What is this “blog” of which you speak??

God, I’m such a rubbish blogger.
I think part of the excuse, er problem is that at the moment I have so many things going round in my head that it’s difficult to put them down into a coherent set of paragraphs that I’m happy to publish. I’ve tried a few times, and given up. Let’s hope this isn’t one of them.
There’s such a lot to tell you, dear Internet, it’s unreal. Firstly, and I guess most importantly, Mr D has a new job. He has gone into business with his ex boss, S and they are doing contract metrology. I won’t even begin to explain. It’s geek and engineering and maths and it helps to be a little bit anal. The upshot is that 1), Mr D has been concentrating on the business more than anything else, and 2), money has been a problem. You don’t need to know the details, but it has been a little hairy recently, but hopefully things will settle down now as the business is gaining clients and recognition and stuff.
As a result, over the past couple of weeks my ‘therapy’ has been a bit lax. I’ve tried really hard, but when you’re worrying about money and you don’t have your partners full attention, it can be a pain. I have been making progress, and I have been doing things, but I’m scared it’s not enough. See, there’s something I haven’t told you.
Several months ago, I was asked by some of my lovely knitting group friends if I wanted to go to Woolfest with them. Last year, they went for the whole weekend and camped, and had a marvellous time. I dragged Mr D for the day last year (having only found out about it the day before) and loved it but felt guilty that there was nothing to interest him. How wonderful, then, to go with people who can enthuse with me over spinning wheels and fibres and weaving and and and…
The agoraphobia. Gah. I talked to my therapist and told the girls that I’d love to come, but it was all dependent on my therapy. They all know about the agora and panic, and they’re all cool. So, my therapy has been with an end goal. To go to Woolfest with the Girls for the weekend. My psych says it’s good for me to have a goal, and at the time I remember thinking it would be an excellent thing to work towards, but if it all went pear shaped it didn’t matter, because Mr D could drive me over for the day anyway. However, the closer it gets (eight weeks last Friday) the more vital it seems to be that I succeed. I CAN do it. I have to remind myself of the incredible leaps I’ve made in the last year. This is the final few steps – but in a way, it’s like that final point where you’ve trained for the parachute jump and you know what to do – but you need to actually jump out of the plane…
I have set myself an intermediate goal, to go to the Post Office and post something. I have a half way point which is the newsagents, and I’m slowly building up to get there. This week, I am walking to the edge of the estate (about 5 minutes walk) and standing by the road sign until my anxiety lessens. Next week, I’ll cross the road. It’s a busy road, so feels like a massive step in itself. After that, I’ll go into the newsagent. The Post Office is about another 3-4 minute walk from the newsagent, so the goal then will be to walk nearer to the post office.
It’s called “graded exposure” and the idea is to repeat the task until it becomes less anxiety provoking. You stay in the situation until your anxiety goes down, and if you do it carefully enough and with the right back up it doesn’t feel so enormous. I haven’t walked to the newsagent or Post Office by myself in about seven years, and of course, in that time, I’ve been ‘conditioned’ to think that it’s incredibly scary and I’ll have a panic attack. It’s all about not pushing yourself too hard, but still pushing yourself. As Æsop said, “slow and steady wins the race”

