It seems that I am struggling.

I was telling my partner yesterday how I felt like I clean the dishes all the time- several times a day even, yet the dirty dishes continue to exist. While I was trying to voice this frustration, I felt my throat get a little tighter and my eyes get a little more wet.

I would say that ever since starting therapy exactly one year ago, I have been more uncontrollably emotional. That sounds far more dramatic than it actually is. Basically, instead of bottling things up, my body just naturally releases any anxiety, fear, or frustration, and, sometimes it is in the form of crying.

In therapy I discussed my constant need to be doing something. At the time that I began seeing my therapist, I had just gotten out of a program that had my attention 24/7 with no breaks- no joke. I went from that to having ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO. It was crazy. And I felt like I was going a little crazy too.

I immediately started looking for a new place to live, a new job, and I made sure that my class schedule for the upcoming semester was desirable. In between all that I made my best efforts to visit all the family and friends I hadn’t been able to regularly see before, during my service year.

Things got overwhelming, my body panicked, and I relied on therapy to get me through it. My therapist and I hit a lot of topics and they are all documented on this blog; you’ll just need to scroll back to maybe June of 2019. It was a lot.

This quarantine has been really stressful for me in regards to my mental health. While I enjoy being inside and away from people, I also love going out with my partner and I really like going to work and feeling like I did something productive that day. I find putting on jeans exhausting, but I like the way I look in them and it boosts my self-confidence.

I haven’t had the need to put on jeans to go anywhere. I haven’t been able to see the people I care about as much as I’d like. I also haven’t been working as many hours at work and my duties have slightly changed since the lockdown. Things are different in the world, but the way I measure my success and productivity is the same as it’s always been. I think this time has shown me that that’s a possible issue.

I know that I am more than my accomplishments. I know that simply doing a load of laundry is a productive activity. I know that not all progress is immediately visible.

But it’s hard.

I have decently high standards for myself and I’ve really been working on cutting myself some slack over the last year. Sometimes, though, I do get impatient and annoyed with the lack of tangible progress.

Regarding work, my hours have been cut in half and I was supposed to start working officially full-time by this point. My upcoming summer class is a math class and I purposely chose an on-campus day/time because I learn this subject best that way (I suck at math, big time!). My partner and I had travel plans and those were, of course, cancelled. I was also looking forward to exploring Atlanta more and trying new bars and restaurants; my girlfriend and I even agreed on a weekly date night where we try out only new restaurants on a list we created.

I also don’t do well with unexpected change. I suppose I do adapt rather quickly and I always get through it okay, but the immediate effects are always scatterbrained thoughts and mild panic.

So, yeah, things have been harder than I thought they’d be. It’s all good, though. I have an amazing partner and the weather is beautiful and I still have lots of things to look forward to. I wish us all the best for the remainder of 2020 and I’m optimistic that things will take a turn for the better.

Sharing My Story

My therapist recently contacted me to ask me if I would participate in an interview about my experience in therapy. He would then want to use bits of that interview in a promotional video for his practice. I said sure. That interview was last Friday at 11 am. I wore jeans, converse, and my Ellen sweater that says “kindness” on it.

When I arrived at the little studio on the westside of Atlanta, my therapist was just finishing up a photo shoot with the two other therapists he works with.

Once they were done, the helpers moved the furniture and replaced the couch with a glass table with a chair on either side that were facing each other. I was also given a microphone to clip on my sweater and on the back of my pants.

Now, days before the interview . my therapist sent me an email with a list of possible questions. I, of course, typed out answers to all of them just in case I got tongue tied during the actual interview.

Here are those questions:

Thoughts leading up to therapy. 

“Man, I hope this works.”

Why did you choose therapy? 

I was unable to “deal with it” alone anymore and I wanted another opinion. It had also been 10 years without significant progress, so I figured therapy wouldn’t make it any worse.

What were you looking for?

Initially, a cure; however, I recognized that that was unrealistic and unlikely, so I adapted it to “new ways to get through anxiety without making me stop living my life.”

What did you think about the phrase “all of you is welcome”?

It gave my “undesirable” parts an invitation to participate and be heard. I never invited them.

Do you remember me saying let’s “unbraid your narrative” or paying close attention to how the “researcher” was managing anxiety? —what changed (realization that I was capable in chaos)

I heard, “start from the beginning”. The realization that I excelled in chaotic parts of my life was validation that I could get through anything and that I would continue to get through anything.

How did kindness help/facilitate this process?

