Socially Phobic

April 5, 2007

I don’t regret

Filed under: Disclosure,Self Esteem — iambrave @ 1:20 am

a thing that I did this week. I got the most amazing emails back in support of my disclosures and I’m so glad that I did it. Regardless, I am nervous about returning to work tomorrow and seeing my boss. This is a totally new situation for me. I have told past bosses about my situation before and they have reacted positively, but it was always at the end of the job, not in the midst of it.

I’m really trying to reframe the way that I think about everything. When people wrote back to me, they told me positive things about myself that I really needed to hear right now:

In spite of your very hard time now, I truly believe that you have so much strength and wisdom, that you will soon get over this really tough place right now. I know you were a real pleasure to work with last fall. I hope you can believe in that strong self you showed when we worked together.

and

You are a terrific addition to the department and I want to continue here if that if what you want. Let me know how you are and I look forward to seeing you as soon as you are up to it. I know you will be responsible about getting your hours in so I am not concerned about that at all.

So, I am trying to look at things differently than I ever have before. I am trying to see the bigger picture: that although I am not perfect, I am capable. Although I may not be able to be there every single day, I have enough to offer on the days that I can make it (which at this point, is most of the time) that I am still valuable to other people. The illness is only part of the picture; it doesn’t define my entire life. The problems that I am experiencing are not all about bad choices that I have made.

For as long as I can remember, I have blamed myself for everything and now my intention is to stop doing that. It’s not that I don’t advocate taking responsibility for my life and my mistakes, but there has to be a middle ground somewhere. There are times when I do things wrong and there is a little voice in the back of my head that tells me that I am doing something wrong and that I need to stop it, but these are different from the times when I don’t feel well. When I am not FEELING well, this does not mean that I am DOING something wrong. It’s just the way that I feel, and, as further proof of the fact that my issues are legitimate, no doctor (out of dozens?) has ever seen me and told me that I don’t have real health problems. In fact, what they have told me at times has been even worse than what I have accepted for myself: You will need to be on medication for the rest of your life. You need to be in a day treatment program. You need to have little thingies implanted in your brain because your depression is so untreatable. You should apply for disability. Maybe some of those suggestions would have actually helped me (day treatment and, well, money), but I guess part of me wasn’t willing to give in because I knew that I, along with my support system, was strong enough to pull through without it. I still haven’t gotten past being on medication all of the time, but I am trying to have faith right now that I’m going to be able to do it for at least long enough to endure a pregnancy or two.

I am having a really hard time expressing myself tonight for some reason, but I am trying to write every night before bed so that I don’t lie awake thinking about the things that I should have written about so I am doing it anyway.

P.S. The cognitive exercise that I did earlier really worked. Maybe I should try it right now about what I am currently most worried about: What’s the worst that can happen tomorrow when I go back to work? I will feel awkward and embarrassed. Guess what? I have felt awkward and embarrassed a million times before, and it hasn’t killed me yet.

April 3, 2007

I ended up

Filed under: Depression,Disclosure,Drugs — iambrave @ 2:31 pm

getting really positive responses to the emails that I sent out yesterday, so I am really glad that I decided to make the decision to be honest. Lies can really start eating away at you after a while, especially when you have lied to countless people over the course of decades.

Last night, at the Seder, the version of the Haggadah (prayer book) that we were using had a lot to say about freedom. Freedom is the theme of the Passover holiday, specifically the release of the the Israelites from their captivity in Egypt. However, this Haggadah talked about a lot of different kinds of freedom, and one thing that it said was something along the lines of “we need to release ourselves from the bondage that we place upon ourselves within our own minds”. And what was relevant to me was all of the issues that I have been talking about here lately. The bondage of stigma and of lies and of self-condemnation has been holding me captive for so many years. They say that Moses told the Pharaoh to “Let my people go,” and so I am telling my brain to let me go. Or rather, I guess a better way to put it might be that I need to let myself go.

I still feel really, really sad today. I’m not having an easy time being alone right now, and my fiance is at work and my dog is at daycare and I got my paper done for class tonight which is a good thing but now I have just sort of collapsed on the couch crying and I can’t quite figure out how to get up again. Maybe I just need to cry it out and I will feel better…it’s been a long time since I have been alone in the house and just let myself cry. Or maybe it hasn’t been. I can’t honestly remember. Depression isn’t really great for the memory.

