social anxiety

Acceptance – A Poem on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (“ACT”)

I have been participating in group therapy for people with social anxiety.  It appears to me that the amount I sweat has an uncanny correlation with the social situations I am in.  And I believe the best way to confront social anxiety, is likely within the settings of a social group.

The group focuses on cognitive behavioral therapy, with a particular focus on acceptance.  A main part of the philosophy of the therapy can be found in the book The Happiness Trap – which summarizes the tenants of Acceptance Commitment Therapy (“ACT”).

In short, the theory is premised on the notion that one cannot change their thoughts, but one can defuse them in realization that thoughts are a mere string of words.  After analysis, if a thought is helpful, then pay it mind; if not, then do not fuse with it.  As an “exposure” in my group, I wrote and read aloud this poem:

The Lock In My Mind

If my senses stopped, then I’d stop, in a sense;

From the digging, the wriggling, uncomfortableness

The head wraps and bends, in circles and knots;

Til you wrap your head round, it’s not have but have nots.

The truth is deception, perfection an illusion;

the illusion is perfect, for this world’s delusion.

 

That perfect is real, that it can exist,

Our society of have-nots, yearns for just this;

Tom Brady, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius,

Their shine and their shimmer can only be glorious.

But even they – they cheated – lies, doping and murder,

So the notion of perfect can’t be more absurder.

 

Yet I return each morning, sobering thoughts of being fallible;

the idea- a shame, the disgust, not palatable.

 

The solution’s acceptance,

Not from others but me,

Stop worrying about others,

and you’ll be halfway free.

Whether they accept me or not, I’ve got what I got;

I’ve been blessed, I’ve been cursed; for better or worse.

 

So like me or don’t, I won’t think much of it; Cuz even if I did, it wouldn’t change shit;

And while this talk comes easy, in practice it’s a bitch.

 

Speaking of which, the other part of the equation,

Accepting yourself, unconditionally,

Knowing from practice, that that is the key;

To the lock in my mind, that won’t accept me.

 

Regardless of success, relationships and wealth;

Regardless if I’m a moron, I stutter and smell;

Regardless of career, material things and debt;

Regardless of anxiety, nervousness and sweat;

Regardless of pain, medication and disillusion;

Regardless acceptance must be the solution.

 

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Comorbidity – Anxiety and Depression  

It’s no secret that anxiety and depression often, although not necessarily, go hand in hand.  That is why the same treatment is given for anxiety and depression, and why your anti-anxiety meds are anti-depressants as well.

For me, there have been periods where anxiety has led to my feeling depressed or down.  But on the whole, I was aware that a majority of what bothered me was anxiety, and not really depression.

Caveat I: I’ve used medication (either meds or marijuana) for a majority of the time I’ve had anxiety.

Caveat II: I currently take Klonopin on, more or less, a daily basis.  But to me there feels like a fundamental difference between panic medication, taken as needed, and anti-anxiety/anti-depressant mood alterers.  One feels like I’m still me, but with an outlet for when I start losing my s#%t.  The latter is more like…not being me at all.

As I’ve discussed, I’ve recently stopped smoking weed and I was planning on replacing that with meds.  Lexapro to be exact.  But I’ve held out so far.  In spite of my last post, in which I tried to convince myself to disregard the stigma of Big Pharma (Prozac Nation, etc.), I can’t seem to shake it.

The results have been underwhelming.  No miraculous turnaround here.  In fact, I most certainly feel more depressed than I can remember.  

Maybe it’s sort of stepping out of the cloud…clearing out the weeds, so to speak.  Like reentering the world has this sobering effect, and my senses remain totally blunted.  OK…I’ll stop.

The painful truth is that it just hasn’t been easy.  There are a plethora of uncomfortable, unwanted, and unwelcome emotions to deal with.  I’ve been more introspective, less social, less energetic, and straight-up less happy.  More depressed.  Period.  The struggle is real.  But at least it’s that.  I’m not running at the moment, for what that’s worth.

I’m hoping group therapy will help deal with things as they arise.

I’m hoping that, as I gain clarity, I’ll be able to set some other areas of my life straight.  

I know that, while this is two steps back, maybe it’ll be several forward.  

Maybe this is an addiction blog at the moment.  Maybe it’s a rehab blog.  I’m hoping it won’t stay that way.

Not smoking weed is hard, but smoking it hasn’t been the solution either.  If I go on meds (at the moment I think I ultimately will), I don’t consider it a fail.  Although, in an ideal world, I – and probably anyone facing the option – would prefer to manage without.

The therapist says get on Lexapro if and when I’m ready.  I’m still not.

Replacing Weed With Drugs (Part II)

Weed is not a diversion, for me. It’s a medication. I never was a person who took rips from the bong. I left that to the boys of Cypress Hill. Because I wasn’t a stoner. I took little hits, from little joints, because I needed a little mind alteration….because I had a big amount of anxiety.

