Vulnerability

How showing vulnerability helps build a stronger team |

Opening myself up to others has never been one of my strong suits. Yet I know from experience, and many things I’ve read, that vulnerability is necessary in order to achieve true intimacy. This is exactly where my dilemma lies. I was fascinated by the realization I happened to stumble upon the other day surrounding this idea and how it has influenced my own life.

Sometimes I end up resenting and pushing away the people I most admire. I become frustrated by how much better I think they are than me. I paint this picture in my head of someone on a pedestal. So far above my strange little eccentricities and flaws that they could never possibly understand me. At first I feel embarrassed and unworthy of their attention and/or affection. I think to myself: well if they knew who I really was they wouldn’t want anything to do with me. Whether that’s really true or not, that thought eventually turns angry and I think: oh, fuck them then. I don’t need them anyway. I grow tired of pretending to be someone I’m not to maintain their approval. (Whether I even need to do so or not, remains unknown.) I either retreat myself or begin to push them away. This seems like a better option than what I view as the only other: that I am seen for who I really am and rejected.

I was running this problem over in my head the other day, when I began to wonder how I have any intimate relationships at all. I mean, of course there are plenty of people that I am able to be vulnerable with, people that I feel safe showing myself too. So what’s different about those relationships? I discovered that there are really only two ways I’ve been able to get close to someone in the past.

One way is when a person gets to know me before I decide I really give a damn about them or what they think of me. This happened more often when I was in high school and college. My first boyfriend knew all of my dirty little secrets before I fell in love with him or even became close friends with him just because we had classes together. In these instances, the fact that this casual acquaintance does not reject me for what they discover is extremely endearing to me. I begin to like them more because they’ve seen who I am and have not turned away, or perhaps even like me better for it. It feels so good to be seen. And I feel that they must be an exceptionally kind and compassionate person if they could still like me after truly seeing me.

The other way is when the other person is very outgoing and open. If they pour their heart out to me, I am usually so touched by their vulnerability and trust that I feel safe enough to offer my own. The closest people in my life have historically been extremely extroverted. Their bravery gives me the courage to open up. They also tend to ask me lots of probing questions, which I actually enjoy. Some people might find that rude, but I love nothing more than having someone ask me about myself or my experiences. I’m far too self-conscious to offer up that information willingly. So unless I’m directly asked, a lot of my life remains unknown to even my friends. Even if I desperately want them to know. I just feel too embarrassed to offer up unsolicited information about myself because I think no one would care.

So having noticed this pattern, how can I get close to someone who does not fall into either of these two categories? I am genuinely at a loss on that one. Not only am I too afraid to let this person find out too much about me and my past, they also don’t ask about it at all. Even if I wanted to tell them, I would have no idea how to bring it up besides just blurting it out randomly. And I don’t think that would be helpful even if I could muster up the courage to do it.

I’m not sure where this fear of being seen began. I cannot even remember a time where I was rejected for showing someone who I truly am. I’ve always been accepted and shown compassion. And each time this simple act of decency and kindness has touched me deeply. Each time I can hardly believe it, can hardly accept it, and feel certain that I don’t deserve it. Even though I know that I only end up liking someone more after they’ve shown me their flaws. I don’t love them despite these imperfections. I love them more because of their imperfections and the fact that they trusted me enough to share them with me.

I can’t seem to let go of this belief that I am not worthy of anyone else’s love until I am perfect. But that is obviously ridiculous. People don’t want someone who is “perfect.” (I certainly don’t.) People like other real, imperfect people far more. Consider the popularity of the anti-hero. Everyone loves a deeply troubled TV or movie character with redeeming qualities more than one who is infallible. Because no one is perfect. We see ourselves in the revealed shortcomings of others and we love them for it, as we can only hope others will love us for ours.

I am not being fair to myself or the people I hold dear by withholding and hiding these imperfect parts of myself. It’s not fair for me to breed resentment towards someone for my perception that they could never accept or understand me. Especially when I refuse to even give them the chance. I know deep down that I don’t have to be afraid. Certainly some people will reject me, but so many more have already embraced me and my flaws. Not only that, but by hiding myself away for fear of judgement, I am sending myself the message that I am not enough as I am, that I am unworthy of being seen and loved. And that’s not what I believe, not really. What I really believe is best summed up in the words of my favorite poet:

No matter how insignificant I may be, I believe I deserve to be loved.

Federico Garcia Lorca
Vulnerability: The Key to Better Relationships

Anxiety From the Outside

Even though mental illnesses are be discussed more and more openly, and average people have a better understanding of them than they once did, it is still hard to tell if someone without mental illness really “gets” the struggles faced by those who do. I still remember talking to a client of mine and explaining to him the way my anxiety used to make it impossible for me to talk to people even in the most innocuous circumstances. His own brother was the same way and I was explaining to him that it wasn’t just an excuse for being anti-social as he suspected. Even after hearing my story, he seemed skeptical and unable to wrap his mind around what I was telling him.