Perceptions

There’s been a lot of stuff going round in my head lately. This might be difficult to write, so bear with me.
I’ve always believed that when writing a blog it’s important not to ‘bear your soul’ to the Internet. There should always be things that you don’t disclose, and this may have been one of them – except it has become the focus of my CBT.
I guess it was inevitable – after all, CBT can really get to the knitty-gritty of the problem. At my last appointment, D and I discussed how I was getting on with practical exercises, and whether the therapy was going in the direction I wanted. CBT has dissected my existance, my thought processes and my perceptions, and it’s this last one that seems to need the most work.
Not too long ago, I wrote about my perceptions, and how what actually happened was very different to what I thought had happened. It’s a huge problem for me – and always has been. I’m incredibly self critical. Often, my expectations of myself are incredibly high, and even when I manage a task that I set myself, I rarely acknowledge that I’ve done anything special. If I make a mistake, I berate myself for being stupid. As long as I can remember, I’ve not liked myself. Sometimes I’ve even hated myself – and not in a spur of the moment irritated way, but in a deep rooted, and sickeningly powerful way. Growing up, I didn’t have much positive feedback, and there have been epsiodes in my childhood where I’ve literally been told I’m not good enough or that I’m stupid. As a result, my confidence has suffered massively. I guess that’s to be expected. The thing is, I’ve not really realised how negative I am until now. I know that sounds silly, but I’ve lived with the perceived knowledge of my inadequacy for a hell of a long time. I’ve masked it with a nice cheerful friendly disposition, but I’ve never really believed that I could be anything more.
A few years ago, for example, I told a psych that I was “thick”. He did IQ testing with me, and while I know many people don’t give IQ tests much weight, we discovered that I have an IQ of 136. Proof on paper that I’m not thick (or just good at IQ tests – whatever). Now I’ve had a lot of time to think about it, I realise that at school I was just bored. I’d manage the work that was set, then get bored. I was good with reading and writing, and in the end, I remember the teacher giving me a slower kid to coach because I’d finished all the work they had. I didn’t do so well in maths, and (typical for me) I’d get frustrated and leave it. Maybe I’d do well if it was explained differently – my IQ thing showed that I had an aptitude for logic.
My being self critical had never been a big problem in my adult life. I just plodded along, my mask intact. The only outward signs being my inability to take compliments or praise. When I started having counselling, it was one of the first things that was noted. Previous counselling has focused on the past, helped me come to terms with issues that have inhibited me, but now, CBT is looking at the present. It seems that my natural ability to criticise myself is a fairly big hinderance. Again, it may seem so obvious to an outsider – my recognising it almost seems like I’ve woken up from a coma, and I guess that’s partly why my head feels all over the place right now.
In my present situation, dealing with an anxiety disorder that affects my daily life so strongly, my main fear is that people will think I’m being stupid, they’ll think badly of me, or I’ll make a fool of myself. J used to ask me “what does it matter what other people think?” and I couldn’t answer – I knew it didn’t really matter, or at least it shouldn’t matter, but it did to me. I’ve long thought that I’d love to be one of these people who doesn’t give a shit, someone who can be silly and not dwell on it for EVER. (I’m not exaggerating – I get reminded of things I’ve done or said in the past and utterly cringe, but in reality the other party has probably completely forgotten about whatever it was, because it was so damn trivial anyway.) It’s easy to say “but everyone has these feelings from time to time”. With me, it’s all consuming. In my head, I strive for perfection so much, I’m beginning to think I have Borg implants.
Starting to realise all of this means that I have the power to counter it. Looking for the positive, D and I decided that growing up I developed into a well adjusted adult in spite of the crap and negativity. Yes I’m negative, but at the end of the day I’ve only rarely said “what’s the point?” and not bothered with things – and that’s when I’ve been really depressed. When I first started CBT, countering negative thoughts with positive ones felt like going through the motions.
Now, I’m really starting to believe in myself. I’m really making progress.

I’m back, baby!

I’m sorry for worrying the crap out of everyone, but I honestly didn’t think it would take SO BLOODY LONG to change webhosts and restore my database.
I’ll not bore you with the details, suffice to say it involved geeks, squirrels, dns settings and Very Bad Words.

Miniature Knitting

Especially for CraftyDramaQueen 🙂
A couple of weeks ago, I found an amazing set on Flickr, a lady who knits the most incredible miniature stuff – well, see for yourself. I remember thinking “I really need to have a go at this” because that’s what I do – I see a seemingly impossible craft and I have to try it.
My first attempt was just plain stocking stitch, which I started at the knitting group. Kath joked with me about making full size things like socks, and stuff with cables in, so of course I decided to try cabling. The result was pretty cool, even if I say so myself (yes, you did hear me right, I’m actually proud of something I’ve done!) but I didn’t know what to do with it. Then it dawned on me – it had been Kath’s birthday the week before, so I mounted it onto a card, and gave it to her. Of course, she blogged about it, and reading the comments it’s fair to say that my head has swollen so much that I’ll NEVER get out of the door again!
Miniature knitting is actually quite addictive – I have a magnifying craft light which I use, otherwise it would probably be too fiddly. I also only do a few rows at a time, but even so, it’s still helping me with my concentration!
I shall probably sell the cards on Etsy, and Becky is trying a couple on her stall to see what happens. She suggested mounting them in little frames, which is something else I’m looking at.
As an aside, I’m changing webhosts again, and there may be outages, depending on how clever I am at transferring things over. If everything goes tits up, you know why.

Mushy Valentines Day

Mr D and I have been together for nearly 20 years. We’ve never had a massive falling out, and we have supported each other through some pretty rough shit – though lately that seems to be a little bit one way. I wanted to do or say something meaningful, to show him how much I love him, and the lyrics to one song really stand out.

