Challenging beliefs, cpt example, social anxiety

Saturday was a doozy of a day. One of those days that takes me days to recover from and process it all. I used to recover by disassociating, stuffing the bad feelings down as deeply as possible, distracting myself and moving on ahead as if nothing happened. Like whatever, its fine, it doesn’t matter.

After attending my group therapies, 3 dbt followed by 3 months of cpt, I have new skills to use when these doozy days arise. First I use breathing and mindfulness to stay grounded and present to avoid disassociating. I tune into the bad feelings instead of run away from them. Well mostly. I’m not quite an expert at this yet. Some are still overwhelming and all I can do is bring myself back to the moment later. Next I fill out my challenging beliefs worksheets. If I’m out somewhere, I write a note in my phone and work on it later. Or like today, the events were so big I need no reminder, I know I need to do a worksheet. So I thought I’d do it here and share my thought process.

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Saturday morning started with an argument with Hubby, quite painful and ugly. That will need a separate post and worksheet and I’m not ready to delve into that yet. But it sets the stage for huge amounts of tension between us. It was his only day off this week and he was feeling overwhelmed with the amount of tasks he had to complete. I thought I would get the kids out of his hair and take some tasks off his list.

I decided I could handle taking them to the library and to a playground, it was a beautiful uncharacteristically warm and sunny day. I thought I could also go to the pharmacy and pick up my meds refill. I didn’t want to go outside. I didn’t want to shower. I didn’t want to leave home. I didn’t want anyone to see me. I didn’t want to see anyone. I slowly prepared myself, as I do, calmly getting ready, bracing myself, doing breathing and grounding, not thinking too far ahead to get panic, but far enough ahead to do pre-coping skills. I had not showered in a few days again, this is always hard for me in this depression to get the energy and to simply remember to do it. So I was headed for the shower when Hubby asked me if I could pick up some stamps at the post office.

Apparently my face said no before I did, because he reacted so quickly. He pushed his chair back abruptly and slammed his hand in his lap watching me. My throat was closing and my heart was racing as I felt the panic. I had to breath and count before answering, and telling him I don’t want to. He got angrier. He said something like, Fine, Whatever, ya know do what you want to then, I just thought you could help out, but everything is always on your terms, and I don’t understand. Nevermind I’ll get myself after work sometime. Thanks a lot.

My heart sunk. I felt so misunderstood. I didn’t want to hurt and disappoint him. I wanted to be normal and run normal errands and be helpful. I haven’t been to the post office many years. It is a place I avoid. I’ve never admitted this before because then I would have a problem. I don’t want to have social anxiety. I hate places where you have to stand in line and then tell someone behind a counter what you want. Especially when I don’t know the rules, like where the line forms, what the stamps are called, how much they are, will they need ID, will they ask me for anything else, how long will I have to wait in line, will the other people in line start talking to me, I won’t have a grocery cart in between me and the other people…my mind races with these questions and the anxiety takes over before I have a chance to counter it.

I cried in the shower. I do this often. No one knows, and it is such a great release. I also figured out that I could send my daughter in for the stamps with some cash. She is old enough and would actually enjoy it, feeling like an adult. I did attempt this, but turns out the post office was closed when we got there, it was closed when he asked me to go, so the whole thing, all that stress for nothing.

I could do a worksheet on that event, but that’s not the most distressing, so not the example I’m choosing. It does build up to the other one though, so it was needed for backstory.

The library was similar, I send my daughter in with my youngest to help him pick up new books and return the old. I’m walking so slowly these days, they actually offered to save me the pain, and to save themselves the time of waiting on me. win-win. my kids get me.

The pharmacy was uneventful. I have no anxiety in there. I know the rules. I know where to stand, I give them my cards, I tell my birthday, I sign the form, I pay. No chitchat. In and out. Easy.

Now the next part is complicated. Next was a playground. If Hubby was working I would be taking all my kids to a playground together. But since he was home I thought I would give him the option to join us. He likes to play tennis with the girl sometimes. But with our earlier blow ups, and him seeming so busy he would not commit when I left and he asked if I would check in with him after my errands and before the playground. So I did. I sent a kid in to check if he wanted to come. I should have gone in myself because the message got all confused and I ended up waiting forever. The problem here is that the youngest wanted to go this big cool playground and that park did not have tennis courts, so if he was going to play tennis then we had to go separately and I had no reason to be waiting, he could go when he was ready with her.