Since that day, I’ve become more and more concerned with the way others may interpret my behavior. With both my social work career and my yoga teaching, there are expectations that I am unable to meet even after years of practice. My yoga studio constantly urges me to walk around the room more, watch my students more closely, offer adjustments, etc. The child advocacy center where I work, encourages me to stay in the waiting room with the kids and family the entire time that they are hear not just at the beginning and end of their appointment. Neither of these tasks seems too daunting. Even when I contemplate the idea myself, it seems doable.

However, even with the best intentions going in, I can never manage to do as well as I hope. In the moment, my fear takes hold of me. Nothing besides avoiding the situation seems to matter at all to me at that point. I would do anything to just escape, regardless of the consequences. And usually, I give in to that fear and fall into my usual pattern. I’m not sure even the possibility of losing my position all together would be enough to rival the fear of the action itself.

Not only does this constant internal battle make me feel guilty, like I’m not serving my students and clients well enough, it also makes me wonder what my coworkers think about it. I’ve expressed to them that the reason I resist their advice is because of my anxiety. Even so, I don’t know if they are able to fully comprehend what I mean. I am afraid that, like my former client and his brother, they think I am just making excuses to get out of doing my job. To a certain extent, I even feel like it’s an excuse. But it’s not an excuse to avoid working, or because I don’t care, it’s an excuse to avoid paralyzing fear. I would happily do ten times the amount of paperwork if it allowed me to have less interaction with people. It’s not that I’m lazy and don’t want to do work. I’m just afraid. I’m afraid to the extent that sometimes it really does feel like I am unable to do what is expected of me.

Because I have lived with this anxiety my entire life, it makes perfect sense to me when I see someone else avoiding a task that to others seems simple. But I also see the way others judge them for that avoidance. People who have not experienced this irrational anxiety just can’t comprehend how it feels. Which is why I always go out of my way to accommodate people I meet who are clearly socially anxious. For instance, I have a neighbor that never looks at me or waves or says hi even though we pass each other quite regularly. I know that most people would be offended by that and think he is a rude person. But I find him endearing because I know how he feels. Honestly, I wish more people were like him. It’s a huge energetic effort for me to smile and wave and make small talk with neighbors every time I leave my house.

I understand why these behaviors seem odd and uncaring from the outside. I don’t expect people to be able to understand something so illogical if they’ve never experienced it. I just hope that the people in my life understand that, even when it might not look like it, I really am trying my best. Making a phone call or siting with someone for an hour might seem extremely easy to most people, but just know that there are a lot of us that find it comparable to walking a tight rope or holding a python. Imagine if you had to face your greatest fear each and every day. It’s exhausting at best, and traumatizing at worst. So please try to be patient with us. We really are trying.

Fear vs. Phobia: What's the Difference? | The Recovery Village

Preoccupied with Others’ Perspectives

If you’re a people pleaser like me, it can be hard not to become paralyzed with worries about the way others perceive you. I always catch myself basing my decisions and actions on the way they will come off to someone else, rather than on my own feelings and desires. Not only is this exhausting, but it isn’t even worthwhile. How could I ever possibly hope to know how someone else is going to interpret my behaviors? For all I know, I could be acting against my own wishes for the sake of someone else when they would have preferred a different response anyway.

I think a lot of the time I delude myself into thinking I know what other people are thinking or what they want, when in reality I could be completely wrong. I know from my own perspective that what I like or want can change drastically from one day to the next, from moment to moment, or even depending on the person I’m interacting with. For example, you may notice that someone likes hugs, but depending on your relationship to them and the context of the situation, that doesn’t mean they would enjoy a hug from you.

Constantly worrying about the way others perceive you is just wasted energy. It feels like doing this will help me make sure everyone around me is always happy and approving of me, but no matter how hard I try, that will never be the case 100% of the time. For one thing, a lot of people pick up on the fact that you’re just saying what they want to hear and dislike that in itself. I’m definitely one of those people. When I meet someone who is always eager to agree with me or try to flatter me, I get annoyed. It feels disingenuous and gross. It feels like I’m being lied to and manipulated. I’d much rather get to know who someone genuinely is even if who they really are isn’t exactly what I’d prefer them to be.

Always worrying about what other people think of me is also a great disservice to myself. In essence I am saying to myself that I am not good enough as I am, that I have to work to conceal who I really am to please others. Each time I alter my behavior for the sake of what I believe someone else wants, I am reinforcing that idea. It’s important for us to hold ourselves in high enough regard that we can move through the world without wearing a mask. You will surely encounter friction and meet people that don’t like you, but that’s okay. You will find yourself in this position whether you are genuine or not, so you may as well take care of yourself before worrying about others.

