what it’s really like being vulnerable about my anxiety

As an extrovert, it is helpful to have people around me. As someone with social anxiety, it is helpful to know at least some of the people around me well. Knowing people well involves vulnerability. And, for me, vulnerability requires talking about things that terrify me. It requires risking sounding insane (some of my symptoms seem pretty crazy) to build closer friendships.

I’ve learned that sometimes this doesn’t go well. Some people will walk out of my life forever; others will avoid me for a couple weeks to process things; others will start to be extra careful around me.

To everyone who has left or acted differently around me… I am still the same person underneath. I still love Jesus. I am still the person who loves to swim and shoot archery and solve math equations, especially Calculus II problems. I still love biology and organic chemistry and researching cockroaches. I still enjoy human A&P and want to be a naturopath after completing all the required education. I still love to read and write. I still listen to a lot of CCM and K-pop. Sure, there are things going on you didn’t know about, and it’s ok if you need some time to adjust. But I am not a totally different person than who you thought you knew. After you adjust, treat me like the person you’ve always known, except maybe with some adjustments. It is helpful to not show me horror films or joke about wanting to die (unless you’re actually struggling) or talk about how bad your “OCD” is when you just have perfectionist tendencies every now and then. But I don’t want to be treated totally differently just because someone knows I have anxiety. If you don’t know what to do, listen and pray for me. Ask me what will be most helpful to me.

This is why talking about anxiety and hurting myself and depression and chronic illness is so hard. I have no idea how people are going to respond. I have been hurt by people who have left when I told them I wasn’t ok.

This isn’t necessarily true for everyone, but I know it’s true for me and several others I know. If you know something I am struggling with, that means that I wanted you to know. If I didn’t want you to know, I would’ve hid it from you and not told you about it. You know what you know because someone wanted you to know that.

So, in conclusion, take some time to listen. Adjust as you need to, but don’t feel the need to “protect me.” If something is genuinely harmful for me and we are close, I am going to let you know that. But we will never become closer if you overprotect me or baby me. All that will do is drive me crazy – and, over time, drive us apart.

the thoughts in my head

In the picture, there are 8 superimposed images. Some of them you can see better than others. For some, you can see what is in the image. For others, you can only barely make out the shapes or colors. And, unless you have really great eyes, you probably cannot tell that there are 8 images.

This is sort of what the thoughts in my head are like all the time. There are so many thoughts and my brain wants to process all of them at once but it can’t because there are too many, so I have to pull out and focus on the one on which I want to focus. Right now, I am drowning out the other thoughts and focusing on writing this post. The thought I am trying focus on is a more clear (e.g. the playing cards), but I still have to pull that idea out from the others in head. As for all the other thoughts, I know the general concepts behind some of them, but I do not know how many there are or what any of them are.

Each of the images are good things, and usually the thoughts are too. In case you were curious, the images include: playing cards, Korean food, the castle at Disney World, a mountain, a flower, a stream, a Christmas tree, and a bridge. Knowing that, you can probably understand a little bit more of the photo provided.

This is constant for me. While I have this mostly mastered, it is still exhausting. I look like I’m totally ok sometimes while I am trying to focus on talking to someone or doing my homework or completing whatever other task is in front of me.

Just wanted to send out a reminder to never assume that someone is ok. You only know what they allow you to see. Don’t assume they’re hurting either, but please don’t dismiss that possibility.

dear younger me: stay strong

Dear younger me,
Where do I start? If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far, then you could be one step ahead of all the painful memories still running thru my head. I wonder how much different things would be….

Dear younger me,
I cannot decide. Do I give some speech about how to get the most out of your life, or do I go deep and try to change the choices that you’ll make, ’cause they’re choices that made me. Even though I love this crazy life, sometimes I wish it was a smoother ride….

You are holy, you are righteous, you are one of the redeemed. Set apart, a brand new heart – you are free indeed! Every mountain, every valley, through each heartache you will see every moment brings you closer to who you were meant to be.

(Mercy Me, “Dear Younger Me”)

Dear younger me,

If you could read this, it wouldn’t change anything. Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and tell you that you can’t do just one scrape and stop. I wish I could tell you not to blame yourself for the deaths that weren’t within your control. But then I realize that some of the choice you’ll make were the choices that strengthened me and developed my character and my faith in God. So, it will be a rough ride, but your choices will make you who you were made to be. Keep fighting, because God will start making your brokenness into something beautiful. I know you can’t see it now, but one day you will.

There is something you need to know. It gets worse first. It’s going to get way worse. You will create a living nightmare with images that haunt you every day. It will feel like it can’t get worse… but it does. At one you will break and come really close to ending your life, but that night God will work a miracle. After that night, you’ll realize that suicide is not an option.

