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Ask A Therapist: Am I Developing A Panic Disorder?

I just recently graduated high school and I currently don’t have a job. I spend both day and night inside the house either babysitting, watching TV, or writing on my novel. I don’t really have anyone to talk to besides my family because all of my friends have left for college. I’m beginning to feel pretty alone. Starting last month I have been having indigestion, trouble swallowing, a little bit of nausea, and my thoughts race out of control. Do the symptoms that I feel have anything to do with anxiety or is my boredom causing my mind to create symptoms? The symptoms are starting to happen when I get into a car to the point where I flat out refuse to even get into one. I’m afraid that I have the beginnings of panic disorder. Is this all in my
head?

A: Thanks for writing in. The concerns you’re describing do sound concerning enough to warrant a mental health evaluation. Watch the video below for my complete answer…

Take good care of yourself!
Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask A Therapist: Depressed, Anxious, and Socially Awkward

Q: I don’t remember a time in my life where I’ve been totally happy but for the past approximately 2 years i have been extremely depressed as a result of my social anxiety and loneliness. I have always found social situations ‘awkward’, in fact the last time I remember frequently leaving my house for social reasons was when I was about 13. I then became more and more of a recluse from there on, i went out with my friends less and less outside of school, then upon leaving school i stopped doing things with my friends more and more until the point where i have not left my house for social reasons for about 2/3 years. I no longer have any friends and although my family is nice and supportive they cannot provide me with what I need. I have not spoken to anyone in person about my problems, I simply can’t. My parents will just tell me to go to a doctor. Doctors will just prescribe me with a drug that I don’t want. I don’t feel a psychiatrist can help me. I’ve become extremely lonely and depressed. My self esteem is extremely low and although I’m not a bad looking person I simply cannot accept my imperfections, no matter how hard I’ve tried. I feel I am in so deep that I cannot make a recovery. I cannot throw myself into social activities to make friends because of my social anxiety. I no longer find anything enjoyable and nothing at all interests me, this leaves me with the motivation to try nothing. I feel like I’m in a corner with no way out, every possible path I need to take to fix myself, I cant bring myself to walk down whether its my self esteem, depression or social anxiety stopping me. I hate it and I hate the person I am, I’m so sad it hurts. I feel so lost and lonely I cry randomly, its pathetic. There is no reason why I should feel like this, I’ve had a very normal life without any trauma, this only makes me feel guilty for the way I am. Guilt I don’t deserve to feel when there’s so many more out there in far worse situations.

I just want to live my life and be happy, but I truly believe I will never get there. Sometimes I feel like giving my life and donating what i have to give someone else a shot at life. Someone who can appreciate life.

I have read a lot of advice online about people in similar situations to myself but what are my options when the things I need to do to fix myself, I simply cannot bring myself to do?

A: Thanks so much for writing in and reaching out for help. I have seen many clients in my therapy office who express similar feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, focus on their own imperfections, and have extreme guilt for feeling so sad and lonely because they’ve had a “pretty normal life.” It sounds to me like you are suffering from severe depression and anxiety that are keeping you in a downward spiral, unable to reach out for help. The good news is you have reached out on this forum, so I am very hopeful that you can reach out in other areas.

I urge you to talk to your parents and ask them for help. You said you haven’t talked to your parents because they will tell you to go to a doctor. If they love and care about you they will tell you to go to a doctor or a therapist because that’s the right thing to do when a family member is ill. I suggest that you keep an open mind about medication. While it doesn’t need to be the first course of treatment, it can definitely be a helpful tool in treatment. Ask your doctor for a psychotherapist referral as individual psychotherapy can be very effective. Often, a combination of medication and psychotherapy can be effective in treating depression and anxiety.

In order to experience some change in your life and find happiness you will need to take some action, even if you don’t want to, and even if it’s a small one – like talking to your parents about how hopeless you feel. You can do it. It sounds to me like what you’re experiencing isn’t really “you” but is mental illness clouding your thoughts and feelings. You can have more satisfaction and joy in living than what you’re experiencing.

Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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Ask A Therapist: Low Self-Esteem, Technology Addict, and Fear of Relationships

Q: I feel like nothing I do matters and nobody really understands who I am. Every time I reach out to someone they let me down. I guess they just don’t care. The last few years I’ve taken to locking myself away in my bedroom to read or watch movies; it gives me more enjoyment than people do but I’m always feeling guilty about it too. I’m 19 years old and I’ve only kissed 4 guys ever, and never anything more. I’m afraid and self-conscious and I feel like I don’t get the opportunity to meet boys that other girls do. I know its my fault but its so hard to change, and I don’t know if I really want to be in a relationship anyway; I don’t think I’d be good at it at all. I’m always fighting with my parents, especially my dad; he yells at me a lot. I used to be so afraid of him when I was younger; he has quite the temper and is always criticizing me. My mother constantly nags me to go out more, to find a job, to stop watching so much TV, to eat better, to do more chores, to act older, the list goes on. I often get excited about little things and become quite childish and energetic, but the smallest thing can also send me into a spiral of sadness, anger or  frustration for the rest of the day. Both reactions seem to annoy my family. My few friends probably find it annoying too; if I could stand being thought ill of I’d probably ask  them. I always think if I were prettier or smarter or talented at anything, life would be better. I don’t want to be different or behind; I just wish things were easier. What should I do?

A: Thanks so much for writing in for help. The fact that you are reaching out for advice in this forum means you have some hope that things could be different for you, that you can feel differently about yourself and your life.

What you’re describing sounds like depression: social isolation, insecurities, withdrawing from activities, negative thoughts, hopelessness. First, I want you to go to your physician and have a physical to rule out any physical illness. While you’re there please talk to your doctor about your hopelessness, isolation and fears. See if medication is an option for you. Your tendency to turn toward technology may be a way to numb your emotional pain.

Also, ask your doctor for a referral to a psychotherapist in your area to work on ways to improve your mood, gain self-confidence, and gain relationship skills. You may also want to consider asking your parents to attend family therapy  to improve your family relationships.  Even though you’re 19, it sounds as if  you’re still stuck in experiencing the “childhood” disapproval of your father, and criticism of your mother, and letting those emotions dictate, on some level, how you feel about yourself. The good news is, you can feel differently.

Your family relationships greatly impact how you feel about other relationships.  If you think about your relationship with your dad as the “template” for male relationships, and you experienced him as scary and critical, then it makes sense that you would be hesitant to open up to other male relationships, like friendships and dating relationships.  It makes sense that you’d have only a few female friends, too, because you’ve experienced your mother as nagging and constantly correcting you. She is your model of how to relate to women so you likely may fear disapproval in your female friendships as well. Your therapist can help free you from these patterns so you can experience relationships with others differently, and not as extensions of your parental relationships.

In addition to meeting with your physician and therapist, I’d like to recommend a couple of books to you: “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy” by Dr. David Burns and “The Relationship Cure” by Dr. John Gottman. Both books will provide excellent tools and new perspectives on yourself and your relationships.

Thanks again for writing in. Take good care of yourself!

Julie Hanks, LCSW

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