Nature and Nurture cont.

How does one acquire confidence, when their biggest critic is the one that birthed and raised them? It’s tough! How do you learn to be proud of yourself, encourage yourself, love yourself in and out, when the criticism out weighed the praise? Chile… even tougher! How does one make it through life being so unsure of themselves? You can, life will happen to you though, rather than setting your own course.

My dad loathed that I was (still am) fat. I plumped in grade school. Wanted PB&J’s in my lunch, rather than turkey sandwiches, and my affinity for eating out developed due to not liking what was cooked at home (this still plagues me, whew). Like most kids I was forced to sit and finish my cabbage, but anytime I could get Burger King or White Castle, I was there (especially when I was with mom)! Most things I did wrong, my dad blamed it on me being fat. If I fell, it was the fat. Got sick… the fat’s fault. Got teased at school… my fault, for being fat. I remember he tried to sign me up for this pee-wee football league, which I didn’t want to do at all. Thankfully, I was too fat for my age category (yea, fat) and couldn’t do it. I was pleased, he was pissed. My lack of interest in anything sports related, was not met with elation. Eventually, I was signed up for Karate lessons, which I grew to enjoy (have my Black belt, so don’t try it), but if I lost a sparring match; that’s right, it was the fat!

Body positivity was not a phrase that was heard of back then, at least not for me. Being fat was just a straight up negative characteristic. My body I never really loved, never was quite comfortable in my own skin. To this day I still struggle with feeling secure in my size, love handles, man-boobs, some saggy skin, and big back. I’m getting there though. As you can imagine, the negative self-talk started early for me. I never wanted to draw too much attention to myself, fearing the first thing out of someone’s mouth would be how fat I was. That kept me from expressing myself, participating in some activities, and had playing small as to not take up too much space figuratively and literally.

The two things that did give me a bit of confidence was that fact that I was a tad smart and being talented enough to learn musical instruments. Though not a straight A student, I did well enough to consistently make the honor roll and be inducted into the National Junior Honor Society in middle school. I started playing the clarinet in grade school, then transitioned to the tenor sax in middle school, playing it throughout high school. I participated in a few solo competitions and placed well. The praise from teachers let me know I was doing something right, and gave me a boost. Kept the parents pleased which gave a little boost as well. The only thing with that, is it kind of led to lookin for my confidence through compliments from others, which led to trying to be pleasing to others or trying to prove them wrong if they doubted me. Yes praise and acknowledgment from others feels good, but there she be a level of self-confidence within, that is not based on others. I lacked that for a while.

I do not want this to sound like a complete sob story, and again my childhood was not one of tragedy and trauma. I’m just covering some developmental items that have had long lasting effects on how I’ve navigated through life. First communication (see previous post), now confidence, next, I’ll share how anxiety ties in to all of this.

Nature and Nurture

Anxious, (somewhat) introverted, quiet man, meets anxious, (definitely) introverted, quiet woman. They date, fall in a love, have an anxious, introverted, quiet son, then eventually get married. Anyone who goes to therapy can tell you, as you begin to dig into various situations and happenings, a lot of them stem from childhood. It’s no different for me. Of course I love my parents, they did their best, but looking back, I can tell how I acquired some not so positive traits from them. From poor communication skills, to issues with confidence, and of course the kicker – anxiety.

Communication deeper than surface level stuff never really happened. From what I can remember prior to high school, mom worked an evening shift and dad worked a morning shift. I’d get picked up from elementary school by someone from KinderCare Day Care Center and I’d stay at their facilities till dad picked me up once he got off. I’d rarely see mom during the week. Dad was a bit of a hot head too, getting ticked at the silliest stuff; anger was the only emotion he expressed well. I remember writing notes to my mom about him getting upset and not liking him. I’d leave them under a kitchen table mat, she’d read them once she got home, and write something back, leaving her note under my pillow. That happened for a little while, till dad found one my notes to her and deaded that secret communication. Dad didn’t want to be bothered too much, he’d check homework, get on me about cleaning up; typical dad stuff, but no conversations about growing up, becoming a man, what do you want to be when you grow up, girls (*giggles*), or other typical “boy” things. I hung with mom on the weekends, tagged along with her to her bowling league. Again, not much conversation with her either. I was a lowkey kid, no major issues at school (outside of being a cry baby), so I guess they figured I was fine.

As high school came around, there was a shift. Dad had lost a job, found a new one, but now both parents would be working nights. Mom left around 3pm and dad was leaving around 9pm; I’d be home alone till mom got back around midnight and sometimes 1am, if she had to stay later (thank God never ever happened). As I got involved in things in high school, and had stay after, she’d be gone and dad would be in the bed resting up for his shift by the time I’d get home. I’d eat an already prepared dinner, do my homework, then watch TV. I had a few friends, but I was never much of a pick-up the phone and talk person (that hasn’t changed much; yikes). Pleasantries would be exchanged with dad when he woke up, but that’s it. He’d leave and I’d head up to bed. This was the routine throughout high school.

