But I’m Not Like You

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?

On Feeling “Not Good Enough”

It felt both scary and wonderful to get my first full salary from my new client at the end of last month. Why scary? Well, I’ve never earned so much money in one month before. But most of all, I felt like a fraud. Like I didn’t deserve it.

I know that’s not the truth. I worked hard and did well. At our month-end meeting my client had nothing but good things to say about my work. But still, those thoughts of “I’m not good enough” and the accompanying feeling of panic that I don’t really know what I’m doing and will be exposed, kept raising it’s head.

Imposter syndrome? Perhaps. The thing is, I’m used to doing things for next to nothing. To give in when someone can’t pay me for doing something, or charging them a price that didn’t take much of my effort and time into consideration. This caused me so much anxiety and stress. I was doing too much for others with little in return and becoming burnt out. A lot of it I would use as an excuse “it’s good for my portfolio or for practice”. Sure, that’s valid, but not to the extent I was taking it. Now that I’m charging more I feel guilty for it.

My therapist had to listen to me complain about these things and saw how it was affecting me. She helped me get to the place where I realized that way of doing things wasn’t working for me, and wasn’t worth it, and I could start putting proper boundaries in place. It’s still hard to stand firm, especially with friends and family, but I’m doing it.

This client is the ideal client for me. He’s honest, to the point, and doesn’t rush me. I’ve already learned so many new things and am becoming more confident, but I still get my days where I feel “not good enough”. One thing I really appreciate about him is that he will often send me a “good job!” or “well done”. So that helps tremendously.

Whenever I start experiencing those “not good enough” thoughts, and feelings of panic or fear, I try to remember to challenge them with more helpful thoughts. “I’ve come this far and I’m doing the best I can”. I also try to find moments where I can look at my work and say “I’m proud of myself, I did well”.

The Strength To Keep Going

I had my usual therapy session yesterday. I didn’t want to go. I left later than I usually do, battling within myself until then. One of the reasons is because I didn’t want to set foot in that clinic again. I didn’t want to run into the person I mentioned in my previous post, or anyone else there. It doesn’t feel like a safe, healing place anymore. It had its season in my life. It helped me once. But that’s over now. It’s time to move on.

The other reason was that I wanted to disconnect at least a little from my therapist. Not because of anything she did or didn’t do, but because of wanting to let go of my attachments. But I realized again yesterday how important healthy attachment can be. Connection sustains us. It’s part of being human. The minute I sat down in that office with her, I could feel my defenses starting to crumble. I felt drawn towards her again. The one thing I didn’t want to have happen. But I’m really glad it did.

I haven’t been kind to myself for a while now. I’ve been treating myself like my own worst enemy. But I was inspired by my therapist, just by the way she interacted with me yesterday, the kindness and gentleness she showed toward me, to start treating myself like a friend again. I’ve come to realize that treating myself harshly only feeds the cycle of depression. I’m not perfect. I’m never going to be. There are a lot of things I don’t like about myself, but I also have a lot of good qualities. Which is something I tend to forget. My therapist often asks me whether I allow myself to feel my emotions without judgement, and most of the time, I don’t. I can’t stand it when other people judge one another, yet I so easily judge myself. Most of us struggle with this, and simply being aware of it is part of making the change.

Near the end of the session, I asked my therapist about the other office she practices from. It’s further away, but completely do-able. So we’re going to be moving our sessions there. Well, she wants me to first just try it out next week and then decide. The office I currently see her in is shared with another psychologist at the clinic, so it will be nice to see her in her own. The day and time will also change. I don’t like changes to my routine, but this is one I’m happy to take on. She’ll be there after all, one constant.

I’m still a little more wary with regards to connection and attachment than I was before this thing happened on Tuesday. But I choose to trust my therapist as much as I am able to at this point. The connection I felt with her yesterday is holding me. Giving me strength to keep going. It doesn’t solve everything. I’m still feeling depressed. But knowing that at least one person has my best interests at heart, and feeling supported makes a difference.

I want to mention something regarding my previous post. I thought about taking it down because I don’t want to scare people who need it, to not seek help. But that post is the reality of life with mental illness. Even of life in general. It’s part of my story, and that’s what this blog is about. I was in a lot of pain and in a very dark place when I wrote it, and reflects only one part of my experience with mental health professionals. I’ve had some good experiences as well. So I want to encourage anyone reading this, that if you need help, absolutely (and please) ask for it. It’s hard to do, and sometimes you won’t get what you need from certain people, but there will always be someone who will give you their hand and be glad to help.

“Be Kind To Yourself”

These were the words spoken to me by my therapist yesterday. I’m struggling, a lot, and needed that reminder. It’s times like this that I’m especially grateful for therapy and a great therapist.

My inner critic has been especially boisterous this past while, as have the critical voices from my childhood and beyond. Every attempt at positivity and self-compassion has been met with these negative voices shutting it down. Separating out the voices and recognizing which is my own inner critic, who is ultimately just trying to protect me, and which belong to those people in my life, who due to their own issues and projections have targeted me with their hurtful words, has been helpful.

“You’re useless, a waste of space, and will never amount to anything”, “you don’t deserve love, a hug, attention”. The voice of others. When these kinds of words come from people you love and are supposed to trust, who you are dependent on as a child, they build up and almost become like a part of you. It’s extremely difficult to challenge them.

