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”

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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.

Don’t be so bloody hard on yourself…

Okay, the format of this may seem a little odd. First thing this morning, I started writing a blog entry about how I’d done with my CBT in the last couple of weeks, ahead of an appointment with D this morning. I never finished it, and now I’ve come back from my appointment, Things Have Changed. What I’ve written in normal type (aside from this bit) is what I wrote first thing – in italics is what I’ve realised since I saw D.
* * * * *
I suppose it was bound to happen – CBT is frustrating the life out of me. [this is because I have very high expectations of myself]
Firstly, I’m not getting out to do ‘therapy’ as much as I should. In the last fortnight since I saw D, I’ve managed maybe three or four purposeful expeditions, and one of those was last night, at the last minute. Part of the problem is that life gets in the way. We had all that trouble with the car, which (and I won’t bore you with the details) only got worse, resulting in Mr D driving around for a few days illegally because of a garage’s incompetence. All non essential journeys were cancelled, and that included ‘therapy’. Mr D has been worrying about his dad, who isn’t well. Mr D’s mind has been everywhere but on my therapy.
[okay, so things happen. I need to accept that it’s not always going to be a perfect therapy scenario]
On Thursday, we went into town. I’d said “look, we really need to do something” and we’d decided to go to the retail park. Unfortunately, the weather was atrocious, and when Mr D got home from work, he said he’d rather not go there because there’d been an accident and the police had the road blocked off. Plans changing suddenly doesn’t help my anxiety. Mr D suggested that all was not lost – our town centre opens late on Thursdays up to Christmas.
I tried to unravel my mind from the swirling thoughts of “hang on, this isn’t the retail park” and we set off. I think everyone in town had the same idea, because it was really busy. The car parks were so busy, that we only found a space in the third car park we found. In my head, busy car parks means busy streets, so my anxiety was rising steadily.
When we’d planned to go to the retail park, I’d said I wanted to go into Staples for something, and said I would use that as my therapy. As we walked along the high street on Thursday evening, I wondered out loud if Stationery Box was open – and exclaimed “oh good!” when it was. Something was at least going to be the same. Maybe it was my fault that I didn’t spell it out to Mr D. Inside the shop, he stuck to me like a damn magnet. I said “can I not do this by myself?” and he backed off a couple of steps. I ducked round a corner and he followed me, almost instinctively like the Old Days. I found what I wanted, went to the till and paid, and we left the shop.
I was frustrated, and mentioned it. He didn’t hear me. I said something else, and had to follow it up with “HELLO??” to which he responded, “wha? sorry, I was miles off…” I got angry, and said “fuck it – I can’t do any therapy if you’re like this” and quickened my stride as I always do when I’m cross. He didn’t say anything about it, and I didn’t try anywhere else.
[so, in spite of the fact that my anxiety was high, I still TRIED. The fact that I was wanting Mr D to sod off so I could do it on my own was a GOOD THING]
On Saturday, we were going somewhere else, and by the time we got to some shops, everywhere was too busy. On Sunday, we had a chat about what was happening. I’d been building up frustrations about how much I was doing for a while – and had actually started worrying that D would discharge me if she thought I wasn’t trying.
[this is my silly melodramatic over-reacting head. Of course D isn’t going to discharge me. Maybe if I sat there sullenly and said “I don’t give a fuck and I’m not going to try” she would, but not because I didn’t live up to my OWN expectations!]
Monday, I went into Borders, and managed to get a DVD and wander about the store while he was upstairs. We went into M&S, and for some reason, my anxiety was higher, but I stayed there for a while, telling Mr D why I was wandering around in a seemingly aimless way. It seems that Monday’s experience was the best of a bad bunch.
[in fact, what really happened was me trying incredibly hard IN SPITE of the obstacles in my way. Even with my low mood, I managed to do quite a bit, and I persevered.]
* * * * *
I told D all of this – including the bit where I was afraid she’d discharge me. She smiled a little, and said “that’s over reactive thinking…” After listening to her opinions of how I’d done, it made me realise just how hard I am on myself. I mentioned that I’d done little things – for example on Sunday in Morrisons (supermarket) while Mr D was at the till, I realised that the latest issue of the knitting magazine that I get would be out. On a whim, I said “I’m just going over there to get my knitting magazine, you stay here” and went to get it. It wasn’t far, but it was busy. I’ve always had this feeling that my ‘therapy’ outings should be structured and planned, and when I said meekly “do these things count?” to D, she replied “of course they do!”
Towards the end, she asked what I wanted to do for therapy before our next appointment. I thought for a moment and said “I want to do this last fortnight again – but this time without being so bloody negative. Try and look at the positive things I did.” It’s frustrated me that I can’t accept that I did well in spite of things going wrong, and I needed someone else to point this out to me. I also need to stop the whole “so-and-so doesn’t count” because dammit, it does count. I just read back a couple of posts – “I didn’t treat [Harrogate] as ‘therapy’.” Why not? It was big and I achieved something!
I need to start again – and this time, I’m going to be kinder to myself.

