3 Recommended Resources: Anxiety & Depression

I just want to share a few of the resources that I’ve found useful in my journey. There is a wealth of books and information available and it can be pretty overwhelming, maybe this will be helpful to someone trying to narrow down their options.

I was recommended Martin E. P. Seligman‘s work by one of my university tutors. I read two of his books, and would like to recommend both;

1. I would start with ‘Learned Optimism’, which outlines the benefits of optimism and the drawbacks of pessimism, before explaining how you can gradually overturn your pessimistic thinking. The technique described is an effective remedy for pervasive, persistent depressive thinking. https://www.amazon.com/Learned-Optimism-Martin-P-Seligman/dp/1442341130

2. ‘What You Can Change… and What You Can’t (learning to accept who you are)’ explains that not all parts of the self are changeable (due to heritability and other reasons), but outlines the most effective ways of altering the parts that are. The heritability point was interesting to me – I convinced my parents to take the pessimism test in Learned Optimism and we all scored ‘very pessimistic’. My dad was more pessimistic on the permanence scale and my mum was more pessimistic on the pervasiveness scale. Me? I was more pessimistic than both of them as I scored low on both scales! My little brother’s score was only 1 point out from mine.
https://www.amazon.com/What-You-Change-Cant-Self-Improvement/dp/1400078407

3. I’d also highly recommend this free mindfulness course run by Monash University. It next opens in February 2017. It’s a really enjoyable and enlightening experience and I often go back to parts of the course – I’d recommend engaging and commenting on the activities as interacting with others really adds to it. One of the major recommendations Seligman makes for the treatment of anxiety is meditation, and this course shows you how you can incorporate mindfulness into not just deliberate meditation practices but into your everyday life. You can sign up for free here – https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/mindfulness-wellbeing-performance

I hope that you’ll find them helpful 🙂

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Strength to Strength

It’s been a while since I updated. I’m happy to report that my studies are continuing to go well, I’ve passed all of my assignments with flying colours so far and I’m several weeks ahead of where I need to be, according to the study planner. I’ve moved into a new department at work where I am doing well, and I still visit my counsellor just to talk about what’s happened, where I’m at, and to deal with any low level issues that come up. It’s basically preventative, now. Maintenance. The recklessness has calmed and given way to calmer, considered action.

I’m not depressed, and my level of anxiety is no longer disordered. My mental health is better than it’s been in years, perhaps even better than it’s ever been. My self-awareness has grown immeasurably, and my capacity for self-compassion grows day by day. I started this journey broken and feeling like I couldn’t do anything. I’m moving forward now feeling like I can do anything I put my mind to. Like a light has been turned on, or a door has been opened.

And the job that I really wanted to do finally opened for recruitment again two months ago. It’s really competitive, a lot of people didn’t even pass the application form to get an interview, but I’ve gone and passed all of the assessments. It feels like a new beginning. Feels like I’ve woken from a nightmare, and I’m walking into the sun.

I feel like things are going to be okay. I’m not worried. I’m… excited. Hopeful. I still have some issues – everyone does. But I have learned to accept myself as I am, and to be patient while I work through my difficulties. I’m confident that I have what it takes to deal with whatever comes up – and that is the biggest aim of therapy. Not just to become functional in the short term, but to develop skills that will prevent relapse in the longer term.

I hope that if you’re not here, you’ll get here. Soon. Til then, be kind to yourself and trust that better days are coming x

“Anger is progress.”

“Is it?”
“Yes. When someone comes to me and tells me they’re depressed, I think to myself – what are you angry about? I get excited when my clients get angry, because that generally means things are about to change.”
I recall an altercation I’d had the previous week.
“Well right now, I’m so angry with her. With how she spoke to me. How she treated me. But the worst thing was her telling me over and over. What I can’t do. What my limitations are. Like… how f**king dare she? She can’t tell me what I can’t do. I’m going to do it, just to spite her. I’m going to get that job and I’m going to be the f**king best at it.”
I paused and regained my composure. My counsellor waited for a moment to see if I’d add anything, before gently asking –

“Would you say that you’re more motivated by someone telling you ‘you can’t do it’, than someone telling you that you can?”

