Monday, May 30, 2016

Back in the cafe.

Look at me, bragging on here about how well I've been doing, how functional I am these days, how I'm going to able to grad school and conquer the world when several months ago I could barely leave the house. Two weeks ago, before I went to see my counselor (who I'm now only seeing twice a month), I told my mom I could probably stop seeing her at the end of the summer.

Now I'm hanging by a thread till my next appointment. That's the trouble with counseling; you have a set date and time so when you desperately need someone to talk to, you have no one, but when you feel fine and don't particularly want to take time out of your day to go talk about who-knows-what, you have your appointment and squander it just talking about whatever comes to mind because the distressing events of the week before have subsided, along with the long-standing issues they brought to the surface.

I don't know why I can't seem to have a happy life; every time I think things have finally turned a corner, I am plunged into darkness again. Maybe it's my own fault. Did I commit some sin that I'm being punished for? Maybe it's my selfishness. I don't know. But I get frustrated seeing other people my age succeeding, winning their heart's desires, finding their soul mate, falling in love, having people love them, gaining lots of friends, and I seem to fall so very short of everyone's expectations.

I have my heart set on this grad school program, but maybe it's poisoning my life. Ever since I went to the thesis presentations, I've been miserable, anxious, and stressed. I read the profiles of previous fellows and think, "Oh my gosh, how can I ever compare to these people?? I am dead in the water. What the heck am I doing..." I know I have many skills, but I don't present well on paper (or in person). A lot of the stuff I've done has been outside of the academic environment, in church or things like this blog which I can't tell about. And I hate being stressed. Should I enter this program and subject myself to this stress? It might bring me down again.

But I also see in the program all the things I've wished for these past several years: camaraderie, mentoring, fellowship (not just the money kind!), the chance to know history and museums intimately and learn all the stuff I've always wanted to and see the historic objects up close and personal. That's all I've ever dreamed of since I was a kid. But how do you express that without sounding trite or contrived? And what does it count for?

I feel so overwhelmed. I can't stop thinking about this guy I saw the other day. I can't stop wondering what could be and trying to make sure that things could work out between us. I don't know how to turn my mind off. I wish I could just let go of romantic hopes again because they just make me miserable, absolutely miserable. And they make me change myself to try to win someone who doesn't give a damn about me (or in this case, even know I exist). I don't think anyone will ever love me or take notice of me. I don't think I can ever have a happy relationship. I'm afraid of getting hurt if anything ever were to happen between me and someone. And I'm afraid that I'm too insecure to handle a relationship healthily. Plus, look at all the baggage I come with. 45 posts worth.

All day, I've felt all clamped up. Like every part of me is tensed for the future. This does nothing to help me and I know I need to take a step back and calm down and gain perspective, but I can't seem to. I've been feeling unshakably blue the past five days, and it's scary. Really scary. I'm terrified of being plunged back into the living nightmare of major depression. I don't know how I can live like that again. But I'm almost afraid of being happy because that seems to mean that a shadow is waiting to overtake you just around the bend. I can't stand this constant grind of depression though: the pessimism, the darkness, the fear, the self-doubt. It is suffocating. I feel like I'm in a cage that's slowly decompressing.

The question arises, "Why me?" But then I think, "Why not me? There are people with even worse lives...Why am I so selfish?" But that doesn't help to think either. It makes you more miserable and self-blame-y.

Left out.

My sister read me a chapter of her novel she's working on the other day. It was about how she went on a business trip with other members of her former company's team but kept being excluded from activities, causing her a lot of anxiety about how she would get transportation around the city to different events, where she could sit at meals, and what she should do when everyone split off into groups to talk or do activities. This was after she had been isolated from some of the "cool girls" in the office once she was diagnosed with an illness and poor HR handling of the situation (and office gossips) allowed people to find out and subsequently shun her (#southernhospitality).

My sister, brother, and I have all always been odd ones out. We're all socially anxious, awkward, introverted, and nerdy. So the story brought back some sad memories of being left out over the years. I mean, the memories, oddly enough, don't make me sad any more - they just seem like water under the bridge; but they are sad and a part of me intellectually cringes for my former self when I consider the way people treated me, even if I don't get emotional about it.

The most vivid memories are from two years ago when I embarked on what I consider one of my proudest accomplishments: going to England with a class group. It may seem bizarre to consider this an accomplishment, but it was more than just crossing something off of my bucket list; it was overcoming a lot of fear and anxiety to do something that might seem like no big deal to others but involved a lot of terrifying things for me. For one, I was going to be an entire ocean away from home without cell phone service. As someone who gets homesick really easily, this was pretty nerve-racking. Secondly, I was going to be with a bunch of people I really didn't know or fit in with. As a lifelong sufferer of social anxiety disorder, this is one of my worst nightmares because I feel uncomfortable speaking or being myself around people I don't know.

Westminster Abbey Cloisters. My social anxiety has made me
feel like I'm an observer of everyone else's life. "On the
outside looking in" is how I've often thought of it.
I was virtually silent most of the trip, and felt extraordinarily self-conscious about that, and was thus not on the top of people's "wanna be friends with her" list. The other people kind of knew each other and were almost all outgoing hipster English majors too. Go figure. Parts of the trip were a bit miserable, but I was so proud of surviving and I did enjoy seeing a lot of beautiful historic places in a truly lovely country, so it was all worth it. But along the way, I was a little hurt and frustrated at how others excluded me because I was quiet and not popular. This exclusion didn't just hurt in terms of feeling unpopular, it caused me a lot of anxiety at times and led me to miss some opportunities I would have liked to have experienced.

For example, when we went to the Tower of London, we were given the go ahead to split into small groups and do what we wanted for the rest of the afternoon before meeting back together at our hotel in the evening. I learned to dread these "free times" just as I had come to dread the words "split into groups" growing up in school because it meant I needed to desperately scramble to find some group of people who would allow me to tag along with them since we weren't allowed to go around on our own (nor was I particularly keen on wandering around London alone at that point in my life.) I went with one girl through a museum, but turned around only a few minutes in to find she had disappeared. It was crowded and there were oodles of rooms, so I began to panic as I progressed from one room to the next and still couldn't find her. What the hell was I supposed to do now? This historic site took up the space of a couple city blocks at least with multiple buildings. What if I couldn't find anyone from my group again before people left for other attractions?
The raven who tried to rush me. This thing isn't playing.
I'm pretty sure he's looking for his next victim here.