The act of being kind to myself opened many emotional doors. It made me feel more vulnerable and exposed because I think I knew exactly what parts I had been suppressing and invalidating; I didn’t want those parts to make all the parts I was so proud of look bad.

Where you afraid to talk about the parts of you? Did you think this would mean you were crazy?

I don’t think I was afraid per se, but I did have to make a conscious decision to share very personal accounts and thoughts about my life and myself with a complete stranger. I was hoping that I would be pushed to think about things differently than I had been. In the end, I think the reason therapy worked so well with Jon is because we are fundamentally very different personalities; I can’t say that I would’ve been as successful as someone who was as logical as I was. Jon challenged me to welcome and embrace the “softer” sides of myself and this was very helpful in the healing process.

There was never any concern about me being “crazy”.

What did you think about the 3 steps: Tell the Truth, Set Intention, Tell a Different Story?

I am honestly drawing a complete blank.

Being kind to self? Was that something new for you? 

Are you still using kindness today? 

Being kind to myself in the way Jon wanted me to be kind to myself was new, yes. I thought that I was kind, but I quickly discovered that the standards I held myself to were significantly higher than what I held other people to. I was also more forgiving of other people’s emotions; for my own emotions, I limited myself to an allotted slot of time for me to be sad, cry, and wallow in grief or whatever other emotion/feeling I deemed to be negative [for me].

Today, I am kind to myself. I don’t really have to think about it anymore, my body and mind now know that they are free to feel whatever they want without punishment.

Thoughts leading up to therapy. 

Man, I hope this works.

Why did you choose therapy? 

I was unable to “deal with it” alone anymore and I wanted another opinion. It had also been 10 years without significant progress, so I figured therapy wouldn’t make it any worse.

What were you looking for?

Initially, a cure; however, I recognized that that was unrealistic and unlikely, so I adapted it to “new ways to get through anxiety without making me stop living my life.”

What did you think about the phrase “all of you is welcome”?

It gave my “undesirable” parts an invitation to participate and be heard. I never invited them.

Do you remember me saying let’s “unbraid your narrative” or paying close attention to how the “researcher” was managing anxiety? —what changed (realization that I was capable in chaos)

I heard, “start from the beginning”. The realization that I excelled in chaotic parts of my life was validation that I could get through anything and that I would continue to get through anything.

How did kindness help/facilitate this process?

The act of being kind to myself opened many emotional doors. It made me feel more vulnerable and exposed because I think I knew exactly what parts I had been suppressing and invalidating; I didn’t want those parts to make all the parts I was so proud of look bad.

Where you afraid to talk about the parts of you? Did you think this would mean you were crazy?

I don’t think I was afraid per se, but I did have to make a conscious decision to share very personal accounts and thoughts about my life and myself with a complete stranger. I was hoping that I would be pushed to think about things differently than I had been. In the end, I think the reason therapy worked so well with Jon is because we are fundamentally very different personalities; I can’t say that I would’ve been as successful as someone who was as logical as I was. Jon challenged me to welcome and embrace the “softer” sides of myself and this was very helpful in the healing process.

There was never any concern about me being “crazy”.

What did you think about the 3 steps: Tell the Truth, Set Intention, Tell a Different Story?

I am honestly drawing a complete blank.

Being kind to self? Was that something new for you? Are you still using kindness today? 

Being kind to myself in the way Jon wanted me to be kind to myself was new, yes. I thought that I was kind, but I quickly discovered that the standards I held myself to were significantly higher than what I held other people to. I was also more forgiving of other people’s emotions; for my own emotions, I limited myself to an allotted slot of time for me to be sad, cry, and wallow in grief or whatever other emotion/feeling I deemed to be negative [for me].

Today, I am kind to myself. I don’t really have to think about it anymore, my body and mind now know that they are free to feel whatever they want without punishment.

What would you say to someone who is thinking about going therapy but is unsure?

It never hurts to get a second opinion. Maybe this isn’t as good as it gets- go find out. Except for the co-pay, you’ve got nothing to lose.

So, the actual interview went well; it was a lot shorter than I thought it would be. I don’t know when the final version will be completed, but I was told I’d be sent an email.

They gave me flowers, a candle, and a bottle of red wine for my time. There was also a thoughtful card from my therapist.

I guess I feel fine about the interview. I was nervous about too much personal information being released, but it was actually very surface level. Whenever it is released, I’ll put it on here or at least share my thoughts on it.

My Holiday Thus Far

The Holiday Season began, for me, the moment October kissed us goodbye. My girlfriend and I were given a 3 foot Christmas Tree by my grandparents and we set that sucker up immediately. That same day, my Meemaw also invited Chelsea to Thanksgiving. I’ve never had a partner at Thanksgiving, so this was an exciting first.

