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Facing my fear of public speaking

6 Jul

10:22 pm

And, it’s about time, eh?  It’s only been 13 years!

Seriously.  I’ve had what some call fear, what others call performance anxiety or a social phobia around speaking in front of groups for 13 years–ever since that fateful day in one of my graduate school seminars where I literally lost control of myself and shut down during a group presentation.  I am sure I must have drunk the night before, so there was some element of alcohol involved, which probably served to heighten the feelings of panic.  A few months prior, I had also had my first literal panic attack in another class, so my nerves had already been rewired/primed for panic by the time this incident happened.

What actually happened was what happens now, every time I speak in front of any group, whether comprised of strangers or friends:  my heart starts to beat UNCONTROLLABLY hard; I can’t breathe; I can’t speak; and I feel SO nervous and amped up by all this stuff going on inside my body that I feel like I’m about to pass out.

Before these past few months, I’ve been able to straight up avoid EVER talking in front of groups.  Of course, I’ve had to endure these occasions once in a while–saying goodbye to a group of fellow volunteers on a volunteer project; saying my name and what I do in front of a group of my coworkers–and they have felt utterly horrific.  My heart pounds, my entire body starts shaking, my voice starts wavering, or, I just can’t breathe and start to dart around in place, wishing with my entire being that I could just GET THE EFF out of that room.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I found out that I have to give a (short, probably not a big deal) presentation for my job in front of my (small, only about 20 folks) team at a group meeting in July.  UGH.  I’ve literally been obsessing about it since I found out a few weeks ago–like, extremely nervous at even the thought of standing up, talking, trying to figure out how the heck I’m going to remain standing.  I haven’t even been able to imagine past the first few seconds of my talk.

So, I decided two weeks ago that I just need to resolve this–if not solve my problem, then somehow resolve it.  I made an appointment with a psychiatrist, hoping/thinking that he’d prescribe me either Xanax or some other benzo used for panic attacks.  Come to find out, there are tons of people just like me, and they are all using beta blockers!?  The doc gave me a prescription for a beta blocker; long story short, I went to a public speaking group the other night to “try it out,” and uh, I actually stood in front of a group of strangers willingly and talked my head off–no nerves, no aversion, no shaking voice, no sign that I wasn’t “a natural,” as several people who congratulated me after I came down told me.  (what a fraud, I laughed on the inside; hey, whatever it takes, the other me shot back)

Either the drug worked, or I just didn’t feel that much anxiety in this particular situation.  The people I was speaking in front of were warm and welcoming; strangers; no one related to my job, I thought.  Hmm.  There was no sense of, I have to perform my JOB AS A WRITER, which is connected to this talk, PERFECTLY, or someone somewhere is going to find out what a fraud I am, what an imposter!

I am fairly sure that this drug will help me–it’s already sort of stopped that creeping sense of anxiety I had even just a few days ago, thinking about my work event–to “retrain” my brain, at least a little.  I’ve witnessed that I can get up there and actually talk in front of people without that horrifying sense of fear and panic, and that has somehow already rewired me to feel less nervous about the upcoming work thing.

Still.  What if I was just not nervous enough because these people have nothing to do with work?  Because I don’t care what they think?  Because I felt safe there, and not judged?  It’s interesting to me that this sort of PTSD surrounding talking in front of groups revolves not necessarily around all groups, only groups where I am performing and that performance is based on something that I feel insecure about (apparently, writing).

What surprised me more than this discovery–I kind of knew that this is a form of PTSD; what I didn’t know what how intertwined it is with my sense of imposter syndrome related to writing and journalism–was how empowering and relieving it was to dredge up my drinking past, my panic attack past (related to my drinking past) with an actual psychotherapist!  I haven’t really talked about it in years; I stopped going to AA years ago, too.  It was nice to just get it out there again, in the open.

I am so tired of this old story about my fear of public speaking; I wasn’t always like this, and I have to believe that nothing is impossible, that this story I have told myself for 13 years is not forever truth.  I have to believe that I can tell a new story about myself when it comes to public speaking–and frankly, I AM starting to believe that it could be as simple as some medication and exposure therapy to at least allow myself to survive these public speaking situations.

It just feels good to have finally stopped running from what has obviously affected both my professional and personal life for almost a decade and a half.

Now, we’ll have to wait and see how things pan out at my work even in a few weeks.  Sure, I am dreading it, but with this medication and a few more practice runs at the public speaking group and other events (maybe speaking at an AA meeting?), I might just survive.  (I am not looking to THRIVE as a public speaker at this point, just survive; and that’s good enough for me right now.)

