The Medical

They always seem to do these things in the middle of the day. Yet again, Mr D had to go to his boss and explain why he needed to take an entire day off (this would come out of his banked hours, so he basically lost a day’s pay to take me to this medical). Still, it would give us time to get there, and most of an afternoon to do what we wanted.
The letter (which they’ve kindly kept) said something about bringing identification. Off the top of my head, it said “passport or birth certificate, or three other forms of identification such as driving licence etc”. Okay, my passport is in my maiden name, as is my birth certificate. I don’t drive, and “etc” could be anything. I looked at various letters – bank statements (do I really want them to take a photocopy of my bank statement?) electricity bill (addressed to Mr & Mrs, with no initials let alone first names) and in the end took my passport and my wedding certificate, and prayed that it would be enough.
Why do they always say “arrive ten minutes early” when they always seem to run late? I sat there for what felt like HOURS. At the desk, I babbled about my passport and signed a form, which could have been anything. I asked what the name of the doctor was, and was told that “it depended who picked my file up first”. I found a seat in the corner, and we waited. Every time the door opened and another name was called, my heart hit the roof of my mouth. I’d decided to let the anxiety do it’s thing – it wouldn’t look very good if I told the doctor I rarely go out, and I was sitting there as calm as a cucumber. Suddenly, I had a very good reason to feel anxious. For a brief moment, through the glass panel in the door, I swore I saw That Doctor from 2005. The one who failed me.
I cannot describe the range of emotions I felt in that split second. I’d already gone through the “what ifs” last time, and had concluded that there was a chance he no longer worked for them. Now, suddenly, there was a very real possiblity that my medical would be doomed before it started. Did I have the right to refuse to be examined by a particular doctor? What if they asked why? How on earth could I say “I don’t trust him, he didn’t even ask me about the condition that I was claiming for, he twisted my answers and on one occasion, he outright lied on the forms.”
I was now in a kind of lottery. About five doctors had called people through, and although he wasn’t one of them, in my head that shortened the odds that I would get him. Later, Mr D told me that he was convinced I was going to have a panic attack. Maybe with hindsight it was good timing, because soon I was called through by a tall older man. Not That Doctor.
Doctor Tall was actually rather nice. He explained what would be happening and seemed really sympathetic to my situation. The answers to his questions flowed easily, I gave him the information he needed, and a couple of times he preceeded with “this is probably a daft question but…” in relation to whether I’d had any worries about attending the medical and whether I went on holiday.
At the end, he told me what happened next (the assessment is looked at by the “decision makers” and I’d get a letter in due course) and he told me I’d done well, saying “I appreciate it must be hard for you”. I would have been floored if my legs weren’t like jelly to start with. He also told me that although it wasn’t up to him, he didn’t forsee me having any problems continuing with IB, and not to worry too much. Four years ago, I wanted to write a complaint letter about the doctor doing the medical. This time round, I feel like writing a thank you letter.
When we got back to the car the tension and anxiety spilled out, and I had a good cry. This time, the medical really got to me. I don’t know if this was because the doctor was nice or because I’d reminded myself of how bad I used to be. I do think the whole experience showed that the anxiety problem isn’t completely gone, and I’m still a bit shocked at how much of a wreck I was.

Today

Today, I am agoraphobic. Today, I don’t go anywhere without my long suffering husband. I cling to his hand constantly, terrified of losing contact with him even for a moment. At home, I don’t answer the phone, I keep the curtains closed – and I certainly don’t answer the door. In fact, someone knocking at the door will often trigger a panic attack. The door is always locked.
On the rare occasion that I go out, my husband must be with me. I don’t trust anyone else. I must know in advance where we’re going, and in what order. Any deviation from that could trigger panic. I can’t stay out too long. I feel exposed and vulnerable, like I’m standing naked in the high street after drinking ten espressos. People are staring at me. I know they are. They think things about me – bad things – and I just want to escape. I just want to feel safe.
Today, I have lost contact with most of my friends. I no longer do the things I used to beause panic and agoraphobia have taken over my life. I can’t go out socially – god no. Just the thought makes my heart race. I can’t remember the last time I went to the cinema, and I used to love that. Now, the idea of being in a dark room with all those noises, images, and god – the people. I can’t deal with people.
Today, my daily life consists of trying to disappear, trying to hide. I don’t do much at home. I don’t have any hobbies any more because I can’t concentrate for long and I get angry and frustrated with myself. I often get depressed, but can’t take medication because it makes me sick. Home is my safe place, I know where things are, and that doors and windows are locked. I just hope the phone doesn’t ring.
Today, I have a medical for the Benefits Agency, and I’m bricking it. That bit, at least, is still true.

