You will question yourself. You will be in a lot of pain. But the only person that'll be patting you on the back and telling you "It'll be ok" will be YOU. No one will be there when you're in pain and in tears. No one will be there to make it easier. It's not their fight, it's yours. To start with, go into every first date with a plan in mind. Don't assume you'll be able to just "wing it" and get away with saying whatever you want. Don't give away too much either. You should stick to safe topics, the same things you would discuss when you meet someone for the first time, but delve a little deeper into the details about your life that will generate deeper rapport in a romantic relationship. A good first date should take place somewhere open, yet relaxed enough to facilitate conversation. Make sure you're active as well. If there is a lull in conversation, you both have a viable distraction to keep you engaged in the date. Have fun! Bowling or mini-golf are perfect for a first date. Dinner and coffee are both good options too, but again, if the conversation lulls, you don't want your date to think you're uninteresting. When you first meet a new date and you feel a physical attraction to them, a lot of the stuff we've been talking about might just go right out the side of your head in a single flush. Don't worry, that's normal. The key to successfully meeting a prospective date is to practice a LOT so that you're ready for whatever happens when you get caught in an unexpected situation. If you go out only once every five months and collapse when you make a mistake, of course you'll have problems.

Instead, maintain a smooth, confident approach to meeting new people and you'll be able to generate rapport over time with anyone you meet. It's like riding a bike - eventually it becomes second nature and you forget how freaking hard it was the first time out. Bars are one thing, but alcohol comes up in a lot of situations. It's available at most parties and in just about any restaurant you take a date. Plus, many outings will naturally end up back at a bar. So, what do you do when the option to drink becomes available? Is it good for your social interactions or bad? Honestly, it depends on you and your attitude toward alcohol. In reality, most of what we attribute to alcohol is just us wanting to be more active and engaging. Alcohol is just a depressant. It lowers inhibitions and relaxes your body so that the things you want to express come out. If you're a happy person with lots to say, you'll start babbling to perfect strangers. If you're secretly very upset about something, you may start sharing your anger or annoyance with anyone close enough to listen. Drinking does very little other than open an outlet to tap into the things you already want to do. It doesn't make you more sociable. It just helps you access your social side. At the same time, it also makes you a little sloppy, not very clear, and a heck of a lot less coherent. So, imagine if you could tap into your social side without alcohol - you'd be even better off. Find words to describe what you are feeling and speak them out loud. Reflect back what you just said, without judgment.

Yes, I'm recommending that you have a conversation with yourself. Simply say that you understand what you just said. You already do this with your friends. For example, if a friend tells you, "I'm so afraid I'm going to get fired," even if you don't agree that he is at risk of getting fired, you may reflect back, "I get it--not knowing feels really scary." So provide that same understanding reflection, just in response to your own pain or fear. Reflect on how the trigger and this emotional response make sense, given the situation, your life history, and your vulnerabilities. Be honest with yourself even if you don't approve of the whole thing or don't want it to be that way. Let's continue with the example of being afraid of losing your job. You're judging yourself for freaking out about it. Ask yourself questions like: How does this triggering situation and my intense response to it make sense given my circumstance? How does this triggering situation and my intense response to it make sense given my characteristic coping style? Here's how you might contextualize your response: "My husband isn't making as much money as he used to, so I feel a lot of pressure to do well at work. I hate that I'm constantly worrying about losing my job, but I understand how the pressure makes me leap to the worst-case scenario." Or you may take notice that "Whenever my boss tells me he wants to meet with me, I automatically think I've done something wrong. I hate that I jump to that conclusion, but I've been that way my whole life. I now get why my boss's email set me off so much." Practice providing a validating statement for yourself, like these examples do. Notice what it feels like to validate, for yourself, that what you're experiencing makes perfect sense--even if you don't want it to be that way. Notice what feelings of tenderness and compassion emerge. Notice what it feels like to be softer with yourself rather than being an emotional drill sergeant. "I know I should tell someone close to me why I'm upset, but no one will understand." Disclosing private details about yourself may feel really tough. You may tend to think that others will judge you for your experiences. But you're forgetting something really important: when others have a hunch that you're upset, but they have no idea why, it is a TRAP for them.

They start to worry about reasons why you might be mad at them! Is there just one person you might consider bringing into your confidence? When you ask them to listen to you, guess what happens more often than not. That person feels useful and close to you because you are allowing yourself to be vulnerable with them. You can even set the parameters. If you anticipate that, in an attempt to make you feel better, they may try to reframe the situation in a better light or start to fix a problem that seems unfixable, tell them from the beginning what you're looking for. You can say something like, "It's hard for me to talk about this, but I trust you and want to tell you what's going on with me. I'm not ready for feedback--I need to sort things out in my own head first. Would you be willing to just listen?" In this way, you can better set yourself up to receive a helpful response and practice bringing someone into your confidence, however vulnerable you feel. Afterward, notice what happened: Did your worst fears come true? Did they laugh and point and tell you how ridiculous or melodramatic you are? Or did you end up feeling a little calmer after talking things through and finally getting those thoughts out of your swirling mind? Did you feel a little closer to that person? Maybe they just hugged you and didn't say anything at all. Did that actually feel safe and helpful, however caught off guard you might have been? "I feel like my energy has been zapped. I can't do anything. There's no way I can follow through on my plans." This urge is so important to address because, as the spinning class example showed earlier in this chapter, the longer you stay sitting, the longer you will feel drained of energy. You need to activate your body to feel more active. Drop and do ten pushups.

Do jumping jacks for a minute. Hold a plank position for as long as you can. Get your heart rate going. Once you've done that, change the scenario in your mind so it doesn't feel so daunting. Just as the spinning class example showed you can keep the intensity settings low on the bike, you can make situations work for your level of energy. You can get yourself to go to almost any event by reassuring yourself that you have the option of leaving early. If you need to be around people, say during your subway commute, and you're nervous about eye contact, could you make it feel a little easier by bringing a book? Having a suicide plan can get tricky and more difficult if you're unaware of the level of distorted thinking that's operating--or if a flurry of stressors dulls your resolve. For this reason, I suggest you ask family or friends to check in on you periodically. In this circumstance, the hope is that others will take note of your suicidal behaviors and intervene on your behalf. I keep a life plan and an action plan ready in case I become inca-pacitated by suicidal thinking. For example, I don't have firearms in my home. I don't smoke, drink alcohol, or use recreational drugs. I keep a list of my healthcare professionals, as well as a list of prescription medications, in my wallet in case I get taken to the hospital. I don't watch fear-based news or films that are triggers for me. The company I keep are like-minded souls who look out for me, as I do for them. And when someone I meet teases me for "being square" or says, "C'mon, live a little," I think about how close I came to death and how lucky I was that hopelessness and despair didn't win out. It is the twenty-first century, and though evidence-based research proves that mental illness is a real medical disorder, stigma is on the rise instead of on the decline. In fact, the dogged adherence to mis-taken beliefs, misinformation, and ignorance makes mental illness one of the most stigmatized conditions in the world.1 Derived from the ancient Greeks, stigma was the primitive practice of burning or cutting a part of the body of an objectionable person as a means to identify them to others. The bearer of this "mark" was to be avoided, shunned, and spurned in public.