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.

Perpetuating the stigma of mental illness with my own self-judgments

Will this be the “functional limitation” that keeps me from continuing or finishing with a PhD? Is it all really too much for me at this point? Is it really worth all the struggle and pain?

I’m not sure. I’m really not sure.

When I started grad school, nobody warned me that it would be this difficult. I got through years 1 and 2– taking classes, doing decently well in my classes, and doing what I had done best throughout my entire schooling career. Avoiding my professors/instructors like the plague.

Nobody warned me that in order to succeed in grad school, moreso than your academic competency or ability, is having the ability to communicate with professors on a near-daily basis. This very limitation has been a struggle for me since Year 1 of grad school. Communicating, emailing, making appointments with, going to office hours, asking endless questions, checking in, and so on and so forth.

Meeting with professors and managing committees (etc) is difficult for anyone in grad school to do. Let alone someone who struggles with social anxiety disorder. I try not to let social anxiety define me or my academic career, and at times, when I’m symptomless/or experience milder symptoms of anxiety, I will even forget or doubt that I even have social anxiety at all.

However, it’s times like recently (with ultimatums and deadlines being reinforced) that I wonder whether therapy itself is truly enough. Sure, I’ve definitely made progress in the past few years while in therapy. I mean… gosh… this time last year, it would’ve taken me a week or two to send out an email to a specific faculty member. Now, it takes me on average 24-48 hours. If you ask me, that’s significant progress. But when we consider deadlines, and all the communication that I have YET to do (reaching out to different people/sending out emails/making phone calls, etc) I realize how far from “normal” and how much of a limitation I truly have.

So I think…Maybe I should consider medication? And then the next obvious question is: what type? SSRI’s? Anti-anxiety meds? Both? Neither? And how effective would medication be in my particular circumstance? Would it help me to be able to send out all those emails and to set up all those meetings that I need to set up? Or would those same thoughts still circle around in my mind?

A couple times, another alternative has popped up in conversation: registering with our campus’ student disability center. As a TA/instructor I’ve also seen many students who have accommodations letters, regardless of what disability or functional limitation they may have. As an instructor, I really don’t care, and I’m happy to provide that accommodation for them. However, flipped around, the very thought about going to the disability center and registering or even (potentially) asking for accommodations for a “psychological disability” seems so far out of the question for me. I even judge myself: Is my mental health issue really severe enough to be granted accommodations? Is this “cheating”? But perhaps with longer time (or not being given ultimatums by my department??) my productivity [and confidence to do well] would improve. I’d feel more empowered to finish with my degree rather than feel that I’m incapable and I’ve always been incapable in school due to my anxiety.

But today, if I had a physical limitation (Ex: I broke my leg/arm) and needed an accommodation in the classroom to help me teach, I’d be going to the disability center in a heartbeat.

I would like to think that I’m very capable of finishing my degree (plus a few conference presentations/publications to boot!), getting out, and finding a job in academia. But at the rate even I continue to perpetuate the stigma of struggling with mental health issues with my own self-judgments, I’m not sure. I’m really not sure.

Winter Blues/Fellow SAD Sufferers?

Wow– we’re into the throes of wintertime already. Thank goodness I don’t live on the east coast. Dunno how people who have to live in the snow for X bajillion months in a row survive.

Even here in California (even in spite some sunny weather in between gloomy days), I’m trying to fight off the winter blues/SAD.

I often feel that generally right after the middle of January is when my mood starts to dip. The newness of the “new year” has worn off. And while motivation for starting new habits and make changes is sort-of still there, my overall energy level is just– MEH.

I *know* I should be getting exercise, having a consistent sleep schedule, eat healthy, and get some light during the day, but more days than not in January (and February), all I want to do is hide under my blankets all day and sleep. Forget about socializing too. Let’s all just hibernate until springtime, yah?

Knowledge-wise, I know what I need to do to try to combat the winter blues/winter depression, but when it comes to putting all of this into action, it’s VERY difficult. I have a light box, too (a small one), but motivation to pull out the light box is minimal compared to the motivation to sleep all day.

Anyone other fellow SAD sufferers/people with winter depression have things that work for them?

2018: A Momentous Year Ahead…

This year, 2018, marks a momentous year in my life.

You all know those sayings: “You know you’re old when…“, etc. This year (2018) is a significant year for me, because it’s my 10-year high school graduation reunion year. Whatever your reaction is “OMG, she’s so OOLLLDD!“, “My dear, you’re still so young! Wait until your 50th year reunion!“, we all have to admit, that 10 years post high-school graduation is a huge thing.