Day after day I must face a world of strangers
Where I don’t belong, I’m not that strong
It’s nice to know that there’s someone I can turn to
Who will always care, you’re always there
When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you
So many times when the city seems to be without a friendly face
A lonely place
It’s nice to know that you’ll be there if I need you
And you’ll always smile, it’s all worthwhile
When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you
Touch me and I end up singing
Troubles seem to up and disappear
You touch me with the love you’re bringing
I can’t really lose when you’re near
If all my friends have forgotten half their promises
They’re not unkind, just hard to find
One look at you and I know that I could learn to live
Without the rest, I found the best
When there’s no getting over that rainbow
When my smallest of dreams won’t come true
I can take all the madness the world has to give
But I won’t last a day without you

– © Karen & Richard Carpenter
(box of tissues available on request)

Visitor

I’m sorry I haven’t posted recently, I’ve had flu and was going to post about how being poorly affects anxiety. This, I think, is much more interesting, although writing it has taken a while because it increases the anxiety when I think about it…
At half past seven on Wednesday morning, Mr D went out to work as he always does, locking the door behind him. I took more notice of this than usual, reassuring myself that the front door was most definitely locked. Trying to be aware of it, so I didn’t start worrying later that he’d forgotten. I have placed a note pad and pen by each front window. I have left the blind in the kitchen closed. I have closed the bathroom door because it casts a shadow at the top of the stairs. I have brought my bag with keys and purse upstairs, and have the front door key and my mobile phone (fully charged) in my pocket. My anxiety was high.
Why?
Last Tuesday, at about 11am, someone knocked on the door. Well, “knock” is a poor choice of verb. “Bang” or “pound” might be better. I froze – then went to the front bedroom window to see if I could work out who it was. Normally, if it’s the postman, I can see their van. The person knocking stopped a moment, then rattled at the letterbox, which is brass, spring loaded and makes one hell of a clatter, before going back to pounding on the door.
There was another knocking – fainter this time, and I wondered if they’d gone next door or something, before realising that they were knocking on the living room window. I peeked out of the upstairs window as much as I dared to see who it was. I could see nothing. They banged on the door again – persistent and belligerent.
Then I heard them try to open the front door.
Words cannot describe how I felt – my mouth was dry, and that familiar hypersensitivity prickled my body. My chest tight, my heart pounding. I ran into the back bedroom that is used as an office and picked up the phone, speed-dialled Mr D’s number and when he answered I heard myself loudly whispering that “they won’t stop knocking, they won’t go away and they’ve tried the front door and…”
By this time I was in a full blown state of panic. I sank to the floor and sat against the wall in the bedroom, wanting to hide, wanting to feel safe. I could hear Mr D talking, yet again being my rock. He asked “can you see who it is?” and I stood up and peeped out of the window – in time to see a turquoise car pull off the drive. Yes, off the drive. I didn’t have my glasses on so couldn’t see a registration number, and because I was in such a state I don’t even know what make and model it was.
My afternoon was spent in a state of high alert – every car that went past I was aware of. I closed the blind in the office, and stayed there, hardly daring to move. I didn’t want to think about it because it was making me feel worse, but every distraction technique I could think of meant that if someone did try to get in again, I might not hear them. I was leery of putting the tv on in case the light or sound could be seen from outside. I didn’t want to put my mp3 player on because my headphones are noise cancelling ones. I couldn’t concentrate on a book.
Rationalising afterwards, and trying to figure out who it could be, I decided that it couldn’t be anyone I know – they wouldn’t be that cruel. Maybe a salesperson. We have some loose tiles on the roof, and sometimes builders knock to see if we want a quote. Maybe the police – but surely they would call out to announce themselves if it was that important? Plus in all of these scenarios, WHAT THE FUCK GIVES THEM THE RIGHT TO TRY THE FRONT DOOR???
I’m okay now. I think. I was thinking that this has knocked me back a bit, I’ve been way more anxious when I’m out, and on Friday when B brought me home from the knitting group, I was almost scared to open the door. However, nobody has been back since, so I’m inclined to think it was some kind of salesperson.
Bastards, whoever they were.

