Finding Work-Life Balance

A Fun, Hectic End to (F)Unemployment
I spent the last week of December 2018 playing, having fun, and spending time with family and friends. December 31st, I was out the entire day with a good friend, and January 1st through 3rd, we had family over.

I received a phone call in the afternoon on January 2nd asking if I would be interested in a job that I had interviewed for a few weeks prior. I eagerly agreed to the position over the phone. Of course, I thought in my mind, that I would begin the following Monday. “Perfect,” I thought… “a nice end to the first week of the new year, and a relaxing weekend.” The director of the program asked if I could come in and pick up books that day. I was thinking…. Why on a Wednesday? Right after the new year??

The director replied: “We’re open early tomorrow morning if you would like to come in, but you start teaching tomorrow!” My jaw nearly dropped out of my mouth. So… there went unemployment.

Enter: Job Two
At the end of my second day of teaching, I received another phone call from a University ESL Extension Program that I had sent my resume to but completely forgot about. To be honest, to this day, I still don’t remember when I sent my resume in! Never mind about that… Day 2 of teaching and I had received another job offer to work longer hours at this university. Would I have to immediately leave the private ESL college? Would I ignore this interview opportunity?

Eventually, I decided to interview at the university. Luckily, after finding out about my availability, I don’t have to choose between the two jobs. I will actually be working part time at BOTH locations (private ESL college & at a formal university ESL setting) starting at the end of February…. WOW!

A Month of Working
It’s been a month now since I’ve been working at the private ESL college, and it’s been pretty good. I feel like I’ve gotten into a nice rhythm of lesson planning, waking up at a decent time in the morning, and staying on top of grading and other teacher related tasks.

The hardest part of teaching? Trying to stay on top of daily lesson planning. What I’m realizing works well (for now) is to have a big picture or idea of what I’m going to teach for the next two weeks, and write daily lesson plans around those big ideas. It helps to keep me from sinking in the black hole of planning each night for the next night.

Way too Eager?
Right around the same time as I had received an offer from the university ESL program, I was also given the opportunity to teach a third class at my current job (I am currently teaching 2 separate classes at the moment). Of course, I jumped on it right away.

I had to be knocked down to planet earth by the parents. (The benefit of living at home, I guess??). Had I taken this position, I would be leaving home everyday at around 8 am, and not get back until around 5 or 6 pm. A full day of work by most Americans’ standards.

But teacher work includes **even more** hours after the teaching day. It requires going home, lesson planning, preparing materials and handouts, and beginning all over again the next day. Not to mention the side tutoring positions that I still have.

Lessons Yet to Be Learned…
I guess regardless of whether I’m at school or being given work opportunities, the lesson I have yet to learn is the same. I assume I can handle all tasks given to me in the world, and yet when life hits, it will *really* hit. How much energy do I have to handle not only teaching-related work, but a class that I’m taking, and life demands (such as chores, and time to just “be”)? I never factor in the latter issues…

Turning down opportunities is difficult. Wanting to take on ALL the challenges and ALL the difficult tasks simultaneously seems like a noble task, but at the end of the day, I risk my sanity and my health when I want to take on the world and then some.

To say that the stresses that I endured a few months back were **all** caused by school would be overexaggerating. Really, learning to balance life demands with “work” will be a life-long lesson to be learned. But I guess turning down teaching a third class at my current workplace is a good place to start…

The (F)Unemployment Life: 3 Months In

It’s been 3+ months since I left the town I attended grad school for, left a completely different lifestyle, and moved back into my parents’ house. Crazy stuff, right?

I’ve been quiet in these last few months, since life has been simultaneously intriguing and anticlimactic. I’ve applied to (or sent my resume out) way too many jobs at this point. Had a good number of interviews as well. But for one reason or another, I’m still stuck in “waiting mode”.

While waiting for income and a paying job, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Patience seems to have been a big one here. Before I moved back, I had assumed that I would’ve gotten a job immediately after returning home. I thought I would’ve job hunted for a month — or two — max, and by this point, I’d be happily employed. That is far from the truth. I’ve had many interviews, gone to a few job fairs, sent out many, many, many applications. And… we are still waiting. Well, one day, right?