I wandered from one room to the next, trying to look casual as I scanned the room and alternately occasionally looked over placards. I don't think I got much of anything out of that place because I was too anxious about trying to find the girl. I was a bit pissed that she had just dumped me because this wasn't the first (or last) time she had done that to me and it seemed rather inconsiderate. Finally, I just exited the museum and started walking around the site's grounds, seeing who I could run into and trying not to feel too self-conscious about being alone in the sea of families and school groups milling about the tourist attraction. I finally sat on a bench, hoping to scout out the crowds, and a raven almost rushed me. I'm not even kidding you. Those things are huge. I was afraid it was going to attack me, but it got distracted by something else.

Finally, I ran into the group of cool girls. They wanted to see the crown jewels and I was desperate to not end up lost and alone again, so I asked to wait with them. I didn't really care about seeing the darn things, but I wasn't about to wander around alone for another thirty minutes. What I did end up doing was waiting in line for, I kid you not, FORTY-FIVE PLUS MINUTES while listening to the other girls gab. The sight was not worth the wait, let me tell you, but at least I wouldn't be stuck riding the tube alone after I had wandered around an hour longer.

Again, I went to a department store with the same girl from the museum and she kept wandering away. Mind you, none of us had cell service because we were overseas, so I kept having to wander up and down escalators and across aisles of cheap clothing trying to find this chick. Worse was when we all went to Tintagel, a gorgeous set of Cornwall scenery, and all the cool girls sat and hang out together, braiding floral crowns and taking pics of each other for Instagram. I tried to sit a little ways away from them for a while, taking pictures of the scenery, not wanting to force myself into their group but hoping to give the hint that I might like to be included too so I had something to do, but no one paid me any mind. Finally, I decided this was a waste of time; they weren't going to let me in and I didn't really want to hang out with a bunch of basic white girls posing for social media anyways. So I technically broke the rules and started wandering around by myself. It was a contained area and there were people nearby so I figured it was safe.
Living with mental illness is like being the flower who has to
push through the cracks in a stone wall to get to the light all
the other plants bask in each day. 

A pair of classmates came across me and greeted me but didn't seem to care that I was alone. I had a nice time by myself, I've had to learn to enjoy my own company over the years, but it was a little lame of people not to include me. I guess part of it is my own fault because I don't talk much and maybe people interpret that as my not being interested and sometimes I don't want to hang out with people, but I just think it would have been polite and safety-conscious of them to have tried harder to make sure I was accounted for. I think what miffed me most about that particular incident was when I finally climbed down to the beach to find my classmates leaving, I started to walk out towards the water just to see it before we left and one of my classmates chastised me that it was time to go. Well, maybe if you all had invited me down with you when you went, I could've seen it too instead of coming down at the last minute!

The only picture I ever got of St. Paul's. It looks like the
DC capitol from here though. 
Anyways, another incident that I find a bit sad was when the entire class went on a walking tour of London. I guess the other kids had been talking beforehand a bit about going to a concert at St. Paul's Cathedral. I wasn't really privy to this conversation, and halfway through the walking tour, I noticed that the group had thinned out considerably and there were only a couple other students and my professor left with us. Turned out the kids had consulted among themselves and left (with the professor's permission) for the concert during the tour, but no one had ever asked me if I wanted to go. I was bummed because you have to see St. Paul's when you go to London! We had only passed it briefly before and never visited it again. I guess I'll have to go back with people who will consult me before going to see things.

Then there were the minor slights: the other girls would always share meals and dessert. I tried once to ask someone if she wanted to share, but she had already arranged with someone else. It wasn't a big deal, though I only got dessert once b/c no one ever wanted to share with me, but it was a bit frustrating since I'm not one to waste food and it was just another reminder that I wasn't one of the gang. As were room picks, group convos, and walk & talk times.

I guess some people will read this and assume I am actually some obnoxious or mean person and that's why people don't want to include me. Or I'm just whiny. I might come off as cold or uninterested because I'm so shy, and maybe that's the problem, but I can assure you that if I have any fault, it's caring too much, not not enough. Alas, I think my real problem is an inability to voice my needs. But I write this in hopes that other people who have found themselves left out, wandering the blacktop alone at recess (fifth grade) or always stuck in a group with two weird guys (middle school social studies) or always the one to tell the teacher they didn't have a partner (middle and high school everything), you're not alone. And if you are one of those blessed with a congenial disposition and popularity, I hope you'll take into account others' needs a bit more next time you're in a group situation. Maybe this can give people a little more insight into the experience of those who aren't socially disposed.

Sometimes I mourn what I haven't had the chance to experience over the years because of my social anxiety: popularity, close friendships, involvement in clubs, happiness at school, enjoyment of school trips and other activities, etc. But I also have to commemorate the times I pushed myself and was brave enough to overcome my fears. It's just hard when you compare your big victory to others' lives and realize that others have always been able to do the things you push yourself so hard to do. It seems unfair that things are so hard for you with so little result and after all that effort, you still fall short of people's baseline.
Be awesome and become more aware of living with a mental health disorder! Read more about Social Anxiety disorder:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Too much and not enough

I feel so overwhelmed with all that I need to do in the coming year. I don't want to live a life of stress and constant busyness, but I feel like I need to. But thinking of all I have to do makes my chest tight, my mind feel compressed and suffocated. Why am I doing this to myself? I know it's not good for me.

I feel lonely. My friends are either out of the picture or people who are only occasionally available to talk. I tried texting a couple people about how I've been feeling, but didn't get a reply. Most of the time, I don't care if I'm alone. But sometimes I feel like I shouldn't have that attitude and I need to make friends. But they always just seem to disappoint you. I don't think I can ever find a real friend.

I feel inadequate. Not accomplished enough. Not attractive enough to gain anyone's attention. Not talented or popular enough to make any of my efforts at accomplishing things pay off.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Thin Skin

I know it's a good thing in the grander scheme of things to be sensitive, but it frustrates me sometimes. I feel stupid for getting emotional about such random things that other people just plow though as a normal activity, a passing comment, or a brief phase. What really bugs me is the strange, heightened, inexplicable emotions I get from traveling. I guess I take a lot longer to adapt to transitions than most people. Even transitions I want to make or trips I want to take can leave me emotional for the first day. The worst part is I don't know why I'm emotional or how to explain what I'm feeling.

And it makes me fear that I won't be able to do many of the things I dream of in life because it's just too hard to make those transitions and deal with that emotion all the time. I don't think I can live much farther than a couple hours from home, which will limit my job options, and I am afraid to travel and I don't think I can pursue music as a career (which I know is a long-shot anyways, but I have thought about it some because I'd love to share my music with more people to encourage them, but I just don't think I could deal with the constant change and bustle).

