Trauma

Emotional and Psychological Trauma - HelpGuide.org

Working at a child advocacy center, I have learned a lot about trauma. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) isn’t just something that war veterans have, it’s something that can result from many different situations. A lot of the children I work with end up having PTSD as a result of the abuse they have experienced. You might have PTSD from childhood trauma, a car crash, an abusive relationship, the sudden loss of a loved one, or any number of different scenarios. I’ve also learned that what defines “trauma” is different for everyone. Two people may experience the same thing and react completely differently. There are tons of things that factor into trauma.

It seems like trauma and PTSD are popular topics in the media today. I hear it mentioned all the time in the various videos and podcasts I listen to. The reason I want to talk about it today is because I caught myself feeling guilty about not having experienced any serious trauma in my life. Let me explain. I’ve always kind of considered myself a mess. I feel incapacitated by anxiety and neuroticism most of the time. However, I have heard so many stories of people that have gone through so much more than I could even imagine that seem to be coping with life better than I am. It makes me feel ashamed of myself, quite frankly.

It almost feels like I don’t deserve any compassion or sympathy for the issues I am struggling with from myself or anyone else. I often joke with my coworkers that the kids we meet are still higher functioning than I am, even though I’ve had such an easy life so far. I genuinely can’t understand it. Combing through my memories trying to find some kind of event to explain my poor mental health only makes me feel worse as I realize that I’ve not even had many minor forms of trauma in my life.

When I caught myself feeling guilty the other day, I tried to imagine what I would say to myself if I were a good friend. (We should all be our own good friends anyway, right?) I would have told that friend that they don’t need to justify or explain why they feel the ways they feel. It’s their experience and that’s enough to make it valid. This isn’t the trauma Olympics. Not all people who have anxiety or depression or any other mental illness have to have had a traumatic life experience. That’s why the DSM distinguishes between PTSD and other anxiety disorders, for instance. Not every mental illness has to be trigged by a particular life event. Not all traumatic life events have to lead to mental illness.

I often fall into that familiar trap of black and white thinking. Just because other people have it worse, doesn’t mean that my suffering doesn’t matter or that I’m not allowed to experience it. We each have our own shit to deal with. There is no need to compare ourselves to others in any way, let alone when it comes to mental illness. It’s not as if I choose to feel this way. Just like others didn’t choose to experience traumatic events or the aftermath that comes with them. You should never feel ashamed of something that is out of your control.

I would never want anyone to feel ashamed for not being able to “justify” their mental illness. That’s like being ashamed of having cancer because you never smoked and lived a healthy lifestyle. It makes no sense at all. In fact, even someone that does smoke cigarettes, resulting in lung cancer, still deserves compassion and sympathy. Despite all of my psychology education and social work experience, I can’t seem to let go of these nonsensical perspectives when it comes to myself. Even though I know mental illness is just as real and valid as physical illness, I can’t seem to shake the idea that it’s somehow my fault that I manage it so poorly. Even when I really am trying my best.

It’s amazing to me how much easier it is to offer love and understanding to others, while it feels impossible to extend the same kindness to myself. So this post is for all the other people like me out there, beating themselves up over things they can’t control. If you are unable to say it to yourself, I’m here to say it for you. No matter what you’re going through, no matter what you’ve gone through, no matter who you are, or what you’ve done, YOU deserve love. YOU deserve compassion. YOU deserve happiness. YOU are enough. YOU are worthy. Don’t forget it.

Sierra Boggess Quote: “You are enough. You are so enough, it is  unbelievable how enough you

Body Image Double Standards

Growing up, I was always the heaviest of my friends. It isn’t even that I was necessarily overweight, I just happened to have very skinny friends. Because of this and many other factors, I have always had a negative relationship with my body and physical appearance. I’ve been dieting and striving to be skinny for as long as I can remember. Yet even after beginning a workout regiment in high school and losing 50lbs. I’ve never quite liked my body.