So, Thanksgiving comes around. My entire immediate family was actually not in town. My mother and stepdad were in Florida. My dad and stepmom were hosting their own Thanksgiving elsewhere (we did end up visiting them later). My sister was also in Florida and got to spend some time with mom.

Ever since my therapist told me to go into the holiday season with a more open mind, I wasn’t as nervous as I might have been otherwise about introducing my girlfriend to the family. This half of my family is quite conservative and religious; however, we actually had a wonderful time. The only person who I felt gave us a little bit of a hard time was my aunt, but I don’t think it was meant maliciously.

As Thanksgiving came to an end and the Christmas music crept through our radios, I started baking and planning and, as of yesterday, making eggnog. In fact, I’ve decided to conduct an experiment and make many types of eggnog in order to find the one that reigns over them all. There will be a few non-alcoholic versions due to the fact that my girlfriend doesn’t like to consume what she thinks tastes like medicine. I mean, she’s not wrong- many medicines contain alcohol.

Anyway, Chelsea leaves for California next week and I will begin dog-sitting, spending time with mom, and then dog-sitting some more. My work has demanded that no one work the week of Christmas, so I had to come up with another form of income. School has also come to an end and I am actually really looking forward to next semester even though this one just about killed me. I have one final exam tomorrow (on a Saturday!!??) at 4:15pm. I’m not thrilled about it, but I’m sure it’ll be fine.

Happy holidays, everyone!

Turkey Day is Rapidly Approaching

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. This means that most of us will be returning home to see family that we only see specifically during this time of the year. For me, this year is different because I am bringing someone with me.

I actually introduced my girlfriend, Chelsea, to various family members over the past 2 months and it all went surprisingly well.

In my last session, I spoke with my therapist about the holiday season and my own expectations regarding family and my obviously gay relationship. He told me to have minimal to no expectations and to be open-minded. At first, I reacted with, “WhAt?! You want ME to be open-minded??”

Buuuuut, then I realized that he was right. I was already anticipating the homophobic comments, questions, and uncomfortable stares months before actually being around family. I was making assumptions. I was judging. If I were to enter their homes with this attitude, it was going to be obvious and rub off on them.

In order for this to be natural and comfortable, I needed to let go of anything I thought before. I needed to act natural and comfortable myself. There is nothing weird or abnormal about my relationship and the more normal I act, the more normal it will be to family.

I’ve worked so hard to be 100% myself. I feel like I’ve only fully achieved that in 2019. I am ready to just have fun and enjoy this holiday season.

Happy holidays, everyone!

A First Attempt

Today will mark the first day that I will exercise after having started exercise/exposure therapy. The plan is to stretch and use the treadmill for a total of 30 minutes all-together.

When I started exposure therapy a few months ago, my therapist began by having me only step on the treadmill. The purpose of this was to get used to just being on it and physically touching it. Previously, the mere thought of exercise sent me into a breathing panic because I anticipated the inevitable suffocation sensation before the real exercise even started. The brain is very powerful.

Sessions following only involved walking at a slight incline at a pretty slow pace- slower than my normal walking speed. Throughout my session, my therapist asked me to name 3 things I was thankful/grateful for. He asked me what my intention was. He asked me to verbally express mindfulness. When the session came to an end, he asked me to step in front of the mirror and talk to myself. He asked me how I felt, what I felt, and what did I have to say to the person starring back at me.

In the more recent sessions, we have picked up speed. My therapist still asks me to name the things that I am grateful for; however, he has also added in the following tasks:

  • ABCs
  • ABCs backwards
  • Count to 100
  • Count backwards from 100

The purpose of these tasks is distraction. The goal is to have my brain so focused on letters and numbers that it has no time to think or panic about the increased heart-rate. For the most part, this does work.

The last session I had, I went the fastest I had gone yet. There was also less distraction and more of me controlling what I was saying/doing/thinking. My therapist actually played marching band music in order to cause a disturbance, but hearing marching band music has never been a trigger, so I enjoyed it. We ended the session with 30 jumping jacks.

At the end of that last session, my therapist gave me permission to venture out on my own and give exercising on my own time a go. I’ve decided to make today my first day.

My intentions for today are to just do it and have no expectations. I forgive myself in advance if I have difficulty getting out of my head. I forgive myself in advance if I have a panic attack. I give myself a high-five for making it this far and not giving up.

Searching for Chaos

I’ll get right to the point: My romantic relationship that I am currently in is going very well. Chelsea and I just moved in together and I’ve even told conservative family members about us. She makes me feel like I’ve got nothing to lose by being 100% myself.

