Monday, July 30, 2012

Warning Signs of Depression

My most recent episode of depression hit me like a truck back in January. It was steady but it came on fast. Because I had suffered from it before, I knew what was wrong almost immediately once it had occurred to me that something was wrong. The smart thing to do at that point would have been to seek counseling or a psychiatrist. Instead I let it rage on because I was too unmotivated to save myself. I think deep down I was prepared to self-destruct. Not only was I ready for it, I wanted it. The pain was so great that I would have done almost anything to make it stop forever. Getting treatment wouldn't keep it away. It would come back. It always came back.

Everyone should know what to look for. Sometimes depression just builds up over the years. Other times something happens that kicks the development into overdrive, such as a stressful life event. Whether fast or slow, here are the things to look out for:

  • Sleeping too much or too little. -- I couldn't get out of bed. When I did, I stayed up all night because I couldn't fall back asleep no matter how tired I was.
  • Eating too much or too little. -- I couldn't eat for a week or two at my worst. Other times I would stuff my face til I was a bite away from exploding.
  • Fatigue -- My whole body was constantly tired. Just going to the bathroom took massive amounts of energy that I didn't have.
  • Feeling worthless -- Everything I did felt like it was for nothing because I just wasn't good for anything. I didn't think I added much, if anything, to the world at that point.
  • Feeling hopeless -- I felt like nothing was going to change. I was going to be cursed to a life of a depression, where nothing would ever get better because I wasn't motivated enough to try.
  • Loss of interest -- Class didn't interest me. Video games didn't interest me. Hanging out with my friends was almost the last thing I wanted to do. The only thing I ever wanted to do was sleep.
  • Thoughts of suicide -- Even just a quick, passing thought of how you'd be better off dead should be a warning sign. Recognizing these thoughts and, more importantly, confiding in someone else may end up saving a life.

Depression hits people of all ages, races, religions, and locations. If you think something is wrong, there is a good chance that you're right. Get help. You deserve to be happy.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

New Job, More Panic

My interview at McDonalds went well. I have orientation on Tuesday, and then I'll finally be employed. Of course, this means I'm panicking almost non-stop. Will I do well? I fear that the pressure will be too much for me, even in the most basic minimum wage job. Each day I'll probably end up posting about my latest panic attack, so be well prepared.

In other news, I drove today. I don't have a permit anymore or a license, but my dad had been drinking and I had bad feelings about letting him drive the 17 miles home from the picnic we went to. I did fine in the small towns, but once we hit the highway I felt like I was going to freeze up. Each lane change left me holding my breath. Merges made my heart race and slow at the same time. I'm almost 21, fully capable of driving a car, but I still fear it so much that I continue to go without a license. I wouldn't wish an anxiety disorder on anyone. Two of the most basic actions in life continue to leave me struggling to breathe. It will never stop. No matter how many times I tried to convince myself that driving was no big deal, my hands still tightly clutched the steering wheel.

I'm glad that I at least have this outlet for my anxiety. Getting it out in words makes it seem a little less scary for some reason.

I'll write better, more interesting posts soon. I need to stop letting stress slow me down.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Job Interview Anxiety

Tomorrow I have an interview at McDonalds. I'm absolutely terrified, and not just about the questions I'll be asked. I can't stop thinking about what will happen if I'm offered a job. I'm mostly anxious about screwing up. Most fast food places become incredibly busy and full of people who will eat your head if you so much as forget to put napkins in their bag (I speak from personal experience). I think about those drive-thru workers who have to do a million things at once and I panic. I really need a job, so if I'm offered one I obviously can't be picky. Then I start worrying about what will happen if they say no. My hair has been dyed an unnatural color and I have two lip piercings. For a lot of companies, that is a good enough reason to turn someone down for a job. I'm not going to dye my hair back or take out my piercings though. I like to pretend I'm doing it out of principle. The truth is I'm just stubborn.

I've had three interviews in my life. The first one, before the body mods, was at the community college I spent a year at. One of the longtime college employees used to be best friends with my aunt, so I put her down as a reference which pretty much got me the job. The second one was at Best Buy while I still had my first job at the college, and I bombed. I don't blame them for not giving me a call back. The most recent one was at Chipotle almost two weeks ago. Despite feeling like I did really well and being told to expect a call for a second interview, I still haven't heard back. That's so much worse than not being told anything. All that goes through my mind is, "What did I do wrong? Were they just trying to be polite?" Whatever I did, I hope I do better tomorrow. As much as I hate the prospect of working at McDonalds, I can't afford to be passed up on every opportunity I get. It's not good for me emotionally or financially.