Part of the mask I wear in order to please others is also a shield from criticism. If I am not being my genuine self and others decide they don’t like me, I can always fall back on the idea that “well, they don’t know the real me.” However if I am being exactly who I am and someone doesn’t like me, it hurts a lot more. But the reverse is also true in this regard. When I reveal myself for who I am and someone embraces that, I feel truly seen and validated in a meaningful way. Whereas even when my people pleasing works, the positive feedback I receive feels hollow and fake. Inside I still think, “they wouldn’t feel that way if they knew who I really am.”

Another part of people pleasing is the desire to avoid any and all conflict or confrontation. I’ve always been insecure in my relationships, fearful that the slightest disagreement or unpleasant interaction will destroy them. But hiding from conflict only reinforces that fear. I can see in other people’s relationships that not only does conflict not end the relationship, it often serves to strengthen it. We have to believe that the relationships we have in our lives are strong enough to handle difficult moments. One negative interaction or argument isn’t going to be enough to completely change someone’s opinion of you. I obviously don’t write people off for such small, trivial matters. I can see the way other people stay together through far more than I can even imagine. Once again I am selling myself short by believing I mean so little to my loved ones that one false move would sever our bond entirely, even when past experience has shown me that isn’t true.

It may feel safer to always try to be who others want me to be, but at the end of the day, I have no idea who that person even is. I want to learn to like myself enough that my wants, beliefs, and opinions come first and don’t change depending on who I’m talking to. It’s been so long since I’ve considered what I want that sometimes I’m not even sure. It may be scary, but I know it’s worth it to practice being brave and showing my true face to the world and the people I love. Besides, while I might not know what other people want, I can say that when I talk to someone, all I want is for them to be themselves and to trust me enough to share that with me. That’s more than enough.

People Pleasers Anonymous - Home | Facebook

Suspicious of Stillness

For the last week or so, I have been feeling overwhelmed with all the things that I want to do that I just don’t have the time for. It feels like this list of “one day”s grows longer every moment, yet nothing ever seems to get checked off. I see it trailing behind me whenever I look over my should like an ominous tail. A tail I feel compelled to measure over and over again to make sure it’s all there and I haven’t lost track of any of it. The most interesting part is, intellectually I know I’m only looking outside of myself in an effort to “fix” something inside of me.

Past experience has taught me that even if I were able to finish all of these things crowding my mind, new ones would easily press in on me to take their place. Not only that, the satisfaction and peace I imagine will be the result of completing my checklist, is never what I expect. In the past it has only been a mere shimmer, a glimmer of contentment, quickly covered again by new concerns and goals to achieve.

You’d think I’d be able to learn from the past, to acknowledge these lived truths. No matter how urgent and overwhelming each item feels, that is just an illusion. Not only that, but that rushed, pressured feeling I seek to alleviate by wiping away all these tasks will not be affected. That feeling is inside of me. Nothing I alter or change in the world outside is going to adequately address that inner turmoil. It may provide a momentary distraction, but it will surely bubble back up to the surface of my awareness.

I was reminded again of that fact yesterday evening. As I was washing the dishes and preparing soup for my lunches this week, a pleasant sense of calm and contentment settled over me. I was enjoying myself. My mind was focused and still. “Everything is exactly as it should be.” Never had that mantra felt more true. I found myself in that delicious flow state, but that nagging little anxiety mosquito would not allow me to rest there. It buzzed by my ears, trying to pick apart that peace.

I caught myself searching for that sense of urgency and overwhelm that I was so familiar with. As if it must still be there somewhere, as if I had misplaced it. I smiled in spite of myself. Why did I feel the need to find my discomfort? Sadly, it almost feels unsafe to be without it. I have learned to trust my feelings of dis-ease more than feelings of peace and stillness. At what point had I decided that the former was more true, a more accurate representation of reality, than the latter? Why did I not feel inclined to do the reverse and seek out that calm state when I noticed myself spiraling?

This was a reminder that even if I were to accomplish every single thing I hope to accomplish and I reach that place of ease I’m longing for, I won’t trust it. I will continue searching for more problems that need solving, and because of that, I will inevitably find them. So when I find myself fretting about all of these random things left undone, I must remind myself that it’s not about whatever I’m fixating on. It’s about the feelings themselves. It’s not a signal that I must act to change the external world. It is a signal that I need to work on trust and surrender.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve always had a dysfunctional relationship with trust. I seem to trust others almost to a fault, never even suspecting that they may be untruthful. However, I can’t ever seem to trust myself or the universe to take care of me. Despite the fact that it always has, that I always have. I’m beginning to wonder if these feelings have something to do with my OCD tendencies.