Have Some Savings
Grad school life doesn’t prepare you to be the richest person in the world. I remember while in grad school, most of my departmentmates picked up at least one side job if they wanted to live comfortably. So, leaving grad school, I didn’t have much saved up as others would have had someone decided to leave a nice full-time or part-time paying job. But what I do have are amazing Asian parents who don’t charge me for rent, food, utilities, etc. in exchange for tech support, dish washing, babysitting, and other parent-helping tasks. 🙂

Seek Out Part-Time Jobs First
If you’re like me and have an expensive hobby (figure skating), you’ll need some type of part-time job to cover those luxury expenses. Oh, and gas/bills. Who can forget about those, too? I am lucky to have a bit of income carrying me over each month, so I can sort of feel like I’m doing something each week. But know, it’ll probably be a bit of time before you land that perfect, or A job you’ll want. So, my friends, part-time jobs/or non-ideal jobs it is!

(Attempt) to Have a Schedule
I’m still working on this one daily, but a very important lesson I’ve been learning is to have a schedule. Otherwise, this period of (f)unemployment feels like being on an extended break. Indefinitely. For a few days, or a week or two, this break feels fun. Fast forward three months, and waking up and going to bed without anything to look forward to feels unproductive. I’ve read other articles that this type of unstructured lifestyle can lead some toward a bout of depression. So, getting up, eating, showering, exercising (*ahem*), and going to bed at a human-centric hour will help combat feeling like a day, or multiple days have gone by in a blur.

Enjoy and Explore New Opportunities!
Finally, an important lesson I’ve learned in these past few months has been to enjoy (as much as I can) this phase of life. It can be difficult while worrying about when I’ll be able to pay off my student loans, or when I’ll be able to actually have savings to go on a trip, but I’ve experienced much more freedom during this period of my life than I ever have. While in grad school, I didn’t have much time to come back home — maybe returning during school breaks, if that. Being able to spend time with family, and re-acquainting myself with my family members has been nice. Also, when will I ever get to wake up past 9/10 am in the future? 🙂

I’m hoping January 2019 will bring a job that will be a good fit both time, and distance-wise. But also just trying to have a consistent schedule. And learn what life is like post-school…

Impulsive Anxiety-Driven Decisions

I made an impulsive anxiety-driven decision today, and basically had to dig myself out of a hole. Does anyone else who has anxiety do some stupid things sometimes because of anxiety? Or simply to rid yourself of the anxiety?

Background to the Situation
CT has been “CT my therapist” to me since I’ve started in therapy with her since… 2016. Sometime around December 2016/January 2017, after having been in therapy with CT for a good 6 months or so, I was on Facebook one night trying to find out more information about a church that I was interested in attending. I didn’t know anyone at that particular church, or any of the people there. Most of the information was… expected. But as I went to one profile, in particular, I discovered something that I kept hidden from CT for a long, long time. Wh-wh-what?! You mean, CT is… a pastor’s wife??!!! I didn’t really know what to expect. For a long time, I decided — as a fact — that I would NOT attend this church. Simply because CT was there.

Last summer, I formally decided to switch to this particular church. After having met a good friend who attended this church, I convinced myself that it would not be too horrible. After all, this church has three different congregations dedicated to different language groups, and as long as I stayed with the English-speaking folk, everything would be a-OK. It was also closer in location to me, and also more importantly, a church where I felt bonded with many of the young adults.

After telling CT about my decision, we had certain mutual agreements. We would treat each other like ‘normal’ members of the church, smile, and go on our separate ways — if we saw each other. Most Sundays, although I see her, and I know she’s there, I just ignore her. It’s been fine — up until recently.

A Busy Few Weeks
The most recent session I had with CT was somewhere around the first week of June. I’d been so busy with the end of the quarter, some side jobs to hold me through until a real job, a temp summer teaching job, and last but not least, moving. The last messages we exchanged were me asking for a week off — thinking it would be my only week of actual vacation before all the hecticness started. She then said we could skip 3? weeks (until around July 4th) and reschedule once my schedule had cleared. It never did.

Last week was so busy that I wouldn’t leave my teaching site until 4 or 5 pm each day. CT works Monday through Thursday, so Friday appointments are out of the question. And I knew that if this upcoming week was just as busy, we’d be pushing to almost two months without an appointment.

At that point, I wouldn’t even know where I’d be. Maybe moving to a different part of the state? Moving back to my parents’ house? My worse nightmare would be having to move and only have one last session with CT. It would be retraumatizing myself with all these last-minute therapy situations all over again.

A Brilliant Idea?
With this scheduling nightmare right in front of me, I had a brilliant idea — or so I thought it was at the time. CT had mentioned briefly to me previously that she offered counseling services at church, and that people could simply sign up on an anonymous basis. And it was time-limited. So I thought… PERFECT! I’ll just sign up anonymously, and be able to check in with her, since obviously my weekday schedule is NOT working in my favor.