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Being here, and now

23 Jun

10:37 pm

Just a quick post tonight to say, be here, now.

DDG, try to stay in the moment and, be here, in the now.

After a great workout this morning–where I thought of nothing but how nervous my job is making me and that I have GOT to get some Xanax or something to bring along with me to the next team meeting if I’m EVER going to get through the presentation that I’ve been tasked with giving–and a nice evening on the beach; I realized just how hard it has become for me to stay in the moment these days.  If I’m not obsessively checking my work email and making my work to-do lists, I’m checking personal email or scrolling through Facebook and LinkedIn.  I am always thinking about something, or thinking I should be thinking about something; I am forever making plans, or making contingency plans.  It’s starting to feel a bit obsessive.

When I was getting sober, I didn’t feel so wound up.  When I was working at my last job, I didn’t feel so controlling.  I feel like there is a lot riding on me staying focused these days, especially at my new job.  I do have a lot to get done–thing is, I don’t have to do it all perfectly, and I probably could get away with not getting it all done!  I keep telling myself I have nothing to prove, yet, around every corner, I am doing things that scream, Love me!

Lately, I’ve been feeling like if I let one thing go, the entire sweater will come undone, the house will collapse, everyone will find out that I’m really an imposter.  And let’s face it, these days, I’d rather not be writing most of what I have to write as a science writer, sitting on a beach in a meditative state.  I’d MUCH RATHER not be pretending to care about chasing after the rewards of the rat race.  Island life taught me that it’s OK to reject these ideas and it’s even more OK to choose to live a life that does not glorify them.  Yet, I’m in this new life out of choice, so…I had better learn to live in it without having panic attacks!

There MUST be some value in literally refusing to let one’s mind wander.  You know, down that road of distraction via social media, or negative thinking by way of obsessing over events yet to happen.  I’ve been guilty of both of those lately, and I have to believe that forcing myself to think positively–differently, at least, than I have been doing lately–will have some sort of impact on moving my thoughts to a different place and/or new level, to staying in the here and now.

I MISS that me, that girl who somehow, after all her time chasing and competing on the mainland, was able to finally unwind and unplug and learn how to just sit, and breathe, and embrace the rich nothingness of the moment.  These days, I am preoccupied and miss the richness of a lot of my moments.  My goal in the next few weeks is to focus on learning to stay here, now, while also getting my work done; to breathing through my anxiety and thinking beyond it; to remaining at least somewhat of a willing participant in the life I have chosen.

I know it won’t be forever, and I’ll come around to finding a new here and now.  But for now?  Stay in the moment, DDG.  Be here, and now.

Making assumptions

9 Jun

12:20 pm

You know how everything in years past came back to drinking and getting sober?  Well, these days, everything seems to be coming back to perimenopause–and you know what?  I am no longer going to be afraid or apologetic writing about it on this blog.  It’s a HUGE reality for me, for women in general, I have to think; and that means it occupies a lot of headspace and takes its toll in many areas of one’s life!?

Perimenopause.  Menopause.  Getting older.  Women’s bodies.  HORMONES.  Of course, I GET it, I get why people are afraid to talk about it!  Women’s issues are taboo, women’s bodies are not our own; we’re not supposed to talk about them lest we start asking questions and become, oh, I don’t know, advocates for our own health!  Really, I get why everyone, women included, are afraid to broach the subject in public forums.

What I don’t get is why they won’t talk about it even in private!?  I mean, do women have THAT far to go that even women themselves won’t talk about it, as if it’s something to loathe, be afraid of, be ashamed by?  You know, it’s not just my own gynecologists, who have brushed me off or implied that I should just get over it, get on with it; it’s my women friends who have gone through it or are going through it, and they either don’t want to talk about it with me/at all, or they try to pass it off as something that isn’t, well, kind of, sort of horrible.

I mean, you are fucking breaking out into a cold sweat before my eyes, and you’re still smiling as if it doesn’t bother you?  I get being positive and all that, but what about being real?

Beyond the physical changes, it means you’re getting old–and, I refuse to believe that I am the only woman who primarily associates this (at least at first, until I get a grip on getting older), with losing my sexuality and losing my youth and all that that entails in our culture!?  I really wish that were the case, actually; I am used to my own paranoia, and it’d be great to know that I am, indeed, the only one who feels this way.  BUT, I really, truly doubt it.

