Distill my bleeding parts
April 30, 2008 8:52 PM   Subscribe

I've been putting off this post for fear of not getting everything across, I almost completely lack confidence and a sense of identity.

Over the last four years or so I've found myself becoming more and more painfully aware of shortcomings in my personality. I will begin with a summary of various feelings that plague my everyday life:

-To begin, I feel like I've lost some intelligence and cannot connect things like I used to.
-In correlation, I feel like my sense of humor has become very poor.
-This makes it difficult for me in one-on-one interactions, and I panic to say something in silences.
-When I cannot think of anything (maybe I'm thinking too hard), I begin to feel really boring- worried that I will be deemed so.
-That makes things awkward for me, and I find myself letting my self worth ride on other people or things outside of my control.
-I don't feel respected, and sometimes not even worthy of respect.

I have been to several therapists, but they've always disappointed me in diagnosing these problems. I would say I'm depressed, but not in the clinical sense- I still have fun around people, I just feel like I'm always on trial. That coupled with my already low self-esteem makes things very difficult for me socially. Being so focused on this, I think I tend to fuck up more- like I'm over-thinking it. You can see how this would lead into a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

I've tried developing mantras and reading about self esteem improvement, however as I said I feel my intelligence has slipped and with it has gone my retention. I feel like I'm always forgetting what I've learned, and when situations arise from which I should be learning, I try to remember them as best I can. Usually they are forgotten.

So it's kind of a giant fog of miserableness. But I feel like I could actually do something about all of this- I'm going to go back to school in the fall to start exercising my mind again. I want to study philosophy and psychology for very obvious reasons.

The reason I'm posting this to AskMe is to reach out and see if anyone has ever dealt or is dealing with similar reasoning behind what could be called social anxiety or depression.

throw-away email: sociallydefunct@gmail.com

Thank you.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
First of all, I want to say that the fact that you could tell us your problem in such an articulate, succinct and self-aware way means that you are probably not as bad off as you feel you are. I am not a medical professional, nor a psychological professional, but it seems to me that you have a lot of anxiety (not necessarily social-anxiety since you're able to have fun with your friends, but more like anxiety that is directed inward in terms of self-criticism).

You mentioned that you have been disappointed in your therapists in the past, but that's actually kind of common. Sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find the right fit. Have you described your problems to a therapist exactly as you've described them here, because I think you've made a lot of sense, and I would hope that a professional would be able to move forward from your description of your situation in a productive way.

Don't be afraid to try another therapist, and in the meantime do as much as you can to keep your spirit (and your intellect) healthy by doing things that give you a lift. Best wishes to you.
posted by amyms at 9:07 PM on April 30, 2008

I agree that it seems much more like an anxiety thing than depression. I think going back to school is a good idea. I have anxiety issues, and I really connected with what you described. I'm graduating next year, and it has done wonders for me. It has been an incredibly validating experience for me, and although it's often a struggle to get myself to class because of the anxiety, I always leave class feeling better.

I also find crossword puzzles are a really good way to exercise your brain. For me, it's helped a lot with the sense of mental stagnation you described.
posted by Ruki at 9:21 PM on April 30, 2008

I think I'm going through the same thing. My self esteem issues seem to wax and wane depending on what's happening during the day. There are days when I only have one real conversation with one person, and spend the rest of my day either alone or at work in silence. Even when I'm with someone who has similar interests/personality I can't seem to get a good rapport going. Compounding the problem is the fact that right now my life has been mainly school and work, so I don't normally have a weekend or afternoon to hang out with someone. And even if I had a day off work, I'd probably be spending it at my dorm doing homework.

No man (or woman) is an island, as they say. I try to remind myself sometimes that I do have friends, IRL or otherwise, and that I'm still alive.

Lately, I've found a method for dealing with some of my anxieties. Usually I'll be going up to talk to someone or posting a comment, and I'll feel anxious. Instead of trying to ignore my anxiety at the moment, I focus on it, trying to hold onto it until either it passes or I get over it. I sort of made it up myself, it could work for you, but I don't know.

Also, sometimes I'll have a short conversation with someone and I'll assume I totally blew it, only to remind myself that such conversations are supposed to go like that. It's perfectly normal to say "Hi" to someone, chat for about thirty seconds, say goodbye and go on your way. Then again, that might not be normal for everyone, but I'm an introvert and if I can pretend my version of reality is "normal" then I'm okay with it.

When all else fails for me, sometimes I'll just search for Youtube clips of Mr. Show to cheer myself up.

I hope you do find a therapist that clicks with you. I visited one for most of my childhood that really didn't help with anything. One size does not fit all.
posted by hellojed at 9:42 PM on April 30, 2008

-In correlation, I feel like my sense of humor has become very poor.
-This makes it difficult for me in one-on-one interactions, and I panic to say something in silences.
-When I cannot think of anything (maybe I'm thinking too hard), I begin to feel really boring- worried that I will be deemed so.

