Holiday obligations

I usually look forward to this time of year but not this year, as my social anxiety and depression are worse than ever. I’ve already had enough of the obligatory family reunions and there are still many more to come in the next week. Tomorrow I promised to meet up with friends to go to a Christmas market but I really don’t feel like going. One of them asked me a month ago to meet up just the two of us but I never responded, and I have no excuse for that. I know all my friends will ask me how my job hunt is going as they always do and I really really don’t want to talk about that as it will ruin my mood. So I’m feeling really anxious for tomorrow and I’d really rather not go. I’m trying to come up with a valid excuse but I know they’ll see right through it. My energy is just drained already from all of the parties and I just want to lock myself up in my room and not see anyone. I just heard my uncle and aunt arrive unannounced and I’m dreading having to go downstairs and socializing with them. I hate still living with my parents and having to deal with visitors. I’m never at ease because I know that at any given moment people might arrive.

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I think my dad is cheating on my mom

I wasn’t sure if I should write about this on my blog, but I figured I’m completely anonymous so no one knows who my family is anyway. This is long and detailed, but I felt like that was necessary in order to show this is not all in my head.

So here goes: my sister and I are pretty certain my dad is having an affair. We both noticed some red flags and put the pieces of the puzzle together. My sister and her boyfriend -let’s call him Sam- are renovating their house and my dad regularly comes over to help out. Sam told my sister that a woman had been over at their house three times while my dad was helping him with the renovations and my sister was out grocery shopping. My dad told Sam she is an old friend of his and she lives in the same town as my sister and Sam. The first time she was there, she returned a book to my dad, which he must have given to her when they met up some other time. These visits on their own wouldn’t have been alarming as my dad is very sociable and has many friends. The only thing that was a little strange was that this woman came over three times and every time my sister wasn’t home. Also, her name didn’t ring a bell at all. Neither my sister nor me had ever heard of this woman. Still, it might have been a friend from dad’s youth.

However, both my sister and I noticed that this woman liked every single thing my dad posted on facebook, and they had long conversations with each other in the comments. There was one particular comment that stood out to me. My dad said to this woman: “you always tell me that you work a lot, yet…”. I was thinking, if she is always telling him this, they must be talking to each other regularly. Now, this might be weird to some other people, but my mom, my dad and I share two ipads on which my dad is permanently logged into facebook, so we all have access to his account and he doesn’t mind. I usually don’t look at his private facebook messages, unless it’s my sister who sends pictures of my nephew. But I was curious whether my dad was talking to this woman on facebook messenger so I looked up her name. There were no conversations, nothing at all. I thought this was weird since she appears to be such a good friend of his and my dad sends all kinds of funny/stupid things to anyone he knows and doesn’t know on facebook messenger. But I didn’t suspect anything yet.

A few days later a message from this woman popped up. It was just a video of a dog doing something funny (my dad loves dogs), nothing suspicious. But the next day, when I checked the conversation, it was deleted. Why would my dad feel the need to delete this innocent video of a dog that she sent him? This was getting weird. The same thing happened again the next day, but this time it was my dad sending her a random video. And the day after, the conversation was once more deleted. I was beginning to think that they had had a conversation each time following the video, and that was the reason my dad deleted everything. But I couldn’t be sure.

So in the evening, I took one of the ipads with me to my bedroom. My dad always gets up an hour or two before my mom and I get up, and he only showers and gets dressed when I come downstairs. My mom and I never knew what he was getting up for so early and what he does before he gets dressed. So I suspected my dad was talking to this woman in the morning, and then deleted the messages. I was right. The next morning, I set my alarm clock before my dad got up, looked at the ipad and… there was a message from this woman:

“Good morning. I’m sorry for the pictures I sent to you yesterday, I was going to send them to you later, but I messed up. I have a suggestion: I’m trying to create a Christmas spirit at home for my ferrets, but we still need someone to play Santa. Are you interested? By the way, I really loved the pictures of your grandchild, he looks just like you. Well, I’m going to work now, I hope you have a good day!”.

Then she sent him a picture of a quote: “the past is in your head, the future is in your hands.” I heard my dad getting up and going downstairs. I was upstairs still following this conversation, waiting for him to answer her. I didn’t look at the screen for 30 seconds, and when I looked back, all of a sudden the conversation was deleted again. I don’t know if he answered her, but in any case I wasn’t able to read his answer. When I went downstairs for breakfast, my dad immediately asked me if I had taken the ipad upstairs with me. He seemed alarmed. I lied to him and said it was in the living room burried underneath some magazines.