On Friday, I had a friend tick a checkbox, and I was done! An hour later, the second-guessing and worries all started creeping in at once. Wait, is this even legal?! CT will be PISSED once she finds out that I was the one who signed up. OMG, I’m DEAD as we know it.

I spent all morning in a ball of anxiety, instantly regretting my decision. OMG, OMG, OMG, I should just not show up. I think that would be best. Anxiety sucks, man. As the agreed upon time showed up, I contemplated having my friend (who signed me up) walk in and cancel for me. But at the same time, I knew I needed to check in with CT. Needed to have an appointment with her, regardless of how short it would be.

A Sigh of Relief
I spent a good 15-20 minutes after the appointment time was supposed to have started in full-blown panic mode. CT’s going to be angry. She’s going to be disappointed. OMG, I’m going to die. (etc). Please someone, talk for me? Go and tell CT something for me? Please? Pretty please?

After gathering up the courage to talk to her, I was so relieved. I just have to say that my therapist is pretty amazing. She let me meet with her at the end, and I was able to get some things off my mind.

Though I’m not sure what to expect during our next appointment (in 2 weeks, which is much more manageable!). For some weird, random reason, whenever I have therapy breaks, it always comes hand in hand with super intense (loving) feelings for her. That… I couldn’t blurt out or get out of my mouth. One day, it’ll happen. Maybe?

Quitting a PhD Program

Should I quit a PhD program? How do I tell my advisor that I am thinking of dropping out of a PhD program? How to know when to stop a PhD. Quitting a PhD program? PhD and Intelligence. PhD and work ethic.

For weeks, my Google searches and conversations with people around me concerned the topics listed above. It initially started out as a small doubt in my mind.

The Beginning of the Quarter
This quarter didn’t start out well. The original goal this quarter was to get one of my qualifying exam papers written and finished, and begin thinking about my dissertation proposal. Neither of which I had a very good idea about. Don’t get me wrong. I liked my research. Sort of…

I started toying with the idea of getting my qualifying exam paper written. I first asked my advisor whether she would sponsor me units so I could start working on the paper. She suggested I ask my other two committee members. “Ok, easy. I’ll ask Committee member B“. Off I went to send an email to Committee member B. Who responded to me and said that his quarter was “very busy” (basically, go ask someone else). After I asked another professor in the department (who also had no way to support me working on this paper), I went to ask Committee member C, who, similar to Advisor and Committee member B, suggested I ask someone else.

By this point, it was Week 3? 4? of the quarter. There was no way in heck I would be able to start or finish my qualifying exam papers on time. At the same time, I was continually being pushed by my department, sternly warned, and reminded that should I not pass my qualifying exam this quarter, I would no longer receive financial support from the department. It was more stress added on to an already stressful situation.

I would return home each night feeling defeated.

I would return home each night feeling defeated. After trying to search through literature, and ask myself what gap in the literature I could fill, trying to remind myself why I wanted to do research. I knew that if I wanted to continue in academic research, this would be the picture of my future. Stress, frustration, defeat, and little sense or feeling of success.

Was it really worth it? Did I really want to do this for the rest of my life?

A Small Gut Feeling
It started as a small gut feeling, really. This tiny inkling of maybe, just maybe taking a break from the PhD program to re-evaluate my future. Initially, I thought that I’d take the following fall quarter off. I’d push on toward the end of the quarter, and once summer hit, I’d take a bit of a break from school. Maybe after the year-long break, things would change. My heart toward research would change. 

The gut feeling only grew stronger.

Continuing with the PhD Program vs. Leaving with a Masters.
Before I knew it, the idea in my mind became leaving completely with a masters degree. Many tears were shed during this time period. It felt like I was breaking up with someone. But in this case, it was a someTHING that might potentially break my heart. Do I trust my gut feeling of wanting to leave with a Masters degree? What if my gut feeling is wrong? What if I regret the decision I’ve made simply because of a stupid little gut feeling that I had at one point? What if this situation turns around and actually gets better? I had a million thoughts running through my mind. This gut feeling was strong though.