I thought for a minute. “That’s difficult. I mean, I love it when people are positive and supportive and encouraging. That’s really validating and I do draw some confidence from that.”
“But?”
“But it’s that ‘no you can’t’ that lights that fire. It’s the indignation that drives me. That makes me hellbent on success.”
“What if she’s really determined as well?”
“She can be as determined as the hell she likes,” I quipped with more confidence than I’ve ever heard myself speak with. “Because one way or another I’m going to get what I want, and I’m going to prove her wrong. It’s funny. If she thought verbally abusing me like that was going to put me off, put me down, stop me from trying. She clearly has no idea at all, does she? She’s just pushed me even closer to my goals.”

My counsellor commented here about the positives of anger, which aren’t often spoken about. We tend to see anger as a negative thing, but here it is – driving me to push the limits, achieve, succeed, get into a career I’ve wanted for years.

But at the same time, I’ve noticed, it’s making me reckless. This is hard to reconcile with my anxiety, and the behaviours seem very out of character both to myself and to others around me. People have accused me of being thoughtless… but on the contrary, I think very carefully, weigh up the risk, and decide I want to do whatever it is more than I care about the consequences.

My counsellor suggests that I’m just testing and pushing the limits. Now that I’ve connected to my anger, things are starting to change. I’m in a strange place, expressing feelings I don’t normally express. So I’ll go through a phase of trying things out, inevitably finding they don’t work, trying something else. I’m pretty sure I’m not on a path to self-destruction at least, I’m on track with my studies and with this job application.

I’m just a little bit lost and trying to find my place again, now that the miserable, neurotic foundations I’ve built my entire life around are beginning to shift.

It feels strange. Unnerving. Different.

But I guess she’s right.

It’s progress.

How do you know what’s genuine?

“You really connected with your anger just now. It seemed really authentic.”
“I don’t normally think of myself as an angry person.”
“What do you think of yourself as?”
“I’m more often sad. I think sadness is my racket emotion. I tend to turn anger into sadness, mostly subconsciously. I’m much more comfortable expressing sadness. I’m good at being sad.”
It seemed a weird thing to say, but she didn’t say so.

We got into a conversation about how I’m good at expressing an emotion I’m not actually feeling, particularly an emotion which I think the other person wants me to feel. If I think they’ll respond well to happiness, sadness, anger, vulnerability, strength, whatever – I try to show that.

Perhaps it’s easy for me because I dissociate so readily.

But then how am I meant to know what I’m actually feeling?

“I didn’t see any anger in you for the first few weeks,” my therapist notes. “Perhaps you feel more comfortable, that you can show that side?”
I just nodded and she continued.
“That’s good. This is a safe space where you can express any emotions without any judgement. None of them are wrong. They’re all okay.”
“That’s different to the real world. Certain emotions are less okay there. I’m not supposed to be angry. I’m supposed to hold it in.”

So I’m suppressing emotions. Notably anger that I didn’t know I was feeling. I vented and ranted for a while and then it disappeared suddenly. I felt my body change as the emotion disappeared. It felt real, powerful. Then… what am I feeling the rest of the time? If I actually let myself connect to what I really felt, would I even be able to control it?

Becoming a Student Again

So I’m finally embarking on studies that I’ve been too anxious to begin until now. I’m distance learning through the Open University – this suits me and my social anxiety down to the ground because I don’t have to deal with people, and moving away, and all of the other things that are less than ideal about going to a traditional uni.
Anyway, I work full time (for now, I’m still not exactly sure what’s going to happen there) and in a moment of inspired madness I decided on the enrolment deadline that I wasn’t satisfied with my one 60-credit social science module. No, I decided, I’m going to add the 60-credit psychology module as well. I’m going to study full time. And work full time.

Something about making a rod for my own back springs to mind, as do thoughts of my aforementioned ‘inner saboteur’.

Except I don’t think I’m actually sabotaging myself this time. I think I really think I can do this. I don’t officially start until October 1st and I’m onto the 5th week of content on the sociology module because I just… study in my own time, on my own terms. I don’t have to wait for a lecturer or for the rest of the class to catch up. I can do as much as I want. Apparently that’s very much, right now, so I’m making the most of my enthusiasm. I can’t start the psych module yet as I signed up late and I need to wait for all the materials to arrive. I keep reminding myself I’m still 2 weeks from technically starting. I need to chill.

But I can’t. Because I’ve finally made the leap and started the studies that I really wanted to do. I’m doing it! By myself, just for me, not because someone else told me to. I’m a degree student. After breaking down and dropping out before I swore I’d never go back to university… but here I am. I have a good feeling about it, this time. I feel functional and smart and like I’m in control of something.

