Can’t The World Just Forget I Exist For A While?

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It’s been a frustrating and horrible two weeks. It seemed like everything that could go wrong, did, and I feel like I’m running on fumes, ready to explode. Again. I just need a damn break.

The first difficult client I had, wanted an update to the website I made him. He opened another restaurant in a new area. Good for me, because it’s work (every little bit helps). But I forgot just how stressful and frustrating it is working with him. I really should charge him double my hourly rate due to this, but of course, I can’t.

At the same time I was going through a bit of a medication mix up, which I’ll write about at another time. I was also redesigning a website for my ex business partner, as I wasn’t happy with the first one I made her, which was the first website I made when I started my business. She’s also a lot to deal with, and there were so many issues (with her server) with putting this website up that I thought it would never happen. I actually told her last week that she lacks impulse control and needs to work on that, because she makes people (me) anxious. Her website is sorted out now and it’s the first website that I’m actually really proud of. It reflects my style so much better. So I’m happy with that.

I was supposed to join her this weekend for a photography meetup, but canceled yesterday because I feel I just can’t cope with that right now. Being away from home, with a woman that stresses me out and is way too loud and over the top, as well as being with a group of people I’ve never met for a whole weekend, was making me panic. If I hadn’t been struggling so much these past few weeks and wasn’t feeling so overwhelmed, I probably would have gone. I was planning on sleeping in today, but that didn’t happen either.

Last night was the first night in a while that I actually slept through. As I already mentioned, I had planned on sleeping in as much as my body needed today. But I was woken up by M who had a hair appointment and needed me to take her. I’m so irritated and pissed off, but I know it’s not her fault.

On Wednesday she fell at home and banged up her face, and fractured a rib. It happened while I was at therapy, and instead of coming home straight after like I usually do, I decided to go buy some stuff that I needed. When I got home I was greeted by a bloody mess and found her in a state of shock, white as a sheet and shivering uncontrollably. I’ve been through enough medical emergencies with people throughout my life to know what to do in situations such as this. The strange thing (and which I’m so grateful for) is that during times like this my mind is clearer than usual and I remain completely calm.

She could move and talk, but with great difficulty and a lot of pain. But I knew it was safe to get her into my car so I can take her to the hospital. I didn’t want to call an ambulance because I don’t trust them to come quickly enough. I called one of our neighbours who is always at home, so that he could help me get her into the car because there was no way I’d be able to do that on my own. It was only once she was in the hospital, having x-rays and a CT scan done and I went outside, that my body and mind started feeling the effects. Shock, fear, adrenaline. I only went back inside once I could compose myself again.

M came back home with me that night, as her CT scans came back clear. There wasn’t a reason to keep her in the hospital overnight as they can’t do much anyway when it comes to fractured or broken ribs except for pain management and rest. She got some stitches in her face, but other than that she’s fine. She can’t drive for the next few weeks, so she has to rely on me for that. She’s a very independent and tough old lady, so I know that’s not easy for her. Before I found her, she had been lying there for almost two hours waiting for someone to come!

I feel so guilty. And I’m trying to make up for that. If I had come home straight after therapy, she wouldn’t have had to wait so damn long! I was also angry with her (but I didn’t tell her this because I don’t want to make her feel worse than she already does). I’ve told her before to always make sure she has her phone with her. What would have happened if I hadn’t been living there? So that’s another reason I didn’t go to the photography weekend. I’m scared to leave M alone again. I’m hyper alert (and overprotective) every time she moves through the house or goes outside.

The thing is, I’m struggling to take care of myself at the moment, and now this added responsibility just feels overwhelming. I feel selfish for even thinking like this, but denying I do doesn’t help either.

There’s nowhere to escape to at the moment. I feel trapped.

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On Friendship and Solitude

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Growing up, making friends was never easy for me. I enjoyed my solitude and doing my own thing in my own way. I found out recently that I’ve always been that way. Even as a baby and toddler I didn’t interact with other children or people and always seemed to be in my own little world.

I made my first friend when I was 7 or 8 years old. The memory I have of that is sitting alone on a low wall during break time, eating my lunch and watching the other kids play. Then Christina came. I didn’t know her, and think it was the first time I saw her. She gave me a sweet, or something like that, and the rest is history. I can’t remember much about our friendship, only that it was short. My family moved and I started at a new school the following year.

