Socially Phobic

April 3, 2007

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.

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April 2, 2007

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.

March 30, 2007

I am working

Filed under: Stigma — iambrave @ 3:22 am

on a new project. It is a personal project driven by issues that keep coming up in my mind as I sit through my classes this semester. I can’t sleep (again, naturally, but that should go without saying), but this time I am driven by positive thoughts of what my role in the world needs to be. This semester, what I have been experiencing time and time again as we discuss issues of so-called “abnormal psychology” is an intense personal need to share my own story. When we talk about anxiety, for example, I have the urge to jump out of my seat and tell everyone what my experiences have been like. Is this terrifying? Absolutely. Have I done it? Absolutely not.

I just started this blog a few days ago, and it may be changing already. It’s ironic, perhaps, given the fact that one of my main issues is social anxiety. But what I want to do, at this moment of positivity, at least, is post my picture up there and put my full name up there and be part of a movement. I’m late to the blogging game and I am just starting to learn the ins and outs of the various online communities. What I don’t know is whether there is a blogging community that is dedicated to the de-stigmatization of mental illness. I would like to find out.

I was talking to my fiance about this today after a brief email exchange with Scott, and he (my fiance, that is) said something similar to the following to me: “Maybe your calling isn’t to be a therapist. Maybe your calling is to work on telling your own story; to work on the stigma of mental health in society.” And you know what? It just might be. I’m not sure how yet. Of course, coming out of hiding would be a good first start. And, I might be in the wrong field. I might need to take a more public health approach to my education.

I am in such complete and utter admiration of people who come out and tell their stories, with photos, names and all. More examples can be found on crazymeds.org. I’m still in the early stages of my internet research and my academic research. But I am looking forward to seeing what I can find and figuring out what I can do.

I haven’t been writing on this site long enough to have been able to share my whole story. I am willing to do so in time, from childhood forward. I will tell you about each and every medication that I have been on and each and every therapist I have seen, at least the ones that I can remember (read: there have been a lot of both). I will tell you about each and every diagnosis that has been given to me. I will tell you about the good doctors and the bad ones. All in time.

But for tonight, as it is rather late and I have had my usual bedtime cocktail, already described in detail, I would just like to tell you about one particular experience that was incredibly formative for me. When I was a child, and already dealing with these issues, my mother stressed to me that it was bad to let people know that you were dealing with mental health problems. This was the ’80s, and I believe or at least would like to hope that things have improved since then. At the time, however, we were lucky enough to have health insurance. But what my mother told me was that we should not file our mental health claims. The insurance company would know, and your employer could find out (pre-HIPAA, and while I am not clear enough yet on this law I believe that this is no longer the case), and so whatever mental conditions you might be treated for should be hidden at all costs. This has stuck in my mind for all of these years, and I believe that there was truth in her words and that she spoke in what she believed to be our best interest. However, the downside to all of this is that I have felt bad for all of these years for feeling bad. I DO NOT WANT TO FEEL BAD ABOUT FEELING BAD ANYMORE. I do not want to carry the burden of shame, and I don’t want anyone else to, either.

I will admit that I am slightly obsessed with Scott’s site today, and my fiance also pointed out the following quote that I will share here:

“I want FindingYourMarbles.com to serve as an inspiration to anyone who is suffering from mental illness. You can do anything. Don’t let the world convince you that there is something wrong with you just because you are different. The world is wrong. You are perfectly normal and you can do anything.”

I couldn’t say it better, so I didn’t try.

But thank you to Scott and everyone else out there who is brave and I can think of many other examples right now and hope to find many other examples to share in the future. I am getting braver because of all of you.

I am also going to keep updating my blogroll as I continue to find sites which I believe share this philosophy and this mission. I am starting to notice that blogs that I am linking are linking to each other as well, which is encouraging to my desire to find the online community that I am looking for. (The socially anxious part of me hates blogrolling people that I don’t know, because, you know, what if they hate me? But I’m doing it anyway.)

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