Progress

The health food shop was small, familiar. Ideal. Heart in mouth, she glanced round. The street was still fairly quiet – it was only 9am.
“Can you wait there?” she asked, the words tumbling somewhat. “I’m going in by myself.”
He nodded, going with the flow.
She took a deep breath, mentally reminded herself that her phone was in her pocket, and he would be waiting just there. Not too far away. Determined, she strode into the shop, aware that if she waited too long outside she’d put herself off and not do it. There were a few people around, but it wasn’t busy. She knew what she wanted, and where it was. She had deliberately chosen something that was at the back of the shop – it would be far too easy if she could do this whole thing while barely taking a few steps inside. Remember, “just outside your comfort zone”. Mentally taking the journey through a familiar shop, it had seemed so easy when she’d planned it. Now she was here.
She got to the back of the shop effortlessly, picked up the bottle of eco fabric conditioner, and started walking quickly to the front where the till was. Suddenly, she stopped. “I’m doing this far too fast” she thought. Aware of what J had said about staying in the situation until the anxiety had passed, she started to look at soap, essential oils, herbal teas – anything, something. She tried not to look at people, not wanting to be drawn into conversation. Not wanting to suddenly notice they were there. “right” she thought, “I need to pay for this”.
At the front of the shop, she could see through the window to the street where he was waiting. The sight was familiar, comforting. This was nearly over. With renewed zeal, she approached the counter, smiled, handed over her money – and in a few seconds she was leaving the shop.
At the door, there was a moment of increased anxiety as she realised she was Outside again, but within moments she was standing by his side – safe again.
“OK?” he asked.
She nodded, feeling slightly sick, rather anxious, tired yet somehow happy.

Books as Therapy, part 2

Borders is considerably bigger than Waterstones. It’s in a retail park, and we chose it because they are open in the evenings. Yesterday, Mr D and I planned to go there and continue the book buying extravaganza that is my therapy. Even before I left the house, I was planning. Waterstones was more of a spur of the moment thing, so I didn’t have time to think about it too much. This time, my mind went through everything – from visualising the layout of the store to deciding what type of book to get.
Downstairs in Borders, as well as a gazillion books, they have an entire corner of the store devoted to magazines, and a Paperchase franchise. Upstairs, there’s a large Starbucks and a generous section devoted to DVD’s. Upstairs is also where the craft books are, and as I’d already decided that I needed a book on crochet (now that I’ve finally gotten the hang of it) that’s where we headed. Of course, Mr D has no interest in crochet or knitting, so he wandered around the DVD section and left me to it.
Crafting books seem to fall into two distinct categories. Ones for absolute beginners that walk you through the basics in baby steps then give you incredibly simple projects to do, or ones which have complex advanced patterns, of which only a few are really nice. The thing about buying crafting books is that you need to bear in mind that the fashionable stuff soon becomes dated. You just need to look at some of the pattern books from the 1980’s to see my point…
“Crafters Corner” has a row of padded stools for people to sit on, which is visible as you go up the stairs. It’s nice to be able to sit there with a few books and leaf through them, but I noticed that someone was already sitting there, so mentally decided not to join her. I ended up sitting on the floor in the other corner, which is something I do when there are no seats. Presently, the lady from the stools leaned over to put a book back. I muttered “sorry” as you do when you may be in someone’s way, and leaned back for her to have more room. She thanked me, and chose a couple of books – crochet books. I smiled. Somehow there was this unspoken craft-person thing between us, and without thinking I said, “This one’s really good” and held up the book I was looking through, Essential Crochet by Erika Knight. Suddenly, that unspoken craft-person link became spoken, and we were talking about books and how hard it is to find good quality yarn. I even told her about a couple of places that I source my yarn locally, which she seemed pleased with.
Maybe it was because I was sitting on the floor, maybe it was because it was a subject I love, I don’t know. Maybe it was because I was there to push myself, and this was part of it. My mindset was different, I wasn’t thinking automatically “fuck off and leave me alone”, I was thinking “I have to do this. I need to communicate. I will communicate.
Buying the book was a little different. I’d gone to find Mr D, and contemplated out loud going downstairs to pay by myself. J’s comment about going “just a bit outside my comfort zone” came into my head, and I decided this was the way to do it. I hovered, putting it off, then thought, “sod it, I need to do this now” told Mr D I was off, and headed downstairs.
Towards the bottom of the stairs, I looked over towards the till area. There was someone waiting, but it wasn’t busy. I headed over, pausing to take a different route when my chosen one was blocked (I didn’t want to be in a confrontation situation by having to say “excuse me”, which doesn’t make much sense considering the conversation I’d had upstairs). I got to the till and waited. It was only when the girl beckoned me over and I smiled and said “hello” that I realised I’d been clenching my jaw.
The actual process of paying was very similar to Waterstones. An almost ‘self service’ system of putting my own debit card in the reader, and following the instructions on the lcd display – the only communication from the sales assistant was a “hello” and “would you like your receipt in the bag?”. I’m thinking I need to pay cash next time, just to make them do some work for my therapy…
I looked round, and saw that Mr D had come downstairs, but had hovered on the bottom step so I could see him. It made me feel better, somehow I felt that going upstairs to find him again was a bit more than I wanted to do. At this point, I felt incredibly tired, but also felt like I’d achieved something.
Last night, I went to bed early, and took my crochet book up with me. Although I’d looked through it in the shop, somehow it was like I was looking at it for the first time. I was seeing the pages again, but this time I was taking it in…