After that, you will start really fighting everything and really trying to get better. Things will get much, much worse. You will hurt so much that you will wish you could escape from your own head. You will end up fighting several bad coping mechanisms all at once. You will live every day praying to make it to the next day without hurting yourself. You will burst into tears at random points in the day, because the pain is too much to keep inside. You will have to leave classes for 5-10 minutes to re-collect yourself. You will become terrified of being alone in lab because of the scalpels and razor blades in the room. But you will keep fighting, and things will slowly get better.

One more thing. You are not in control. There is Someone out there who is way bigger and way stronger. He got this. So, Grandma and your friends and everything else that you wanted to control — put it into God’s hands. I’m still working on that, and it’s easier said than done. But just know this: you are not in control, and it is totally ok. You don’t need to be in control, because God is. He has got everything figured out, so just rest in Him.

Right now, it still hurts almost every day. I still wish I could bring Grandma back. I still struggle with the temptation to hurt myself. I still struggle with the temptation to skip meals. But I know that God is here. The pain is real, but it is temporary. God is real. Hold onto Him. Stay strong.

Just a note from the older you.

on creating a constant nightmare: to cut or not to cut

TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses what might happen when you cut.

This post functions primarily to educate others on what goes through someone’s head before cutting. This is an issue that is not discussed nearly enough, and those who have cut or done another form of self-harm are often misunderstood and stereotyped. Please note that everyone’s situation is unique, and I can only use what I know. This post combines my experiences with those of others I know personally and with those whose stories I have read. Feel free to comment with any personal experiences that might benefit the conversation.

Suppose you want to cut.You probably have some reasons. Maybe you’re going through a situation that doesn’t seem like it will get better. Maybe the emotions are too strong that you don’t know how to handle it anymore. Maybe think you deserve pain. Maybe you want to punish yourself. Maybe you don’t really want to do it but don’t think you have another choice. You’ve probably thought about it a lot.

That first time, you probably won’t do a whole lot of damage. Maybe, you decided to just do it once and never do again.

So, let’s say you decide to scrape yourself the first time. It feels great. It feels so relieving and gives you a sort of rush. But these good feelings last only as long as you do it. When you’re done, you are flooded with guilt. You feel worse than before. But you can’t push the thoughts of the next time out of your head. You had vowed to do it just once, but you already want to do it again. But doing the same thing over and over again won’t give you the same rush, so you’ll do it a little worse. And the cycle will continue.

You do it for a period of time. Maybe you hear voices that tell you to do it. Maybe you do it for the rush or the self-punishment. Or maybe you’re doing it for another reason. There are an infinite number of reasons for cutting.

You are terrified of being alone because of the fear of repeating it. Maybe you’re scared that one day you’ll go a little too deep and end up in the ER. Maybe you’re scared you’ll hit an artery and no one will find you and you’ll accidentally kill yourself. Maybe you see bloody images of yourself in your head that are portrayed as good and encourage you to repeat the self-harm. Maybe you’re nervous around other people and don’t want people to touch you, partly because it hurts but also because you don’t want them to feel the band-aids, scabs, and scars through your clothes. Maybe some scars are accidentally seen and you find yourself lying to explain what happened. Strain is put on all your relationships, even your closest friendships. Your thoughts get darker. You wonder when your friends will stop caring. You might become grateful to past or current bullies for showing you that you are awful and needed punishment. You will hurt every day. You will live with the shame and regret every day.

Then, let’s say you decide you want to try to stop. This is when it gets hard. Cutting is an addiction. Stopping an addiction often involves withdrawal. Not only do you have the above symptoms but you also have withdrawal symptoms. Withdrawal could be voices that increase with volume until you give in and cut again. Maybe you feel the pain of cutting without having to do it. Maybe you start writing on yourself to avoid cutting and find your arms and parts of your legs covered in writing. Maybe you find yourself replacing it with another form of self-harm. It feels like you are in a living nightmare. All you want to do is to escape from your brain. You know that if you cut again, it will get a little better – for the time being. But then it will be even harder to stop.

How it ends it up to you. It takes a lot of courage and a lot of fighting. Maybe you’ll keep giving in. Maybe you’ll end up at the ER and that will scare you so you’ll never do it again. Maybe you’ll go to the ER and like the attention from your family and do it badly again. Maybe you will gather the courage to never do it again.

Those who cut are humans in so much (emotional/psychological) pain they don’t know how to survive. They aren’t creeps or vampires or monsters. The chances of them wanting to hurt others is incredibly low. Even when that is present, it might not be linked to the self-harm but to something deeper, like the cause of the self-harm or another psychological issue. If someone tells you that they’re cutting, it took a lot of courage, so listen to them and ask if there is any way you can help them. Who knows? Maybe you’ll save a life.

it’s not that bad

“But it’s not that bad; why are you letting it bother you so much?”