Perhaps this is how I’ll fix myself after all? Well, this and seeing my therapist. I was in a good mood when I saw her this week. The week previous I’d been a complete state – I walked in wordlessly and proceeded to just cry for 10 minutes. When I eventually stopped I just mumbled ‘crazy’ and then continued to cry, while trying to explain between sobs that I felt like I’d lost it, and that ‘even my therapist doesn’t know what to do with me’ because she was just observing me quietly and not telling me to shut up or calm down or any of the things that normally happen, you know? I was very lost, last week.
I’m still fragile and my state can change in a moment – I know that. It’s why I’m determined to make the most of this better period, for however long it lasts. I just hope I can still cope with studying if I get worse again.

I ended it – progress?

So I sat down and worked through all of the uneasy feelings and various red flags that made me think I shouldn’t try to date this person. And here’s the thing… rather than hold out for his sake I just ended it. I didn’t wait around for months like I have done previously, just quickly and neatly cut it off. He wasn’t too impressed of course, and said some things that made me think it was definitely the right choice. I didn’t get drawn into it, I let him say his piece and left it at that.

In discussions with my best friend we noticed several ways that my behaviour tends to be really dysfunctional in dating and relationships, and where those things may come from. Basically my scripts are pretty rubbish, so I’m going to have to learn to be really self-aware to stop myself from falling into the same traps in the future (so that I can consciously choose to act outside of said scripts). But hey, at least noticing and acknowledging these things is a start, right? I’m determined to do better next time. I’m not feeling too miserable or hopeless either, which is better than I usually feel after ending things.

I am still bad at dating. But I don’t have to be bad at it forever.

Why do I even try to date?????

I look and feel gross today. I’m in a really shit mood and I’m struggling to see the point in anything. To make matters worse, I went on a few dates with that guy from Tinder and he is somehow absolutely smitten with me even though I’m a mess, and all I really want to do is run away and save him from myself.
He’s so full on and legitimately seems to think I’m The One or something which obviously, obviously means he’s paying no attention to who and how I am. He’s immediately formed some wonderful romantic notion of me and is falling head over heels for that, instead. And then when that illusion shatters, whose fault will it be?

It shouldn’t be, but I know it will somehow be mine. They always blame me for their own ignorance and blindness. Even when I spell it out, even when I tell them my whole sorry history and that I have depression, anxiety and PTSD. It’s like they don’t even listen. Or they half listen, and construct some great story about how brave and courageous I am (when I feel anything but), but how simultaneously fragile I am (…fair comment) and how they can swoop in and help me, save me from my demons (they can’t, and I don’t even want them to – that’s my own responsibility). 

I hate dating. But now I feel beholden because he seems so emotionally invested in me and has told everyone else how great I am (but I’m not, and I don’t get why he can’t see that). I don’t want to make him feel bad, or look silly in front of everyone (even though silly is precisely what he’s being right now). This is a familiar trend, as well. I end up dating these people for a few months out of a sense of obligation, disguised as trying to make it work… until I’ve given it a good enough go or can no longer veil my disinterest, whichever happens first, I suppose.

I can’t do this.

Medically unfit for my job and my gran is dying…

My mum cried again today. She’s very poor at hiding her emotions, but usually manages not to cry. Her side of the family is in crisis because her mum (my gran) is dying. Her cancer came back and it’s very aggressive, and triple negative (so it’s really hard to treat). Mum reckons she has a few months. Her family all seem to look to her for answers, comfort, some kind of miracle, who even knows. She likes to bear the weight of the world on her shoulders and act like she’s really strong and has her sh*t together when really she’s even more neurotic than I am.

Her whole family seem pretty childlike, self-centred and completely consumed by their own emotions in the face of a disaster. They’re irrational (/blindly panicking) and inflicting themselves on my mum who in turn cries on me because she’s not sure what she’s supposed to do. I try to tell her she’s not ‘supposed’ to do anything, and that she should lay down boundaries rather than let them all push her to breaking point.

I’m over here struggling with my ‘do not exist’ injunction, anxiety, depression, PTSD apparently, probably some lowkey avoidant personality disorder… while also trying to mother my mother, who also reverts to a child when stressed and just cries in frustration at the fact that she’s ‘a fixer’ but there’s obviously no fix to terminal cancer.

Also I went to see the occupational health doctor yesterday and got told I’m medically unfit for my job on mental health grounds and had to be immediately redeployed and I’m just… reeling from how sudden it is after being in the same place for over a year (it’s the longest I’ve ever been in one job) and I know I needed to get out but at the same time I didn’t really feel ready and I just. I don’t know. I feel so lost and shaken up by everything.

