Do you ever have those moments when out of the blue your brain remembers something that is so intensely embarrassing you have this cringing reaction that's almost physically (and certainly emotionally/mentally) painful?
That happens to me about 5 times a day. For no reason at all, something will happen in my life that triggers a memory where I somehow embarrassed myself, and it takes everything I have to push past it and not let myself crumple into a ball of shame. The Lexapro has helped a lot with these episodes, they're much less intense, but they do still occasionally happen.
Well I had an epiphany last night that these shame memories are uniformly characterized by one thing: instances where I wasn't perfect. Which is so stupid.
I know I'm a perfectionist, but I don't want to be one. And I'm actually pretty good about controlling it when it comes to my work. But for whatever reason, I can't seem to do the same when it comes to my perfectionism about social situations. These cringe-worthy memories almost always have to do with a time where I misplayed a social event or interaction and feel like I've embarrassed myself.
Cognitive behavior therapy helps in reminding myself that just because I feel a certain way doesn't make it fact. In all likelihood, I'm overthinking these events and didn't embarrass myself at all. But even though these episodes aren't quite as bad as they used to be, they're still there. And I had a thought - maybe I'm going about this all wrong? Maybe instead of trying to tame my brain purely with psychology and SSRIs, I should also make an effort to have a little fun with it.
Like instead of struggling (and failing) to never remember an embarrassing memory, when it happens, maybe I should have a little laugh about it? And then I thought, hey! I have the perfect venue to do that! What better place to tell silly stories than on my blog?
So here's one:
When I was 17, I applied for a job at my local library. I aced the interview, and then they took me out to the stacks with a cart full of books and left me alone to put them in dewey decimal order.
Somehow, I interpretted this instruction to mean I should put the books back into the shelves. So I went around the library, putting the books away, feeling like .a boss. And then about half-way through, I realized I had made a grave error as it occured to me that they had only wanted me to put the books "in order" (as had been clearly stated) within the cart. Like, just shuffle the books around until they were in dewey decimal. And I couldn't fix my mistake, because I had no memory of which books I had been putting away.
So I sheepishly confessed my error to the librarian as soon as she returned and I'll never forget the look on her face: just dumbfounded that I had been unable to follow such a simple instruction, and had now likely mis-shelved several books, making her life even harder.
Needless to say, I didn't get the job. Usually if I get an interview, I smash it out of the park, but this was one instance where I just totally fucked it up.
And for the longest time, it was this embarrassing memory for me. Like how had I managed to misunderstand her extremely clear instructions that badly? I think I was just a little too excited. And I was definitely bummed I didn't get the job, because it was kind of my dream at that age to work in a library.
Ironically, one of my best friends applied for that same job, unbeknownst to either of us, and got it. And then she hated it! Said it was the most frustrating thing to spend all this time putting books away in the kids section only to have them ripped out again a matter of minutes later by a mob of preschoolers.
And this hardly relates to my story, but my friend ended up quitting that job in a matter of weeks and started working at the pet store across the road. And she told them from the very beginning that she could work every day, except this one Friday a month later. The manager said that was fine. And my friend reminded her of this date, several times. Meanwhile, she made all this effort to learn about the different animals they were selling, which she said was really hard because there was a lot to know, but the manager required it so she could answer any questions from customers. Well then that Friday rolls around and my friend sees that she's been scheduled to work that day. So she tells the manager, reminding her again that this is the ONE day she can't work. And the manager fires her!
I didn't learn about this latter half of the story that has almost nothing to do with me until several years after it happened, but I think it makes my failed job interview even funnier in retrospect. Like if I hadn't messed up so badly, maybe my friend wouldn't have gotten the library job, to then quit it, and eventually get fired from a pet store for a pretty bullshit reason.
By the way, my friend went on to have a very successful career in the Air Force and is now married with two beautiful kids, so it all worked out and we laugh about this. So it's really not an embarrassing thing at all. If it hadn't happened, we wouldn't be able to make fun of ourselves about it.
So this is what I'm going to try to do more often. Instead of cringing about similar memories, I'm going to make effort to laugh.
If you have an embarrassing/funny stories, please feel free to share in the comments!
Last week I spoke about starting Lexapro, so I wanted to give you a little update about how I'm feeling.
Actually, not bad. Pretty good even. My problems aren't solved by any means, but they certainly feel less impossible. I don't really know how to describe it. It's not that I necessarily feel happier, but I am having an easier time seeing how my goals and issues can be broken down into smaller, more manageable pieces. I certainly don't feel like a different person, but I do feel less "wound up," if you know what I mean.
For instance, I've been struggling to finish a short novella for the last few months. It could not be a simpler story (purely commercially driven for publication on Amazon's KDP) that I'd already completely plotted out, and yet I have not been able to just sit down and finish the damn thing so I could move on to better projects.
