All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Coping Skills: The Negative Thought Challenge

In a recent post I shared a “Coping Skills” worksheet that I obtained via Indigo Daya’s website. One of these skills was a ‘thought challenge’, wherein you write down all your negative thoughts and then make a list as to why they may not be true.

Given that I could write a dissertation on why my negative thoughts are all valid criticisms of myself, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to take on this challenge, whatever happens as a result!

negative thoughts 1

Part I: My negative thoughts…

Note: I’m not going to write every negative thought I’ve ever had in my life (otherwise this post would win an award for the longest blog post in the history of the world!) so I’ll focus only on the last twelve hours.

  • I’m a failure
  • I’m worthless
  • I’m useless
  • I have no passion(s)
  • I’m a waste of space
  • My voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to
  • I’m pathetic
  • I’m weak
  • I’m weak because I can’t just ‘get over’ the abuse I received
  • I’m unintelligent
  • I’m the most selfish human being who has ever lived in the history of the world
  • I’m the world’s worst kisser
  • I’m the world’s worst lover
  • I go down on women too much
  • I care too much about my partner orgasming
  • I’m not (sexually) selfish enough
  • I should just die
  • I don’t deserve to be alive
  • My life is pointless
  • I am pointless
  • I’m a terrible writer
  • I’m a terrible blogger
  • I’m a terrible emailer
  • I’m a terrible photographer
  • I’m a terrible everythinger
  • My photography is uninspiring, boring and monotonous
  • I use too many commas!
  • I use too many exclamation marks!!
  • My shoulder hair makes people want to vomit
  • I’m the fattest fattiest fatty who has ever lived
  • My weight is contagious
  • My self-harm is contagious
  • My illness(es) are contagious
  • I’m contagious
  • I’m unlovable
  • I’m evil
  • I’m grotesque
  • I’m insane
  • I’m too depressing
  • I’m too shy
  • I’m too anxious
  • I’m boring
  • I deserve to live alone
  • I deserve to die alone
  • I deserve to live alone and in pain
  • I deserve to die alone and in pain
  • My mind is repulsive
  • My body is repulsive
  • Heck, I’m repulsive
  • I’m a terrible friend
  • I don’t deserve to have any friends
  • No-body likes me
  • Everyone hates me
  • I should just go and eat worms!
  • It’s my fault I was abused
  • I deserved it
  • I deserve to be punished for it
  • I deserve to be punished for all eternity for it
  • My arse is too hairy
  • It’s my fault I was raped
  • I deserved it
  • I deserve to be punished for it
  • I deserve to be punished for all eternity for it
  • My mental illness(es) are a result of my own inability to cope with life’s stressors
  • Hell, my mental illness(es) are a figment of my imagination!
  • Homelessness is all I deserve out of life
  • I don’t like Harry Potter, thus I have no taste
  • My hugs are suffocating
  • I’m talentless
  • I’m a blob
  • I’m the blob!
  • My thoughts mean there is something wrong with me
  • My desires mean there is something wrong with me
  • My dreams mean there is something wrong with me
  • My thoughts/desires/dreams mean I am evil
  • There’s just something wrong with me.
  • I’m lazy
  • I don’t work hard enough
  • I don’t work hard enough to change
  • I don’t sacrifice enough
  • My opinions are invalid and deserve mockery and humiliation

Part II: Why they may not be true…

…and this is why I’m so terrible at thinking positively about myself.

All the bolded thoughts above were said to me by my abuser, those bolded and italicized were said to me frequently. As no-one believed she was doing anything wrong and I was told by many people I ‘deserved’ what she was doing…my mind concluded that they must be true, otherwise, why did I deserve being told them?

Given that the majority of these thoughts had been present prior to the abuse (some I specifically told her about), all the abuse did was make rational the irrational fears my social anxiety causes me to think.

And once a fear has been rendered rational…it’s almost impossible to deny as being untrue.

But, in the spirit of the challenge…

Is my photography really uninspiring, boring and monotonous? Although they never reach triple figures, whenever I post a ‘weekly photo challenge’ post, more often than not I receive dozens of ‘likes’ and twenty odd plus comments. Unless all these people are suffering from mass delusion, there must be something to like about my photography, isn’t there?