Shit. I just missed a call from my psychiatrist because the caller ID said “Out of Area”. I really need an appointment. I guess. I don’t know what he is going to do for me, anyway, given that I still intend on trying to go off all of my meds come the end of May. I think that a lot of psychiatrists really try their best (although I have seen some really bad ones) but there are limitations to what they are capable of doing for some people. I have been on so many different drugs it’s ridiculous…SSRIs make me really anxious or physically ill for extended periods, with the possible exception of Prozac; I am at the point that I am scared to touch anything that specifically targets serotonin. I tried Lexapro, I believe, most recently, and I couldn’t even handle it at a half dosage for a full week. I am on a low dose of Lithium right now but I don’t know how much that helps with depression, given that I believe that it’s mainly used for depression to augment antidepressants (and I’m not on any) and otherwise to treat mania, which is luckily not a problem for me though some docs have called me hypomanic/Bipolar II but who really knows? It’s hard to put a name on my specific variety of mood disorder…NOS, I suppose…a guy I saw in California wanted me to have that surgery that I can’t remember the name of now, he didn’t call it deep brain stimulation I don’t think, for my “treatment-resistant depression”. I was definitely dysthymic with major depressive episodes in high school and college, I think, for which SSRIs did work but my brain has changed since then. I think of anxiety as my major problem so that is what I am being treated for mainly right now…lord knows I love my benzos but I don’t know what they’re doing for me today when I am just so sad. My history is a long story and I just don’t have the energy for it right now.

Okay, so the bad news is that I don’t feel well. The good news is that I a tiny little freer than I was yesterday because I was honest with people. I feel bad, but I’m working on not feeling bad about myself for feeling bad. That’s something.

Let’s go back

Filed under: Disclosure,Self Esteem,Stigma — iambrave @ 1:28 am

to the sweeping metaphor for a second. It’s been a hard day for me, and I ended up going to the seder and it was nice and I pulled it off – my dad called it “passing”, which is an interesting term that I suppose can be used in a lot of different contexts to essentially mean the same thing: pretending to be something that you’re not, or maybe hiding something important about yourself is a better way to put it. He knows what it’s like to have a chronic illness (Parkinson’s Disease or PD), and we talked a lot about this today. Obviously, it’s hard to be dealing with any chronic health problems and to deal with the issues of disclosure and stigma and disability regardless of whether these issues can be “proven” through blood tests or biopsies or whether it’s just a matter of feeling bad on the inside and no MRI can tell you that you’re not just making things up. I’m guessing, without having any personal experience (and I have to say knock on wood here), that if you’re diabetic or have cancer it’s still hard to know who to tell and what to tell them. My dad confirmed this, saying that he knows people with PD who choose not to tell people.

Anyway, I ended up panicking later in the day. I ending up vastly regretting sending out those emails (to which I have yet to receive a response) and thinking that they were stupid and I was stupid and I just should have sucked it up and gone to work today. I felt humiliated and like I never wanted to go back to work or school ever again. Well, I still haven’t found that time machine. And as someone who I think is very smart told me regarding the issue of disclosure, you need to make sure that you are ready because once those words are out, you can’t take them back.

Maybe I wasn’t ready, if I ended up panicking about it later. Which made me start thinking was that I was trying to “sweep out” some external areas of my life when I still hadn’t gotten done sweeping out the inside of my head. The problem is, I think, that even after all these years of treatment, I still question whether my problems are, in fact legitimate. I wonder whether I’m just weak and if everyone else in the world feels the exact same way that I do except I’m just a big drama queen. But the thing about that is that I would NEVER judge anyone else the same way that I’m judging myself. If I read your blog, for example, and I have been amazingly lucky to stumble upon other bloggers this week who are writing about very similar things that I am going through, I would never, ever, ever tell you that your problems aren’t real and that you just need to suck it up and quit your bitching.

Why can’t I show myself the same level of empathy? I have heard it said that “you can’t love anyone else until you learn to love yourself”. Well, my friends, I can tell you from personal experience that I am capable of loving other people very deeply and that I am highly empathic to other people’s problems. I believe that there are very few times in my life that I have told someone that their problems aren’t real and that I didn’t care enough to listen. When I learn about mental illness from a clinical perspective there is no part of me that thinks that what I am hearing is bullshit. And the main reason that I am able to believe the truth about these things is because I am living them.

So, why do I persist in beating myself up over my own problems? Why do I hate myself for all of the bad days that I have had, for all of the things that I have quit, for all of the days that I just couldn’t make it out the door? Clearly, there’s a lot of sweeping that still needs to be done inside my own head. I say that I want to work on decreasing the stigma of mental illness in society, but it seems as if I need to stop stigmatizing myself first. Because cliches are the theme of the day, they also say that “peace begins at home” or something like that.

I just want to make my peace with myself. I don’t want to be angry at myself anymore. And even if I were doing something wrong, even if there were a chance that I could’ve done some things differently in my life, hating myself for it only makes me spiral downwards into more depression and more anxiety.

I guess I’m glad that I wrote those emails today, regardless of the outcome. At least it’s got me thinking about it and writing about it and confronting these things head-on. Do you believe that everything happens for a reason? I don’t know if I do or not. I don’t know if the disclosure was something that I was meant to do or had to do or if this is a time in my life when things are really going to start changing for me inside my head. Regardless of the root cause of my problems, there is most certainly a cognitive aspect. I wish that there was a magic button that I could press to automatically change the way that I think about myself, but I suspect that the button is hiding somewhere near the time machine. 20-odd years of low self-esteem aren’t just going to magically disappear overnight. But why add to my problems by judging myself? It’s not helping a damn thing.

