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!

Nightmares

I’ve been having consistent nightmares for about one month. I have them pretty regularly anyway, but they don’t wake me up and I don’t get up in a sweat when I do finally wake up. They don’t scare me- they’re just annoying.

I had one last night about my ex. It was very uncomfortable. I got the same feeling I used to get when I was with her. She would make me feel like a child.

My therapist has a new theory that my suppressed emotions from the past 10 years are coming forth while I’m unconscious. He might be right, I suppose.

Most of my nightmares are not about clowns or falling off of cliffs; they’re mostly about things, events, or people that I’ve had negative interactions with or that I haven’t grieved for.

Sadness and grief are my most suppressed emotions. Since starting therapy, I’ve started dealing with current sadness when it comes, but there’s a decade worth of events that I haven’t “dealt with”, so this is fun.

Therapy 8.8.19

The duality of myself was the topic of discussion this session. I updated him on my most recent panic attack and how I handled it. He said he was proud of me. We then did an exercise where he acted as the part of me that is more guarded and I acted as the part of me that wants to be more vulnerable. Those two parts of me battle it out daily, so it was nice to get it out of my head.

The whole exercise and conversation was prompted by me explaining how I felt that my feelings towards the new woman I’m seeing were moving too fast for my comfort level; however, maybe it’s not “bad”, just unknown territory for me.

A little backstory: due to how I grew up, how I was raised, and the very long string of bad luck regarding my romantic relationships, my default is to put a very tall and thick wall between myself and potential romantic partners. I thought it was interesting to note that I can’t say the same for platonic friendships.

Anyway when I returned from my federal volunteer program, my anxiety hit me harder than I had experienced it in years and my therapist’s theory is that my suppression tactics were starting to wear off. Since then (May) I have cried more than I have in years, I have been more open with my family and friends, and I have started to not only take down the wall I put up between myself and love, but also the wall between those two parts of me I referenced above.

I understand that I create these boundaries and deadlines in my head to protect myself, my heart, and my emotions; however, I feel like I’m missing out on the love I could be experiencing, and, to be quite frank, it is VERY exhausting to always have that front. I’d much rather just be me.

So, here I am. I am rediscovering who I am and who I want to be. I now know that I am naturally a very loving person. I care about people. I care about my family and my friends. I am loyal to a fault. I will move mountains for those I hold dearest to me. I will run myself down to nothing if it means that the people I love will be okay. I know that this isn’t completely healthy, and luckily it doesn’t happen often because #selfcare. Seriously, though, I think that being more expressive about my love for people should include myself and that means setting new kinds of boundaries.

Instead of setting up boundaries to protect from inevitable pain from situations that haven’t even happened yet, I need to start setting boundaries for the sake of not wearing myself out. I want to continue to be there for people as much as I can, but I can’t be there fully if I’m only half aware/present.

Thanks for reading my rambles. I hope you all are having a lovely day! What are some boundaries that you have to set in order to keep yourself in a healthy mindset?

Being Kind To My Guilt

Today in therapy we discussed being kind to negative thought processes and also giving thanks to negative past experiences and people who were involved in them. Lastly, we touched on guilt and how it can be a positive thing.

I think it was most difficult to give any sort of thanks to the people and the situations that were not kind to me in the past. My therapist says I don’t need to thank them for what they did, but rather for giving me the opportunity to get through that and know what to look out for the next time around. I understand what he was saying, but I still struggle with being grateful for any of those experiences.

I have always had such an issue with guilt. I struggle with accepting gifts and letting people do favors for me. I struggle the most with feeling guilty about not always being able to be there for people. I know that I don’t HAVE to see X amount of people each week, but I feel that they rely on me. They depend on me. They count on me. I forget to be there for myself, and I know that, and I’m working on it.

My therapist says that I don’t always have to claim the emotions I experience when I talk about them in our session. For example, he asked me how I could practice being kind to guilt. I immediately asked, “MY guilt?”. He said I can own it, but I don’t have to. I decided to own it.