When someone with OCD performs their compulsions, it is in an effort to dissipate feelings of anxiety. I’ve heard people suffering with OCD say that even though they know it’s not true, they feel they must touch the doorknob five times or walk in a particular pattern across the room to prevent some kind of natural disaster or to protect their loved ones from harm. They understand that this is ridiculous, yet they cannot help but be compelled to continue doing it. I feel similarly about my own situation.

It may be a more vague, shapeless sense of dread, but it is still there. I always have this foggy sense that if I don’t stay ever vigilant, if I don’t make sure I keep my life perfectly organized, and accomplish these random things that my reality will descend into utter chaos. I’m not sure exactly how I imagine this will happen, but the fear is always there. I guess I’ve convinced myself of an irrational slippery slope argument. If I start to let things slip through the cracks, for example not keeping up with cleaning my home, then it will continue to get worse and worse until it is unbearable and impossible to set right again. Then expanding upon that unlikely scenario, I tell myself that everything else in my life will start to break apart too. Ultimately resulting in: I will never be happy unless I can take care of all of these tasks I’ve thought of that need done. Even though, like the OCD sufferers, I know it to be untrue, I can’t help but believe it.

Just as with OCD, the only way to alleviate these irrational fears, is to show yourself that the outcomes you fear will not occur. Only through repeated, conscious effort to resist the compulsion can we teach ourselves that we don’t need to be afraid, that everything will still be okay if we let go. The irony of trust is that you’ve got to practice it to strengthen it. Even though those initial efforts to trust seem impossibly scary and reckless. We’ve got to trust that it is safe to trust. Even though that little voice inside is saying: What if it’s not? That is when we’ve also got to trust ourselves to be okay in the event things do go awry. I know that all I can do is try my best to focus on what I am able to accomplish, and practice trusting that the rest will still be there when and if I find the time for it.

8 Ways to Manage Your Stress as a Small Business Owner - DreamHost

Paxil (5mg)

I cannot believe I have only been taking 5mg of Paxil instead of 30mg for nearly two weeks now. Back when I was around 22 or 23 I began taking this SSRI every day and only recently found the nerve to try to wean myself off of it at 27. There were many times throughout the years when I wanted to do this, but when you read the horror stories about Paxil withdrawal it’s quite intimidating. A big part of my hesitation to give up the medication was also psychological. I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to manage without it.

Before I began taking Paxil, I was petrified of most (if not all) social interactions. It was a monumental task to even call my doctor to set up an appointment or to order food in a drive-thru. Meeting new people was always a nightmare, and I had a very difficult time making friends. After a month on an SSRI though, I was a completely different person. I didn’t think twice about making a phone call or talking to a stranger on the street. I felt like the shackles I had been wearing all my life were finally removed. That ever-present fog of fear had finally lifted.

But what if even after years of living in this newfound freedom, Paxil was still the only reason I was able to do these things? What if that old fear came back to overtake me as soon as I stopped? Not only that, I was afraid there would be no turning back for me once I began this journey away from Paxil. There are many accounts online of people attempting to cut back only to realize they desperately need this drug. However, upon increasing their dosage again, they found the medication didn’t work like it did the first time. I was afraid if I was making the wrong decision, I would be stuck with it.

Despite all these fears, with the support of my loved ones and primary doctor, I managed to start weaning myself off my Paxil. I tried not to think too much about it or look for any negative symptoms rearing their ugly heads. Much to my surprise, everything has remained pretty much the same, even now on practically no meds at all. I have only noticed positive changes such as rediscovering my formerly blunted range of emotions. And I could not be happier or more proud of myself.

The other day as I was driving home from an impromptu meeting with my boyfriend and his family, something incredible dawned on me. I can’t believe I just did that, I thought. I just spent the whole day with my boyfriend and his family. I just met his developmentally disabled aunt and elderly grandfather without having any idea I would be doing so beforehand. Wow. This might not sound like anything out of the ordinary to most people, but imagining how I would have handled that situation before Paxil vs. now is like night and day.

At 21 if my boyfriend had sprung meeting these people on me at the last minute I would have been petrified, angry, desperate to get out of the situation somehow. But that day, it never even occurred to me that it was of any significance. I simply shrugged and agreed when he said we’d be going to see them. I had no problem at all talking with them. I feel like I even managed to make a great impression. It actually brings tears to my eyes to say that. (Tears I now feel forming much more often and easily on my lowered dosage.) I am just so proud of myself.