See, I refuse to hide the fact that this is driving me a bit crazy and angry and mad and frustrated and sad; that I’ve wondered if this night heat is THE THING that is worth starting drinking again over (it would be much easier to pass through the three to five hours of night heat if I was drunk); that I’ve always known that the pill offers relief but that it’s SO FAR from matching what is usually happening in a woman’s body that it might well be partly causing my lack of optimism and sometimes-paranoia.

Lately, I feel like I have become a bit paranoid.  For example, I wonder if my coworkers don’t like me, or are annoyed by me.  I am chalking it up to things beyond my control, and to politics–I don’t truly believe that my work is not good.  At home, I have been wondering if my love no longer likes me as a person–again, or course, I truly don’t believe that, and I know that he’s going through some tough transitions now, as am I…

I don’t want to make assumptions anymore, though, about what people want to hear about or talk about–if you’re still reading, that means you do want to hear about this and I’m glad!  I partly attribute this sometimes-paranoia to my hermetic lifestyle–making assumptions involves getting inside your head and not coming out for reality checks, which is usually helped by interacting with friends who normalize your tendency toward outlier (extreme, probably unhealthy) thinking and behavior.  I need more friends.  I need, in a word, to get out more!

I won’t assume that you, my awesome readers, don’t want to hear about my thoughts on perimenopause.  I won’t assume that my man doesn’t like or love me because he told me not to step in horseshit yesterday on our hike (haha–it sounds funny now).  I won’t assume that my coworkers don’t like me because one or two of them have personal issues and are using my writing to play politics in the workplace.

Onward, toward clarity and optimism, I hope.

(I have to say, my burning up at night has gotten a lot better after starting a new pill, with higher dose estrogen, and after making it through the first 10 hellish days on the pack.  I hope that it just keeps getting better from here on out.  I do turn 45 this week–a part of me realizes how young I am, while another part just wants this phase to be over with!)

Take a break, and celebrate yourself…

12 May

8:37 pm

Because, I hate to say this as it belies a certain degree of cynicism, no one else is going to do it for you!

I have had a really busy past six months, and a lot of the time, I’ve felt like I’ve been totally making it up as I go/feeling my way forward.  My new job has been a total trip–new type of job, new amount of workload, new people and personalities to deal with, and on top if it all, a whole new realm of science and health to learn.  Let’s also not forget that I’ve been sort of relearning how to write journalistically–since, well, honestly, I haven’t done so in years.

I have been dealing with the ups and downs of perimenopause, and frankly, I think if this is it, then I’m pretty lucky.  I finally got through a bunch of tests that showed what I knew all along:  my hormones are changing and I have one of two choices, either treat them with birth control or naturally, or don’t treat them and wait for them to ebb and flow (and they do, and they have; right now, while I am still experiencing my night heat/dry chills, it’s totally eased up/almost disappeared).  I am taking the pill, and that comes with a host of side effects if your hormones are going up and down, which I’ve recently discovered (headaches, nausea, a slight feeling of being crazy/anxious thoughts).  BUT, it sure beats the night heat, which, even if that comes and goes, I’d rather not experience at all.  I will be 45 this year, and my earliest symptoms of perimenopause started when I was 39, so…hopefully I’ll be done soon!  Haha.  Bring it on!

You know, at my last appointment with my gynecologist, she was like, well, your eggs are old, you are definitely in perimenopause, and um, if you’re trying to use your own eggs to have kids, it’s not going to work; you’ll have to use an egg donor.  And, I felt nothing.  I felt no sadness, nothing.  And, it was kind of glorious.  I remember when I started this blog, in 2012, I was freaking OUT about should I/shouldn’t I have kids…  And, to have it come and go, and to have my doctor straight up tell me, you are past the age, gurl; and to NOT feel anything negative?  It just goes to show that everyone is different, and I’m glad I just trusted myself, who was telling me for years and years, it’s not you.  It’s not your story, to have kids.

So, there you go.  Those are the two things that have just been burning me out, in a way, as I’ve been trying to keep up with both.  This weekend was the first time in six months that I actually felt relief, like I could take a break and rest.  REST.  And, I remembered how important I made taking a break, turning it off, taking a REST when I was getting sober–it was my key to staying sober for a longer term.

Rest–essential.  Take a break–essential.  Turn it off.  Let it go.  All essential.

And, while you’re finally resting, you are able to clearly see just how much work you’ve put in, and how much you’ve accomplished; and you can finally step back and say, wow, good job.  You did it.  You are DOING IT.