Knitting and Stitching and PEOPLE oh my!

It nearly didn’t happen, and in the end I’m amazed we actually got there.
On Saturday morning, Mr D took the car to the garage for its annual MOT test. I admit I got upset when he phoned me to say that it had failed its emissions test, and needed a new catalytic converter. At a cost of around £160, it would mean that Harrogate was out of the question.
“..but it’s not that long since we had a new one put on!” I whined.
“about two years” he replied, “and they don’t last forever”
I ripped through the house like a mini tornado trying to find the paperwork for the old one – I did, and looked at the warranty. It had a week left to run. Cue massive sighs of relief, and general swearing.
That night, neither of us slept very well, and Mr D wasn’t feeling well. Inwardly my heart sank as I thought “we’re not going to get there”, but thankfully by morning he was feeling okay and the trip was back on again.
The journey there was straightforward and uneventful, and we found the car park easily thanks to a map I printed out from the Harrogate International Centre’s website. Except they hadn’t bothered to mention that it was a ‘coaches only’ park. Thankfully, there was a security guard there who gave us directions to the actual HIC car park underneath the Exhibition halls (which isn’t mentioned on their website at all).
The halls themselves were set out as you would expect, except there were several of them – and they were all laid out the same. Some traders had more than one stall, and unless you paid for an “exhibition guide” you were more or less an explorer. I didn’t mind too much, until the part where I said, “lets go back to so-and-so, they might have it…” and had no idea which direction to go. I guess the biggest obstacle for me was the people. I expected it to be busy, and had been advised to go on Sunday because it was the quieter day, but it was still incredibly busy. My anxiety levels were through the roof, and a few times, I stopped and looked at things I wasn’t remotely interested in just to ‘ground’ myself.
For people interested in any crafting stuff, Harrogate was the place to be this weekend. Obviously, there was more than the knitting and spinning stuff that I was looking for, but it was still interesting to see other things, and most places had demonstrations or stall holders working on their particular craft. I managed to hold a conversation with Debbie Tomkies, and learned to my joy that dyeing wool doesn’t necessarily have to involve nasty chemicals as I thought (you need to ‘fix’ the dye, and this is normally done with alum powder). My first purchase was a kit including 12 different colour dyes and fixatives for both animal and plant fibres. I fear for our kitchen…
I had a chat with a lady from the Spinning and Weaving Guild, and I sat for a rest on the spacious Rowan stand where they had sofas and coffee tables, where you could knit (they even had yarn and needles if you made a donation to some charity or the other). I on the other hand, pulled out the jellytots sock that I’d take with me. Trust me to be different.
I didn’t treat Sunday as ‘therapy’. It wasn’t a structured or meticulously planned thing; I definitely went with a ‘see how it goes’ attitude. However, I managed to put into practice some of the CBT stuff (albeit consciously ‘staying in the situation’ until my anxiety lessened). As with the Teddy Bear’s Picnic, I cheated a bit by distracting myself, but I’d like to think it was just distraction, not avoidance.
One interesting thing I picked up on was something that drove home how negative I am about myself. While we were there, I saw C, a lovely lady who owns a small yarn store in town. I knew she’d be going, so it wasn’t a surprise to see her, and she said she was glad I’d made it, and well done for getting here. I said thank you, I was glad too, but it wasn’t until Mr D and I talked in the car on the way home that it hit me just how profoundly different our attitudes were. While C thought I’d done well to go somewhere so busy, my thoughts were (as usual) something along the lines of “bloody hell, I should be managing this without even thinking about it”.
Maybe I should give myself a bit more credit…