Even though I’ve been through many similar experiences in the years since starting Paxil, this was the first time I can remember doing something like this pretty much on my own, with no significant chemical assistance. I genuinely never thought I would be capable of maneuvering social situations on my own. This incident has allowed me to more fully appreciate the things I’ve continued to do every day with no problem since lowering my dosage. I’ve still been meeting new clients every day at work, making follow-up phone calls, shooting the breeze with my coworkers, etc. All things I have become accustomed to, but had always given all the credit for to Paxil.

So to anyone out there who has been leaning on an SSRI for support, wanting to venture out on your own again, but are too fearful to try, don’t be afraid. You can do it. (With the help and support of a medical professional, of course.) I had hoped that the new pathways I have been building for years inside my brain would be strong enough to stand on their own after so many years of Paxil assistance, but I couldn’t be sure. Now I am. I know I can do this.

In summation, first I was throwing total support behind psych meds, then I was wavering more towards being against them all together. Now I have a better understanding of how to use these tools without becoming dependent on them. SSRI’s are not a miracle cure. They are also not something to avoid entirely. I finally see that they are like training wheels. Paxil gave me the courage and the confidence to gather new experiences, to learn that social situations don’t have to be scary. It gave me the time to practice better coping skills. My brain used to associate small talk, phone calls, meeting people, etc. with terror. Now I have years and years of conditioning under my belt to remind me that I can do these things and be perfectly okay. There is nothing to fear. Paxil has taught me that, and I am so grateful. Now with my new neural pathways in place and the old self-destructive ones faded and withered, I am ready to forge ahead on my own.

Chemical conversations: The story and science of how medication helped with  my depression | The Anchor

Police Academy

I’ve mentioned before that my boyfriend is hours away and has been for a few months now. I am not sure if I’ve explained the reason he is out there though. You see, unfortunately my boyfriend, Nate, is attending the police academy. He accepted a job as a state park ranger without fully understanding that being a ranger is a law enforcement position that requires 6 months of police training. He was wanting a job where he could be outdoors and protect the environment. He was quite disillusioned with the whole thing when he found out what the job actually entailed.

Even though he now plans to find other work once he’s finished with his training, he is still going through with it. A big part of me was afraid for him. I’ve heard horror stories from other people I’ve known about their experience in the police academy. Especially considering he is everything that cops hate. He has a god damn “fuck cops” tattoo! Despite that, another part of me was excited to get an inside look at the way police are trained in this country.

With only roughly two months left of this training, it is disheartening to know how insufficient it has been. I would love for him to write about this experience himself, but in the meantime, I’d like to explain what he’s told me. So far the curriculum has been as follows:

1. Instill Fear

The training started out with a healthy dose of indoctrination. The cops are in constant danger. Your life is on the line at every moment. Everyone you encounter is trying to kill you. Your job is to kill them first. This is essentially the message that they hammer into you immediately. Nothing about your duty to protect and serve the public. Just riling up distrust and terror and assuring you that you are allowed and even encouraged to act from that place of fear. They don’t waste any time to establish an “us vs. them” mentality. Now I can’t say this is exactly the words the instructors are using, but it’s clearly the underlying message.

For at least the first month Nate was there, all they did was watch video after video of cops being killed on the job. Of course this was not put into any kind of context. There were no statistics, just a collection of anecdotal incidents from all across the country for an undisclosed range of time. I don’t believe they even discussed how the cop could have more safely handled the situation. It was quite literally only part of the training to spark fear. In addition to these videos, the trainees are also told to keep a running list of names of cops that have been killed. Clearly they intend fear to be front and center in the mind of every cop that responds to a call, no matter how innocuous.

2. Misinformation

The next part of this “training” was to give straight up bullshit information about domestic terrorism. I knew when he mentioned this part that it was going to be bad, but I had no idea just how bad. Obviously white supremacy groups are the number one domestic terror threat in the United States. Yet groups like the Proud Boys, the KKK, neo-nazis, etc. were not mentioned AT ALL. Who did they mention then, you might be asking. Well, I’ll tell you. They basically only mentioned liberal “groups” such as Black Lives Matter and Antifa (which aren’t even true organizations), and animal rights groups like PETA and The Animal Liberation Front. (These people are laughably considered terrorists because they hurt the profits of corporations.) So as you can tell there is a very clear political influence in this training. It is not objective facts and relevant knowledge. It’s right-wing indoctrination for the most part.

3. Combat Skills & Firearms

Finally, after months of stoking fear and naming “enemies,” the real fun begins. Now these young men and women who have been terrified, misinformed, and primed in the worst ways possible are handed a loaded gun and taught how to fight and kill people. They spend over 40 hours practicing firing a myriad of different weapons. As you might imagine at this point, they spend less than a day learning about and practicing using pepper spray or tasers.


