Friday, April 29, 2016

"No one else can play your part."

It's a busy day with plenty more to do, but I had to write after what just happened to me. I'm in the midst of getting ready to chaperone a church youth group retreat; the closer the date has gotten, the more anxious I've become. It seemed like a fun idea when I volunteered because I was so involved in the youth group in high school and had missed it while I was away at college, but the reality is that a lot of things have changed and there are different people who I don't know well going on the retreat. My social anxiety floated into the periphery and I just felt generally not pleased with the prospect of leaving; riding in a crowded car for four hours, watching cheesy games, singing cheesy songs (I had hoped to be on the worship team too so another reminder of disappointment), listening to canned talks. I recommitted my faith earlier this year after about half a year of disillusionment, but I still have trouble with how canned and obsessively positive or overly simplistic many of the teachings of its followers can be.

But to move on with the story, that was weighing on my mind, as was the fact that it was the birthday or a friend from school and so my Facebook feed (and brain) was full of reminders of what I was missing not being at school and how my friends were getting to participate in clubs, etc. that I was never able to get into. I didn't feel too down, but in the back of my mind I felt inferior and lame. I noticed that people stopped liking my FB posts as much in the past couple months so I've tapered off sharing and when I think of something I wan to share, I often tell myself never mind. That happened today. The point is, I was starting to feel subconsciously inferior, etc.

Suddenly, I was face to face with just the message I needed to hear but didn't even know I needed:
No one else can play your part.
I follow To Write Love on Her Arms on Facebook and they had posted this simple message, one of their taglines. I had seen it many times before, but it had never resonated with me like this. I took a step back from the negative feelings piling up at my feet and pulling me down and opened up the window to let some light, some perspective, some hope into my gloomy world. I had a role to play in this world. I had a voice to add to the chorus. I had a song to sing and a message to give, a story to tell. I was here for a reason and put through certain things for a reason. My life mattered and my words mattered and my actions and unique personality, sense or humor, and perspective. It felt as if the light had come flooding in and my world was illuminated so I could see beyond the little pile of scraps I was bent toiling over to a wide open plain of possibility.
To Write Love on Her Arms

I get so caught up in tracking web traffic or statistics of views and likes and rejections and acceptance letters that I forget 99% of the time that none of that matters. I've been given a voice and I need to speak my message, do my work, sing my song, be myself, no matter how other people receive me (or if they even bother to receive me). I enrich the world with the additional unique thread I add to its tapestry. I deepen the sound of the choir with my own new harmony. No one else could play my part. No one else could write this blog or those songs or diaries or bad poetry or whatever else I've done, even things that will never see the light of day, and there is beauty in each of those things. Just like there are animals living out in the Amazonian rainforest I will never meet or come across, but I believe the world is better and richer for them being there.

There are so many animals that you wonder what their purposes all are, but they make the world richer and they bless it by being their own unique self, like no other species. And they do each have their own unique role in the ecosystem and without their existence, one thing or another in the environment would get out of hand, which would lead other things to get out of hand. We need all the people who are on this earth, and I wish we would let them know that more often. I wish we would acknowledge each of their unique potentials. It amazes me that after all of the billions of people who have existed on this earth, there are still new combinations of looks, personality, and experience to make billions of more unique people. Why do we spend all our time putting people down for being different when it's our uniqueness that makes us great? Sometimes I think we're even more cut-throat than the animals.

So, fellow warriors, your part is worth playing and no one else can play it. If you're having trouble believing that, please get help. One great way is the Crisis Text Line, which you cant text to at 741-741.

Happy birthday...enjoy it.

A friend of mine had his birthday recently. We went to college for a year together, but I had to leave after that year because of my struggle with depression. While I was at school with him, it was obvious that he was going to accomplish a lot in his four years there. He was easy to talk to, funny, determined, and very business-minded. By the time I had left, he was already a prominent member of several on-campus organizations even though he was only a freshman. Not to mention, he was committed to his major and had already declared a minor and had a well-paying job lined up for the summer, no small feat for a college kid. I, on the other hand, was finishing my junior year having been rejected from every campus organizations I applied to but one (the grand total of rejections came to at least eight), and now I was giving up my overarching dream: being at the college at all.

The rejections kept coming for me, even after I left what I later figured out was a toxic environment, but for him (from what I’ve been able to gather), the success continued. Officer positions in clubs, music performances, and general popularity. I was happy for him and generally not particularly surprised because I know he was a go-getter (and the population of my school tended to give subtly preferential treatment to good-looking men). He was a good guy and very capable and needed the experience to succeed in the business world where he was headed. But I was also a bit grieved considering my own position in light of his success; it was yet another reminder of all I hadn’t been able to achieve when I had been at school and of the dream I had ultimately had to give up because of circumstances beyond my control. I, too, was capable, compassionate, driven, ambitious, and organized. I had organized church events, taught classes, and ran Bible study groups in high school. I had continued trying out for organizations even after multiple rejections and trying to make friends after multiple failures, each more heart-wrenching than the next. But nobody really gave a damn about that when it was me doing them.

So when my friend’s birthday came around, I had bittersweet feelings; hopeful for his future, but also a bit rueful of my past. I suppose that seems selfish, but I’ve come to consider such emotions to be part of the grieving process; you have to work through them and examine them in order to one day move on, not push them aside. With this in mind, I felt tempted to accompany my note of congratulations with a reminder to give thanks. I wanted him to know what a blessing the opportunities he had were. I wanted him to be thankful for the relationships, the events, the busyness, the responsibilities, the commitments because when you’re in the midst of them, it’s easy to get lost in ticking boxes off of your to-do list, complaining how much there is to work on, and forget what a privilege it is to have that work. Because other people covet that work, those friendships, those opportunities.

There are many people who can’t have your blessedly busy life because of lack of funds, ill health, disability, discrimination, previous abuse, mental illness, gender norms, not having access to opportunities, etc. In America, we like to assert that these things don’t matter and can’t prevent you from succeeding, that anyone who works hard enough can get where they want to go, and to some extent our nation does have a blessed amount of social mobility and opportunity that others nations don’t, but the reality is that people are still quite limited and a lot of success can be due to luck or traits that you’re lucky to have. Some people just can’t make it, no matter how hard they try. Some people just aren’t popular. Some people get the short end of the stick. Someone has to.