Now trust, I know my parents were doing what they had to, to provide a good living. I’m totally thankful for that. I just wish there had been a little more concentration on the child/teen development piece. We didn’t talk about feelings, how to process different kinds of situations kids may experience, and not a whole lot of pep-talks or conversations about the future. Of course I obtained some social skills from teachers and schoolmates, but that foundation was missing at home.

I’ll get into the confidence and anxiety on a later post…

40 And Something New

40mg has been the magic dosage for me. I’ve been on it for a little over a month now. I wouldn’t say I feel like a new person, but I feel more present. It’s helped me focus on my cognitive behavioral exercises, leading to a decrease in the negative self talk. My overthinking has subsided a bit, which is a major relief. Of course I still get nervous and concerned about things, but those nerves haven’t turned in severe worrying and dreadfulness like before. The physical symptoms I used to experience have pretty much disappeared. The racing heart, sweating, shortness of breath, and tightness in my chest are not there. I also think more of my personality is starting to show. I’m not living in my head, overthinking and being anxious about responses to things, nor worrying so much about what other people are thinking about me. I’m just being!

The initial side effects when introduced to the 40mg were the same as before. However, I started to notice something else… my libido decreasing. Feel free to skip this part, if it’s TMI, but I must inform! It would take nothing for me to get an erection, but now I noticed not being as “hard” as before, and needing a little extra stimulation to stay “up”. I also noticed it taking significantly longer for me to climax. With self-pleasure, I could pop one off easily, but even that was taking longer than what I was used to. It scared me a bit, but even that side effect seemed to subside a bit after being on that dosage for a while. That is until an additional medication was added to my regimen… Trazodone.

Tazodone was added to help me sleep. I’ve had sleep issues for a while now. I developed sleep-apnea due to prior weight gain, plus I live in a poorly built condo where little to no sound proofing was done between the units; I can hear every foot step my upstairs neighbors take, in addition to hearing their TV, alarm going off in the morning, loud conversation… everything!! It sucks!! Any-who, I tried to pop some Melatnoine, but even that was not helping me stay sleep. My psychiatrist recommended Trazodone at 50mg, so I tried it. I was a bit concerned about taking more meds, but that went out the window once I took it and slept like a baby. My sleep has been great, really only waking up to use the bathroom, but again a hit to my libido was taken. I could get aroused, but climaxing was not happening. Self-pleasuring in the morning was out. I tried once and could not climax after about 30 minutes and wasting about 6 pumps of my good lube! Tried a few more times in the morning and got the same results. It’s still an issue now, but I’ve learned to work around it; basically, not self-pleasuring in the morning any more. Also with the Trazodone, the sluggishness in the morning can be pretty drastic. It’ll take me a minute to get moving and i’ll be drowsy for maybe an hour after waking up. However, again, the sleep has been the bomb, so I can deal with that!

Overall, I feel a nice balance with my medication treatment. I’m happy and glad this is working for me. Now that I’ve caught you up on present happenings, but now we’re going to take it back… way back! How did things even get to this point? As with most things, it starts at childhood. Stay tuned…

10… 20… 40!?

10 – Taking my first 10mg of Fluoxetine (aka Prozac), was… uneventful.  Yes, I know, I know, I wasn’t supposed to expect the Limitless Pill (see previous post) experiencing, but a tiny part of me thought I’d feel some neurons firing!  Silly, I know.  By the end of the first week, the only side effects I really felt were a little bit of nausea and a little bit of light headedness about an hour or so after taking the pill.  Those feelings did not last very long, but they were noticeable.  In terms of my mood and anxiety, I felt… no significant change. Fairly pleasant mood.  The physical symptoms of my anxiety still transpired.  I was still feeling worried and overwhelmed about a few things.  After about a week and a half on 10mg, I bumped up to 20!  (I think I forgot to mention, the doc prescribed both the 10 and 20 with the initial prescription.)

20 – The same side effects presented, but I did notice some up and down moods, and brief periods of being stoic.  However, some of my physical symptoms started to subside.  The racing heart, accelerated breathing, and chest pressure didn’t seem as prevalent during moments of nervousness.  I say moments of nervousness, because even with that I started to notice I wasn’t dwelling and overthinking myself into panic, like I’d used to do.  Upon follow-up with my Psychiatrist, we discussed, and he suggested upping me to 40mg.  At first, I was thinking “Woah, wait?! How did we skip 25-35?”. Plus, I was not aware dosage could go up to 80mg depending on the severity of the anxiety and depression.  I left that appointment with a prescription for 40mg and that is where I am currently at in my dosage of Prozac!