Over the course of the past week, I regularly checked their messages. During the day they only send each other innocent stuff like quotes and videos, all of which were deleted the next morning. However, I think one time my dad archived the conversation by accident instead of deleting it. It contained facebook stickers of kisses and hearts from the woman, as well as a quote: “I don’t want much for Christmas. I just want the person reading this to be healthy, happy and loved.” On Tuesday, it was her birthday. My dad sent her a long poem. He was gone all day, claiming to help out my uncle. Yesterday evening I again took one of the ipads with me upstairs, and this morning I saw a message from her:

“Good morning. I forgot to tell you that you can sleep a little bit longer and enjoy your new matress today and tomorrow, since I have to go to work early. Enjoy your quiet morning xxx. I have to make 300 sandwiches today so all hands on deck. See you and enjoy! :)”

I was patiently awaiting a response from my dad, but again in a matter of a few seconds the conversation was deleted and I wasn’t able to read his response.

I once found my dad’s profile on a dating app so this is not the first time he has done something questionable. I told him if he didn’t the delete the profile I would tell my mother. He did and I never told her. But now the situation is different, since this woman is not some random stranger on a dating app he just met, but someone he knows very well and is talking to every single morning. This time around it feels way more intimate. She knows mundane details about his life like the purchase of a new mattress and he even sends her pictures of my nephew!

I know it wasn’t okay for me to read his messages behind his back. But whatever is going on between him and this woman isn’t right either and my mom hasn’t got a clue. I feel sorry for her. She’s not good with technology and hasn’t read any of the messages this woman sent him. Everytime my dad goes out, I catch myself doubting if he is telling the truth or if he is meeting up with this woman.

I don’t know what to do. I’ve read posts from people who have been in the same situation asking for help, and most people respond by saying their parent’s marriage is none of their business and they should keep out of it. I don’t know if I agree with this. I would want my mom to tell me if she knew I was dating someone who was cheating on me. I don’t want to be a part of my dad’s lie. On the other hand, ignorance is bliss. They are both in their sixties and retired, they own a house, and I don’t think they would want to go through the trouble of divorcing each other anymore. So if I tell my mom, or if I force my dad to tell her, she will be hurt and most likely stay in this marriage. I don’t want her to be unhappy for the rest of her life. In any case, this has damaged the way I look at my dad. I’m not a kid anymore and I know my parents aren’t perfect, but I have a hard time trusting and respecting him right now. So maybe I should talk to him about what I know. This is stressing me out.