THIS is the problem with law enforcement in this country: the unconscionable training. Can you really blame the police for behaving the way they do when this is what they are being taught? They are barely taught any valuable, relevant information for their day to day work as an officer. They are mainly taught to be afraid and to kill the citizens they are supposed to be protecting before those citizens kill them. Throughout this entire 6 month training, not once has de-escalation been brought up or taught in any capacity. These people are sent out into the streets with no idea how to handle the situations they are about to face, other than to use deadly force.

I was grateful to get an inside look at the root of the problem with policing in this country. It is disheartening to be sure, but interesting nonetheless. It honestly makes me worried knowing Nate has to sit through so many hours of this type of harmful indoctrination disguised as “training.” Even though he knows it’s all nonsense, it still has an impact subconsciously.

My point here isn’t to demonize the police or inspire hatred and mistrust. I simply want to shine a light on the real reason that innocent people are being killed every day at the hands of law enforcement. These cops are not all monsters. Sure, some of them are, but a lot of them are just genuinely scared for their lives. From the outside, it looks like they have absolutely no reason to be in many of these situations that end in death, but once you understand how they’ve been trained, it makes a bit more sense. Nothing is going to change until we change this god awful training, and I can’t wait until my boyfriend is safely out of that place.

Training / Police Academy | Odessa, TX

Anxiety As a Friend

Avoiding our emotion is an American past time. We pass this down from one generation to another, adding on layers of fear and shame as we go until not only are we afraid to cry or be nervous, but also afraid of the way others will judge us for feeling these ways. I learned the other day that other countries don’t have the same desperation to escape even mild sadness the way Americans do. There is much more complexity and grey area to the range of emotion overseas. Many countries have words about feelings that cannot even be accurately translated into English. The nuance simply doesn’t exist here.

It’s also interesting to consider the wise advice from centuries ago in the east, such as the idea that trying to avoid our suffering only causes us to suffer longer, is just now being proven by science. Unsurprisingly studies show that people that view most of the emotions besides happiness negatively are more likely to end up being unhappy. In other countries there is room in the language, in the culture, for happiness to reside alongside things like grief, sadness, anger, anxiety. We have convinced ourselves in this country that all these emotions are mutually exclusive.

One of my blog notes was listed as “writing about anxiety as a friend” for months now. After initially writing the idea down, each time I read it I was perplexed. What on earth could I have possibly meant by that? I find it humorous now that I remember my intention. It’s hard for me to even hold this perspective in my mind for too long. I have spent my whole life viewing my anxiety as the enemy, my kryptonite.

I’ve just started to give myself permission to look at it another way. If I imagine my anxiety as a separate entity, I am able to look at it more objectively, to offer it compassion instead of impatience and disdain. When I start to feel that tension building in my chest, pulling at me. I imagine instead a small child, maybe even myself as a child, tugging at me instead. “I’m scared,” she says. And instead of shaking her off roughly and pressing on or running away from her, my response is now to crouch down, to take her hands, to tell her it’s okay, we’re safe. It feels so good to just offer your emotions acknowledgement. To say to them: I see you. I hear you. Thank you. We’ll be alright.

For most of my life, my anxiety was a cue that it was time to start thinking about all the ways things could go wrong or all the reasons I am a broken person. I took it as a signal that something is wrong out in the world as well, that I should hide myself away. I’ve realized though that there are many other ways to interpret these uncomfortable emotions. Here’s a recent example of what I mean:

Yesterday my office was putting on a Halloween fundraiser. I was to attend to help out with selling raffle tickets and to stay afterward to clean up. Although I was excited, I was also anxious about this all week. I was worried about having such a busy Saturday, about whether or not I’d even be able to stay awake all night after waking up at 6AM. Now, while these were valid concerns, they weren’t things I could run away from or avoid. They were things I had to face. My anxiety wasn’t telling me that I would fail or that things would go badly, it was just saying “I’m scared.”

And it’s okay to be scared. Being scared doesn’t always mean that we should run away. Sometimes it is just a signal from our bodies that we need some extra love and reassurance. Let yourself know that you’ll be there, that’s you’ll be okay, no matter what the outcome. When I try to avoid my anxiety that dense little ball of tightness in my chest seems to become bigger and bigger until I can hardly breathe. It demands my attention, but I am doing everything in my power to look away. What a miraculous difference I feel when instead I turn toward that feeling. Just holding our emotions in awareness seems to let them relax.

It’s time for us to do the work to change our response to unpleasant emotions. Some day I hope that we can all see our emotions as an opportunity to offer ourselves kindness, instead of reasons to run away from ourselves. You don’t have to do anything in particular to offer kindness either. It’s whatever kindness looks like to you. How would you comfort that small girl on your sleeve? Maybe she needs a hug or a hot drink and some time to sit and breathe. Maybe she needs rest or a reward. There are countless ways for us to give ourselves loving kindness. In my experience, just having the intention of kindness is enough to make a world of difference. Even if that just looks like saying to yourself, “I don’t know how to make you feel better, but I want to. I love you. I’m here for you.”

