what they do in their jobs, and I have to get it down as a procedure. It is massively stressful for me, because I’m afraid I won’t understand and they’ll look down on me. Which happens sometimes. I struggle to take in what they’re telling me.

We start talking about my family when I was growing up. I start to feel like I’m going to go to sleep, in my usual shut down mode. It’s as if I see them down at the end of a long tunnel. Ron wants me to describe specific things I remember related to feeling stupid. But I can’t remember specifics. There was a huge emphasis on academic achievement. Do I remember report cards? Not really – my parents never said much, neither praise nor blame really. I try to remember. I can’t. I remember it felt like a kind of a fog. There were no such things as feelings, and things felt a bit unreal to me I suppose.

Later, trying to think, I just have a sense that my family didn’t seem to care about me. Any problems I had were my own fault, so were therefore shameful, and so couldn’t be mentioned.

It was just a very strange atmosphere. I suppose I was a kind of scapegoat. I fought the hardest, and had to be made an example of. But it’s hard to grasp how I was made an example. I suppose never praised, while my sibling sometimes were. Generally considered inferior.

Anyhow. One of my difficulties is trying to pin down what went on. It’s very hard for me to get a grasp on what it was. Whatever it was, it made me feel ghostlike and inhuman. And confused.

So, since the session, I’ve felt bad. I just hope this is going to help me somehow, because to fall into a depression like this when I’m doing my best to climb out is discouraging.

 

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IMG_20171225_211817.jpgHave a good holiday everyone. So many thanks for reading along, commenting, or being a fellow blogger. All happiness and love to you.

I got my tree up yesterday as you can see. I’m pretty happy with it. I do love a Christmas tree, despite my struggles with the season. The lights in the branches do remind me of stars in the woods, as they are meant to, and that feels calming and good.

I’m feeling OK. I decided not to attend the big family Christmas which seems to be a good decision for me. I never enjoy them and going pulls me right down into a bunch of childhood stuff, added to some weird current interpersonal dynamics. Too much sorrow denied. Or something.

Yesterday I invited a friend over for a quick dinner and then the ‘midnight mass’ service held at 7 pm. There was basically a blizzard going on when it was time to leave for the church but we bravely persevered. For me, the service was lovely – mostly readings and a lot of carols. I like to sing out as much as I can, even though they’re pitched maybe a little high for my comfort. I don’t know if it was my singing, or what, but my friend did not enjoy the service, so I was a bit sad about that. However, overall, it was fine. I don’t get the lasting damage from friends that I do from family.

Today I went to my 12 step Christmas dinner. It was OK. I had offered to bring green beans, coffee and cream, which I duly delivered. There was a meeting in the afternoon, then dinner. The meeting had the holiday theme of gratefulness – we went around speaking about what we were grateful for. Not a bad practice at all. For some reason I did feel very awkward and out of place though – you know that feeling of regret – wait, I don’t know these people, not sure I like them much, what am I doing here in a church basement instead of with people I love. So at the meeting my mood took a nosedive, and I just had to sit and tolerate the anxiety of having made a wrong choice to attend.

After there was no one I felt drawn to talk to and vice versa. Awkward, as there was time to kill before dinner was served. I ended up mucking about a bit with helping in the kitchen, heating the dish I’d brought. At least I had something to do.

Once dinner got going, I started to feel better. I lucked into sitting with some women who were nice and chatty, so once I’d had a few conversations and some pretty decent food I started to feel better. The dinner wasn’t this wonderful experience for me, contrary to what others had been saying about it. And yet, it was fine. No strange dynamics, and some community spirit. A meal shared with others.

I think my difficulty comes from the social anxiety I go through that makes it hard for me to socialize. Then I act awkward, and don’t make a good impression. Not that these folks are judgemental, but everyone judges all the time at the level of – do I want to engage with this person or not? Are they worth my time? Then my small talk gets kind of forced, so conversation with me feels awkward, and the whole thing can get very awkward. I think on top of the usual stress of it being Christmas, this social anxiety made it difficult.