It’s still not easy for me to make new friends. I meet someone and we get along. Or so it seems. I automatically think then that we’re friends, only to find out a little while later that that wasn’t the case. I’ve always had the habit of rushing into a friendship (or romantic relationship for that matter) and go all in, only to discover that they had only needed me for something. It’s my own fault though. I would try to be the perfect friend. Always paying for things (even though I couldn’t afford it), giving them compliments and plenty of “feel good” words, and going out of my way for them. But I would get drained, never quite seeming to get anything I needed. Once I slowed down and they discovered they weren’t going to get quite as much as they used to with me, they would disappear.

These days I’m better at setting and maintaining boundaries. Earlier this year, I walked away from a few friends that were only causing me anxiety, anger, and heartache. Since then I’m more careful about who I let into my life, and how much I give to others.

I’ve always tended to make friends with those much older than me. As a child and adolescent I would spend most of my time with my grandmother during the school holidays. Watching something on TV, listening to the radio, baking, watching her knit, etc, while the children were playing outside. Their games didn’t interest me much.

Here’s the thing. I’m more than happy in my own company, doing those things I enjoy. It’s very rare that I actually get bored. I’m a life-long student and enjoy learning about psychology, animals (especially dogs), science and technology. With the internet, TV and library, there’s a never ending amount of study material available. Then there’s of course things like writing, reading, movies, and series. If I don’t get enough time to do all these things I burn out very quickly. So for me balance means 80% of time spent on my own, and only 20% with others.

Solitude is a beautiful thing, so I don’t understand how some people can constantly want to be around others and get bored when they’re alone. But, they probably feel the same way about me. How can I actually enjoy being alone? And that’s the beauty of being human. No two people are perfectly alike. Nor should we be.

My Self-Care/Self-Soothe/Sensory Kit

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I thought I would share a list of those things that help me regulate and provide comfort.

– Weighted Blanket. Best investment ever!
– Weighted lap pad which I use while driving and working/studying. It helps me focus a little better, and provides some comfort and deep pressure stimulation.
– The Rose Quartz stone my therapist gave me.
– Therapy/Exercise Ball. Sitting and bouncing on this is soothing, especially when I’m overwhelmed and anxious.
– Aroma dough. It’s like play-dough for adults, with the added benefit of healing essential oils. 😉 (Website: http://aromadough.co.za)
– Hot Chocolate sachets.
– Pillow Mist (Lavender & Patchouli oils).
– Cuddly (soft toy).
– Baby blanket.
– A set of candles in beautiful crimson and azure blue glass containers.
– A pair of thick, fluffy socks.
– Lavender and vanilla hand lotion.
– A book of pictures of cute puppies.
– Vanilla soft-lips lip balm.
– Photo’s, letters and notes from those I love and care about.
– Essential oils and a diffuser: Peppermint, Lavender, Jasmine, Chamomile, Rosemary, Ylang Ylang. Will use one of these or a combination for specific purposes.
– USB drive with a couple of my favourite movies.
– Various fidget toys. I have the habit of playing with my hair, which isn’t a problem, but my dad used to yell at me when I do it around them, he hates it, so that’s where the fidget toys come in handy. Skin picking, chewing my fingers, etc… These toys all help. Wish I had had these while growing up.
– Noise cancelling headphones. I never leave the house without this.
– Chew toys (eg. Chewigem). I have a habit of chewing the inside of my cheeks and my lips, so I’ve found this helps when I feel the urge, or find myself unconsciously started. For some reason chewing gum doesn’t really work, as I still find myself chewing my mouth with the gum. I try to stay away from chewy sweets as the sugar, just like caffeine, makes me more worked up.
– Rainbow bubbles. These are awesome; they have this beautiful shimmer and different colours depending on the light and direction.
– Bullet Journal and favourite stationary. I started a bullet journal earlier this year, and it’s been so much fun and very helpful. I use it to keep track of my moods, habits, sleep, books, series, movies, favourite quotes, daily reflections, pre-therapy and post-therapy notes etc. If you don’t know what a bullet journal is and would like to learn more, here’s a nice link: https://littlecoffeefox.com/ultimate-bullet-journal-cheat-sheet/

So, these are some of my favourite things that help me cope with life and the world around me. What are yours?

What Exactly Does It Mean To Be Authentic?

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I’ve often wondered what it truly means to be authentic. The concept confused me. I came across an interesting article the other day, and a particular paragraph described my confusion well.