Anxiety is not our enemy. Anxiety is a small friend, asking for support. Let’s practice offering it that support instead of neglect or displeasure. Anxiety is just a feeling, just a message from our bodies. We are the ones who have the power to interpret that message. We’ve been mistranslating it for so long, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn to see it for what it really is. Anxiety is not a cue that you are in danger or damaged. It’s a cue that you are in need of tenderness and love in order to keep going. Things that we all need. Things that we can all easily learn to give to ourselves. Things that can help us associate anxiety with self care instead of fear. Tend to that little child inside of you today. Don’t turn away. She’s a friend.

Child Adult Holding Hands - Public Policy Institute of California

Using Curiosity to Combat Fear

Social anxiety disorder: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

I’ve struggled with social anxiety for the majority of my life. The only time I can remember interacting with other people without hesitation or fear was when I was a very young child. It used to be so easy to go up to another child that I didn’t know at all and become friends with them in a matter of minutes. I miss those simpler times. The longer I’ve lived, the harder it has become for me to make new friends.

The last few years as a social worker have really inspired me to try harder when interacting with others. I see the way that my coworkers are so easily able to make meaningful connections to the clients we meet everyday. I’ve tried my best to mirror their social behaviors and improve my own ability to connect, but it always feels somewhat gross and fake. It’s impossible to make a real connection with another person when you are wearing a mask. Even when they don’t know you, there is a different energy that I think we are all able to pick up on whether we consciously realize it or not.

I used to make excuses to myself about why it wasn’t even worth my time to put in the effort to bond with new people. I had convinced myself that the vast majority of people just aren’t worth getting to know. Everyone is an idiot with nothing interesting to say. At least that’s what I used to believe. However, after meeting so many shockingly amazing people in the last few years, that conviction has all but eroded. Now I am happy to say that I truly believe their are still wonderful people out there for me to meet. The issue now is, how do I learn to put myself out there and keep my heart open to that possibility each time I meet someone new?

One thing I have been trying to work on is focusing on curiosity instead of fear. One of the most anxiety provoking parts of my job each day is sitting with the child while my coworkers discuss the next steps with the parent. I am always extremely nervous any time I am alone with someone I’m not close to, let alone a child that has just disclosed horrific abuse of some kind. Even though my time one of one with the children has always ended up going well, often resulting in a swell of admiration and tenderness toward them, I still can’t manage to placate my fears for each new case.

I’ve noticed that when I am faced with these types of situations, my initial instinct is to shut down. All I want to do is run out the clock or avoid the encounter entirely. I also struggle to avoid prattling on about myself instead of getting to know the person I’m talking to. I guess I find it easier to talk about myself because it’s always easier to talk about what you know. And what do we know better than ourselves and our own experiences? I think this is also a subconscious attempt to control the conversation and avoid being taken off guard. When asking questions, you can never predict where the conversation may lead. One of the hallmarks of social anxiety is attempting to plan out a conversation before it happens. Obviously this never works. It just makes you less able to immerse yourself in the natural flow of conversation.

I’m working on letting go of my need to control the situation and open myself up to discovering what/who is in front of me. I would consider myself a very curious person. I am always wondering about the way others think and see the world, what interests them and why, what their goals are, etc. However, my fear easily overpowers that natural curiosity under the pressure of meeting new people, especially in a work setting. It’s always been hard for me to toe the line between authenticity and professionalism. But I’m hoping if I can keep guiding my attention back to that curiosity inside of me, eventually it will become easier to overcome my fear so that I may learn more about the person I’m talking to.

I want to practice shifting my focus from myself, my fears, worries, what this person may be thinking about me, etc. I’d rather focus on the other person and finding out who they are. I’m sure that with enough experience I can teach myself that there is nothing to fear. Sure, maybe it will be an uncomfortable conversation, but it may also be a lovely, enjoyable interaction. Based on anecdotal evidence, I’d have to say the latter is even more likely. Either way, I am going to keep trying. This world is filled with so many fascinating people with minds as mysterious and unique as my own. I can’t wait to meet them. That is going to be my mantra from now on when we have a new family coming in: I can’t wait to meet them! I wonder who they will be.

A Look at Social Anxiety Disorder | Johnstown Heights Behavioral Health

Juggling Gratitude and Fear

Lately I keep coming back to the realization that a lot of the luxuries I take for granted every day will soon be unavailable to me. Fresh produce from the store, peaceful morning drives to work, running water, hot showers, internet access, electricity, coffee, a healthy, pain-free body. Most of us have lots of precious moments like these every day that we don’t pay much attention to. Even if you don’t believe that the world is headed for catastrophe like me, it is still a shame that we don’t take the time to be grateful for the small moments of joy in our lives.