Trusting my Gut
At the end, I decided to trust my gut feeling. I made a list, wrote down all the positive and negative aspects of both choices. Do I push on for two, potentially two and a half more years of this intense stress [with continued migraines/GI issues] that I’d known and hope that I finish my program and maybe, hopefully be somewhat competitive in the job market at that point? [I will have a PhD, though…] OR, do I face short-term stress and unknown prospects of the current job market, but decide to honor my body and my health, both mental and physical [but not have a PhD?] At the moment I made the decision to leave, it was as if a huge weight came off my shoulders. I slept better at night. I no longer had stress-related migraines. I no longer had stress-related GI issues. Overall, my mood and anxiety levels have been better. It’s easier to be kinder to myself.

The Future
After making these decisions, little voices of doubt have obviously crept it. Was it the safe decision? Am I crazy? Was this the right decision?

Certainly, there are still many decisions and transitions that I have to make now. Healthcare. How would I pay for healthcare? Job prospects. How is the job market at the moment? How long will it take me to find a full-time position? Will I have to move back home? Will I be able to stay in the area?

There are also those moments of when people congratulate me on getting my Masters, and my self-talk responds with: “Yeah, but it’s only a Masters. Everyone and their mom has a masters degree nowadays.”, or “Oh, what could’ve been…” when I look at friends’ posts on Facebook when they’ve announced that they’ve finished their PhD degrees, or passed their qualifying exams.

But at the same time, I remember the long-term considerations I made when considering whether to continue, and realize that while I may not have a PhD in the forseeable future, I’m learning to respect my body and its needs.

Hopefully that decision will take me much further than a PhD degree ever will.

Welcome, Thank You, and a Short Check-In

Thank you to so many of you who have recently started to follow me (and to everyone who has been following me on here!), as well as for all the likes on my recent posts! It makes me glad to know that so many of you here are also passionate about spreading awareness about mental health, and although Mental Health Awareness month may be “over”, each day should be mental health awareness — simply by sharing our stories with everyone around us.

It’s been a while since I’ve updated. This month has been an adventure, to say the least — an extremely overwhelming and emotional adventure. These past two years in particular have been extremely stressful with regards to everything graduate school-related (finding an adviser, research topics, teaching, and the like). On top of all the academic stress, I’ve also had to face/battle/work on(?) social anxiety every single day while interacting with my professors and other authority figures.

I didn’t realize it immediately, but my body has been under considerable stress this entire time. From weekly headaches, to GI issues, and overwhelming anxiety, at some point, I decided to listen to my body, rather than keep pushing forward. So earlier this month, I decided that I’m leaving my PhD program with a terminal Masters degree.

I’ll write a longer post later regarding the subject itself and all the emotions and thoughts surrounding this issue, but ultimately, I think it was the right decision. Shortly after announcing the decision to the faculty members in my department, it felt like a huge brick had been lifted off of my chest.

I’m not sure what the immediate future holds…heck, I’m not even sure what next week has in store! But part of me is glad to be done with school for the immediate future. I’ve been a student for far too long (I graduated undergrad in 2012…), and I think it will be a good change, and allow me to honor both my mental AND physical health.

Mental Health Awareness in Graduate School and Beyond

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Across multiple college campuses, including the one I’m attending, student groups all across campus have come together to spread awareness about the importance of mental health and self-care. To #breakthestigma. Help all students, alum, and faculty be better supporters or advocates of mental health awareness.

One surprising (or maybe not so surprising?) phenomenon I notice, especially across college campuses, is the amount of support and community all of the undergraduate students have surrounding mental health support. Many student-run organizations across campus (NAMI; Student Mental Health Initiative, etc) are geared toward undergrad students on campus.

One glaring question pops into my mind as a grad student. What about graduate students? How about faculty understanding about mental illness? Sure, there are many resources across campus (Ex: counseling services — either group or individual), but at points during our graduate school careers, the process of grad school is quite isolating, and there needs to be more support. Not only at my own university, but across all campuses. Sure, going out for drinks with my classmates is nice, but we also need to come together as graduate students and talk about these real issues of mental health. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this conversation:
“I’ve been having panic attacks over [XYZ].” OR “I’ve been depressed/contemplating suicide for the past month. My advisor doesn’t care/has suggested I drop out of graduate school.”
“ME TOO! I’ve definitely felt very depressed for the past month as well. Oh well, such is the life of a grad student…”

When did it ever become normal to be depressed for a month? Why does having mental illness mean that we’re not “cut out” or meant to stay in grad school? I see it as being due to a lack of understanding among faculty, and not enough conversations happening among graduate students on campus.

What about collaborating or joining the undergraduate student-run organizations? I personally would not have an issue with joining a student-run club, however, I interact with students often as a teaching assistant (TA). I suppose the same could be said about my supervisor/PI/advisor as well. Even as much as I want to get to know my students on a personal level, it would affect my presence in the classroom if one of my students was in the same club, and I started spewing off my frustrations of having mental health issues.