Because social anxiety can weigh one down. Two hits. That’s it. And the trailer’s gone. The weight has been lifted. That levity…those oppressive, ever-present shackles. Click! They’re off.

And that is why I loved weed. With that said, I’ve already discussed why it doesn’t work for me, now, in my life (click here to see why).

“What are you going to replace it with?” – I’ve started group therapy for social anxiety. I think that’s where my sweating starts. This was the question the therapist leading the group asked.

I paused. Thought. Alcohol?? I grinned. Thankfully, alcohol just doesn’t afford that relief I get from weed.

My mind drifted to two months prior. I was at the psychiatrist’s office because I needed Klonopin. Xanax too, although I almost never take that. Anxiety at work had beaten me down. “Well, just taking panic medication alone isn’t really ideal.” I was sitting there on the psychiatrist’s couch. “I know, I know. Write the damn prescription already.” That was all I was thinking.   I’m not taking full-blown anxiety medication for this. I’m just not. I refuse.” The stigma was speaking for me.

Two months has passed. Two weeks now without weed. Enough for an about-face, I guess.

Back at group therapy…”I’m gonna go back on medication for social anxiety,” I heard myself say.

Replacing Weed With Drugs (Part I)

The other day, somebody asked me: “What’s the longest period you’ve gone without smoking weed?”

I wasn’t sure. Not shockingly, my memory can be a bit….hazy these days. The past six years, I think two weeks may be the longest stretch I’ve gone without it. Certainly, I don’t recall a period significantly longer than that. The question sorta drove home the point that I have become entirely too dependent on the stuff.

So I’ve given it up entirely. The weed card is expired. The remaining stash being kept in trust by my best friends. All access denied. Last weekend was one of the first weekends I can remember that I didn’t smoke at all. This will be my second.

I had a realization too: My dependence on weed began when I stopped psychological medication for social anxiety.

I hate the stigma attached with meds. Meds are Big Pharma. Meds are a crutch. Seems like half the U.S. is on something…symptoms of a society that’s led itself astray. They’re unnatural. To be turned to as an absolute last resort.

Weed, on the other hand, is counterculture. It’s the hippies…and free love…and art…and expression. Weed is cool. Artists, musicians, the trend setters – they all blaze it up. Chronic, kush, purple haze….It’s SEXY.

John Mayer wonders: “who says I can’t get stoned? Turn off the lights and the telephone…” Nobody. The answer is – Nobody. Nobody says that. So you can sit home. Blaze it up. And there you’ll be.

For a long time now, I thought I was just another stoner – and not in any way unhappy or concerned about it. It was enhancing my life. Loosening my tight ass up a bit. Allowing me mental liberation like I’d never come close to experiencing prior.

But I’m not just a guy that likes weed. I’m not John Mayer. I’m not Snoop Dog…Or Lion…Or whatever. I’m a person with social anxiety.

NEXT UP: Replacing Weed With Drugs (Part II)

Panic Attacks and Sleepless Nights (Part I)

One of the most trying periods of my life occurred during my second year of law school.  For an entire semester, I suffered mid-night panic attacks on a regular basis.  The experience was brutal.

My first year, I was placed in a “section” and attended all the same classes with all the same people.  But in the second year that structure was removed, and we were free to select courses and schedules on our own.  This meant that each course would now be with a more or less random group of other students.

Compounding my unfamiliarity with the people in my classes was the fact that I had spent a year in business school, so I knew none of the people who were now second year law students. The people I began studying with had moved on to their third year.

I was taking more units of courses than ever before, and I had scheduled all of my classes over a three-day period (the purpose of this was efficiency.  I wanted to commute to campus as few times a week as possible. While efficiency was the goal, I suppose that my initial plan backfired on account of the extended period of exhaustion I experienced the entirety of the semester).  Thus, I had more classes, on fewer days, and with complete strangers.

I recall all the other students looking at me quizzically each time I entered a class wondering, surely, “who the eff is this dude?!?” In turn, I was like, “I was here before any of you kids. A little respect is in order.” But they had no clue.

Regardless, I was completely uncomfortable.  The prior year of business school had been a cake-walk.  I smoked weed often (“often” being a euphemism for near-daily), and was carefree and happy.  I was dating a girl I loved, and life hadn’t been better.

The summer before returning to law school, her and I broke up. The timing was off. She was ready to set sail on a marital commitment, and I wasn’t sure I was yet equipped to hold down the fort for myself, individually, let alone the two of us and a future family-to-be.

Come to think of it, it was an inopportune time for the parting of ways for me personally. Inopportune doesn’t do the timing justice. It was somewhat of a perfect storm. I was trying to buckle down for what I knew would be a challenging return to law, the tide of anxiety steadily mounting as I again approached the start of classes. I was weaning myself, unsuccessfully, off of an affinity for weed which had now certainly become an outright addiction. And I was coping even more incompetently with the loss of a relationship that only later would I realize I would never truly get over. One of those.

