oh, look – it’s the internet!

Guess what?
No, go on, guess.
I’ve decided to start writing again. No, don’t fall over.
There’s a few reasons for this. Firstly, people still read this blog. Even with 18 months of not posting, they still read it, then email me to ask if I’m okay because I haven’t written anything for so long. I’m both flattered and touched – thank you.
Secondly, I seem to be starting a new chapter with my mental health issues. Last week, I was officially diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Far from this being a crushing blow to my esteem, it’s actually a relief – so many things make sense now. I’m still on a learning curve, though, and as many bipolar people find it helpful to keep a record of their moods, I thought this would be a good place to do so. The type of bipolar I have is type 2, which essentially means I don’t have full blown manic phases, instead I get hypomania. My doctor said she had suspected bipolar for a while, but as I wasn’t in the middle of a crisis, and was doing well generally, it seemed silly to burden me with another mental health issue.
“But what about the agoraphobia?” I hear you cry. Well, the CBT went incredibly well. Part of the reason I stopped blogging was that it took a lot out of me mentally, and I found it really hard to write it all down too. The upshot of it is that I am no longer agoraphobic. I am doing so much now it’s hard to know where to start. I can get the bus into town and go shopping. Last year, I started going to a yoga class by myself – where I knew one other person (and she didn’t know about my ‘issues’ at the time). I’m plodding along, but there are still things that scare the crap out of me, like actually getting a job. I think it’s the fear of failure more than anything, and that it’s so final – if I screw up or decide I can’t manage, I know it will make a huge dent in my self esteem.
I’ve decided to write about my recovery from agoraphobia retrospectively, and I’ll whack it all in the CBT category, so it’s easy to find. I think this is important for my own benefit, and also to show people what it’s all about. If someone is about to embark on CBT, or has a loved one doing so, or their doctor is rattling on about a referral, then hopefully my witterings will help.
I’m also going to change the layout of the blog. I’ve had the mauve design forever, and I got lazy with the scripts that do my comments and stuff, which is why it looks like crap when you click on those links. However, I’ve been out of the loop for ages regarding scripts and things, so I might balls it all up, you’ll just have to wait and see.
So, ding ding, round two!

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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.

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)

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 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.

It always happens in threes…

So, my coffee machine broke, my comments template got screwed, and because these things come in threes, my computer had a nervous breakdown.
I still don’t know what it was. I narrowed it down to a problem with firefox, and managed to completely stump those clever people at mozilla. My reliance on a nice web browser which is set up ‘just so’ prompted me to format my hard drive – something that I’d been putting off for a while, so not as extreme as you’d think. I hate doing it. It’s not technically challenging or anything, it’s just the whole process of getting things just how I like them takes so long, and little annoyances that had been long forgotten (balloon tips, I’m looking at you here…) pop up and remind you how windows xp likes to walk you through everything in baby steps.
I saved as much as I could onto cd’s, took a deep breath, and pressed the Button of No Return. Everything is peachy now. Squeaky clean, a mite faster, and somewhat empty. I’m adding software as I need it because I’m getting very bored with constantly restarting the computer.
Computers aside, things are plodding along as usual. Last week, my neck started playing up, and as well as the usual sharp pains in my shoulders and weird cold spots on my hand, I started getting dizzy. It has been more of an irritation than anything, but has meant that I’ve avoided going out because it’s really messing with the anxiety levels. I need to acclimatise myself to people, because on Sunday, I’m dragging Mr D to the Knitting and Stitching Show (link has video with sound) at Harrogate. I’ve been in two minds whether to go lately, and when the coffee machine died, my priority was saving as much money as possible to replace it. However, it only needed a replacement steam valve which cost £10.49, so Harrogate is on again. There are a couple of things I want, and I’m hoping to treat myself while I’m there.
Comments are back – dip your toe in the water and we’ll see what happens…