Ditto for my writing! People are often telling me how inspiring and enjoyable they find my blog. Plus, would an editor spend weeks helping me polish a short story and then publish it in a nationwide magazine if it was truly bad?

As for not making enough sacrifices, frankly, what THE FUCK?! I sacrificed my home, family, friends, uni course and future plans in order to move to the other side of the world purely because I loved someone. When my abuser was suffering from Glandular Fever I phoned in sick for work several times purely to look after her, in fact, for over a month I become her 24/7 nurse-maid, never once putting myself first throughout that entire period. Before that, I spent three years putting my life on hold for the benefit of my employer and staff, regularly working in excess of 60-80 hour weeks without overtime, cancelling night classes, social events and social groups in order to do so. Even though I live in abject poverty, I still find money for monthly donations to charitable organisations and have frequently done all I can, when I can, to help whomever I can (including complete strangers!) Even when I was homeless I would regularly give other homeless people money, clothes, food and blankets that I couldn’t afford to part with. Does that really sound like someone not willing to sacrifice things for the health, wellbeing and happiness of others?

You could even use the above to argue over the validity of my alleged selfishness…but the fact I wasn’t there for Grace when she needed a friend instantly renders all this evidence ineligible and one hundred percent proves my selfishness.

However, what about the negative thoughts relating to deserving to be abused? Astute readers amongst you will have connected what I was told following the emotionally abusive relationship to these thoughts. I was literally told I deserved it, ergo it must be true. But the rape? No-one told me I deserved to be raped…and I have no logical argument other than ‘guilt’ as to why I think this is true. But think it I do.

So what if I don’t like Harry Potter? There are so many better young adult fictional series (His Dark Materials, The Dark is Rising, Hunger Games, Narnia) than the tale of this young wizard. Or rather, in my opinion there are so many better young adult fictional series! Just because my opinion differs from others does not make me tasteless, it just makes me different. And while we’re at it…I don’t deserve mockery and humiliation for sharing an opinion, no-one does!

Ditto for all the my desires/dreams means there is something wrong with me thoughts. Just because I have cravings, needs and desires that are considered ‘deviant’ and/or ‘weird’ does not mean that they, or I, am wrong. It just means I’m different. Where’s the problem with that?

As for everything else…I’m afraid I can’t come up with reasons why they may not be true.

The simple fact is I have been living a socially isolated life for the last six years (give or take six months), so if I really am a decent person, deserving of friends, company and relationships, someone who doesn’t deserve to live and die alone, why is it that none of the efforts I undertake to create real-life connections work?

It is impossible to live alone for as long I have without believing that this is all you deserve in life.

The same argument can be used for the kissing, hugs and sex negative thoughts. There is a reason why I don’t get to do any of these things…and it can’t just be because of severe abuse trauma rendering me untrusting and fearful of intimacy. Can it?

The simple fact is, for every single item on that list I could come up with at least a dozen individual reasons for why they’re true. These reasons would be backed up by comments multiple people have told me throughout my life.

As I’ve said in the past, the more you are told something, the more you believe that something to be true. When all you’ve had in your life is negativity, insults, criticism, isolation and abuse…how can you possibly believe you’re a good person?

negative thinking 2

Part III: What would I tell a friend who thinks like this…

If any of my friends thought like this I’d put them over my knee and spank some sense into them!

But once I’d been released from prison on assault charges (unless the spanking had been consensual, that is :p) I would sit them down and tell them how unhealthy it was to think like that, how brilliant, beautiful and awesome they are and how these thoughts were the product of low self-esteem, low self-confidence and (possible) mental health and abuse trauma related issues.

I would then ask them what I could do to help them think more realistically about themselves. If that meant surreptitiously sending stories to magazines to prove how awesome a writer they are, let them cry on my shoulder, help them organize counseling to defeat their guilt over abuse and/or just spending time with them doing things that make them feel good, I would, without any hesitation.

In fact, I have done all of those things (and a lot more besides) to help friends defeat their demons in the past!

Part IV: Conclusion

Over the years I have exasperated psychologists, counselors and therapists with my negative thinking. Every time any of them issued compliments, positive reinforcement or adulation, my mind would immediately source from my history of bullying, abuse and criticism several comments that proved they were lying. There have been times when these psychologists, counselors and therapists have told me they can see this process occurring; from the moment they issue the praise to the moment I discard it as an irrelevant lie.