So he comes out and tries to get in the van and I try to tell him this, and gets upset thinking I don’t want him to come with us. Sigh. I’m just trying to balance needs and make everyone happy and get out in the sunshine. Why is it so damn difficult? He stomps off to his car ending our conversation, I was going to discuss options. He motions for me to go, so I do, and I make to the stop sign and one of my boys decides he wants to play tennis too. OK, fine, hop out and go with dad. So now it is just me and youngest boy off to the cool playground.

Cool playground is crazy busy. I’m happy to see this so kiddo will have someone to play with now. We start walking towards it, and I see that all of the benches inside are full of parents. Here comes the panic again, damnit. I spot a bench on the outside where I can still watch him but sit alone. I send him inside and sit down. Less than a minute passes and kiddo returns in tears. He says he can’t go in there…He doesn’t know anyone.

Oh for the love of mud!! I just want to go home!! Seriously?? Little dude is afraid to be by himself in there without his big brother and sister. Of course he is. This is the first time he has ever been asked to go in without them! But I can’t comfort him. I am angry. I am angry because I can’t help him. I SHOULD be able to go in there with him and run around with him, push on the swing, chase him a bit, help him feel at ease until he meets a new buddy and forgets about me. But the pain in my back means I can’t climb that structure or push him on a swing. And the anxiety means I can’t even go in there anyway, not with the swarms of people today.

Its not fair. I felt like a horrible mum. I failed him. I was able to do this for the other kiddos, but this youngest guy has gotten a defective mum. I couldn’t even hug him. I put him back in the van – by himself so I didn’t hear him cry. I closed the door and stepped outside and sat on the bench next to the van. I couldn’t take it. It was unbearable to be this helpless and defective. It was all my fault. I caused him this pain. I caused all the problems today. All the confusion. All the extra work for Hubby. I was a miserable excuse for a human and I didn’t know what to do to fix it.

I called Hubby. I tried to explain. He was very confused and thought kiddo was being bad, and having some sort of tantrum. I told him he was afraid, and Hubby said I was projecting my own feelings onto kiddo, and that I should tell him he has to go in or I have to take him home. I knew that was wrong. I recognize fear, and it was natural and developmentally correct for his age. Its me that has it wrong for my age. Emotionally my age is the same as this child – I see it so clearly now on days like this. How much I needed my mom to hold my hand and help me.

I couldn’t do it myself that day, but I wasn’t about to let the day end like that for him. I explained to him that it was ok to be afraid but that my back hurt too much to go in with him today. I told him that after my surgery, we would work on him feeling safe there without his siblings, but not today. So I drove him to the other park, where his siblings were, and let him play there a little while. I explained he would not have much time to play now, once I drove there, and he understood, no more tears, and none when we left, even though he only had about 15 minutes of play time.

My sweet little boy is always so happy and friendly,  I had no idea he had any social fear, and that his strength came from the security of his siblings.

So back to the worksheet now that you know the story.

A. My son (and I) are afraid to go in the busy playground
B. It’s pointless to try, bad things will always happen
I will never be understood by others
I should be able to do more
I am defective, broken in too many ways
I am a freak, I’m not like those other people
C. anger-100
helpless – 100
ashamed – 100
sad – 80
confused – 80
guilt – 90
D. Most of column D is usually a duh for me, of course my thoughts were extreme, exaggerated, unbalanced, based feelings not facts, habits, have much more evidence against than for, but these are my automatic thoughts and reactions that need to be challenged and rewired
E. Again when I look in E, I can see the problems easily. I am aware and understand them. I know how many problems I have at this point. I jump to conclusions often prethinking outcomes and conversations that have not yet happened.I exaggerate effects of my actions making them life or death, like I may have ruined kiddos life at that moment by not going into a playground.I don’t think I ever oversimplify, I tend to overcomplicate as I analyze. I’m often mind reading, assuming I know someones thoughts based on body language, like that I already know I’m so different from EVERY parent in there even though I have not spoken to any of them. I’m often guilty of emotional reasoning too, meaning that since I felt helpless I thought I actually was for a moment. Or feeling ashamed does not mean I have anything to be ashamed about – it is a remnant of my past and the ptsd.
F. This is the most difficult and most powerful part of this worksheet. you take your unbalanced thought, what you say to yourself in B, and rephrase it so that you believe it and its negative power is reduced. My first thought ” It’s pointless to try, bad things will always happen” could maybe be “Sometimes when I try my best, it doesn’t turn out as I hoped, but we can all get through it”. The idea is not to be over the top PollyAnna but to use realistic, coping phrasing.
G. Now revisit those first thoughts, are they still so powerful and believable? No, I suppose it does not seem pointless to try. I did not curl up in a ball and give up and abandon my kid. I may not have handled it as gracefully as I would have liked. I may have other problems preventing me from being the mom I want to be right now. But I’m still his mom, and I still found a solution that worked. When I let go of perfection, I’m able to move forward and feel less defective, less helpless. He is ok, he is safe. we have time to work on his fears together now that I know about it. Hubby said he would take him to play without siblings some time. It was good we identified an issue. He may not have to suffer like me, we have time to help him.
H. anger – 60
helpless – 20
shame – 100
sad – 100
confused – 0
guilt – 90
hopeful – 50