Naturally, many people will want to know whether I’m going back for my 10 year reunion or not. And the answer is– NO. I mean, why would I want to go? Let’s take a trip down memory lane…

Many people will say that middle school years were horrible for them, and that high school was either “the best four years” or “not too bad” or somewhere in between. From my perspective, middle school wasn’t all that bad. High school—even if you paid me all the money in the world–I would NOT want to relive that experience, ever. To this day, I still think I should’ve taken the CHSPE (which is a test you can take in California to leave high school after your sophomore year) and enrolled in community college.

I was a shy kid in high school. I didn’t know how to make friends. I didn’t know who I was. What I really wanted was someone to notice me–so I tried getting that attention in multiple ways… taking impossibly difficult classes, participating in band and hoping I did well, trying to change my personality to be more outgoing, etc. All this ended up culminating in a horrible 4 (long) years. Within the first month of starting freshman year, my friend group from middle school basically split up and I ended up with no friends. I did end up making a friend around springtime of freshman year, but she and I got into a fight, and I was suspended for 3 days. Didn’t start out too well. At the end of our freshman year, one of the girls in my grade committed suicide. It (obviously) shook up the whole school. But in my case, there became even more of a stigma for asking for help. Only the people who were ready to kill themselves were “deserving” of help. The rest of us just needed to grow a stronger backbone… For the rest of my high school years, I ended up hiding all of my struggles, and directing them internally.

Academics were also horrible— let’s see… I got a D in Chem, failed AP Bio (literal F on high school transcript), my English teachers all hated me: “Amanda needs to participate in class.”, and the general message from my teachers was: “Amanda needs to learn to communicate.” Throughout my high school years, most of my teachers thought I was intentionally being lazy or didn’t try hard enough. The real reason reason for the low grades always started after one missed assignment. Rather than attempting to walk up to my teacher(s), hand in the assignment, or open my mouth to ask for an extension, I would’ve rather received a 0, because the panicky feeling that coursed through my body afterwards was unbearable. At the time, if I had to choose between getting shot in the head/pushed off a cliff/run over by a car or talk to a teacher, I would’ve chosen the bullet/cliff/car instead. No questions asked.

Ok– so it wasn’t all horrible. Band was OK and so was Academic decathlon. But the school part of high school? Not worth a second of “reminiscing”.

So… you ask me whether I want to go back for my high school reunion or not? The answer is clearly NO. Obviously my current life circumstances are also no more of a motivation for me to go back, either. I’m still single, still in grad school, living in an apartment, and the people from high school that I want to hang out with, I’d find time outside of this “reunion” to go.

And especially hearing from my brother’s experience from his HS reunion a few years back (he was required to go, since he was in ASB–student government), going back to a high school reunion is like living out your worst insecurities again. It’s really a glorified popularity game 10 years down the road. I mean, who would want to relive that?

Heck, I’m THRILLED to have been out of high school for (almost exactly) 10 years now(!!)


I’ve been feeling off-balance this week.

I’m getting ready to leave for winter break in less than a week, and I’m also taking winter quarter off, which means the next time I’ll be living in the area again would be sometime at the end of March or beginning of April. I’ve never taken such a long time off from school before (or ever!) so this should be interesting.

This quarter has been overwhelming–physically, mentally, and emotionally. And I think I’m ready for an extended break. Hopefully after I come back from my break, I’ll feel more refreshed and ready to start on the next phase of grad school. Unless I fail my MA thesis paper–again. But we’re staying positive, right?

Although I’m excited to take a break, I feel quite wary about leaving the area for so long (= not having regular sessions for 3 months or so). Over the past week or two, I’ve found myself looking through old emails with Yoda, OT, and SchoolT. So many feelings/emotions that had previously no longer bothered me suddenly started bubbling up again. A couple nights ago, I was up much of the night thinking about School T, current T, and Yoda. Wishing for a hug, wondering whether I should get current T a Christmas card before I leave, what to include in said Christmas card, wishing for phone sessions in between…and so on. The combination of all these old feelings and thoughts popping up has left me feeling extremely off-balance recently.

It seemed like such foreign behavior to me, since it had been so long since I’d struggled with feelings like this. I’ve reached a point with current T to where I feel stable, and know that there won’t be too many changes to scheduling, her availability, (etc). It’s only recently begun to feel more “safe” and “stable” in this current relationship without freaking out when we have long-ish (more than 2 weeks) breaks.

