Attachment, Part 2

Just wanted to follow up from my last post, because this is an area where I imagine that things will continue to be messy for a long time. Not necessarily bad, but messy – of course, many things that are worthwhile are.

I’m pretty sure that the whole anxious attachment style allies not only to romantic relationships, but also to friendships, as well. I know that in the past, when a friend who is very close has suddenly decided to stop talking to me for an extended period of time, I immediately assume it was somehow my fault, even when there is no evidence of that – partly because I want to continue to think the best of my friends, and partly because I don’t have a historically high self-esteem. I think there’s probably a middle ground there, though – just because a friend has stopped communication, it doesn’t mean I did anything wrong – and it also doesn’t mean they did, either. Especially if I don’t know what happened to cause the radio silence, I need to work on my obsessing about why it happened, because it’s often painful and severely distracting for me. I do prefer it is I know what happened, but sometimes a person just needs some space, and even as a good friend I am not entitled to know what’s going on with them – as much as I may want to, it is up to my friend to communicate, or not. I do still hope that my friends feel like they can come to me if they need to talk, though.

In cases where the relationship becomes a bit more confusing, though, so does everything else. Having romantic feelings for another person seems to cause a whole new bundle of things to go right – or wrong, depending on how things work out. I know that when my heart gets involved, The characteristics of an anxious attachment type come out in force. I want more intimacy – whether mental, emotional, or physical – from the relationship, because that’s always been one of the hallmarks of a romantic relationship in my head. And I know that for some people I’ll probably run into, and maybe even fall for, this will be a big issue, because one of the big points raised in the book Attached I mentioned in my previous post is that people of the anxious type are often drawn to people of the avoidant type – and this can lead to a lot of misery.As they note in Attached, anxious attachment type people probably shouldn’t get together with avoidant people for several reasons:

  • where anxious people want closeness and intimacy, avoidant people want to maintain distance, emotional and/or physical
  • where anxious people are very sensitive to signs of rejection, avoidant people often send mixed signals that can come across as rejecting
  • where anxious people find it hard to tell a partner directly what they need and what is bothering them, avoidant people tend to be bad at reading verbal or nonverbal cues and/or don’t think it is their responsibility to do so
  • while anxious people need to be reassured and to feel loved and cared for, avoidant people will often put a partner down or withdraw emotionally to create the distance the desire
  • where anxious people want to know exactly where they stand in a relationship, avoidant people prefer to keep things fuzzy and undefined
  • while anxious people want to be able to depend heavily on their partner, avoidant people feel a strong need to assert their independence in relationships

If you look at this and think you’ve gone through a relationship where things like this have happened, then you’ve fallen into what the authors of Attached call the Anxious-Avoidant Trap – an anxious partner will pursue their partner for intimacy, while the avoidant partner will pull away for independence, in a vicious cycle that tends to continue until the avoidant person decides to move on or the anxious person can work up the will to try to break out of a relationship that isn’t good for them – which requires a lot of willpower because the anxious partner has likely formed a deep attachment to the other person, and even leaving a bad relationship can be really hard if you love someone a great deal.

Now, I don’t mean to say that avoidant attachment type people are bad people – far from it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be independent; it’s caused a lot of things to get done in the world, because sometimes you just have to do things yourself without waiting for others. I just wanted to point out that, when anxious attachment type people and avoidant attachemnt type people get together, there is a lot of potential for things to go really wrong. Relationships between anxious and avoidant people can work, of course, and they can even be really rewarding – but they require a lot of self-awareness and willingness to put a lot of work into the relationship from both parties, and that is hard a lot of the time.

I’m not sure what my relationship status is, honestly. I wish I knew more, but I’m sadly still pretty new to this, so I guess I’ll see how things go, and whether my new information will make any difference.

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Bad Day

Yesterday was not a good day for me.