…aaand breathe

I try hard not to read the Daily Mail because I end up getting far too shouty, and I know there is little point in commenting on something written therein, but I get angry with articles published that are misleading, one sided and downright irresponsible – especially when concerning mental health issues. And, when TV psychologist Oliver James writes an article entitled “Therapy on the NHS? What a crazy waste of £600 million!” I can’t help myself, even when I bear in mind that 1) Oliver James has recently had a book published and is therefore likely to want a load of publicity, and 2) this is the Daily Mail.
Dr James is an outspoken person at the best of times. He has made unethical and potentially damaging comments in the past – most notably about Peter Mandelson. Now, he turns his attention to the general public, poo-poohing CBT – one of the most successful treatments for mental health issues such as anxiety disorders, depression, PTSD, and others. He doesn’t merely question the efficacy of this treatment, and provide links to evidence – instead he dismisses CBT as a “crazy waste” of money. He supplies anecdotal ‘evidence’ to support this. He spouts ‘facts’ about relapsing after CBT without backing them up. He comes out with impressive sounding phrases like “research has shown” without going further to say who researched what and where the reader can learn more.
The validity of his claims are questionable, however more worrying is that these claims have been published in a widely read national newspaper, and basically say “having CBT? Don’t bother – you’ll be just as bad as ever in a couple of years…” According to biographies all over the internet, Dr James has had clinical experience, so he should know that the mind is a fragile thing when it is being assaulted by a mental health problem – in other words, the very minds that CBT can probably help. He should know that many people with depression and anxiety disorders frequently have a negative image of the future. CBT is hard work mentally, and I can’t help wondering how many people would give up if they read an article like this, written by a psychologist who has featured on “This Morning” and written successful self help books.
If Dr James is so against CBT, why not research it properly? Why not suggest possible solutions to the perceived problem? Dr James advocates Cognitive Analytic Therapy instead of CBT, yet studies have shown that in Generalised Anxiety Disorder, CBT was more effective. Dr James suggests that “where patients have been examined two years later, at least half of panicky ones have relapsed or sought further help.” yet makes no reference to the fact that CBT is an ongoing process – and techniques should be practiced long after the patient has stopped seeing their therapist. I personally would like to see research into how many people expect to be ‘cured’ (indeed James uses that word in the article) and go back to their normal lives. How many people didn’t really realise that they would need to practice CBT techniques to keep their symptoms at bay or help stem a relapse. But rather than suggesting that patient follow-up should improve, James dismisses the entire therapy.
He talks about CBT as though it’s as structured as a course of antibiotics. In fact, CBT is tailored to the individual. The principles are essentially the same, but because the problems that CBT can help are so diverse, obviously individual patients receive individual care. The three cases he refers to in the article do sound as though they are very disillusioned with their experience of CBT, but this could be for a myriad of reasons, not because CBT “doesn’t work”.
I really can’t understand why he has written the article in this way. It’s certainly not been written with the best interests of sufferers in mind. Why be so negative? What does he stand to gain from approaching it in this way? At the start of the article, he talks about how CBT is inexpensive, therefore would appeal to the government. Maybe it’s an incredibly round about way of saying the government isn’t spending enough money on Mental Health Services. If this is the case, I’m sure there are a million other ways of doing it without saying ‘CBT is a load of crap’.
I’d like to think that Daily Mail readers would have more sense than to take this somewhat vitriolic rant at face value, but I don’t know. When you factor in things like third party recanting, and the strange way in which these illnesses mess about with your emotions, you have a rather worrying mix. The media’s enormous reach has the power to cause much harm – just look at the MMR vaccine controversy.
I’m not writing this because of my own feelings on CBT. Having been ‘in the game’ for a while, I know better than to advocate one particular treatment over another. CBT seems to be working for me, others may find that it’s not for them. I personally think it is up to the individual and their therapist to come together with a plan for therapy that is most suitable for them, their problem, their personality and their lifestyle. If your therapist suggests CBT, have a go and be open minded. If they say something or suggest something you don’t feel happy with, tell them. Good communication with your therapist is paramount. Remember, even though it doesn’t work for some people, it does work for a hell of a lot of others. Have a look here for some success stories where CBT was used to help people with Social Anxiety Disorder. Hopefully, it will redress the balance.
Finally, please for the love of all that is sacred, can the media get their facts right about how much disability benefit is? £750 a month? I bloody wish…

