Best or bust: all or nothing thinking and cognitive distortions

In order to have psychological abnormality the identified pt’s psychological presentation must be characterized by 3 (potentially 4) elements: (1) distress (2) dysfunction  and (3) deviance.  The forth element is danger and may or may not be present. The basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is that psychological abnormality, indicated by a person’s suffering is caused by illogical thinking. This illogical thinking often occurs in the form of cognitive distortions, identified patterns of illogical thinking that often center around negative core beliefs that the pt has developed about the self throughout his or her lifetime. These core beliefs can be thought of as a person’s story about his or herself or what he or she sees when they look in a mirror. As someone who has experience a lot of psychological distress throughout her life, which has resulted in several different clinically diagnosed abnormalities, I am a repeat offender of using cognitive distortions. And while I find CBT to be the most annoying form of therapy (cue the phrase “what evidence do you have of that”), I can’t deny the relatability of these concepts.

The following is a non-exhaustive list of cognitive distortions:

  1. Filtering- only allowing yourself to hear/see negative aspects of a situation while ignoring any positives
  2. Black or white thinking- things are either perfect or a complete failure
  3. Overgeneralization- assuming that one performance in one area of your life says something greater about who you are as a person
  4. Jumping to conclusions- making assumptions about other people’s perceptions about you
  5. Catastrophizing- “what if…”
  6. Personalization- assuming you are responsible for another person’s actions
  7. Control  fallacies- assuming you have control over things you don’t
  8. Fallacy of fairness- making the very false assumption that life is fair
  9. Blaming- saying other people caused our feelings w/o realizing that no one can cause a person’s feelings, not even themselves
  10. Should’s- having inflexible ideas about how life should be
  11. Emotional reasoning- assuming our feelings and thoughts are always true
  12. Fallacy of change- believing that things will be this way forever
  13. Global labeling- name calling
  14. Always being right- confirmation bias
  15. Reward fallacy- assuming we will always be rewarded for doing what is right

*Definitely comment below if you have a distortion that you would like me to talk more about. I have experienced pretty much all of these so I could give you endless examples of all of them.

But today I want to talk about black and white/all or none thinking because this is the distortion that causes me the most psychological distress and pain and causes me to not feel the way I want to feel.

All or nothing thinking is basically how I fell into my eating disorder. In high school, I wanted to lean up for sports. While I did have negative body image and thoughts and wanted to look more attractive and like my classmates, a lot of my eating disorder was focused around athletic performance. I was obsessed with sports, to the point that my perspective of myself as a basketball player was overgeneralized to what I thought about myself as a person (see what I did there). If I had a good practice that day I was a good person. If I had a bad practice that day I was a bad person. If I was a good player everyone would like me. If I was a bad player I would have no friends. I was obsessive about my practices. Everything had to be just right so I was prepared and ready to go. I had to have enough sleep the night before. I had to be well fed enough so that I wouldn’t run out of energy. My hair had to be slicked back and I had to be wearing clothes I was comfortable in so I wouldn’t be distracted. I would come home and  sleep until practice started in the afternoon because I couldn’t bear the anxiety. Obviously this was not sustainable as a college athlete with multiple practices during a day which often led me to mental breakdown and poor performance. I ultimately just stopped caring about my performance when my eating disorder got bad enough and there was nothing left for me to do. I couldn’t obsess anymore. I had moved every barrier there was to move and I still wasn’t enough for my coach who could care less about me as a person. That’s when things got really bad because if there was no athlete, there was no person for me, no reason to live. There was that all or nothing thinking again.