It really started Sunday night; sometime around 9 or 10 PM, I started feeling intensely sad and lonely. At that time of night, there’s really not much that cane be done for the lonely part, and the sad part didn’t really seem to have a cause – it was just a rush of emotion that came out of seemingly nowhere and just made me feel lousy. Then Monday started, and things got worse. I went to work on Monday morning, and while I was boxing up books to send back to the publishers, I just kept feeling these waves of emotion. It was always sadness, and it happened pretty regularly, every 15-20 minutes. I would be doing just fine, and then bam, sadness, and I felt like I was about to start crying – which would have been hard to explain at work. That happened basically all day, and while I was on break I told a couple friends, but they were either working shifts that started before mine ended, making them unavailable, or having their own issues, which might not have made for the best company. So I just had to tough it out, go home, get dinner, get in touch with some people, and hope for a better day today. It probably didn’t help that I was turned down – again – for certified peer specialist training, which I only got notification of as I was coming home from work; that’s something I really want to do, but they keep telling me that the people they give preference to are either working or volunteering in the field. I wonder how, though; every place I’ve talked to that deals with mental health and accepts volunteers doesn’t have anything like a certified peer specialist area, and apparently volunteering with NAMI, while the right general area, doesn’t count. It’s really frustrating, especially since the next session of training won;t be offered until next January.

I’m not really sure how today is going to go, though it hasn’t started so well – I’m not normally up at this time, but I just woke up at around 5:30 sweating like crazy and didn’t feel tired anymore. One of my friends had recommended journaling as a way to try to work things through in my head, and while I just didn’t have the energy for it last night, right now is a different story. I’m not really sure what brought on these erratic waves of emotion, but I have been feeling kind of lonely for the last few days; the work schedules of me and my friends have been clashing this last week, so they seemed to be working whenever I wasn’t and vice versa – and Calla has been busy with family from out of town, which is leaving her stressed and frayed and without much time to herself, let alone to hang out with me.

I’m writing this knowing that my mother, at least, will read this, and probably my sister, and some other friends. I know that my history in this area has been pretty bad, but I’ve managed to make it here for over a year, and I don’t think a couple bad days will affect me long-term. I’m going to try to meet up with a couple friends after work tonight, and I hope that will help out; traditionally, being around my friends always cheers me up, even if we’re not together for long. And tomorrow I go to see my therapist, which will also help; he’ll probably have some ideas on what might have brought this on. If nothing else, I can always try to go see my psychiatrist and ask him what he thinks; this may just be some odd kind of seasonal issue. I’m feeling bad right now, but I’m not feeling particularly worried; one or two days of badness does not a pattern make, and as someone with depression, I know that occasionally there will be days like this. Generally, though, I hope that they won’t be on days when I work, because trying to explain to my fellow employees why I just started crying for no apparent reason is not something I look forward to.

Hell, it might just have been a Monday thing. Maybe, like Garfield, my psyche just hates Mondays. I guess I’ll find out.

Friends & Family

I know a lot of what I write in this blog is about me – largely because, well, I only spend time inside my own head, so I find it hard to speak for others. I do know, however, that it is not just people who have mental illness who suffer – their friends and families often do, as well. While our heads may be going haywire and things aren’t working correctly, our loved ones often have even less idea what is going on with us. We act erratically, we do stupid or dangerous things, and we stop making sense. 

I haven’t been in that place, really, but I have some idea what it can be like to be outside looking in, helpless to really do much besides provide support. A lot of my friends have their own mental issues, and as familiar with them as I might be, I can’t truly know what is going on in their heads. So when they start to act strange, or do things that scare me, often there isn’t much I can do besides offer my support and see if there is anything they think I can do for them. I have a slight advantage given that I suffer from a mental illness myself, so I have some idea of the wackiness that must be occurring, but that isn’t a lot of comfort.