None of them have been able to help me find a way to combat this cycle of thinking.

No matter how hard I try to break free, no matter how many times I tell myself I’m wrong, no matter how often I can see the awesome bastard that I am, the damage from all the bullying, abuse and isolation seems to run too deep to be overcome.

And if you don’t believe me, if you think I’m just being lazy and not working hard enough, go and spend six years on your own, living on the streets, frequently being physically and emotionally abused whilst receiving no praise, positive reinforcement, human contact, touch or compliments…then get back to me and tell me how easy it is to think ‘positively’ about yourself and your life.

However much I would like to think less negative thoughts, it is going to take years of intense work to fix the damage caused by abuse, homelessness and isolation.

But, as with everything, I’ve already begun to work on it. This challenge is part of me moving toward fixing the damage, as are the social and support groups I’m trying to attend, as is this blog and so many other skills, therapies and treatments that I’m currently undertaking.

It would be easier to lose myself to these thoughts, to let them overcome me, but I refuse to let them simply because there is no way in hell I’m going to let my abuser win.

I’m way too freaking awesome to let that happen!

(Even if I don’t believe this most of the time!)


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Thirteen goals for 2013…

Courtesy of my depressive episode, I spent most of the first month of this year drinking, beating myself up and wishing I was dead. As such I wasn’t able to indulge in the customary ‘goals for the year ahead’ list I normally write. Until now…

ADDY’S

goals for 2013

~ in no particular order ~

1. Cross item one from the 101 things I want to do before I die list

I began writing my ‘goals for the year ahead lists’ when I was fifteen. This item has been on every single one of them! :p

2. Return to the Kings Domain so I can scream ‘Fuck you homelessness, I beat your ass!”

I haven’t been to the Kings Domain since the last night I slept there (21 June 2011).

Of all the ‘homes’ I had during my time on the street this was by far the longest (nearly two years on/off) and thus has become a place that will forever remind me of that brutal period of my life. I haven’t returned to Melbourne since leaving the city in mid-2011, making this my longest period away from Melbourne since arriving in Australia.

I miss it. I want to go back. I need to scream those seven words to find some form of closure from that nightmare time of my life.

DSCN0235

“Fuck you homelessness, I beat your ass!” (Photo of my ‘home’ circa 2010 © Addy)

3. Continue going to the Hearing Voices Support Group on a weekly basis

However difficult I’ve found the groups so far – as readers of my Hearing Voices Support Group series will be aware – I’m determined to keep pushing myself to attend. I need to understand my voices. I need to create better relationships with them. And in all honesty, however anxiety inducing the groups have been, I really do enjoy going to them.

So I’m hoping over the next ten months I will continue to do so…and that sooner rather than later I’ll begin feeling more comfortable being there.

4. Keep working toward obtaining ongoing mental health support

As regular readers of my blog will be aware, I have very little support when it comes to my mental health. In fact, for the last six years I’ve had to deal with severe, complicated and ongoing illnesses all on my lonesome – which is probably why they’ve been devolving on a month-by-month basis.

So, as I’ve been doing, I will continue working toward gaining MH support throughout the remainder of this year.

Hopefully this is one goal I will succeed in.

5. Start writing my novel(s) again

I’ve spoken a lot of my desire to write fiction again. I have the characters, I have the plots, I have the skills…I just don’t have the confidence nor the ability to overcome my MH caused fiction writer’s block. So – somehow – I need to find both of these things and just get my ass writing again.

Or rather my hands writing again, as it would be a little difficult to write using that other body part :p

6. Smile more

I rarely smile. Sometimes I think I’ve forgotten how.

It’s not because I don’t like smiling (I really, really do!) It’s because I don’t really have all that much to smile about. Hopefully if I keep working my arse off, by the end of this year, smiling will seem as natural as frowning does to me now.

lostyoursmile

7. Stop procrastinating about writing and sending emails

I am an atrocious emailer. It’s not that I don’t want to. It’s that I keep convincing myself I will be bothering people if I send them an email – when it’s more likely I’m bothering them more by not sending them! Again, it’s all tied up with my confidence and anxiety; like so many of the issues behind the goals I have for this year are.