All or nothing thinking still gets me today. It often is in the form of disordered eating. Due to negative body thoughts and daily triggers, I often restrict my eating, especially around certain food groups. Tracking my food is a strong behavior of mine and I feel successful when I am able to eat less food than I need. However, if I “mess up” in my mind and eat something bad or eat too much I often think “screw it” and eat whatever I want in whatever amount I want, which makes me feel like absolute dog crap. I am working on not marking my days as good or bad, but just being ok with having days. Nothing is the same forever and this includes the way our body’s look. While I can control the amount and type of food that I eat and the exercise that I do, I cannot control my hunger levels or my metabolism that has been destroyed through the severe anorexia I developed several years ago. Furthermore, I do not have a body that no one will find attractive or anyone will find attractive. It is most likely that there will be some of both. I just have to find some people on the side that fills my soul and makes me feel good about myself. And while my mental health battle seems never ending and it is hard not to label myself as forever anxious and a lost cause I cannot believe in the change fallacy. I must press on and hope that one day my thinking will be logical again and I can let go of the negative core beliefs that drag me down everyday. It seems like a day, but believing that things can change is the first step in a more logical direction.

#goals

Hello all,

I’m writing to you today from a much better space than I’ve been in a while. I’ve made a lot of changes in the past month that my anxious self feels like are very risky, but are much more in line with what I actually value and want to do. My anxious self is full of beliefs about what I should do and for I long time that part of me has been obsessed with impressing other people and being successful in order to ensure that people like and value me. The farther I go into my therapy process the more I realize that I am extremely socially anxious. I think this stems a lot from my love for connection and understanding other people. But along with this, the thought of people not liking me and me being alone terrifies me. Growing up as a tall African-American girl I was constantly made to believe that I was destined to be a sports star and anything else than that was a waste of natural talent (see my last post about how this relates to the idea of internalized racism).  It did not help that the better I did the easier it was to make friends and the more impressed people were with my accomplishments. I slowly began to develop a deep core belief that my value as a person was equivalent to my accomplishments. This included school as well as I was also a talented learner from a young age and obsessions and compulsions around school were reinforced by my parents at home. This led me to not know who I was outside of straight A’s and stellar athletic performance. These things were who I was and without them I was nothing…up until this past year. After my developing anorexia, I could no longer realistically participate in sports. The weight that I had lost to become a better rower had initially helped, but at the end of my career I could not even jump without blacking out. I remember doing workouts and high intensity pieces just praying I would make it through, just trying to put the blade in time with everyone else. I was losing seat races to people I was much faster then. The obsession had gone too far. The reward system in my brain that obsessed over achievement had found a new way to measure my self and I could not stop myself from wanting to see a lower and lower weight. After stopping rowing due to medical advice and concern for my physical health, I entered treatment. Before going to treatment, I had always wanted to be a therapist. I wanted to hear peoples story and let them feel understood. But after treatment hospitalized for over half a year I walked out bitter towards psychology. I felt like many of the therapists I had could not relate to me. Much like in many other aspects of my life, all I could see were a bunch of white faces who didn’t look like me or understood what it was like for people to stare at you and stereotype you because I looked so different. I was I supposed to just “change my disordered thoughts” and “choose to not let these thoughts affect my behavior” when the thoughts were things that had come out of other people’s mouths. I literally had my first outpatient therapist tell me that I just needed to make a black friend to feel not so alone. Yeah, cause that’s going to solve the problem…It all felt like a hoax, a scam to make $150 an hour, until I started seeing the new therapist I had now. She is the only black therapist I have ever known and  treats me like a person, normalizing all of my critical thoughts about myself instead of setting me apart as someone who was destined to be sick her entire life. It’s amazing how fast things turned after that. She told me it was ok to quit my job if I didn’t like the people around me and said it is ok sometimes to throw a temper tantrum if it makes you feel better. She taught me it’s ok to take time for myself. She taught me that I was a likeable person and made me feel better about myself. She taught me that my dream to work as a personal trainer was not useless or selfish, that I could help people doing that. She taught me that I was ok. That it was safe to be me. Just me. Not my accomplishments. It was scary giving up my dream of being a doctor for now, but I am happier than I have been in a while. I feel motivated when I wake up in the morning again, something that also hadn’t been happening for a while. So now I can start making some goals.