I wanted to tell him to give thanks because you also never know when good things will be taken from you. Life can change gradually or in the blink of an eye so that one day you’re sitting in the midst of some daily activity and you suddenly wonder, “What the heck am I doing here?” A car accident, a change in brain chemicals, a baby, a death, a traumatic incident…You never know what might come around the bend and change your life forever, shattering your life expectations and throwing your life completely off of the trajectory you had carefully planned for it. I wish I had savored the time I had at school. Even if I had only a few friends, it was so good to be close to other people, yet the people I knew barely acknowledged that, spending their time complaining about being at school. Now, of course, I have been able to direct my life onto a new path and am recovering from being thrown off of the old one, so there is always hope, but it can be wise to keep in mind that life isn’t static.

I wanted to tell him to slow down and enjoy the friendships, the everyday simplicities, the quick chats between classes…the things I missed when I indulged in self-pity. And I wanted to tell him to take things easier and take care of himself; it’s great to achieve, but I learned the hard way that you have to be careful not to let that lead to burn out. I waited until I crashed and burned to take care of my mental health, and then I would try to get back in the full swing of life as soon as possible and crash again because I hadn’t given myself time to recover. I wish I had sought counseling long before I first started in order to help manage stress, anxiety, and other tricky emotions and live an in-balance life that I had time to enjoy. I see so many people milking themselves for all they're worth, hurtling towards some unknown finish line on the distant horizon, seeming to love to hate their life....Why? What's the point? As someone who has spent time genuinely hating her life against her will, wanting to want to live but not being able to see the point of it, I hope other people take time to see the preciousness of it all. 

But who wants to be the foreboding old lady, spoiling the fun with admonitions to remember to “be grateful…you’ll miss this when you’re older!” And who wants to make someone else’s big day about their own grief.

So I just typed out, “Happy birthday!”

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Medication and treatment.

I wanted to talk a little bit about medication on here since it is not addressed a whole lot, especially in specific terms and experiences. There is a lot of resistance in the world to taking psychiatric medication, but I really believe they can do a lot of good for those who need them. There are many people living lives significantly impaired by poor mental health that keeps them from accomplishing things, focusing on tasks, feeling satisfied with themselves, and being happy and content in their life. Untreated mental illness can result in a person spiraling downward, losing friends, opportunities, jobs, etc., or even turning to self harm or substance abuse to cope or taking their own life. All of these are travesties that could be avoided if we all took mental health more seriously and encouraged everyone to take preventative measures (cutting back on stress, building a positive outlook, learning good coping mechanisms, etc.) as well as monitor their mental and emotional state and get help and follow medical advice when things get bad, just as you would seek help for a fever that wouldn't go away or a broken leg.

Going on psychiatric medication is a really big treatment step. Personally, I was resistant to it for years even though I knew I had mental health problems that were affecting my life. I wish I hadn't waited until things got as bad as they did before I sought help, and it saddens me to meet many people dealing with mental illness who refuse to consider medication or any other treatments. I know it's a difficult step to take and it should be done with thoughts of thought and discussion with one's doctor and psychiatrist.

Here, I want to offer some advice to other people dealing with mental illness who are considering going on medication. I'm not a medical expert, of course, so don't take my words as gospel truth, and everyone's experience is different, but as someone who has gone through the process of going on medication, I wanted to share some recommendations to those unsure or anxious about this new step.

First off, I'd like to address when you should consider seeking psychiatric help, such as counseling, hospitalization or rehab programs, or going on medication:

  1. If you find yourself in a near-constant state of emotional distress and/or mental stress for a significant amount of time, particularly if that distress is unrelated to any particular circumstances in your life.
  2. If you find that your anxiety, depression, mania, or other symptoms are inhibiting you from living a fulfilling life, functioning each day, engaging in social activities, and/or being reasonably content. If your mental illness is affecting your work and school performance and relationships, it's definitely worth seeking treatment.
  3. If your emotional distress is causing you to engage in dangerous or harmful behaviors, such as self-mutilation, drinking or substance use (particularly to numb emotions or lower social inhibitions), extreme dieting or exercise, or purging behaviors, etc. (If you have thoughts of suicide, plans to take your life, or just a desire to die or end your life, please do seek help. Those thoughts are reflective of a shift in the chemicals in your body and don't need to make you lose hope or choose to end your beautiful life. If you are experiencing such thoughts or temptation to harm yourself, please text "GO" to 747-747, the Crisis Text Line to speak with a trained, compassionate counselor. You're worth it!)
  4. If you have multiple mental health issues (called comorbidity) that don't go away. I think particularly of those with anxiety problems and depression and perhaps even panic attacks as well. While all of these issues can be experienced at one time or another by most members of the population, experiencing them every day for long stretches of time indicates that one has a brain more predisposed to these issues. Also, having multiple mental health issues that are recurring or consistent can be an indicator that your issues are chemically-induced and need to be addressed with medication or medical supplements in order to be managed. This, of course, isn't a hard and fast rule, but is something to consider.
  5. If you are having difficulty sleeping or are sleeping too much because of your problem. This can indicate bipolar disorder in some cases (not sleeping - mania, over-sleeping - depression) or panic disorder (I was only able to sleep three hours a night for a month because of bursts of adrenaline at night resulting from panic disorder and had to go on medication to address the issue) or depression (lethargy and sleeping too much) or other anxiety or mental health issues. If your sleep patterns are being affected, this can definitely indicate that your brain and body chemicals are out of balance, Not to mention,your interrupted sleep cycle can take a further toll on your emotional, mental, and physical health and work, job, and relationship performance, so it needs to be addressed.
  6. If your principal care provider, therapist/counselor, caring friend or family member, or other medical care provider recommends it. They want what's best for you and can tell something is wrong...consider taking their advice. The process is difficult, but consult them for help and support.
In any of these cases, I would recommend taking the following actions:
  1. Speak with your primary care physician, counselor, or a trusted friend or family member about your decision to seek help and get their recommendations as far as treatment options and local psychiatrists or rehab or out-patient centers.
  2. Consider enlisting a psychiatrist on your medical care team and/or a licensed therapist as well. You can Google people near you, ask friends who you know have seen some one, go to your school's counseling center (if you have that option), or look on Psychology Today's psychiatrist or therapist finder. Read their website, search for reviews, and call and ask for a preliminary 30-minute or so consultation before committing to them, particularly with a psychiatrist, to make sure you feel comfortable with them, feel relaxed, and are able to connect well. I really recommend seeing a psychiatrist for guidance if you are considering medication because they know a lot more than primary care doctors about different meds, the way they interact, etc. and have a smaller caseload and have more time and ability to follow up with you about your medication than GPs. Medication can get complicated so it makes sense to go to a specialist, y'know. It's expensive but once you get settled in with the doctor, you may only need to do 15-minute visits every so often or even phone calls. Consider the money an investment in your well-spent, indeed, because you matter! ('s still hard to part with)
  3. Do your own research on your condition and the medications and treatments available. Some good resources are the National Institutes of Mental Health, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Also, all medications have extensive information about them online, and you can typically find reviews from people who have taken them through a quick Google search. I definitely recommend doing some of your own research on medications in addition to getting a doctor's guidance because, sadly, there are some not-so-great doctors out there as well. Perhaps enlist a trusted, supportive friend or therapist to help you with this task and do some research of their own. Check to make sure this is a medication advisable for someone of your age, gender, and medical state to take. Make sure you don't take a conflicting medication or have another health condition that could be made worse by that particular medication. Ask your doctor about these things as well.
  4. Develop a healthy exercise, diet, and daily routine with the help of your primary care physician and therapist, if you are in a stable enough mental state to do so. This can help with reducing stress and anxiety.
  5. Pair medication treatment with therapy or other similar treatments. Make sure you have all your cases covered and are getting help with processing through what you're going through as well as developing healthier ways of thinking and coping with stress. Most of the time, treating a mental illness requires a change in lifestyle and thought patterns in order to really help resolve the issue. If you're not much for talking, consider art, dance, drama, music, or writing therapy to give your emotions an easier outlet (you don't have to be talented in any of those areas to seek therapy in it!)
Should you decide to go on a medication as part of your treatment plan, I have a few recommendations based on my own experience, positive and negative, going on medication:

