Self Perception

Trigger Warning for restrictive eating and/or weight-related-stuff.

Over the past few months, I’ve noticed that people have been telling me that I seem to have lost weight.  Not people who see me often.  Just people who haven’t seen me in a month or two who come back and decide that after saying hello, the next most important thing they can say to me is to remark on my weight.  My therapist, my Spanish teacher, family friends…  I dismissed these observations as being flattery (since for whatever reason “you’ve lost weight” seems to be a flattering thing to say to women over a certain age; I’m not entirely sure why) or yet another of those strange social practices that humans seem to engage in that will forever elude me.  One way or another, I didn’t really take any of these seriously.

But since I’ve been getting this quite a lot, I thought I’d go check, just out of curiosity.  I went through a phase where I wrote down everything I ate and calculated my calorie intake for the day.   I also weighed and measured myself every Sunday morning before breakfast (having it at the same time every week minimised fluctuations).  Since I had these records, I thought I’d weigh and measure myself and compare that to my last recorded weight.  It turns out that I have, in fact, lost several kilograms, and that my wrist circumference is nearly half a centimetre smaller than it was before.  So my self perception that I’d gained weight was flawed.   I wonder what other aspects of my self perception are equally invalid.

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Careers and Decision Making

I know I’ve posted about this before and honestly not that long ago, but since I’m a high school senior, this is something that I’m being forced to consider and something that I feel a great deal of anxiety about.  I continue to find it absolutely ridiculous that in the eyes of the law, I am not considered mature enough to decide who I wish to marry, I’m not even considered mature enough to make my own healthcare decisions (I had to fight with my parents to get anti-anxiety medication to help me cope until the exams) and yet apparently everyone thinks I’m mature enough to decide on what I’d like to do for the rest of my life.

First things first, I’m really, really sheltered.  My family is upper middle class, I’ve never had financial worries of any kind (until recently when we’re starting to look at universities and that’s kind of an issue…but that’s another matter) and I’ve not been exposed to the real world.  How is it at all possible for me to make a reasoned decision considering important factors like employability, expected salary, standard of living etc when I have never been exposed to any of the problems that are associated with not being able to find a job, or having a job that barely pays the bills.  I’ve never experienced hardship of any kind, and my decision-making really reflects that.

Secondly, I’m seventeen.  I’ve experienced probably less than a third of my life (17*3=51…I think I can assume that if my depression doesn’t kill me, I’ll likely live to be more than 51) and despite the recent posting on identity, I still haven’t figured out mine.  If I can’t even figure out my sexual orientation with any certainty, and I’m only just beginning to develop a strong values system, how can I be sure that what I think I want now is what I actually want?

Thirdly, I have mental illnesses that distort reality a bit.  In the careers decision, I think my anxiety is really distorting how I see things.  I could be hedging my bet, going for the option I think I’m most likely to succeed in, or I could genuinely desire that option.  I don’t think I’ll ever know.

That’s a lot of negativity…and at least some of it is probably driven by my anxiety and worries that I’m going to make the wrong decision and either be subject to “I told you so” or soul-crushing regret.

In favour of my ability to make this decision, I may not be old enough or mature enough to be making the perfect decision, but I’m still already more mature than my ten-year-old self, and honestly, if I wait until I’m ready before I make every decision, time is going to go by far too quickly.  If I let my anxiety rule my life like this, I’ll never find happiness, because I’m just going to be waiting for a day that will never come.  I’m never going to be ready, and I’m probably about as ready as I need to be to make a decision that I won’t regret because even if it ends up being the ‘wrong choice’, I can still answer to myself because it’s the best decision I can make at this time.

As for whether at seventeen I can determine whether what I want now is what I actually want… my teacher was talking to me earlier today and I said “I’m seventeen, I doubt what I want now actually means anything”, to which he replied that he didn’t think I was the type of person to make decisions without carefully thinking about them or decisions without regard for the future (which is actually what a good friend of mine said about me a few months ago).  He’s right that I should probably trust what I want now (as much as I don’t like to admit it, he normally is).  Even if it isn’t what will make me happy for the rest of my life, it is, at the very least, going to make me happy now, and as my teacher pointed out in the same discussion, life is short.

Whether or not I’m ready to make this decision, I’m going to have to make it, so I might as well have more faith in myself.  There’s no real point in doubting myself or my ability to make the right choice for me.  I need to stop listening to the people who tell me that I’m not mature enough or rational enough to make the decision and start listening to people who believe I can do it.  My mental illnesses introduce enough negativity into my life, I don’t need to listen to the negative people.

