Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Illness of Lost Opportunities

Today seems like an appropriate day to talk about by brain a bit. Story time!

What Dreams May Come

An interesting development in my brain state, which may or may not be related to my current medication, has been an increase in distress levels in my dreams. I have sometimes recorded my dreams and I often remember them quite well. While I am no stranger to implied danger in my dreams, it has almost always been me that had the clear upper hand. Even when I did not, I was empowered to avoid serious danger. Whether that meant flight, phasing, telekinetic power, or just sweet moves, I was able to fight or avoid real danger. More often than not, any dangers were impersonal. Giant monsters made of trash (honestly those were pretty cool), stone golems, vast conspiracies, nothing that cared who I was or what I did, just things that wanted me dead because I was not them, and this was just what they did.

More recently, as you likely have suspected by now, this has changed. I still generally have the edge. I'm used to being empowered in my dreams so when danger rises, I just pull on those dream memories to do something or other to avoid it, however when danger hits my family, like the dream where Diana climbed out of the car on the freeway, there is little I can do, and I have had a lot of dreams where the dangers are caused by people, and as such are driven by personal dislike of me. Say hello to a trigger for my social phobias! Now I now these are not real people who are hating me, and I know that Diana is actually just fine, but once I get some anxiety running getting rid of it again is not easy. 

Last night's dream was a new special kind of fun that hit me especially hard. I'll leave out some details, but in the dream, one of my actually super nice professors called me out specifically as having upset him and then as a result gave everyone a six page essay test. Also, to add insult to injury he was giving other people books  because he liked them. Seriously, it sounds kind of funny, but in the dream it was super hurtful. My alarm woke me up in the middle of the dream. I didn't really get myself out of bed for another couple of hours. When I did, I had shivers, and felt an uncomfortable pressure on my chest the whole time. Which includes now for that matter. The good news is that of the ways that my Avoidant Personality Disorder (I really need a shorter term for that) works, the anxiety facet is the only one that's active right now. I may be feeling constant fear, but I could also be feeling fear, and self loathing. 

Welcome to the Breakdown

I feel like now is a good time to get some basic definitions down. These aren't dictionary definitions, this is just the words I use to describe things and what I'm trying to express when I use them.

Constant fear - This isn't exactly what it sounds like. Try to separate the  physical symptoms of fear from the mental ones. There is definitely some conscious fear going on, but if I don't focus on it, I can be fine for a while. However, the physical symptoms continue, and serve as a reminder to pull me back to more of the conscious fear. The conscious fear is usually undirected. I tend to want to avoid people and/or places where people gather, and I feel very uncomfortable in social situations. Physical symptoms can include increased heart rate, nausea, and sweating.

Flipped out - If I say I am flipped out it is usually primarily anxiety, with a healthy splash of self-loathing. Basically I no longer trust myself to not lash out at perceived threats/overstimulation. Instead of just fear, there is fear mixed with irritation and a loss of trust in ability to handle things. Sometimes I still try. Sometimes I just put myself wherever I feel as safe as possible. Dark quiet places tend to be the ideal. If I can't find a place that is both quiet and dark, quiet is the higher priority. This tends to feature a lot of mental white noise.

Mental white noise - If you've ever been in a really noisy room and hard a hard time thinking clearly, you've experienced this. Based on what I've read and my own experience, the effects of most mental illnesses all share this symptom, and the effects of the symptom are almost identical in their tendency to reduce the ability to think clearly and to make decisions well. When things get bad, things usually feel extra noisy in my thoughts.

Those are all the more unusual ones, at least that I can think of right now, the next couple are going to be terms that are generally understood, but I'm going to do my best to explain what specifically they mean to me.