As my friends and I got older, a lot of them started to gain weight. This isn’t surprising. Our metabolisms naturally begin to slow down after adolescence. Now that my friends are all heavier than I am, it’s brought to light some interesting double standards I hadn’t realized I had before. My very best friend has been very upset about her weight recently. Seeing her worry about it absolutely breaks my heart.

To me she will always be beautiful inside and out. It upsets me to think of her not loving and accepting her body exactly the way that it is, no matter what it weighs. Obviously to me she is just as worthy of love and happiness as she was when she was 100lbs soaking wet. I’ve never seemed to offer myself that same kindness, though. In my mind, I’ve never been “good enough” to deserve my own love, let alone the love of anyone else. I always tell myself that someday I’ll love myself once I lose enough weight or look a certain way.

I think this toxic mindset is one of the reasons I worry so much about my best friend. I’m afraid, terrified even, that she might think the same hurtful things about herself. I just couldn’t bear for her to think of her body the way that I think about mine. This has made me realize just how cruel and hurtful I’ve been to myself all these years. If I wouldn’t want my best friend to think and feel this way about her body, why have I been allowing myself to feel this way for so long?

It is so strange to me how vastly different the standards are that we hold ourselves to compared to those we hold other people to. Shouldn’t they be the same? If I truly want my best friend to love herself, every bit of herself, exactly as she is, wouldn’t the best way for me to ensure she does that be to lead by example? If I want other people to love me and accept me for who I am as a person rather than what I look like, doesn’t it make sense to show myself the same level of love and respect that I hope to receive? I pride myself on being a rational, logical person, yet I continue to live my life following a nonsensical set of personal rules and expectations.

Although I’m sad my friend is struggling with her self-esteem recently, at the same time I am grateful that she has given me unique insight into my own self-esteem issues. Now I not only want to change the way I think about and talk to myself for me, but for everyone else I love as well. I’m tired of sounding like a hypocrite when I tell her that she is beautiful and wonderful even though she may be overweight. How can I expect her to believe my words are genuine when I am simultaneously hating and berating my own, thinner body?

Sometimes it takes a good friend to help us realize how we should be treating ourselves. When we take a step back and look at ourselves as friends, it becomes quite obvious how unacceptable and unrealistic our own standards are. I am going to work hard to be a better friend. And that starts by being a better friend to myself.

Body Confidence, Body Positivity And Self Esteem - The Complicated Truth  Behind Instagram And Body Image Woes

Relearning Vulnerability

I’ve always struggled with letting my guard down around people. There are very few people in my life that are given the chance to see the real me. I’m only able to open up on this blog because none of the people I know if real life even know it exists. I suppose even if they did though, it would be easier to tell them these things behind the veil of words and screens than upfront and personal. For as long as I can remember, there has always been this small voice deep in my heart that tells me I must hide myself away. It warns me that I mustn’t reveal my true, full self to anyone. That no one would be able to accept, let alone love, the real me.

There have only been a couple of people in my life that I felt really saw me and chose to love me anyway. There is nothing more precious to me than the relationship I have with these people. They are my world. I am humbled by their love. Most days I don’t feel worthy of it. They have seen all the ugliest parts of me throughout the years and yet they are still willing to stand by my side, to be there for me. It seems impossible, but it’s true. And there is nothing that they could do that would change my powerful love for them. I’m sure they feel the same, although my mind doesn’t want to believe it.

Secrets separate. Secrets create space. I’ve noticed throughout my life that the more secrets I keep from people, the lonelier I feel. Sometimes it feels like I am playing a character when I interact with others. But the longer I play that character, the more certain I feel that my true self would be unacceptable to show. I even fear people seeing through my facade. I have always been so brutal towards myself. Always telling myself I am not enough, that my many flaws disqualify me from love. But life and love aren’t so black and white.

There are few things in life as beautiful and meaningful as bearing your soul to someone and receiving in return their unwavering, unflinching love. The mere concept is almost enough to bring me to tears. Yet at the same time, there is nothing more painful than bearing your soul and having it rejected. Few things are able to cut so deep, to leave such jagged scars. Such is the duality of life. We must always take big risks if we hope to have the chance for big rewards. I know I’ve once again reached that fork in the road where I must choose to take that risk.