As a grad student, I see myself as a liaison between the students and the professors. But what about me? What about grad students? I cannot turn to a student and vent my frustrations, but on the other end, I cannot turn to my advisor and vent my frustrations either. It is generally seen as “unprofessional”, and my motivation for staying in grad school or my competence tends to be questioned at that point.

In academia, it seems to me that there is a startling lack of understanding surrounding mental health, in general — unless of course, this professor is a psychology professor. But when we look at the rising statistics of graduate students who are being diagnosed with mood disorders or anxiety disorders (some 60-70% of graduate students at my own college campus have self-disclosed as having suffered with depression over the past year), and articles describing graduate student mental health as a ‘crisis‘, it’s important to start these conversations and advocate for better mental health support and awareness among graduate students NOW.

I understand that in graduate school and in academia, doing research comes as first priority. Many faculty or graduate students may not be able to take time out of their day to consider the impact of mental health/self-care on research or teaching productivity. Perhaps, some faculty may encourage their advisees that the “stress” and “overwhelm” along the PhD journey is “normal” and “temporary“, and… the faster you get out, the better life will be. Yes, all that may be true, but this simply perpetuates the culture of being “OK” with poor mental health, and marginalizes students who come into graduate school with pre-existing mental health conditions.

Our importance as PhD students/faculty is not only limited to the contributions we make to science, research, as teaching. Faculty and graduate students should be aware that the more awareness and support there is surrounding mental health issues, the higher overall productivity will be.

I encourage you to start these conversations on your college campuses. If you’re considering attending grad school, be aware of the challenges and difficulty facing graduate students and work to break this culture of silence in higher ed/academia.

What is one way you can start this conversation on your campus?

Mental Health: On Labels and Diagnoses

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the idea of getting disability accommodations at my university, and my self-judgments that came into play.

I initiated the process, by obtaining a letter from my therapist, and haven’t made steps forward yet. Why? I suppose it has to do with the idea of being labeled as disabled. To be perceived and known as different from other people. I keep thinking: I am not disabled. Why am I trying to get services from the disability center? The idea of me getting disability accommodations for a psychological disability is an idea I am still trying to accept… or at least sit well with for the time being.

A similar thing can be said about getting mental illness diagnoses.

From a personal perspective, getting the label — getting the social anxiety disorder diagnosis was a relief, in a sense. I had suspected starting in my later elementary school years that something was amiss. In high school, I even remember writing in a blog that I had that I suspected it was either Selective Mutism or Social Anxiety. I wished so much that someone in my life would notice my struggle instead of assuming that everything would be fine.

So about a year ago, when that diagnosis finally came, I felt like this weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Actually, it was anti-climactic. A “duh”, now do you all believe me?

The same happened just a few weeks ago when I surprisingly found out that generalized anxiety disorder had been added as another diagnosis. I remember looking up the symptoms on Google, and literally thinking: “This is me!” Honestly, young Amanda could’ve been the poster child for GAD. Again, it was such a relief to know that I was not crazy or weird. That there was finally a name for something that I was experiencing.

However, from an other/outsider perspective, the last thing I want is for people in my face-to-face life knowing about my mental health issues. Only a few, select people in my real life know about the fact that I have social anxiety disorder, and even letting them know, I felt extremely vulnerable letting that part of me out. Heck, I’m not even sure most of my Facebook friends list knows that I blog semi-regularly about mental health, therapy, and all this fun stuff.

Perhaps it’s that I don’t want to be perceived as different after others find out about my struggles.

Unfortunately, most people without knowledge of mental health issues will perceive those of us who struggle as different. Perhaps even weird or strange. Other overly empathetic people will give this look as if we’re terminal cancer patients. Some, want to try to fix us — because, let’s face it, dealing with mental health issues can be exhausting for the individual AND friends/family surrounding us.

Hence, the reason for Mental Health Awareness Month. And the overall goal to end the stigma!

There are days when I want to do nothing else than to promote my blog, quit my day job, and become a full-time blogger/YouTuber and make money advocating for better mental health and sharing my story. I can imagine myself writing my memoir, sharing my story about mental health, and starting conversations surrounding a (still) highly stigmatized topic in modern society. I am a firm believer in the fact that all of our voices put together can make a difference.

But in-person me? I just want to be normal.

At the end of the day, I think our society still understands and accepts physical health disabilities as more understandable(?) or normal(?) compared to mental health ones.

