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    Discrimination At Work Due To Mental Health

    Surveys show that many people affected by mental health conditions are eager to work. Despite of this, rates show that only a fifth of them are working. What gets in the way is discrimination, and fears of being treated unfairly in the job sector. 

    Let’s talk employment for a second.

    It’s one of those things I find extremely difficult. Probably the number 1 thing that scares me the most in life, thus my lack of job experience. The fear of being judged negatively and rejected is always present. Discrimination is another factor.

    Let’s get into that.

    Fears are getting in the way
    I’ve always harboured the fear of not being good enough and that people, employers in particular, would see it. That nagging feeling inside, those toxic self-limiting beliefs that keep telling me that I’m just not cutting it. Usually it’s things such as thinking an employer would never be happy with me and what I do, I’d disappoint them and ultimately myself. Thus, I stayed away. I purposefully chose to depend on others instead because it was easier. It was the option that frightened me the least.

    Many people like me fear discrimination in workplaces. The idea of putting yourself out there is unimaginably scary. For me, I’ve obviously never experienced it first-hand, but I know it exists. I’ve heard way too many stories to believe it doesn’t. Being avoidant have simply “protected” me from it- The fear of rejection and judgement kept me out of situations which I considered risky.

    Grim statistics 
    It’s no bigger surprise to me to find out that people living with mental health conditions are amongst the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to:

    • find work
    • be in a steady, long-term relationship
    • live in decent housing
    • be socially included in mainstream society.

    The employment rates among people who suffer mental illness are sadly extremely low. According to a survey The UK National Labour Force conducted are the rates alarming. Out of the whole adult population are roughly 75% employed. When it comes to people with physical disabilities the figure was around 65% while, for people with severe mental health conditions the figures show a strikingly low 20%. 20%! Another survey showed that as many as 90% of people with severe mental health problems actually want to return to work but feel unable to.

    These statistics reflect how wide-spread the discrimination really is. In England alone, one out of three people with mental health issues say that they have been faced with discrimination in form of being dismissed or resigned from their jobs. 40% of people disclosed that they were denied a job due to their condition and about 60% say that they avoid applying for jobs altogether out of fear of being treated unfairly. That’s very much were I fit in myself.

    Discrimination at work
    So what does it mean to be discriminated against at work? Well, basically it happens when an employee is being treated unfairly due to their disability (or in our case, a mental health disorder). This can have great negative impact on the ill employee. It can create a toxic working environment, affect co-workers and the overall productivity of the organization. The most important aspect to take into account is the recovery of the employee. Discrimination can have catastrophic consequences when it comes to the mental stability and self-esteem of the person in question. That, in itself can lead to further stress and mental health problems.

    Conceal or disclose?
    This is one of those questions I ask myself a lot. Especially the last couple of months. In a job interview, would I rather reveal my fragile mental state or would I better conceal it while talking to a potential employer? Is there a right or wrong in this context? I really don’t know. As for myself it’d cause me a lot of distress carrying around this secret and spend time making sure I don’t slip up and reveal it by accident. It’s a big stress factor for sure. One I’m not convinced is worth the trouble. But disclosing this in an interview can instead mean that I don’t get the job at all, or that I’m being generally treated unfairly. Gossiping or extra attention is the last thing I’d want in such a situation.

    What are your thoughts and ideas on this? Are you working, and if so, does your employer know of any potential trouble you’re facing?

    With Love,
    Kristina

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    Anxiety Issues

    Hi people!

    Just a quick update from me.

    In the last days I’ve suffered a great deal of anxiety which have made it difficult for me to write together something sensible for the blog. Oh uh! I am currently working on a piece about discrimination, specifically in the job sector sense that’s what my anxiety has been all about.

    I’m fairly sure the post will be up sometime tomorrow so please, do keep checking back. I appreciate it so much!

    Thank you for all the love and support 🙂

     

    With Love,
    Kristina

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    How To Overcome Childhood Trauma

    Many don’t realize that childhood trauma is a lot more common than many may think. In a study conducted on 0-6-year olds, over half had experienced severe stressors in their short lives. As I did my research on childhood trauma to write this article I made an important discovery about myself. The trauma from my childhood was triggered by something else than I had initially thought.

    When I was 4,5 years old my grandfather tragically passed away while on vacation abroad. He was 50 years of age at the time. I never realized until now very recently that all my earliest childhood memories involve him. The scent of bacon and baked beans always take me there, the big brown armchair at my grandparents where he’d always sit and watch TV. Those clothespins we’d pretend were crocodiles and “attacked” my grandmother with, and the chewing gum he’d always sneak me. My first bike – a pink and white beauty – was gifted to me by him and I still got vivid memories of him teaching me how to ride it. It didn’t even occur to me until recently how important to me he really was. People, including myself, just assumed I was too young to remember, too young to understand. The truth is though that children understand a lot more than what many adults seem to think is the case.