Pi Day

3.14159265359…

Today it’s one of my favourite holidays (for my absolute favourite, you’ll have to wait until September).

I’ve always loved numbers.  In first grade, I read a book in the library about magic squares and was hooked.  Fast forward eleven years, and I still love the beautiful intricacy of mathematics.

I had to write the BMAT for university applications, and this year’s paper included several questions involving the four-colour theorem.  I really, really enjoyed working on those questions and researched the four-colour theorem on my own afterwards (and in the process came across a pretty awesome book called “Professor Stewart’s Cabinet of Mathematical Curiosities”, which I highly recommend to anyone who likes doing mathematics for fun).  During my mock exams, I actually spent some of the leftover time doodling in the margins of my biology exam trying to use graph theory to figure out how many colours could colour a 3D map.

I also enjoy reading posts on a Tumblr blog called visualisingmath; here is a post I rather liked.

Anyways, mathematics is fun, and having nerdy holidays like pi day is even more fun, so Happy Pi Day!

Also, look out for Pi Approximation Day (22/7), Fibonacci Day (1 1/2 3), e day (2.7, February 7th), or if chemistry is more your flavour, try Mole Day (6:02 am to 6:02 pm on October 23rd…for 6.02*10^23).

Even More on Identity

I promise this is the last one.  Really.  I just wanted to link to a blog post that made me cry because it was so relevant.

Yesterday, I talked about how mental illness and disability can contribute to someone’s identity.  Here’s an awesome blog post I’ve had bookmarked for ages.  It made me cry the first time I read it.  It made me cry again reading it just now.  That’s a pretty big deal since I rarely if ever cry.

So here is a blog post about wanting a diagnosis written by Nattily over at Notes on Crazy.

More On Identity

Yesterday I wrote about values and how that’s important to identity.  It’s the obvious thing people think about when they discuss the idea of identity.  I’ve been thinking lately of another aspect of identity that is often overlooked because it doesn’t apply to everyone, but one that can be very, very important to the people that it does apply to.

Disability.  Mental illness.

Those aren’t things that people often think about when they think about identity, but they’re important.  Here’s why.

When I was younger, I struggled with many things (you can read about one of them here, but I also had other difficulties with social skills, motor coordination etc.).  I’ve been called all kinds of things.  ‘Lazy’, ‘stupid’, ‘stubborn’…  But in the sixth grade (after a learning specialist at my school suggested it for the second time), my parents took me to an educational psychologist who gave me a provisional diagnosis of ADHD.  Although I do not actually believe I have ADHD, the label was and is so important to me, because for the first time, I allowed myself to consider the possibility that I might actually not be broken or weird.  That I might just be a different kind of normal.  That there might be others out there who struggle the same way I do (which there are… I’ve found a few, although at the time I felt really alone).

It’s so easy to say “don’t let [diagnosis] define you/your child”.  It’s so easy to think that nobody wants to have labels like ADHD, autism, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia…  That’s not really true, or at least it isn’t true for me.  I’d rather have a word to describe my struggles, because it lends validation to the very real challenges I face in my life.  Because ‘anxiety’ is always a better label than ‘overreacting’ and if I had ADHD, that would be a better label than ‘lazy’ or ‘stubborn’.  [I read an excellent post about how labels are great as long as they’re the right label, but I can’t remember for the life of me which post it was or even where I saw it.   This post was heavily influenced by that one and I’d love to credit the author.  I will edit to include a link if I can remember.]

Having depression as an identity to validate the fact that certain things are harder for me than they are for people who don’t struggle with depression is really different from using my depression identity as an excuse to not make an effort to minimise the impact depression has on my life.  I try not to do too much of the excuse-making.  In fact, if someday I’m lucky enough to recover from depression, I’m (hopefully) not going to give up on recovery because I’m afraid of losing the identity.  But for now, I do have depression, and having that identity is better than being called lazy on those days when I simply cannot do something because getting up out of bed in the morning is the hardest and bravest thing I can manage for that day.

Identity

Being a teenager is as scary as it is exciting.  It’s a time of change, for better or for worse.  It’s the time of our lives when we’ll make some incredibly great choices, and some incredibly stupid ones.

If I tried to summarise the entire teenage experience into a sentence, it would be this: adolescence is about finding our identity.  It’s the hardest thing we’ll ever do, and probably the most important.  Because adolescence marks the transition from childhood to adulthood, for most of us, it also is the time where we dump out the values that our parents have taught us and try to determine for ourselves the kind of people we want to be, the things we hold important and ultimately what we want our life to look like.