Few people in my life know this, but I also have a condition called Microscopic Colitis, which is a type of IBD [the “less severe” cousin to Crohn’s/Ulcerative Colitis]. And if I wanted to receive disability accommodations for MC, I’d be more willing to admit that I have a physical disability, compared to a mental health one. But at the end of the day, how are the two different?

What have your experiences been like in terms of being labeled as having a mental health condition? What are your perceptions of being labeled as “disabled”?

Social Anxiety at School: “I Promise, I Won’t Bite”

“I promise, I won’t bite.”

Growing up, I heard that phrase more than a couple times from my teachers. Whether it was because I was terrified and looked like a deer in headlights if I had to walk up to my teacher and ask any question, or whether it was the aftermath of having to meet with one of my teachers because of “not communicating” and feeling so much anxiety that it could fill multiple planets, many of my instructors have reassured me of this before.

Unlike some people whose anxiety started in high school or middle school because of bullying or other factors that come with teenagehood and feeling self-conscious, I will say, my social anxiety in school settings likely started way back in preschool. In fact, I think if I was a child of the current era, I would’ve been sent for an evaluation of Selective Mutism or Social Anxiety. But because I attended elementary school in the 90’s, my parents, and I assume most teachers thought I was just “shy” or “extremely shy” and would eventually grow out of it.

I was told I cried most of my first few months of preschool, and really only participated in the singing activities. When I wasn’t singing, I was sitting in the corner of the classroom crying. Oh, and I wet my pants often — not because I wasn’t potty trained, but because I was scared to ask to go to the bathroom. (Obviously, I have no conscious memories of this time of my life). Even as early as kindergarten, my experience of having to raise my hand to ask to go to the bathroom was terrifying — but again, I have no distinct conscious memories from this period of my life.

Second grade. I’m sure many people have some “I waited too long, and wet my pants” story, but this one sticks out to me clear as day, even now, 20 years later. I remember one of my classmates getting his name on the board (getting in trouble?) for going to the bathroom right after coming back from recess. So — after this classmate got in trouble, I was terrified of the same situation happening to me. Fast forward to P.E. class… I really need to go. We are playing baseball, and I’m up to bat. It’s taking forever….and then. It all comes out. Pee everywhere. Pee on the baseball mat, too. Legit, in front of my class. My teacher tells us: “Ok, let’s pack up and go back to class now!” I’m now wondering whether I’m going to be in trouble. So… my PE teacher obviously has to tell my teacher. And I’m just embarrassed beyond anything. On top of that, I’m scared that my parents will be angry, and my teacher’s going to be angry as well.

Although the accidents eventually stopped, the fear of asking for help or raising my hand to ask questions or approaching teachers stayed. And grew. Because as I grew older, I discovered two new tactics. Friends, and avoidance.

Having to ask a question in class, or ask my teachers for help terrified me. I remember being in elementary school (maybe around 4th or 5th grade), and describing the scenario of having to raise my hand or talk out loud in class as being like the following experience: Someone is squeezing my throat. I can’t breathe. My lips are super-glued together. My hands are held down by weights. I can’t move from my seat. I’m stuck. I need someone to notice me. To help me.

Being afraid to approach my teachers also meant not being able to ask for help on homework, and being afraid to turn in late assignments. So eventually missing assignments led to having to talk to my teachers because of said missing assignments. Predictably, having to endure the individual talks with my teachers terrified me. More than once, I’d hear some variation of: “I won’t bite.”; “Just communicate with me.”; “I’m not that scary.”

I suppose on some level, my conscious brain understood this, but it was like I needed to be constantly reminded of that, and to be reassured that they were “safe” to communicate with.

Common thoughts that would pop into my head are: “[XYZ] teacher will think I’m stupid.”; “I’m so scared. What’s going to happen?”; “I would honestly rather be pushed off a cliff or get shot in the head with a gun than talk to/ask [XYZ] for help.”; “[XYZ] teacher will be so angry with me.”; “I can’t do this.” 

To ease the anxiety in the short-term, I would turn to classmates and friends to help communicate for me. I would drag [XYZ] friend into the classroom with me, and have them ask questions for me. Once, is fine. Twice is OK, too. But for me, suddenly I’m death gripping said friend, because I literally cannot see a way for me to communicate with my teachers by myself.

Elementary school. Middle school. High school. College. This continued on and on like a horrible cycle, and some type of nightmare. All the while I hoped and prayed that maybe I’d grow up one day and “get over” my anxiety. Maybe I’d grow an extra backbone and be extra brave one day.