  1. If possible, take a genetic test to determine which medications your body can process well. This is an emerging practice throughout the medical community (not just psychiatry), as I understand, particularly for people who are not responding to any medications they try. I had it done after I spent a year on a variety of medications but only saw my condition worsen. It pains me to think of all the heartache and misery I could have bypassed had I taken this test before plowing into trial-and-error territory and screwing up my body taking medications I couldn't actually process. Ask your psychiatrist if this is an option for you.
  2. Have your psychiatrist screen your for bipolar disorder, particularly if you are planning on going on an antidepressant. Antidepressants can trigger manic episodes in people who have bipolar disorder. Since people with bipolar also experience depression and often seek treatment for their depression and not their mania, they can end up misdiagnosed and in danger of making their bipolar worse by taking an antidepressant. Your psychiatrist or doctor should screen you before prescribing the antidepressant, but if they don't, ask them to (or maybe go to a better doctor), especially if you have a family history of bipolar. See the symptoms of bipolar disorder here.  (Symptoms of mania include speaking rapidly, needing little sleep, engaging in impulsive and reckless behavior, being extremely energetic, or sometimes feeling irritable. If you have experienced multiple symptoms for more than a day, please see a medical professional as you may have bipolar disorder. Nothing to be ashamed're in good company! Some incredible people have had this disorder as well and today it is quite treatable.)
  3. Let someone trusted and supportive know when you're going on the medication and what the possible side effects are. Ask them to check up on you and give them the contact information of your psychiatrist, doctor or therapist in case of an emergency. Also, keep handy the contact information of some help lines (such as Crisis Text Line) as some people can experience a worsening of their symptoms while adjusting to medication, including experiencing suicidal thoughts. If this happens to you or you find yourself experiencing other problematic symptoms, especially physical ones, don't hesitate to get in contact with your doctor or therapist.
  4. Make arrangements with your health care professionals to check in. Talk with your psychiatrist before you start about how best to contact them to check in about your medication. I was never really clear on what the best way to contact my doctor was, which led to some issues in communicating about my medication reactions. I was never sure what to do if I had an emergency either. If I went back and redid things, I would have discussed this with my psychiatrist to keep myself safer and save some headaches. Also, I wish I had agreed to meet with my counselor twice (instead of once) a week during those times too, since I didn't do well on the medication and could have benefited from closer monitoring. Make sure you have plenty of avenues to communicate with people if you need help.
  5. If you are able, clear some time in your schedule to start medication. It can be a bumpy process to adjust to having new chemicals in your body, and many people experience side-effects the first couple of weeks even if they later have virtually none. Talk with your doctor about when might be the best time to start, based on your schedule, avoiding particular busy or stressful times or events when you need a lot of physical or mental stamina (final exams, business trip, etc.) Consider taking some vacation or sick days or at least clearing your after-work schedule for the weeks when you start and give your body and mind plenty of rest.
  6. Make sure you go on the medication very gradually. Increase the amount you take in small doses every few days to the amount you and your psychiatrist agree on in order to minimize side-effects. The same goes for going off of a medication! I think my psychiatrist caused problems for me by putting me on and taking me off of meds with only a week-long weaning period sometimes. It wasn't fun. Even when I went off of a pretty low-strength medication (this time properly gradually), I took almost a month to wean myself off of it and I still experience side effects for a while after.
  7. Keep a journal of your symptoms, side effects, and emotions while starting the medication. I really wish I had done this as it would have made tracking my side effects in order to report them to my psychiatrist much easier. Jot down a brief outline of any physical side effects you've had each day and your emotional state throughout the day (again, brief).
  8. If your bad side effects don't go away or get worse, consult your psychiatrist about ceasing to take the medication. I ended up suffering for over a year because I was on medications I was having a bad reaction to. I wish I had been more willing to say, "This isn't working" and communicate to my psychiatrist that I needed to get off of those medications.
  9. Keep taking the medication until you and your psychiatrist agree you should go off of it, in which case you should do so slowly and strictly following your psychiatrist's guidelines. Don't be cruel to your poor mind and body by suddenly going off of your medication, even if you start to feel better. Suddenly stopping your medication can give you terrible side effects and make your original symptoms come back worse than ever. Some medications need to be taken for the rest of your life, as those for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, while others can be ceased after a time should you and your doctor decide it's best. Should you choose to do this, discuss it with your therapist and psychiatrist and see if they agree with your decision. Then agree on a plan to slowly decrease the dosage and stick to it to minimize side effects and stress on your body. 
  10. Be consistent in taking your medication. Remember to take your pills every day to prevent unpleasant relapses due to missed dosages. Pill cases, alarms, and scheduling times to take your pills are all good ideas, as is highlighting the days on the calendar when you can/need to pick up your next refill. Call in the refill as soon as you are able to give yourself ample time to pick it up (I'm terrible about doing this but maybe I will learn to take my own advice).
I hope this is helpful and not too intimidating! I know that seeking treatment and going on medication are difficult and intimidating processes to go through, but they are so worth it. Even if it is a bumpy ride along the way - you may get stuck at dead ends or get hurt at times - it really can lead to a better life. I didn't believe four months ago that I would ever get better, but I am living a contented life, functioning normally and happier than I've been in years, hopeful for the future. I'm still working through past hurts and present grief, but because of the steps I've taken to take care of my mental health each day, I am able to deal with difficult things without being brought down by them.