Even though I have decided to trade vulnerability for intimacy, I’m honestly not sure how anymore. It has become second nature for me to cut and edit myself to be more pleasing to others, especially those I admire and respect. The idea of “being myself” seems utterly foreign to me now. I’ve isolated myself to black and white. The shade of grey that is truly me got lost somewhere along the way. I suppose that uncertainty is all part of relearning how to be vulnerable. I don’t have to be sure. I’ve just got to be honest and try my best.

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Altruism

For the majority of my life, I’ve considered myself a pretty selfish person. It’s not something I’m proud of or anything, just something I’ve recognized about myself. As I get older, I identify with that label less and less. I am still definitely more selfish and self-obsessed than a lot of the people I know, but not nearly as much as my past self. I think selfishness is something we all grow out of to some extent as we grow older. Although I’m not really sure why that is.

As far as my own personality goes, I think I’ve changed because the more I’ve experienced in life, the more I’ve learned that it feels good to be “selfless.” I say that almost ironically, because I’m not really sure if there truly are selfless acts in this world. Regardless of what our reasoning might be, we all have our own motives for doing everything that we do. In the end I truly believe that we are all connected anyway. We are all one. So by helping others, we are also helping ourselves. Even if in the moment it looks as though we’ve put ourselves at risk or denied ourselves something for the sake of another, all that truly means is that we value the way it feels to help more than whatever it is we may lose in the process. I just think some people are a little bit more honest and in tune with their intentions than others.

I don’t want this to sound cynical. I’m not trying to argue that no one is motivated by anything other than self interest. There is nothing wrong with feeling good about helping someone else. I think it’s quite beautiful even. It’s just one of the many ways this world provides us with a perfectly symbiotic relationship with all other life. It’s so bizarre to think that what was once a playground taunt “what goes around comes around” has actually been a profound truth all along. I’m not sure how I feel about karma because it is more focused on past lives. However, I do believe that we can feel the direct impacts of our own actions coming back to us in this life.

The real reason I wanted to talk about this idea today is because of the impact it can have on our mental health. It seems like despite the sunny warm weather returning, my mental health hasn’t improved like it usually does around this time of year. I’m not sure whether it’s because of this ongoing pandemic or what I’ve learned about our oceans recently, but something has been weighing on me quite heavily this past year. Yesterday, my best friend since third grade messaged me and expressed that she has been feeling the exact same ways that I have. Her anxiety has been worse than ever, she’s having panic attacks, depressive episodes, fits of rage, etc. While it truly broke my heart to hear how much she’s been struggling, comforting her did help me remember something very important that I’d nearly forgotten.

Sometimes when we are drowning in mental illness and focusing on all of our problems, it becomes hard to think about anything or anyone else. We get sucked into this painful, self-defeating vortex. Although it may seem impossible in these moments, one of the best ways to pull ourselves out is to try to focus on others for awhile. Even though it feels like you have nothing left to give, give anyway. One of my favorite quotes is, “the heart that gives, gathers.” A simple, yet powerful truth. There is nothing more uplifting or fulfilling than being of service to others, especially those you love. It’s nice to feel needed, to feel that you are a valuable part of someone else’s life, to see that you are capable of contributing to the lives of your friends, your family, your community.

When you fixate on something, it often grows and becomes larger and larger the longer you do. The same goes for your problems. A day spent focusing solely on my anxiety level is guaranteed to be a difficult day. As I spent hours on the phone with my friend last night, my own anxiety couldn’t have been further from my mind. I was even grateful for my own experiences with mental illness as it allowed me to better understand my friend’s suffering. I was so happy to be able to be there for her.