I have the same problem, although I've been getting better. I never knew what to say in conversations and ran into a lot of awkward silences. But it wasn't that there wasn't anything I could think of saying, it's just that I was afraid of sounding boring, so I would filter myself and only say something if I thought it was interesting or clever (and thus rarely say anything).

But the more I listen to other people's conversations, the more I realize that the vast majority of daily conversations are not incredibly stimulating exchanges of witty banter. I think for people like us it might be more important just to say something rather than to over-analyze what the cleverest thing to say would be, even if that something might seem boring or a predictable, typical response.
posted by pravit at 10:38 PM on April 30, 2008

I, too, suffer from social anxiety, though of a slightly different variety. I have plenty of self-esteem, in fact I can be down right arrogant a lot of the time, but I am absolutely terrified of new people. People I've known for a bit (i.e. at least six months or a year), I can usually muster the courage to look in the eye or greet when I see them on the sidewalk, and I love to see my friends, of course. But beyond that, I do not initiate contact with other human beings. They scare me. There are a lot of reasons for that, but part of it is what you say: feeling "on trial," being afraid of harsh judgment. When if comes to that, I know exactly where you are. It sucks. (But I guess you already figured that out)

There are a few things I've learned to deal with this particular aspect of my anxiety. Here are the two that have helped me the most:

Number one: Get a hobby. I don't care what. Build model airplanes. Learn an instrument. Collect coins. Read 19th century Russian literature. Become a wine snob. It really doesn't matter. The main thing is to find something you can pleasurably obsess over. Everybody has at least one thing that they are or could become passionately interested in. You may have many areas of interest. Pick one, however vague, go to the library, and start reading about it. Do this within the next 24 hours. It doesn't matter how busy you are, you have time for this.

Once you find something you can throw yourself into, you will reap many benefits. First, you will be learning something new, and this will stop you from feeling like you're losing intelligence. Second, you will become good at something you enjoy; you won't be the best in the world (probably), but you will be competent, and that alone will make you more confident. Third, every hobby has a subculture. This means that immediately upon beginning your new pastime, you will have a framework of people who exist solely so that you can talk shop with them. If you have to, you can keep your new interest a secret at first, until you feel confident enough to have an intelligent conversation about it [God knows I've done this]. However, you should never be afraid to approach someone more experienced than yourself and say "hey, I'm new at this. Can you explain [concept/technique]?" People like showing off how smart they are. Let them. Pretty soon, you'll be able to show off to them. Approaching people like that takes guts and practice, in my experience, and I can't always do it, but it's something you should strive toward.

Number two: Realize that most other people are just as nervous about looking like a fool as you are. Thing is, they hide it (as you probably do, too) so you don't notice. You think they're judging you? Well, they think you are judging them. Unless you are a complete raving wreck (which I doubt you are, just from reading your post), when a new person meets you, odds are they are trying really hard to get you to like them. That's just what most people do. It's human nature. So, when you meet someone new, relax, they're in the same boat.

Of course, maybe they're too self absorbed to possibly care what someone else thinks of them, but then you probably don't want to deal with them anyway.

In any event, you're not alone. I know where you're at, and it's hard, but you'll pull through. Not everybody does, I suppose, but you seem pretty smart and able to look honestly at yourself; just given that, I think you'll be fine.
posted by Commander Rachek at 10:39 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

I have days when I feel completely dull and can't think of anything interesting to talk about; it makes interacting with people intensely frustrating (and makes me feel like a terrible conversationalist to boot.) One thing that has helped me on those days is listening to a podcast, or npr, or reading the newspaper or something similar.

If you have any special interests (politics, current events, science, history, books, whatever) chances are you can find a program to match. I've struck up a lot of great conversations with friends based on various things I've picked up through those sources and it's been particularly useful on the boring days.

I'm not sure I can address the anxiety/depression angles of the problem, but my insta!conversation method has definitely helped me, perhaps it's repeatable for others?
posted by nerdcore at 10:40 PM on April 30, 2008

I would say I'm depressed, but not in the clinical sense- I still have fun around people, I just feel like I'm always on trial.

I don't know how this helps you, but I'll share it so you know you're not alone, but those feelings of lack-of-control, anxiety, guilt, shame, and "i can't do anything right" are usual symptoms for me personally when I'm sick, and i've suffered from depression for years.

It makes it hard to work when you feel like your colleagues/employers are constantly judging you, like you're letting them down and you just can't measure up. With all sense of humility I can muster, I think it's worse for people of above-average intelligence, we tend to need the mental stimulation to keep us occupied, to keep us focused on external sources rather than turning on ourselves.