So, please, even if it seems like nothing will ever get better and all your options have failed you, continue to fight for your mental and physical well-being! You deserve it and it's worth the struggle. There is hope.

PS - Here are two websites that have been of great encouragement to be as I have dealt with mental illness: To Write Love on Her Arms and The Mighty.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

They just don't get it.

I've recovered from my brief relapse of last week - I think I may not have been taking enough of one of the supplements I take for my mental health and thus had some chemical imbalance return. During the relapse, I felt similar to last year; there were exterior events causing me emotional stress, yes, but I would have been able to deal with them fine if it weren't for a chemical imbalance. Everything is tinted a darker shade, the world seems to close in, prospects dim; you feel suffocated, hopeless, on edge yet also listless. Anything happy would have been mediocre; anything sad is unbearable and you don't know what to do with all that emotion and wonder how you can make it through a lifetime if life is going to keep feeling this overwhelmingly intense and simultaneously unsatisfactorily stimulating. In other words, everything is too much and not enough.

But I got back up to speed with how much of the supplement I ought to be taking and felt better within a day and had a lovely vacation. However, my mind and emotions keep going back to the seemingly unresolvable problem of my hurt over the loss of former friendships. I think I mentioned before that I figured out that a friend from last year didn't invite me to her wedding. I know it's dumb, but it keeps bugging me. Not that I think about it all the time, but it's like a splinter that you realize periodically is there and probably ought to be taken out before it gets infected. Bleh.

I find that I keep wondering how people are doing, whether any romances have blossomed in my absence, whether my friends who are graduating have found jobs, how their families are, or if any other juicy gossip has transpired. Heck, it doesn't even have to be juicy...I just missing hearing about people. I guess this is how moms and grandparents feel when their child/grandchild goes off to college and only calls once a month. But for some reason, people either don't seem interested in talking to me, or if they are one of the few who do occasionally reach out (or respond), they seem loathe to share any details of goings on in their own life or the lives of mutual friends. Details are sketchy at best, answers vague. I feel like an infirm shut-in desperate to get some news of the outside, but only pushing any chance of getting such precious goods in the process because those who traverse through the outer world daily are put off by my eccentricities and don't see the value in the world they find so common. It's odd because if I try to inquire about anything that friends say is amiss, they immediately insist that it's fine. Everyone is always trying to put a brave, positive face on things. I'm not sure why they want to hide that they might be suffering from me of all people, since I know and accept such things are part of life and put them out in the open.

Anyways, I would have graduated this May so most of my school friends are graduating as well. My one dear friends who has kept in touch pretty regularly even since I left asked if I planned on coming up to visit. This isn't the first time I've been asked or it has been suggested; I've considered the idea myself many, many times as well. I wouldn't call myself a people pleaser, but I am very eager to do anything I can to support a friend, so I have thought about going up to see my friends graduate. While most of them have ditched me, there are two who really worked their way into my heart over the three years I was there and continued to support me over the past year who I would love to go out of my way to support. And on other occasions, old "friends" from school have told me I should come up and visit and it would be so fun, etc.

I was always resistant to the idea of going back to visit for a number of reasons. First off, I hate the drive to and from that place. It shouldn't be that bad of a drive hour-wise, but it is. It feels twice as long as it is, the scenery is ugly, I hate the state you drive through, and I just grew to hate hate hate that drive because of all of the awful carpools I had to take to get home on breaks. It feels almost traumatic to consider making that drive again. Of course, that is a petty reason if one really wanted to go and visit old friends, so I guess the biggest reason is that I realized that it wasn't worth it. I knew that if I went up there, I would only be frustrated and disappointed. I gave that damn school and those lame people all number of chances. I believed in them for so long. I was under their spell. I talked myself out of transferring twice, once so I could be with this burgeoning group of friends who I thought were finally the answer to my dreams and prayers to have a place on that campus. But in the end, those people and that place let me down both when I didn't need them and when I needed them most, when I was present and when I left. And I continue to feel the pain they've caused every day.

I realized that if I went back, I would throw myself back in that ebb and flow of the tide of toxic friendship. I would spend $100 on a hotel, $50 on gas, and people would probably be too busy to talk. They would be closed off. I would hear about all the stuff I missed. See the people living the life I dreamed of, happy without me. I'd been burned too many times before. If I went to graduation, people might spend ten minutes talking to me, but then they'd have to see their families and spend time with them and what would I do? People might be happy to see me for that day, but we'd be back to separate worlds and silent phones in a heartbeat and I would be back at the start of the emotional roller coaster of dealing with disappointing friendships.

I realized today that I couldn't do that to myself. I've come too far in my recovery and I'm still too emotionally vulnerable. It's time I start closing people out of my life who are toxic or lame friends. I should have done it much earlier, but I couldn't let go. It will be a long process to heal, but putting my foot down is the first step. It's time to stop letting other people who don't give a damn about my emotions or well-being dictate how I feel five hundred miles away from their content little college lives. It's time I appreciate myself and stand up for who I am and draw my boundaries. I wonder what my life would have been like if I had done that more in the past.

This was a bit of a rambling, diary-ish post, but oh well. It needed to be written.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

"Love is a ruthless game unless you play it good and right"

I've had an interesting experience with romance over the years. I know you may wonder what place the discussion of my romantic past has on a mental health blog, but I think one's experience with love and all its politics can have a long-lasting impact on one's self-esteem and perception of and interaction with the world.