I read this book several weeks ago called “Get your shit together”. Obviously the book appealed to me because after getting out of treatment I felt like my shit was very much so not together. The book talks about the concept of a “fuck bucket”. Essentially, everyone has one, but everyone’s bucket is limited in size. You can only put so many things in your fuck bucket before things start to fill out. So here is my new list of things that I am going to put in my fuck bucket right now:

  1. Getting back to a body that I feel comfortable in and good about
  2. Getting back to a more stable emotional state
  3. Cultivating a more meaningful life
  4. Social development

The book goes on to talk about your “wallet, keys, and phone”. These are the things you use to work towards the things in your fuck bucket. Your keys are your ability to strategize, your phone is your ability to focus, and your wallet represents your commitment. I am planning on writing a post soon on my keys, wallet, and phone for these fucks that I give.

Till then,

J

“But I have a black friend”…and other microaggressive shit you should probably stop saying

I have been thinking a lot about a comment I heard the other day.

“I don’t understand why any woman would like rap music. All it talks about is “getting money and hoes.””

I heard this over a week ago and can’t seem to get it out of my head. I found this comment instantly offensive, but wasn’t sure why at first.  I personally love rap music but understand that everyone has their own preferences. So why did this bother me so much?

And then it hit me.

Most music today objectify’s women. Whether it’s rock, pop, alternative, you name it, there’s probably a song about a girl who has a banging bod and doesn’t wear a lot of clothes. I mean honestly, every country song is boiled down to how a pair of Daisy Dukes changed a guy’s life.

So why is rap music considered different? Why is a rap song about sex inappropriate to play in public when rock songs from the ’80s that talk about sex are considered “classics”?

I’ll tell you why. It all boils down to stereotypes.

Take your average black male. How do you imagine him? Is he wearing a do-rag? A white tall tee? Baggy jeans? A grill?

Is he walking down a street lined w/ chain link fences, bare yards, and tiny white houses?

(If you’re wondering, yes, I did just describe Nelly from the “Grillz” video)

But in all seriousness this picture you’ve imagined probably looks like what you’d consider a delinquent. A trouble maker. A hooligan.  It’s the same stereotype that’s triggered when someone sees a black man on the street and starts walking faster or farther away. It’s the same reason why I was ID’d one morning in my high school parking lot while sitting in my car waiting for my basketball practice to start.

It’s the same reason why innocent young black people are being killed.

Racism doesn’t begin with the words that come out of a person’s mouth.

It all starts with a picture in your head.

It is not the sex that people find inappropriate… It’s the culture.

It’s white culture being more accepted than black culture.

And if you’re arguing this in your head, take a look at Keith Richards. Do you you think he did any drugs or had any sex?

How bout Guns n’ Roses? The Sex Pistols? The Rolling Stones?

Trace Adkins has been to rehab y’all.

Why is it skin color that makes this music scary?

And why do so many white middle class kids go around singing this music if it’s so bad?

That’s just it…b/c it seems bad to them.

It seems like a big jump, from a statement about musical preferences to discrimination, but that’s just the thing…

It seems like a big jump, but it’s not.

And that’s why we have to realize that we must question our attitudes and why we dislike the things that we do.

To figure out if it is a preference or if it’s racism.

Because racism can end w/ a comment or w/ a lot more serious consequences.

For me that consequence was mental illness.

I grew up in an upper middle class suburb. The high school I went to was 93% white. I could not name to you a whole hand of black students in my graduating class of over 500 people.

It was always blatantly obvious to me that I was different. My body was shaped differently. I had many curves in places the white girls didn’t. My lips were big. My hair curly and textured.

And when there is no one like you to connect with, you can only judge yourself on the judgements about your race that the people around you vocalize.

“You are only good at basketball because you’re black. Black people actually have extra muscles in their legs that make them jump higher.”

“You are not actually black. You speak like a white person.”

“You have a huge butt because you’re black.”

And my personal favorite…”What are you?”

So here’s my answer:

I AM A FUCKING PERSON

A fucking person that heard this fucking micro aggressive shit so much that I began to hate myself. It’s called internalized racism son, look it up.

I heard this so much I assumed no boy would ever think I was attractive because the white girls in Urban Outfitters ads were the only thing I ever learned was “pretty”.