I wonder if there isn’t more I can do. Not necessarily for the people who are stuck with their mental issues – though I also want to help them – but maybe to help the friends and family who are stuck on the outside. I know that feeling of fear when a friend is talking about committing suicide; I know how terrible it feels when someone you love feels that they are worthless and unlovable. So I wonder if there is some way – maybe something I could write, since that is one of my strengths – to help get family and friends into a headspace where they can, if not understand what is going through their loved one’s head, then at least accept it and work with them to try to help. I’m not really sure what I can do – my mother has suggested maybe writing a pamphlet, something short and relatively succinct. That might be a way to work. I don’t know that my often snarky tone will always be appropriate, but maybe I could do something to assuage some fears and help everyone on both sides. 

I’m not really sure, though. Does anyone have any suggestions? Any resources they feel might be helpful for something like this? I am open to suggestions, because I don’t really know where to go with this. But I’m willing to find out.

The Guide to Me

Most of my readers probably won’t find any use in this, but this is something that has been bouncing around in my head for a while, and so it kind of needs to get out. Maybe someone I know will find it useful, or it will just be useful to have it out of my head where I can see it. Basically, it is what it says in the subject line – a guide to (what I see as) the important parts of my personality.

1. I’m a geek, and proud of it. I like Star Wars, and Star Trek; I can quote the Jedi and Sith Codes. I love to read comics (Marvel over DC any day of the week). I have been to see every Marvel movie thus far in theaters, and I hope to continue to do so. I grew up reading D&D novels, be they Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms, or Dark Sun. Many of my favorite books are science fiction and fantasy, and if prompted I could spend the better part of the day talking about them. I own the Extended Editions of all three Lord of the Rings movies, and the first Hobbit – and several editions of the books, as well. I love tabletop roleplaying games, video games, and going to Renaissance Faires – I even have a sword hanging on my wall.

2. Consequently, I can be, well, a bit of a nerd. I don’t bust my geekery out a lot, because I know many of my friends don’t share it, and it can get kind of annoying to have (or be) the guy going on and on about his favorite comic book characters and who would win in a fight (hint: it’s always Squirrel Girl). I went to see the second Thor movie and the second Hobbit movie alone, because I didn’t want to drag other people who might not enjoy them. I was terribly grateful to Calla for not only going to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier with me last weekend, but coming over to watch the first one, as well.

3. I’m kind of an academic. I’ve had critical thinking kind of beaten into me over the last 8-10 years, and so it is the way my mind works. I like to read books on literary criticism, or articles on medieval literature (particularly works like Beowulf). Lately, I read a lot of mental health books, trying to wrap my head around the way that other people’s minds work so that I can see where they might be coming from.

4. I spend a lot of time stuck in my head. This might be related to the academic point, but I spend a great deal of time thinking about what I’m going to say. if I feel I don’t have anything worthwhile to add, or that anything I add will just be seen as offensive, I don’t say anything. Sometimes, I overthink things, and don’t talk about my thoughts or feelings when I should because of this. Its a habit I am trying to break.

5. I am extremely loyal to my friends. It tends to take me a while to warm up to people, and it can be hard to get to know me, but once I consider you to be a friend, there is very little I won’t do for you. It tends to apply even to friends I haven’t seen or heard from in a while – if a friend from Menninger who I haven’t heard from since leaving asked me for help, I’d do what I could to assist. I trust my friends implicitly, though I don’t ask for or require the same in return; I know a lot of people don’t tend to trust to the same degree that I do.

6. I’m hard to get to know. Because I tend to be rather terse, and I tend to hold a lot of my thoughts and feelings inside around people I haven’t yet gotten to know, I can seem aloof, arrogant, or out-of-touch. Generally, I’m not any of those things, but I have a tough time getting to know people in most situations. It was a big surprise to me that I ended up making so many friends in Menninger, and that I have managed to stay close to so many of them outside.