But this extended break feels much longer and different, overall. I’m pretty sure CT will suggest finding a therapist while I’m away from the area. At the same time, I’m not sure how effective that would be–simply because it only feeds into the instability of the therapy relationship that I’ve worked so hard to work through.

This latest change reminds me of part of an email that OT had sent me long ago…

When on the brink of a change, its normal to feel a bit tottery.

You could say that again! The last session I had with CT (about 2 weeks ago), I told her that I didn’t want to have another session again this calendar year. But with all the changes ahead — I’ve decided that it might be wise to squeeze one last session in. But what do you do in those 50 minutes?! What does one discuss with so much time in between?

Recovering from Burnout

These past few weeks and months have been tiring and stressful–to say the least.

To give you an idea of how far behind in “life” I am, the calendar on my wall still shows “August”. Yes, self, I too wish that it was still August, rather than… almost November (!!!).

I began to crack at the seams last week when I posted a three-word post on Facebook–“I Give Up”…or roughly thereabouts. I did not intend for this status message to get so much attention from my Facebook friends. In fact, I posted this status message in Chinese for a reason, to intentionally get less less attention (or so I was hoping). But there I was, within minutes of posting the message with friends from near and far posting and asking me whether I was OK. “What do you want to give up on?” “Are you OK?” “What do you want me to pray for you about?” I appreciated the concern from near and far, but still have not yet found the adequate words to describe what I wanted to give up on, or whether I am “fine” now.

The Road to Burnout
It was later that evening that I realized that I had been experiencing burnout for a few weeks now. Expectations from all areas of my life have contributed to this severe burnout that I’ve been experiencing. Academically, I face the pressure and expectations from my adviser and my department to meet certain deadlines. As a teaching assistant, I face expectations to be a knowledgeable and competent instructor. In my apartment life, I face expectations from myself to be a good and responsible housemate to my fellow roommates. Socially, I feel expectations to be a good friend. I feel responsible when I commit to something (a volunteer organization that I had joined during the summer) and feel the need to invest all my time and energy into the organization.

It was then that I began to realize…. this is burnout. I’m completely and utterly depleted. I have no more resources to give to others, let alone myself. I am burned out in all aspects and areas of my life.

When was the last time I had time to give to myself? How long had it been since I paid attention to my own needs? Or better yet… what are my needs? For months on end, the rhythm of life had been teaching or academic-related research during the week, and during the weekend, I would spend my time with church friends (socializing), or volunteering. If I had time at home, I would be doing dishes/laundry/cleaning/organizing/grocery shopping, etc. (this is considered “me” time, right?)

I Have Needs?
It is natural for me to place others’ needs at the expense of my own.
-Often, my departmentmates will comment how “invested” I am in my teaching. But I know no other way. It is natural for me to put my students’ needs in front of my own. In previous quarters, if I had a busy schedule, I would always have time to meet with students–even if it meant I didn’t eat lunch that day or pee all day… because I wanted to be available to my students.
-For my adviser, I try (and am increasingly failing!) at trying to meet deadlines that I think are like jumping through hoops. I don’t want to be a nuisance to my adviser, so I try to solve all difficulties on my own, at the expense of important deadlines.
-When I have extra time, I generally try to go out of my way to do my apartmentmates’ dishes or take out the trash and recycling (among other household chores…) On the other hand, I never have the expectation that my apartmentmates will go out of their way to do anything for me. Helping out at “home” is just one way that I feel that I’m being a good and responsible housemate.
-When I agree to show up to a social event or an event that I have previously registered for, I almost always stick to my promise. Even if there are quite a few people who don’t show up, I feel responsible and guilty if I don’t show up, because… I’ve promised my friends that I would be there.

Listening to and Respecting my own Needs
I know that the only way to crawl out of this feeling of burnout is to listen to and respect my own needs, which goes against my entire being. I have needs? And…they are important?
Growing up in Chinese culture, I learned from a young age to care for others’ needs before my own. To respect my parents’ and other elders’ wishes before mine. This cultural expectation is compounded on top of my natural personality to meet other people’s needs and wishes above my own. When I see that someone else is hurt or tired, my natural tendency is to run to them and ask them what they need…even if I may be falling apart myself.
A fellow blogger described this experience perfectly:

“I perceived myself as useful and worthy if I was “doing”. How glorious to receive your parents’ love and public affection for helping them and being respectful. They glow when other parents tell them how lucky they are to have such an obedient daughter.”