    As a young child, losing an important person in your life, you need support, and a place to feel safe and secure so you can work through the emotions in a healthy way. The opposite happened for me. I don’t want to go into detail out of respect for my family, but I lost two close family members that day. My mother, who had lost her father, was never the same again. What followed was traumatic to me, it was violent and very self-destructive at times. I saw things no child should ever have to see. I strongly believe that this is the root to so many of my mental health issues. The chaotic environment I grew up in, and the loss of somebody so close to me, combined with an already anxious personality. My grandfather was definitely a safety person to me, somebody who was often mistaken for my dad (he was only 46 at the time of my birth) as I spent so much time at my grandparents as a child. Over the years I always considered myself lucky to still have memories of him, something my sister never had since she was too young to remember. But now I wonder, maybe she’s the lucky one to not know the pain of the loss. But at the same time she’ll never know the love and security I felt, either. It’s a bit of a two edged sword.

    The most common signs and symptoms of unresolved childhood trauma are:

    1. Anxiety or panic attacks that occur in situations most people would consider normal
    2. Feelings of shame. Feelings of being worthless, bad and without importance
    3. Chronic or ongoing depression
    4. Practising avoidance of people, emotions, things or places related to the traumatic event
    5. Nightmares, flashbacks and body memories
    6. Eating disorders and addictions in an attempt to escape or numb emotions of negative nature
    7. Problems sleeping such as trouble going to sleep or staying asleep
    8. Suffering from feelings of detachment, with other words – feeling “dead inside”
    9. Dissociation as a real disconnect in situations and conversations
    10. Suicidal thoughts or actions
    11.Hypervigilance, a constant feeling of being on guard
    12. Uncontrollable anger
    13. Self-harm and cutting
    14. Not being able to tolerate conflicts
    15. Unexplained or irrational fears of people, things or places

    Why it’s so hard to overcome childhood trauma
    Firstly, what makes it so hard to overcome childhood trauma is that children lack the frame of reference. They come to see what is happening as normal, since it’s all they’ve ever known. This is especially true if the source to the stress is a caregiver. In many cases it requires exposure to healthy families before they can see how damaged their childhood really was. Sadly, it gets tougher to heal, the longer you wait.

    Another factor is that the damage may be biological. Trauma can alter and change how certain genes are expressed. A study at Brown University in 2012 shows that childhood trauma such as the loss of a parent or abuse can actually impact the programming of the genes that regulate stress. This puts the person in a higher risk of developing anxiety and depression A study in 2013 have also linked trauma-induced brain changes to diminished ability to handle negative impulses.

    Also, in order to overcome certain issues it means remembering them. This is a really tough one for me personally. I’ve been crying throughout writing this article because I’ve started to remember things I had supressed or tried to ignore. Revisiting your past can be a very painful experience. Even if you’re willing to try, it may be impossible to sort out the mess of impressions from childhood. It’s tough to eliminate pain when the source of it can’t be pinpointed and all you’re left with is floating anxiety. Sometimes it’s also difficult to get proper closure even if you decide to remember and heal. Those responsible for the trauma may no longer be alive.

    Many adults who has experienced childhood trauma also close their emotions off. That’s something I tend to do, myself, a lot too. If caring becomes too dangerous for the well-being of the child they numb themselves of emotions. This tend to damage the ability to build healthy relationships, as well complicate any attempts at healing since the motions needed for healing are closed off too.

    So what can you do?
    The first step is to allow yourself to get close to people. Your childhood traumas likely caused you to spend a lare amount of energy on survival, so it’s likely you find it difficult, challenging or maybe even scary to get close to other people. Many who experienced early, ongoing traumas are more prone to chronically isolate themselves as adults. The best thing you can do is to challenge this behavioural mechanism and instead allow yourself to get close to others, and in turn allow them to see you as you are. A small handful of friends is enough and allow them to really see you and love you.

    The next step is to take good care of yourself. Both physically and emotionally. Sufferers of childhood trauma oftentimes feel subconsciously like they don’t deserve love and care. Many have low energy and just fall down a downward spiral of rejection and isolation. You deserve to be treated the same way you would treat a loved one. With love and care.

    Another thing to look at are your defence mechanisms. The way your life is today, do you really need the old defence mechanisms you’re used to, to keep yourself safe? Maybe you’ve told yourself that people can’t be trusted so you’ve became super self-reliant or decided to shut people out, for instance. The first step to heal the old pain is to recognize the things you are currently doing as a result of childhood trauma and see how you can turn them around.

    The pain may never fully go away
    I don’t think the pain I feel will ever fully go away in my case. Today made that clear to me. I’ve been tearing up time after time throughout the writing process which means it’s still very raw 20+ years later. To this day I still refuse to visit the country where my grandfather died. I just can’t bring myself to do it although I’ve been offered to go several times. Certain family members are strong triggers as well. I won’t give up though. Time heal all wounds, they said.

    With Love,

    Kristina

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    The Importance of Forgiveness – And 5 Tips On How To Do It When It’s Difficult

    “Forgive and forget” is one of those sayings that is often much easier said than done. The reason why it’s so hard to forgive and forget is because it’s a survival mechanism. If something harmed you once, you’re not going there again. But for our happiness and mental well-being forgiveness play an important role.

    I’ll admit it. I’m probably not the most forgiving person out there.

