Anxiety

Not sure when exactly it started; I remember being shy around people I didn’t know very well from a young age… and also people in costumes. One of the ninja turtles was in our mall one time; I could not look him in the face. He was a NINJA TURTLE.
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A key point in my history, I suppose, was towards the end of grade school. I had had some cool friends, and one by one, many of them moved away. There was also a kid who I used to be friends with; I went over to his house a few times, he came over to mine, etc. There were some issues for him at home, and he became a bit of a troubled child. There would be kids that he wanted to pick on, and he would have me help him. We were getting in trouble, and that was causing tensions between us. It also didn’t help that I was spoiled, a crybaby, and prone to behaving oddly. Eventually, him and his friends started picking on me, too.

It wasn’t just that kid, though; I remember another kid, who was on his way to becoming a sarcastic little punk. His friend and him would talk shit about me, and some of the other kids began to do the same. They decided I was “slow,” “not like them,” etc. They would talk about stuff that was probably meant for sex ed in a few years, among other inappropriate things, and I didn’t know what they were talking about. I guess that made me not as smart or mature as them, or something.

When it came time to go to Middle School, I got super anxious about the transition; the kids a year behind me thought I was lame, slow, etc.; what would the kids a year or two ahead of me think?! So I got really quiet in Middle School, and mostly kept to myself. This did not save me from being made fun of, however; I remember certain behaviors by my classmates during that time that I now realize was them tricking me into saying or doing something that they could make fun of me for. One time in gym class, this girl said she liked me while simultaneously laughing, and after I said yes to her question as to whether I liked her too, and she asked me if I wanted to go out with her. I got super anxious and said no, which she also laughed at. She asked if I wanted to be friends still, I said sure, but she told me she didn’t want to and that she hated me, all while she and her friend were still laughing.

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There were more direct things at times, but mostly, people left me alone. A couple kids also wanted to hang out outside school, but that freaked me out as well. “Social time?! Outside school?! WUT?!!”

The almost complete lack of a social life continued into my Freshman year of High School; I’d started talking to some people more, but I still never hung out with anyone outside of school. Some of my current friends might remember me from this time, being really quiet and awkward. Through most of my Middle School and Freshman years, my social life consisted of my siblings, my younger cousin, and my siblings’ friends. Anyone my age (and in some cases, older), I was afraid to talk to, in case I said something stupid. This thought was vindicated once or twice in the few occasions that I did say something, and was met with the reaction that I had, in fact, said something stupid.

Eventually, I started to get more chummy with some of the kids in my classes. One of them invited me to spend the night with him at another friend’s house. I agreed to go… and was still a bit nervous about going, thinking about the fact that I hadn’t been to any classmate’s house since grade school. I went though… and it was a lot of fun. Slowly, I started to gain acceptance in this social group, went to more people’s houses, and even started speaking freely around these people! They appreciated my sense of humor, I appreciated theirs, and we shared a lot of similar interests. They weren’t into alternative music as much as I was, but that was okay; a lot of the group had interests that no one else shared. I had found my people. While some parts of High School were still difficult, I was generally rather happy during this period, because I was around them every day. ~I love them~ xoxoxo

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Then… High School ended. People went to different schools, and one of my best friends joined the Air Force. Most of them were still in town, but I didn’t get to see them every day anymore. I went to the local community college because I hadn’t tried as hard as I could’ve for most of my High School career; I was mostly busy goofing off with my buddies. Most of the people at the college were not members of my group, and while I was at school, I went back to being awkward and quiet. However! I still saw my group a lot of the time, so that was good. There was a particular Bible study at a church that many of my friends started going to. We met some new people there, and thus the friend group expanded!

Eventually, I got my college degree; an Associate’s Oregon Transfer Degree, in fact. Didn’t know what to do with it, though. Had no confidence whatsoever, whenever I went in for an interview, or to even talk to someone about the possibility of being hired. Why would anyone want to hire me, after all? Whatever the task was, I would probably mess it up, somehow. Plus, I lacked the ability to even chat with these potential employers without being really awkward and having extreme self-doubt. I had my goof ball humor that made my friends laugh, but I also got the impression-whether true or not-that they found me slow and immature… much like the kids in grade school described me, I now realize as I type this. I was a permanent follower; I didn’t believe in myself enough to be the leader in any facet. To go along with my previous question, who would miss me, or genuinely be glad that they were friends with me? A few people stated this a few times, and I never understood how my friendship could be important.