Books as Therapy

Not long after my appointment on Thursday, I found myself standing outside Waterstones wondering what the hell I was doing.
I walked in, my anxiety a little higher than usual, knowing I was going to face something that usually made me more anxious. The first thing I did was look for a book I knew I wanted – Tom Reynolds‘ brilliant “Blood Sweat and Tea”. I had been waiting to get it from Amazon, (with something else to qualify for free shipping) but I needed to buy a book for my therapy, and this was going to be it. Tom might be amused to learn that he’s had a little bit of community psychiatric input, there! I found it (in amongst the biographies, not on the 3 for 2 tables as it should be) and asked Mr D if there was anything he wanted so we could take advantage of the 3 for 2 offer. As we both looked around, I found myself inadvertantly looking at the till area. I was already gauging what was going on there. I realised that I’d also been looking around to see how busy it was and whether there was anyone or anything that was going to make my anxiety worse. I was so acutely aware of it, that I suddenly smiled to myself. Sometimes, this is like looking in from the outside…
Mr D chose a book (I can’t even remember what) and I was pleased to see the classics were included in the 3 for 2 offer, so I picked up HG Wells’ “The Time Machine“. Our local Waterstones isn’t very wide, so I instructed Mr D to stand where he was, which was about 18 feet away from the till on the opposite side of the store. He was close enough, but I was doing this on my own. At the till, a young mum with a pushchair was being served (why do mums think that pushchairs don’t take upany room, and park their ‘wheels’ horizontally?) and had a small girl in tow, who was pirouetting round the pole that holds the “please queue here” sign. In a way, I was pleased someone else was being served – it meant that I could do the whole queueing part of this exercise. My focus was on the mum and her kids – I didn’t want to trip the little girl up, nor did I want to be run over by the pushchair. Another assistant beckoned me over to the till, and I went through the motions. Put my books down, got out my purse, watched her scan them and say “that’s £14.98, please”. Handed her my debit card, and obeyed the instruction to put it in the card reader myself. (As an aside here, I wish shops would make their sodding minds up – either take the card from the customer, or all of them become almost self service. It drives me nuts when you hold out your card and they give you this “oh, no – you do it” thing. What happened to customer service?) To be fair on the girl, she was pleasant and smiling, asked if I wanted the receipt in the bag, which I did, and she waited for me to put my purse away, then handed me the bag with a smile.
There. That was easy. Maybe too easy? Maybe I should have done this on Saturday when there’s more likely to be a queue to contend with, and more people. But, as they say, I have to take baby steps. Two things have come to mind while writing this – firstly, I didn’t get flustered when she waited for me to put my purse away. Usually, I can’t organise my bag so that my purse slips down to the bottom, I’ll just stuff it in my pocket or take my goods and sort my purse out later. Secondly, I’m a sod for saving the environment, and always have a roll-up bag with me. For the first time in ages, it never occurred to me to say, “I don’t need a bag, thanks” – and I feel a tad ashamed.
However, Part One of my ‘homework’ is done. Because of the fact that Mr D works during the day and there’s no daytime opportunity to do this again before my next appointment with J, we have decided to wander into Borders book store during the week. It is at a large retail park nearby, and open late in the evenings.
Now all I have to do is think of some more books I want…