    It’s not that I think people are bad or non-deserving of forgiveness. It has rather something to do with me being my sensitive self and being “hurt” is sort of a big deal. My brain can copy that something happened a long time ago and forgiveness would be in order. Hey, I can even bring myself think “I forgive”, but at the same time my emotions aren’t complying. It isn’t genuine. There’s still a bit of that bitterness in my heart. I can’t force myself to feel a certain way when it’s clearly not how I feel. I recognize in myself that I still have a long way to go, but I’m willing to open up to new possibilities.

    Why forgiveness?
    Carrying around hurt and bitterness is very unhealthy and can damage your overall well-being. Forgiving give us a chance to get rid of heavy load and to instead heal the pain. To forgive doesn’t mean you condone the wrongdoing or letting the “bad guy” off the hook. Forgiveness is not the same as justice, nor does it require reconciliation of any sort. It doesn’t even mean you need to forget. It’s all about releasing negativity and the emotional baggage you’re carrying around so that you can move on. Forgive them for your own sake, not for theirs.

    Research has indicated that forgiveness is linked to mental health and can help reduce depression, anxiety and major psychiatric disorders. Toussaint, Worthington and David R. Williams, PhD, edited a 2015 book, “Forgiveness and Health,” that detailed the physical and psychological benefits of forgiveness.

    So how do you go about to forgive when it’s difficult?

    1. Know forgiveness is possible
    In order to forgive, you must first believe that forgiveness is actually possible. Is forgiveness a feasible solution to the problem? There are instances when extending forgiveness is extremely challenging. A good example of that is a killing of a loved one.

    2. Make a list
    Put together a list, listing everyone who has done you wrong in some way starting from childhood. Once you got the list ready, arrange them in order from the lowest level of injustice to the highest. Then you start from the bottom of the list, seeing as starting with somebody high up would be like running a marathon while physically not fit for it. As you move higher up the list, you’ll gradually become more forgivingly fit as you go.

    3. Reflect
    A good idea is to sit down and reflect. Try to analyse the situation. Try to understand what happened and why. Chances are that the person who hurt you didn’t do it on purpose. Perhaps they were struggling with something themselves that made them say, or act in a certain way. We are all human, we all make mistakes. It doesn’t justify what they did, but at least it might help bring you some peace of mind knowing there is a reason behind their actions.

    4. Acknowledge growth
    As a result of what happened, did you learn anything? Either about yourself, your needs and your boundaries? You survived the situation and just maybe, you also grew from it. All that is negative, also have a positive.

    5. Move on to the next chapter
    Your past history, the things that hurt you are no longer here in your physical reality. Do not allow them in your mind, clouding your present. Instead, start a fresh, new chapter in your life.

     

     

     

    “Resentment is like taking poison and hoping it kills the other person.”

     

     

     

    So what about you? Do you forgive easily or do you find it difficult? What do you do to get pass it?

    With love,

    Kristina

     

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    10 Things Not To Say To Someone With A Mental Health Condition

    Living with mental health problems isn’t easy. It’s usually a lonely road filled with anxiety and pain. Support in form of family and friends is crucial, but it’s not always easy for loved ones to know what to do or say in certain situations in order to help.  At times, things said can even be counter-productive.

    Before you’ve experienced mental illness first hand it’s hard to understand just how sensitive many of us are, and how important it is to speak with care. Prejudices are easy to come by, and I’ll admit I’ve been guilty of having them as well. There was a time when I thought PTSD was something only war-veterans could have, or that suffering from Schizophrenia equalled being crazy “for real”. Saying you’re OCD also seems to be one of those common phrases people tend to mis-use. Having OCD doesn’t mean you like to arrange your shoes by color. OCD, Obsessive Compulsory Disorder, is a serious anxiety disorder and term that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly. We’re all responsible to educate ourselves, to talk to the people around us and try to understand.

    I thought I’d list some of the most common comments people who suffer mental illness receive from the public and why they are inappropriate:

    1. “Oh come on, it could be worse!”
    The neighbour lost their family dog, or the colleague was diagnosed with cancer or a bomb struck in Syria. Terrible things happen in the world every day. That doesn’t mean that people who suffer from depression or other illnesses aren’t entitled to their emotions and thus deserve to have their feelings and experiences belittled.

    Mental health issues usually have no real triggers. It’s not something that is easily controlled. By comparing lives, you also run the risk of making the mentally ill person feel even worse due to guilt for feeling a certain way. It’s important to remember that illnesses are fact illnesses and not an attitude.

    2. “Just snap out of it.”
    If it only was that easy. Yet this seems to be the most commonly used comment. Telling somebody to just snap out of it is dismissive, and basically means that they should ignore, or endure, their pain.

    3. “It’s all in your head.”
    Technically that is correct. Mental illnesses are “in your head”, but not in the way this comment is usually intended- as something imaginary that the sufferer has chosen. This attitude also trivialise the physical symptoms that often comes with mental illness such as disturbed sleep, muscle pains, tiredness and weight loss or gain.

    4. “You’re just lazy.”
    Some individuals with mental health problems may come across as lazy, especially those who suffer from depression where the energy-levels are affected. Before making any such statements you first need to take into account how ill that person really is. ”Lazy” is a character trait, not a symptom of an illness.