I guess what I learned today was to see the silver lining. I don’t think it’s always a good idea to have that mindset, but I’d much rather look at my past experiences as moments of learning and growth rather than as moments of devastation and shame.

An Unfamiliar Feeling…

The girl I have been talking to just asked me if I have anxiety. For the first time EVER, I was hesitant to say yes.

I have always been very open about my mental health struggles with my friends and close family. Even if strangers ask, I am also very open because it’s nice to tell your story and bond with other people about similar issues. I’ve collected many preventative and coping skills this way.

So, when she asked me if I had anxiety, I was surprised at the feeling I got. I felt a little bit of embarrassment. I felt a little bit of shame. I felt a little bit exposed. However, I responded with a calm “yes” because I wasn’t going to hide something that is such a big part of my life. Eventually, it would have come up anyway.

I also explained to her that it doesn’t keep me from living my life. It makes living life more difficult, but it doesn’t keep me inside [anymore]. When I was much younger, I refused to leave the house for any reason other than to go to school. Now, I feel the same hesitancy, but I push through and do it anyway.

I think I felt a certain type of way about her asking because I have been going to therapy for over 2 months now. To me, therapy feels like taking medication that hides the symptoms, but it doesn’t cure the actual problem- it just helps you understand and deal with it. I guess I felt that because I was dealing with the problem (and its very visible symptoms), she didn’t need to be aware of its actual existence.

I think it’ll be fine. She did respond with a positive message after I said yes, so I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

Do any of you guys feel embarrassed or hesitant about informing possible romantic partners about your mental health struggles?

Today In Therapy…

I came to therapy today with nothing in particular that I felt I needed to share. I did tell my therapist about a friend coming over yesterday evening and discussing commitment issues with said friend. Naturally, that quickly turned into today’s topic in my therapy session.

My therapist began by asking me if it was okay to visit the past, but not live in it- in terms of where we’re getting most of our information from. I’m fine with whatever, so I said yes.

He then asked me to retell what I told my friend last night, so I went over all of my relationships, one by one, and told him about all the moments I decided (and then internally celebrated) in each of them to end the relationship.

Then, he asked me to describe what it was like growing up with my now divorced parents. So, I recalled that I didn’t remember mom and dad ever being affectionate; I remember one hug in the middle of the living room, and I must have been quite young. I remembered dad sitting on the couch every night eating popcorn and drinking beer while mom was in the kitchen or reading. I recollected that for a few years, mom would come sleep on my top bunk every night instead of sleeping with dad. I knew dad snored, but looking back, I feel like that was a good excuse to cover up the true reason she didn’t want to be in the same bed as him.

Long story short, I grew up in a household that stayed together “for the kids”. There was a sense of loyalty they felt to our family unit and to us children, but the romance and intimate love was no longer present- and hadn’t been present at all in a decade.

The conclusion my therapist and I came up with today is that I have a fear of real, earth-shattering, ground-moving love. It is something that I feel doesn’t exist. At the same token, I do go searching for it every now and again and I give my everything to that individual for the time we are together. I am very open, honest, and loyal with my partners. I am even so concerned with loyalty and faithfulness that I will stay in a relationship even when I am no longer in love and then I search for a convenient outside factor or other reason to end things with people. For most of my relationships, I have done this.

Something I also have to be aware of and keep in mind is that even though I have clear commitment issues, my previous relationships were not built for long-term. There were major issues (or reasons we just weren’t a good match) in each one, no doubt. I think that even without these “let’s kill the relationship ASAP” issues, I believe that each of these relationships was not going to last.

With all that being said, I feel that it is difficult for me to be truly convinced of the extremity of my commitment issues, but I am fully aware that there is something there and I am working on piecing it all together.

My homework assignment to bring to the next session is for me to connect the things we discussed today with the flowchart that I made last week. Basically, my flow chart outlined my mental and physical process when having “what if” questions, when feeling anxious, and also when I’m having an actual panic attack.

As I connect these two sessions, I will write about my findings.