For me, personally, I’m finding that in searching for my identity, I am dumping a lot of what my parents have taught me.  In my society, that isn’t really done.  I’m supposed to respect my parents and honour them by accepting their teachings, but increasingly I’m finding that I do not want to be like them at all.  I want to value honesty above all else, while they think that being practical is more important and that honesty isn’t so important as long as I don’t use dishonesty to hurt others.  I want to believe in following one’s dreams and laying it all on the line for things that are important, rather than pursuing the most practical option.  I want to be the kind of person others can turn to for support and validation; the kind of person who believes that mental illnesses are real and scary and that the people who struggle with them do not need to be told that they’re doing it for attention or that they’re just making up problems.  But I also want to believe that not agreeing with my parents doesn’t mean that I don’t respect them.  I know they see it that way, but I don’t.   I try to understand why they feel the way they do, and I certainly respect their right to hold their own values, and respect that they have very strong reasons for holding the values they’ve chosen to hold.  I very much respect them.  I just don’t agree with them.  And that’s another thing I value that they don’t.  The ability to respect someone who is very, very different from me.  To respect someone who’s made a conscious decision to be very different from the person I’ve chosen to be.

It Hurts Even When You Don’t Mean It

This is going to make me sound ungrateful and horrible, but I’m going to say it anyways, because it’s how I feel and I’m not going to hide from that.

I had a discussion/argument with my parents tonight.  The gist of it was that we were speaking in English and my mother suddenly asked us (my brother and me) to speak in Chinese.  We did for a bit, and then I kind of forgot and started speaking in English.  My father said: “How stupid are you?  You can’t even understand a simple instruction to speak to your mother in Chinese.  You don’t give me any reason to support your education if after learning Chinese for 12 years you can’t hold a simple conversation with your mother in Chinese.”

Being called stupid is a problem for me.  One of the ways my anxiety disorder expresses itself is that I worry about how intelligent other people find me.  I worry about it a lot.  I worry about the scores I get on tests.  Even when I get full marks for a particular question, I worry about whether it was phrased in the most perfect way possible.  I worry about whether what I say was appropriate to the situation.  I worry about whether it sounds insightful or lame.  I worry about…

Long story short, being called stupid, under any circumstances hurts.  I know when my father says that, he doesn’t really mean it.  I know he’s just angry and upset and he’s just venting and coping with his emotions in the only way he knows how.  I know he has his own issues and that he would never intentionally hurt me.  But he does.  Sometimes he says the most hurtful things.  Sometimes he takes things that he knows are my insecurities because I once trusted him enough to tell him, and he’ll use them against me when he’s upset.  Sometimes he’ll say things he doesn’t mean when he’s hurting.  And no matter how much I know he doesn’t mean it, no matter how much he apologises later, it still hurts.   It still makes me feel like I don’t deserve his love, or anyone else’s love.  It still makes me feel worthless and stupid and I still believe the hurtful things he says.  It hurts even when I know he doesn’t mean it.  And what’s said can’t be unsaid ever.