One funny thing happened. A young Chinese student came in halfway through the meeting. He shared at the very end. I’m pretty sure he had no idea this was a 12 step meeting. He said he’d just arrived in the country the previous week, and he’d been wondering about Christmas so had come to a church, and thanked us for being kind and showing him Christmas.

Everyone in the meeting assumes he’s an ACA, and of course are welcoming. He goes on to participate in the dinner after. I wonder if he ever realized that churches don’t really have discussion meetings and then turkey dinner for anyone who cares to drop by – that this was a particular group event. He spoke some English but not a whole lot so likely he never realized this.

I thought it was kind of funny. Here he is, brand new to the country and alone, wandering around, and suddenly boom, he’s in the middle of Christmas dinner with kind companions in this new country. Really, that’s what Christmas should be like. Dinners to be shared by all who need one in a spirit of acceptance.

 

I’ve been awake since 3 am and it’s now 5:30. Sigh. I’ve been waking every two hours for a few weeks now, but I have been able to go back to sleep until tonight. During the day I’m tired and tearful. That black frustration with myself for being unable to sleep sets in.

I’m lonely. I’m worried about never working again. I met a former colleague for coffee last week, which was nice, but i did learn that a number of people were hired back to a project I was on over the summer, and I wasn’t called. Whatever. I didn’t enjoy the project. At the same time, I feel I’m not valued and I could have used the work.

Last night I attended my 12 step group. It did not go well and added to my sense of disconnection from everyone. I am not very able to tell a story. I do share, but what I share is these fragments, instead of a connected thing. I don’t know how to share in a way that will mean something to anyone else. I do feel I’m a failure at 12 steps. I don’t get how they work and how they would apply to me. The first one is I accept that I am powerless. OK, but for me, how does that help?

A lot of the people there keep saying how grateful they are to the program. I tend to feel that they think if I was serious about the steps, getting a sponsor, finding my higher power, then I would get better. The fact that I’m massively depressed shows that I suck at the program.

This is really negative. I haven’t plunged into step work etc partly because when I’m working I get too exhausted to go to things. In addition, I think a lot of it is not that applicable to my situation. I don’t really identify a lot with co-dependence – the idea that I don’t value myself but instead try to feel better by controlling/helping others. I don’t think that’s my main issue at all. And, to be honest, I’m afraid of being triggered into more issues that I won’t be able to handle.

Part of it is that I can’t figure out what my issue is. I don’t have a diagnosis. Is it the social anxiety? The dissociation? The depression? The anxiety? The work difficulties? The feelings of disconnection? The isolation?

Being unable to form any connections in this kind of a group seems especially telling. People here are kind. They are there to listen to each other. Truth telling is encouraged and feelings are accepted. I just have trouble expressing my feelings in a way that others can relate to.

I am actually quite competent compared to some who go to this group. I am able to work at fairly complex jobs. But others like me seem able to then also discuss themselves in a complex way that makes sense. You can see they are intelligent and have a grip on what’s going on. I lack that entirely. I probably sound kind of remote and disconnected in what I do say.

The thing I like about it is that I can go and feel really bad and not have to disconnect from how I feel necessarily. In any other social situation, you do need to have a social manner and can’t sit caught up in your own depression or whatever. So I did sit and feel bad, which was at least staying connected to my own truth in that moment. But then, not being able to communicate and connect with anyone ended up feeling really bad also.

Maybe the feelings I have towards this group echo the feelings I had in my family? My family feels very disconnected. When my father stopped speaking to me when I was a young teenager, I must have felt invisible, as if I was nothing and worthless. My mother entirely discouraged any expression of feeling whatsoever. The myth was that feelings were maybe unclean, unacceptable, and that intelligent worthwhile people didn’t have them. Of course, now I know that feelings made my mother uncomfortable, and that it was just nicer for her to pretend that feelings don’t exist.

And yes, that would feel disconnecting. Like I feel so painfully in this group – that feeling of being different, not being liked, being entirely alone.

That would be enough to keep me from sleeping. That frightening feeling of absolute aloneness. If I cry, nobody comes.

I remember one way of trying to feel part of the group is to go up to people after and say how I relate to what they shared. This time I didn’t greatly relate to anyone’s share though. Maybe next time I will try again.