“One big problem with authenticity is that there is a lack of consensus among both the general public and among psychologists about what it actually means for someone or something to be authentic. Are you being most authentic when you are being congruent with your physiological states, emotions and beliefswhatever they may be? Or are you being most authentic when you are congruent with your consciously chosen beliefs, attitudes and values? How about when you are being congruent across the various situations and social roles of your life? Which form of “being true to yourself” is the real authenticity: was it the time you really gave that waiter a piece of your mind or that time you didn’t tell the waiter how you really felt about their dismal performance because you value kindness and were true to your higher values?”

— Source: Authenticity under Fire (Scott Barry Kaufman)

Throughout my life I’ve had to present myself in ways that didn’t feel true to who I felt I was. I would sometimes change my views, opinions, and preferences to fit in with those around me. This would make me even more confused. Which person was I reallyAs humans we have the tendency to present different parts of ourselves to try to fit in, taking on aspects of the group and people we’re interacting with. It’s normal. But some of us take it to more of an extreme. Does this make us inauthentic during those times? Maybe.

There are certain ways in which I sometimes interact with the world and other people, that aren’t considered “normal” and that have either gotten me into trouble or caused people to view me as “weird”. Which is why I love those friends I’ve had for years that love my “weirdness” and who aren’t bothered or surprised by it. Everyone is different. Everyone has ways of being, of coping. Social anxiety is a big thing for me, and maybe this is one of the reasons I try to blend in so much. To the point where I question who I really am. I was bullied in my primary school years and labeled a “freak”, and was an outcast (along with my merry band of fellow outcasts) in high school. So trying to fit in, trying to just be “normal”, has always been something I felt I had to do in order to stay emotionally safe. And it’s only been the last few years that I’ve realized it doesn’t have to be that way. Not everyone will or should like us. Not everybody will accept or understand us. And that’s really okay.

Society expects us to behave a certain way. Our culture and environment shape us. What’s considered the norm in one culture or place, may be seen as inappropriate in another. There are certain norms that I’ve grown up with that I’m not comfortable with. Things that make me anxious. But I’m expected to fit in anyway. So I did.

I’m finding though that being inauthentic towards myself isn’t worth the price of fitting in. I no longer have the desire to do so. Sure, I still care what others think, and a part of me probably always will, but not to the extent to which I’ve always done.

I’ve come to believe that there is no single, congruent, true self that exists in all situations and environments. We are a complex mix of values, beliefs, biases, desires, etc. Both conscious and unconscious. These can get activated around different people and situations. It doesn’t mean we’re being inauthentic though. All of these are aspects of ourselves. Striving to always be authentic can sometimes backfire. Cause us to constantly question ourselves. So my goal is to not judge myself, and just try to be my best true self in that moment, for that situation. I think that’s good enough.

Trust Issues

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My therapist went on leave at the end of May, and we resumed our sessions the week before last. I’ve always had issues with therapy breaks, but this one was particularly hard. I wasn’t in a good place so the timing just made me feel that much worse. But I got through it.

The first day back, while waiting for the session, I saw my therapist talking to one of the receptionists. A doctor came up to her and welcomed her back. They were soon joined by someone else. Hearing everyone welcome her back sent a wave of relief washing over me. But not just because she was back.

For some reason I had been battling paranoid thoughts while she was gone. Thoughts that she wasn’t really on leave, but just needed a break from me. I told her this last week, and as often happens, felt so silly that I had entertained those thoughts. But it was real for me during that time, and I had a lot going on, so I tried not to judge myself too harshly.

Due to this, and other recent experiences, I’ve realized that I have deep trust issues. And looking back over my life I can see this so clearly. I struggle to believe that what people say and how they are around me, is genuine. The other thing I struggle with is understanding that what someone has said one day might still be true the next. For example, if someone tells me that they care about me, I might believe them in the moment, only to feel anxiety a little while later. Do they still care about me? What if their feelings have changed? A lot of the time, nothing needs to have happened in order for these thoughts and anxieties to arise.

The one I’m struggling with at the moment is the situation with M. My services are still on hold with the company I was freelancing with, and I don’t have another client, so haven’t been able to contribute to the rates and taxes these past two months. When I first moved in, M didn’t want me to pay rent or any of those things. But I felt better at least contributing something, so I did. Now I can’t do that. I still buy things we need for the house, such as groceries or cleaning suppliers as and when I’m able to, but still not as much as I’d like to.

