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!

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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!

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.