And, why make any more snap decisions and insist on telling myself things that may not be true? “I can’t handle this, I can’t even finish out the semester, I will never get my life together, etc.” One day, one hour, one second at a time is the way that it’s going to have to be. Forget that – it’s the way that it’s going TO be or I am going to lose it right here and now. And with that final cliche, I’m signing off for the night.

April 2, 2007

An update: my emails

Filed under: Depression,Disclosure — iambrave @ 6:34 pm

didn’t get me shit back except for a group email from one of my supervisors to all of the students who work for her asking for an update on our progress. I’m like, “HELLO! AS MY MONDAY UPDATE THIS WEEK, I BARED MY SOUL TO YOU!!!! ISN’T THAT ENOUGH????” Sigh. I can be so self-centered at times. Just another reminder that the outside world keeps on turning as I sleep the afternoon away. So, anyway, no direct response yet to my disclosures after approximately eight hours.

But it gets me thinking: What were the emails that I sent really about, anyway? Talking about these issues was a calculated risk and I took it. Isn’t it a good thing that I took the risk regardless? Didn’t I do it for me, and for the cause, and in that case, the reactions (or lack thereof) shouldn’t be what matters? Yeah, I just need to keep telling myself that.

I’m super depressed right now, or at least I was until I started writing. Head-in-a-fog, can-barely-speak-out-loud depressed. So now I’m trying to figure out why. Is it because calling in sick to work (for whatever reason) and not going to class tonight made it feel like I was giving up again? Like I was giving in wholeheartedly to yet another nervous breakdown? And what do I do now? The next time I’m scheduled to go in to work in on Thursday (the other job is one I do from home, hence the need for a Monday update). If I don’t hear back from my boss, I am going to feel really, super embarrassed and it’s going to be even harder to go in then. But is that why I’m depressed? Or is it a random (seemingly, to me, because I don’t know the root causes of a lot of my up-and-downswings) misfiring or hormones and neurotransmitters? If I could give you a specific, definite answer to this question they would probably give me the Nobel Prize.

I’m supposed to be at a Passover Seder right now or within the half-hour, which isn’t exactly a thrilling prospect. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the traditions, this is more than any old dinner party. It’s highly interactive and requires group participation. It’s not the most appealing prospect when you feel like you can barely get off the couch.

On the other hand, what happens if I don’t go? One thing that I do know is this. Sometimes, I honestly need to take time off. But after I do, it’s infinitely harder the next time to go back. So if I don’t go, I will be at home all day alone tomorrow (that’s just the way my schedule is on Tuesdays) until I have class at 7:30 tomorrow night. Will it be all the harder to make it to class if I don’t go out tonight? If I have wiped an entire day off of the map, will I feel worse tomorrow?

There are a lot of reasons that I should go. Maybe I need to be around family and participate in a spiritual ritual that will remind me that, like I said before, the world keeps turning and it’s not all about me and my sadness. On the other hand, most of the people who are going to be there are strangers and I don’t know about you, but when I feel like I could burst into tears at any second I don’t really feel like being around people.

I guess I should go try to get dressed.

If everyone swept their own doorstep,

Filed under: Anxiety,Depression,Disclosure,Social Phobia,Stigma — iambrave @ 10:50 am

the whole world would be kept clean. This is a quote that my 8th grade history teacher taught us, and it has stuck in my mind all of these years.

In this spirit, I just sent the following email to the people that I am working for (I have two graduate assistantships, and two bosses, so I had to send it twice):

Dear _________,

This is a very difficult email for me to write, because it is very hard for me to talk about these things. However, I have decided to be honest with you about what is going on with me right now.

I have been diagnosed with social phobia, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression. I am under the care of doctors for these conditions, and have been working on these issues for several years. I go through good times, when I am relatively symptom free, and I go through bad times, where it is virtually impossible for me to leave the house.

I am going through a very hard time right now and I don’t think that it is going to be possible for me to come into work, at least for today. I have every intention of making up the hours that I owe you, and I am very sorry for any inconvenience that this may be causing you.

Please feel free to contact me about this; I will be happy to discuss this with you further.

Thanks,
Julia

This counts among the hardest things that I have ever done. I have suffered with all of these things for so many years, but the only occasions in which I have been honest with someone that I am working for have been when it is already too late: I have already gone on medical disability or quit the job.

The doorstep thing means this: I have expressed how important it has become for me to work on reducing the stigma of mental illness in society. I did not feel like I could actually say in good faith that I was doing this if I didn’t have the strength to be honest with people in my own life.  I wanted to try something different, and I don’t know what is going to happen from here. I was scared, and I am scared to see the response that I get. But, as my dad said, “If they don’t respond well they aren’t the kind of people that you want to be working for anyway.”

I am truly blessed to have the support of my family right now; I know that not everyone is that lucky.

I don’t know what else to say. I guess that it’s time now to just sit back and wait for a response and to know, deep down, as hard as it may be, that ultimately it all boils down to the fact that I told the truth.

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