Like many people, I have had my share of crushes. Unlike most people, however, I've never actually dated anyone. This may be in part because of my social anxiety, but it's mostly just due to circumstances throughout my adolescence and adult years. Finding someone who you are attracted to, who you are able to get to know well and spend time with, and who also finds you attractive is really a series of lucky coincidences, if you think about it. I've surprised it happens as often as it does. Anyways, I never had many friends period, much less knew any guys, and for some reason mostly only knew girls who didn't know any guys either. I just haven't had much opportunity to get to know guys, and when I do get the chance, I either get shy and let the opportunity pass or, more often, try really hard to come out of my shell only to find that the guy I like is uninterested (or even shy himself).

I will leave the summary of my romantic life at this level of vagueness. One particular relationship I will go into, however. It started in the fall of my junior year of college; a friend who helped run a choir I had just joined that year let me know that there was another guy joining who reminded her of me in many ways, and who she thought I would be a good fit with. My curiosity was piqued, of course, and I was eager to meet him, and made many efforts to try and get to know him as the choir began to practice and hang out. He seemed to slowly open up and be pretty receptive to my friendship. He came to support me at a coffeehouse performance I did. I was ecstatic over the budding relationship, hopeful for the future, and enamored with the guy's good qualities and handsome facade.

The relationship plateaued, however, and I found out from a mutual friend over winter break that he was actually interested in someone else. I'm still not really sure what happened, but my best guess is that he may have been interested in me early on, but lost the desire to get to know me better as his relationship with the more readily-available girl developed. The choir we were in forbade dating among current members, so luck was not exactly on my side either. Anyways, when I found out, I was truly devastated. I had really high hopes for the whole thing and I had come to really admire the guy and he seemed a lot better quality than any of the other duds I had tried to connect with (oh to be young and naive! None of these were true.) And it just hurts to be rejected in favor of another girl who isn't particularly impressive.

A little before I got the bad news, as luck would have it, I had begun to sink into a renewed state of clinical depression, probably because I had been on a medication for six months that I was unable to process and having a bad reaction to. My worst bout of depression to date occurred for the next year, and to top things off, I couldn't shake my feelings for this guy whose feelings were now engaged elsewhere. It was one of those situations where you keep getting little glimpses of hope that he does like you, or reminders of what you love about him, and are just too fixated on what you want to see that you're not going to get it (and maybe it wouldn't even be good if you did). A bit of an in-love-with-lost-causes situation.

I had a lot of emotional turmoil and highs and lows related to my relationship with this guy, made worse by poor coping mechanisms and my general state of anguish, emotional instability, low self-esteem, and overwhelm. I couldn't deal with all of the emotions I felt and the intense sadness and hopelessness I was confronted with each day. The distress over the guy made things even worse, and sometimes I turned to self-injury to deal with the intense pain and feelings of worthlessness. It's tricky to deal with a relationship where a person just often enough says or does something sweet to show that they care about you and are concerned about what you're going through, but then turns around and subtly belittles you or ignores you or neglects you the rest of the time. It's hard to garner the strength and conviction to cut the relationship off, and it's easy to blame yourself for the issues in the relationship and remain blind to the faults and callousness of the other party.

However, I slowly became disillusioned, until one afternoon after a choir performance, a small interaction with him, a simple, one-minute exchange that spoke volumes to his character and regard for me, broke the enchantment. The action itself wasn't a deal breaker - it was quite trivial - but it just struck me like a slap in the face that he didn't really care that much about me and he didn't feel bad about putting me down. He looked down on me. He didn't bother to be friends or get to know me any more. He didn't mind being rude and didn't take my feelings into consideration. He saw me as a stupid, annoying girl and would rather talk with the big boys and spend all his time trying to prove himself. Maybe I exaggerate a bit, but it was both saddening and freeing to realize that I needed to walk away. I was free of a cage, but it was cage I had wanted to live in, and outside it, I wasn't sure what direction to take.

Things were never quite the same after that; I started to cut ties to him in my heart and in real-life interactions. After I left school, I stopped contacting him and I even unfriended him on Facebook because it was too difficult emotionally to keep seeing reminders and too tempting to have the opportunity to track what he was doing. While I no longer found myself attracted to him, I still felt extraordinarily angry over what had happened, eager to prove to him that he had let a good one get away, desirous that he should one day see the pain he caused me, and bitter over his (in my eyes) less-than-worthy girlfriend. I still wondered why I wasn't good enough. I still grappled with the insecurity that had embedded itself in my heart. I still simmered with canned rage over the injustice of it all.

Most of those emotions got buried under the weight of time and more medication, occasionally to resurface. I felt myself change as I exited adolescence (and went on a drug that killed my romantic and sexual desires) and my thoughts and hormones that had driven me to constantly need the stimulation of a romantic interest to calm down some. I began to adjust to my new situation in life; my life plan and expectations had been completely demolished with one swipe of fate. For years, I had assumed that I would graduate from the college I had loved so dearly at four years of hard work and pleasant camaraderie. I would get engaged my senior year like so many girls I saw. I would get married the summer after graduation. I would get some entry-level job that semi-interested me and work for a couple years until the hub-a-dub-dubs and I decided to start popping out the babies, when I would become a stay-at-home mom for the next twenty years, living off of my handsome, hopefully well-earning husband's income.

Boom. Zapped off of the map. Not even one fragment was left. I had left school, where nothing had really worked out the way I had hoped anyways. I hadn't dated anyone and had no prospects of anyone to date, much less marry, and I was realizing that I didn't even like children that much. It slowly dawned on me that I was going to need to have my own career and that I might never get married at all. Actually, I may have even already decided that I might not even want to get married at all. The more I reflected on my failed romances and disappointment and disillusionment of yore, the more I realized that the majority of the guys I had met, though considered kind, humble, attractive, saintly guys by most standards, were actually kind of arrogant, closed off, and self-absorbed once you looked under the surface niceties.

In some ways though, I continued my quest for somebody to have and to hold. I still occasionally dreamt up scenarios of meeting a guy or found myself hoping that maybe Mr. Right would walk into the cafe during lunch that day, etc. Most notably, I kept in contact with one guy friend from school. It was all strictly friendly banter, but I let my mind wander rarely to the possibilities...Hadn't we had some fun conversations here and there? Wasn't our sense of humor a bit similar? And what about that one time when he came to my show? Or when he told me...

But one day I realized: I was doing the same thing all over again. I was hoping that someone who really didn't care that much about me romantically would change their mind. I was pinning my hope and emotional well-being on someone who didn't particularly concern himself with mine. He may like me well enough and care about my well-being, but does he care enough to pursue a deeper relationship or to put himself out on the line? He never contacted me of his own accord, after all. If he really wasn't that interested in me, I would just make myself miserable trying to wish him into romantic interest, just like I had with the other guys.