Yesterday, I went to hear graduate student thesis presentations at a grad program I am applying to. I don't know why, but it ended up being a very emotional day. I guess part of it was the anxiety and stress and lack of sleep, but part of it was just being, well, me. I traveled, which can make me emotional because I'm no longer in my known place of comfort. I saw a beautiful place, which inspires me. I saw a wonderful opportunity that I could possibly have, which awakened within me longing. I saw an attractive, intelligent, quirky, but inaccessible man, which also awakened within me longing and frustration with my own shortcomings.

I also began to compare myself to others and focus on needing to get ahead, achieve, accomplish, but was only reminded of my own shortcomings and anxiety about being able to make my way in the world. So I felt this turmoil of a multitude of feelings. It's overwhelming. And I felt angry at myself for getting so many feelings just from one little day trip. And I felt can I do anything if one little trip away from home gets me so agitated?

But I need to step back and have perspective: life is about giving to the world, fulfilling your own potential, and loving the people around you. Am I accomplishing all three to the best of my ability right now? Yes, I would say so. I may not know how to conquer the grand path or forge a great career in the vast expanse of my Future, so I just need to hack away the branches hanging in the path just before me. I know what I need to do in the next year: apply for this grad program, finish my classes, complete my internships, pursue my hobbies, graduate. I have a pretty good idea of how to execute all of those things. So I need to stop freaking out about the future ahead! Those things will become clear in their own time.

And regarding grad school, I am pursuing that path because it opened up to me. The road cleared and I saw an opening. So I just need to walk down that path as far as it takes me, and trust that if it is open, it's because I can do it. I can't worry right now about "what will I do in grad school, how will I complete that" because I need to finish my undergrad first. I need to work on just applying. One step at a time, one foot in front of the other. When you get close enough to the next goal you need to score (or at least attempt to score) the view will come into focus. You won't do yourself any good trying to turn toilet paper tubes into telescopes so you can get a good view. Meanwhile, you might trip over something right in front of you and fall flat on your face.

Wow, that felt very comforting to realize!

Anyways, I started reading Elaine Aron's The Highly Sensitive Person recently to get a better understanding of this significant personality trait of mine, especially since I've been feeling so inferior about it sometimes lately. I found out about the book while reading Quiet by Susan Cain, which is about introversion, which was also a very encouraging book to read. It's nice to know you're not alone, some emotional freak, and it's nice to get affirmation that your trait can be a positive thing. I hear people put others down, especially on the Internet, for being "so sensitive"..."Don't take it so personally. Don't be so sensitive about it. People are taking this wayyy too seriously" sort of thing. I saw it a lot when I followed The Mighty, ironically. It broke my heart sometimes because I know that people going through difficult things like chronic and mental illness often feel emotional and sensitive; any little thing can set you off because you're always in an emotional state on the brink of a breakdown; whatever little thing comes along could push you spiraling into another breakdown. So it's not fair to get on these people's cases for being "too sensitive".

I guess my own sensitivity makes me aware of the need to respect others' right to be sensitive though. And I'm starting to realize that the world could use more sensitivity to others' feelings and needs, but because the culture at large says having a thick skin and loud voice is better, I end up questioning and devaluing myself. The truth is though, that I have produced great art because of my sensitivity, and I have been a comfort to people because of it. As a result of my heightened emotional state yesterday, I wrote two songs, which were the first I've completed in over a year. So even if those actions aren't news headliners or resume padders, they are crucial to make the world more livable, more beautiful. It's time I accepted, embraced, appreciated my sensitivity, regardless of what some (insensitive) people may say.

I'm a fragile thing
Handle with care
I've got a thin skin
And it's a sharp world out there
I don't know if I can make it on this road
All alone, all alone
Out in the great unknown

(one of the aforementioned song's chorus)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Positives and negatives without the math.

This past week, a girl from my previous school who I was acquainted with got married. Of course, as I've mentioned before, it was my hope when I started college to be in her exact place once I graduated - getting married weeks after graduation to my freshman year sweetheart and riding off into the sunset to start our entry level jobs in some new, exciting location. I would wear a beautiful dress and people would pay lots of attention to me and I would know I had value and worth because someone had willingly chosen to spend the rest of his life with me. And I would be completely justified in having a Wedding board on my Pinterest account.

Of course, I couldn't be farther from getting hitched, or really fulfilling any part of this fantasy scenario, as I never even was asked on a date my entire three years at said college (or the one year out of the place) and I'm now extraordinarily suspicious of love and matrimony, especially the prospect of me ever being the victim of it. Ha! Yeah right. Although, my romantic side has been reawakened this week watching the beautiful love story between Henri and Agnes unfold on Mr. Selfridge (really good show if you like period dramas, but I digress...) not to mention The Bachelorette starting back up. But when I think about getting married one day, I quickly find myself stopped in my tracks by all sorts of intellectual barriers. "Would I have to run all my financial choices by him?" "I couldn't paint my house cosy cottage colors! Or decorate the way I want!" "What if he is a big spender or starts gambling and our bank accounts are linked?" "But if you don't link your bank accounts, people have always told me that's not true commitment." "Can I really commit to anyone any more? I feel so changed from who I was before when all I wanted was to give my life to someone." "What if..."

I could go on, but I think you get the point! Of course, I'm all off-track from where I wanted to be. The point is, I can't imagine getting married at this age, and I'm so excited just to be back running a busy, productive life, planning and tackling projects I'm excited about and back in the race towards finishing my degree. It's not perfect, but I am, for once in my life, happy. And I have brighter prospects than I ever did when I was at my old school...grad school, a professor to help mentor me through the application process, a coo volunteer position, a novel inspired by previous heartbreak, etc. And it's so nice to be home, to be comfortable. Home isn't perfect, but I'm not miserable like I used to be. And having found the right supplements and medication, I'm doing so much better emotionally and mentally (and physically!) I am so very, very thankful for that. I can tell the difference and I know that I need to be sure I take my supplements every day b/c I don't want to go back to experiencing that kind of darkness, even for a day.

I feel strong knowing that I've overcome and although I'm still a bit fearful about what storms may lurk on the horizon of my life, I know now that I have better coping skills and access to resources to help me get through. I know I have the strength to make it through even the most hellish hours. So even if I'm not living the Fairy Tale Princess Fantasy, I am learning to be happy being me. I am being my own newly anointed Warrior Princess disguised as a quiet, nerdy kid. I may not get the attention, adoration, and spotlight that this other woman does in her newlywed state, but I have the freedom to strengthen my relationship with myself, something I've found most women my age who are in romantic relationships (or longing to be in one) lack. And I have freedom to dream big, pursue new paths, and change the world. I wouldn't trade that for any man (even Henri...I think).