I always wondered why my snappy/snarky nature never showed up in therapy. The side of me that pisses people off when I am tired and “can’t hold it together” and causes relationship breakdowns. The passive-aggressive side of me that shows up when I want to, but cannot communicate my needs.
It was after this experience with burnout that I realized that likewise, my therapy persona tries to be “respectful”, “perfect”, and “well-behaved”. It is no wonder these patterns keep popping up again and again in my normal life, but never in therapy. Whether I am conscious of this process or not, even in the therapy room, when I am supposed to be “getting my needs met”, I am always trying to make the process as ‘smooth and easy as possible’ for my therapist. I don’t want to be an annoying person, so I hold back my thoughts and behaviors that would be perceived as “rude” or “impolite”, because I don’t want to be seen in a negative light.

A fellow blogger wrote this about their therapy process which threw off my entire “therapy moral compass”

“I am not there to be good, well behaved, or to make life easy. I am there to play these patterns out and have them repaired in the safety of therapeutic relationship. I won’t learn by being “the good client.” I won’t heal by hiding my true feelings, emotions and behavioural impulses.”

When I first came across this statement, my gut reaction was to respond: But you ARE in therapy to be a good client. You ARE in therapy to learn to hide your impulses and to control your emotions.

And I realized, I have been in therapy to be a good client. But at some point, carrying this “good client mask” around is no longer going to serve me well. It for sure won’t help me to learn to recognize and respect my needs…

“In 5 Years, You’ll Thank Me…”

“You may hate me now, but in 5 years, you’ll thank me…or maybe in May or in February…”

I didn’t want to believe my therapist when she said that to me. In fact, at the time, I wanted to throw something at her– a pillow, my shoe… something.

I walked in to session on Monday and mentioned that I had spent a good half hour going back and forth with a friend earlier that day about not wanting to email my advisor about being stuck on my literature search paper which is due in about 2 weeks.

I felt like a broken record when talking to my friend. Yes, I know that waiting longer to email my advisor for help will only keep me stuck longer. Yes, I know that the important thing right now is to ask for help and not be worried about her perception of me. Yes, I know that once I get my question answered, I’ll be able to move on.

But I’ve always been one to worry about being seen as annoying. A nuisance. Being perceived as stupid. Bothering everyone around me. Disrupting other peoples’ schedules. I want everyone to like me. Secretly, I’m always afraid that people are judging me as being a stupid, incompetent, annoying person.

So I’d rather try to be independent and fix all issues on my own. I don’t like to ask for help from others. If I can find an answer via my own methods, even if it takes twice as long to complete a task, I will complete a task on my own. After all, asking unnecessary questions that can be answered via Google would be wasting someone else’s time.

So it was difficult on Monday when my therapist had me sit right there in her office and write out an email to my advisor. In the moment, I was pretty angry at her. But as I was initially stuck writing the email, she asked me: “What do you need? Tell your advisor what you need from her.”

I don’t like to admit that I have needs. What needs? Even after so many times, asking for an extra session is difficult for me, because I’m having to admit that I have needs. That I need something…and that I would waste my therapist’s time/bother her/make her spend extra time for me.

I will say… I *did* feel relieved after sending that email, and after my advisor responded, I was given a new direction to go. But in the moment, I low key hated my therapist for forcing me into that situation of writing an email and sending the email.

They say that the hardest to change are thoughts….but maybe 5 years down the road I’ll end up thanking my therapist for pushing me to endure these anxiety-provoking and uncomfortable situations.


“I Promise I’m Not Lying”

Recently, I’ve had a couple of interesting conversations with people regarding introversion and social settings.

Just yesterday, I had a conversation with someone, and I had mentioned that I was an introvert.

Less than half a second later, this person responded: “No you’re not.”
I responded with, “I promise you, I am!”

We ended up talking about how “typical” introverts and extroverts behave, and that I was appeared in social situations to be a typical extrovert because of how sociable and excited I get in social situations.

This is not the first time someone has labeled me as such: an extrovert.

I guess if you really wanted to, I would call myself an extroverted introvert. I do enjoy socializing, but little do people know that right after any party/social function/church, etc. I return and crash. As in–I need a good day or two to feel somewhat normal again and regain some energy. Often, though, I feel like a cell phone battery that drains faster than it can be charged.