I learned that I would always have to be a perfectionist because there was something innately wrong with me that I would constantly have to overcome.

But you know what, I have a label for what you did to me now.

I know it is not all my fault, that I am just too sensitive.

I know that shit is wrong and I’m calling it out.

And I’m sorry if it makes you feel bad for being racist, but I refuse to be blamed and guilt tripped for something I have not done.

Because even though you can ignore it, I have not been able to. It is real. And it has been all too real to me.

Honestly,

J

 

 

 

What I did this summer…

This past year has been the worst year of my life.

I lost everything I have ever worked for.

I lost every part of who I ever was.

I lost my identity as a student.

All of those years I spent skipping sleepovers to study on Saturday nights. All those all nighters and late nights I put in to have an above perfect GPA…

Irrelevant.

I lost my identity as an athlete.

All of the days I spent mentally preparing for practices, making sure I got as much sleep as I could, making sure I was well fed, making sure I didn’t waste any energy I could need on laughing or goofing around.

Worthless.

I lost my friends.

All the people that I supported by trying to make them feel understood and of value enough to be known, didn’t seem to have the time to do the same for me. All of them were too busy to deal with a friend with such a delicate issue as anorexia. Or they just didn’t care enough to put in the time to figure out an approach to deal with it.

Do they say something?

Do they say nothing?

Do they avoid the topic?

Do they distract me with other things?

But most if not all of them just left. Some of them took the time to pass me off to a “qualified professional” but really they were just too focused on themselves to try to help me. I know it’s a tough situation, but in the end we make time for what’s important to us.

I lost my home.

All of the effort I had put into building a network of friends and family in Seattle was ripped away from me when I had to quit my job and move back home to go into treatment for anorexia.

It tears me apart inside that even after all of this I am right back where I started. I am right back at the highest weight of my life, feeling as ashamed and disgusted of myself as ever.

I put in so much work and sacrificed so much to finally have a body I was proud of, to finally look a way that gave me athletic and social confidence. And now none of those sacrifices are even worth it because I’m right where I began.

So now I have nothing.

No academic reputation. No athletic status. No friends or support or plans to do fun things. No body to give me confidence.

I am completely raw.

I am only left with the things that have held me back in life: crippling anxiety, wallowing depression, terribly low self esteem, and a verbally abusive inner critic.

I am not even on my own side.

Once again, I have nothing. I am nothing.

I am stripped clean. Bare, for everyone to see the most disgusting parts of me.

And to think that it could all be fixed so easily if I just changed my thoughts.

I’m sorry that I can’t. I’m sorry I am so sensitive. I’m sorry I can’t just get over these things.

They hold me down like anchors in an ocean w/ tons of salty sea water pressing down on me, filling my lungs and suffocating me. Holding me down while I try to swim towards the surface to take a fresh breath. Becoming more and more tired and defeated as I fight against something I don’t have the key to unlock and is too heavy to just swim away from.

This is the reality of things.

I can’t go back.

I can’t change what I’ve done.

I can’t change how things turned out.

And I think that is the hardest part.

The shoulda/coulda/woulda’s.

The hindsight 20/20.

The “if only I had done this differently…”‘s.

I live the reality of these thoughts and consequences of my actions everyday.

It is blatantly paralyzing how real these things are.

How I am what I’ve created.

How all the work I’ve done is out to see.

How I am responsible for my own being.

I cannot hide anything.

I have no secrets.

Not even how scared I am of this truth.

So what do I paint on this naked canvas?

What medium do I even use?

I am choosing a keyboard.

With these strokes I am writing a new life.

And hopefully these strokes may lead to steps and hopes may turn into reality.

Because I have spent too long doing things I don’t really want to do so that people I don’t really like or respect like me just in case I need something from them when really the only person I may have actually needed something from in the first place was myself.

Maybe what I needed all along was to say I am not a horrible person for wanting what I want or wanting anything for myself in the first place.

And maybe with that I’ll find the key.

Maybe then I’ll have the chance to swim to the surface.

With these keystrokes I take steps towards covering a blank page.

And writing myself a life.

Honestly,

-J