AVOIDANCE: MY UNHELPFUL COPING SKILL

Authenticity. Vulnerability. Honesty. Ugh.

I’ve been trying my best to be gentle towards myself for struggling immensely with tackling these concepts in my every day life, but the truth is it’s really fucking difficult. Trying to get out of the habit of unconsciously (and consciously) filtering myself by recognizing and calling myself out whenever I do it, feels like a never-ending game of “tug-of-war” that is incredibly exhausting to play.

When it comes to blogging, part of my brain is like, “This is your space to write about whatever you want, so write!” and the other part of my brain is like, “No one needs/wants to hear about the constant negative shit that is/has been going on in your life so its better to not write anything at all.”

Needless to say, my depressive and anxious thoughts have been getting the best of me these days. I haven’t felt like sharing what’s been going on in my life because I have a strong tendency towards avoidance. I’m still learning how to manage, work through/challenge, and embrace those (helpful and unhelpful) negative emotions, such as: shame, guilt, anger, hurt, sadness, disappointment, and anxiety that are currently consuming me.

I spend a lot of my time in both individual and group therapies. This year, I have been in, or am currently in a combination of therapies such as: CBT, EMDR, DBT, and TTED (I made up this last acronym, although it is essentially just another type of CBT-based therapy). I’m grateful that I currently have access to these therapies but going through them often feels like a “Catch 22” situation. It’s a situation where “I have to feel worse before I can feel better” – Except I already feel pretty fucking terrible to begin with… and I’m supposed to feel this even more? It’s hard.

Understanding the basics of how emotions work, then learning to recognize them, sit with them and feel them, instead of repressing or avoiding them is still challenging for me. Avoidance has always been my go-to unhelpful coping skill; whether I’ve repressed or avoided my emotions through overworking or overscheduling myself, taking care of others instead of taking care of myself, doing school work or procrastinating doing school work, procrastinating tasks in general, over-exercising, controlling food, substance use, withdrawing myself from events, situations, activities… As you can see, my list isn’t exhaustive by any means, and I have definitely mastered the unhelpful coping skill of avoidance. But I’m actively working on challenging my avoidant tendencies, even if it’s uncomfortable. “No (emotional) pain, no (emotional) gain” can be my newest saying, I guess?

I try my best to stay positive and optimistic about my healing journey, but it’s honestly been nothing short of an uphill battle. I feel exhausted battling my brain all day, every day; trying to notice, challenge, change, or accept my thoughts and emotions for what they are – just thoughts and emotions – without feeling the need to act based on them. More often than not, I succeed and can manage and go about my day. But sometimes, usually when I’m feeling particularly overwhelmed, I’m not as successful at challenging my thoughts and then my “Fuck this. I’m tired. Repress. Avoid” mindset wins. I’m human – a work in progress – and that’s okay. At least I’m still trying, and I’m attempting to blog about my feelings rather than continuing to avoid them.

“Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.”

Linla

CHANGE IS HOPE

It may seem a little strange to start a new blog and then abandon it for a few months, right?

Well, in my opinion, it’s not strange at all. In fact, for me, it was absolutely necessary.

I shared with you all in my last post about my struggle with authentic vulnerability. I stated that my goal in creating this new blog was to continue sharing real stories about my life – like I had done in my previous blog – except this time; I wasn’t doing so as an anonymous entity. I knew this would be a huge challenge for me, but I underestimated just how challenging it would actually be. So, instead of becoming overwhelmed by my struggle with authentic vulnerability and shutting down completely, I decided to get curious and start exploring the reasons as to why I felt so uncomfortable sharing my true self with the world.

Surprisingly, I felt like this part of my healing journey needed to be explored more thoroughly in my real life, before I would be able to share anything in-depth about my life online again. I needed to give myself time to be self-reflective; focus on the work I was doing in therapy, during my time outside of therapy, and explore new opportunities, so that I could start actually overcoming my struggle with authentic vulnerability and continue blogging again.

So, what have I learned about myself over the past few months? Well, if you want a vague, oversimplified answer then:

“Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.”

I know that this phrase is a cliché in the mental health discourse but it’s also accurate, in my experience. I would love to sit here and tell you that everything up until this point has been and continues to be going well for me, but that just isn’t true. Life is messy, and is filled with ups and downs. But guess what? That’s totally okay (…or at least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself until I whole-heartedly believe it!) So, in the spirit of embracing the uncomfortable and practicing authentic vulnerability, I will expand on my “oversimplified answer” and share snapshots of the various experiences (from two different perspectives) that I have had, that have led me to many realizations in my own story.

