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.
On Thursday, I saw J again, and instead of trying to tell him what I was thinking about our last meeting, I printed out the blog entry that I did last week. It made the most sense, rather than struggling with my words, the wrong word coming out and J taking it at face value. Sometimes, my mouth comes out with some utter shite rather than what I’m trying to say. My brain moves too fast for me, I think.
The crux of it is that rather than me seeking reinforcement – even subconsciously – it’s a case of other people giving me that reinforcement. So, if I feel anxious, it’s Mr D’s instinct to comfort me, but in a sense he’s perpetuating the problem. Coupled with the fact that instead of staying and dealing with the problem, I use avoidance tactics, it all adds up to why I’m just coping with my illness – not getting better.
This week, J and I looked at all the individual places that make me anxious, however at first he wasn’t too impressed with my response of “everywhere”! For each place, we gave it a score out of 100, with zero being virtually asleep and 100 being a full blown panic attack. I looked at my list, which was mostly shops and very local places and said, “God, I have a sad little life…” J suggested that I could hang on to that thought with a view to making my life more interesting when I get better. He’s right. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve turned down invitations or longed to go somewhere. At the time, I struggled to think of a particular place or event that I’d like to do, and came out with “shopping in New York” which I guess is a bigger goal than J was aiming for. When I came home and thought about it, there was one thing. My friend B runs a weaving class. My rekindled interest in fibre crafts means that something like the class would be a perfect next step from knitting and handspinning. The thought of attending makes me want to puke, though.
My fear is not being in new places, but having to deal with people. I have visions of making a fool of myself, not being able to speak properly, people thinking I’m stupid. I said to J that you could stick me in the middle of a field and I’d be okay, but put me in a crowd and I’m a goner. It’s made me think about just how restricted I’m making my life so that I don’t panic – but at least we have something to work towards.
I’ve been writing this blog entry for
three er, four days now. It’s not the usual procrastination thing, but a “where the hell am I going with this?” thing. If some of this comes out disjointed, I apologise, because I’m writing down all my thoughts, but don’t want to publish everything. Suffice to say, all of this will be discussed with J when I next see him.
This CBT lark is er, interesting. Imagine me saying that in a guarded sort of voice, because although I really want it to work, it’s challenging everything I ever thought about me and my health. It’s almost like saying the logical and natural behaviour that I’ve demonstrated over the last five years has been (although logical and natural) misguided. I’ve taken the path of least resistance to reduce my anxiety levels as quickly as possible (ie by running away) and by trying to keep myself safe, I’ve perpetuated the problem.
When I kept saying during my benefits appeal that I knew I needed to be in a positive place mentally to do this, I was spot on the mark. To challenge my innermost instincts – ones which have dominated my life for the last five years – is incredibly hard. The therapy is also challenging why I do certain things, and the way I do them. A good example is this blog. Why am I writing it? Is it because I want to give an insight into my experiences (as I’ve always maintained), and to put my thoughts and feelings into a tangible form, or is it because I need validation, or a platform to say “look at meeeee!” J doesn’t make these assumptions, just gets me to think about everything differently. I’m trying to take these comments on board in the spirit in which they are intended – just thoughts thrown out in the air to make me think – but there’s that little bit of paranoia in me that says “where did that come from? he must have thought it to say it, so maybe that’s what he thinks of me – maybe that’s what everyone thinks of me..” But then J has also queried my need to not be judged and my need to know that people like me, purely in the respect of getting me to ask “what does it matter what other people think?”
I suppose I’ve always been that way. Doesn’t everyone have some degree of desire to be loved and appreciated? I believe it’s a rare person who can go through life with a steely “don’t give a fuck what people think” attitude, someone who’s so confident in themselves that they never ask for an opinion. We all have insecurities some are just more prevalent than others. I know my family history has a lot to do with it, and without going into detail, I guess it’s become habit that I seek affirmation in what I do.
However, this is not why I write this blog. Okay, it’s nice when I get messages from people offering cyber-hugs and support, but to be honest, if I have a bad time I have a small circle of friends online who I know I can always turn to. I don’t write a blog that may or may not be read so that some random stranger might feel the urge to write and tell me it’s going to be okay.
This entry has gone in a totally different direction to what I originally planned. I was going to write about the thought processes of panic, and what J is suggesting. I guess this whole validation theory has got my back up more than I thought. Oh well, at least I have a topic in mind for my next entry.
I was early for my appointment on Thursday, a combination of determination to tell J how I felt and the usual being over prepared for something. As I sat in the waiting room I looked at the posters on the wall. Among the usual posters for the domestic violence group and the fibromyalgia group were a series of new posters proclaiming “there’s no healthwithout mental health – how’s yours?” (just peachy, which is why I’m in the psychology department…) I love these ‘stating the obvious’ type of poster. One said, “there are many things you can do to improve your mental health, try: meeting new people.” Other suggestions were “relaxing and making time for yourself” and “developing new hobbies and interests”. While I appreciate why they make these things and put them up, I can’t help thinking that they’re just making blanket and rather vague statements suggesting things that the patient is probably *way* beyond.