I gradually came into a shift in my thinking about romantic relationships as I realized that previously, my goal had been just to have one when in reality it should be to find the right one. I realized that the idea of linking myself to one person for the rest of our lives was crazy - not to say that it shouldn't be done, but to say that it shouldn't be done lightly. With the romantic relationship obsession that is still present in many facets of society, it's easy to just want to find someone who's good enough to date so we can have someone. I decided to flip my perspective to look at things this way: I was finally content being single, so I should not be induced into getting emotionally involved with someone unless that person really demonstrated character traits I had come to find highly desirable, even necessary, in a life partner, and unless that person really appreciated and respected me as a person.

I know the natural reaction to this is, "Well, enjoy being single then cuz you're not going to find anybody with those standards!" But that's just it - why do I have to find somebody...anybody? Why connect myself with someone permanently such that my emotional well-being is compromised because of his lack of interest or character or compassion just so that I can have a significant other. With the majority of the guys who I've liked, I look back and feel relieved that nothing happened between us, in light of the bad traits that I finally stopped ignoring once I was able to stop liking him.

No more would I carry around a burden of feeling like I didn't deserve romantic relationships or I was undesirable; now I was going to live my life to the fullest and explore the possibilities before me. If I one day came across someone who recognized that I was a person worth being with, then I would be open to exploring that avenue, but I was no longer going to torture myself by harboring feelings for people who weren't invested in me, pinning my hopes for happiness on the unlikely chance that one day they would change their mind.

Friday, April 15, 2016

"Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, so I'm gonna go eat worms" blues

I've noticed a common symptom that arises whenever I have a spell of depression is that I become extremely critical of myself. I start to hate myself consider myself worthless, a blight on humanity, stupid, untalented, etc. I feel like no one likes me and I just annoy my friends. I feel abandoned by my friends. Even if I normally do like who I am and feel pretty confident in myself, depression leads me to tear myself apart.

Lately, I've been feeling that way again. And I had mostly been able to move past my disappointment in the way most of my friends did little to support me while I was at school and then ignored me once I left school, I've been fixating on it again. I look at my friends leading their lives without ever trying to include me in them any more and think, "Gee, they are probably a lot happier without me. They're probably glad I'm gone. I was just a burden anyways with all my emotional baggage."

The burden of these heavy emotions is too much to bear for me when they come around. I can't shake them and move on, but I can't resolve them either. I can't confirm that I have value, and I can't do anything to address the hurt people have caused me. I can't gain any closure. I feel voiceless. I want to go on Facebook and write a nasty post telling them all off and saying what a bunch of loser friends they all are, but I'm sure the consequences of that wouldn't be worth the meager rewards. When I wrote a post for The Mighty about my friends leaving me alone in my fight with depression (it's somewhere on this blog here), everyone on FB ignored it. And why shouldn't they? Who wants to acknowledge that they were an awful friend?

Anyways, it's hard to deal with these emotions. That's why for a while I tried turning my hand against myself. But it's so emotionally draining and sad to think of. I don't think I will go back to that.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

It's not fair.

I had another blue day today. I've continued to fixate on the things I lost - friends, opportunities, etc. I can't help but feel a little bitter over the unfairness of it all, especially when I consider the lives of many former friends and peers. Of course, I can't feel that way for long without any guilt, as I realize that I'm also extremely blessed compared to many people. But I still feel like I have the right to be at least a tiny bit bitter on occasion.

A memory came to mind today of an occurrence from late January; I was attending orientation for my new school I transferred to this semester after a series of unfortunate events led me to leave my previous university home of three years. My admittance notice to the new school had arrived only a week before, so my decision to start school again was pretty new and sudden. I hate orientations of any kind...the information overload, the excess of minimally-helpful lectures, the stress of being in a new social situation. Thankfully, this one was only a day, but I was nonetheless not terribly excited to be there.

Anyways, I received a text from a friend from my previous college. I was exchanging texts with her during breaks in the presentation, trying to catch up a bit since I rarely hear from any old friends. I told her I was at an orientation for a new university and she said she hoped it was going well. I light-heartedly replied that it kind of sucked because it was so boring and she fired back that there are worse things and it's one of those things you have to get through (or something along those lines). I didn't bother to write back because that line ticked me off. I know I'm overly sensitive most of the time and this probably sounds stupid and petty to most people, but sometimes odd little comments set me off.

First off, one of my social pet peeves is when people won't let you complain about something, offering chastisement rather than sympathy. Would it really have been so hard for her to say, "Sorry it's boring! Those things are always so tiresome." I mean, it's pretty universally recognized that orientations are kinda stupid. I'm not sure why people are so adverse to people making small complaints and so set on people being positive all the time. I know most people would fuss at me that she meant well, but hear me out when I say that a way to be a better listener is to affirm what they say (unless it's something really harmful or unkind) and offer your empathy to their situation.

Anyways, to get to the heart of the matter: what upset me about my friend's words was that she offered little empathy for my situation as a whole. It seemed unjust that she would scold me to tolerate the necessary evil when she wasn't the one who had to leave an old home and try to find a new one. Transferring isn't an easy process, and neither is grieving an old life and a dream that you had to put to death. My friend gets to continue to live that dream, unaware of her fortune and relatively free from trial and tribulation. She knew I had to give up what I had such high hopes for because of misfortunes beyond my control...couldn't she offer a little empathy for the stress and heartache of having to kill one dream and find another path?

I'm having a lot of trouble putting this into words, but hopefully those who have been there can get the sense of what I'm talking about. I know most people would scold me for it, but today I keep going back to old disappointments. The weight gain and low self-esteem accompanying. The friends who have dropped off. The wedding invitation I didn't get. The news from friends' lives that I'm no longer privy to.

All in all, I just feel like a giant zit on the face of humanity. And I feel really, really lonely, abandoned by friends, separated by distance and prejudice, longing for companionship and intellectual partnership but seeing that longing unreciprocated and thus unlikely to be fulfilled. And I feel an unshakable cloud of sadness over me. So I feel afraid that things will go blue, black, and grey again just when I thought I was finally going to get my chance to live in sunshine...just like all the other kids know every day, and have only ever known, for the most part.

I can't help but mutter in the back of my head, "It's not fair."