As is the case when something happens to you, unexpectedly, which has never happened before, I was caught off guard the first time – an unsuspecting victim of a sucker-punch from a lunatic roaming the streets in the middle of the night.

Here’s how I recall it going down:

In my second week of classes, I went to sleep uneasy with the amount of material I would be covering in the next-day’s classes. I had an initial impression of the classes, and classmates, I’d be spending the next several months with. Now my anticipated anxieties had faces, and names, and context in the form of the classrooms and professors where they’d play out. This feeling alone wasn’t unusual and did not give me pause. But this time the severity of the anxiety reached new heights.

It was the shudder of my nerves that first awoke me, followed by the inconsolable escalation of mental processes, from a deep slumber to an immediate fight-or-flight response. Like the gasp of air upon sudden consciousness, arising from the throes of a nightmare. A sudden shift of the San Andreas faultline, except without the earthquake.

The clock said 2:15 A.M. I had been asleep just 3 and-a-half hours. But I was far from that state now. I was drenched in a cold sweat, my sheets soaked through. They were wet to the touch, and although it was not hot out, my body was seemingly on fire.

My thoughts raced through different material I had read earlier in the week, preparing for classes I had the next day, inundating me with anxieties and fears. Would I be called on in Ethics class? How much uncomfortability did the day hold in store? And then, to other subjects: Should I not have given up on my relationship?

It was a full-fledged assault: My own mind attacking itself under the cloak of night when the rest of my being was most vulnerable. With my body and soul seeking the silent refuge of sleep, my brain had arranged an ambush.

3:45 A.M.:      Coming to grips with this twist of events, I lay open-eyed staring at the ceiling, wide-awake and yearning not-to-be. At this point, I realized that for the first time I had experienced a phenomenon a psychologist had alluded to years prior when she prophesized, “one of the dangers of anxiety disorders is their evolution into panic attacks.”

Here I was, far from that point in time the words were first uttered, experiencing my first panic attack. As it came to pass, I would need to learn to get used to them.

Next Up: “Panic Attacks and Sleepless Nights (Part II: A Poem)”

Taking Anxiety to School – Sweating in Class (Part II – A Detailed Account of My Time in Graduate School)

Pressure is relative. Everyone has a different threshold. As I’ve mentioned, anxiety predated law school. But I knew when I enrolled that the pressure in law school would test me in ways I’d never experienced. My doubts were overwhelming, and I wondered how I’d cope with the feelings….and with the sweating.

In preparation for this “war,” I had been seeing a therapist. I had a prescription for Paxil which may have been working, albeit minimally, in keeping my mood positive as I approached Day 1.

The first week of class I was anxious, but fighting. I wore undershirts and oversized collared shirts to try to conceal the sweating. For people who sweat a lot, a tight shirt is terrifying. Give me about 4 minutes, and it’s soaked through. Hence, oversized.

While in class, I was distracted. Well, maybe that’s not the word. It was more like I had tunnel vision. In my head, I was back on the plains of the Savannah, staring down a lion. My attention was acutely focused on the professor and the material.

It was between classes, or at breaks, that I’d head to the restroom to do an underarm check. Without fail, I’d be soaked. I’d spread my arms like a bird taking flight, and to me deep disappointment my two shirts would be waterlogged.Flight cancelled for today folks! Inclement weather. Wayyyy too damn much precipitation for take off!

I’d grab paper towels to soak up what I could, but there was no real effective way to prevent the sweat marks. I was the Titanic, with a breach in my hull that could not be plugged…And I was sinking.

I kept trying to reinforce that, no matter the disappointment, I was fighting for myself. I was face to face with my lion – an entire damn pride – and I was holding my nerve (to a certain extent). But it would be disingenuous if I told you that the sight of soaked shirts did not bring me down every time I raised my arms in the bathroom mirror.

About 2 weeks into classes, I was talking to one of my closest friends about my predicament. He gave me what, in retrospect, was such simple, almost-intuitive advice: WEAR WHITE. It hadn’t crossed my mind previously. In fact, I had been more of the opinion that a solid black hue would be most effective at concealing the sweat.

If you are a heavy sweater, perhaps you have already realized the virtues of white shirts. The color simply makes the wetness less obvious…Less visible.

The advice helped immensely. It did NOT curb my sweating. I still sweated a ton. But it was much harder for others to notice. I did not need to be nearly as self-conscious, which drastically reduced the secondary anxiety over whether others would notice my condition. In fact, “secondary” only refers to which comes first: anxiety–> sweating –>anxiety about discomfort, embarrassment, others noticing, etc

In reality, I believe that often times secondary anxiety (the concern that others may notice the condition) can be far worse than the anxiety causing the sweating in the first place.