I’ve told M that I feel like I’m a burden to her these days. She doesn’t see it that way. Her husband passed away last year, and she says she likes having another body in the house. She also enjoys my company, and sees me as a daughter. That I’m far from a burden. When I first moved in, we agreed to always be honest with one another, and if there are any concerns or issues on either side, to raise it as soon as possible. So even knowing all this, I’m struggling to believe that what she says is how she really feels. I’m worried that she’s just saying all of this because she doesn’t want to hurt me or something. I know I need to look at the facts in order to overcome this way of thinking, but sometimes I’m just not sure what the facts are, or whether they really exist. It’s frustrating and confusing. I don’t like questioning people’s words or their motives. But yet it feels like such a deep thing and not something I can just instantly stop doing by making the decision to do so.

I also know it comes from my experiences with people and situations throughout my life. I’ll share a few of these.

My first stepmom (of 13 years) would be so nice to me in front of my dad. I would think that maybe she had started to like me or even love me. But then when my dad wasn’t around, she would continue treating me badly and bullying me. She’d say something in front of my dad, but then say the opposite to me the next time. So I never quite knew where I stood with her. With my dad too. He would say one thing, but then the next day he would deny having said that, or telling me (or us) that he didn’t mean it that way or we heard wrong. It was all very confusing.

There was also the situation with my mother. I would see her two weekends a month. My dad and stepmom would tell me that my mother didn’t want me, which was why I was living with them and not with her, and try to discourage me from going to her. They would tell me things about her and things she apparently did or had done. There was never a good word toward her. But when I was with her, even though I didn’t feel that motherly bond or connection, the things I saw her do and how she treated others and me, didn’t fit into the picture of what I’d hear from my dad and step-mom about her.

Then there were the countless other women my dad dated and those we moved in with. When the women (and children) weren’t around, my dad would tell me all sorts of things about their relationship that I didn’t need or want to know. He would also tell me all the problems that these people had with me. I hated this, because they never told me these things to my face. With each new woman I tried to go in cynical. But they would be so nice to me and deep down inside I would think that maybe this time, this woman, would be that mother figure I had always wanted. That would all go out the window when my dad would start with his gossip. I would switch between believing him, and being confused when these women seemed to be nothing but nice to me. When they eventually broke up, my dad would tell me it’s because they couldn’t accept me and had a problem with me. Never mind the fact that he was very irrational and a bully toward them. He would never mention that. It was always just about me.

My dad seems to be the common thread in all of these, but there are other people and situations that he had no part in. So yes, it makes sense that I have these trust issues. I just wish I could get over them and that they didn’t have an influence on my relationships. But at least I’m fully aware of this now and can do the work necessary to start to fix this. And that’s where therapy can help. My dad once asked why I’m still in therapy. It’s been more than 2 years already. I’ve asked myself that same question. But just as our environment and experiences form our personality over many years, it makes sense that it can take years to heal and change.

Trusting someone is difficult. But so is not trusting them. I hope that one day I won’t have that little voice constantly throwing doubt at everything people say.

But I’m Not Like You

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Two Thursday’s ago I went out for dinner with my best friends’ Megan and Ethan. We had a lovely time. Ethan invited me to a pizza evening that Saturday, and Megan, knowing me really well by now, told him that it might be too much for me. There were going to be 4 other people there. People I’ve never met. But I told them I’d let them know, and decided on the Saturday morning that I was going to be brave and go for it. After all, I don’t see them very often as they live quite far away.

I don’t like driving that way. The area they live in is scary, and the last 15 minutes of that road is anxiety-inducing, especially with the traffic lights every 500m or so. I always make sure I have my taser within easy reach and ready to go. Thankfully I got there safely, relieved but still on high alert. I made sure to get there an hour before everyone else was due to arrive so I could prepare mentally and relax a little with my friends. I had to sleep over as Ethan wouldn’t let me drive that road at night.

It was an insane evening, and the instant I met Megan’s cousin, I didn’t like her one bit. The rest of the evening only intensified that dislike. Megan doesn’t like having her around either (she saw her last 2 years ago). This girl was out of control, over-the-top, obnoxious and vulgar, and way too loud. Throughout the evening I disappeared for 20-30 minutes to the room with my noise-cancelling headphones. I had come prepared, although in hindsight I should have followed my instincts that morning and not gone at all. But the thing with me is I’m never sure what’s instinct and what’s just plain fear or anxiety.