    5. “Everyone is a little depressed sometimes – it’s normal.”
    It’s not unusual to hear people refer to themselves as depressed while in reality they are simply feeling down for a couple of days. Everybody feel down, or have mood swings at some point. That is normal. But there’s a distinct difference between being depressed and feeling down, though. If a depressed person constantly hears that what they’re feeling is normal they are less likely to get the help they need. Be careful.

    6. “You are like your father/mother.”
    We can’t help but to take after certain family members. To unintentionally mimick their habits or behaviours. However, saying things such as “you’re like your mother” or “you’re like your father” while the person endure intense stress is not a very wise thing to do. Usually this is said in a negative manner and being likened to a parent and their flaws bring extra stress and can escalate behaviours.

    7. “Look how lucky you are. Be thankful!.”
    This is such a big misconception. I am thankful for what I have. That doesn’t help depression though. Depression has biological factors and needs to be treated just like any other sickness. You wouldn’t say “You’re lucky as well, so stop sneezing”.

    8. “Happiness is a choice!”
    As if somebody would choose to purposefully not be happy?

    9. “You just need to try harder.”
    Since mental illness is usually invisible, it often doesn’t show how hard the person is actually trying. Then hearing somebody tell you you’re not trying hard enough when you’re already giving it your best can be extremely insulting and very frustrating.

    10. “You should get out more.”
    The problem here is that the symptoms of depression and many other conditions include lack of motivation and fatigue and are probably the reason the person is at home in the first place. If he or she felt well enough to go outside, then they probably wouldn’t be depressed.

    Many of these comments are usually said with good intentions, but unless you truly understand the nature of these mental health conditions there’s a good chance you’re doing more harm than good. Save the advice and instead give your love and support as they recover with the help of professionals.

    As usual, thank you all for reading! Please, comment, share and subscribe.

    With Love,

    Kristina

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    The Mental Health Awareness Month – What Can You Do To Help?

    To some, the launching of my blog may have come as a surprise. The truth is though that I had been considering it for months already. May seemed to be the perfect time for me since it’s the National Mental Health Month in the United States. I’m European myself, but I love the idea of bringing awareness to an issue so close to home so of course I’m joining in!

    For as long as human-kind has known of mental illnesses, we’ve also been juggling the stubborn stigmas that come with it. Those who suffer rarely open up to talk about their struggles due to fear of being judged or looked down upon. Our society has made mental illnesses seem like something to be ashamed of, like those who suffer are damaged goods, which is why so many people still hide it away today. We may have come quite a bit on the way already, I won’t deny anyone that. But our culture today still has a long way to go in order to reach where we should be in the year 2018.

    According to the Journal of Abnormal Psychology will up to 80% of the population be affected by mental illness at some point in their life whether directly or through family and other loved ones. 50 million people are affected by depression and over 800,000 people die due to suicide every year. With those statistics it’s clear that having conversations about mental health is of importance to all of us.

    To properly embrace the National Mental Health awareness month I’ll share with you ways you can help to support those who live with mental illness.

    1. Educate yourself
    One of the best things you can do to support those who suffer from mental health problems is to educate yourself on different types of illnesses, find out what the warning signs are and learn about the common misconceptions. Much of the stigma that surrounds mental illness comes from misinformation or lack of information. Therefore, is education a vital step to fight the stigma.

    For good, basic information you can check these websites out:

    National Alliance on Mental Illness
    Mental Health America

    2. Share your knowledge
    If you yourself live with mental illness and find yourself at a place where you’re able to talk about it, then talk about it! The best way to fight stigma is to shine light upon what is unknown and provide examples to prove the contrary to what so many people believe. Living with mental health issues doesn’t make us dangerous or constantly miserable. Spread the word.

    3. Donate to a Mental Health Charity
    Donations can be made anonymously if you wish, nobody would have to know it’s you. Even smaller amounts count and make a big deal to enable charities to help those in need. Any donation of any type and value is precious so if you can, please consider.

    4. Challenge the stigma
    It is possible that you may come across comments about mental health problems that are discriminating, or are putting people with mental illnesses down. If so, you can stand up against it. By challenging stigma that surrounds mental health you may possibly change someone’s view on the subject. Just one person with a change of heart makes a difference.

    Together we can stop the stigma. Thank you for reading!

     

    With Love,

    Kristina

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    Social Media Presence

    Hello everyone!
    The blog seems to have been received well among you and I’m eternally grateful for all the lovely support I’ve gotten the last couple of weeks. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

    I’m currently in the process of setting up more social media platforms for “A Peculiar Mind”. At this point I have a Pinterest page running, a Facebook page and an account on Bloglovin that I started literally 10 minutes ago (hehe). In the upcoming days I’d like to get Instagram and Twitter started, as well. If anyone has got any tips for me regarding social media marketing and promotion, let me know!
    All help as appreciated.

    It’s still all a work in progress but here are the links to the pages I got up so far!

    Follow my blog with Bloglovin

    Like my page on Facebook

    Follow me on Pinterest

     

    Thank you all, once again.

     

    With Love,

    Kristina

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    How Online Support Groups Helped Healing My Mental Health

    The negative side to social-media use is well documented, but there’s also another, much more positive side that is often overlooked. Every day many thousands of people who suffer from mental health issues find acceptance, advice and support among people they can closely relate to in social media groups and other communities. Support that can sometimes be lifesaving. 