Mapping Out My Mental Process: Anxiety

My last therapy session was a great one. I made a small change that will have big impacts in my life, I think.

When I walk into therapy, my therapist always has a plan, but he asks me if there is anything I would like to talk about or discuss first. Normally, I give him a quick rundown of my week and if anything out of the ordinary happened, I let him know.

This particular day he told me he had a plan, but if there was anything I wanted to bring forward first, I could do so. I said that I did have something to say: “We talked about my “what if” questions serving no purpose last session and since then I have decided to remove them from my brain.”

Obviously, it’s not an overnight thing, but it was a step towards something. My therapist stops me, though, and says that that’s a big step to just completely remove them. My brain, moving very quickly, comes up with something brilliant: “Well, then how about we don’t remove them, we only modify them.”

I don’t know why I didn’t think of this sooner.

When I am having a panic attack or just anxious thoughts, my mind goes through a very long list of highly unlikely “what if” questions/situations that I must earlier prepare for with coping or preventative skills. However, when the actual panic attack is happening, I toss everything I’ve ever practiced out the window because I am in survival mode.

Many times, it’s not the original source of my anxiety that causes me to fall into a panic- it’s the “what if” questions. The hypothetical scenarios that I create in my head are so much worse than what is actually happening. If I could find it within myself to start modifying those to less extreme “what ifs”, then I might not always go off the deep end.

Anyway, that is what I discovered last session. What are some eye-opening revelations you all have had in therapy or while talking with friends/family?

Why Therapy?

I went to therapy for the first time when I was about 9 years old. It was shortly after my parents divorced. I had my first panic attack around that time as well. I think most of it stemmed from separation anxiety I had when my mother wasn’t close by.

When I got a little older, I didn’t continue therapy because I didn’t notice much change and I was also told that I would probably “grow out of it”. To some extent, I think I did. I don’t have separation anxiety anymore, but I do have anxiety towards other things.

Not dealing with loss and grief has been a huge issue for me that I was recently made aware of by my current therapist. If we define “loss” as the “ending of something” (not necessarily death), then I have experienced a lot of loss in my life that I have chosen not to emotionally or mentally process/deal with. As a result, my body stores those emotions as anxiety and it gets periodically released as symptoms of anxiety, such as panic attacks.

For a while, I thought I was able to track my triggers (loud music, crowds, thunderstorms, tornado sirens, yelling/shouting), but over time, the attacks seemed to be more random.

I was able to count the number attacks I had during 2018-2019 on one hand up until the end of May of this year. As I was looking for a home, a job, and I was also dealing with (I actually wasn’t dealing with it at all) a fresh breakup, I found myself hyperventilating at the nail salon. The old familiar feeling was back in full swing.

2 weeks, a house, and a job later, the panic attacks and anxious feelings subsided. I’m 99.9% sure that my anxiety was caused by the stress of not having a home or being employed.

Let’s fast forward to today- to today’s therapy session to be exact. Today was one of the best sessions I’ve had since starting. I’ve discovered a lot of things in the past 2 months. I’ve also acknowledged a lot of things in the past 2 months.

  • I am hard on myself.
  • I have a fear of failure.
  • To me, setting goals+achieving said goals=success/life purpose

Today was the first step of me including all parts of me in an acknowledgement. What that looks like is: “I acknowledge that when I think about [insert whatever makes you anxious/scared here (for me it was elaborate solo travel)], I get scared and nervous, but I also have powered through similar things that have also made me scared and nervous.

Instead of saying “X makes me feel scared”, I’m including the fact that yes, I feel this fear, but I’ve also fucking powered through fear before.

I’ve shut parts of myself down over the years. I’ve shut down Grieving Megan. I’ve shut down Angry Megan. I’ve shut down Sad Megan. I’ve even shut down Excited/Hopeful/Optimistic Megan because I have a fear of getting my hopes up and then being let down and feeling stupid for letting myself get them up in the first place. I’ve silenced all these parts of me and the voices that belong to them. Today was a step in letting them be heard.