We briefly discussed the idea of “burdening” others with your distress or personal issues. Both of us have a tendency to be hesitant to speak up about our problems to those we love. It seems cruel to make them share our pain, even if it would lighten the load for us and provide much needed comfort. Even though I often feel this way, I do believe there is also another way to look at it. Perhaps it is a gift to share our troubles with our loved ones. After all, I didn’t feel burdened by talking to my friend about her struggles yesterday. I felt honored and thankful that she would come to me for help. It made me feel better to help her feel better. It is a beautiful experience of bonding and trust to be vulnerable with someone else.

The next time I am starting to feel overwhelmed by my own inner world, I want to remember what my friend reminded me yesterday by coming to me with her despair. I don’t need to be afraid to also share my difficulties. And even more importantly than that, sometimes the best remedy for those difficulties is shifting my focus to helping someone else instead. To remind myself that there is so much more in this world than my own suffering, that I am capable of more than suffering. I am even capable of easing the suffering of others, and that is something I am truly grateful for.





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Being Better

Sometimes I get frustrated by the seemingly endless cycle that my mind traps me inside of. I spend most of my time just anxiously trying to occupy myself with nonsense activities to make the day go by faster. It seems like I am always looking for things to waste my time with. What makes this so frustrating is that there are actually a lot of important, helpful, productive things I could be doing with my time instead. I come up with lots of great ideas of how I can be more helpful around the office. I am always getting excited about all the ways I plan to improve my performance at work and prove that I am a valuable asset to my friends and coworkers. But despite all of my initial enthusiasm, once the time comes to sit down and do the work I’ve planned for myself, my anxiety always overwhelms me, paralyzes me.

I spend so much time feeling guilty for not being better. I am so smart and capable. I know I could do far more than I currently do. It’s just difficult for me to switch my energy towards more important pursuits over the ridiculous personal projects I am always working on. I blame my anxiety, but even that doesn’t fully make sense to me. I don’t have any explanation as to why doing these things cause so much fear and hesitation. In the rare moments when I am feeling calm, it seems more than possible for me to accomplish all of these lofty self-improvement goals, but once I begin to feel those first twinges of anxiety, it seems like all I can manage to do is survive. Avoiding that anxiety becomes my top priority, the only thing that matters above all else.

With our therapist at work leaving this fall, I feel even more pressure to amp up my work performance. It’s made me realize I’ve been leaning on my coworkers too much. I feel like I’ve been making them carry a lot of my weight this past year and a half. It’s crazy to me it’s only been that long. It feels like I’ve worked here all of my life. I really don’t want to ever leave. And I’m so tired of feeling guilty for not being more of a help to the people I work with. I’m tired of being afraid of them resenting me for it. Also as a state funded facility, I become more and more anxious about job security every day. At a small organization like ours, we really can’t afford any extra dead weight. I want to do my part. Even more than my part. I want to secure funding so that we can all feel safe to continue working here. I want to go home at the end of the day feeling proud for all I’ve accomplished for this organization that has given me so much. I want to feel like what I do here is really making an important difference.

I think one of my main issues is getting carried away when I am in my more upbeat, hopeful moods. I come up with so many ideas and tasks for myself to complete. Writing them out in never-ending lists only serves to make me feel even more overwhelmed. I know that what works best for me is to break down those long lists and schedule one task or so per day. That way I am able to actually accomplish a lot of my goals without feeling suffocated by the pressure of doing them all at once.

It is quite fascinating to me just how eager, happy, and excited I am able to get at the idea of doing all these extra tasks, but then just to put pen to paper or pick up the phone to make a single call sends me spiraling into fear and self-doubt. Not only that, I feel guilty for always using my anxiety as an excuse. I shouldn’t need someone to hold my hand and force me to do the things I want to do.

For the rest of today at least, I am going to try to stop my thinking mind from keeping me crippled and terrified. Instead of spending my energy contemplating and worrying about what I’m going to do before I do it. I am going to try my best to pick a task, take five long deep breaths, and then just do it. No more thinking. No more wondering if I should be doing something else, if I could think of a way to do it better, etc. I am grateful for my intelligence, but often it feels like a curse more than a gift. Wouldn’t it be lovely to just be able to act without thinking all the time?