Definitely depressed today, Sunday. I am exhausted by work, and then I end up resting and doing the basic chores, and don’t make the further effort of doing anything special. But when you always want to lie down, it’s tough to push for things.

I’m not sure what’s going on with me. Yesterday I cooked dinner for a friend. It was quite satisfying to be the one giving, instead of having someone cook for me. It was hard being social though, even just with her. She seems to be going through a rough time herself, and hinted at being down, but she doesn’t like to discuss her problems. At least, not the big ones. I know she is pining for a boyfriend and feels sad about her life as a single woman.

I am relieved I am not pining for a boyfriend. Yes, I would like one, but mostly, I don’t think about this. There’s no one specific anyway. And, I had more than my fill of a partner who was destructive and whom I wished gone for a long long time before I finally was able to leave.

She asked me about my therapy, just casually, and asked if it would ever be over? I said who knows…..It is one of my anxieties, that this therapy process is so open ended. On the other hand, if I don’t go, I’ll still have the same issues, just without a therapist. I’ll still be me. This friend doesn’t ‘believe’ in therapy, though she doesn’t go so far as to tell me not to go. She just doesn’t understand it.

Anyway. I did get my back balcony planted. It’s kind of artistic, if I do say so myself.

I should have gone to visit my son and didn’t. I don’t think I’m much good to him depressed like this.

My session last week was good. It didn’t seem a chore to go – I was eager to see Ron. We had a low-key, companionable type session. We talked about how I might get more people in my life. I’d been trying with an ACA group and with church, but have given those up for now. They took a lot of my limited energy and I didn’t end up with much social contact out of it. Ron wondered if those situations, because they focus on the person, make me even more self-conscious, and if an activity based group would be better.

I liked how Ron was trying to help me think of what concretely I could do. I’m kind of assuming that once in social situations more, I would make pals. I seem to be doing OK at work – I enjoy the cameraderie there that comes from just sitting together at a table. I feel like I’m having companionship even if we’re not best friends.

Activities might work, assuming there’s nothing terribly wrong with how I speak to people or how I’m being perceived. I kind of think there isn’t, really. That if I had people around, I would make friends.

This was all OK. Towards the end of the session, I brought up a visit to my family the previous weekend that had not gone well as usual. I tried to explain to Ron what had been bad. It’s hard to explain about my family. I don’t want to get into it here – this is likely the cause of my depression. I get the strong feeling they blame me for my son’s condition and for him living with my parents, which I know is very hard on them.

My family is such a unit. They all stick together, dancing the family dance, and I don’t fit, don’t want to fit, and get judged.

Anyway, if they’re so great, how did I end up in parts? That happens only in severely dysfunctional situations. They are not that great. They were a terrible family for me.

I’m still going to therapy every other week. This week was a no session week. I’m trying to remember a week back to our last session. What did we discuss?

I remember Ron did bring up this time that I’m cancelling a lot and wondered why. I just said I wanted some time where I wasn’t triggered, and that sometimes, therapy seems to trigger all kinds of emotions but doesn’t really resolve anything, so that I’m not sure how helpful it is.

Ron didn’t say much. I got the impression he doesn’t agree that we should have fewer sessions, but he didn’t say so.

I didn’t say this, but I also think I can commit to approaching difficult topics every second week, but not every week. I’m willing to sacrifice some days to therapy recovery if it’s not every single week.

I’ve been thinking about how alone I’ve been in my life, and how that’s especially evident now. I suspect one reason I can’t seem to recover from therapy is I have no one in my regular life to help me ‘regulate’. It sometimes is very helpful to have people around, not even to discuss issues with, but just people doing ordinary living. It helps me calm down.

I’ve noticed this at work. I now have the option of working with some other writers at a big table, instead of in my cubicle. I actually prefer the big table. I thought I would hate it and feel horribly exposed, but having little interactions with other writers makes my day feel so much better. Just being able to speak sometimes, or listen to someone else go on about something.