7. I’m an introvert – which you may have guess from the last few things. I tend to keep to myself in social settings when I don’t know everyone, and my conversations can be awkward, because I can run out of things to say easily. I would imagine most people who have met me can agree about this, at least initially; without knowing people, I have a tough time interacting. Also, being too social with people I don’ know well tends to tire me out pretty quickly, so I need some time to myself after things like that. Living alone is thus both a blessing and a curse, because it means I don’t see people as often as I would if I had a roommate, but I also get time to recharge.

8. I’m pretty liberal, politically speaking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will always hold a strong liberal stance on everything. I realize that a lot of far-left positions are pretty crazy, much like the far-right stuff, but I think there needs to be more thought and conversation (and even compromise) put into modern US politics, and less bloviating, invective, and general hate between the Democrats and Republicans.

9. I’m an atheist (though I’m leaning towards agnostic, or maybe something else). This doesn’t mean I am anti-religion, though. I grew up Catholic, and at some point during my undergrad years I didn’t feel like I had faith in a greater power anymore, and haven’t much since (though a bit recently). But I understand religion, and I don’t think other people should give theirs up because I lost my faith. I’m not going to rail against religion unless it is something I see as blatantly stupid or crazy, and even that tends to be more religion getting into politics – or you try to tell me that because I don’t believe in a deity, that I can’t have morals. them’s fightin’ words.

10. As you might have noticed from my post about Captain America, and some older posts about my moral sense, I have a pretty strong sense of what is right and wrong, and I get a lot of those from strange sources – D&D has been a big contributor in that regard, as well as chivalric medieval fiction. Now, I don’t always live up to my own standards, but I do try to, and I have trouble even playing bad guys – I can’t even play a Dark Side character in a Star Wars video game.

11. There are certain things which can evoke strong emotions from me. Some of them are obvious – losing a dear family member, friend, or pet; saying goodbye to someone I won’t see again for a long time; the end of a relationship. Others, however, can be kind of odd. There are certain portions of several books that cause me to tear up when I read them, and for whatever reason, musicals (Les Miserables, for example) can bring me to tears, as well. Pictures don’t really seem to do it, but I could be proven wrong. It’s hard for me to admit that, because I spent so long trying to avoid crying in front of other people that I just held it in until I could fall apart alone, but I’m getting more used to expressing that.

12. I am a happy omnivore. I like eating meat products. Hell, I like to eat a lot of things that are bad for me. I’ve never tried being vegetarian or vegan, and I don’t plan to – with the amount of vegetables and fruits I like,my diet would get boring really fast. I do like cooking, though, which is something I never thought I would say a year ago. It’s a fun exercise, and it is really good for helping to keep myself in the moment – plus it means I can cook all sorts of fun stuff. And I haven’t given myself food poisoning yet!

13. I communicate much more clearly through the written word than the spoken. Now, given that I write a blog, this is probably a good thing; if I did a podcast, it would be full of awkward silence and ‘um, uh…’. This can be a bit difficult when trying to communicate difficult or emotional (or both) topics. Telling people who are important to me how I feel is really, really hard for me in person, but I know that in text it seems impersonal, so it’s another thing I am working on. There’s at least one person who could judge how well that work is going, but it’s up to her to tell me that.

14. I tend to be pretty easygoing with most things. If a friend wants to do something I’ve never done before, I’m up for it. If I get asked to do something I’ve never done before at work,. all I need to know is what to do differently and I’ll do it. I’ll watch romance, action, comedy, or documentary,, and I am open to new things.

15. Connected to the loyalty to friends above, I also can get attached to other people, and that can become awkward. Like I blogged a few days ago, I can be really insecure with people I am close to, and the closer, the more insecure. This can make for some very awkward relationships, because I can get a bit clingy if I feel like I’m drifting away. I am trying to work on that, though. Man, I seem to be working on a lot of things.

16. I’m a smartass. I am constantly trying to avoid saying something too offensive, because I almost always have a smartass remark or response to things. It’s amusing, but can also be annoying. I’m not working on it, though, because I kind of enjoy it.