6 times social anxiety got the better of me in the past month

  1. As of early October, I am an aunt and my parents are grandparents for the first time. This called for a celebration on the day my nephew was born. However, we didn’t have anything to drink in the house, so my parents asked me to go to the supermarket to buy liquor, and to their suprise I said yes. However, I was extremely anxious to drive to the supermarket, since I don’t drive often and I’m always afraid of causing an accident. So when I arrived at the supermarket, I was already very worked up. Then I had to ask the cashier for a bottle of rum and a bottle of vodka. They didn’t have the kind of rum my mother usually drinks, so I had to improvise while other people were waiting in line. This made me extremely anxious. I was stuttering and my hands were shaking so bad I could barely hand the money over to the cashier. I must have looked like an alcoholic in desperate need of a drink. Had I stayed in the supermarket for a minute longer, I would have probably fainted or vomited. Afterwards, I had to calm down for a while in the car before I was able to drive back home again.
  2. The day after, we went to visit my sister and my nephew in the hospital. We had to pick up my grandma along the way. I dreaded having to talk to her because I knew she would ask me if I had already found a job, which I didn’t. Not only did she ask me that, but she was also very judgemental about it: “then what is it that you do all day?”. I couldn’t tell her that I spend my days trying to find a job description that requires the least human interaction as possible, and once I’ve found one I spend hours trying to work up the courage to actually apply for it. I couldn’t tell her that some days I don’t do anything at all, because I’m so depressed that I feel I’m good for nothing and can’t possibly be an asset to any company. So I let her just judge me as being too lazy to work. By the time we arrived at the hospital after a three hour drive and a lot of snarky comments from grandma I was absolutely exhausted and very worked up. On top of that I was nervous to meet my nephew and it was very hot in the hospital. I felt dizzy and had a headache. I almost didn’t feel like seeing the baby anymore by the time I got to see him. We stayed there for half an hour and then left again. I was very glad to be back home.C841D7AD-E089-466F-8A1D-F7B51138362A
  3. My select group of friends wanted to meet and I couldn’t turn down the invite because I know they’ll either arrange for another date that works for everyone, they’ll be angry or they’ll know I’m not doing too well. I was very anxious to see them again but I intended to pretend I’m completely fine and change the subject as soon as they ask about my job hunt. However, I again received snarky comments about me not having a job and still living with my parents. I laughed it all off even though it made me feel inferior to them, who are normal independent 25-year olds.
  4. One of those friends, the one who I see least often, is the most extroverted person I know. She and I are complete opposites, and the only reason why we’re still friends is that we’ve known each other for fifteen years. She is engaged, lives with her boyfriend, has a stable job, lots of hobbies and friends. She is also very sensitive and intuitive. So after the reunion with the rest of our friend group, she sent me a message asking me to meet up, just the two of us, which we’ve never done before. I think she sensed that I was pretending to be okay and wants to talk about my life, because that’s how she is. She is always able to see through my lies. However, she does not understand my problems because she doesn’t know the concept of social anxiety and the shame that accompanies it. I haven’t replied to ther message yet and it’s been two weeks. I feel like a terrible friend, but I don’t see any way to politely decline her offer. I know she means well and I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but I also just don’t want to talk to her about my problems. I always feel like she pities me, and that makes me feel even worse about myself.
  5. Yesterday my parents went to visit my sister and I was home alone. I heard the bell ring but I didn’t want to open the door because I knew nobody had come to visit me and I didn’t want the awkward interaction of having to explain to people that my parents weren’t home. I was upstairs when all of a sudden I heard the sound of the back door slamming. My parents never enter the house through the back door, so I thought whoever this is is in my living room (I couldn’t remember if the back door was locked – it was). I waited a while and didn’t hear any more sounds so I went downstairs, looked through the front door window and saw my aunt and uncle’s car in the driveway. I thought it was weird but still was too anxious to tell them I was home because they’d know I deliberately hadn’t answered the door. Then a few minutes later my parents came home, let my aunt and uncle in, and my mom asked me in front of them why I didn’t want to answer the door to my aunt and uncle. I said I was upstairs listening to music and didn’t hear the doorbell, and that I heard the backdoor slamming and thought someone was breaking in. My aunt seemed embarrassed and said she suspected I was home and tried the back door. I had to socialize with them for the rest of the evening even though I felt extremely ashamed of my behaviour. I hate unannounced visits, and it’s not the first time relatives have checked the windows/the yard to see if there’s really nobody home, which I think is rude.
  6. I noticed I have a cavity in my tooth and I am too anxious to call and arrange a dentist appointment. I brush my teeth three times a day but haven’t been to the dentist in years. I’m afraid that when I eventually go, I’ll get scorned for not having been in such a long time.

Eventful weekend

I had a good weekend. Most of the time I manage to go out with friends on the weekend, which makes me feel somewhat normal, whereas during the week reality hits me and my anxiety  and depresssion get worse again.

On Friday I went to the pub. I picked up Daniel so we arrived there together. Tim and his girlfriend were there as well, standing right by the door so we had to pass them to go inside. Daniel and Tim greeted each other but I just looked the other way, which was a little awkward. Luckily Tim stayed outside for most of the evening, since all he seems to do is smoke weed with his girlfriend and some other guy nobody knows. I don’t understand why he decided to come to the pub more often again if he’s not going to actually talk to anyone there, not even to his old friends. But I’m not complaining. It’s a small group of regulars, so if he decides to socialize with everyone again it’ll be very hard for me to avoid him altogether like I have been doing for the past 6 years or so. But in any case, his presence didn’t bother me much and I had a lot of fun with Daniel and some other friends.

On Saturday Daniel and I went to a benefit concert for cancer patients. One of the bands covered classic songs, which I really enjoyed. The concert was quite far from where I live and there was a possibility to camp in a field next to the venue, so that’s what we did. There were probably a few hundred people at the venue but only two other people stayed overnight. We had a reservation for breakfast at the venue on Sunday morning, but apparently we were the only ones, which was quite funny. The organizers of the event were still cleaning up while we were eating, but they were really friendly and asked if we had a good time.

On Sunday afternoon we went to a theme park, since we were nearby anyway. I had apparently not yet recovered from the night before, as I did something really stupid. When we arrived at the theme park there was a possibility to have your picture taken with a bird on your shoulder. Dan is very confident and outgoing and of course he wanted to have his picture taken. I was hesitant, but the photographer who put the bird on Dan’s shoulder pushed me to pose next to Dan. So I did, but without thinking, I put my arm around his shoulder… and hit the bird, which was screeching for dear life. I was incredibly embarrassed but the photographer remained unfased, as if he’d seen it all before. Luckily, the poor bird was alright, and we laughed at my stupidity for a good hour or so. We bought the photo and every time I look at it I cringe and laugh again.