So, to all the mamas out there who are getting sober, and all the non-mamas out there who are getting sober:  Rest, and know that you did it.  You’re doing it.  And you’re awesome.  (No one is going to tell you that, especially as you forge your path of long-term sobriety; so it’s up to you to honor and congratulate yourself with love, treats, and rest–whenever and wherever and however often you need them.)

The power of expectations

29 Apr

12:02 am

I’ve been thinking a lot about expectations lately–who gets to have them, if anyone, and when they should be had, basically.  In fact, I expected this post to go smoothly–I mean, I wasn’t thinking it would go any other way–and after typing a few paragraphs, I hit the wrong key and deleted everything!  Haha.  So much for my expectations!

The other day, my mom told me all about her hashtag-fail of an evening at her brother’s (my uncle’s):  in my words, he and his partner got stupid drunk (this has been happening for as long as I can remember; they love to drink, but at this point, I wonder if they might consider themselves on the alcoholic spectrum?) and said mean things, and he ended up passing out before she went home.  She expected the night to go one way, and it didn’t; I talked to her today, and she also expected him to react differently to her reaching out to follow up on his short email of an apology, and he didn’t.

I do this all the time, putting expectations on people’s behavior toward me, and then when they don’t behave how I expect or want, I become upset and almost obsessive.  Why didn’t they do this (what I thought they should have done)?  Why didn’t they say this (what I thought they should have said)?

I had a roommate about 10 years ago (man, time flies!)–in all honesty, I feel like I lost her when I decided to get sober; or, at the very least, we both had a hand in our growing apart–who was studying to be a clinical psychologist, and she was the first person to ask me why I was putting expectations on people’s behavior.  It was the first time I wondered, in fact, why I expected people to do and say things that seemed “right” to me, but that really had no basis in any universal truth or code of conduct or morality.  It was the first time I looked back at my own role in bad relationships; it helped me to start to let go of a LOT of stuff that I was holding way too close to my heart.  It helped me to stop taking everything so personally–a trait I am pretty sure I learned from my mom.

It’s really hard to not have expectations, I have to say.  I have high expectations for every weekend, but I usually don’t get as much done as I want, and I feel let down.  I had expectations of my new job (as my boo pointed out to me the other day) that I wasn’t really aware I had:  I thought my new job, because it was in the “nonprofit” realm, would be less “corporate,” but I’ve discovered over the past five months on said job that this simply is not true (and, in fact, it’s more “corporate” than any other job in the professional world I’ve held!).  I don’t know–plug in any task, chore, event, situation, and I have some level of expectation around it.

It’s also hard to determine what, actually, are expectations, and what are hopes and dreams and goals.  I don’t want to have no expectations of let’s say, my relationship or job and then not know what I’m striving to gain, or hold.  My question to self has always been, should I expect anything, and is having NO expectations a form of cynicism?  It’s almost impossible to not expect things:  when I inhale, I expect to breathe, right?  When I walk into a church or synagogue, I expect to feel and be safe (ugh).  When I interact with coworkers, I expect to be treated fairly and with an appropriate amount of professionalism…and now I’m getting into the territory of “personal ethics” versus “truth” or “morality,” and that’s where it starts to get blurry.  Not everyone has your code of personal and professional ethics!

It’s nebulous, and it’s challenging–my ideas and moods and perceptions change on a daily basis, as I hope (expect?) other people’s do, too.  How much should and how much can I expect?  Or, what expectations protect me from being cheated, or hurt, and what expectations, if not met, should force me to change something in my life in order to honor myself, others, my goals, or my worldview and set of personal ethics?

Hmm…

“Deep” thoughts for a Sunday night.

It’s a work in progress, figuring all this out; but I will say, not drinking and being hungover makes it a lot easier to see it all clearer–and, to stop introducing unnecessary complications into my relationships to people, places, and things.

On boundaries and saying ‘no’

7 Apr

12:40 pm

So, this morning, as I was scrolling Facebook, I became frustrated:

Why do I have to care about you?  Ugh, I should have gone to that thing last night–why am I so lazy, why am I so antisocial? 

And, on and on and on.  I saw in the early years of my sobriety just how much I could overthink and overanalyze, and how this contributed to my unhappiness and dependence on wine to escape my thinking.

It got me thinking about something else, too:  here I was, on a beautiful Sunday morning, and what was I doing but berating myself because I had let my Facebook feed intimidate me!

In getting sober and staying sober, I have come to realize that creating boundaries and saying ‘no’ are essential to my peace of mind.  There are a LOT of things that caused me to binge drink and drink alcoholically, and I never made the connection between that reactive behavior and the bullying forces in my life until I got sober.