8. Expand my social networking presence

I don’t use many social networks…Twitter, one that shall remain nameless…but my presence on them is weak at best. I need to communicate on them more. For if I can build my confidence in this area, perhaps I can build it to communicate in real-life as well! :)

9. Go on a holiday

The last ‘holiday’ I went on was in 2008…but that was more ‘therapy’ than holiday as it saw me fighting anxiety and suicidal ideation, kicked out of a B&B and visit a hospital.

I’d love to be able to go somewhere and just chill! Take a hike through the wilderness, climb mountains, spend days photographing all sorts of weird and beautiful images, relax on the beach reading (occasionally) naughty books. You know, the sorts of things that normal people do when they go on holiday!

Dream Destinations: Tasmania, Canada, Scotland, Thailand, New Zealand, Siberia (:p) and/or the Antarctic.

10. Make at least one new friend (in real-life)

However much I love the wonderful friends I’ve made online (you all know who you are!) it would be quite an achievement if I could make a friend in real-life. Someone whom I could hang out with, share drinks and random conversations with, play Strip Mario Kart with (okay, that would have to be a very close friendship :p)

But although my heart continues to believe that everyone deserves a friend…my brain has convinced me I deserve to spend my life alone.

And that’s a hard belief to break free of after six odd years of isolation.

11. See at least 6 films in the cinema

This amounts to one every two months – which should be completely and utterly achievable…until you remember I only saw two films in the cinema last year! :/

But I’ve already seen one this year (The Hobbit) so there’s only five to go!

moviesin2013

Films I’d like to see in 2013 (clockwise from left): City of Bones, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2, The Great Gatsby, Iron Man 3, Kick Ass 2, Oz: The Great and the Powerful, Star Trek Into Darkness, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, Thor: The Dark Worlds, White House Down..to name but a few!

12. Write at least one blog post in every month of the year

Now I’ve pretty much decided to continue onwards with my blog (detractors and haters be damned!) I would very much like for this year to be the first that has blog posts written in every month. As I nearly failed before I began – with only a few posts in January – we’ll just have to see how I go :)

13. To stop being so hard on myself all the time and begin believing how seriously freaking awesome I am!

Pretty self-explanatory really…now, I just have to start doing it! :)


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Day 06: The people I like and why I like them…

ilikeyou

I’ve spent four effing days trying to write this blog post! Three effing days of increasing anxiety over (shock horror) admitting that I actually like people! Is that really something I should be so ashamed of? Something I should chastise myself for? Hate myself for? I’m a human being FFS. In fact, regardless of what my voices, abuse trauma and annoying anxiety inform me, I’m a pretty freaking awesome human being!

I’m intelligent, passionate, creative, talented, generous, compassionate. (or so I like to think :p)

I’m a little weird-looking, sure, but ultimately I’m kinda cute. (I wouldn’t dare say hot! :p)

So what if I suffer from mental illness(es) and have a history of homelessness? These just make me a uniquely complex individual and are nothing I should be ashamed of. They’re certainly not things that deserve life-long isolation.

Yet when it comes to admit to the wider world that I meet people and think ‘yeah, you’re  pretty darn awesome, wanna grab a drink sometime?’ I feel as if I’ve just committed the ultimate sin. Contemplating that people like Addy Lake? Are they insane? How could they possibly like such an imbecile? Must be some sort of trap…!

Cue self-sabotage, self-hate and all sorts of things beginning with the ‘self’ prefix!

(Exasperated sigh)

Three days of writing the same explanation about how I can’t admit to who I like in case they read the blog, recognise themselves and formulate a plan of revenge for having me dare to think they’re awesome, interesting, gorgeous, fantabulous human beings I wouldn’t mind getting to know. Three days of wallowing in socially isolated I don’t deserve company bullshit. Three days of frustration that result in this somewhat out-of-character rant!

So, in rebellion of every pore of my being…mainly because I’m exhausted and sick of thinking that the world will collapse if I dare to admit I like people…without revealing who they are, here’s why I like who I like, platonic or otherwise ;)

(deep breath)

There’s someone who works in a local business that I personally think is gorgeous. Even though I’ve barely spoken to them, what little information I’ve gleaned makes me realise how cool they are, especially as they seem to have a bit of a geeky side. Yet I can’t say two goddamn words to them in fear of instigating the apocalypse!

I met someone recently whom I actually sustained a short conversation with. Their sense of humour is kick-ass, they had a great vibe and appear to be  immensely talented. Yet I can’t even message them online let alone imagine a real-life encounter!