A similar situation happens when I (finally) choose to tell people around me that I have social anxiety disorder. “What? No you don’t! But you’re so… comfortable with people around you!” is the common response that I hear from others. Again, my common response is: “I promise you, I’m not lying!”

But, again… most people don’t know the (many) coping mechanisms that I’ve developed over the years: I’ll usually drag some friend or good acquaintance along to go to said social function or feared social situation with me. If I have to go to a dinner or other event, and I don’t know anyone well there, I will make up an excuse/reason for why I can no longer attend (e.g. too much work, too tired, not feeling well, etc.) If I know one person at a given social event, I will often cling to the person that I know. It’s not until after this event that said acquaintance/friend finally sees that the act of attending social functions is a distressing situation for me.

One of these days, instead of trying to convince people I’m not lying, I’ll just calmly explain that I’m a socially anxious extroverted introvert. Just to watch the wheels spin in their heads. Until I get that answer down– I’ll just say: “I promise, I’m not lying!”

Growing and Being Stretched

I’ve been growing tomato plants now inside my apartment — yes INSIDE — my apartment for the past few months now. We have a yearly tradition at my university known as “Picnic Day” similar to a campus-wide open house where there are activities all around campus and tons of exhibits for the community at large as well.

Each year, they give away free plants as well. I’d never been too interested in gardening when I was growing up. I would help my mom in the garden, but that was the extent of my “gardening interests”. It wasn’t until I took two little tomato plants home in the heat that I remember talking to them like they were my little pets or children. I remember quietly whispering to them, and telling them “Momma won’t let you die. Don’t you worry.”

Of course, I had my doubts… I don’t have a balcony in my apartment, and I’ve never really gardened before. So it was truly an experiment in the making. I remember thinking in my mind: I’ll probably kill these things in a couple weeks, so it won’t really matter much.

But with some sunlight, water, and love, they grew and grew….

I was actually getting kind of impatient because they were growing so slowly (compared to outside tomato plants) and after the first blooms on my Early Girl started showing up, I was thinking that perhaps flowers would start blooming by the end of July. But alas, July came and went, and…. still no flowers!

Everyone around me suggested multiple options: Did you water it enough? Have you been giving them enough fertilizer? Do they have enough sunlight on them?  As well-intentioned as everyone was, I wanted to give them time. For apartment tomato leaves, they were looking WONDERFUL, but I was also starting to give up on them and lose patience with them. My roommate has (had) been commenting for weeks that she didn’t want them in the apartment anymore. I kept telling myself: August. If they don’t form flowers in August, then I’ll get rid of them. A few people actually suggested “stressing them out”– an idea that I had negated immediately. Stress out my babies?? How could I?

This week, since I’ve been so busy with teaching, I’ve actually been neglecting the plants (a bit). I haven’t been watering them as often, so the soil was actually completely dry when I watered it earlier, and a couple patches of leaves are looking diseased and wilted. On top of that, it’s been quite hot where I am. Today, when one of my new roommates moved in, I showed her some plants, and curiously, I saw that the first flowers had bloomed on one of the tomato plants!

4 months! 4 months for the flower to finally bloom!

But what do you know… it actually took (some) neglect to get the flowers to –finally — start blooming. Does it mean that I don’t love these tomato plants? Not at all! But in order to push them to start forming flowers (and eventually tomatoes), the tomatoes can’t get too comfortable in a nice air-conditioned controlled environment.

Isn’t it interesting that being stretched outside of our comfort zones in therapy is similar to this process. Sometimes I’m angry with my therapist after session for pushing me outside of my comfort zone, because it’s uncomfortable, it’s different, and it’s new. It feels like she’s neglecting me on some level. I feel discouraged that I’m not making progress, yet being stretched outside of my comfort zone hurts. But it’s this process that produces results. This process of being “stressed” that will actually get flowers to grow– and eventually tomatoes to come out.

But just like my tomato plants, if I’m never stretched beyond this comfort zone, I can be a pretty tomato plant with lots of green, healthy leaves, content in this condition….but on some level, I’m not living to my full potential…

My tomato plants were nice and pretty as a decoration with green, bushy leaves. But me as a newbie gardener, I wanted to see tomato flowers open up! (And hopefully actual tomatoes coming out of those flowers!!)

Can’t wait to see everything else my tomato plants are going to teach me during this process. Now, I get to be the dutiful “bee” and pollinate them everyday! 🙂