Perspective #1

Have I had good moments, or days, over these past few months? Absolutely. Even though my depression and anxiety have come back with (what feels like) a full-on vengeance, I’ve managed to maintain contact with those I see regularly, I’ve made new friends, and have reconnected with old ones. I became more involved in my community by volunteering to help coach sports teams at my old high school. I also accepted an opportunity to speak publicly (for the first time ever) about my life, faith, and mental health journey at the CLAY Gathering that took place this summer in Thunder Bay, ON (a special thank you to @JaseWatford and @SickNotWeak for their encouragement and support! *You can find/follow them on Twitter*) I traveled to Toronto to see a Taylor Swift concert with a wonderful university friend, and was able to catch up with my other “out of town” friends during that same trip. Most importantly to me though, is that I have been working hard in individual therapy, group therapy, and during my time outside of therapy to be open and honest about what’s going on in my life, so that I understand myself; my emotions, behaviours, thought processes, and my life experiences in a more helpful or constructive way.

Perspective #2

Have I also had bad moments, days, (or even weeks) over the past few months? Honestly, I’ve had way more than I’d like to admit. Dealing with the stress of navigating complex health care and government systems and experiencing setbacks is exhausting and frustrating. Managing family drama is never a fun time. Spending hours in the library trying to finish my school work so that I can finally graduate, leaves me feeling hopeless, at times. Medication not working like it used to, or experiencing annoying side effects from medication (I am so over nose bleeds, for real) is also incredibly challenging to cope with. Dealing with traumas, nightmares, and frequent dissociation. Putting in so much effort into all of my therapies and not feeling like I’m making the progress that I think I should* be making (*Side note: calling myself out while editing for this unhelpful thinking pattern of the “should” which takes away from the reality of how far I’ve actually come in my healing journey!) Noticing that I’m starting to distance myself from my real life and online friends/communities because due to frequent dissociation, I tend to get caught up in existential thoughts of “What’s the point?” … Sometimes it all feels extremely overwhelming.

.   .   .

Taking into account both of these perspectives of my experiences over the past few months is why I am trying to embrace the phrase, “Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.” Staying engaged in therapies and interpersonal relationships when it would be easier to give up, trying new things – even if it makes me feel anxious or scared – but doing it regardless, getting back up every time life knocks me down… This is the reality of my healing process; it is filled with ups and downs. This is okay.

It is through all of these experiences and self-reflection that I’ve learned that my struggle with authentic vulnerability is influenced by a multitude of factors. It is partially rooted by the Scandinavian/Western culture I grew up in: one where it’s not always encouraged to acknowledge your problems, let alone talk about them publicly. This creates an enormous (and unrealistic) amount of pressure to appear “perfect” in all aspects of your life at all times. To break that down further, I come from a life filled with traumas that I am still trying to work through and it’s harder for me to share those sensitive topics as my real self; again, partially due to my upbringing and partly due to my personality traits – being quiet, shy, introverted, and sensitive to negative criticism. I sometimes fear (but less so now) that by openly sharing my struggles, I will face negative repercussions in my future, mostly when it comes to my career or interpersonal relationships. Sharing my stories authentically online can also feel very one-sided and odd at times; like someone might know a whole lot about me from what I share and I know little or nothing about them. Have I mentioned that I have social anxiety and tend to overanalyze everything?

So, after many months of challenging (and rewarding) experiences, exploration, and self-reflection: Am I now completely comfortable with putting myself out there and being vulnerable all the time? No… but the difference is that now I am consciously making a greater effort to be more vulnerable in both my real life and online interactions, and I am worrying less about what people think about me. I have a greater understanding about my history with authentic vulnerability, my emotions, thoughts, and behaviours, which has helped me form a more balanced perspective of my experience with vulnerability. Even though I feel like this blog post is a little bit all over the place, in terms of how I would typically write a blog post, I am fine with that. It’s real. It’s vulnerable. It’s a piece of my story.

I’m still here, trying to figure it out and staying curious about my experiences; and I hope you are too. I believe that change is hope and that healing is a journey, not a destination. I’m going to keep holding onto this mindset and continue challenging myself to overcome my struggles.

I’m just going to say this one more time, in case I haven’t said it enough already throughout this post: “Healing isn’t a linear process and change takes time.”

Stay curious,

Linla