**Trigger warning for men. This post is about the female menstrual cycle. Don’t read if the topic makes you uncomfortable.** If you’re a woman, I’d…
What follows is a post that I wrote a couple of years ago now, for another site, but was never published. I’ve decided to post it on here while I’m working on mega-updates on everything that has happened in my life (SA-related and otherwise) since the last time I updated my blog regularly. It’s amazing to see how much things have changed for the better since I wrote this post.
“This isn’t so bad”, I say to myself as I sit eating lunch in my university’s canteen. My hands are shaking, and I’m sitting alone while almost everyone else in the room seems to sitting with friends, but at least now I can actually stay in the canteen without having a panic attack. I would never have been able to do this way back during my first year of university. I look around the canteen and see other students talking and laughing with their friends and classmates. There seem to be hundreds of indecipherable conversations going on all around me. But I don’t need to decipher them to know that all of those students can do what I cannot. A wave of sadness and acceptance washes over me. “Try not to think about it”, I tell myself, “Think of the progress you’ve made. Things are better now”. Yet the progress seems like nothing at all compared to the misery, anxiety, and loneliness that I still feel on a daily basis.
I am 21 years old and about to go into my final year of university. It has taken me a year longer than most to get to this point, due to how difficult my mental health issues have made university for me. Everyone always says that these will be the best years of your life. So why have my university years been one of the most lonely and miserable periods of my life? I feel like an alien compared to other students. I have never been to a nightclub or student party, and my social life is almost non-existent. I spend my entire weekend at home. Even the thought of going out socially with a group of other students is enough to make me feel sick with anxiety. I have not managed to make a single friend at university, despite having been there for four years now. At least I do have a small number of friends now. I didn’t have any friends at all (except one online friend) until about a year ago. The friends I do have are still not close friends, though. I only see each of them about once every 2 or 3 months, so I am still very lonely and isolated. Making friends has always been difficult for me. I’d love nothing more than to have a group of close friends to spend time with and talk to, but my anxiety prevents this from happening. I don’t even have anyone that I chat with at university, so university is an extremely isolating experience for me. My anxiety has also prevented me from ever being in a relationship. Much like friendships, this is something which I long for intensely, but it is still an impossibility for me. I can’t even have a basic conversation with a member of the opposite sex without suffering from intense anxiety.
I have had social anxiety disorder for as long as I can remember. It has made life difficult in a lot of ways, throughout every stage of my life so far. Throughout my time at university, my anxiety has gotten in the way so much. Just sitting with other students in a lecture theatre is enough to make me anxious. I almost always sit on my own, as I am too afraid to sit with other students. I worry that they wouldn’t like me. I worry that they would take one look at me and then wonder why the socially awkward loner is disturbing them. Tutorials are even worse. I hate group work, because this usually involves me awkwardly having to go up to another group of students (if I can manage this without a panic attack) and ask them if I can join their group. I’m usually too anxious to contribute anything to the conversation. I used to have panic attacks during classes, and had to leave the room. I was convinced that my classmates and tutors could all see what a freak I was, and that they all thought I was pathetic. Group presentations were even worse, and would have been completely impossible without the aid of propranolol.
In addition to the anxiety, I have also suffered from episodes of severe depression since I was 14 years old. I believe that the depression results from all the ways in which social anxiety disorder limits my life. When I was 17, not long after starting my first year of university, I had the worst depressive episode of my life. I would get back from university each day and cry because I could not even have a simple conversation with anyone. I could not make friends. I was alone and miserable, and no one seemed to even notice me. I would cry myself to sleep most nights, until eventually I was no longer even able to cry. I thought about suicide a lot. One day, I decided that I could cope no longer. I had a really bad panic attack at university, left, and then decided that I would commit suicide by jumping from a suspension bridge (something I had been thinking about for months). Thankfully, despite my intense anxiety, I do have one good friend (who I met through the internet), and they, with the help of someone else, managed to talk me out of suicide. I continued to feel the same for months afterwards, but was somehow able to get through it. In some ways, that part of my life feels unreal to me, made real only by the scars on my arm. Yet in other ways, in spite of all my progress, I am still alone, still have no close friends or any chance of being in a relationship, and anxiety still pervades my life.