J is a very approachable guy, which is why I have been so torn about this. I get the feeling that we are on the same wavelength, and that I can talk to him and be honest and open. That, as any therapist will tell you, is incredibly important. I talked to him about how I felt, even that I’d had difficulty writing down all the anxious stuff – and he sat and listened, then said that it was all understandable and made sense (thank god he doesn’t think I’m a flake) and that I could “see how it goes” before deciding. It wouldn’t be failure, it would be being honest with myself.
We also talked about the tape – which was sitting on the table mocking me. As soon as I saw it, I’d said something like “oh shitting buggery” before advising J that I was liable to swear a lot. J told me that I was in control, that I could withdraw my consent at any time, or he would stop the tape whenever I asked him. At this stage, I was more worried about how I would feel if I didn’t give it a go than anything else, so I consented and he pressed the button.
We talked about stuff, about my panic and how I react to stressful situations. As usual, there’s a lot that I promptly forgot once I’d left the room. Towards the end of my appointment, when J had switched the tape off and we were talking about me coming back again he said something like “…and there’ll be no more of that”.
“No more of what?” I asked, puzzled. “The tape” J said. “You’ve got the hard part over with.”
Somehow, in the midst of my anxiety last time, I’d decided that he would be taping more than one meeting. He only needed to do one…
Yesterday, I started writing a post about how J, my new counsellor, had asked me to write down all the negative shit that goes through my head when I’m anxious. I thought I’d blog it because it gives another little insight into how my head works right now. As I wrote, I started feeling incredibly crappy, which isn’t surprising when things like “I’m useless” “I’m stupid” “why can’t I manage this shit?” “I’m going to die” come out.
I have a funny feeling that J is going to go through each one and counter it with logic. The thing is, I do this all the time already. “I’m not stupid, I just have depression and things seem more difficult right now. Give yourself a break, already”. “I’m not useless, I do all kinds of things that I take for granted, I should give myself a bit more credit”. See? How easy is that? It doesn’t help, though. The useless and stupid thoughts are ingrained, I’ve always had poor self confidence. How can I erase thirty odd years of that?
As I sat there thinking, I wondered whether this is really the right time to be doing this. How can I concentrate on what is probably going to be a difficult road to recovery when I have this benefits thing looming over me? Despite everyone’s assurances that I have a damned good case, I still have that nagging doubt that I’ll fail the appeal, and the consequences of that are just too hard to even think about. If I continue with my counselling and I fail, it’ll be harder to do it next time around. I can’t help thinking it would be better to say, “put me back on the waiting list, I’m not ready for this”. There’s another reason for my negativity and doubt. J is a psychology student. Although he’s a fully qualified counsellor, he’s seeing clients as a psych student, therefore needs clinical supervision. This means that he has to tape some of our meetings.
I’m not sure how I feel about this. At the time, I said that although I didn’t like the idea, I understood that it was necessary for him as part of his ‘training’. The only people who will hear my witterings on tape will be him and his supervisor, but when I feel so ridiculously self conscious anyway the thought of being taped makes me want to puke. Unfortunately, if I’m not comfortable with it and can’t deal with it, I go back on the waiting list to see someone else. I was ‘pulled out’ of the waiting list to see J, because it was felt that I was an ideal candidate for him (fools). I guess I need to know that I’d go back to where I was on the list, and not right back at the end.
For this whole therapy thing to succeed, I need to feel comfortable, and I’m not. I hate this – it feels like I’m making excuses, and given that I’ve gone on and on all this time about how I want to get better, I also feel like a bit of a fraud. I see J again tomorrow morning, and shall talk to him about it.
I wrote this in notepad whilst I was trying to figure out how to get my site back up
You know that saying about waiting for a bus then they all turn up at once? This is my blog. In fact, changing webhosts and having a brain spack trying to get my blog back up has been a boost for Things Happening, because they’ve all waited until I’ve no means to tell THE INTARNET.
In an hour, I meet my new counsellor. In June last year, I had an assessment with the psychology department and the deal was that I would go on the waiting list for CBT. I was told that it would be hard work, and that it would last no longer than 8 weeks or so. That day, I realised that I would need to be in a Good Place mentally to do this, and spent the rest of the year trying incredibly hard to not get depressed again. I know that sounds a bit weird – it goes like this. Any time I started having negative thoughts, I made myself do something else. I played a happy song and sing along to it. I knit some bright pink socks. Anything that will put my mind elsewhere, and away from the negative and intrusive thoughts. I seemed to spend the whole time on the verge of a mental precipice, afraid that one false step would see me tumbling over the edge into the abyss. As it turned out, someone else pushed me.
It’s fair to say that for the last couple of months, I haven’t been in that Good Place. Strangely, it seems to have kicked me hard since I handed over my appeal statement to my solicitor. Somewhere inside my head, I’ve heaved a sigh of relief, and relaxed. A bit too much, because I lost control of the depression. The symptoms are the usual suspects, coupled with a lot of anger over the situation – and I am absolutely knackered. My physical health has suffered, and I think this year so far, I’ve had about two or three weeks of wellness where I’m not suffering from a D&V bug, or a neck spasm or a bad cold or a back spasm. Those well times have been spent feeling exhausted, feeling the need to recover completely – but it never happens, because some other health thing always happens.
I am worried that the psych bloke will think I’m feigning to get out of the work, or that I’m not suitable for the therapy or something. I’m worried that my brain won’t work properly, or that I’ll bugger my back again just as I’m getting somewhere. Most of all, I’m worried that I’ll fail.