In Which I Ramble About Anxiety and Self-Diagnosis

I’m in the hospital so I now have a lot of free time to write stuff so I can get a few things off my chest. Wednesday was a bit of an emotional rollercoaster for me. A lot of stuff happened and because I’m not currently in a depressive episode, I felt a lot of it pretty intensely.
I finished my mock exams. Chemistry. Three papers of it in a day. I was feeling really, really apprehensive about it because I feel a lot of pressure to do well because I’ve always been good at chemistry and therefore people have high expectations, or at least I think they do. I was also feeling a bit excited because my chemistry teacher had said that he thought I’d find the questions fun (which in his language, means they’d be really hard, but interesting…that didn’t help with the apprehension much). Anyways, the exams were fun, as promised, but because I hadn’t studied and because I missed a week of school right when we were doing the chapter on carbonyls, I found there were quite a few questions I wasn’t confident about answering.
Cue anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorder enters stage right. Honestly, I was kind of expecting that I’d have anxiety about the chemistry exam afterwards no matter what. That’s how my anxiety disorder works. I worry about everything, but particularly about things where the public perception of my intelligence and/or ability might be at stake. Reason and logic do not play a role in anxiety and even when I know how to answer a question, I worry about getting it wrong, or writing a technically correct but silly answer. Couple that with having to be assessed in a subject taught by my favourite teacher and it’s a near certainty that I will spend a great deal of time worrying about how I did.
Lately I’ve been having a new kind of anxiety. In addition to my performance/social/scared-of-the-dark/checking-behind-doors anxiety, I’ve started to have anxiety about my identity. Specifically about appropriating struggles of other people. I was initially self-diagnosed with depression and anxiety. Having that self-diagnosis made it possible for me to ask for help from a therapist (otherwise I would have thought my problems were too insignificant to deserve help) and it allowed me to accept that certain things are difficult for me due to my mental illnesses. The emotional validation of a diagnosis, even a self diagnosis was, for me at least, a major part of self acceptance and taking the steps I needed to take to improve my life and move forward. I didn’t take self diagnosis lightly at all and I carefully considered my symptoms against the diagnostic criteria and against the stories of personal experiences of people with depression and anxiety. Even so, I did have a certain degree of self-doubt, wondering if maybe I was overreacting and exaggerating (professional confirmation of my depression and anxiety made this worry go away, thankfully). More recently, I’ve been wondering if I might be autistic. On one hand, I see a lot of myself in some of the autistic people I’ve met, I identify with many of the things autistic bloggers write about and as far as I can tell, I meet the criteria for an autism spectrum disorder according to the DSM-5 and ICD-10 (I don’t meet the criteria according to the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service, but on that one, the only criteria I don’t meet are the ones for lack of imagination).  My mother has mentioned that she can see why I might be autistic.  A few autistic individuals I’ve met online as well as my counselor who has an autistic son believe that I might be autistic.  Despite this, and despite my previous self-diagnosis having been confirmed to be correct, I worry nearly constantly that I’m appropriating the real struggles of real autistic individuals.

Part of that self-doubt comes from the fact that I realise that I have a certain bias in this.  I want an autism diagnosis.  That sounds like an odd thing to say, because who would want to have a disorder?  But if you look at it another way, whether or not I have the diagnosis, I am who I am.  Getting a diagnosis won’t make me magically and suddenly autistic.  The only thing a diagnosis can change is how I approach who I am.  An autism diagnosis could help me learn to accept why I am the way that I am, and that is really important.

Some people don’t get that labels can make you feel like you belong. They can make you feel you have a place where you fit in. And that means a lot when you’ve felt like you don’t belong, like you’re disconnected… Everyone deserves to feel like they belong. Please quit attacking people for labeling themselves when it helps them to realize they’re not alone. What others label themselves really doesn’t affect you.

lirpaiswolf

I don’t know if any of that made any sense, and I don’t think I really have a point I was trying to make.  If it didn’t make sense, I apologise, my painkillers are making the world feel a bit distant at the moment so my reality is distorted.

Perfection

I have a nasty tendency to hold myself to impossibly high standards of perfection.

This started when I was younger, when I couldn’t make friends my own age.  I tended to seek attention from adults, who although they wouldn’t be friends with me, tended to at least be willing to spend time and interact with me.  I received compliments on my maturity for my age and my intelligence, and as a result, I started to associate my perceived maturity and perceived intelligence with my self worth.  You can probably imagine where that led.  Fast forward to now, and I feel the most anxious when I say or do something that isn’t perfectly mature or intelligent.  I feel anxious when I don’t get full marks on tests and even when I do, I feel anxious if my choice of words in my answer doesn’t match the model answer, because I worry that the teacher will think I’m stupid.  I feel anxious if I say something and it turns out to be wrong, or when I have to admit that I don’t know something.

The one thing all those anxieties have in common when I look at them is that they’re very, very human things to do.  If someone got full marks on every single test and their answers were phrased the same way as the model answers, they’d likely be accused of cheating.  It’s normal to say something and later find out you’re mistaken, or to have things that you don’t know and admit to not knowing those things.  I never have a problem with other people being mistaken, or less-than-omniscient, and yet when it comes to myself, I obsess over every single tiny mistake that I had made.  Every single imperfection.

It’s not healthy.  The more I hold myself to these standards, the more I disappoint myself and feel worthless.  The more I fail to achieve what I expect for myself, the further I slip into depression (but that’s just my experience, not necessarily anyone else’s) and feel like everyone would be better off without me.  But also the more I disappoint myself, the more I feel like I owe it to the world to be better to make up for my mistakes and I hold myself to even more ridiculous standards of perfection.  If I could just break free from this vicious cycle, I’d probably be significantly happier, but disordered thoughts do take time to change, especially when they come from experiences in my childhood that have been constantly reinforced for years and years and years.