Beyond that, this week I realized something invaluable that my experience with mental illness has given me. Talking to my childhood friend who also knew the woman getting married (they were high school friends), I learned that this woman had ditched her high school amigas once she hit the big leagues of liberal arts college. I wasn't entirely surprised since I had tried to talk to this woman once or twice about our mutual friend our freshman year and she was a bit condescending about her. Then, I could tell from later conversations with my childhood friend (we'll call her C) that she and the woman (we'll call her MG) didn't really talk any more. Anyways, C expressed how sad she and her other high school friends were about MG abandoning them, more or less, and not even inviting them to her wedding (except one girl) or giving much of a reply whenever they tried to reach out to reconnect. One of my pet peeves is definitely people who abandon their friends.

My guess is that since MG became pretty popular at our college, was one of the cool girls on our freshman hall, got a boyfriend freshman year, became stage manager in the exclusive hipster-English major-dominated theater department, etc. she became too cool for her high school friends.

The sad thing is that our mutual friend, C, has had serious medical issues since the end of our freshman year, which forced her to take the past couple years off from school and endure countless surgeries and doctor's appointments. It breaks my heart and I can't imagine the frustration and isolation she must feel. I'm grateful though that I've been able to be a little more mindful of what she's gone through because of my own struggles with illness and having to take time off of school. I know how frustrating it is to have a weak body that can't achieve what your mind and spirit long to accomplish, how useless you feel. The frustration of not being able to figure out what's wrong or get better, of feeling betrayed by doctors who were supposed to help but only made things worse or were clueless as to how to make things better. The hopelessness you feel as things continue to get worse and worse each time you think you've turned a corner, causing you to doubt you will ever be able to return to normal life. The jealousy, loneliness, bitterness, and hurt that sets in when you see everyone continuing on with their youth around you, oblivious to the privilege they have to live a normal life. Seeing their lives move on and pass the milestones and garner praise. Watching them forget you and having the check-ins grow farther and farther apart (if they happen at all) as old friends turn to near strangers.

Because I knew a little of what that was like, I made more of an effort to remember to send encouragement, a text or card, to be understanding when an appointment came up or no response arrived. To speak words of hope and offer unwavering support. It wasn't perfect and I'm sure I could've done more, but I'm glad that my experience allowed me to offer empathy and to be aware of the importance of offering encouragement. I'm glad I didn't become too cool for old friends because as I've grown older and my college friends have proved lame, I've realized that even though I didn't think much of them when I was in high school, my friends from that time were the real deal. They are not cool in the conventional sense, but they are amazing people who I am blessed to have in my life and I believe they are the ones I will keep in touch with the rest of my life, not (most of) my college friends, like I once thought.

And even though I've always loved my family, their faithfulness through this whole ordeal and the joy of returning to live with them again has taught me to value them even more and speak my appreciation daily. I still need to work on enjoying my time with them and expressing my love for them because I know my time will run out one day, but I'm glad that I can see how precious my time with them is. We get so focused on getting out on our own and being independent and everyone says you have to move on from your parents, but I'm beginning to question that some. My family is all I have at the end of the day. They are the people who never gave up on me when others did. I want to keep people who are so faithful and supportive close at hand and never stray too far from their loving presence. I want to appreciate that while I have it because otherwise I won't appreciate it till it's gone.

So, in summary, there have been a lot of negatives in my experience in the past year and a half (and even beyond that!), but there have been a few positives too. I love the path I'm on now, though it took a long grieving and recovery process to find and accept it. I am grateful for the opportunity to develop empathy and compassion for others and to be made aware of a mission beyond myself. I am grateful for being given a story to tell and the motivation to tell it. I'm not saying I'm totally glad some of those awful things happened to me, nor am I downplaying how difficult it was to go through the pain I did. But it is good to know that some good came of it. It's good to know that I am ultimately in a better place than I would have been. Most of all, I'm excited to announce that there is hope. Recovery is possible. A better life is before you. Hope is real. Help can really help you.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Keep quiet.

No one wants me to talk about it
Because they don't know what to say
Are they really so afraid of inadequacy
That they would make me pay?

I just drafted those lines. You see, I've been brooding. It's a bad place to go to, but sometimes I find myself a little addicted to it. I'v been purposefully looking at graduation photos and thinking about the guy who I used to like and his girlfriend. Making myself feel a little inferior. 

But then you spiral a little deeper into the emotions and you start trying to put down other people to make yourself feel better. You start comparing and rating and all that nasty stuff. But you don't want to stop putting others down because you want some desperate assurance that you have worth and you should have been the one he picked and you do have worth and are better than the ones who got all the friends and good positions. 

But what I really want to talk about is when other people won't listen. Or won't speak, I guess. The most frustrating thing about my little foray into self-pity tonight was that when I tried to gain others' affirmation and express my grief and self-doubt that was re-emerging, it was met with uncomfortable silence. It reminded me of the old days, when I tried to tell friends about my depression. 

People never seem to like when I discuss this guy who I liked with them. They don't want me to be upset over his choosing someone else. They don't want me to speak ill of him. They don't want to defend me or speak about his girlfriend. It made me feel a little betrayed...why wouldn't they take my side? I thought that was what girl friends did for each other? Why wouldn't they rage over his blindness and listen to my pain? Why did they just quiet up and look away?

The same went for my other suffering, occurring simultaneously. I guess people don't know what to say. They feel conflicted. They don't want to be judgmental but aren't quite able to be supportive. But it's so frustrating to be on the receiving end of that silence when you're turning to them because you can't keep the sorrow in any more or you'll go mad. 

So if you're facing a deafening silence right now, know you're not alone. And keep listening to yourself. And know you will because of this pain be able to one day be some one's listener one day when they really need it. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

"I hope they're happy." or "Bittersweet musings."

It's been a bit quiet on here this past week, but I figured tonight's emotions warranted a blog post.

Today I would have graduated. History major. Liberal arts college. Rigorous humanities education. Diploma in hand, perhaps headed to an internship and some desperate job searching (or husband hunting). Cum laude? Who knows. Whatever the titles, I would have been among the smiling faces adorning radiant Facebook posts gushing excitement and gratefulness to their new alma mater.

I dreamed of that day. I dreamed of a lot of things I would achieve, accomplish, and experience at that school. I was so proud to announce my acceptance, even if no one had ever heard of the place. I knew it was where I wanted to go my junior year when I first went to a student preview. I was obsessed. It seemed like the perfect fit, in lines with my desires and values and vice versa. I thought I would cross that stage after four years with a big smile, plenty of friends cheering me on, capping four years of great accomplishment, fun times, and the formation of lifelong friendships. I thought I would then head from there to the wedding chapel aisle and pledge my life to some handsome fellow grad and we would ride off into the sunset to chase our dreams. My dreams, though, were pretty limited to bearing and raising a number of children.