At the same time, nobody ever noticed my anxiety. Why? With my peers, I was seemingly normal. I could communicate, laugh, and joke with my friends around. In fact, if I was with a friend, I would feel comfortable talking with my teachers. As long as a peer was there, I would feel safe enough to talk.

Most of my experience at school consisted of me avoiding my teachers/authority like the plague, because anxiety would peak the moment I had to communicate with them, or dragging friends along to help talk for me.

To this day, I still struggle with communicating in these exact situations. Treatment has helped tremendously, but there are days when I wish I had been diagnosed and treated at a young age. Maybe my condition would not be as debilitating as it is now?

Most days though, I just need to hear: “I promise, I won’t bite.”

Dear World, What I Wish You Would Know About My Anxiety

By coincidence, I recently just found out that in addition to Social Anxiety Disorder, I’ve got a second diagnosis tacked on — Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). In light of this recent finding and recent life circumstances, I’ve decided to write this post.

Don’t be afraid to talk to me or ask me about my experience with anxiety/mental health issues. I know this is a very personal choice, but I’m very open about my experiences. My philosophy is that educating people about the reality of mental health issues and struggles will hopefully lessen the stigma and fear people have about talking about mental health. If I mention a struggle I’m currently facing as being due to having Social Anxiety or Generalized Anxiety, please don’t be scared to talk to me about it. The worst is saying, “Oh, don’t worry.” or “You’re just stressing out too much recently.” To me, it’s invalidating my experience, and categorizing it as a temporary struggle that will pass.

I’m not trying to be “lazy” or defiant”. Many times, I’ll fall behind on life responsibilities, or fall behind on schoolwork that must be done. It’s not because I’m trying or intending to be lazy. Sometimes, I truly cannot calm myself down enough to focus, or motivate myself to get stuff done.

Please don’t pity me. I don’t need people to respond with “oooh, you poor thing!“. This type of overly-sympathetic response doesn’t benefit me in any way. Neither does the tough love approach/pseudo-supportive approach. (“just do it!”//”you can do it!”) When I’m freaking out, what I really need is a supportive (calmer-than-me) person to calm me down and get me to problem solve (What would be most helpful right now? What can I do to help you right now?)

“I’m scared.” is a common reason/explanation I tend to give. But what I’m really experiencing goes way beyond this simple statement. “I’m scared” tends to encompass: My heart is beating way too quickly; I feel physically sick/uncomfortable; My mind is blank; I think I’m going to faint; I want to curl up in a ball and cry, but I can’t; I have racing thoughts (etc)

I really don’t want to procrastinate or not do a task. I don’t want to procrastinate, or ignore tasks/responsibilities but some moments when I’m feeling especially anxious, I go into freeze mode. I literally cannot think of what to do in the next step. Even if someone tells me to just do [X] task, [X] task seems like a massive mountain or block in my way. In the moment, I honestly cannot see a way to complete this monstrosity of a task.

I know I think too much. Unfortunately, it seems like it comes as part of the anxiety package. Telling me not to think too much doesn’t really help me in the moment.

I want to participate in your social event/gathering. I would like to participate with friends, but sometimes, it seems too daunting to join in, so I am more likely to give an excuse such as being tired or busy. Please keep inviting me out. Even if I decline your request 100 times, please keep trying. It shows me that I still have supportive friend in spite of my anxiety struggles.

Please remind me to keep breathing. Especially when I’m freaking out, or in freeze mode, please be there to support me. Remind me to keep breathing — slowly, in and out. If I keep saying “I can’t” or “Help me”, please take it as a sign that I likely need you to support me. Encourage me to go for a walk/journal/color/listen to music/distract myself in some other way (or offer to walk with me if you have time!).

Stress =/= Anxiety. Please keep this in mind. Yes, a little bit of anxiety/stress is good. Too much is not good. Stress isn’t the same as anxiety, though. An anxiety disorder is not something acute (at least not in my case) and is something that I have spent (and will continue to spend) lots of time and energy working on in therapy. So unfortunately, sitting at home with nothing to do (unlike with acute illnesses) will NOT benefit me.

Keep educating yourself and others around you. Read about various mental health issues/symptoms. Watch videos. Have conversations. My ultimate hope is that mental health conversations will be as commonplace as conversations surrounding any physical health conditions. I’m not embarrassed to talk about my experiences. Please don’t be embarrassed to ask or have a conversation about my mental health struggles with me, either.