I am brought back to the present moment as I notice the girl sitting diagonally across the table from me. She sits alone, with her head down, shoulders hunched, and earphones in. She looks like a first year. I wonder if she too has social anxiety disorder, and if she is in the same personal hell that I am in. I wonder how many other people have to go through this loneliness, anxiety, and misery on a daily basis, longing for friends and human connection, but unable to obtain them. Social anxiety disorder is the third most common mental health problem, thought to affect 7-13% (Bryce and Saeed, 1999; Furmark, 2002) of the population in western countries. Yet the condition is almost unheard of among the general public. In my experience, the vast majority of mental health professionals do not know how to treat it, and many have never even heard of it, and refuse to accept that it a serious, life destroying disorder which can lead to depression and suicide. That’s why I’m writing this article. I want there to be more awareness of this crippling anxiety disorder. I want there to be more help and support available, and therapy that actually works. I don’t want anyone else to go through all of the pain, loneliness and misery that I have been through, and continue to go through.
A guy comes over to my table and asks if I’m interested in a gym membership. I manage to surprise myself by actually being able to make eye contact and not stumble over my words. I reply that I’m not interested. It’s not that I don’t like to exercise; it’s that my anxiety prevents me from exercising in front of other people. I still haven’t been able to face this fear. “Try not to focus on it”, I once again tell myself, “Focus on all the progress you’ve made”. While social anxiety continues to control my life, it is true that I have made considerable progress over the last couple of years. To give just a few examples, I passed my driving test, went along to some social groups, went along to a couple of job interviews, and even managed to get myself a job in a supermarket (a socially anxious person’s idea of Hell). While working there has been very difficult for me, it has also helped me a lot with my anxiety. I feel a lot less anxious in shops and other public places now. I just hope the progress can continue and that I won’t be lost to social anxiety disorder.
I remind myself that despite all the pain that comes with having depression and an anxiety disorder, despite all the times I felt I couldn’t go on with life and that suicide was my only option, I am still here. And I wouldn’t still be alive if I didn’t have hope that things can get better. If you’re struggling with social anxiety disorder or depression, I just want you to know that you’re not alone. I want you to know that you are stronger and braver than you know. You have to be to live with these conditions. I hope that someday, mental illnesses will receive as much care and attention and physical illnesses, and everyone who suffers from social anxiety disorder will be able to get the treatment they need, and go on to live a life that they can be content with, free from chronic misery and loneliness. I have decided that even if I achieve nothing else with my life, it will not be for nothing if I can raise awareness of social anxiety disorder in some way.
Bryce, T.J. and Saeed, S.A. (1999). Social Anxiety Disorder: A Common, Underrecognized Mental Disorder. American Family Physician. 60(8): 2311-2320.
Furmark, T. (2002). Social phobia: overview of community surveys. Acta Psychiatricia Scandinavica. 105(2): 84-93.
A treat for a Friday! A reading from one of my fav poets Emily Harrison, taken from her book ‘I Can’t Sleep Cause My Bed’s…
New research suggests that people with a family history of bipolar disorder may “age” more rapidly than those without a history of the disease. However, a common treatment for the disorder may conceal or even reverse the detrimental cellular effects.
Investigators from King’s College London research discovered that bipolar patients treated with lithium have longer telomeres (a sign of slower biological aging) compared to bipolar disorder patients not treated with lithium.
Typical treatment for bipolar entails a combination of at least one mood-stabilizing drug and/or atypical antipsychotic, plus psychotherapy. Lithium is one of the most widely used medications for bipolar showing benefit for mania and perhaps depression.
Researchers believe this finding that bipolar patients treated with lithium show slower signs of aging suggests that the drug may mask the aging effects associated with bipolar disorder, or even help to reverse it.
Faster aging at the biological level could explain why rates of aging-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and obesity are higher among bipolar disorder patients. However, more research is needed in the relatives of bipolar disorder patients to better understand if they are also at a higher risk for aging-related diseases.
Unaffected first-degree relatives represent a group of individuals at risk for bipolar disorder who have not been treated with medications, so studying them may represent a truer reflection of the relationship between ageing and bipolar disorder.
Accordingly, researchers studied a feature of chromosomes called telomeres in 63 patients with bipolar disorder, 74 first-degree relatives, and 80 unrelated healthy people. Research findings appear in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.
Telomeres sit on the end of our chromosomes and act like “caps”, protecting the strands of DNA stored inside each of our cells as we age. Telomeres shorten each time a cell divides to make new cells, until they are so short that they are totally degraded and cells are no longer able to replicate. Telomere length therefore acts as a marker of biological age, with shortened telomeres representing older cells, and commonly older individuals.
The rate at which telomeres shorten across our lifespan can vary, based on a range of environmental and genetic factors. This means that two unrelated people of the same chronological age may not be the same age biologically.