I have heard this way too many times. I start telling someone about my anxiety and I mention the challenges of an irrational fear or something. Sometimes, people give me a confused look or comment on how “it’s not that bad.” Yes, having to steady my breathing after using running water (Yes, I have an irrational fear of running water. It’s a long story.) doesn’t seem that bad. And I could manage that. But think about how often you wash your hands, fill up your water bottle, brush your teeth, flush the toilet, wash laundry, clean your living space, take a shower, etc. That’s a lot of times. And that’s just one irrational fear out of many. There are other hard things, too: getting up in the morning, fighting the thoughts in my head, convincing myself to eat some days, etc., etc., etc.

My irrational fear of running water isn’t what makes me question on some days if life is worth living anymore. The constant fight – while waking up, eating, taking notes in classes, taking a shower, etc. – is what makes me think about death and dark things.

I understand that when I first open up to someone, you don’t know about all the other things. And if you haven’t experienced something like this, you wouldn’t understand what it’s like to be told that “it’s not that bad.” But now you know a little bit. If someone starts opening up to you and tells you about something small, be patient and don’t make assumptions on what it feels like. Opening up about this stuff is hard, and it’s unfair to them to make judgments without knowing the whole picture. Maybe it is the only thing going on, and maybe they tell you that it really isn’t that bad for them. Just don’t be the one to make that judgment.

So, yes, my irrational fear of running water is not that bad – alone. When I have to face it in combination with a bunch of other struggles (most of which are also not that bad alone), it’s enough to become suffocating.

the thoughts in my head tell me not to trust you

To all my brothers and sisters in Christ,

The thoughts in my head keep distorting the good things you said, and I can’t make it stop. They tell me that you don’t really understand me. They tell me that you didn’t believe me when I said things were hard. They tell me that you think I made it all up. They tell me that you want me to just get over myself and stop making it all up. And they tell me to cut you off, because you’re not a real friend and I don’t need that in my life.

I’m struggling. It’s hard to tell you how I feel, because the thoughts in my head tell me not to talk to you anymore, let alone trust you with the hard things.

This isn’t new. It has been going on for a while. The thoughts tell me that you don’t really care, that I should protect you from my sadness, or that I am a waste of your time. And it’s not you, so don’t take it personally. The thoughts just don’t want me to get better. You’re helping me get better, so the thoughts are trying to convince me to cut you off.

So, on those days when I seem a little distant, it’s not you, it’s me. It just means that I’m struggling to fight the thoughts a little more than usual. Please don’t take it personally, and please understand that I am fighting really hard to not push you away. Please understand that I don’t want to do it, and it’s not intentional, and it’s not your fault. But, if you want to help me fight them so I’m not quite so distant, give a little reminder that you care and that I am not a nuisance. It doesn’t have to be anything big – give me a hug or ask what’s going on or something like that.

Thanks guys for everything you do. The prayers and hugs and encouraging texts and everything… it means a lot. Love you all!

i just wanted to protect you

Something I really strive to do is protect other people from sadness and anxiety and other related things. When you think about it, it makes sense. I know what it’s like to be sad nearly all the time. I know what it’s like to be afraid of things I encounter on a daily basis. So it makes sense that I would want to protect others from these emotions. But this desire to protect others is draining me. It causes a lot of problems in friendships and dealing with that drains me. A lot.

Last night, I was in my friend’s dorm for about 7 hours. We ordered food and watched music videos and dance videos and other stuff on YouTube. I cried for the majority of that time. She asked what was wrong and I said I was fine. She asked again and I repeated my answer. I eventually told her a little bit, but I didn’t say everything. It got late, and it was time for me to go back to my own dorm.

I realized at the end of those 7 hours that I spent the entire time not telling her what was really going on. I realized that in general I had told her so many lies so she knew only about 3/4 of my anxiety symptoms and stuff. And while 3/4 is most of it, she is practically my older sister and should know pretty much all of it at this point.

I have this inclination to protect others. I think that it would be better for me to not tell others because then there are two sad people instead of just one. So I keep a lot of it inside. I lie about how bad things are so others don’t worry so much about me. My mind tells me that I shouldn’t make them sad too, so then I end up avoiding doing what will help me get better. She asked several times. She was prepared to listen to what was going on. She let me stay for 7 hours, thinking I would eventually tell her, but I didn’t. It hurt her, because it makes it seem like I don’t trust her. And it hurts me, because I avoiding talking about what’s been going on lately. And now I might not have another long period of time to talk about everything until next weekend or maybe later.

All this is to say, when someone asks what’s going on, and it’s someone you trust, you should talk to them. If you’re like me and want to protect people, be careful that you don’t protect them so much that you hurt end up hurting them. It’s counterproductive.