I’ve known this person for quite a while and have liked them from day one. Never ‘like’ liked them, but liked them as a truly inspirational, awesome, platonic friend. Yet I can’t communicate with them in any way, shape or form because I was and am an ass.

There’s someone I talk to from time to time who makes me smile and laugh more than most can manage. They’re a beautiful and brilliant person that I think I could become good friends with. Yet, as always, I freak out when it comes to talking to them incase they realise how moronic I am…and in so doing fulfil my self-fulfilling prophecy of life-long isolation.

Finally, there’s someone I met very recently who appears to be pretty awesome and I’d love to get to know them as a friend. Yet…all of the above yets!

(exhale)

Now, after six odd years of being without social contact, how exactly do I re-teach myself how to communicate with people when communicating with people brings on anxiety and panic attacks?

On a related note, aren’t you glad you’re not me! :p

~|~

Ideas? Tips? Advice?
Seriously. Any helpful hints you awesome, inspirational people have on how to communicate with people would be appreciated.


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Building positive self-esteem

What is self-esteem?

Self-love, self-perception, self-confidence, self-[insert word of choice] are terms that refer to the way we view and think about ourselves. As human beings we all have the power of self-awareness; the ability to be aware of ourselves and place value on our thoughts, actions, appearance and personality. Self-esteem refers to the value we place on ourselves and how we see ourselves in general.

Exercise 1: How do you see yourself? Take a few minutes to write a description of yourself:

“The descriptions that come to mind whenever I think of myself are: fat, ugly, worthless, useless, a waste of space, pointless, uneducated, a terrible friend, stupid, talentless, weak, shy, anxious, unloveable, contagious and evil. There are many more: better off dead, boring, disgusting, perverted, unfashionable, unattractive, sick, fucked up, grotesque and I should probably stop there otherwise there’s a good chance I’ll either burst into tears and/or start beating myself with a stick as punishment for being the most repulsive human being to have ever existed in the span of human history.

Every now and then, in my weaker moments, I see the beauty within me; the strength in my soul to have persevered though all the trauma that has befallen me, the creativity that oozes from every pore of my being, the compassion that lies at the very core of my heart. But whenever I think of these things I am quick to dismiss them, to refocus on the negative, the criticism and my numerous failings.

It’s almost impossible for me to write a description of myself because I see myself as someone who is better off dead. Someone who has no worth as an individual and has no right to be considered a member of the human race. It’s been like this, to a certain extent, ever since I was a child. Hence my need to work on building my self-esteem and how I view myself.

Note: as I will be returning to this later in the week, each of the bolded descriptives above were things my abuser called me on several occasions, confirming my own negative beliefs and conditioning my mind to view myself in this way.”

What is low self-esteem?

Low self-esteem is when we as individuals hold deep-seated negative beliefs about ourselves. Someone with low self-esteem doesn’t place a high value on their worth as a person and often describe themselves using negative terminology (fat, ugly, weak, unimportant, useless, stupid, worthless etc). These beliefs are often viewed as facts and considered a true indicator of someone’s identity, even though this is rarely the reality.

Exercise 2: Do you have any of these negative thoughts that you didn’t include in the description above? Write these down now:

“I shall quickly add: hairy, selfish, soft, over emotional, cowardly, impolite, inconsiderate, lazy, weak-willed, indecisive, bone-idle, careless and again, bolded words were used by my abuser.”

As a result low self-esteem can have a severe impact on someone’s life. People with low self-esteem are quick to criticise themselves, talk negatively about their appearance, doubt themselves and are quick to dismiss compliments. Quite often they will ignore the positive aspects of their life and instead focus on their mistakes, taking the blame for things that were ultimately out of their control. Their negative self-view will often be the catalyst that causes them to ‘talk themselves out’ of pursuing the activities they wish to do whilst pushing themselves to overwork to make up for, or cover up, their perceived lack of skill.

Pleasurable activities will often be avoided as they believe they do not deserve to have any happiness in their lives. In relationships they will either overcompensate; bending over backwards to please friends, lovers, family or avoid intimacy and social contact altogether. Low self-esteem can lead to self-medication with drugs or alcohol to numb the pain or act as punishment for their inadequacies. Whilst personal hygiene can falter as the ‘why bother’ mentality sets in.