2006 review of the year

And what a year it’s been!
In January, I got That Letter. It’s clear that this had a profound impact on me, but reading back my emotions go from disbelief to anger to a resigned sadness that affected everything else. However, January also showed me that there are still Incredibly Decent People in the world, when I got an email from Wonderful Legal Secretary, offering to ask her boss for advice for me. He ended up representing me pro bono, and the rest his history.
February, I had some kind of bug, and although I didn’t talk about it much, my GP was inclined to think it was a gallbladder infection because I was puking the most massive amounts of bile EVER.
In March, I started CBT. I remember that first appointment with J, telling him that I didn’t think this was a good time because my mind was all over the place regarding my appeal. He advised me to “see how it goes” and I did. Progress has been slow, but it’s still been progress.
By May, however, most of my focus was on Incapacity Benefit. At the time, there was a lot in the media about proposed changes to IB, and what I learned about how IB assessments are done left me both relieved that it wasn’t just me, yet horrified at how many people had been treated so badly by the system – at a time in their lives when they needed support and guidance. I know of at least one person who didn’t appeal against his IB decision because of the amount of stress and negative impact it would have on his health.
In June, it was all over. WLS contacted me to let me know that I’d won my appeal, and that my money would be backdated. There are still no words to describe how much I appreciate her help and support during that time.
The summer seemed to be mostly about getting rid of my anger over the whole appeal thing, and getting back to normal so I could continue with CBT and concentrate on that. By September, I was embarking on a new stage of my CBT journey – practical exercises. From that first attempt, I felt like I was finally moving forward – six whole years since Panic Attack Disorder started.
In October, I had my five minutes of fame when my blog was mentioned in The Guardian, and I indulged in a knitting frenzy for National Knitting Week. The Teddy Bear’s Picnic raised money for a local hospice, and thanks to the lovely B, I made the biggest leap so far with my therapy by going with her.
November and December were all about trying not to get depressed thanks to the dark days of winter. However, I had the most colourful yarn ever and have knit a pair of socks with it. (Incidentally, Opal have re-released this yarn as “rainbow“)
I’m glad I wrote this. I thought a review was a bit passé, but it’s shown me that 2006 wasn’t the washout I’d thought. All I could think about was the first six months being a Complete Waste thanks to that IB decision, but I guess that makes my progress even more impressive.
Stand back, 2007, I’m comin’ at ya…

Don’t say “I told you so”

I knew the town would be packed out yesterday. People thinking “ooh, must go shopping” and trying to avoid Saturday. We needed some bits and pieces, and although Mr D said, “I’ll go by myself if you want” I decided to go with him, because hell – you never know what you might need in M&S’s food hall…
We got there fairly early, and the town itself was busy but I could deal with it. As we walked from the car park, I made a note of saying to Mr D “look after me” which is my code for saying ‘I don’t know if I’ll manage very well, and I need to know you’re really switched on to my anxiety’. I know he already is, I guess it’s just my way of being Absolutely Sure. We made our way along the high street, chatting about rubbish, and I was fine.
In M&S, the food hall is at the back of the store. It was busy when we went in, but still do-able. My focus was on getting a small trolley – it makes me feel safer somehow, and I don’t go supermarket shopping without one. As we went further into the food hall, my focus became fuzzier – what did I want? Where was it? Things that I thought I knew started to get lost in a fog of “OHMYGOD where the FUCK did all these PEOPLE come from???” It was half past nine, and the queues for the checkout traversed up the aisles towards the back of the store. And people WEREN’T MOVING FOR ANYTHING. We needed breadbuns, which meant a marathon fight through five rows of people like that. Yelling “EXCUSE ME PLEASE!” fell on deaf ears. The anxiety grew. I turned to Mr D. “Sod this,” I said, “just dump the trolley and let’s get out of here.”
Mr D insisted on taking the trolley back to the proper place, which (in my mind) seemed to take even longer. “I need to get out, please – just leave it there” I begged, as he stood waiting for people to move so he could put the trolley back in the line with the other ones. The world was swirling. “I NEED TO GET OUT! bollocks – I’ll meet you outside.”
The journey to the front of the store is a bit of a blur. I remember people walking towards me – so many people – please just MOVE. At the doors now. Two sets, and in my panic I try to get out of the one that’s locked. I hit it with my fist, retreat and try again. Suddenly, cold air. I hit some railings, and sit down, head in hands, foetal. The panic washes over me, and I feel sick. I can’t breathe – my chest hurts. Now Mr D is here, talking to me, telling me it’s okay.
I sit like that for a while, until my breathing starts returning to normal. I feel numb, aware only of his voice – and the fact that my backside is cold from sitting on the icy concrete. I get up and my legs feel like jelly. I’ve been crying, and my glasses are fogged up. My chest still hurts, and I feel utterly spent.
This morning (Saturday), Mr D has gone back to M&S for opening time. And this time, he’s gone by himself.