Sometimes it helps me to remind myself that this is just one single day of my life. I remember all of the countless others that have come and gone without much consequence. It won’t kill me to do things differently or test my limits for one day. If it turns out to be unbearable, I don’t have to do things the same way again tomorrow. There is nothing to fear in trying and failing. It’s okay if something makes me feel anxious. There is nothing inherently wrong with feeling that way. It is the avoidance of that feeling that is truly causing me all this grief. I want to practice making peace with my anxious feelings rather than running from them. I am going to make today different. Even if it’s just today.

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Change

I think it’s very interesting how many people I’ve heard say they don’t like change. I am one of them. Yet change is the only true constant in this world of ours. Without change none of us would even exist as we are. Just like with most things, it can be beautiful and also terrible. Just a few weeks ago I was quite excited about all the new changes that seemed to be happening in my life. Now as things continue to develop and change even further, I feel as though change is no longer a friend, but a bitter enemy.

At times like these I try to remind myself of all the changes in my life that initially felt unbearable, that ended up leading to some of my greatest joys. You can never really tell what even the smallest change may mean down the road. At the very least, it is an opportunity to practice letting go. Something I’ve never been very good at. I’m surprised my fingers are not just bloodied stumps from all the clinging I’ve done in my life.

One of the things I struggle with when facing an unpleasant change is whether or not to surrender to the sadness and pain that accompany it. I never know when I am just letting myself experience a healthy amount of painful emotions or when I am feeding those same emotions. Surely it isn’t healthy to turn away from every pang of the heart, but at the same time it is so easy to fall further into that deep dark hole that I’m still working to climb out of.

I suppose when I was younger there wasn’t much of a choice to be made. It was impossible to deny the feeling of raking claws across my chest, tearing at my tender heart. It seems like I used to cry so often as I was lying down to sleep at night. I never thought I could actually miss those awful moments of sorrow. Yet now I almost long to feel in the way that I once could. For years now, it has been nearly impossible for me to cry. It isn’t that I haven’t had reason to. The tears just don’t seem to come anymore. Instead of stinging eyes, now I only feel this strange gaping chasm behind my ribs, a terrible emptiness.

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Tired of My Own Shit

Over three months into 2021 and I haven’t made nearly as much progress towards my goals as I had hoped. I had such grand plans to stop smoking and get my eating habits back on track. Yet hardly anything has changed at all. I suppose I am slightly proud that I have managed to stop smoking in the morning and all day at work. I’ve gotten back to only drinking sugar and creamer in my coffee on my days off. I’ve also managed to at least reimplement some healthy meals back into my diet, despite it overall still being extremely repetitive, shamefully odd, and unhealthy.

When I’ve stopped smoking cigarettes in the past, it has been because I would suddenly realize that this activity that I once relished and looked forward to, had become something to dread or at least feel indifferent towards. This same weariness has crept into all of my once cherished, bad habits. It is quite a strange realization. When once I could justify these behaviors to myself because they brought me some semblance of joy and calm, now I have no excuse. Now instead of feeling like I’m indulging myself and being cheeky, I feel as though I’m a slave to these compulsions.

To me, these feelings are similar to what some people call “rock bottom.” In that sense, I do understand why a lot of people say you must reach rock bottom before you are willing to change. Once you’ve gotten that low, it seems equally difficult no matter which path you choose to take. There is no longer a path of least resistance. It is just as hard, if not harder, to continue the negative behaviors than it is to change. Changing can almost become an exciting idea again, a real possibility, a real path back to some sort of happiness. After all, nothing could feel worse than continuing down the road you are on.

I feel like right now I am just on the precipice of that place. I can feel myself hesitating at the fork in the road before me. On the right I can see ahead of me more of the same drudgery, the same guilt, shame, and pain I’ve become so accustomed to. On the left, however, the path is completely obscured by a dense fog. At what point does the fear of the unknown become less terrifying than continuing on the way you have been? It feels like I am about to find out first hand. I hope that I am about to find out.