Exercise 3: If it applies, how has low self-esteem impacted on your life? Take a few moments to write down some problems it’s caused:

“Low self-esteem has caused so many problems throughout my life, as I’ve mentioned in other areas of this blog, that it’s safe to say it’s pretty much destroyed my entire existence. I’ve lost friends because of low self-esteem, chosen the wrong courses at A-level, been unable to connect on a social level, had employment opportunities slip away, made irrational life decisions, ended up alone and isolated, been unable to pursue my passions (writing, photography, art, sexual predilections) and missed out on social events that could have helped me.

Whilst I was in relationships I would always over-compensate (although partly because of my compassionate nature) and allow myself to be walked over (e.g. my first girlfriend’s European trip and subsequent ill-timed affair, my second girlfriend’s abuse, my third girlfriend’s infidelity) whereas with friends I’ve always been unable to connect on an emotional level because I lacked the confidence to do so whilst what friendships I did manage to make were also affected by overcompensation.

There are times when I’ve turned to alcohol to numb the pain, as well as self-harm, gambling and suicidal ideation. Personal hygiene (although not helped by my bipolar and homelessness) has been frequently affected as well as numerous ‘punishments’ that I’ve inflicted on myself for being such a worthless member of humanity.”

What can be done?

Having low self-esteem can have a severe, debilitating effect on someone’s life, but it need not be a permanent mental state. It is possible to develop self-esteem and increase the confidence we have in ourselves but, like with everything in life, it requires hard work and dedication.

Throughout this week I will be looking at exercises that can be undertaken to boost ones self-esteem, ways in which we can reprogram our mind and tasks that can be performed to begin viewing ourselves in a more positive light.

You’re more than welcome to join me, should you wish :)

Tomorrow…Ways to Build Self Esteem: #1. Create a pleasure list >>>


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Anxiety and its effect on my education

Most of us have experienced a moment of anxiety or two in our life. The butterflies before a make-or-break your career presentation; the urgent need for a shot of whisky before delivering a best man’s speech; the tremble in your stomach as you disrobe in front of a new love for the first time. It’s important for us to feel anxious from time to time, it keeps us human, anchors significant life moments and enables us to grow as individuals.

The moment anxiety becomes an issue is when it affects our ability to function day-to-day. For the person overcoming abuse or rape, locked in the nightmares of PTSD or the socially anxious soul unable to connect with the world, anxiety is a prison not unlike that featured in The Dark Knight Rises; easy to get into, but nigh on impossible to climb out of.

Yesterday I wrote a little about the anxiety I feel in sharing opinions. Although this impacts on my life it could hardly be considered a severe impediment to my day-to-day functioning. However, when you look at how anxiety has impacted on my educational career, it may become more apparent the damage this condition can cause.

The Impact of Anxiety
#2: Education

A-Levels

For those who don’t have a working knowledge of the British educational system, A-Levels are the examinations that come after GCSEs (the exams you take after five years in High School). Once you’ve completed your GCSEs you are allowed to leave school and never return, but in today’s age, A-Levels are pretty much compulsory should you desire a career outside of fast food or dole bludging.

When I came to choose which A-Levels to take it was a no brainer. I’d known for months what I was going to do; Media Studies encompassed my love of film, television and print media; English Lit, my passion for literature and writing; Theatre Studies, covered my fascination with acting and theatre. With these three subjects under my belt I would be well on my way to university and, in turn, a career in film-making and the arts.

So, for two years, I studied Media Studies, Math and Computing.

Yep, you read that right. For months I knew what subjects I was going to do – but when it came to registering for them, I chose two subjects I had absolutely NO interest in whatsoever.

Why?

A large part of my anxiety is an intense fear of being evaluated or scrutinized by other people to the point that I will completely remove myself from the situation in order to keep myself safe and avoid any humiliation, judgment or criticism. It dawned on me that if I were to do English Lit, my writing would be subject to scrutiny by the rest of the class and presentations would need to be made that I just couldn’t do. The latter – obviously – being a pre-requisite for Theatre Studies. So in order to protect myself, I opted for two subjects where I could hide myself from the critical gaze of the class behind a text-book or keyboard.

They were the worst two years of my school life; I failed Math and barely scraped a pass in Computing. Whereas Media Studies, being a passionate topic for me, I excelled in.