    (Before I start though I want to kindly point out that support online should NOT substitute psychotherapy or any other kind of support available out in the “real world”.)

     

    It’s not a secret that mental health issues commonly put us in situations where it’s easy to become isolated from the rest of the world. People with depression tend to push others away, while those who suffer from anxiety, paranoia or autism oftentimes find themselves simply unable to interact with others. Many also find themselves excluded due to odd social behaviours. Having a network of support right at your fingertips, ready to lend an ear or to give advice is valuable beyond measure. It’s a safe haven for many, a meeting place, refuge away from peering eyes and oftentimes even a lifeline.

    Earlier this year when I first was told of Avoidant Personality Disorder I felt very confused. I couldn’t make out what it meant for me, or for my life.

    Was I now officially crazy?

    Without being rational I felt like my life could just as well be over now that I had been “labeled”. The prospect of ever finding work seemed tiny, and I didn’t really have many friends or family other than my son and a handful of people overseas. People I thought may still look for the door once they find out what’s going on.

    Deep down I knew nothing had changed. I was still me, facing the same old obstacles I’ve always faced long before this even came up. The only difference now was that my issues had a name to go by. Yet I didn’t want to be diagnosed. It wasn’t something I was keen to acknowledge. Especially not with a personality disorder because to me that ultimately meant my personality is flawed. Think about it. What made me, me, is flawed. It was a pretty lonely time seeing as I didn’t know anyone else with the same problems. To me, I was the only one.

    At some point, one evening, I had the idea to search for Facebook support groups for people with mental health issues, and especially for other avoidants. I found a relatively big group of people who all identify with the avoidant disorder and I joined. It was one of the best things I could have done for my mental health. Immediately I had a community, I place where I belonged. It felt as if I had found “my” people, my tribe. We occasionally do avoid each other, but it’s ok because we understand it, we recognize the behaviour in ourselves. There’s no having to explain yourself. People just get it.

    Connecting with people who are similar to me has helped me tremendously to accept myself. I no longer feel like the odd one out. We are all odd ones out and together we’re the norm. Our community has given me an outlet where I can feel normal, and from my own experience that’s all you want when you struggle with mental health issues. To be normal. As I already mentioned above, this is in no way a substitute for a proper treatment plan, but it’s a factor that makes a huge difference to my overall well-being.

    I really think that’s it. Finding a place in the world where you fit in, a place to belong.

    What are your experiences with finding support online? Are you active in specific groups or on message boards? I’d love to hear what YOU people have to say.

    With Love,

    Kristina

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    What I Wish You Knew About Social Anxiety

    Social anxiety is the third largest mental health issue in the world. Millions of people world-wide suffer from this traumatic condition every day. In some cases it’s a specific situation that is triggering, for others such as myself, it’s a lot more general.

    I’ve mentioned it briefly a couple of times now.

    My social anxiety, I mean.

    To be honest, I’m not even sure where to begin. It’s very difficult to explain what it’s like to live with social anxiety to somebody who doesn’t suffer from it themselves. How scary and debilitating it can be to just go outside for a walk on a Sunday afternoon. Not always, but often, it feels as if I’m being watched, judged, by strangers on the street. It can be small things, like my choice of clothing that day. I can be all up in my head about it, thinking I should have worn something different because now everybody are staring at me. That’s usually not the case of course, but that’s how somebody with anxiety view it.

    As a 5’10” female there really isn’t any hiding for me. When I walk into a room I get noticed. Period. I can keep my head down all I want, avoid eye contact until I go blue, and even try hiding behind other people (don’t try it, you’ll only draw more attention to yourself. Ha!), it isn’t working. The only thing for me to do is to accept I’m a wandering flagpole and do my best to get on with it. Some days are good, others are filled with anxiety and I refrain from going outside at all.

    It’s all too common that when I tell people I’m not a people-person I get a “Yes, I hate people too!” for reply. I’m always taken aback by it. Is that really what people think of me? That I hate people? I don’t hate anyone. Especially not people I don’t know. I’m typically the kind of person who accept others just the way they are and aim to always see the good in others. I can’t think of anybody I hate. Yet it seems to be a very common misconception that shy people, reserved people avoid people out of hate or dislike. I can’t speak for all, but a lot of the time it’s more fear-based than anything else. I lack confidence in my ability to speak. I speak too quietly a lot of the time, or I stutter if I get too overwhelmed. I can have something to say but I hold back in fear of sounding silly or being judged for what I said.

    Smalltalk is so difficult for me. More often than not I’ll just stand around feeling awkward while desperately trying to think of something smart to say while the other person is just looking on, seemingly wondering why I’m acting so strange. Inside I’m frozen, I feel like sinking through the ground cause it’s so embarrassing. What you can’t see is that my mind is working hard to save the situation, to make a comeback of sorts. Usually to no avail. It’s exhausting to spend the next three days wondering what the other person must be thinking of me now after our encounter, and in hindsight think of things I could have said, should have said, instead. It’s an endless road of beating myself up over what said or didn’t say or do. It’s like I can’t win with myself.