Monday, April 11, 2016

Silently Judging You With My Smile

This is a post I wrote a couple months ago. I noticed that I never published it so here it is now:

One big fear I have these days that keeps me from going out and doing things is the people will ask me what I'm doing now. When I do have conversations with inquiring adults, they tend to go something like this:

Well-Meaning Grownup: How are you doing?
Me: I'm okay, thanks.
Me in my head: Things don't suck as much as they used to. Or maybe they suck more...I'm not sure. Well, they suck in a different way that isn't as intensely sucky. Does that work?

Grownup: Only "OKAY"?!
Me: Haha yeah. Not too bad, but things could be better.
Me in my head: I mean, I guess my hands don't shake as much from the medication any more. And I don't have to take two naps a day any more. And since I decreased the Zoloft, I have been able to go out shopping sometimes. A few weeks ago I couldn't leave the house so I dropped out of the community college classes I was taking to justify not being officially enrolled in college. But I guess I don't feel as miserable as I did now that I don't have the added stress of classes. Does that count? Do I have to feel great? Oh yeah. I guess that is, like, the 13th commandment of Evangelical Christianity...

Grownup: Are you still at school?
Me: No...I'm, um, actually taking a break from school right now.
Me in my head: I dropped out. Er, well, not really. Withdrew. I did finished three years...doesn't that count for anyone?? I don't really want to go back but not finishing college is one of the Seven Deadly Sins of Suburbia so I guess I should try to assure you that I will return and this is just a little break. 

Grownup: Oh. For how long? A semester? A year?
Me: Uh, I'm actually not sure yet. I'm still looking into my options and waiting to see how things go.
Me in my head: It was a semester but now it's looking more like it will be a year judging by the tailspin I took three weeks ago. I wish I could finish the damn degree after all my work, but I just get so overwhelmed, especially by the stupid group work they always feel the need to assign. And what should I even study?? Anything I choose, I have to start from scratch to finish the requirements. Even my old major needs a lot of work in stupid classes I'm not interested in to complete...oh, sorry...I'm rambling...

Grownup: Oh. Well, do you have a job?
Me: No, no...I'm just hanging out for the time being.
Me in my head: I really wish I had something to justify my existence to the world. I applied to ten jobs even though I really wasn't fit to work yet but nothing worked out. Not too long ago I was sleeping about twelve or so hours a day because I was having a bad reaction to a medication, so that probably wouldn't have worked too well. Sorry I'm not productive enough for your tastes. I wish I was doing something useful. I guess this all looks pretty confusing from the outside and you're probably judging me right now, but you don't know what happened and, trust me, it was bad. I do a lot of craft projects now though. It's nice to have time for art. I was always so fixated on schoolwork before that I never gave myself the chance to do this kind of stuff too much before. But no one seems very interested in that part of my life. I have to either have a job or a degree in progress.

Grownup: Oh. Well, I bet you're probably praying plenty about what to do next. I'll keep you in my prayers!
Me: Oh, thank you.
Me in my head: I wish I still felt like praying, but I don't. I can't. I never thought I'd find myself feeling this way; I thought my bond with God was unbreakable, even when things got really dark. But something snapped at the end of the school year. All I can remember now when I think about God is how I sat on my bathroom floor one spring afternoon just before school ended and sobbed. I mean, wept. Screamed. I don't remember what happened, but all of the weight of what had happened to me sunk in. The disappointment of a year plagued by incommunicable pain. The frustration of God letting it all crash and burn in spite of my desperate prayers and pleas. I had been so faithful and dedicated to Him, to His people, preaching his truth even in my darkest hours, trying to share my story with others to bring hope to anyone in a similar place, trying to show his love to friends even when I felt so abandoned and alone. My faith finally gave out. I felt betrayed. I always judged people who walked away from God and I assumed their faith had never been true, but now I see that their hurt and disillusionment was real. I don't think that prayer can fix me. If God really cares, he seems to have made it abundantly clear that he doesn't want to fix me.

So maybe you can see why I dread running into any old acquaintances. I don't want to come out with my story to people who won't appreciate it or who will outright judge it, but if you don't explain what happened to people, your situation is just odd and confusing. For someone who already feels very self-conscious in social situations, it's rather unbearable. The awkwardness of having no good explanation for not performing up to standard. The irritating nature of people's optimistic, even insensitive, comments (why do I have to always be doing great?!). The reminder that everything got really screwed up for you and now you're a lump on the back of productive society.

No, thank you. I don't need anyone else to judge me. I already judge myself.

When it rains, it pours.

I'm having a bit of a "dark cafe day" today. It's been a while since I had one. It's a little hard to process the fact that even when I'm better, I may still have bad days; I feel scared that it could be the start of another bad month or year...or decade. I'm still getting used to the idea of being generally happy, so any time some unhappiness comes along and takes me back to my old miserable state, I get scared. I don't want to go back there.

I was doing pretty well today, but I received an email this evening informing me that I didn't get the internship that I really wanted. I was rejected from the other places I applied to as well, and I put a lot of time and effort into the whole process. But the competition for these things is really intense and oftentimes I am competing against graduate students so even if I have more experience in my field than the average undergrad, I'm going to be beat out every time by master's candidates. Anyways, I had found this particular internship a couple of weeks ago right before the due date. It was for an organization I really admire and in a field I am very passionate about. To my shock, I got an interview, which I thought went quite well, and seemed more on level with an entry-level internship, if you will. The time frame of the thing was perfect...I could go on. Needless to say, I was extremely disappointed to hear I didn't get the job.

I've faced a lot of rejection in my life. I don't let it stop me from continuing to put myself back out there, but it does string a little, some times more than others. This was one of those times. Rejection has always been a bit of a trigger for me to go into an emotionally darker place. It caters to my social anxiety, playing up my fears that people don't like me or I said something wrong or I didn't interview well enough so the people didn't pick me. It reminds me of my underlying loneliness and long-time feeling of being isolated and pushed to the outside. I never feel good enough for other people, even if I like myself pretty well. Rejection brings back sad memories of loneliness and hurt and takes me back to feelings I've long since buried because the pain they bring is one I don't know how to resolve or handle.

One tough thing about rejection is I always want to know why I wasn't chosen - what's wrong with me, what I did wrong, and what made the other candidate better. But only about 0.1% of the time do you get to find that out. The truth of the matter is that people don't always have a reason or the reason isn't necessarily anything to do with your failings; the decision may just have been the whim of the decision-maker, who had a complex set of intentions and qualities they were looking for...or just wanted to pick people they knew. But there's no way for you to know that, so you just feel not good enough.