More on my experience at 40mg later… Stay tuned!

SSRI What? SSRI Who?

So where were we? Ahh, yes, leaving my therapist appointment on 11/23/2019, with a referral to a Psychiatrist. Well… 12/19/2019, was my first time stepping foot inside a Psychiatrist’s office. Between the appointments I was doing too much Googling and watching YouTuber’s discuss their experiences on medications for mental health. So much, that it peaked my anxiety and became overwhelmed. Some Youtuber’s praised them and loved how much their medications helped them, while some others stopped using theirs noting they couldn’t take the side effects, or how they didn’t feel right. I remember when I went to my first therapy appointment, I stated I feared having to go on medication, thinking that meant I was “weak” and not able to “beat” my mental angst on my own. However, after settling down and rationalizing things, the continued cycle I had been used to needed to be broken!

The initial consult with the Psychiatrist went well.  I told him my story, gave some examples in which anxiety and depression get the best of me, discussed some of the sources and causes, and of course we discussed the medication options.  Specifically, we talked about the Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor’s (SSRI’s), Zoloft and Prozac.  Obviously, I expressed my concerns and asked what I should expect.  Side effects can range from nausea to libido changes (WTF), and weight gain.  In my initial thinking, I was wondering if it was going to be like the Limitless pill, where I “unlock” and utilize additional parts of brain, becoming this energetic “superhuman” that can conquer anything. However, the doc quickly assured me I shouldn’t expect to suddenly become the “life of the party” or “mister talkative, with the bubbly personality”, but the medications should ease my symptoms and get me out of my head so much. Plus, it would assist in executing my cognitive-behavioral practices from therapy.

I decided to move forward with adding this form of treatment to assistant in my mental health progression. Prozac was the drug decided upon. Before leaving the appointment, the prescription was sent to my neighborhood Walgreens.  About 2 hours after, I received the text saying my prescription was ready.  I picked it up at 7:00pm that same evening.  And on the morning of 12/20/2019, I took my first 10mg of Prozac.

What’s The Haps?

Let’s get into present day happenings with my journey. I have been seeing a therapist for two years now. Treatment has consisted primarily of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). What’s that you ask? To put it simply, it focuses on practices to help you change your thinking and behavior, as well as giving you guidance on managing your emotions. From breathing techniques, to exercises, and “homework” assignments, this type of therapy takes work!

CBT has certainly been beneficial to me. The exercises and tips have provided help in managing my anxiety and depression, but I still struggle and get to points where everything I have learned, gets “forgotten” and I “fall”; it’s a vicious cycle. Anxiety is tough and takes me out sometimes. The overwhelming state of worry takes over and I become stuck. I get bogged down, my focus gets thrown off, and I become avoidant of responsibilities. It also gets to the point where the mental anguish manifests in physical form as consistent tightness in my chest (like an elephant is sitting on me), headaches, shortness of breath, and sweating (even if I’m sitting still, not doing a thing). All of this ultimately leads to me feeling down, depressed, and even upset with myself for letting things get to this point. From the outside, most folks would not know, I still appear as “cool, calm, collected” Gilly on the outside, while literally dreading life on the inside; it’s terrible.

On 11/23/2019, I had a therapy session. During this session, we discussed the possibility of adding medication to my treatment plan, in addition to the CBT techniques. The suggestion itself made my anxiety peak, as I never thought medication would be something I’d need. However, when you are tired of the norm and really want to see some different results, it makes you consider the possibilities. I left the session with a referral to a psychiatrist and a lot to consider about what was next in my mental health process.

Hate to do it, but I’m going to hit you all with the “to be continued” line. Be sure to check back!

Nice To Meet You

Oh, hey! Come on in! Get comfortable while we get uncomfortable going through this journey called life. I’m Gil a.k.a. Gilly, a 38 year old black man, born, raised, and still living in the Chicago area. I love to travel, I’m a foodie, I enjoy visual and performing arts, lover of music and movies, a personal cheerleader to friends and family, and a financial well-being advocate. I do all these things and more, while living with and managing anxiety and depression.

Why do this? A few reasons:

  • Mental health is a growing concern for black men. We’re often told to sweep our feelings and emotions under the rug, while putting on a strong front, though we’re dying inside
  • Sharing my story will let others know they are not alone. So many people experience these conditions, but are afraid to speak up and feel alone in the journey; they are not
  • Additionally, writing will help me as well. It allows me to think things through, get the thoughts out, and provides relief

I will try to post once a week. Posts will vary in length depending on the topic. I will share personal stories, achievements, and disappointments. I hope this connects with many people, but like I noted above, especially my fellow black men. Please feel free to comment on my posts (keep it cute though lol) and be sure to share with others who may benefit from reading this.

As Tisha Campbell sang, “It’s the journey”… Let’s push though!!