We’ve been seeing each other for about 3.5 months and this is right about the point where things start to look questionable (I’m speaking about my past dating experiences). Three months always seems like the perfect time for people to give up the “I’ve got my shit together” act and then things go south from there.

I have not had this suspicion in this relationship. Like I said before, things have been going great.

This scares me.

My body and brain are just used to chaos. I’m used to chaos at work (this has changed since my new job), at school (mainly concerning class-load (my fault)), with family (it’s complicated), with friends (I am not involved in it, I just am surrounded by it), and, unfortunately, my romantic relationships have not been absent from chaos either.

Over the years, I’ve developed mad planning strategies to help me navigate my own busy life. In the cracks of free time, I was doing household things, school things, or helping friends or current romantic partner through their issues- all the while, of course, I was ignoring my own need for peace, quiet, and some time to deal with anxiety and past events.

Right here, right now, I am in the best mental health I’ve ever been. I can say that without doubt. But old habits die hard and my body is in defense mode in this current relationship because it just can’t be real. Or can it?

My fear is that being in a healthy and “normal” relationship will start to seem so foreign to me that I will unconsciously search for reasons to doubt it and an out in order to avoid repeating past experiences.

I don’t see red flags. Things are great. I am happy. I am so happy. I don’t want this to end. I don’t want my brain to get weird. In order to combat this particular fear, I’ve already discussed it with Chelsea, my therapist, and I will continue to check in with myself and make sure that I am not just creating chaos to have chaos.

Thanks for stopping by! Happy almost Halloween!

Therapy is coming to an end.

My first therapy session was 166 days ago. I have had about 20 sessions. I started in sit-down therapy, a variation of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) and I shifted to exposure/exercise therapy about 7 weeks ago.

While I came to therapy on my own accord, I was still hesitant to fully expose myself to a stranger. I knew that I needed and wanted help, but because so much of the process was unknown, I was nervous and withholding.

I remember how uncomfortable I was when talking about difficult times and then feeling my eyes water. I remember how I started to sweat when my voice started to shake. I remember adverting my eyes to the floor and pinching my thigh with my fingers to distract myself from the emotions that were bubbling up.

4 weeks ago, I cried my eyes out in front of a mirror in the downstairs gym during a session with my therapist. I didn’t love it, but I was more accepting of my tears and the [good] reasons behind them.

By the end of 2019, I will be done with therapy. It feels good. The progress that I’ve made was not recognizable overnight; my progress pops up randomly throughout my days in between all the little tasks I do. It’s a slow crawl towards mental liberation, but the [long] journey has been well worth it.

Do you really know, though?

EDIT: I actually wrote this in a month ago and hit pause. I figured I should upload it.

I’ve been reading articles for weeks now about other people’s experiences with “finding their person” and the whole “when you know, you know” thing. I started researching this topic because I felt crazy and doubtful that this phenomena could ever happen to me, yet what I felt was what these people described: a silent knowing that this person just is the person you want to wake up next to every single day for the rest of your life.

My friends and family would not be quick to describe me as spontaneous or “quick-to-trust-others”. I pride myself at being the most logical, analytical, and critical person I know. I plan EVERYTHING. I have four planners and calendars, as well as the calendars on my phone and laptop. I structure my days and weeks very carefully and strategically. I rely on my gut feeling a lot, but I back it up with good ole fashioned logic.

I started therapy in May of this year, 2019. Since then, my therapist has opened me up to relying on my logic less and trusting my heart more. Together, we broke down a lot of walls I had built up for myself for my own comfort and . I think I’m very open with friends, but I am not as open or as accepting to myself. That has changed.

I believe it is only because of therapy and my cooperation with the process that I was able to experience the feelings I felt towards Chelsea in late July and be okay with them.

When I met Chelsea, I had been in therapy for about 3 months. I accomplished a lot in those three months. When I interacted with her for the first time, I was nervous, but also excited and sure of my[new]self. I found that I didn’t have to filter myself. I didn’t feel pressured to act a certain way. I only hoped she enjoyed talking to me as much as I enjoyed talking and listening to her.

I walked away from the first date wishing I had kissed her; however, I also didn’t want to scare her, so maybe that was a good call on my part. By the second date, however, I was as good as hooked. And I felt something I hadn’t before.

The feeling was a mix of relief, security, excitement, and a little bit of disbelief and suspicion.

So, I don’t know what this is. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why now, why me, why this. I know nothing and I will be of no help to any of you trying to figure this out. I do apologize for that inconvenience.