Eventually, I got a Summer job through Xanterra Parks in Yellowstone. I’d heard about it through one of my brother’s friends, and this seemed like one of the only opportunities I had at getting a full time job, even for a summer. So I went… and I got severely homesick, almost immediately. After a long bus ride, I stayed at a cheap motel in Bozeman, MT. Initially when I got there, I called my mother to tell her I was alright… and then I immediately called her again to tell her I wasn’t alright! It was horrible! The scene from The Fox and the Hound where in the Widow Tweed leaves Todd in the woods played in my head over and over! On the bus ride to the park the next morning, this other kid was friendly and started talking to me… I immediately latched onto him, due to him being a friendly face. There were a few other people I made friends with, too (mostly through work, but also my brother’s friend’s friends), but he and his roommate were the two I felt the most comfortable around. Some of my humor normally reserved for my group of friends back home even seeped into my conversations with them! The two months I’d signed up for felt super long, however. Also, perhaps due to anxiety, or due to actually doing some kind of work every day, I developed a sore throat midway through those two months, that didn’t go away for over a year. I was surrounded by nature; I could’ve gone for an awesome hike every day, before or after work, if I wanted. Instead, I spent a lot of my time cooped up in my dorm room, wishing I was home.

There was a girl I worked with that I absolutely crushed on; I thought she had super-pretty eyes, and she was really nice to me. She became subject to one of my silly acts-having a hand shaken violently for an overt amount of time-and she seemed to think it was funny (or at least a weird thing that she was willing to look past). I liked her a lot, but I thought that she was way too pretty and that I was too fat, and I saw her with guys who I thought were a lot more attractive than me as well, so I never said anything. The day my parents came to get me, I was super excited. I said goodbye to a bunch of people, making a point of putting some effort into each goodbye. For some reason, though, I didn’t put the same effort in with her; I think I was super shy because I liked her, and just wanted to avoid that. She walked towards me and my room as I was leaving, I acted awkward, she stopped mid stride, said “…Okay…” in a disgusted tone, turned around and walked away.

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Never saw or talked to her again. Not putting more effort into this moment is one of my biggest regrets. Recently, I’m pretty sure I found her facebook page, and sent her a friend request; she didn’t accept…

There’s a particular pattern to my interactions with girls I like; I don’t think I’m attractive enough for them, I don’t think they will like me the same way, and I don’t tell them that I like them. There were a number of girls throughout High School and college that I liked, but I never told them. I would think to myself, “I need to wait for the appropriate time…” and then some other guy would ask them out. Even if a girl strongly hinted that she liked me, I would freak out about it and become super shy. Once when I was at a concert with the High School choir and we were all in our uniforms, this one girl came over and told me that she knew someone who thought I looked really cute that day. I almost literally ran away from her (I think it was more of a brisk walk speed) without saying anything. I was convinced that, even if a girl did find me attractive, she wouldn’t anymore once she really got to know me. What did I have to hide? …that I was a nerd? That I liked cartoons, and other nerdy things? That I had zero self-confidence? Oh wait…

The only place I felt comfortable telling girls that I liked them… was online. Writing messages on internet forums was a much easier way to express myself than actually talking to someone. I had discovered forums my freshman year of High School, and there were a few forums I posted on (mostly about bands I liked) before I found a forum dedicated to a very popular RPG series. I frequented that forum off and on for years, making online friends, losing online friends, gaining online respect, losing online respect, etc. I was always worried about what these people-who I will probably never meet in real life-thought of me. It was important that I came out of any argument looking like the one with the stronger morals, or at least the one who was not a dick. I became a moderator on a couple of different occasions, and it was very important that I seemed fair, but that I also did more than the other moderators around me, who I felt didn’t crack down hard enough on people. Rules were important.

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The first time I was a mod, I pretty much watched my one or two forums all day… I got burned out by this very quickly. The next time I modded, I tried to be more laid back, but I was still very concerned with what people thought of me, and whether or not I was doing a good job. I also wanted to seem cool in the opinion of the cool kids on the forums; something that was probably unattainable, and something that made me a dick and a hypocrite on many occasions. I made some good friends on the forums (who I rarely ever talk to now) but largely, I probably would’ve been better off leaving them behind much sooner than I did, as per they were a large source of anxiety for me. Besides… they were where I met my ex.

There were a few girls on message boards throughout the years that I crushed on. Several of whom I had no idea what they looked like, but they had a cute avatar or something, an attractive online persona, and they seemed nice. I was always worried that I was getting weird with them… and I was probably at least a bit awkward with all of them. There were two girls who said they liked me back, and one of them shared the sentiment that we should be a thing. We talked a lot, flirted a lot, watched videos together, etc. I got extremely jealous of her attention on several occasions… She would talk to other people, and not me! Or she wouldn’t be friendly or bubbly enough! How dare she! Eventually, though, we made plans for her to come out and visit me for a couple of weeks. I was super shy and awkward those first few days, but she was sweet and friendly, and got me out of my shell.

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The two weeks she was out here were two of my favorite weeks of my life. The day she left was the first time I kissed someone on the lips… and also the second time, heh. They were amazing… and then she was gone, and I was depressed.