I promised myself that if I was still struggling after starting the new year that I would begin therapy. Even though I desperately don’t want to, nor do I really have the money to, I think it may finally be time to make an appointment. I’ve got to get a professional, outside perspective in order to help myself. I am too lost within the delusions of my own mental illness. When I first began these disordered eating habits, I told myself that it would be worth it because I would finally be able to be super skinny. And I was for at least a month or two last summer. So much so that my friends and family began to worry about me. Yet it didn’t bring me any happiness at all. I was more anxious and miserable than ever before. I still hated myself. I still hated my body and the way I looked, maybe even more than before. Somehow even though I felt bony and stick-like, I never stopped feeling bulbous, bulky, and too big.

Now I’ve basically reverted back to my normal weight (I’m too afraid of the scale to know for sure) but I’ve been unable to shake my disordered eating. It feels like all of that suffering was ultimately for nothing. I’ve maintained all the negatives, but none of the “positives.” And even though I keep reminding myself that my weight did not correlate with my happiness at all, I am too afraid of gaining more to take proper care of myself again. It’s been so long that I’m not sure I ever remember how to. Food used to be my crutch, my comfort, but now it has also become my greatest fear and my greatest shame. The damage I have done to my relationship with food and with myself seems impossible for me to fix alone. I need to push through my anxiety in order to ask for help, to get an outside voice to help overpower the unhealthy one in my head.

I just want to trust myself again. I want to reconnect with my body’s wisdom, with my intuition. I want to feel healthy again, mentally and physically. I want to love myself. I want to take good care of myself. It is insane to me that the fear of being fat is able to overpower all of my more positive impulses and instincts. I know that I have to overcome that fear in order to get back to a healthier place. I need to accept that I’ll probably have to gain weight in order to set my body right again. Why on earth does that feel like a death sentence?

I want to stop focusing on weight all together. It doesn’t matter. It is meaningless. I want to focus on the things that really matter in this life, like being kind to myself and others, being a good person, a good daughter, granddaughter, sister, friend. I want to live a life that doesn’t have to be a shameful secret. I want to live a life that I can be proud of. I want to get excited about my life again.

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Self Distortion

I was reminded again yesterday, that I really have a warped perception of myself. I genuinely have no idea how other people see me. One of the detectives I work with was excited to show me a YouTube channel he found. He said that the girl on this channel looked exactly like me. I am always extremely nervous when someone tells me they found someone that looks like me. Usually it is very flattering, but being someone that has an eating disorder, this is a great way to trigger me. Not that anyone has ever compared me to anyone heavy, but once I was compared to someone on Instagram that wasn’t exactly how I wanted to see myself. I was upset about that one for days.

Luckily this time the YouTuber in question was drop-dead gorgeous. She had an alternative look and long, beautiful, black hair. I still never know how to respond when someone approaches me with something like this, but overall I was very happy. Even though I do not see the resemblance at all. It’s interesting to contemplate the disconnect between the way others see me and the way I see myself. I used to glance at strangers and try to find someone I thought had a similar body type and build so that I could see how I must look to others. Eventually I gave up on this because it only upset me. I would be interested to see if the people I thought were built similar to me would be the people those around me would pick as well. I once even found a website where you could enter your height and weight and it would produce pictures of other people with the same dimensions. That one fucked me up for weeks. Even though the images produced could vary wildly, I always assumed I was closer to the less pleasing photos, rather than the women that looked like models at my height and weight.

My sister always used to tell me that I had body dysmorphia. Basically, that’s a mental disorder where you have an extremely altered perception of your physical appearance, usually focusing in on one aspect of yourself like your nose or your ears or your weight to hyper-fixate on. Part of me has always really wanted to believe she was right, but then a larger part of me always says, “well if that’s true you’re acknowledging that you aren’t as fat as you think you are, which is obviously ridiculous.” However in recent years, I’ve come to mostly accept that label even though I’ve never been formally diagnosed. (As you can tell I’m one of those four year psych degree people that loves to self-diagnose: autism, eating disorder, body dysmorphia, generalized anxiety, feel free to roll your eyes.) Anyway, I now view body dysmorphia as just a label that explains that I don’t know what a really look like. It’s as if I am always looking at myself in a funhouse mirror. My self-perception has a tendency to vary immensely from one day to the next, one moment to the next. And of course I always identify with the least flattering reflections most of all.