The sad part is that even though all my anxiety is being channeled towards this interview, it'll still be there when it's over. If I get the job, I'll panic about that. If I don't, same outcome. I can't win with my anxiety. It tries to control me no matter how hard I fight back. One of these days I'll get better, or at least that's what I want to believe.

For now I'll just focus on tomorrow and hope that I don't get immediately turned down. If I can get past that, I think I'll be in a pretty good place.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Quote of the Day

Browsing Reddit today, I saw this on my front page. It really made me start thinking.

(click to enlarge)

If the image doesn't load for whatever reason, here's what it says:

"One of the most profound concepts in psychology is the fact that when you do something (actions), your emotions follow along behind. If you wait around to feel good or non-anxious, you'll be waiting forever. You need to start DOING, and then you will BECOME."
- Sean Cooper

What quotes have you heard lately that really resonated with you? Leave a comment or email me at

Thoughts and Regrets

My life seems like it's at a standstill. Since I withdrew from the university to focus on getting better, days have been hopelessly boring. I sit on the couch all day either playing Sims 3 or aimlessly browsing the web. I fill out whichever job applications I can in hopes that someone will hire me before my financial situation becomes catastrophic. I go to sleep at 4 am and wake past noon. At least in school, there were things I could do if I was in the mood to. Here, there's almost nothing. I'm left alone with my thoughts, and that's almost always a bad thing.

I sometimes wonder if I could have made it through the rest of the semester had I chosen to stay. Maybe I could have been strong enough. What if I hadn't called to go to the hospital that day? I probably wouldn't have gone through with a suicide attempt, and I wouldn't have an ER bill looming over my head. I would have finished my sophomore year, and I'd probably be going back next month. Now, there's nothing. I can't even apply to transfer to other universities until I pay the $2,000 I owe for the financial aid refund. I'm stuck in a hole, and thinking about how far I dug myself in only brings me closer to breaking down.

Writing this helps only slightly. My situation won't get better after everything has been said. In the end, I can't fix things. I can only make new plans and hope that I someday soon I'm strong enough to go through with them.

I promise not all my posts will be depressingly reflective. Today is just one of those days.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Being Social With Social Phobia

Living with social phobia is extremely difficult at times. Previously referred to as social anxiety disorder, it can make doing everyday things nearly impossible. I used to have panic attacks on the way to school because I was terrified of how people would judge me. I moved around a lot, usually going to a new school each year. I would dread the first day of school. Going to lunch and having to find somewhere to sit when I didn't know anyone was my own personal hell. I would keep to myself as much as possible, quietly looking around to see if anyone was judging me. Someone was always judging me. At least that's how it felt.

Social phobia is a disorder that is characterized by excessive anxiety and fear of social situations where one may perceive that he or she is being judged by others. Some only suffer from social anxiety in specific situations, such as public speaking. Others, such as myself, suffer from generalized social phobia. Here are a few of my biggest triggers:

  • public speaking, or almost anything that requires me to speak to people I don't know
  • talking on the phone
  • social gatherings where I don't know most of the people
  • using public restrooms
When I would have to give speeches in class, my heart would start racing and skipping beats. My hands and voice would shake. Sometimes it was bad enough to make me cry. I was so scared that people were going to hate whatever I had to say. They would judge the way I looked. It's really an awful way to live.

Another condition which is similar (I would argue that I actually suffer from this and not just social phobia) is avoidant personality disorder (AvPD). The main difference is that sufferers of AvPD are typically more sensitive to criticism, actively avoid social situations, have severely low self-esteem, and don't think that their fears are unreasonable because they truly believe themselves to be unlikable. I haven't been formally diagnosed, but I can almost guarantee that I suffer from this based on the criteria in the DSM-IV-TR (yes, diagnosing yourself is bad). 