In fact, there are a lot of bullies in everyone’s life–whether your friends, parents, or coworkers are consciously aware that they are being bullies is up for debate, though.  And, until I started to understand the concepts of boundaries and saying no–that there could be emotional bullying, and that this is far more prevalent than actual, literal bullying–I didn’t get that I could both say, No, I will not do that, and say no to taking on other people’s stress or expectations of me (or themselves).

It still makes me feel angry when I delve into this aspect of long-term sobriety, and I feel like this is something that will never go away completely because almost everyone out there (including myself) is engaging in some form of bullying–whether it’s dumping their emotional baggage on you, manipulating your weaknesses, or just using your reactions to make themselves feel better.  I have to remind myself, almost daily, that it’s ME who is in control of how I perceive and receive people, and how I react and interact with them–that ultimately, bullying is a two-way street.

Some real-world examples:

Facebook/social media–Before I got sober, I would scroll relentlessly, and I would allow everyone’s story to affect me.  I would internalize my feelings of “not good enough” and “guilty” and “should have, could have, would have” without realizing that one, I didn’t need to feel any of that, and two, I had control over who and what I let into my worldview.  These days, when I feel that coming on, I try to remember that social media is not real life; people posting to social media are not trying to offend me, personally; and if I want to not care, I can choose to not care and close the app.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not really interacting with my so-called friends; I have friends in the here and now, and I can interact with them–and this is healthy, and it is good enough.  These days, I would much rather engage people offline, in the real world, and not on social, email, or text.  And, some days, it’s as simple as closing the app and moving on with my day–and not judging myself to be a bad friend, somehow, because I have chosen to be a spectator on social media and not a player.

Parents–You know, before I got sober, I didn’t have as much frustration toward my parents for their mental health issues as I do now.  I knew that my mom’s difficulty setting emotional boundaries and my dad’s bullying behavior definitely contributed to my drinking, but I didn’t know exactly how.  In any case, I internalized my mom’s pain, and I always tried to please my dad–two things that I have to work very hard at today, every time I talk to them, to NOT do!

These days, I don’t know if I’ve figured out exactly how these family relationships have made me who I am, but in getting sober, I have learned that calling my parents less is OK, that not allowing them to control how I feel is OK, that putting up boundaries and saying no to their projections and expectations is OK–I wish it was different because they are in their 70s and “should know better,” but…

My mom has a lot of health problems these days, and so, our calls are always quite long and tedious. I feel like she feels slighted that I don’t call often, and I feel almost unconsciously judged for having become an alcoholic drinker and for not having had kids; but none of this matters when it comes to me needing to say no to taking on her bad mood or her feelings of helplessness.  In part, I think she wants me to share my own health problems, but I refuse to go down that road because it’s almost as if she relishes that; simply put, I DO NOT relish it.

My dad is an entirely different beast in that the family believes he has multiple actual mental health disorders, and his entire way in the world with everyone has always been about manipulating other people to do what he wants them to do for him, and expectation (I am hard on myself and need to prove my worth, so you should be, too).  I have simply come to the frustrating conclusion recently that nothing will ever change in our relationship except the way that I deal with it.  I have decided that while our conversations won’t change, and while I’ll never likely be able to directly say no to him, I can say no to his expectations–I love our life, and I don’t have to let him lead the conversation toward accomplishment as a measure of success.

Job and school stress–It took me getting sober to see that I was putting a TON of unnecessary expectations and pressure on myself for many, many years.  And, that I don’t have to respond to stress the way people around me are either responding to it or worse, telling me how I “should” respond to it.  It’s like, I don’t have to keep up with the Joneses by wanting that house, or that car, or that “bigger” job–likewise, at work, I don’t have to stress out just because my boss or coworkers are stressing out, necessarily or unnecessarily so.  You don’t have to stress out to care, or to prepare; stress will not help you have fun.  You can (and should!) take long showers, eat nice dinners, go to your yoga class, or hey, even hit the beach (man, I miss it!)–AND get your work done, and be a careful, caring employee who is worthy of her paycheck.  This mentality is really hard to push back against, but I have to push back–if not just in defense of my health, but in defense of my sobriety.

Exhale.  We all have to set boundaries and guard them fiercely, no matter if we’re getting or staying sober.  Likewise, we all get to say ‘no’–and that is a beautiful thing.  I think that is the most empowering aspect to my sobriety, and to my evolving life and lifestyle these days.  As recovering binge drinkers or alcoholics, saying no is essential to our happiness, to our joy, to our continued sobriety.

So…just say no (sometimes)!

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