Well, that’s what I have right now. I may have more to add later. Or others might have things of their own to add, because as was pointed out to me at both Menninger and the stepdown, we don’t see ourselves the same way others do

Gratitude Update

It’s been a while since I’ve done a gratitude challenge, and while I don’t really feel the need to do another at the moment, I though I might do something different. I’m just going to make a list of people and things I’m grateful for at the moment, and why; obviously it won’t be complete, because there are a number of people I am grateful to who choose to maintain anonymity here. But I will try to make a list of those who aren’t anonymous, and try to express my gratitude for those who are anonymous in my own way.

First, I am grateful to my parents. They have done so much for me; they supported my coming down to Menninger, they went along with my decision to move to Houston, they have provided valuable support, emotional, physical, and financial, and they have helped me to figure out where I am going. This is, of course, in addition to the support they gave me raising me, educating me, and supporting me even thought they might not have understood what was going on in my head. Without them, none of this is possible.

Second, I am grateful to my sister. It was her recommendation that I come to Menninger, and her education in social work has provided some valuable insights. This is in addition to the support she has given me as a family member; even though I haven’t seen her in months, she’s been a strong presence in my life. I don’t tell her how grateful I am to her enough.

Third, the rest of my family. While many of them may not be aware of the full extent of what has happened with me in the last year, they have all proven to be supportive, and I’m glad that, unlike some people I know, I haven’t been shut out of family support.

Fourth, Calla. She became a very close friend – and possibly more – in a short period of time, and I can only hope to provide the kind of joy to her that she has to me. I look forward to hearing from her, and every time I do it lifts my spirits.

Next, to Laurel. Though we may not always see things the same way, she has been a supportive friend and has helped me to shake myself out of some pretty unpleasant times. I know she’s been having a rough time, but I hope she knows that I’m always here as a support.

After that, Alicia and her husband. They are old friends – my oldest – and they were great supports to me even before I came down to Houston. Even though we don’t talk as often as we used to, I still value their friendship extremely highly; I don’t know when I’ll see them again, but I hope it will be soon.

On to AV and his wife. After Alicia and her husband, they are my next oldest friends, and have stood by me even in my darkest moments. Though we’ve moved to very different areas – both mental and physical – and our lives are very different, they’ve been a great help to me.

To my other friends, you are all very dear to me. While some of you may not be in as much contact with me as others, and many of you may never read this, I owe you more than I can say. You are all amazing people, and I’m honored to be a part of your lives.

To my therapist, you have been invaluable in helping me to realize where I am, where I’ve been, and where I want to go. You listen to all my problems, even the ones that seem trivial and stupid, but you help me to work through a lot of things – and lead me in directions – I wouldn’t go myself. I wouldn’t be where I am now without your help.

To my doctors – both psychiatric and internal – you have helped to keep me physically healthy – something which is invaluable in treating my mental health. Being mentally healthy doesn’t mean much if I can’t also keep my body going. Your work keeps me going.

To my fellow patients, peers, support group members, and class participants – your help and understanding have been invaluable in helping me to where I am. The things I have heard, and the things I have told you, and the confidence they have all been kept in, have helped to build my understanding of both myself and other people, and my knowledge of all kinds of mental illness. I only hope that I have been helpful to you.

To my co-workers, getting to know you has been a breath of fresh air; it’s one of the few areas of my life that really has little or nothing to do with mental illness. Your knowledge of books and the way bookstores work is fascinating to me, and I am glad to be able to spend time with you. My back may not appreciate standing at the cash register, but talking with you has been great.

To my followers here, and on Twitter, and other social networks – your interaction with my words may be silent, but it is nonetheless there. I don’t know if what I say here helps anyone, or provides any insight into the kind of experiences in mental health care and mental illness, but I hope it does. I’m glad you take the time to read what I write.