    The worst thing you can say to somebody with social anxiety is probably “you’re so quiet, you never speak”. I’ve lost count of how many times people have told me that. Nobody would think of the idea to walk up to a person with only one leg and tell them “hey your leg is missing”. It’s not exactly the same, but it’s similar. All I have to say is I know. I know I’m quiet, I know I’m socially awkward at times, and having people pointing it out, even if they mean no harm, makes us more self-conscious about it. A lot of the time it will have me desperately attempting to talk more, but since I’m so stressed about the situation already it usually backfires and I just go blank. Just be nice and friendly instead, and don’t get angry if I can’t keep a conversation flowing, or if I forget to ask you how you are after you’ve asked me. It’s nerves. It happens to me a lot.

    I know there are situations most people are anxious in. An important job interview is probably a good example of one. You feel closed in on, your stomach is acting up, the heart is racing. But imagine feeling the emotions of going to a life-changing job interview when in reality you’re simply going to the supermarket to buy groceries. On some days I’d even avoid going into a store I’d like to check out just because the shop clerk might speak to me and I know I will choke up. It’s exhausting. For a person with severe social anxiety is a job interview almost impossible.

    The phone is probably one of the worst inventions ever invented for somebody like me. Often times I’d usually leave my phone on soundless to make it less stressful for me to deal with it. It stems from childhood I think, when I felt constantly chased and controlled. Whenever my phone went off I knew I was in trouble. Especially checking it and seeing 15 missed calls within the last half an hour. Calling authorities is another high on my what not-to-do list. It’s the feeling of being small and inferior, I think, combined with fears of bothering others with my questions and inquiries. Troubling people, being ridiculed or rejected are definitely the three main reasons to my anxiety.

    The only place I ever feel completely safe and comfortable is at home. Preferably home alone, knowing there’s nobody around I must please, or could potentially annoy or bother. That’s the only time I can truly relax and just be, without feeling like I’m on the edge. There are people I feel comfortable around but they are few, and very specific.

    People who suffer from social anxiety (or any anxiety) can’t help it. Just with all fears and phobias we know it’s all in our heads, that we’re not being rational but knowing something isn’t the same feeling or thinking something. To us it feels very real which makes it difficult to just brush off.

    It’s a pretty fine, confusing line between ordinary social anxiety and Avoidant Personality Disorder, and I can’t fully tell which is which. To me it feels like the social anxiety is simply one of the symptoms of the Avoidant Personality Disorder. If the social anxiety is so debilitating that you live isolated and your quality of live is affected, it’s most likely a personality disorder and not ordinary social anxiety. In certain situations I’m considered pretty high functioning for an Avoidant, in others, not at all. In the end it comes down to life experience I think. Many Avoidants wouldn’t dream of using public transport. I, however grew up in a family without a car, therefore taking the bus wasn’t an option if I wanted to get somewhere. I’ve been trained, and got certain experience and skills, while I lack completely in other areas. I got no clue how to make friends for instance, and I’m even worse at maintaining friendships.

    Lastly, please don’t take it personally if we’re quiet, avoid eye contact or even avoid you altogether. Most of us are not trying to offend anyone, quite the contrary. We are afraid of what you think of us because we want to be well-recieved and accepted above anything else.

    With Love,

    Kristina

  • Uncategorized

    Guest Post: What I Found Works For Depression & Anxiety

    I’m thrilled to announce I got my first guest writer here on “A Peculiar Mind”!

     

    Alex Morgan, UK, is a Psychology Graduate with a Post-grad Certificate in Counselling and a life-long interest in self-improvement.

    Before I talk about the changes I have made to my life, it’s important to know what kind of position I was in before. I’ve suffered with serious Depression and Anxiety since I was 14 years old, and probably longer than that now I think about it. Until I hit 40, I was trapped in the same cycle of half-hearted self-help plans and depressive spirals.

    There was a time when I was longing for a relationship that made me miserable, drinking straight spirits every night, watching endless cartoon and pornography, wasting my life watching other bitter people complain about their own limitations. I wasn’t suicidal because I was terrified of dying but it was certainly not “living” as I now understand the word. It certainly wouldn’t have bothered me had I accidentally failed to wake up one day. One of my friends literally drank himself to death a few years before and I wondered whether he was the smart one.

    Suddenly, days after my 40th birthday, something changed: I realised on all levels that I was contributing to my own suffering. This isn’t an easy thing to realise because the only thing I felt I had left were my excuses. Thinking “It’s not my fault I can’t have a career or relationships…” relieved some of my self-blame but in doing so it made me bitter. Worse than that, it left me feeling unable to change.

    I made 5 changes to the way I thought about the world before making any changes to my behaviour:

    The first thing I did was to FORGIVE MYSELF any and all past failures. This is absolutely vital because your brain is an amazing tool. It is spectacular at problem solving but misused it can actively make us more unhappy. One thing I learned to be aware of is that sometimes I would dwell on a past failure or setback and repeatedly relive the experience. I determined to be strict with myself and to look into the past ONLY to recover useful information that would help my present or future.