Picnic Ponderings

Apologies for not posting sooner, but truth be told, I’ve felt utterly wrecked all week. I’ve been going to bed at 8pm because I’ve been nodding off on the sofa, then not sleeping properly because both my neck and lower back have been painful. So, my brain has also been fried and concentrating on anything for very long has been hard.
Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to write something that makes what I achieved on Friday sound like I was climbing a mountain. In the end, I’ve decided that the right adjectives aren’t out there, so just imagine, okay?
By half past eight on Friday morning, I was aware of every car going past, even though B wasn’t due to pick me up until 9.30. I packed and repacked my huge wicker basket with knitted food, stuff to knit while I was there, my mp3 player, a little tin with my tablets in, a bottle of water – the list goes on. When I thought I was ready, I stood at the window, my thoughts swirling. “Do I take that yarn? Maybe I should take a book – what about…” and so it went on. Eventually I said out loud to myself – “stop it. There’s only so much room in the car…”
The car journey was uneventful anxiety wise, we chatted about all sorts of things which helped, and affirmed the knowledge that B is very understanding. In fact, B should stand for brilliant. She reassured me by telling me what and who would be there, and told me that there were quiet corners in the place where we would be (an old converted church). I’d be lying if I said it didn’t feel strange being out without Mr D, but even stranger, I didn’t feel too terrible about it. Of course, I felt like something was missing, but once I got there and saw all the familiar faces from the knitting group, I was fine.
I took a few photographs, and sat down with the knitters. At first, I fumbled with bits and pieces, noticing that my hands were a bit shaky, but eventually settled down with the most Amazing Sock Yarn Ever. Casting on and doing some of the rib helped me concentrate. I know that’s avoidance rather than dealing with it – but to be honest, I didn’t care. I just wanted to enjoy my day.
A woman from the local newspaper turned up, and once she’d interviewed the organisers, she frustratedly lamented that her photographer had gone missing. My inward sigh of relief was shortlived – she pulled out a compact camera from her bag and announced “I’ll just take a few photos”. That, I thought, was a perfect opportunity to nip to the loo…
Four hours went over so incredibly quickly. When a voice piped up, “right, d’you think we should start packing up?” my response was “what, already???” Just as we were about to take things out to various cars, a flustered young man walked in and announced he was the photographer for the local paper. Torn between staying and lusting after his camera (a Canon EOS 1D if you want to drool with me) I chickened out and opted for the comfort of the lavatory again. When I later told Mr D, he joked that now I’ve been in the Guardian, the local rag isn’t good enough!
I know it sounds so utterly ordinary, but it was a big step for me. Plus, the ordinary-ness means that it was a success. No panic or madness, unless you count accidentally stealing Carrie Anne’s lemonade..

Anticipation

I thought I’d mentioned this, but looking back on my old posts, it seems I haven’t.
As I mentioned a bit ago, this week is national knitting week, and my knitting group have been busy knitting items for a Teddy Bear’s Picnic, culminating today in an exhibition and sale. On a Friday. Whose idea was that? When I found out, my response was “great, Mr D will never get time off work” but as the weeks progressed, so did my CBT.
About three weeks ago, I spoke to my friend B. She is my yarn guru – she has a market stall selling some gorgeous stuff, she runs weaving classes and the knitting groups, and I knew she would be going to the exhibition. I’d talked to her before about my CBT, and got the feeling she really understood. People like that are in the minority – usually it’s between “pull yourself together” and “back away from the crazy person”, but B was fine with it.
So, I asked her. “can I come with you?”
I explained that so far, I only go anywhere with Mr D. This could be part of my therapy – just outside my comfort zone. I said that I might back out, and she shouldn’t worry. People, B was lovely about it. She said that it was okay, and that even if I felt like it was too much, she’d bring me home. That understanding has meant that I’m sitting here waiting for her, and although I feel anxious, I’m also excited, expectant, eager.
I shall let you all know how I get on…