I’m certain I am leaving some people out, and for that I apologize. These people are all the ones that come to mind, but bear in mind that it is late and I may not cover all my bases. I just felt the need to try and do this, and it feels like a weight off my chest to have this out.

Life Support

I have found that one of the most important things in treatment – at least for me – is the existence of a healthy support system. In my case, that consists of my friends, my family, my therapist, and any doctors involved – as well as, currently, my co-workers. To a certain extent, a support system has to be nearby. I know that while I was living in St. Louis, my closest friends weren’t nearby, and so while I could talk to them on the phone, I rarely got to see them face-to-face. That was a big pat of my feeling disconnected.

Living in Houston, I have friends who are close by – several of them live in the same apartment complex with me, in fact. We can see each other on a regular basis. That doesn’t make my other friends any less important to me; I still talk to them often. But having people I can see and get together with makes me feel like I am part of the community here, in a way I never really felt in St. Louis. So, while I don’t get to see my family as often as I did when I lived with them, I still talk to them, and I got to see them over Christmas.

It’s important for me to be a part of the support systems of others, too. I know that I’m a friend for Calla, and I view that as a privilege; I view being a part of all my friends’ support systems as a privilege, actually, I just don’t tell them that nearly enough. I also can’t really mention them by name here, which makes it a little tricky. Being part of a community is a big deal, for all of us, since we are social creatures – and many of my friends here in Houston came here from elsewhere, and we have shared experiences which bring us together.

It’s not just friends, though. Having my therapist and psychiatrist is also a big part of things. I can talk to both of them about issues that don’t really come up in everyday conversations with my friends – not that my friends can’t handle them, but talking about variations in medication schedule isn’t exactly a thrilling conversation topic, you know? Also, the support I get from my therapist is different than the support I get from my friends. It’s hard to explain, but both kinds are helpful.

Friends, family, doctors, co-workers, support groups – they’re all important to me in my continuing life. I don’t know that I need all of them, all the time, but I do not that the support system I have formed here has helped me to get where I am now. Which is a far, far better place than I was a little over a year ago. My health isn’t totally due to that – the things I learned in treatment and my medication also play big roles – but the support system is a necessary part.

Unarmored

I’m not sure if I’ve talked about vulnerability on this blog before. I know I have mentioned Brene Brown before, because I have seen a couple of her TED Talks and really enjoyed them. She’s pretty local to the Houston area, but that’s not really relevant, just a neat fact. I’m in the midst of reading through her most recent book, Daring Greatly (yeah, a B&N link, what do you expect?), and it is, in large part, about how being vulnerable to others is a strength, not a weakness, and necessary to find real connections.

Now, it is an interesting subject to me, because for a long time, I was very reluctant to open up to other people. A few years ago, I never would have been able to write a blog like this, for example. But some of what I have been reading has me wondering – am I really being vulnerable on this blog? Yes, I share a lot of personal details, but it is a very impersonal setting. Aside from those readers who are personally known to me, I will likely never meet any of my readers, and what others choose to say about me here has no real effect on me – while I can say I have never edited or deleted a comment, you have to take my word for it, because there’s no way for you to really know.

Real vulnerability comes from being open to the people around you. Now, this doesn’t mean telling everyone your personal secrets, but it does mean that the people you care about, to some degree, have to be allowed into your life if you want to form real emotional bonds. That’s hard for a lot of people. I mean, it was hard for me for a long time. I think that was a large part of why I didn’t have any close friends in St. Louis – I didn’t want to let anyone get close or open up to them. I’m not really sure why that is, but it kept me from forming any close friendships there, which is a large part of what led me to my suicide attempt last year (whoa, last year; has it really been that long?). 

Now, I’m not all the way through the book; I just finished a long chapter on shame. But that chapter kept me awake, and reading, even on a long night when I would otherwise have gladly gone to sleep. But if the rest of the book is like the chapter on shame, then I think a lot more people should read it. Check it out – Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Read it, and get back to me.