First, I went to school and found myself unbelievably homesick in a sea of kids glad to finally be out of the nest. Once the feeling dropped to a more manageable one, I found myself socially isolated in spite of my desperate efforts to make friends and break out of my lifelong shyness. I introduced myself, made conversation, opened up, all to no available. I only had two friends after orientation. I added three more through the rest of the year. I began applying for clubs and being rejected, even religious ministries, which I thought were supposed to be about heart, turned out to be about talent and connections. I tried to get involved with a Bible study, but everyone was older and I never felt quite comfortable, even after a semester.

I liked my classes and professors but as I took more of them I saw the shadows of narcissism, vanity, self-absorption, and excessive dogma. There were few female professors (none in my department) and I had difficulty connecting with the male ones. I was disappointed in my inability to make friends or find a group to get involved in but continued to hope that a door would open up to the right thing. I was still loyal to the school, but I was a tad frustrated that my commitment to this institution and my passion to serve and be involved was being rewarded with continual scorn. I was other people with kind hearts get rejected from things in favor of the cynical, jocular but popular. And it was definitely more beneficial to be a semi-attractive male or better than not.

I did make a few friends who remain close to my heart. I got an education for which  I am grateful. I grew and I strove. I made many fond memories and had some great laughs and fun times. I had many privileges that others in the world don't thanks to my generous parents. I'm sure anyone who went to the school will write off my words as bitter and exaggerated. Fine. I don't have time to go into the details of what I saw and experienced. Even if I did, people who didn't walk through the same or similar probably wouldn't understand or empathize. There were kind, good, sincere people and professors, but no more than other places I have been, I have to admit. I used to think otherwise, but I think many people there, especially in the student body, were cold, closed off, cliquish, and judgmental. And I find it sad that a general attitude of weary tolerance at best, constant complaint at worst, pervaded the students regarding schoolwork and just being at college. The mindset was that it was grades 13-17 and we all had to trudge through it. If that's the case, why fork out $100k to come?

My disillusionment was gradual, however, and I spent three years there. I would have graduated there had it not been for my illness. I'm glad I didn't, but I still get a touch bitter, especially considering how some people get everything and don't realize how lucky they are, while other people get very little (unless it's the unfortunate stuff, in which they get quite a bit.) I'm not saying I'm as bad off as many people in the world, but it can be frustrating to see certain people get everything when they didn't work as hard or care as much as you, especially when they then use their position of power to hurt others.

But my forced disappointments and departure made me a more empathetic person so that hopefully I don't have to be one of those people that hurts others, whether purposefully or inadvertently. And it led me to a better learning place that suited my needs and where I have really been able to blossom. The classes are smaller so I actually feel comfortable talking and the program is more tailored to my academic interests. My adviser and main professor is someone I've been able to connect with and the other staff have been very kind and accommodating. I had a chance to recharge my batteries with my semester off so I can now be more intentional about giving my absolute best in my classes rather than just surviving. I can live with my true friends - my family, the ones who have stayed through thick and thin and who know my story and who have been through their own tough times.

People who haven't been there or who don't know where you've been just don't get it. They don't appreciate your struggle. They don't have your back or take your side. They don't get why you might have a chip on your shoulder or why you don't like the person everyone else raves about...My family have been the only ones who always picked up the phone, always took my side, always had my back, and never gave up on me.

Because probably the most disappointing thing about the old school is that my friends there didn't really care. When I was in pain there, they didn't want to walk through it with me. They barely even wanted to hear about it. They didn't check up. They didn't listen. They didn't take my side. They still praised the guys who hurt me and stayed silent when I expressed frustration or pain. The loudest silence of all was when I announced I had to leave. And then almost all of them dropped off the radar. Maybe a text was sent in the fall or something but that's it. Two people who stay in touch. Two more who I still try to keep in touch with but who remain frustratingly elusive. 

I mentioned that my old dream was to get married after graduation, as many grads there do. No fish ever bit at my line though, even though I became an increasingly aggressive fisher. That caused some heartbreak during my time. People laughed at it because I never really got to know any of the people but I don't think it's kind to make light of other people's sadness, even if it seems silly. I really was very disappointed about each love that never saw the light of day. This weekend I found out that two of my friends from the old school have found boyfriends this year. Before this would have made me sad and bitter. But now I laugh a bit inside. Good for them but I'm glad it's not me! I'm glad I don't have to settle down with the first person I meet and spend the rest of my life caring for babies. I feel like I finally have hope, potential, purpose. I'm applying to grad school, thinking of ways to forge a career. Most of the guys I've met have seemed nice but turned out to be arrogant, unsympathetic, and condescending, even a little emotionally abusive but are seen as these amazing, kind, upright Christian guys so everyone else sings their praises. I once did too, but I've been burned now. Now I see the warning signs and remember the emotional roller coaster. I don't want to be with someone who doesn't really appreciate me or my dreams just so I can be married. That would take a whole blog to explain too, as I'm sure people roll their eyes at this comment. But I've seen my share of subtly condescending guys and I'm tired of being on the receiving end of their haughty put-downs. I'm tired of just being a stupid girl to the world. I'm sure I still will be to many people, but at least I can try not to surround myself, much less marry myself, to such people. And I can stop seeing myself as just a stupid girl.

So here's to conquering the world, one unread blog post at a time. I'm holding out hope that even after a hundred doors have been closed in your face, you might stumble through the perfect.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

The plague that is social anxiety.

I hate my social anxiety. A lot. It makes me absolutely miserable sometimes. Not only does it hold me back from doing things I want to, making conversation, making friends, but it also makes me question any action I have taken so that I become convinced that I am utterly socially inept and start to hate myself, feeling miserably embarrassed over normal social interactions.

Lately, I've been trying to organize a fun event at my church. It's become painfully clear that it needs to be extensively marketed but I absolutely hate marketing because I feel like I'm annoying everyone and imposing on their time and I assume that if I've told people something once they've heard it and never want to hear it again. In my own life, I hate trying to promote my own music or skills because I feel like I'm bragging or annoying people. I assume that because I've posted on Facebook about my music once or twice that everyone knows about it and feel bad posting again. Then I will find out that friends of mine have no clue that I post music on YouTube, etc. and I realize that maybe it's not so dumb to market oneself obnoxiously.

But I just feel obnoxious. I tried emailing people I know about the event and got lackluster, almost passive aggressive responses. I'm not sure if I just am so paranoid that I am misinterpreting their coldly typed memos or what, but all the same it leaves me feeling so utterly idiotic for having stepped out of my carefully constructed boundaries of social comfort to email them and I just want to crawl into a very small black hole and die.