Congratulations on sharing this so clearly and thought out, I know how hard this is to talk about, but it does help. The fog lifts, the clouds break and you'll find yourself smiling one day and realise that you made it through again.

Oh, and I've studied psych (it helps, alot) and not seen a therapist and don't take medication. Sleep, Exercise, Sunlight, Vitamins.
posted by oliyoung at 10:46 PM on April 30, 2008

Oh, and http://www.patientslikeme.com/ is an amazing tool. It'll help you collect and identify how you feel, give you the feedback loop you need and help you to externalise how you feel.
posted by oliyoung at 10:48 PM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you only listen to yourself in a conversation, you will sound like a chump, guaranteed. We're all idiots, every single one of us. It's only when you start really focusing on yourself, and yourself only that you realize it. The RX is to stop paying so much attention to yourself. You need to realize that EVERYONE feels this way - but most of us ignore it by paying attention to other people (who are just as idiotic, but far more entertaining). Try it!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 11:04 PM on April 30, 2008 [3 favorites]

As The Light Fantastic said, see if you can flip your awareness so that you focus on the other person or people, not on yourself. I think your feelings are actually quite common, and often brought about by excessive self-observation. Watch others & you might realise that we're all pretty much in the same boat.
posted by UbuRoivas at 11:33 PM on April 30, 2008

Here's something that works for me when I get really self-critical. I say, almost in a finger-waving tone of voice, "you're no worse than anyone else, you know!" While I say it, I try to imagine myself talking to a silly person who has the arrogance to claim she could possibly be the worst person in the entire world (which at that moment was close to how I was feeling) and putting her in her place. That kind of makes me laugh, and at the same time I realize that I'm approximately as bad as, and as good as, all the people I'm hanging out with. It unlocks me from the frozen eyes-looking-inward-and-judging-myself moment so I can start looking outward at everyone around me.
posted by salvia at 11:42 PM on April 30, 2008

I use to feel this way a lot, until I started seeing my "social anxiety" in a different light.

What I used to see as my own social anxiety, I now understand was really my own self-absorption, i.e., "but what if I don't measure up?" "How do I sound to X right now?" "Do I seem like a cool, intelligent person?"

No thoughts about whether the other person was having fun, what they wanted or needed.

No thoughts about the other person and I as a whole, and what we meant or might mean to one another.

Just me wrapped up in my own self image.

I don't know if that pertains to you, but I thought I'd take a shot at it.
posted by uxo at 4:14 AM on May 1, 2008 [3 favorites]

Just chiming in to add another "Yep, I'm like that" comment and to second the above notion that these low self-esteem issues are really a form of self-obsession.

It took me a long time to realise that the only person really judging me in such situations was me. Though so often convinced that other people were bored by my very presence it finally occured to me that I was just projecting my own pitiful little thoughts onto them. They don't hate you. You hate you. Trying to concentrate on that can make it a little easier to interact with other people though obviously there's still work to be done on the self-image issue.

I find that I just need to keep my mind occupied all the time. As Commander Rachek says above: Get yourself a hobbie. It doesn't matter what it is. (You've mentioned the urge to go back to school. That'll do. You'll hopefully come to realise that you haven't dropped as many IQ points as you may have suspected; that's just another symptom of the mindset you're in). If the default setting in your brain is, like mine, a constant stream of self-doubt and 'you're not good enough' then smother those thoughts with something else. Even if it only means keeping some diverting reading material with you at all times to concentrate on when you hear that voice start up again. It's not easy to do but it does work.

It might sound a little grim to suggest that there is no cure to this, there's only distraction, but that's better than no hope at all, right?
posted by Del Chimney at 4:57 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

I often see posts by people who say they feel dumb because they don't say a lot.

Read this and remember it my friend: MOST PEOPLE TALK TOO MUCH. I tend to spend a lot of time alone because most people tend to use others as a sounding board to talk and talk and talk, and it gets tiresome. And I include myself in this criticism!

When I'm around someone who doesn't talk much, I usually like them. And people who don't talk much are almost always seen as smarter than they actually are by others, because they don't blab on and ruin the illusion.

In brief, I'm willing to bet that others like you more than you think they do.
posted by crazylegs at 6:00 AM on May 1, 2008 [2 favorites]

This is something I too am dealing with, but attempting to work through.

First, the stuff about having hobbies and interests is a good one, it gives you something to focus on aside from how much you think you suck, but that's only half of it.