I spent one day in my cubicle at work, and was pretty much suicidal by the end of the day. No one spoke to me. It’s a bit of a bad atmosphere there at the moment as the contract is ending, although we haven’t been told that in any kind of an upfront way. As well, there’s renewed pressure to produce lots of work very quickly. And the PM is no longer friendly to me, maybe because I’m not that fast. I like to think about what I’m doing, and produce quality, and all he cares about is quantity, because that makes his project look good.

When I moved to the table the next day, I had a much much better day. Other people are in ordinary moods, and they are catching. If I want to grumble about something, I can, in a low voice. My mood was so much improved.

So generally I’ve concluded, although I do need some time to myself, in general I do better with people around.

Somehow I’ve ended up pretty much alone. My one friend and I seem to have had a bit of a falling out, unless I’m imagining it, so she hasn’t called in a few weeks. I know I could call her. I have my ex I suppose. He’s very misanthropic and unsociable however.

I feel that I am fairly well liked at work. Chance threw myself and my star co-worker, whom I disliked, together, and it turns out we do OK together. He’s pretty outgoing, and it’s helping me to practice being more outgoing also.

Having people around at work is cushioning some of the blows of work – the contract is not being extended as promised, the PM is asking for impossible quantities of work, and other things. I just think in the same way, if I had people in my life outside of work who were more reliably present, it would help me come out of the bad places therapy puts me into.

I’m not sure Ron can really conceive of my difficulties in sociability. His view is that we need to be authentic with people and have real relationships. But I think we first need to have any kind of relationships. If I have no ability to attract anyone, I need to work on that. I don’t mean attract as in sexually attract, but attract in terms of someone wants me around. And I will not be attractive to people if I’m completely depressed and unable to be social.

I just came back from a birthday tea for my sister at my parents’ house. I can see how my social anxiety developed by watching them. My mother basically doesn’t speak. My father has very set topics that he wants to talk about – his garden, his work when he worked. So everyone dances about him speaking in horrible detail about his garden, as if we were all fascinated by this, to appease him.

Some other guests came, and so the conversation veered to different topics. At that point both my parents stopped speaking at all.

I think the dynamic is that speaking puts you at risk. In my family it’s not safe to have your own life, your own experience and opinions. So no one risks speaking about anything. I do, and I get rejected quite a bit. For example, this afternoon my brother wasn’t veering far afield, but started to talk about how he wanted to plant a miniature rose for his front walk. I suggested a tea rose. Well. My father is obsessed with old fashioned once flowering varieties. My suggestion was completely unacceptable to my sister and my father. Because intelligent people only love the old style roses. It doesn’t seem to be OK to have your own opinion on what you like.

Anyway, I can see where I developed a fear of saying anything that dogged me for my first forty years. I experienced this as not being able to think of what to say, but it’s more that all topics were potentially humiliating, so I kept quiet. Even when keeping quiet was peculiar in the situation.

So now, I can speak, thank goodness. Just I haven’t peopled my life with people who want to hear me and speak back. Wanting people in my life doesn’t have much of anything to do with ‘authenticity’ though, as recommended in therapy. I don’t really want to pour my heart out at this point. I just want some people around who like me.

 

 

I seem to have landed in anxiety land. After three full months of unemployment and fruitless job search, maybe it makes sense. Almost every action causes me intense anxiety, and mostly, I’m seamlessly anxious/afraid without needing to do anything much. Big sigh.

Despite the fact that yesterday, I went for yet another interview, and it seemed to go quite well. I had a bunch of memorized ‘examples’ of things going well at work and myself being a working superhero. The interview was at my favorite time, early afternoon, so I had no struggle getting there on time. And then, the interviewer didn’t use the standard behavioural interview questions at all. He was pretty off the wall in fact, and very ready to be pleased with me it seemed.

The interview was not with a big corporation. It is a small company that contracts out to large corporations. So, more informal. And in the old section of town, which makes me feel a bit better – a lot of buildings in that hundred year old orange brick that’s a little crumbly and narrower than modern brick.

At the end of the interview, the interviewer said he liked me a lot, and that most likely they’d ask me to join them for a three month upcoming project. So I know nothing for sure yet. As they are small, I’m a little uncertain about them. The project might fall through, for instance. However, the fact is, I did well in the interview, they liked me, and whether I get work or not, this is a good experience.