The researchers from King’s College London and the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai found that healthy relatives of bipolar patients had shorter telomeres compared to healthy controls (who had no risk for the disorder running in their family).
This suggests that genetic or environmental factors associated with family risk for bipolar disorder are also linked to faster biological aging.
They also conducted MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans to explore the relationship between telomere length and brain structure, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain involved in the regulation of mood. They discovered that higher rates of biological aging (i.e. shorter telomeres) were associated with having a smaller hippocampus.
The study authors suggest that a reduction in telomere length may be associated with a reduced ability of new brain cells to grow in the hippocampus, which can reduce the size of the hippocampus and consequently increase risk for mood disorders such as bipolar disorder.
Dr. Timothy Powell, first author of the study, explains: “Our study provides the first evidence that familial risk for bipolar disorder is associated with shorter telomeres, which may explain why bipolar disorder patients are also at a greater risk for aging-related diseases.
‘We still need to dissect the environmental and genetic contributions to shortened telomeres in those at high risk for bipolar disorder. For instance, do those at risk for bipolar disorder carry genes predisposing them to faster biological ageing, or are they more likely to partake in environmental factors which promote ageing (e.g. smoking, poor diet)? Identifying modifiable risk factors to prevent advanced ageing would be a really important next step.”
Dr. Sophia Frangou, co-senior author of the study, from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, said: “Our study shows that telomere length is a promising biomarker of biological ageing and susceptibility to disease in the context of bipolar disorder. Moreover, it suggests that proteins which protect against telomere shortening may provide novel treatment targets for people with bipolar disorder and those predisposed to it.”
Dr. Gerome Breen, a co-senior author summarizes the research: “Up to now it has been unclear whether or not bipolar disorder patients are at risk of accelerated aging. This study shows that they are at greater risk of faster aging and drugs commonly used to treat the disorder may actually mask or reverse this effect.”
Source: Kings College London/EurekAlert
Immigrants who came to the United States illegally as young children and who meet the requirements of the Development Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAMers) are at greater risk for mental health problems, according to new research at Rice University in Houston.
For the study, researchers evaluated the mental health of Mexican immigrants living illegally in the United States in high-risk areas (places with strong opposition and strict laws regarding immigrants living here illegally).
Lead study author Dr. Luz Garcini, a postdoctoral research fellow in the department of psychology at Rice, said that DREAMers are at risk for psychological distress and reduced quality of life as a result of the many complex stressors they face. DREAMers often experience these stressors over a long period of time, under harsh living conditions, and with no access to proper mental health services.
The article is published in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
In the paper, the researchers presented a clinical perspective that emphasizes how living in the country without proper documentation affects mental health as a result of facing constant institutional and societal exclusion.
For the study, the researchers surveyed nearly 260 people. To be eligible, the respondents had to confirm that they were living in the U.S. without proper documentation.
Of all the participants, those aged 18-25 were the most likely to show psychological distress (63 percent). In addition, more than 90 percent of all participants cited the loss of their home, social status, family, and symbolic self as reasons for mental health distress.
“DREAMers are often marginalized and discriminated against, and as a result they may become isolated from the larger educational and work communities,” Garcini said.
“Many also experience separation from deported family members, and they do not have the option of traveling internationally to visit them. Finally, they live in constant fear of deportation and experience a sense of voicelessness, invisibility, and limited opportunities, due to their conflicting undocumented status.”
Garicini hopes that the new findings will inform the development of interventions and advocacy efforts for this at-risk immigrant subgroup.
“Debates on programs and policies pertaining to DREAMers are complex and multifaceted, and differences of opinion and divisions on policy options are long-standing,” she said.
“However, as clinicians, we may contribute by devising solutions grounded in evidence and developing alternatives designed to facilitate access to culturally and contextually sensitive mental health services for these at-risk youths, which is critical to protecting their mental health and their basic human rights.”
Source: Rice University
welcome to my first-ever video post!
i do lots of public speaking about mental illness in the washington d.c.-metro area but until now haven’t gotten any of my talks on tape. i am so excited to share this with you.
last weekend i had the opportunity to share my story at the church i grew up in (rock spring congregational united church of christ). until recently i did not talk openly about my diagnoses or struggle with mental illness – including within this church. so i focused my remarks on what someone with mental illness looks like – or doesn’t look like – to raise awareness that it can impact anyone. even someone, like me, who looks like they are totally fine.
i think it is so important to push back at stigma by putting a human face on depression, anxiety and ptsd. and, more personally, sharing so openly and authentically helps me to take another step on my healing journey. best of all, conversations like this open the door for others to talk about their own challenges and ask for help. i am grateful all around to be a part of this life-changing work.
hope you enjoy!