My issue is not so much that I don’t realize I need to be grateful for these things, it’s rather that it’s hard for me to avoid the fear that comes along with realizing that they are in fact luxuries I may not always have. My heart swells with panic instead of gratitude when I acknowledge that in a few short years I may be going to sleep hungry. I may be fighting just to stay alive, to keep my loved ones alive and safe. My mind tends to fixate on the negative, preventing me from enjoying where I am and what I have right now.

I don’t quite know how to reconcile the two sides of this coin. How can I remind myself that I am so privileged without dwelling on the fearful vision I have of the future without these comforts? As soon as I try to feel gratitude for the little things, I feel terror and dread instead. But I don’t want to continue sleepwalking through these “mundane” moments either. It is a constant struggle to try to balance the simple pleasures of my day to day life now with the nightmarish future to come. I’m afraid that my efforts to be more mindful are only resulting in me practicing fear and anxiety instead.

I am genuinely at a loss as how to address this issue. I’m not sure if trying to hold this in my awareness is actually worse for my mental health than continuing to take my many blessings for granted. It’s hard to feel grateful that you are not in physical or emotional pain without also contemplating the day that pain will come. If anyone else has experienced this dilemma, I would love to know your thoughts. Is there anything you have found helpful in handling these contradictory emotions? I would greatly appreciate any advice offered.

Welcome To The Post-Apocalypse: A Open Letter From The Martyrs of The New  World | Geek and Sundry

Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome by Lisa Morgan M.Ed. CAS - Spectrum Women

Imposter Syndrome is a phrase that I’ve been hearing about a lot lately. Essentially, it is a term that means feeling like you are a fraud, that you aren’t as good, talented, smart, etc. as others think you are, that you are undeserving of the success you’ve achieved in life. I think we can all relate to feeling this way from time to time. It’s hard to decipher whether or not I have this particular syndrome though. Especially when the google definition specifies it disproportionately affects high achieving people. Part of me wants to believe that this is a reason it may apply to me, but at the same time, do I consider myself a high-achieving person? That’s debatable. Would anyone really suffering from imposter syndrome consider themselves high-achieving?

The definitions I read don’t quite fit what I’m experiencing. It’s not that I feel I haven’t earned the position I have at work or awards I’ve won, etc. (There aren’t many.) I feel more afraid to pursue different interests or projects because I don’t feel like I’m “good enough.” Writing for this blog is actually a perfect example. I often feel guilty writing about yoga, mindfulness, gratitude, and self-improvement, which are the topics I primarily want to write about. As I write, however, I am filled with hesitation and self-doubt.

Who am I to preach to anyone else about these things? Even though I fully believe in the mindset and habits that I offer for others to practice, I am still not able to fully embody those values myself. I worry that by even discussing these topics I am misrepresenting myself to the people that read my blog. It makes me feel dirty and dishonest.

Somehow I’ve managed to push through that self-doubt here. I continue to write despite feeling like I should make myself perfect before opening my mouth and giving advice to others. I know that no matter how much I work on myself, I am never going to feel good enough, so fuck it. I’m not claiming to be an expert or that anyone should pay attention to the things I write. I have to remind myself of that fact often.

This mindset of self-doubt has kept me from pursing a lot of different projects in the past though. Whenever I would contemplate making a YouTube channel, for example. Or when I’ve considered trying to write a book, make a website, or start a podcast. I shoot myself down before I even get a chance to begin. I feel unworthy of the attention and potential praise these goals might bring me before I’ve even gotten them. I also tend to minimize anything I am really good at. If something comes easily to me or if I excel at a particular task, I insist that is just because it IS easy. I don’t feel I should get credit for doing something so simple, even if it’s not simple for most people.

I wanted to go to yoga teacher training for at least a year before I actually worked up the courage to do it. Even then it was only because a friend from work was going to the training. I knew my practice was more advanced than hers, so for the first time I thought that maybe I was ready to become a teacher. When I got to the actual training, to my great surprise, I had a far more advanced practice than anyone else there! It really made me wonder, if these people thought they were good enough, why didn’t I? Even now, teaching a class every Saturday, I still feel out of place and uncomfortable leading when I have so much doubt about my own ability.

I guess what it comes down to is a fear of being thought of as arrogant or conceited by others. We have no control over the way others perceive us though. It’s a waste of energy to worry about things like that. What’s important is that we’re doing our best. I’m not claiming to be perfect, and it’s not my responsibility if someone else misinterprets my intentions. All I can do is be who I am and have fun doing it.