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On Sunday evening we had dinner in Ypres, as the city was close to the theme park. Afterwards, we went to the Last Post, which is a daily memorial for the British soldiers who went missing in action in Ypres during WWI. It is held under the Menin Gate, a Roman triumphal arch which displays all the names of the 54.000+ soldiers. There were lots of people, especially tourists. The sound of the trumpets and the choir sent shivers down my spine. The man in front of me clenched his fists as soon as the music began, and stood still like a statue the entire ceremony. He looked like he was fighting back the tears. I was reminded of the fact that one hundred years after the events, the war still has a profound impact on so many people. Some of them probably had relatives whose names are carved on those walls.

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Secondary disorders

WARNING: do not read if you’ve got a weak stomach or if you haven’t had lunch/dinner yet. This post is gross and I’m ashamed of it, but I felt like posting it because I’ve never told anyone about all of this. So please don’t judge me.

I have a few secondary disorders that come with anxiety. I’ve always thought they were just disgusting behaviours, but only in recent years have I been able to link them to my anxiety disorder.

First of all, I’ve been biting my nails since I was five years old. I remember my mom asking my pre-school teacher to tell me everytime I bit my nails, but it didn’t help. Twenty years later I still bite them. I sometimes manage to stop for a brief period, but at the slightest amount of stress I do it again. It often happens subconsciously, which makes it even more frustrating because if I don’t even realize I’m doing it, how can I stop?

But the nailbiting is not really someting I’m ashamed of. The second disorder is. It’s called dermatillomania, or skin picking disorder. I’ve had this since puberty, ever since I got acne. I find myself automatically looking for bumps and scabs on my skin, like a blind man looking for the dots on a page. I feel the need to ‘smooth’ everything out, but by doing that I only make my skin worse as new scabs and scars start to form. I think it has to do with my perfectionism, wanting perfect skin. Luckily my acne has gotten a lot better since puberty, but the behaviour hasn’t stopped. I’ve learned not to pick my face, but now I just pick the skin on my back. Nobody knows this since they can’t see it, but it means I’m afraid to wear tops and swimsuits in summer. I don’t even know how much damage I’ve caused the skin on my back since I can’t see it, but it’s probably got a lot of scars.

I don’t know if my dermatillomania can be classified as self-harm or just plain OCD. I don’t want to consciously hurt myself, it is just a soothing behaviour for me. However, I think I’m probably at risk of deliberately self-harming in the classic sense, if I haven’t done so already. This is very embarrassing for me to admit, but I used to give myself nosebleeds. I’ve always been prone to nosebleeds as a kid, but when I was in high school/university I started to deliberately give myself nosebleeds by scratching the inside of my nose or blowing it too hard when I already had a scab. I didn’t do it to feel pain, but the blood rushing out of my nose and the rhythmic sound of the drops on the floor or whatever calmed me own. It was as if all the stress and anxiety dripped away with the blood. One very stressful exam period I gave myself nosebleeds so often and never let the wound heal, so that it actually caused permanent damage to my septum, which now has a hole in it as is the case with a lot of drug addicts (Stevie Nicks has this too). The moment I realized this I was in shock. I had always known that what I was doing wasn’t good, but I never knew I could cause myself damage without even knowing it. The nosebleeds were so soothing to me that I never felt the pain of breaking my nose, which is a very scary thought.

Since I found out about the hole I never gave myself a nosebleed again, and it finally made me realize there was something really wrong with me. I had always thought that it was normal to experience high amounts of stress at university, but at that moment I realized that it was too much for me to handle and that I wasn’t dealing with it in a normal, healthy way. I’ve never gone to the doctor for the hole in my septum because I’m too afraid he’ll think I’ve been snorting cocaine, which is actually hilarious since I’ve never done any drugs in my life. But it has given me sinus problems, which aren’t fun. Luckily, my nose isn’t crooked or anything so you can’t see it on the outside.