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A couple weeks after my girlfriend from the internet came to visit me, I went to BMT. Going through the process of enlisting was probably the longest and most impressive period that I was able to ignore my anxieties and just do something. Guess I just really felt I needed to do this, or I was going to do nothing with my life. If only I could’ve done the same while I was at BMT, heh… talked about that experience to a great extent in an earlier blog, though. What I suppose I didn’t really hit on, however, was how I would freeze up in situations that I ought not to have frozen up in. I heard my MTI describing me to another MTI as having a “blank, stupid stare,” or something like that. I would get anxious over stupid crap at other jobs, anyway; I was super nervous about pumping people’s gas when I worked at a gas station, I was anxious about driving people around in a car, etc. I would be so agitated that I could do no better than fumbling through whatever it was I was supposed to do. It’s really amazing I got through (and a different MTI from our Squadron agreed; when I messed up a marching move right in front of him in the DFAC after graduating, he yelled at me “NO! GET OUTTA HERE! I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU GRADUATED!” I got out of there as fast as I could.)

Even after BMT, regardless of whether it was in Tech School or at my actual duty station, for the first year, I was worried I was gonna get “found out” as someone less than deserving to be there. Like, they would find out how bad I was at marching, or that I would fail a PT test, or something, and then I would be sent back to my terrifying I.S. from BMT, and he would devour my soul. However, what made that bearable was that I was stationed a couple hours’ drive away from my girlfriend. There were only a few times I was truly happy while in the Air Force: when I was home on leave, when I thought I was getting out, and when I was with her. After the first couple months of being there, I would go to visit her as often as I could. Whenever I had to leave, I would get a crushing case of separation anxiety and be super sad.

Unfortunately, her parents were overbearing, and her mother was crazy. While it wouldn’t be fair to put it all on her parents (I had anxiety issues that weren’t being treated, I was trying to pressure her into marrying me right away so that we’d always be together, and I can have a nasty temper sometimes), her mother was highly controlling, and flew off the handle at me on a few occasions that caught me totally off guard.

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There were these expectations they had that I would act like one of their children immediately… but I was extremely shy and introverted. They knew that. It didn’t matter. I was supposed to treat them like family that I’d known all my life, and behave exactly how they thought I should. When that didn’t happen, it didn’t take long for them to decide I was no good, and to treat me nothing like the son they supposedly saw me as. Completely honest: I was super anxious about getting along with them, and I tried very hard. I messed up on a few things when I got a bit too comfortable, but that was the first time that anyone turned on me that quickly, to that extreme. It wasn’t long after they decided I was garbage that their daughter broke up with me. We had been engaged, too. I had no clue what I was doing out there anymore, and I was devastated.

It wasn’t long after this that I started receiving therapy; I spoke with both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, and I started going to “Mindfulness” classes. However, the thing that seemed to have the biggest impact on me was when I started taking sertraline (AKA zoloft).

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Generally used for depression (and I’m pretty sure I was depressed from the Summer before I joined, onward), sertraline worked wonders on my anxiety. No longer was I super worried bout social situations, or whether or not everyone liked me. No. The Fight or Flight response that I constantly had went away in many cases… and in its place, came Fight or Fight, and I would get super pissed off a lot and yell at people. It was still anxiety, as situations that a lot of people would be able to brush off would just set me off. However, I wasn’t overtly worried about stepping on eggshells anymore. People generally knew when they pissed me off, now (within reason. Kind of. I never told off an officer, for one.)

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The anger I was now experiencing instead slowly built a wedge between me and the majority of people I had social interactions with… and I got talked to by leadership. A lot. At some point I decided it would be better to just bottle it up, and keep to myself… but that just meant that the likelihood of me exploding went up exponentially. Such an incident happened, and I was told I needed to make sure it would never happen again. Except I was pretty sure the environment I was in was not conducive to me not exploding. So I talked to my psychologist about ways of getting out.

When the paperwork for my discharge was going through, I was super impatient, kept bothering my leadership about it, and freaked out on a handful of occasions. Towards the end of my time in the military, I saw a psychologist with the VA, who suggested I up my sertraline dosage again. Other people had suggested this before… but they weren’t psychologists, and it pissed me off that they said that. However, when this lady suggested it, I decided to listen. I’m not sure how much better I felt, but I was probably able to control the anger better after this. Whereas something might’ve caused me to shout someone down in the past, it now caused me to seethe a bit on the inside, and then remind myself that it would do me no good to flip out, and calm myself down.

As of now… I still get anxious about things. Certain situations still unreasonably cause a Fight or Flight response in me. Overall, though… I think the medication has caused me to just not care a lot of the time. I just think, “Whatever,” in situations wherein I would’ve freaked out in the past. For example, I recently had an interview with people I wasn’t really familiar with. I went in, talked to them, joked with them, related with them. It was night and day from the me from like ten years ago. I feel much more confident in myself than I used to. It’s like, I just tell my brain, “okay, go talk to this person. What’s your honest reaction to this situation? Okay, say that. Oh look, they laughed, because it was funny, just like you thought it was.” I’m still awkward, but I think that maybe awkwardness is endearing and funny sometimes, and I try to use that to relate to people. In general now, I think most people want to get along with whoever it is they’re interacting with; they’re not there to judge you. If I start to get anxious about that stuff, I try to remind myself that it’s my stupid brain with its stupid chemical imbalance… and strangely, that seems to work.

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