By 1:30am I just couldn’t take it anymore and decided to go to bed. All I actually wanted to do was go home. Megan had also had enough by then and we sat in the room chatting. She was regretting the whole evening and also wanted it to be over. We both went to bed. But the music and people continued on. I would just doze off and then wake with a start.

The party was still going on by 5am. I realized I wasn’t going to get any sleep and went to make coffee. Megan came out of her room as well, and told a very drunk Ethan that it’s time to end the party and go to sleep. Ethan is a teddy bear even when drunk out of his mind (which is something he’s only been twice before – we’ve known him for over 20 years now).

With total silence now, but my body still buzzing on the inside (I hate this feeling), I sat in bed reading for about 30 minutes and then figured it was safe to try to sleep again. As I was dozing off, my room door opened, and in walked Ethan, with a “it’s okay Meg, go back to sleep” and stumbled over to the bed. He crashed down next to me, proceeding to pull all the blankets away from me. I lay there in shock for a few seconds. Then came the snoring. That was me. Done. I jumped up and decided that it was time for me to go. There was no way I would be getting any sleep with a snoring guy next to me, thinking I’m Megan. I wasn’t irritated, but more amused at what had just happened. Ethan was very embarrassed and apologetic when I told him this, but now we can laugh about it.

When I got home I only managed a 3 hour nap. But it was something at least. Since then, I’ve still been trying to recover. Yes, it’s taking a long time. The biggest reason for this is that I haven’t given myself the rest I need. Sure, I’ve slept 8+ hours for most nights, with a few exceptions thanks to nightmares, but the problem is during the day. My way of recuperating from social, sensory, physical and emotional/mental overload and tiredness is to hide from the world for a while.

That’s something a lot of people don’t understand. I’ve been struggling with depression for a while now, and it only seemed to get worse the days after the party. M (the lady I stay with) knows how I’ve been feeling, and encourages me to go out and do things. For example, wants to take me out for coffee or says I should go to the library or bookstores (both places I like). She believes that spending too much time at home makes depression worse. And it does. For her. But not for me. Not when I feel overwhelmed. When I feel overwhelmed and I leave the house, things don’t go well for me. When I’m already overwhelmed, it doesn’t take much to push me over the edge. In other words, panic attacks/meltdowns/breakdowns. I need quiet, and as little sensory stimuli and socializing as possible, or my depression gets worse.

There have been so many times in my life where I didn’t leave the house for days, and emerged feeling refreshed and so much better. That’s how I cope with life and the world. When I was still living with my dad, I would sometimes take an entire week “away from the world”. They would often argue with me that it’s not healthy. Well, it’s not healthy for me to always be going out and doing things. It’s the same with M. Her friend came over the one day, it was almost 12pm and I was still in bed (reading). She told me “up, up, you can’t stay in bed all day, that’s why you’re not feeling well”. Just for the record, I don’t stay in bed all day. I still do things like washing my dishes, cleaning my room (if I’m up to the task that day), having a cup of coffee in the morning with M, but I just don’t want to go anywhere.

I understand that for a lot of people going out with friends and doing things help them fight their depression. And I know those telling me to do these things have good intentions, but it doesn’t help me. I feel like yelling “but I’m not like you!” I feel this pressure to conform, scared to upset anyone. But much more than that, scared to be seen as “lazy”.

I’ve told M how I recover and start feeling better, and she says she understands, but I don’t think she truly gets it. After all, we’re individuals with different experiences and views of the world. Can we ever truly understand someone else?

Emmengard’s Suicide Scale

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I’ve been dealing with suicidal ideation for the past two weeks. It varies in intensity, and aside from a few “happy” moments here and there, is almost constantly in the background. I try to keep myself distracted where I can. I’ve been going to group again, mostly because I feel it’s a source of support in a way, especially with my therapist being away. During the last one I had a sort of mini breakdown directly afterward and before going home, reached out to the psychologist who had led the group. We sat and spoke for a little while, and I left feeling a bit better having gotten some of the emotion and thoughts out. It’s not easy for me to open up in group, especially when it’s as big as it was that evening, so I’m grateful to that therapist for making some time for me afterward.

The next day I came across this image. It’s not always easy to explain to people (or even myself) how bad I’m really feeling, so this “scale” is helpful. I find images and cartoons so much easier to understand, as it tends to make abstract concepts easier to grasp. I’ve basically been on the 6th block, and even though it’s overwhelming at times, I can cope with it. I know that when I’m getting further along, it’s time to get help.

What do you think? You can view the full sized image on the website listed below (opens in a new tab/window).