The only thing I can say is that maybe you have to be in the appropriate and healthy headspace in order to allow yourself to experience things you thought you were previously undeserving of.

I had accepted that the kind of love I wanted just wasn’t going to be in the cards for me; however, three months of therapy later and I found myself in what currently seems like the healthiest and most promising partnership I’ve ever experienced.

Exercise/Exposure Therapy Day 1

Yesterday was my first time participating in exercise and exposure therapy. We worked on desensitization, mindfulness, and focusing on my breathing at a slow walk up a small incline.

A little background: I do not have asthma. I am as healthy as I currently can be. When I’m having a panic attack, my heart rate, breathing, and adrenaline are of the same levels as if I was running from a burning building. It’s a false alarm in my head. So, when I try to actually run for fun or for exercise, my brain thinks it’s in panic mode because my heart rate, breathing, and adrenaline automatically shoot up the same way they do when my anxiety is at its peak. It’s not fun.

So, the past 10 years I have avoided long distance running and physical activities that might send me into an attack and then into an unconscious state (fainting). It’s frustrating because I love hiking, team sports, marching band, running with my dogs, and so much more; I haven’t felt like I can 100% participate in a long time and that’s what I’m trying to get over through this new type of therapy.

My therapist did say that while exercise therapy is not new to him, he has never treated someone like me with it. Normally, he uses it for people with anger management issues, couples that come to therapy to yell at each other, or people who have body image issues.

I came to therapy yesterday ready to run, but we didn’t get over 2 mph. He said the first session is only about the initial exposure. Next session we might kick it up, but the goal is not to go as fast as we can. The focus of this therapy is getting my heart rate up and then back down without jacking up my breathing. It’s about [not purposely] sending me into panic mode, handling it, and then returning to “normal”. It’s scary, but also exciting.

Closing the Sit Down Therapy Chapter

Last Thursday was my final session in sit down therapy. This week, I will begin exercise therapy. This particular session was bittersweet, but I really enjoyed it and I look forward to the next adventure.

It mostly consisted up a quick update, figuring out the date of the next session, lots of reflection, and some wrap up questions.

  1. Overall, how was therapy for you?
  2. What did you think of your therapist’s emotional responses and encouragement?
  3. What would you tell the you on your first therapy session?

I unexpectedly got choked up while answering one of the final questions and I would like to write about it here.

“What is something that you have learned about yourself since starting therapy?”

Initially, I didn’t actually have a significant answer to this question. I thought about how I learned more about my mental processes and how my anxiety reflects things I haven’t emotionally or mentally dealt with. I recalled retraining my brain to not go to the worst case scenario when feeling anxious. I also thought about how I had accepted that I feel emotions very strongly and that I am naturally someone who loves very deeply.

Then I had a concluding thought: I learned that it is possible for me to live the life I used to only dream of.

After I was diagnosed with GAD and PD, my opportunities and potential for adventure and happiness in life seemed to narrow. It’s been 10 years and the latter statement became something in my life that I simply accepted. I accepted that I would just not be able to do everything that I dreamed of because of my diagnoses.

When people look at my life, they see a wide range of travels and adventure. When people meet me, they see confidence, spirit, and drive. If you were to look at my resume, you might also be fooled. I’m not saying that I haven’t lived a wonderful life, because, trust me, I have. It’s been freaking amazing and I’ve enjoyed everything. I don’t take anything for granted. What I’m saying is that there have been tiny obstacles and various plans that I have either altered or discarded due to my fears.

I was settling on living a life [for the rest of my life] that my anxiety had control over. Sure, I make the initial plans, but my anxiety has always determined whether or not those are carried out. If they are carried out, trust that they have been amended.

Since starting therapy, it has come to my attention that I don’t have to plan my life around my anxiety. I don’t have to modify my plans. I don’t have to cancel my social obligations. I don’t have to kill my dreams.

When I started therapy, I made a decision to tackle my anxiety without medication. My therapist has mentioned that he is proud of me for accomplishing what I have without medication, but I don’t see the significance. I think those who choose to take medication are not weak and I don’t think that those who choose not to take medication are stronger. I think both choices are difficult in their own ways.

With all of this being said, starting therapy back in May was the best decision I’ve made for myself in a long time. Because of the past 4 months, I am now able to see my future in a new light. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared anymore, but I do think I’m better equipped to tackle what’s to come. Of course, I think I will be even more confident once I go through exercise therapy. Getting my body in line with the changes my mind has gone through will be the next to step to mental liberation. More to come!