I also took a small dose of an anti-anxiety med before hand. This makes a big difference I think. I certainly feel better, and I believe I come across as more trustworthy and competent when I’m not trying to batten down mega doses of anxiety while fielding bizarre and useless questions.

So I should be feeling calmer. I’m not. This is anxiety like a sickness – I’m not aware of thinking anything in particular, and most everything is causing it.

The other thing that happened was I went on a short date. A coffee date, with someone from the internet. Men will stir up my anxieties and could be that this has contributed to my current state.

The man was quite nice. He wanted to talk about culture, so we talked books and movies, as well as jobs. He was more self-assured than I was, more outgoing, and I told him i don’t date much so am a bit shy at first. I did see a look of boredom flash on his face a few times, especially at first. After an hour, I said I wanted to get going. I wasn’t bored, but I was anxious, and so glad I had had the courage to meet someone, and relieved it could be over now.

I’m not sure what he thought. The situation made me too anxious to really evaluate how much I liked him. I think I did basically like him. He said maybe we’d talk again, I said sure, that would be great, and that was it. I haven’t heard from him since – we met three days ago. A friend advised a quick email after several days, so I’ve sent an email saying I enjoyed meeting him and hope he wants to meet again. Haven’t heard back. So could be, he’s actually not interested. Though he might still write back I suppose.

I have to learn to tolerate this kind of thing I suppose. But maybe the dating/ probable rejection plus the rejection inherent in a job search has been a bit much for me to cope with.

If I go to bed, and do nothing much, or try some light reading, the anxiety goes away. It’s like playing dead. Maybe I have to do that for a while now. I should be continuing to look for work but it’s too anxiety provoking at the moment.

Anxiety like this that’s around all the time is unusual for me. I’m much more likely to be felled by depression than by endless feelings of fear when there is actually no threat.

 

My boss is away for two weeks, and I feel so much better. My co-worker is perhaps struggling, though she never says anything unless I ask her a direct question. She works very closely with our boss, who basically micro-manages her every move. So presumably as I don’t work with this stuff, she’s been left to do my boss’ job. My own job has little to do with my boss, and I manage it myself. If my boss ever gets involved, it’s disastrous.

She pulled me into a meeting room the Friday before she left, and said I am not looking happy, and would I be interested in this job going permanent if she gets that approved? I told her it’s true I’m not feeling positive about the job.

She of course launched into speech. As usual, it wasn’t clear what the upshot of what she was saying was, except it seemed critical of me and my co-worker. When I said I didn’t know what she was talking about, did she mean X – she said no, she didn’t mean that at all. Never did find out what she meant.

Since she didn’t have approval to offer me the job, I didn’t have to accept or decline, so I left things up in the air. Absurdly, I did feel better after we talked. I told her how much her behaviour the past week, where she seemed to be berating me every day for the same problem that happened a week ago, upset me. It doesn’t seem to bother her at all when I say things like this. Which is interesting to me. We seem to throw emotion back and forth and then like each other better afterward.

But – overall, I cannot work for this woman. I’m realizing it just in how much better I feel now she’s not there. I think I could manage the various problems of the job itself, if I didn’t have to manage her personality.

So it seems she is going to offer me this job, unless the big boss thumbs it down. I will decline, unless I can persuade big boss that she really needs me on staff, and that to make that happen, she will assign me to a different manager. I have two in mind that I would like to have as bosses. I actually don’t need a boss, and in any case, none of them has any documentation skills. But both these guys are intelligent, seem reasonable, and are nice to people generally. I’ve worked with them and they’re great.

Who knows if this is possible. It would create problems with my current boss for sure, as she would then only have one employee, and so a lower status.

Younger scared parts of me are so worried I’ll accept the job as is. Because I so deeply do not want another contract, to start all over again from the beginning in a new place, with a new subject matter, with all new people. It exhausts me. I’ve done that for two years now, and I so don’t want to do it again.

But I just must not torture myself by staying in a situation that is continuously bad for me. I won’t do that to myself.