I sometimes wonder what it's like to be able to say and do whatever you want and talk to whomever you want without anxiety or care. I felt very bitter this past weekend looking at all the people like that and how little they care for others yet how highly praised they are among the masses. Why was I chosen to suffer in silence because of the silence imposed on me by some inexplicable force unseen to anyone but me? Why is the world so prejudiced towards quiet people and so worshipful of the gregarious, the loud?

Why was I doomed to a life of unhappiness for committing normal social activities when the blessed loud people are the ones who are atrociously inconsiderate, unsympathetic, and even outright rude and yet still worshipped for their friendliness because their victims are unable to fight back or speak of the crimes committed. Even if they did share, no one would give ear to their protests. Those charming people have won over the crowds and can do no wrong. I know because I've tried to speak up and have been shot down for being unreasonable. People always brush the incident under the carpet and insist, "Yeah but he's a good guy." Even if the "good guy" hurt them, they refuse to acknowledge it. I guess that's why I don't like a lot of gregarious people. I feel bad about it sometimes but then I remember the unchecked arrogance, the subtle manipulation, the blatant self-centeredness, ignoring the little guys and picking their friends. Their lives are like a moving stage play, performed to a captive audience who has already published their five star reviews a few minutes into the show.

Maybe it's not so bad to be quiet. I may suffer, but hopefully it keeps me from hurting other people by keeping some dangerous words unsaid. However, it also leads people to discredit anything I say, including speaking out against those who are dangerous.

But maybe I shouldn't have said anything.

Read more about Social Anxiety Disorder.

Read my own article on living with SAD.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My mental health treatment experience.

I've shared a bit about my treatment on here, but I wanted to write a post focusing on exactly what has helped me get better since my treatment has been a bit unconventional and I'd like to share about the things that have helped me in case there is anyone else they might be of use to. Of course, treatment is different for everybody, and what works for one person might not work for another, so these are just a few possibilities among many. I hope that more research will be done to develop even more forms of treatment of ways to make them as accessible as possible to people in need.

I guess I should start by outlining my progression of treatment. Let me first say that for a very long time I resisted getting any treatment for my mental health issues. I was depressed starting at the end of sixth grade. Something just changed inside of me and I abandoned my friends, kept to myself, wrote a lot of disturbingly angsty poetry, and was regrettably curmudgeonly with my family. I also suffered from general and social anxiety starting in childhood. I can pinpoint it to first grade, when I had a particularly nasty teacher and unsettling school conditions that triggered my anxiety to emerge, but I would imagine that I also had elements of anxiety issues even before that. I also had my first panic attack in mid-elementary school.

So I grew up knowing I had anxiety disorders and I had some awareness that I might be depressed, though I assumed that it was part of being a teenager, but I never sought counseling or anything. I don't really know if I realized that that was an option. When I was probably ten though, my mom found out from a friend about a vitamin supplement called Inositol, which helps with anxiety. My mom had me take this off an on in my adolescence and beyond (I'll talk about it more later). But for a long time that was the only treatment I really had.

In college, my anxiety and depression still remained a struggle, but I was hesitant to go to the school counseling center, maybe because of my fear of new situations. I went once in the spring of my freshman year after a traumatic incident, but I didn't like that way the counselor I saw treated me so I cancelled my appointment to return. In my sophomore year, a friend of mine who also struggled with anxiety started going to one of the school counselors and shared with me that she really liked the woman. I began to consider trying counseling, but I went through an extremely stressful time where I stopped sleeping because of nighttime panic attacks, which really took a toll on my physical and mental well-being. I became overwhelmingly depressed and suicidal. It was this that made me realize that I needed to get treatment. My mom scheduled me to see the psychiatrist who had treated other people in my family who had panic disorder, but I had to wait until I went home for spring break to see him. That was one of the longest waits in my life.

Being forced into getting treatment for an emergency situation made me acquiesce to the idea of getting treatment for my longer-standing issues. I had been resistant to going on medication to help my anxiety even though it made my life miserable, and I still was very hesitant, especially reading those awful potential side effects listings. I was scared. I was worried about gaining weight, developing some condition or another, dying, or what have you, and I was resistant to the idea of needing help. I was open to seeing the counselor, but was too stressed to arrange to see her until after I came back from break, finally rested and medicated.

I saw the psychiatrist and received a prescription for a very low dose of Klonopin, which I still take (at an even lower dose than before). Oh, I don't think I'll ever forget the beauty of falling asleep that first night, laying my head down and conking out and sleeping through the night for the first time in a month. Such peace and sweet relief! Thank the Lord for modern medicine. I had tried a number of other sleep aids and exercised an hour every day in spite of my extreme fatigue but nothing had worked. It was definitely a chemical inbalance and my adrenaline hormones misfiring and producing too much adrenaline at the wrong times. I don't know what I would have done if I hadn't been able to get medical help...I was absolutely ragged and batty. It was worse than insomnia (which I've also had at other times in life) because I wasn't just not sleeping, I was filled with anxiety chemicals giving me be jolts of anxious adrenaline when I wanted to sleep. So I leave the medication skeptics with that,

I had decided that I should also go on medication to help me with my anxiety and depression problems, an SSRI (the most common form of antidepressant medication), but my psychiatrist was reluctant to start something at the same time as the Klonopin, and I was going to England a week after I finished classes. So I began on Paxil when I got back from the trip. I actually couldn't even swallow a pill at first, but quickly forced myself to learn due to the ridiculous price of the liquid Paxil (no small feat!) It took us a year to figure it out, but it turns out I am actually not able to process/tolerate SSRIs or most antidepressants. I thought I was getting better though, perhaps a placebo effect sort of thing and a situational thing because I had a good summer and was pushed out of my social anxiety boundaries by my job. But I began sleeping ten or twelve hours a day and I recognize now that it was probably because my body was having a bad reaction to the SSRI (this is a rare condition, so please don't let it deter you from taking an antidepressant as they have been a tremendous help to many people, just be sure to consult a medical professional, keep in touch with them, record your symptoms, and talk to your doctor and cease taking the drug if things become worse for you! Even better, have your psychiatrist administer a genetic test to see how your body processes different meds before you begin taking will save you a lot of trouble and possible harm.)

I became depressed again starting over the winter break of my junior year. I continued to see the counselor at school, which was both helpful and unhelpful, even hurtful at times. I tried to go off of my Klonopin because my counselor advised me it was highly addictive and I should try to go off. My psychiatrist weaned me off over the course of a week - a terrible practice if one is well, even worse if they're better. Weaning off of any medication, I've learned, should be done over a month or so and my depression was made worse during this time by my psychiatrist putting me on and off of medications with very short adjustment periods. Don't let a doctor do this to you!