Depression - When I experience depression, it is generally a loss of hope for the future. and a lack of faith in my ability to do either the things I want or the things I need to do to support myself and my family.This very quickly transforms into feeling like my efforts are pointless/meaningless as well as feeling that everyone else can see how worthless and terrible I am, and some assumptions that I am just generally unlikable. Sometimes this can throw in paranoia about my friendships, making me doubt my ability to be a good friend or that I am someone anyone would even be interested in being friends with. Lots of self loathing in here. Depression and self loathing very rarely stay separate for long, but one can start without the other.

Anxiety - This is mostly what I've already described above. Lots of feeling uncomfortable at best and being downright terrified of other people at worst, to the point of not wanting to go outside and at the very very worst, not even wanting to see my wife and kids. Not wanting to see the kids tends to come earlier because as much as I love them, babies are basically stinky gross noise machines when they aren't being adorable, and you never know when they're going to switch between the two.

Self-Loathing - This one is pretty much what it sounds like, but I'm going to go ahead and go into some detail. I have been told for a very long time that when I sit down and work at something I do, on average, pretty great. I am an exceptionally capable kind of guy, except when it comes to breathing during heavy exercise. (Thanks asthma!) Normally this is great for my self esteem. I'm super cool and good at stuff! When this part of my disorder kicks in everything gets turned on it's head. Every failure I have ever had becomes unacceptable because I'm supposed to be some kind of super human. The smallest mistakes start looking like unforgivable character flaws. This is the one that leads me to thoughts of self-harm. I feel like I deserve nothing good, and my mind can get to the point of positively raging with white noise. The other aspect is tied into the social phobia. Not only am I failing, but others know that I am failing, and these are the same people who supposedly think of me as being very capable. Not only am I failing, but I am failing to live up to their expectations. On the other hand, I also tend to feel like there are those who are happy to see me fail. There is actually precedence for this because it happened to me a lot when I was younger. I was the prototypical underweight, short, glasses and braces wearing nerd who spent all his time reading, and at least in elementary I was getting top scores in my classes, and even today I test very well. When I screwed up it was prime fodder for bullies. Some part of my brain hasn't let go of that. So when I fail at something that I worked hard on it can be very difficult to deal with. 

Social Phobia/Avoidant Personality Disorder - This one I have had for so long that I didn't even think it qualified as a disorder until someone told me. I had a tendency to think that I probably didn't do things quite the same as others in the social world from the time I was in Kindergarten. Looking back at the reports from my teachers which my parents saved, it is pretty clear I was no social butterfly to to the point where those teachers sometimes worried about me. I'm going to go ahead and quote Wikipedia here. "\People with avoidant personality disorder are preoccupied with their own shortcomings and form relationships with others only if they believe they will not be rejected. Loss and rejection are so painful that these individuals will choose to be lonely rather than risk trying to connect with others." That sentence by itself probably gives a pretty clear indicator of how this has silently shaped my life. This is the driver for the other problems, and to some extent the others are just an extension of this. I would rather not get attached to anyone than feel like I am going to be hurt. I don't really think of it that way, because I really love being social and having good friends, and I have some very close friendships that are very important to me, but in the end those are people who I realized I could trust before I actually put any trust in them and I can (but won't) cite examples where some of my friendships were hurt or lost because I got scared and basically just vanished from the relationship. Social anxiety disorder, of which avoidant personality disorder is considered a severe form has been called, "The illness of lost opportunities". I once managed to spend almost a year in a new town and only managed to make a couple of new close acquaintances before I left. I see how close my wife and friends are to their siblings and I realize that I even avoiding forming close relationships with them. Thinking back on that kind of thing in my life can be very hard to deal with. The hardest part about this one though is the fact that I can't even remember not thinking this way. I know that I want to be more open to forming relationships with other human beings, but I honestly don't know how to think in such a way that that becomes my normal way of life.

In a way that is what this blog is all about. I have spent so much of my life avoiding adventure. Opening up about that is already proving to be a bit of an adventure in it's own right. I have been surprised by the amount of support and help that has resulted from doing so already. It helps me think that I might just be able to get over it, at least a little.

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