Yesterday I finished it. After literal months of being about 2000 words from the ending, I was finally able to sit my butt down and get it done.
Is it the medicine? A placebo effect? A combination of all the other things I'm doing? Not sure. But I'll take it.
The only other thing I've been doing differently is making more of a concerted effort to apply some cognitive behavioral therapy exercises, particularly the one related to procrastination/perfectionism. It works like this: you make three columns on a piece of paper and label them Task, Perception, and Reality. You write out your tasks and then on a scale of 0-100, rate how difficult you perceive they will be. Then after you complete the task, you rate how difficult you actually felt it was in the Reality column. Those of us that struggle with anxiety generally perceive things to be more difficult or awful than they really are, which contributes to our procrastination. I've been struggling with that issue lately, so I've been using this exercise and finding it really helpful, because it provides tangible evidence that the activities I need to do aren't nearly as hard as I expect them to be and it creates a kind of positive snowball effect for future tasks.
Anyway, just wanted to report that I'm definitely feeling a little better and having an easier time with things. The mild Lexapro side-effects have worn off and I'm feeling like it's really helping, especially in combination with the cognitive behavioral therapy I've been working on. That makes sense since the combination of medication plus therapy is supposed to be more effective than either one alone. I don't know why but I find that pretty cool to see in action. It gives me a lot of respect for psychiatry.
Sorry I've been awol these last two weeks. Been busy with a lot of stuff, not least of which is both my therapist and doctor diagnosed me with moderate depression/anxiety (no doubt triggered by how my life has changed post-separation/divorce).
For whatever reason, I found this diagnosis pretty surprising, even though the writing has been on the wall for a few months now. Beyond a brief period in the 7th grade when I was very socially isolated after my best friend went to a different school and all my other friends were in different classes, I've never really felt very down or low for more than a day at a time. But something has definitely been off for the last few months, something that goes beyond just the standard breakup grief.
I guess I didn't realize what was going on because I didn't expect depression to feel this way. At least for me, I can only describe it as this sense of hopelessness and feeling trapped. My brain gets stuck in these perpetual worry loops where I can see no way to solve my problems or change my current situation. I'm still able to get up and do the things I need to do, but mostly just the essentials, because everything feels so much more difficult and overwhelming than normal. And frankly, nothing has felt very fun. I've also been feeling generally nervous all the time, even when there's no reason to be, which I suppose is the anxiety - something that definitely runs in my family.
So on my doctor's advice, I've started taking Lexapro, which seems to be one of the more commonly prescribed SSRIs. I've only been on it for a few days now, and thankfully the side-effects already seem to be wearing off, though they were never that bad to begin with (just feeling a little "off," sleepiness, some mild GI issues, etc.). I know it's too early to tell, but I swear I already feel very slightly better (tbh, it's probably a placebo effect). For instance, today I noticed that butterfly feeling in my stomach had kind of gone away. I'm not exaggerating when I say I've been feeling that fluttery, nervous sensation on and off all day for weeks now. So it's been kind of nice to get a reprieve from that.
Sometimes I don't really know what to do with this blog. Do I narrow its focus onto reading and writing? Or do I open up and tell you guys a little bit about my life as well? I guess the only reason I decided to share this information with you is because I found it incredibly helpful when my friends and family openly discussed their depression issues and how much medication helped them. Honestly, if it hadn't been for two women in my life who told me years ago that they were or had been on anti-depressants, and how it didn't "change" them, but helped them get through some rough periods of their life, I don't think I ever would have felt brave enough to try it for myself.
So, I figured I'd use this blog post to share with you all that I'm giving anti-depressants a try in case reading about my experience is of any benefit to you. I don't expect to be on them forever, but right now I need the help. At first I felt slightly ashamed to admit that, to myself and especially to my parents, but then I thought about how we don't judge people for needing medicine when they're sick. I mean, I would never hold it against someone who needed chemotherapy, right? Well, my nervous system is just all out of whack at the moment, so why shouldn't I take medicine to help it get better? I'm still doing other things, like cognitive behavioral therapy, yoga, journaling, and obviously talking to a therapist. I'm just also adding medication to that list because my goal is to get back to feeling like myself again.
So I'll let you know how the Lexapro goes. I actually have pretty high hopes for my case. Like I said, I already feel like I'm responding pretty well to it and it just remains to be seen how it goes in the longer term.
I keep thinking about how if this is what moderate depression feels like for someone whose living situation has only been upended (but gets a lot of family and medical support), I can only imagine how hard it is for someone who's experienced real loss and trauma without the same kind of safety net. In some ways I'm kind of thankful to be going through this, because it really makes me more empathetic to others who are going through depression. I just didn't get it before. So If you're feeling low or stuck, know that I'm sending you a big hug right now.
Writing Streak: 3 days
My Books on Amazon:
Waking Lions by Avelet Gundar-Goshen
Never Let Me Go
by Kazuo Ishiguro