It can be really nice to be reminded that other people view me differently than the way I view myself. It’s honestly hard to believe. I can’t help but wonder if they are just lying to me or attempting to flatter me for some unknown reason. Oh, the inner ramblings of a mentally ill mind. It makes it quite difficult to know what’s real and what’s not. At the end of the day, I try to let all of this nonsensical pondering go completely. After all, it doesn’t really matter what I look like. One day whatever looks I have now will fade away. I will become shriveled, wrinkled, and grey. And I don’t want to have placed all of my value and self-worth in a youthful appearance. There is so much more to life than what you look like.

It does raise the question of how others perceive the rest of me. I don’t think my self-perception is much better when it comes to my character or personality. I really couldn’t say what words other people might use to describe me. Perhaps I should make a point to start asking them, letting them know before hand that I want their honest opinion no matter what. I can’t even image what kinds of words they might use to describe me to be honest. But I am so curious, because those are the perceptions that really matter in the end. However, even with these descriptions I am so much quicker to believe anything negative about myself than anything positive. When someone says nice things about me, it can make me feel uncomfortable, even guilty. I think, “Oh no, I have somehow tricked them into thinking better of me than they should. They are going to be so upset if they ever find out who I truly am.” I know these thoughts may seem ridiculous, but they come up more than I’d like to admit.

The sad thing is, that none of these opinions or perceptions of other people are what’s important. Because ultimately it’s my own self-perception that matters most. Sadly it is also the least flattering perception I’ve encountered. I’m hopeful that maybe learning to trust the perceptions other people have of me will give me the confidence to start to see myself differently.

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Overriding the Algorithm

Everything that we consume becomes integrated, it all becomes a part of us. Whether its the food we eat, the things we drink, the substances we use, the physical atmosphere of the space around us, or even just the things we watch and listen to, all of these things effect us. Often in ways we don’t intend for them to. I’ve been contemplating this idea a lot lately. I’ve always been hyper aware of the things I put into my body. Although that doesn’t necessarily mean I make the right choices in that area often enough. My primary concern was always with the effects these things have on my weight and physical appearance. The subtler aspects of how what I consume effects my mental and emotional wellbeing always seem to remain largely overlooked.

Without looking at the scientific data showing correlation, it can be very difficult to even connect the way we feel with what we are consuming day to day. It is probably effecting us more than we realize, especially when it comes to anxiety disorders. In addition to cutting back on processed foods, artificial sweeteners, sugar, caffeine, and nicotine, I also want to start changing the content that I consume online. It would be interesting to make these changes just to see if I notice a difference. To log my mood and anxiety level throughout this process to try to gauge just how different I might feel without all of these harmful influences being so enmeshed in my life.

Knowing what I do now about the way our internet experience is basically tailor made for us by algorithms, I would like to try my hand at making that algorithm serve me instead of steer me. I’ve always been someone who enjoys the grittier side of movies and series. So the videos that are offered to me for easy access are primarily about murder mysteries, drug addiction, mental illness, homelessness, social injustice, civil unrest, etc. And while these topics are very interesting, they can also be very upsetting and depressing. When this is the only content that is readily available to you, it can start to feel like all that there is. I wonder how much of what I think and feel every day is directly impacted by this endless background noise of destruction, violence, and despair. Would I be a different person, would I think differently if I actively sought out different content?