    The second vital thing I did was to TAKE RESPONSIBILITY for my own happiness. Sure, I can hear people thinking that happiness is outside of our control but stay with me. In large part, there are ways to focus your attention in ways that make you happier. It’s not perfect. I’m not suggesting you just think yourself happier. Just do your best to improve your life and avoid blaming others or your past as much as possible… even when it is true. One example is sick-days: I habitually played up to illness or low mood days to get out of doing things I didn’t want to do. Now, I read the signs and rebel against them, going into work and doing the best job I can manage because that feeling of toughness and responsibility feeds our sense of pride.

    The third, and possibly most controversial change I made was to forget about complex Moral problems. My morality had to change because I had been using it as a crutch to avoid difficult decisions. Instead of over-thinking every little thing, which had prevented me taking any part in the world, I decided that: IF SOMETHING GIVES YOU PRIDE, DO IT MORE and IF SOMETHING MAKES YOU FEEL SHAME, DO IT LESS.

    The fourth change is accepting folk wisdom passed down by my mother: “IF YOU ALWAYS DO WHAT YOU’VE ALWAYS DONE, YOU’LL ALWAYS GET WHAT YOU ALWAYS GOT!” and it’s true. If the role you’ve been playing has been bringing you nothing but pain, why continue with it? You’re not a character in a B-movie. You don’t have to always act the same throughout your life. Honestly, if acting meek and sleeping all day gets you bullied more and even more tired than when you started, you’re doing something wrong. Most people aren’t sadistic bullies but regular people testing one another constantly to see who will push back. If you never do, as I never did, they will keep pushing and pushing until you snap or break.

    The fifth change was to realise how urgent was the need for change. If you were given a diagnosis that said you would be disabled and dead if you ate peanuts again… would you slowly withdrawn peanuts from your diet or realise the urgency and stamp the rule of “NO PEANUTS!” on the inside of your eyelids? You are in nothing less than the fight for your life! You are being attacked by a black dog that wants to tear you limb from limb. What are you going to do about it. TAKE THIS ILLNESS AS SERIOUSLY AND URGENTLY AS YOU WOULD AN ANGRY DOG!

     

    The Behavioural Changes I made were far simpler and easier to follow once I had understood the above Mental Changes. Some of these may or may not apply to everyone. I’m not even sure which of them I needed and which just helped me along but doing them all at once really helped.

    Exercise: Yes I know we get sick of hearing about how exercise cures Depression and we all know it’s more complicated than that. But it certainly doesn’t hurt. I do long walks in nature, high-intensity cardio and weights. I stretch regularly and do simple Qigong which is like Tai Chi. Building muscle doesn’t mean looking like He-man. It takes extreme levels of specific diet and super-heavy weights to look that way. Just know that having a healthy musculature can contribute to positive mood and confidence.

    Diet: Gut biome health affects mental health, it’s a well-known connection. Sugar and alcohol in particular change the way our bodies operate. They cause excessive Insulin and stress hormones to be released at various times, which often causes weight gain and lethargy. Other people have been shown to have Depression-like reactions to certain food allergies and auto-immune responses. It can be a good idea to isolate food groups to see if eliminating bread, sugar, alcohol, dairy, meat or certain foods like tomatoes helps your energy levels.

    Meditation: At first, I was sceptical but it really works. For just a few minutes a day, usually when I can’t sleep at night, I observe my thoughts. Sometimes, I just watch the conscious thoughts pop in and out of existence. Sometimes, I try to shut them down, focusing on my breathing or a point of light on the wall. Other times still, I run with them and follow them wherever they are going. If I’m feeling brave, I contemplate the question of what is it that experiences this stream of consciousness and sensory data? Am I one entity or a gestalt of many? I reach out to touch a wall or floor and realise that in a real way, everything I sense is actually a part of me since we are incapable of sensing the world without input from our selves. This has led to more than one beautiful, emotional experience of the divine. Don’t try to define it or hold on to it, just observe it and let it go when the time is up.

    Mindfulness: This can be done at almost any time. I ask myself whether I am present in the living moment or away in the past or potential futures. If I find I am thinking about the past or future, I ask whether I am pulling useful information from the past or planning in a useful way for the future? If not, I snap myself back to the present. The animal part of our brain is content just to exist. Most of our pain comes from the outer, more complex, human parts. So shutting down the over-thinking human aspect when it is not useful leads to greater happiness.

    Breathing: There are several good breathing exercises for Anxiety such as breathing in deeply for 4 seconds, holding for 6 seconds and breathing out all the way for 8 seconds.

    I’ve also found that deliberate hyperventilation really helps with both anxiety and pain. For that, I breathe all the way in and 70% of the way out 30 times then hold my breath all the way out as long as I can. One deep breath and then hold as long as possible. This is called “One Round” and I do 3 Rounds then…

    Cold Exposure: EASILY THE QUICKEST WAY TO SHUT DOWN MY OVER-ACTIVE MIND IS A COLD BATH. I’ve found that combining this with the Deliberate Hyperventilation described above creates a perfectly still mind. It doesn’t have to be a long exposure to cold. Even a short cold shower after my regular warm shower is often enough to reset my mind. I get out of that feeling like I could take on the world. While long-term stress is very bad for our bodies, short-term stress we can do something about is often good for both bodies and minds.