“since sharing my story publicly i have been told many times that i don’t look like someone who has a mental illness…
if you want to know what someone with severe mental illness looks like, they look like me.
they look just like me.”
The post video: what someone with mental illness looks like appeared first on blue light blue.
Fears and insecurities can be perfectly normal in relationships but you know what isn’t normal? Constantly having nightmares that something is going to go wrong, constantly working yourself up in to an anxiety attack over a made-up scenario that may never even happen and making someone reassure you every minute of every day until you’re close to pushing them away and ruining the very thing you’re scared of losing. I know this first hand because I’ve been there.
I’ve played over situations in my head that might happen to me and then dwelt on them to a point that I felt sick and angry. It’s as if I’ve had this overly-protective mechanism that forces me to feel exactly as I would feel if the worst thing possible happened in the relationship, despite it not ever actually happening. Perhaps the anxiety stemmed from being in past relationships that did turn bad, my previous “I’m too anxious to stand up for myself, so walk all over me” personality made me a target for narcissists who did cheat, did humiliate me and did abuse me in a multitude of ways. When you go through that and you finally have something good, it does make it almost impossible to believe it’s genuineness.
I don’t think relationship anxiety just comes from bad experiences in relationships themselves though, I believe it can come from all different places and there are lots of different faces to relationship anxiety such as jealousy/insecurity, anxiety over being abandoned, being vulnerable with someone and a weird one for me was even worrying that it was a set-up and I was part of some horrible practical joke… which sounds so silly now but at the time, I felt so undeserving of this person that I couldn’t see why he would love me for real. I also even worried that he would get in an accident or wouldn’t wake up one day, it was like living in constant fear that I would lose him somehow.
If the thoughts “they’ll find someone better than me” and “I’m not good enough for them” sound familiar to you, I might be able to help with that…
First of all, things you must absolutely refrain from if you’re going to improve your relationship anxiety:
These things only make the situation worse and will only end up pushing you and your partner further away from each other, which is the one thing you’re trying to prevent in the first place.
Here’s some things you can do to help alleviate your relationship anxiety:
What specific things are you anxious about? Are you worried your partner will cheat? Leave? Do something really horrible to you? Can you determine why it is that you’re worried about that particular scenario? If it’s related to a past experience, do you really deep down in your heart think that your partner is capable of doing the same? If it’s because it’s your first relationship, are you worried about screwing everything up?
It’s good to get to the bottom of the issue at hand before you try and work on it, maybe brainstorm some of your usual thoughts and feelings on a notepad to get some clarity on the situation.
Social media can be the biggest killer of relationships in our modern technological world. It’s full of things that make us feel insecure and not good enough. Do you always worry when your partner has a new friend on Facebook? Or wonder who they talk to on Snapchat? Do you browse through their Twitter feed or look at who they’re following on Instagram? It’s time to take a step back because that shit will drive you completely up-the-fucking-wall! Take some time off from social media and be PRESENT in your relationship.
Low self-esteem breeds insecurity and anxiety in relationships. I’m not saying you need to change to feel less insecure, as it’s more about changing your mindset so that you feel secure being who you are – after all, your partner chose you for a reason. There’s always little things you can do to help your self-esteem in the mean time though; Exercise is a great boost, as well as doing something nice for yourself.
It’s important in any relationship not to rely on your partner to be the only thing that makes you happy, it’s also equally important that you don’t lose your identity in the relationship. Make sure you always do things for yourself, see your friends, do things alone, be an individual as well as a partner and let them do the same.
If your insecurities come from things that have been done to you or have happened to you in the past, you need to face that pain and work through it. You and I both know that it’s unfair to treat a current partner with distrust, based on how another person has treated you previously. Your current partner is not the same person and deserves to be treated as such. To separate them with the experiences you’ve had before, you need to deal with your old experiences and by carrying the experiences you’ve had with other people into your new relationships, you give the people who hurt you wayyy too much power.
It’s imperative to talk about these feelings with your partner if you’re ever to truly heal your relationship anxiety. Don’t expect to set unhealthy limitations for them to make you feel better, just open up about how you feel and be honest. You have to recognise this as something that is your responsibility, your partner can’t walk on eggshells to help you trust them – this is unreasonable to ask of anyone but it will also enable your anxiety even more. Your partner can help you though, by being open with each other, you build on your trust.
If you’re going to or planning to go to therapy for your anxiety, make this part of your recovery. The best way a therapist can help you, is for you to open up about everything that makes you anxious and if your relationship is making you anxious, then you should absolutely tell your therapist this.