I had a horrid physical and emotional reaction to going off of the Klonopin (shaking visibly, emotional breakdown, etc.) so my psychiatrist had me go back on it. I cycled through a variety of medications during this time, remaining on the problematic Paxil all the while. Wellbutrin was one addition. Much later he tried Lithium in hopes that it would increase the potency of he Paxil. Nothing worked and some things made me worse. I went through the worst physical and emotional depression in my life and was absolutely debilitated, crawling through the semester, even going home for half a week and having my mom take off to come up at another point. It was really awful and I continued to feel bad even after returning home for the summer. My psychiatrist switched me from Paxil to Zoloft and I stayed on that for a couple months, along with the Lithium for a while. I slept at least ten hours a day still, waking up between 11am and 1pm and often still needing to take another nap. I began to gain weight, just like I had feared, probably fifteen pounds at the whole of that year, I think it ended up being thirty (this for someone who had been about the same weight ever since I stopped growing). I also had another nervous breakdown in the fall after doing half a semester of school.

I also had a genetic test done that summer after my junior year from hell. A company was offering them for no fee to the patient for a month as a promotional, so my psychiatrist recommended I have the test done to find out which medications my body is and is not able to process. This was a real Godsend. All it required was a quick cheek swab that was sent off to a lab for testing. The results revealed that I have some particularly picky genes. SSRIs and most major antidepressants were deemed inadvisable for me to take. Haha. Too late for that. For some reason, my psychiatrist kept me on the Zoloft in spite of this, while he struggled to figure out a new plan of action. He did put me on a supplement called Deplin, which is a material your body makes (if I remember correctly) to process the chemicals that SSRIs are meant to replace that people with depression and anxiety don't create enough of. It was hoped that this would help me start processing the SSRI. It had little effect. I visited my GP to have testing done to make sure I wasn't dealing with a thyroid problem but the tests came out all clear.

I went to the psychiatrist for the second to last time and he flipped through my file with a furrowed brow, before announcing that he wanted to put me on a new antidepressant, one of those ones you see the commercials for, and while it wasn't an SSRI or one of the others that had been marked a definite no-no for me, I was fed up with the medication game and had some trepidation about starting a new one. The psychiatrist agreed that I should go off of the Zoloft (it was the only thing I was still on besides the Klonopin at this point), but continue taking the Deplin since it's something he body needs to produce and my body was found to not make. This time he had me wean off of it over the course of a month. It was not an easy time. The doctor had also told me about an off-the-shelf supplement called SAMe that was another substance the body makes naturally that people with depression are found to produce less of. He named this as a possibility that had helped other clients of his. He also pushed me to see a counselor, which I knew I needed to do but was putting off because of what a stressful, expensive process it was.

I decided to find a new psychiatrist, disillusioned with the realization that he had kept me on a substance that was causing my problems and that he had been taking me on and off medications at rapid rates in the spring. It was hard to realize that my issues in the spring had probably been mostly the fault of the medication I took to help my problems. Of course, I hate to tell people that my medication made my problems worse because there's already so much stigma against medication and I've had so many friends who were suffering under the weight of anxiety and/or depression but refused medication as an option. I'm glad that I was finally pushed to seek help. I'm glad I sought counseling and medication. I'm glad my mom encouraged me to do so. And even though it was a treacherous journey, I survived, came out stronger, and was forced to seek help that I wouldn't have otherwise. I see so many people struggling through life with unhealthy coping mechanisms and stressful lifestyles, tolerating their unhappy state or illness, insisting that they can bear it on their own because they are afraid or reluctant to or too busy to. I'm glad I was forced to learn how to live a healthier lifestyle and to find supplements to help my anxiety.

I decided, at the suggestion of my mom, to go off of the Zoloft and see how I felt, then try the Sam-E. We both felt my body had been through too much, going through all of these medication changes, and it needed a break before I tried a new treatment. I despaired of things ever improving, but they got better first with my being off of the Zoloft, then improved with going on the Sam-E and Inositol. I am now doing remarkably well. I don't think I've felt happy in years and years. I don't feel tired all the time either. It's nice to be able to do things and have hope for a successful future. I wish everyone could feel as I do.

Here's an overview of the things that helped, just as a reference:

  1. Art therapy / counseling: I began seeing an art therapist late last fall. Finding a counselor is really hard, but I encourage people not to give up, to remember your happiness is worth the price, you deserve the help, and to trust your instincts. I learned about art therapy in a psych class I took at college and was intrigued by the idea. I had found traditional counseling kind of stressful so it's nice to be able to have a project to work on while I talk with my counselor (or not talk, if I choose). It's also made me look at my issues from a different perspective as I delve into making an artwork to represent them. And I've learned to have more grace with myself; the art doesn't have to be perfect, I can be positive about myself, and I can give myself credit for my accomplishments. I recently started to meet every other week instead of every week b/c I'm doing better and have a busier schedule, but I wish I had allowed myself to go to more often than once a week when I really needed it. Counseling definitely has its limitations, but it is definitely beneficial as well, particularly in helping you reframe the way you perceive your life and self. My counselor helped me learn to say no to some things and limit stress in my life and allow myself to be in recovery.
  2. Inositol: This supplement has been proven to be as effective as medication for some people. The nice thing is that it's actually a B vitamin taken from rice, so for people uncomfortable with going on a medication, it's an easier first step to treatment, and can be equally effective. It mainly helps with anxiety and comes in a pill or powder form. I get it from (though, disclaimer, I wasn't paid to endorse it). You can mix the powder into liquids. The tricky thing is remembering to take it and going through the effort of putting it into the liquid or swallowing a buttload of pill capsules (they're on the larger side too, fyi). But it's cool stuff otherwise and has a lot of research supporting its effectiveness. I definitely notice an increase in my anxiety levels if I forget to take it for a few days. Also, I haven't noticed any side effects.
  3. SAMe: Also a supplement. It can be bought off the shelf in stores like Costco and possibly Target. The name is short for S-Adenosyl Methionine, which is a chemical that people's bodies naturally produce but that some people who suffer from depression may not produce enough of. SAMe, to quote the package, "is involved in numerous biochemical reactions in tissues including liver, joints, and brain. SAMe is also required for the biosynthesis of critical neurotransmitters and hormones." Basically, it's a natural supplement that can help some people who suffer from depression improve their mood and cognitive function. It has worked very well for me and on days when I forget to take it, I notice that my depression symptoms will come back significantly. I wish my doctor had recommended it before I tried psychiatric meds. I haven't had any side effects with this. It should be noted though that you must be completely off of antidepressants before taking this and it should be taken in the morning on an empty stomach. I take 600 mg a day and it has helped me a lot!
  4. Deplin: When I took the genetic test I mentioned earlier, I found out that my body also didn't produce enough of something called an L-methylfolate which helps the body to process the chemicals that antidepressant medications try to supplement. My psychiatrist prescribed a supplement called Deplin that provides your body with this natural chemical that my body does not produce enough of. You have to order it from a company but if you suffer from clinical depression and find that medications don't work well, ask your psychiatrist about this.
  5. Time: My recovery and treatment process just took a lot of patience and time! I'm still processing things that happened to me a year ago and I've learned to accept that and let myself continue to experience the emotions that reminders of the past can bring up. On a physical level, even when I finally went off of the medication that was making me so sick, it took over a month for it to get out of my system so I could stop experiencing the negative side effects. Have patience with your body and yourself and have hope! Even if something isn't working now, doesn't mean you won't find something that works in the future. Six months ago I thought I would never get better or be able to finish college, but now I'm back in the swing of things and looking at applying to graduate school!