    Heat Exposure: In addition to cold baths and showers, I’ve found saunas and steam rooms really helpful. At first, they are a relaxing way to chill out and meditate or meet new people if you’re ready to push that boundary. Towards the end, it can feel like an endurance challenge which I always top off with a short cold shower. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest such treatments release “heat-shock proteins” which can extend and improve quality of life.

     

    Remember the following tips:

    A lot of these things seem uncomfortable and that’s good because the most useful thing I learned is that COMFORT IS THE ENEMY. Sure it’s great to relax after a hard day’s work when you know you’ve earned it. But spending days in bed, knowing you haven’t done anything now just makes me depressed and anxious again. It’s OK to take a well-deserved rest. But beware the slow death of living in a comfort zone. Challenge yourself to do new things that make you a little uncomfortable such as meeting new people, travelling, talking to groups, dancing, trying exotic food, joining a gym or dating site, etc.

    BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF. Take some time to honestly know what drives you. If what drives you is socially unacceptable to the people around you, it’s up to you what to do with that information but you can’t live your life for what you think other people want you to do. If, when you look deep into your own soul, all you want is a ton of money or to date a series of beautiful people then be honest with yourself: Chasing someone else’s dream won’t get you anywhere. Set a difficult but achievable goal.

    Break your longer-term goal down into more manageable chunks that you can measure. If they still seem impossible like breaking down “Climb Everest” into “Get fit” as the first step, then break that down further until it’s manageable and achievable. “Get fit” breaks down into “Do cardio 3 times a week. Do weights or conditioning twice a week. Eat a protein-rich diet with the right number of Kcal for your end goal.”

    If you find that you don’t know what to do in a given situation or find that you are blaming yourself, just ask yourself: “IF YOUR BEST FRIEND WERE IN THE EXACT SAME POSITION AS YOU ARE CURRENTLY IN, WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO THEM?” Which is effectively saying that you need to treat yourself as if you were a person you care about. This often provides better answers than anything anyone else could tell you because you know more about the situation than anyone else.

    HELP OTHER PEOPLE. In many cultures, the standard advice given to someone who is feeling low is for them to help someone else. Taking the focus off your life and being useful, as opposed to used, feels good. Humans are collaborative and co-operative animals with social hierarchies based, in part, on helping one another.

    HAVE INTEGRITY. So many people think they have to be ruthless to get ahead in life but the truth is, scarce things are valuable. People who will tell you the truth and do what they say are rare and beautiful.
    Don’t confuse being good with being weak. This is another controversial one. I used to think there were only 2 types of people in the world: Victims and Oppressors. Since I didn’t want to be a bad guy, I just did whatever I thought other people wanted. That didn’t make me nice, it made me weak because given the opportunity to be “good” but also in conflict, I would immediately back down. It has occurred to me that only who can be genuinely “good” are strong enough to choose to be good, rather than those who have to “play nice” out of fear.

    Continually forgive yourself: You will make mistakes. No-one is perfect. You’ll slip backwards sometimes and have a bad day. Learn what you can about what you did wrong, draw a line under the event and move forward with purpose.

    Let toxic people go: Some of us are forgiving and sensitive to the point where it’s pathological. If someone has proven they are untrustworthy or never put your needs first, leave. There are good people out there, you are closer to finding them if you’re single than with the wrong person. Even certain family members need to go. Just ask yourself whether someone gives you Net-positive feelings when you take into account the good and the bad. If the answer is no, well it might be time for a little ruthlessness. It’s OK to prioritise your mental health over someone else’s feelings.

     

    What about when really bad things happen?

    It’s true that in spite of all your best efforts, horrible and unfair things will still happen. A loved one might die, you might get sick or lose your job or home. In all honesty, nothing short of a magic wand can prevent these things. There’s a great saying “A brave man only dies once. A coward dies 1000 times.” It means that if you live right, bad things will still happen and you will still die. But you won’t spend your life in misery on top of that.

    If something bad happens that I can do something about, such as losing my job, I do the following: Take a moment to clear your head and come to grips with the reality of what is happening. List everything you need to do in order to take steps in the right direction. Get to work on it, as though your life depended on it. You’d be surprised but this left me feeling quite positive about the prospect of finding a new career path. Challenges are not bad. They give us the opportunity to shine.

    Even terrible things we can do nothing to prevent can be an opportunity to handle it with dignity and to make ourselves proud. There are endless stories about people on their death bed, asking about their loved ones because even at the end of their life, they wanted to be helpful. I remember reading about a man in the Holocaust who had been selected to be shot and realising he couldn’t save himself, he took the opportunity to mock Hitler and give everyone a well-deserved laugh. These are small victories but we can’t prevent suffering or death. If all you can do is damage-limitation then do that.

    So where am I now?

    With all of these techniques, battling all of those years of suffering, am I pleased with my progress? Would I have done it again, given the opportunity? Definitely. I’d do it all again, and as urgently as possible.

    I am 95-99% improved in body, mind and spirit.

    I no longer drink to get drunk because I don’t want to escape my life.

    I exercise, meditate and breathe now because they make me feel great. There’s no effort involved.

    I’ve met many new people, formed new relationships and applied for much better jobs with confidence and direction.

     

    Life isn’t perfect but it’s infinitely better than it has been for the last 26 years.

    – Alex Morgan