On top of all of that, I’m meant to meet this guy tomorrow and maybe it’ll go well and I’ll actually feel a little better for it but I’m worried that I’m just not going to be very good company because I’ve got so much going on and impressing some guy I just met is right at the bottom of my priority list right now. Ugh. Dying alone would be way, way easier.

Dating and Mental Health 2: is it fair for me to date someone when I’m such a mess?

Here’s a question I have often asked myself, both while single and while actually dating people. It has prompted me to break up with people more than once, and I’ve actually dated someone else who struggled with mental health issues who broke up with me because he just felt like he needed to focus on recovery.

I mean, I’m on dating sites. Halfheartedly, admittedly, and not really making any real effort to find anyone. I spoke to 2 guys last month (they messaged me first) who both seemed really interested, really keen. And I just kind of… fell off the radar and stopped messaging them. Some stuff happened and I just decided that maybe it’s better not to bother. My ‘do not exist’ injunction corrects – maybe it’s better that you don’t inflict your pitiful existence on other people.

Alas – a guy matched with me on Tinder the other day. He’s cute, his bio actually has some information on it and he seems pretty genuine and like he’s actually looking for something more than a hook-up. I break the habit of a lifetime and I message him first. It takes me longer than I’m proud to admit to drum up the courage to do so.

But anyway, it’s done and we’re talking and he wants to meet and I’m consumed with guilt. He clearly thinks I’m awesome. He’s really excited about it. I feel like a fraud, because I think I’m rubbish. I went on a date with someone once and pretty much laid all my issues on the table from the get-go, in some weird kind of self-sabotaging test. Like, are you ready for this? For ALL of it? Are you SURE?

But this time I haven’t spoken about my mental health at all, not even once. And I feel dishonest for it. But he’s a relative stranger, I don’t owe him my entire medical history, do I? I wouldn’t expect his. My therapist suggested that perhaps I’m sabotaging my attempts at relationships because I don’t think I’m capable of having a successful one. I look for reasons for it not to work and then when it inevitably fails, I’ve proved myself right.

So I’m trying really hard to be aware of my thoughts, feelings and actions, and where possible… if I spot a self-sabotaging one I’m trying to find an alternative. It’s just really difficult when these damning and very destructive thoughts are so frequent and invasive.

Parental Injunctions: my parents didn’t want me to exist?

“They’re messages subconsciously transmitted to us by our parents at an early age. They tend to inform the scripts we develop to navigate our way through life – almost like conditions to get your needs met.” 
My therapist explained that the parents don’t intend (or even realise) that these messages are conveyed, and there is an element of us bringing our own interpretation to their words and behaviours in order to arrive at these injunctions. They can include things like ‘do not be seen’, ‘do not feel’, ‘do not be a child’, ‘do not grow up’, ‘do not succeed’, ‘do not be important’. 

Mine? Mine is probably the worst of the lot –

DON’T EXIST. 

That’s a pretty upsetting thought, to be honest. But I was unplanned, caused untold upheaval, financial difficulty, necessitated moving house, and then didn’t really get to bond with my caregivers as both had to go back to work very soon after I was born due to aforementioned financial situation. My mum struggled with her own mental health issues before I came along, and these worsened after, so… I guess it makes sense.

I haven’t posted for a while because I’ve kind of struggled with this. I initially denied it, then started to realise that it kinda fits, realised that a lot of my experiences support it, realised that a lot of my dysfunctional behaviours are probably caused by it. I told my therapist about some of the behaviours I’d noticed in myself that seemed to tie in with the theory. It seems pretty bleak.

I have a deep-seated belief that I shouldn’t exist. That I don’t deserve to. So I often try to hide myself away and be as inconspicuous as possible, as this is where I feel safe. I blame myself for my own suffering because I feel like everything is my fault for continuing to exist.

I took on a very challenging job that flies in the face of this, and I’ve pushed myself to perform as a musician as well. My counsellor noted that these are pretty huge feats for someone with this injunction, and I told her that I didn’t think anything smaller would even make a dent in it. We kind of agreed that the scale of the injunction is pretty daunting, but at the same time there is obviously a part of me that is fighting it very hard and throws me into situations where I’m forced to exist and to make my existence felt by other people. Perhaps I need to find a way to capitalise on that part.