 

 

 

 

Graduation ceremony

Today was my graduation ceremony, which I did not attend. It took me 3 years to get this degree, but I didn’t feel like going to the ceremony. I don’t feel like there is anything to be proud of since it took me an extra year to finish my dissertation. My parents didn’t care to celebrate with me when I told them I earned my degree. They were probably just thinking ‘finally’, instead of being proud. I got a text from a fellow graduate asking if I was attending, but I didn’t know what to reply. I haven’t seen her in a year and I don’t need another person asking me what I’ve been up to when the answer is depression and anxiety. The weird thing is, I honestly wasn’t interested in attending the ceremony, but somehow that text made me regret it. I guess I have been lying to myself by pretending I didn’t care for all of that formal official nonsense. But the truth is, I don’t want to miss out on ‘normal’ aspects on life anymore because of mental illness. I should be able to be proud of myself, but I’m not. And I shouldn’t be anxious to see my old classmates again, but I am. So no graduation pictures for me unfortunately.

Contagious anxiety?

I live in a small town and there is not much to do on the weekends. However, when I was 19 a friend of mine took me to a bar in the neighborhood, and ever since that’s pretty much where I hang out every weekend and where I met my best friend to whom I shall refer as Daniel. Daniel used to be good friends with another regular at the bar, let’s call him Tim. When I started attending the bar I fell in love with Tim instantly, and we had some kind of secret love affair because for some reason he didn’t want people to know we were dating. In short, it ended badly and it destroyed my confidence. After that I stayed away from the bar because I got panic attacks whenever I saw him and because he had told me nobody liked me, which really worsened my social anxiety. Eventually I got over what happened and now I go to that bar regularly again, while he started dating this girl and started neglecting all his friends at the bar, including Daniel, whom I grew closer with. I don’t think it was related to me though since Tim seemed to ignore all his old friends at the bar, not just Daniel.

Anyway, last week Daniel got a text from Tim after two years of silence. This is pretty much what he wrote: hey, how are you? I just wanted to tell you I’m sorry our friendship ended. I think I’m probably partly to blame. I know I’ve been less sociable with everyone at the bar and that was mostly my own fault but that’s not the point of this text. I regularly tell my girlfriend stories about our adventures together and then I regret we’re not friends anymore. We had a lot of great times together and I’m sorry that’s not the case anymore.

Daniel however is not too keen on reviving the friendship, partly because he knows how Tim treated me and partly because of the 2-year gap. But I told him he shouldn’t hold back because of me. After all they were very good friends before me and Daniel became friends and I don’t want to keep them apart because of my history with Tim, which has nothing to do with their friendship. But what happened with Tim still affects me today because my social anxiety is now worse than ever and it’s partly because of what he did to me back then, which is now 6 years ago. Although I have forgiven him in my mind and moved on, this text made me wonder if maybe he suffers from the exact same thing as me: severe social anxiety.

It doesn’t sound so crazy in hindsight. He was bullied a lot in school and had very low self-esteem, which he acted out on me by saying horrible things to me and blaming me for all that went wrong. And seeing as he has neglected all his friends and saying it is partly his own fault, makes me think he has social anxiety and that’s why he stayed away. Lately he’s been coming to the bar more often again, but he doesn’t socialize with most of his old friends and just smokes weed constantly, which might be a form of controlling his anxiety if he has any. I was very shy already back then and was often too afraid to greet him first because I knew he didn’t want people to know we were dating and I didn’t want to make him uncomfortable, and we would often fight about the fact that both of us had ‘ignored’ each other all night. I thought he was ashamed of being with me but maybe he was just as shy and anxious to talk to me as I was to talk to him. He broke it off because he ‘had commitment issues’, which suggests he has some kind of anxiety at least. He told me we had nothing in common but now I think we had too much in common and constantly misinterpreted each other’s anxiety as rejection.

I know I probably shouldn’t think about all of this as much as I do, but this insight kind of helped me understand why he treated me the way he did. I used to blame myself for everything, and felt very guilty and ashamed of the whole situation. But this makes me think it wasn’t my fault what happened. If he has social anxiety as well it’s probably not even his fault that he treated me the way he did. Maybe my poor self-esteem is partly the result of things people I don’t even know did to someone I haven’t spoken to in 6 years, which is ridiculous and tragic at the same time. What if the bullies went through something traumatic themselves, which made them treat Tim badly. What if it’s all a vicious circle, and I’ve already ‘infected’ someone else because of my social anxiety whether I wanted to or not. I wish I could speak to Tim one last time and tell him it’s alright and I’ve forgiven him. It makes me so sad to know that so many people are suffering in silence. Another friend of mine told me he’s been hearing voices for a few months now. He was severely bullied as a kid as well. He told me about the horrible things they did to him over and over as a child as if it was nothing, and when I told him about the one time I was physically ‘assaulted’ by strangers who poured beer over me and kicked me, he started crying. He cared more for me than he did for himself. That just killed me inside, knowing beautiful people like that are suffering so badly and don’t know their own worth.