So this worksheet can help sort it all out, reduce the power of the confusing, overwhelming, negative emotions, and introduce some empowering ones like hope by reducing helplessness. I’ve noticed my guilt and shame tend not to go down. Need to work on that in therapy with something else. I also feel sad today, it seems to come after the anger passes.

I did this one without my counselor, so it may be missing something, she usually adds really important insight that I don’t have. Next time I’ll share one that I completed with her help.

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4 thoughts on “Challenging beliefs, cpt example, social anxiety

  1. I look at the worksheet and freeze.

    A strangely good thing out of this: You learned something really important about your youngest son and you wouldn’t have under any other circumstances. You not only learned about his fear, but you’ve already decided to help him work through it without the shut-up/buck-up demand.

    I’m so grateful I can buy stamps at the grocery store.

    • I’m not surprised to hear you freeze, I can only look at these after 6 months of classes working on them with counselors holding my hand and walking me through step by step, and some days I still freeze. They started us on less complicated, broken down steps to get us to this point. And yes I’m trying to focus on the good of what I learned from that day and move forward from there. My thinking has much more flexibility and spectrum now, not so black and white.

  2. I can remember when I was going through a similar set of exercises to work at learning how to cope with the “unlovable and broken” way of thinking, how it can be extremely challenging to step back from the power of the feelings, and break it down into manageable bits of information. One of my bigger challenges was getting past the anger of having to even go through the motions every time. I’m sure you know what I mean. The whole idea of “why does it always have to be so freaking hard?”. During those years when I was constantly working, working, working at learning the new skills, it was hard to imagine that there would ever be a day when it wasn’t all about trying to work through everything. So it sometimes felt so hopeless, like this pattern would continue forever. But thankfully, we know that’s not true. People evolve, and grow. Circumstances change.

    And one day, when we least expect it, we catch ourselves having a good day, and we’re not even thinking about it or working at it. The good day just unfolds naturally. We get to breathe a sigh of relief, and then, because we know and can appreciate the value of such a day, our hearts grow a little bit lighter, and our soul finds a little pocket of peace. And we realize the value of continuing to work through it, even when we’re exhausted and worn down and burdened by all those negative thoughts and emotions. We human beings are incredible creatures, really. We have the ability to cognitively process in a way that moves us closer to our desired position. And sometimes, because life is unpredictable and fluid and always in motion, we end up somewhere better than we can imagine.

    Thanks for sharing this one, as it always helps to be reminded of how our thoughts and emotions can be gently shifted in one direction or another, if only we’re willing to keep trying. One day, it will happen for us naturally. Until then, all we have to do is keep trying. 🙂

    • I am touched by your response here, so deeply. Your words have such truth and beauty in them, and show an understanding and connection for this situation and the difficult process of growth that I am endeavoring. It is beyond frustrating and painful, and yes I am battling my own anger at the seeming injustice as to why I even have to work so hard at everything. I know I just do and so I just do. But I’m so encouraged to have my friends here with me. I’m trying to remember that humans can be incredible and that life is unpredictable, those are exactly the motives I need to keep trying, keep working so hard for what seems like nothing right now, and wait for that day you speak of when things may seem ever so lighter. hugs to you for reaching out to me xx

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