So how does someone with social phobia be, well, social? It's difficult, to say the least. I tend to stick with people I know. Making new friends is hard because I can't usually force myself to talk to strangers, but once that barrier is broken, it's a lot easier. Anyway, here are some tips for people who have problems with social anxiety. 
  • Stick with someone you know. Make it clear that you don't feel comfortable around people you don't know well. If you happen to be that friend, do not leave the person alone with the idea that forcing them to talk to strangers will help. All it will do is make them uncomfortable and possibly damage your friendship and trust.
  • If you have a school assignment that requires you to do something in front of the class, ask your teacher if there is any way to do it in private. For example, in my junior year algebra 2 class, we had to come up with a song for the quadratic equation. I actually cried as she gave the assignment. After class, I let her know about my social phobia and she allowed me to perform it for her after everyone left. This is a really situational suggestion, but it's worth a shot.
  • Breathe. This is just common sense. If you start to feel like you can't control your anxiety, take deep breaths. Do whatever it takes to calm yourself down. 
  • Don't avoid the situation. I've gotten a bit better at forcing myself to do things I don't want to do, but I used to be really bad. My junior year, I missed 55 days of school before finally dropping out. Most of those were anxiety related. 
  • Get help. Seek out a therapist who can help you overcome your fear. I haven't tried cognitive behavioral therapy, but I would be more than willing to give it a shot. There are medication options if necessary. Xanax can help in some situations, and some antidepressants have been approved for use with the disorder. See a psychiatrist if you think that medication might work for you.
  • Do things with your closest friends. No one says you have to meet new people to be social. Spend time with people you're comfortable around. There will be opportunities to meet people when you're ready.
  • Try meeting people online. Try a new MMO or a forum for something you love. A recent study published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry* has shown that using the internet as a tool to overcome social phobia can be effective.
Social phobia doesn't have to ruin lives. It is merely an obstacle that takes time to overcome. What are your experiences with social anxiety? Comment or email me at with thoughts or suggestions!

Titov, N., Gibson, M., Andrews, G., McEvoy P. (2009). Internet treatment for social phobia reduces comorbidity. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 43(8), 754-759.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Recovering As A Cutter

The following post may be triggering. If the topic of self-injury is offensive, uncomfortable, or triggering for you, please don't continue reading. Thank you.

When I was 13, I started cutting myself. My mom had just moved to Florida, and I was living alone with my dad for the first time. I remember trying to use a kitchen knife and completely failing. I would eventually start using scissors, then blades from pencil sharpeners. I continued cutting on and off for three years. The longest I had gone without cutting was 10 months before I quit for good. Or so I thought.

April 15th was to mark my fourth year since I quit cutting. I celebrated the milestone every year, and while I had urges, none were strong enough to get me to relapse. Then January came around. Depression hit me like a truck. The urges came back stronger than ever. I would grab my scissors and play around with the thought of starting again. Four years was so close. I couldn't do that to myself. February came. I started to bully myself. I told myself I was too weak to do it until finally I had pushed myself past my breaking point. It was a single cut. It didn't even feel that good. There was barely any relief. All I was left with was a scar that represented the four years that should have been. I was numb. I was never a huge believer in slip ups when it came to my own addiction to cutting. I didn't think of that cut as a one time thing. If I was going to throw away four years, I was going to make it count. For two months, I cut myself almost compulsively. I have scars up and down my left arm. Scars on my leg and thigh. I'm two months clean today. I should be proud of myself, but all I can think about is how it should be four years instead.

I've tried to help a lot of people recover from their own addiction to self-injury. Even though I still struggle with my own, there are things I have learned from my experiences. If you or someone you know struggles with self-injury, keep the following in mind:

  • Recovery is a lifelong process. Self-injury is an addiction. You could go years without cutting, but that doesn't mean you're in the clear. I learned this the hard way. Take it one day at a time.
  • Don't let a slip up ruin your recovery. How you count the days is up to you. If you reset back to 0 after a slip up, don't use that as an excuse to cut/burn/etc as much as you can before you quit again. I wish I would have realized this before I ended up with an arm full of scars, some of which might never really go away.
  • Get help. Recovering is so much harder when you keep it to yourself. Seek out a therapist who can help talk you through it and find alternatives for when the urges strike.
  • Find those alternatives. Have a plan to keep you from hurting yourself when you feel like you need to. Writing sometimes helps me when I feel like cutting. Maybe taking a red felt tip pen and drawing "scars" on your skin helps you by simulating a real cut. Do whatever it takes to keep you from injuring yourself.

Recovery is hard, but it's possible. What experiences do you have with self-injury? Thoughts? Leave a comment or email me at