No matter how I look at it, my anxiety controlled my A-Level decisions and, with the inevitable snowball effect that followed, it has haunted my life ever since.

University

Following my disastrous A-Level experiences it is no surprise that I didn’t go to Uni straight out of school. I knew by the end of the first year of A-Levels that I would not achieve the grades I’d need to gain a place. I also knew that the courses I was interested in – film-making, writing and publishing, arts and acting – I hadn’t taken the correct subjects for. Plus, the damage done to my self-confidence and self-esteem made me believe I would never be able to handle university life.

Basically, I was screwed.

So it comes as no surprise that my mood took a massive nose dive that summer. The realization that you’ve screwed up your entire life will do that! It was a realization that became a major factor behind my running away from home that summer.

College

Following two years of full-time employment and eighteen months backpacking I had built my confidence to a level I deemed sufficient to try to correct the mistakes of my past. I craved to return to education and achieve my dream of going to university, but wanted to make sure I was studying what I wanted. A course at Inverness College called ‘TV production, photography and sound production’ had everything I desired; writing, film-making, photography, acting, arts, film studies…everything was perfect.

By the end of the year-long course I’d caned every aspect of the course. In terms of written coursework, I was told it was university standard. In terms of practical assignments, although not perfect, were of a high standard. Classmates told me I should have my own radio show. Others told me it would be a waste if I didn’t pursue a university course.

So it comes as no surprise that, once again, I didn’t.

Only this time it wasn’t wholly the fault of anxiety, for I’d fallen in love, meaning I had to make a choice between my initial plan – of going to Vancouver to continue my studies at University (where, revealing one of my big life secrets, I’d been accepted) – or continuing my relationship with my girlfriend, which if I did, moved Canada off the table.

Although love was a major part of the choice I made, anxiety did play a part, for (like with A-Levels) not pursuing my dreams was a safer option than opening myself up to criticism, scrutiny and humiliation.

College (Reprise)

It would be nearly six years before I re-entered tertiary education. Throughout that entire time I attempted various night courses (all of which went uncompleted because of my employment commitments) and continually dreamed of going to university.

By this time anxiety was ruling my life. I rarely took chances. I rarely opened myself up. I had become safely coccooned in my safe little life with dozens upon dozens of protective strategies implemented to reduce the humiliation and insult I’d grown to fear since my teenage years.

When my relationship ended in 2006 it provided me the opportunity to reflect on my life and perhaps build a new future; hence, my decision to return to college.

I have written of this event several times in the past. Of how I was shit scared of returning to tertiary education after so many years in safe full-time employment, of how terrified I was of being in a situation where my writing would be regularly criticized, of how petrified I was of the numerous presentations I would have to give in front of dozens of people, but…for the first time in my life I felt confident enough in my abilities to believe I would be able to excel in the course.

A course specifically chosen not only on the basis that it reflected all of my passions but that it provided a pathway into several university courses I would have sacrificed a limb to get into.

Alas, as previously documented, things did not go to plan. The abuse fed into the glandular fever which fed into the anxiety which fed back into the abuse and cost me the course, my dreams and ultimately, my chance of tertiary education.

The Future

Although I do still cling to the hope that I’ll be able to return to education – albeit rarely – I know in my heart my chances have passed. If I can’t write my opinion as a blog comment, how could I write it in the form of an essay? If I can’t walk down the street to purchase food without a panic attack, how could I walk to a university lecture hall? If I can’t talk to a single human being without fear of humiliation, how could I present coursework without fear of public humiliation?

When I look back on how anxiety has shaped my educational choices – from the selection of my A-Levels, through turning down Vancouver, and ending up in the abuse fuelled loss of my college course – I wonder how different my life would be if anxiety didn’t have such a hold over me.

I’m aware it’s not all the fault of this disorder, that I must – and DO – take some responsibility for my choices, but they are choices that would have been easier to make had anxiety not been a factor.

Something that, if your only encounter with anxiety is making a presentation, being a best man or slipping your undies off to flash your boyfriend, is difficult to understand.

When it comes to my anxiety, we’re not talking fluttering little butterflies.

We’re talking a life-altering, heart-stopping fear that I have no idea how to fight anymore.

If I ever did to begin with.

Tomorrow: Anxiety and its effect on my body >>>