The other tough  thing about rejection is that it tends to be cumulative, and the more you get rejected, the more you get rejected, and the worse you feel about it and the worse it is to apply to new things. Employers want job experience, but you were rejected from job opportunities, so they reject you too. And same goes for school clubs and boyfriends. Anyways, rejection seems to come in giant rolling snowballs, like places where it's either sunny or pouring down rain, never cloudy or drizzly or anything in between. And the more you're rejected, the worse you feel when you get rejected again.

I've been turned down by countless school clubs, excluded by peers, abandoned by friends, rejected by jobs, vetoed by romantic interests. etc. So when the bad news came today, it just got me thinking back again to all the times I've been told, "No, you're not good enough for us" after a stressful, time-consuming, emotionally taxing process I put a lot into. And it hurts. It makes my self-esteem sky dive. It makes me mourn lost friends and lost opportunities. I know people don't like to hear about people feeling pessimistic; they want to either make fun of them for being so sensitive or encourage them to buck up and try again and have optimism.

But I know I will try again; this is my fourth round of applying to these dumb internships and each round has been 90% rejection. I auditioned for goodness knows how many more clubs after being rejected from my first. I kept introducing myself to new friends after so many didn't work out. I continued to fall head over heels even after I had my heart crushed. But every "no" still hurts, and I let it hurt.

I guess today was also hard because I was writing about my past earlier, so I relived all of the struggles of the past two years and beyond. I usually keep those things locked away in the back of my mind where they can't bother me, but I've been finding recently that trips down memory lane can be quite dangerous. It can be a relief to realize I didn't make up that I struggled in the past; being better now, I often question if things were really so bad. But recalling what happened and past wrongs committed against you makes you mourn dreams lost and hurts suffered. Adding another pain to the list today made me dwell on the somewhat unfair hand dealt to me at times.

I know I am extremely blessed, but I also know that my life has been a lot harder than many of my peers. And while I give things for the things those hard experiences have taught me, I feel frustrated too...cheated out of good things, underappreciated, ignored. People don't give extra credit for suffering, after all. You can't put pain on your resume. In fact, it often detracts from it; blank years where you could've worked a job except you were too sick. Skipped interviews because you were too stressed.

Some days are spent "hiding behind bottles in dark cafes", I guess.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Social anxiety.

I've noticed that since my depression has gone away because of treatment and my general anxiety has been reduced because of lifestyle changes and treatment, my social anxiety problems have re-emerged and are the major issue bothering me now that I'm in recovery. The biggest factors of social anxiety for me have always been 1) fear of social situations and 2) fear that I did something wrong in a social situation. Today, I'm experiencing both, but especially number two.

I had to give a presentation in class this morning. I was up late last night finishing the PowerPoint but I managed to get it together. I was nervous that I wouldn't have my thoughts collected, so I rehearsed what I was going to say this morning before I left for school. The speech went pretty well and I was happy with what I had said and my inflection of tone, etc. But then I looked at the clock and realized that I had spent 20 to 30 minutes talking. I guess that's the problem when you are giving a summary of a ten page paper! I was horrified because the speech was supposed to be seven to nine minutes, but I had to head out so I just tried to think of little things to trim and hope for the best.

I usually get very nervous for presentations even though I'm a surprisingly confident public speaker. But my social anxiety just makes my body go into adrenaline overdrive whenever I'm anticipating a social engagement. I typically get a pounding heart, queasy stomach, and rushes of nervous adrenaline. It's a truly awful feeling that makes me dread anything out of the ordinary being scheduled for my day.

But today, I didn't have that much or a physical or mental reaction, praise be! I think that the supplements and overall less-stressful lifestyle I've been leading as well as the regular therapy to build confidence and a healthier outlook on life are definitely helping to decrease even my physical anxiety symptoms, which I never thought possible. Even now, I am writing this while awaiting a phone call for an interview without my body flipping out, something I never thought possible.

Anyways, I went through the presentation and cut out some of the original content, threw in some jokes that landed pretty well, and overall was able to get my thoughts out with minimal pauses or stammering. I even made eye contact and looked at the class the majority of the time. People seemed fairly engaged (for college students) and I actually got around five questions at the end. The professor even said something positive. Overall, I would say it was a success...if what happened next had never occurred.

As I took my seat and the professor set up her own PowerPoint, she commented that she was glad we had the flexibility for people to spend more time on their presentation if needed. I know that is, at face value, a positive comment, but it sent me into a bit of a tailspin. Here's a snapshot of my mental narrative:

Oh dang. I went wayyy too long didn't I. I thought it was a fine length, but maybe I just got caught up in talking. What does the clock say? 11:15? Okay, how long is that? Wait. Did I spend thirty minutes up there? No. it couldn't have been that long. But what if it was? Oh my gosh. I must have looked so freaking stupid. I must look ridiculous. She said she didn't mind but if she really didn't mind, wouldn't she not have said anything? I'm such an idiot. I should've have cut that one part...And I could have covered that other part much quicker or cut it out completely...

And so on. If I pushed the thoughts away, they would soon re-emerge and my mind would begin chasing its tail again. This process is far from new to me; I've struggled with it all my life. The irony of this second-guessing game of social anxiety is that it's a combination of searching for both evidence to condemn yourself yet really wanting to find out that you actually did do just fine anyways. If I perform or hold a conversation in front of my mom, I will ask her as many times as I can get away with afterwards, "Did I do okay?" But the reality is that no amount of assurances that I did fine will alleviate the feeling that I completely humiliated myself. The consequence is, of course, that your social anxiety gets even worse because 1) you are afraid to say anything that might make you look stupid and 2) you don't want to be involved in social situations because you know that no matter how well you perform, you will still feel miserable afterwards and spend days going over every sentence you uttered on a repeat loop in your head, searching with a fine-tooth comb for any possible snarls, real or imagined.

The sad thing is that I think I did really well today and deserve to celebrate 1) not getting nervous, 2) doing well in my speech, 3) working hard and gaining knowledge, and 4) knocking another school assignment off my syllabus. But it's overshadowed by this obsessive anxiety about how I did. The good thing is that I'm learning ways to cope with my anxious tendencies. And the fact that I didn't get quite so nervous while anticipating the speech is proof that even the most deep-seated tendencies of anxious minds and bodies can be tamed.

Here's to hope, fellow warriors.