Dealing With It

It was only a matter of time before J was going to ask me to do a practical CBT exercise.
For a few weeks, we’ve been dissecting individual places and events, what causes the anxiety, what makes it worse, what helps (safety behaviour) and where I could be in that place to ride out the panic rather than running away. I’d always visualise myself in these places with the thoughts and feelings I usually had. Going into detail has been difficult, partly because I don’t really think about it at the time, (there’s a lot of times I’ve had a panic attack and not even remembered much of what went on) and partly because it’s hard to admit every little detail. It’s validating the fear, making it more real.
So far, J and I have come up with a list of places with scores between 0 (completely calm) and 100 (full blown panic). Most of these places are shops, and although I said “cinema” and “going out for a drink” I don’t think they count because they happen so infrequently. The last time I went to the cinema was when “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” was out… We picked a choice place, somewhere halfway along the list so it wasn’t too easy and wasn’t going to be the exotic pet store where the tarantulas live. ‘Scuse me..
*throws up a bit*
I hate spiders.. Anyway, the place we chose was Waterstones. I’d already figured that my anxiety is less in there because of my love of books, and if I get anxious I know there is usually a seat nearby where I can flick through a knitting or photography book to distract myself. I guess there is the possibility that this knowledge means that my anxiety is lessened before I even get there. Plus there’s the benefit of a bookshop actually selling lots of things that I really want, rather than popping into Sainsbury’s for a pint of milk.
J asked me what part of the store would make me more anxious. This was easy – either standing by the front door, or waiting in a queue at the till. We looked in more detail at what I’m like waiting at the till to be served. He asked me about my behaviour – what’s going through my mind, what am I doing, where am I looking – that sort of thing. At first, I wasn’t sure – some things I do automatically, and some things I’m sure most people do, like check their purse, keep an eye on the till to see if it’s their turn yet. As we talked, I realised I do as much preparation as possible. Not only do I get my purse out, I get my debit card out (or cash, depending on how I’m paying) and I have a tendency to watch the sales person. I try and figure out what mood they’re in – are they chatty or efficient? Are they trying to get customers to fill in stuff or have a catalogue or store card? These things are important, because in my head I have everything in order. I know what will happen, and if I get to the till and they say something that throws me, it really increases the anxiety.
J and I then discussed my safety behaviour. What do I do to take my mind off the anxiety? There wasn’t a huge amount to say here – if my anxiety is high, I often tell myself not to be so silly, and that I’ve done this a thousand times. I try to focus on the task at hand, and not get distracted by anything or anyone. Maybe this is partly why I avoid eye contact with people. I don’t want to end up enganging in some (verbal or nonverbal) diatribe which ultimately would give me too much to think about and deal with at that moment. There’s also the fact that Mr D is rarely too far away. He’s convinced he doesn’t do much – but just knowing he’s around is a huge comfort. My biggest dread is having a panic attack when I’m alone.
What J picked up on is that I’m very negative about the whole thing. I hate my anxiety. I remember clearly what it was like to be ‘normal’ me, and this makes me feel like I die a little bit inside every time I do something ordinary and my stupid disease means that I freak out. The negative rebuke is now automatic, and J suggested that I need to approach it a different way. I can hate my anxiety as much as I want, but I need to accept that right now, it’s okay to feel this way. Hence my new motto:
   “I’m anxious, and I’m dealing with it.”
It looks like some new-age motivational speak, but it is right. I’m accepting the anxiety, rather than fighting it (I have a habit of saying “I’m fine” which Mr D knows means I am anxious) and I am reminding myself that I am doing something positive about it. I need to practice it, though. I guess the way it’s worded is also helpful if the “I’m so stupid” thoughts come into my head. I can say “hey, fucko, back off – I’m dealing with it…”
What J said next made my heart race. “D’you think you could do a practical exercise?”
What J wanted me to do was this. Go to the bookshop and buy a book. Gradually drop my safety behaviours, and get Mr D to back away. This should be done over several times until I go into the shop and buy a book myself.
“When do you think you can start this?” J asked. “How about this afternoon?” I ventured. I always go into town after an appointment to ‘treat’ myself. It’s an unspoken reward for dealing with my shit. This time, I could go and buy a book instead of a cream cake.
This was on Thursday. I have written about my experiences, and shall publish them tomorrow…

Belay that worry, ensign

My two main fears about how the CBT is going have been lifted.
Last Thursday, I asked J about the dihydrocodeine and whether the knowledge of how my panic attack disorder and subsequent agoraphobia started would have changed the direction in which my treatment was going. I didn’t explain it too well (thanks to only 2 hours sleep the previous night) and he thought I meant “would he have had reservations about treating someone who got addicted to opiate analgesics?” Eventually, we both got our heads round what I was trying to say, and he told me that regardless of how it all started, the principle of the CBT is the same. *phew*
I then said I was worried about how long we had left for appointments. J reassured me that I wouldn’t be “chucked out the door” half way to getting better, and that if needs be, I can be referred to his supervisor, D, who did my initial assessment a year ago. He also said that he could offer me weekly appointments instead of fortnightly, which I have accepted.
I feel a bit better about it all, although I still feel like I’m doing one of those orienteering things where you have to fall back into someone else’s arms and trust that they’ll be there to hold you…