“You can’t do this”, “it’s not good enough”, “you’re too much or not enough”. My own. To my inner critic I can say “thank you for trying to protect me, but it’s okay if I am unsuccessful at this. I’ll learn from it and do better next time”, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s good enough”. This voice is trying to protect me from rejection, shame and pain. See the difference? For me at least, it’s easier to deal with my own inner critic.

When I got home from therapy I was exhausted and wanted to take a nap. But the critical voices were so loud (“you’re just lazy, you should be working”) and I was struggling to tap into my own self-compassion. I then remembered C’s words “be kind to yourself”. In that moment I decided to pretend that she’s talking to me instead, and to speak to myself the way she speaks to me, with kindness and compassion. And it worked. So I ended up taking a guilt-free 90 minute nap, one I desperately needed. By pretending that C that was talking to me, I slowly started to find my own self-compassionate voice again. So that’s another simple little tool for my coping toolkit.

It’s so easy to get lost in all the voices of negativity. Both those around us and those within us. So if you struggle with this, maybe this concept can help you as well. I hope you have someone whose kind and gentle voice can help guide you in finding your own voice of self-compassion.

Healthier Perspectives

On Wednesday I had a therapy session with the psychologist I was seeing while an in-patient at the clinic. I’ll write more about what’s happening with my therapy once I’ve had a session with my usual therapist, who is currently on leave.

When I got to the clinic, I ran into one of my roommates (who is still there). It was lovely to see her again, and we spent a few minutes catching up before my appointment.

In our session I told the therapist everything that I had mentioned in my previous post. I was worried that I’m disconnecting myself from people. She told me that she doesn’t think that’s the case. Especially since I’m still keeping in contact with my friends and family, and have made plans with two of my closest friends for Sunday (today), which I’m looking forward to. She saw me interact with my roommate before our session, and with the OT I used to have sessions with (she walked by and I made a joke with her). When the therapist told me all this, I knew she was right. I’m not pushing people away.

Since my time in the clinic I’ve developed a healthier view of connection. It didn’t start in the clinic though. I believe it’s been happening for a while now, and the breakup with Elizabeth also played a big role towards pushing me toward that healthier perspective faster.

I’ve been feeling so strange, because I’m not used to this new way of being. Over the past few days it’s starting to feel more normal. I think I’m settling into my “new” self. I’ve been practicing mindfulness every day, and am starting Yoga tomorrow. I’m taking much better care of myself these days. I’ve been learning what my limitations are. How to listen to my body. To my mind. I’m working on myself from the inside out, and I can feel my self-compassion and confidence grow. I’m also less compromising on my boundaries.

On Friday I went for a job interview. It’s for a half-day position, which is perfect for me. The interview started off well, and I was enjoying talking with the lady who was interviewing me. Then, the general manager of the company walked in and took over the interview. I wasn’t expecting this at all. My agent told me I was only meeting with the accounts manager. It was also a last-minute interview, so I didn’t have time to prepare beforehand. His questions, and the way he asked them, threw me. I felt a panic rise up inside, and the urge to run. In that moment, I mentally took a step back and allowed myself some time before I answered one of his questions. I told myself “It’s okay. Just do the best you can. That’s enough. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t get this job.” That helped calm me down enough to put on a confident face again and continue on with the interview.

I was so relieved once it was done. I had been there for almost an hour… One of the longest, most intense interviews I’d ever been for. As I was walking back to my car, the old familiar voices started coming. “You blew it.”, “You can’t even interview properly.” etc. As soon as I noticed these thoughts, I started reframing them and talking back to that critic with words of compassion and love. After the interview I was convinced it was a failure. But after some self-compassion I realize that it wasn’t a complete disaster. There were good points too. Within 10 minutes I started feeling better. I bounced back quickly, and felt pretty good the rest of the day.

Last night I felt sad for a while. That my relationship with Elizabeth didn’t work out. We shared a lot of good times together. I miss our early days, and even some of the more recent moments. I miss her touch. The way she used to look at me. I miss her. But this wasn’t an overwhelming sadness. It felt more of an acceptance type of sadness. It didn’t work out. And that’s okay. I hold no resentment or bitterness toward her. She did what was best for her, and it was also the best thing for me. She’s coming through to my place tomorrow to collect her things, and I don’t know how I’ll feel when I see her again. But I’m ready. I don’t know if we can still be friends, but I’m not making that decision yet. There’s no rush.

All in all, I’ve been well. And I’m grateful to be alive.

Group Spa Therapy

Group was lovely tonight. So different/weird-but-nice. It felt like a combination of time spent in a spa, and therapy. D, the OT, had lit candles in the room we were having the group in. There was even a light vanilla scented air freshener thing going on. Very romantic! We spoke about self-compassion, self-soothing, and the ACCEPTS DBT skill (Distress Tolerance). D passed around a variety of hand lotions, and showed us a hand massage video, which we had to follow along with, using whichever lotion we had chosen. Now do you get why I said it felt like I had spent time in a spa?

As usual, we ended off with a meditation/visualization, before we were sent on our merry way.

I’m linking to another video that D had shown us tonight as well. I found it so cute!

Now, I’m off to go roll myself up, and follow the video’s instructions.