Relationship anxiety can reduce if you treat the core of your anxiety. If you’re generally an anxious person or have an anxiety disorder, treating this will give you more confidence in all aspects of your life, including your relationship.
How does anxiety affect your relationships and how do you deal with it? Feel free to share in the comments.
New research confirms the value of silently talking to yourself in the third person, especially during stressful times.
The first-of-its-kind study discovered third person narrative self-talk helps one to control their emotions, and relatively effortlessly.
That is, the third-person self-talk does not require any additional effort than what one would use for first-person self-talk — the way people normally talk to themselves.
The findings are published online in Scientific Reports, a Nature journal.
Say a man named John is upset about recently being dumped. By simply reflecting on his feelings in the third person (“Why is John upset?”), John is less emotionally reactive than when he addresses himself in the first person (“Why am I upset?”).
“Essentially, we think referring to yourself in the third person leads people to think about themselves more similar to how they think about others, and you can see evidence for this in the brain,” said Dr. Jason Moser, Michigan State University (MSU) associate professor of psychology.
“That helps people gain a tiny bit of psychological distance from their experiences, which can often be useful for regulating emotions.”
The study, partially funded by the National Institutes of Health and the John Temple Foundation, involved two experiments that both significantly reinforced this main conclusion.
In one experiment, participants viewed neutral and disturbing images and reacted to the images in both the first and third person while their brain activity was monitored by an electroencephalograph.
When reacting to the disturbing photos (such as a man holding a gun to their heads), participants’ emotional brain activity decreased very quickly (within one second) when they referred to themselves in the third person.
The MSU researchers also measured participants’ effort-related brain activity and found that using the third person was no more effortful than using first person self-talk.
This discovery supports the use of third-person self-talk as an on-the-spot strategy for regulating one’s emotions, Moser said. The finding is salient as many other forms of emotion regulation require considerable thought and effort.
In the other experiment, led by MSU psychology professor Dr. Ethan Kross, participants reflected on painful experiences from their past using first and third person language while their brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or FMRI.
Similar to the MSU study, participants’ displayed less activity in a brain region that is commonly implicated in reflecting on painful emotional experiences when using third person self-talk, suggesting better emotional regulation. Further, third person self-talk required no more effort-related brain activity than using first person.
“What’s really exciting here,” Kross said, “is that the brain data from these two complementary experiments suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of emotion regulation.
“If this ends up being true — we won’t know until more research is done — there are lots of important implications these findings have for our basic understanding of how self-control works, and for how to help people control their emotions in daily life.”
Moser and Kross said their teams are continuing to collaborate to explore how third-person self-talk compares to other emotion-regulation strategies.
Source: Michigan State University
A population health study of very preterm and very-low-birth-weight individuals finds that these early births are not associated with anxiety and mood disorders later in life.
The finding challenges earlier research that suggested increased risks. The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and University of Warwick researchers studied nearly 400 individuals from birth to adulthood. Half of the participants had been born before 32-weeks gestation or at a very low birth weight (less than 3.3 pounds), and the other half had been born at term and normal birth weight.
The research team, led by Drs. Julia Jaekel (UT) and Dieter Wolke (UW), assessed each participant when they were six, eight, and 26 years old using detailed clinical interviews of psychiatric disorders.
“Previous research has reported increased risks for anxiety and mood disorders, but these studies were based on small samples and did not include repeated assessments for over 20 years,” said Jaekel.
Their results? At age six, children were not at an increased risk of any anxiety or mood disorders, but by age eight — after they had entered school — more children had an anxiety disorder.
By 26, there was a tendency to have more mood disorders like depression, but the findings were not meaningfully different between the two groups.
This study is the first investigation of anxiety and mood disorders in childhood and adulthood using clinical diagnoses in a large whole-population study of very preterm and very-low-birth-weight individuals as compared to individuals born at term.
The team also found that having a romantic partner who is supportive is an important factor for good mental health because it helps protect one from developing anxiety or depression.
However, the study found fewer very-preterm-born adults had a romantic partner and were more withdrawn socially.
“Adults without support from romantic partners are at increased risk to develop anxiety and mood disorders,” said Wolke.
“Social support is important to prevent anxiety or mood disorders.”
It is also the largest study that’s been done following very-preterm-born children from childhood to adulthood.
Researchers believe the large sample size and study design provide compelling and reassuring evidence that very-preterm birth is not associated with an increased risk of psychiatric mood and anxiety disorders.