CBT Thoughts Part 3

Since my last appointment my head has been swimming with thoughts. Not necessarily about me, but about this “whole CBT thing”. It’s hard to write them down because there’s that telltale little voice yelling “you’re giving up!”. I’m not, though. Just voicing my thoughts.
There are a few things bothering me. Firstly, at my last appointment, my back was really sore, and I was hobbling a bit. J mentioned it, and I said that my old back injury flared up occasionally, but it wasn’t too bad. At the end, as I was getting up to leave, something was said that made me say something about “stupid bloody back and stupid bloody dihydrocideine addiction”. J stopped, and looked taken aback? surprised? one of them. I said, “you didn’t know about that?” and when he looked puzzled, I explained that it was coming off the dihydrocodeine that started the panic attacks. J said, “We can talk about that next time”.
Next time is tomorrow. J has had holidays, so it means there’s been a four week gap between appointments rather than two. In the meantime, of course, my mind has been working overtime over what this means. Part of me is frustrated and annoyed that this has never come up. Isn’t it in my notes? Maybe it’s not relevant, but if sudden dihydrocodeine withdrawal started all this, then surely it is relevant? Withdrawing from massive amounts of an opiate drug as suddenly as I did left me feeling raw – my senses and emotions were heightened to levels I’d never experienced, and I just wanted to hide until it all went away. I developed coping techniques (actually avoidance techniques) to try and stem the horrible feelings, and gradually I learned to cope with them. That’s left me where I am today – panicky and scared when I go out, those raw emotions bubble to the surface and I just want to hide again. That’s why I think it’s so relevant.
Secondly, I’ve been thinking about the fact that J is a psych student, and his placement at my hospital finishes sometime in September. This means that at worst, I have one or maybe two appointments after Thursday, and at best, three. I’m terrified that I’m going to be ‘discharged’ when I still need help. Okay, so this CBT can give me the foundations to work on, but there’s been lots of times lately where I’ve thought “hang on, J said I should do x, what happens if y happens?” Right now, I have the comfort that I will see him tomorrow and I can ask him. However, the fact remains that once those few precious appointments are gone, I’m on my own.
I guess the upshot is, I’m terrified of failure. Again.

Out on the Town

Our town centre is being ‘done up’. The council are putting expensive pavers down, and making the whole area pedestrianised. Unfortunately, they are cordoning off massive chunks of pavement and road while they do it. It will be nicer when they’ve done, but in the meantime it’s a nightmare navigating – both mentally and physically. The gaps they leave between the shops and the barriers are literally only wide enough for two people standing very together, side by side. Someone with a wheelchair, or a parent with a buggy would struggle. It’s no easier for the walking wounded – ie people with walking sticks (like me at the moment – my back went into spasm a fortnight ago) or indeed anyone with mobility problems. Although the council have had to (by law) tarmac the bit where the old pavement ends and the new one begins, it is so uneven that only hill walkers and mountain goats could confidently say they’d never struggled.
Add this to the fact that our town centre gets very busy with shoppers on Saturdays, all of whom have a wandering around agenda that involves aimlessly walking diagonally and changing direction at the drop of a spitwad (they don’t wear hats where I live), and shopping is a nightmare.
Of course, J would say this was an opportunity. Maybe it is, but somehow I want these opportunities to be on my terms. If I’m going to confront* someone in the street who I can’t get past, I at least need to know that I could go the long way round if I wanted. I know there are going to be occasions where I have no choice, but I don’t want the idea of going into town to be my worst nightmare, thank you. At this stage, I am only dipping my toe in the water, I don’t want to be pushed in.
One thing J has said to me is that my avoidance tactics (counting in japanese, reading labels on tins) are not helping. When he said this to me, I almost felt as though I’d been slapped. I don’t blame J for that, as I keep reinforcing, he is only there to challenge my thought processes, but it’s still hard when you think that you’ve found something that helps, and you’re told that “actually, it’s not helping..” I think this could be something to do with my sensitive nature. I am, however, much more aware of how I act when I’m out and about.
I need to be aware of the things around me, but when I’m faced with something that raises the anxiety levels, my instinct is to leave, or hide. J says I need to face the things that could make me panic. On Saturday, we detoured through the shopping centre which was wider, but still busy. Suddenly, my guard was up – a young man was running towards us. My normal reaction to this would be to look down, move totally out of the way if possible, while getting more and more tense. Yesterday, I thought of what J said. Confront it. So, I kept looking at him. I felt a bit spacy**, but not too bad. (In hindsight, I’m wondering what else was keeping my mind off the anxiety). Then I started wondering. What if the trigger was a parent with a fractious child? I’m sure they wouldn’t take too kindly to some stranger staring at them. How exactly do I confront that sort of situation? As always, notes are being made for my next appointment with J…
* ‘confront’ doesn’t necessarily mean an argument – more a situation where I’m forced into a situation where I have to communicate with someone, eg, that thing where you’re trying to get past someone and can’t because they’re DOING A SODDING DANCE and can’t make their minds up which way to go.
** I don’t remember hyperventilating or anything, it just felt strange and disjointed watching this young man running.