Repeating Springtime Patterns

The week before spring break, I got a message from my therapist letting me know that she was “taking a week off” and asking whether meeting on the 9th (today) was OK. I never responded to the message.

My initial knee-jerk type of reaction was anger and general bitchy, snarky, pissed-off-ness. I think my immediate reaction took even me by surprise. Normally I’m totally whatevers about therapy breaks. And even if I’m totally missing my therapist or in a “OMG, I want to meet like NOW” type of state, I can hold my own, and respond in a mature, semi-adult-like manner.

Not that point. I held off responding, because I knew that if I did, I would’ve sent some type of angry response such as: “yeah, it’s fine. whatever. 9th is good too.” And T would’ve (likely) been confused out of her wits end about the reaction on my end.

Well, as I suspected, right when I walked in for my appointment today, she asked me about why I had ignored the text. Heh.

A couple of days ago, I was trying to figure out why every single time I read through that text, I got so angry. There was nothing inherent in the message or in the wording that was wrong or bad or offensive. Rather, it was a combination of multiple factors.

What I wrote in my journal:
It’s a combination of the fact that she was going [out of town] (Edit: that assumption has since been debunked and disproven), and figuring/assuming that I would be fine until 4/9. But what I’m embarrassed to verbally admit is that I’m angry because I actually have been wanting more connection rather than less frequency of appointments. Even prior to break, I’d been struggling with the time in between appointments…

Not only did we talk about the reason behind my lack of response to the text, but we also discussed the possibility of what would happen should T have to cancel in the future. Which I naturally freaked out about. Or — switching Ts should this frequency of appointments not work out for me? I almost flipped shit over this. My mind was going “no, no, no, no, no, no…not again… please no.” For the time being, though, everything with CT remains stable and fine.

Why is it always March, April, and May which are the hardest and unstable months for me? And on top of that, I’m even more sensitive to any slightest form of rejection during this time of the year. That could be as such a small thing as having to take a break (like this time), or not reaching out/sending a message/calling (like with OT), or not replying to a message (school T).

Well, let’s look back through my therapy journey again…

May 2013: School intern leaves counseling center. Cry, eat chips, sleep. Repeat for the next month. I didn’t understand why I was having all these strong “teacher-obsession”-like feelings for her, OR why I couldn’t just “be friends” with her. It was a hard time.

May 2014: School counseling center suddenly breaks the news to me that after almost an entire school year of consistent sessions with Yoda, with whom I had *almost* made a breakthrough, that my last session would be the following week. Yeah, I didn’t take it too well. I think I dropped one too many f-bombs and threw one too many pillows. Adult temper tantrum to the max. Oh, and not to mention threatening to bomb the entire counseling center and shoot all those people to smithereens.

Stalk my way into Yoda’s private practice. Move back to the US. Have to have a goodbye session again. But I was prepping for a cross-country move AND injured at the same time. No time to process all these changes AT ALL.

April 2015: Last session with School T. This was also a tough last session, since sessions on our campus are time-limited. She was very perceptive to all my nonverbal cues. I’d flinch just the slightest, or breathe in a certain way, and she’d ask: “What feeling just came up?” To this day, I haven’t had a therapist prior or since that could read me so well.

February/March 2016: I basically ghosted on OT after a miscommunication/accidentally skipping a session. School T left our campus counseling center in March of 2016. Too many changes during that time of year. No last session with OT.

Started sessions end of March? April? of 2016 with CT. Went back home for summer that year (2016). Didn’t resume regular sessions with CT until… October/November of 2016. It’s only been in the past year or so that I’ve felt more “stable” and “safe” in my relationship with CT.

Looking back through all of these changes and shifts in therapy settings/relationships, it’s no wonder I’d freak out and feel much more unstable (wanting more reassurance/connection, more frequency between sessions, etc.) during this time of the year.

I’m in a much better headspace after session today. The part of me that has been wanting more frequency between sessions, but hasn’t wanted to ask for it, because I didn’t feel like it was “necessary” or that I *could* ask for it, also feels soothed and comforted now that I have a session next week.

I’m never the type of person to go asking for an extra session (or if I do, I feel guilty if I need to have a sooner session) because I always think that if I can, I should be able to “muscle through it”. Or that I’m taking valuable session time away from someone who needs it more than I do. But, on the flip side, the need for more connection, for more time, (etc) never gets met if I keep denying it.

Here’s to hoping this pattern of spring instability and perceived possibility of abandonment/rejection will eventually heal and stop replaying itself.