The next part is stop telling yourself all these things. The fact that you came here means you've probably been telling yourself these self-destructive things for a while. When you find yourself getting down on yourself, catch yourself and just say "I'm doing ok." or something of that nature. Address these issues, focus on the moment you encounter fear responses: Is it when you make eye contact? When you think to say something? When you DO say something? Where is this hesitation coming from, and what is it you are really afraid of? Instead of placating your self-deprecating nature, take your subconscious to task.

Further, get a realistic assessment of who you are. It's a sad cycle, but if your mind is a tempest of gloomy self-criticism, it's reflected on your face, in your words, how you carry yourself, and people will react adversely to it. These things are being broadcast nonverbally, and it has the potential to make people uncomfortable, which in turn makes you self-conscious.

So, look at yourself in the mirror, or webcam yourself. Pay attention to what your default facial expression is, how you look when you talk or move about, how you carry yourself. For example, in my case, I have thick eyebrows that arch slightly downward, so I always look kinda pissed off or "intense", which would taint interactions with people I didn't know very well. I also have the tendency to appear guarded or on the defense (likely stemming from my self-conscious nature) which further dissuaded people from approaching me. One or more people have even described me as 'intimidating', which came as a shock to me, because I'm about as physically imposing as Morrisey.

I'm still working on getting it right, but learning to smile, hold a neutral or happy expression and tone, saying hi more, standing up straight, that sort of thing. People react favorably to it, and in turn, it wears off on you.

A good friend of mine told me she learned a lot about how to operate socially from taking Improv classes. Not because social interaction is this fake act, but learning how to accentuate yourself. The example she gave me is paying attention to your breathing: when you breathe in, pay attention to what happens: your whole body moves, your chest inflates, your head rises, so on. In that sense, you learn what messages you send, and how to arrange them. It's a bit like sucking in your gut, but keep in mind that all behavior and thought patterns are learned behaviors, but the destructive ones have been in place so long they feel 'normal'.

It largely has to do with being 'honest' in your thoughts and body language. I'm not a mean, angry person (most of the time anyway), but my face was communicating that I was. Likewise, you're telling yourself that you're boring and losing intelligence, I doubt it.

Also, YMMV, but some St. Johns Wort can take the edge off of life. It's cheap and you can get it from the grocery store.

Don't give up on yourself.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 6:22 AM on May 1, 2008 [4 favorites]

The only really helpful, concrete thing I have to add: It sounds like what you're dealing with is definitely anxiety, not depression. Bringing that up with a therapist and/or finding a therapist who specifically focuses on anxiety in their practice is the way to go.

The only thing that's really helped me get past my own anxiety, though, is working to be mindful of what it is I'm worried about and/or avoiding, identifying and quantifying that, then taking concrete, measurable action on it (a calculated risk), then achieving what it is I set out to do. Do enough things like that and I am buoyed, at least for a while.
posted by limeonaire at 9:08 AM on May 1, 2008

I've tried developing mantras and reading about self esteem improvement, however as I said I feel my intelligence has slipped and with it has gone my retention. I feel like I'm always forgetting what I've learned, and when situations arise from which I should be learning, I try to remember them as best I can. Usually they are forgotten.

This is why millions of people keep going to church every week or meditating or therapy or reading self-help books. We know what's good for us but we forget to do it. We have an epiphany that should change our lives, and then forget it a week later. It's completely normal. All there is to do is keep practicing, keep reminding yourself of whatever it is that makes you feel stronger and whole. Post-it notes, rubberband around your wrist, inspirational screensaver, weekly AA meetings, whatever applies.
posted by desjardins at 9:21 AM on May 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

Spotlight Fallacy, Brushfire Fallacy, Mind Reading, magnification, overgeneralization and probably ten others--you're exhibiting self defeating beliefs and thought distortions. I recommend reading When Panic Attacks by David Burns. (Terrible title, great book.) There's a learning curve to applying the techniques, but you seem like a smart, tenacious person. If you put in the hours over a few months you may be amazed at the difference. (Brain fog means you're anxiously processing tons of stuff under the surface, all the time, and it's taking processing power away from everything else. Or you have food allergies or something.)

You're much closer to happy and relaxed than you think you are. (And take my all negative assertions about you with a grain of salt. I don't know you.)
posted by zeek321 at 10:59 AM on May 1, 2008

It's called dysphoria. Wikipedia doesn't really describe it as it was described to me by a psychiatrist- much more like what you are talking about.
posted by gjc at 7:39 PM on May 1, 2008

Maybe a more action oriented approach to getting yourself help would be, urm, helpful. Maybe a life coach would be more satisfying than a therapist. A friend went to a life coach after going through a period of her life where she had intense feelings similar to the ones you describe. It really helped boost her confidence.
posted by Foam Pants at 11:25 PM on May 1, 2008

« Older From US to NZ by way of boat?   |   How should I scan 500 40-year-old slides? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.