These are the three major components of parts of my treatment that actually helped me recover. I would also say that rest, taking a break from school, writing on this blog, and giving myself room to be sick were also significant helps, and I wish I had done more of each. I should have relaxed more and not tried to go to school last fall while I was still recovering. I wish I had been easier on myself and accepted that I needed time to heal. I also wish I had stayed in better contact with my mental health caretakers and asked for more guidance about how I could contact them outside of regularly scheduled appointments.

People always advocate exercise but I was much, much too tired and I kind of hate exercising. Maybe it would have been beneficial but I wouldn't encourage pushing yourself too much especially since it's easy to develop anxiety, obsession, and guilt around exercising. Also common is pushing people to volunteer or be involved in the community. I tried this but just ended up being more upset and stressed because getting involved in volunteering has turned into a stressful process of applying, even interviewing, and training nowadays and organizations aren't always very courteous with volunteers. It was also awkward to explain my situation to people. What helped me more was crafting. I would recommend taking up a hobby if you're looking for something to do. Websites like Pinterest and Craftsy give online training so you don't have to go through the overwhelming process of going to a class. But overall I wish I had just given myself permission to take a break and read or watch TV or sleep. Sometimes you just need to recover and take your mind off of your difficult thoughts.

So my main message is this: Don't be afraid to seek help if you are feeling more and more burdened by daily living! It may be a long process, but there is hope! There are also alternative treatments that people may not discuss as much, so if mainstream treatments are working for you, ask your psychiatrist and counselor about other options or look into them yourself! Also, if possible, get outside support and let trustworthy friends and family know what's going on in case treatment gets more painful than helpful. It helps to have an outside perspective you can see how you've reacted to different treatments and who can give you courage to walk away from a treatment provider or method that isn't working for you. But know that there's nothing wrong with getting help and you deserve to live a happy, healthy life!!

Disclaimer: I did not receive any sort of compensation for any of the things I plugged in this post and I was not asked by anyone to write this post or mention any of these products. Also, this is solely MY OWN treatment experience. Everyone is different and has a different chemical make up so the treatments that worked for me may not be helpful for everyone and may even be harmful for some people, which is why you should always consult a trusted, qualified health care provider before starting any kind of mental health treatment. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Back to my old ways.

So I went on the aforementioned youth retreat this weekend, acting as a chaperone for the female contingent of the group. It was nothing less than awful. I felt like I was in my junior year from hell all over again, surrounded by pseudo-friends having fun but feeling overwhelmingly lonely, left out, and suffocated by sadness, dark thoughts, and homesickness. I was four hours from home in the middle of nowhere without cell reception. There were a couple friends on the trip but no real time to talk to them. It was an odd mixture of constantly socializing in a way that quickly overwhelms any introvert and not really having an extended or meaningful conversations at all. It was a constant flurry of activity and shifting from one place to the next, one person to the next, one topic to the next. I found myself both longing to have some time just to be by myself in a small, quiet space and also to be able to have a real conversation with someone who I trusted.

I missed my family and cosy, familiar home. I grew weary of the loud music, screaming kids, and overzealous youth pastors. I was simultaneously annoyed and made to feel self-conscious and inferior by the extroverted antics of the adult leaders and teen attendees surrounding me. At first I merely rolled my eyes at their constant attempts for attention, self-centered shouted conversations, and sometimes-insensitive semi-egotism. But as the weekend went on and I heard these people praised more and more and compared their own confidence and ease of conversation and bearing with my own quiet, easily overlooked presence and anxiety over whether I was doing a good job connecting with the kids, I grew increasingly unsure of my own worth and the validity of my judgment of the value of a more thoughtful character as compared to the shallow self-centeredness of many outgoing people. After all, the other youth chaperone may not have known a third of our names by the end, but everyone kept saying he was such a great guy and the kids always talked about how funny he was, so maybe I was the one who needed to change.

I don't do well in small groups situations, only one-on-one conversations (and with that, only certain ones where I feel comfortable. I grew increasingly frustrated with how my words would almost always be drowned out by the infinitely louder people. I felt stupid for being homesick and not having a good time on a short light-hearted little trip that everyone else was raving about. I felt bitter seeing other people my age paraded on stage to praise them for using their talents to serve God when I had for years done the same but with little recognition or fame and opportunities to expand my work closed to me. I grew increasingly insecure, socially anxious, and self-hating as the weekend went on.

Because it was a church-related event, the organizers brought in Christian colleges to advertise and the commercials were a painful reminder of my lost dreams, stoking the flames of bitterness over what had been denied me when I had a sincere desire and adequate talent to serve God and be involved in the community but was rejected over and over. I thought God was supposed to honor our desire to serve him but he seemed to be rewarding those who didn't really care or were not particularly sensitive or kind or passionate with the opportunity instead, like the loud people who got all the friends, attention, praise, and opportunities to do what they wanted while quiet people were written off as not having much to say.

I was stressed out by the pressure to over-analyze my spiritual life and moral performance and commit to taking actions to ensure my further spiritual growth. I was disillusioned with the misplaced focus of the speakers, emphasizing certain moral behaviors rather than focusing on a relationship with God and a need for his help. I was frustrated with the canned, contrived culture that had been forced on the faith I grew up in. I was confused and all in all very lonely. I felt suffocated, pressured from all sides, isolated, etc. I even scraped myself with a something to bring me out of the overwhelming fog of emotions and felt the slight tinge of a suicidal mood at one time or another. Then I got mad again at how hypersensitive I was being in light of everyone else's happy-go-lucky vacation attitude.

How do I address these negative feelings? How do I feel confident that I have a valuable place in this world? How do I feel assured of my worth as a unique person in spite of a lack of popularity? If only I could remember and fully believe that no one else can play my part. I am slowly starting to accept myself and advocate for who I am, but sometimes that is difficult to do in an environment where people place a clear value on the opposite traits of what you have and assume you have nothing to contribute b/c of your shyness and talk over what you do say.