One of the reasons the idea of the algorithm guiding our hand has been on my mind so much lately, is because of what’s currently happening on my Netflix account. Somehow I fell down a rabbit whole of watching English dubbed, foreign TV series. Don’t get me wrong, quite well-produced and intriguing stuff, but after awhile I get tired of the voiceover and the dialogue not lining up with the actors’ lip movements. Much to my dismay I seem unable to extricate myself from this issue. Netflix continues to suggest only these shows, and due to my general laziness I put up with watching another one rather than put any effort into finding a good American made show instead. Thus furthering Netflix’s propensity toward offering me foreign series and films. The algorithms that were created to assist us, eventually start to direct and limit our ability to make our own decisions. Only with great, intentional effort can we overcome this endless loop.

Another reason I am interested in the idea of changing the content I consume is to discover just how difficult it would actually be to do. How quickly would the algorithm adjust to a drastic change in interest? The only reason I haven’t done this sooner is because I enjoy the content I consume as I’m sure we all do. I don’t feel confident that I will be able to find more positive content that will interest me as much. I worry that I won’t be satisfied if I limit myself to only watching lighthearted, fluffy shows. I suppose if that ends up being the case, I can always transition away from it again. Perhaps I’d even be able to establish a nice balance between these opposing genres.

I’m going to do some investigating and see if there are any useful resources already out there online for ways to go about shifting your internet experience so that you are exposed to more uplifting content. It seems that someone must have already had the idea to consciously manipulate the algorithm for the benefit of their mental health already. It will be interesting to expose myself to a whole new side of the internet that has remained hidden from me until now. Who knows what I may uncover? I’ll be sure to make an update to this post once I implement this new plan and discover how this seemingly innocuous change effects me.

Photo by Anthony Shkraba on Pexels.com

Lukewarm Heart

Over the past few years of being single and living alone, I have developed a lot of strange, unhealthy habits. Last night as I was falling asleep, I tried to imagine what it would be like to allow someone to be close to me or to live with me again. It was bizarre to think about, honestly. For the majority of my life, finding a loving partner to spend my life with was my only desire. I really didn’t put much emphasis on anything else in life. Spending my life alone was my greatest fear and there were so many nights as a teenager that I cried myself to sleep at just the thought of it.

I never imagined I could feel so different. Not only do I not particularly care whether or not I fall in love again, I’m honestly skittish about the whole idea. It’s almost like I don’t even remember what it feels like to be in love. Well, apart from the lingering, dull ache it leaves behind years later. That doesn’t seem to fully explain this change in me either though. After all when I first became obsessed with the idea of finding love, I had never even experienced it before. Yet I was still so certain it was the one thing that would make me happy, that would make life worth living. I would have risked anything for it. There is always risk involved when you allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone you love. Now I’m not sure if I even believe it’s worth that risk.

You’d think this lack of interest would be a comfort to me, considering how much I use to agonize over my loneliness. Yet, even though this new state doesn’t necessarily cause me pain, it’s still a cause for concern. How can it be that in the span of just a few years I can feel so completely different about something that was once so vitally important to me? If I could be certain these were an accurate reflection of inner growth and independence, I might not mind. However, there is part of me that wonders if this isn’t somehow a result of so many years on anti-depressants. Paxil has helped me in a lot of ways, and I am grateful for that. But now I’m beginning to question if I’m even still the same person I was before. Which version of myself would I ultimately prefer? Can I even trust the way I think and feel now?

I used to put the concerns about my abnormal behaviors on the back burner. Telling myself that I would easily be able to stop them once I have someone new in my life. Now I’m starting to question that logic. Perhaps I’ll just end up choosing my behaviors over love in the end. And whether or not that is still important to me is irrelevant. Whatever my decision ends up being, I want to know that it was my decision, not something that I chose out of fear and mental illness. I don’t want to be alone just because I am too afraid to change or to get hurt again.

I guess I will try to just look at this new, unfamiliar perspective as somewhat of a super power. I don’t have to feel nervous or pressured on first dates, I can just relax and have fun. The value of my life no longer hinges on the love and approval of someone else. Rejection or abandonment don’t seem that scary when you know that you are perfectly capable and fine with being on your own. My only fear now is about whether or not I still even have the drive and motivation it takes to make a relationship work. Can love even blossom in such a lukewarm heart?

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