Don’t Panic!

About a hundred years ago, I was sitting in A&E waiting for Mr D who had dropped something heavy on his foot. We had to wait an age, and while we were sitting there, three women came in. One was considerably younger than the other two, and seemed to be in distress. One of the two older women told the receptionist that the girl was having a panic attack.
I can remember initially feeling a great pang of empathy for this girl, now sitting in the waiting room near me, her white knuckles clamped to her chair. However, my feelings soon turned to frustration – what on earth did they think A&E could do?
This is why it is with a tinge of frustration and irritation I read on Twitter that EMT blogger Tom Reynolds got sent to someone having a panic attack – and this was their SECOND ambulance. Obviously I don’t know who called the ambo, although I’m inclined to think it wasn’t the panicker (unless it was a mild panic attack, and if so, I think he has bigger problems than a panic attack itself) but it bothers me. Of course, I don’t know the whole story, and indeed, shouldn’t. Patient confidentiality, and all that.
I have the greatest respect for people like Tom Reynolds, who deal with the unknown every day, often putting their lives on the line and dealing with every patient with courtesy and empathy. I know that a good chunk of their job is spent dealing with crap – the drunks, the “stubbed toes” and the vague sniffles. I read Random Reality and I too wonder what on earth society is coming to when people call ambulances out for such mundane things. As such, I think it’s only natural that Tom would roll his eyes and wonder what on earth he’s doing there when his patient is having a panic attack. I am, too.
One of my biggest fears when I was having panic attacks was that people would make a massive fuss when all I wanted to do was disappear. I think someone calling an ambulance would have freaked me out even more – the fear experienced during a panic attack magnifies the fear of everything else, including things like being sectioned, being out of control – even fear of dying.
I can imagine what was going through this patient’s mind. “I can’t breathe” “my chest hurts” “I’m going to faint” “I’m going to be sick” . If these are conveyed to someone nearby who doesn’t know what to do, I can see how instinctive it would be to dial 999. Plus, although ambulance control are incredibly skilled, I believe things like chest pain and difficulty breathing automatically elevate the category of the emergency. If it was the patient himself who called, then perhaps at least the wheels will have been set in motion for him to get further help. One can only hope.
So, what do you do if you’re with someone and they have a panic attack? I guess the easiest answer is talk to them. Hold their hand and tell them it’ll pass. Distract them by doing a simple breathing exercise with them, counting in and out. The adrenaline will subside, and things will calm down. There’s no need for an ambulance. As my CPN used to say – nobody ever died of a panic attack.
(I should add that when my CPN said that, I could have thumped him, along with “it’s only adrenaline” – true, but not very helpful.)

o hai

It started out with me being mentally knackered from doing all the gallavanting around for my CBT. It evolved into a bit of worry whether I was getting SAD again, and eventually mutated into Worrying About Other Things. It meant that I didn’t update the blog for over four months. Oops…
Several things have prompted me to write again, one of which is the fact that I got a letter from the Benefits Agency yesterday asking me to “telephone to make an appointment for a medical”. They took their time. Two things amuse me about the letter. First, it tells me that I must “contact them within two days of receipt of this letter”. It wasn’t sent registered post or anything, so how on earth could they know when I received it? I had visions of it spontaneously combusting like the Top Secret messages on Mission Impossible. Second, the whole “telephone to make an appointment” thing. When I filled in form IB50, I clearly stated I have problems using the telephone. I suppose they expect me to ask someone else, but it’s just a teensy niggle that something I’ve said about my health problems has been ignored. Oh, and they STILL have me down as a “Miss”. I’ve never been a Miss in all the time I’ve claimed IB…
These are little things though, and I know I’m being picky, but this letter has put me on my guard because of last time. I feel more anxious at the thought of attending this medical than I do walking into the village and looking round the shops. Of course, the anxiety was bound to happen, but I tried to convince myself that I could put on an act, and show them what I was like on a bad day. The ironic thing is, that it would be better if my anxiety was high during the medical, and it makes me hate the whole thing even more.
Getting there is still going to mean Mr D taking time off work, and therein lies yet another obstacle. I mentioned ages ago about “worries with money”, well, things came to a head a couple of months ago, and Mr D had to get another job. It was only a temporary contract, so obviously he was looking around at the same time. He was offered a permanent position recently – and starts on Monday. Now, I’m certain that if push comes to shove, his employers will let him have the time off, but it still doesn’t look good.
I telephoned the number on the letter yesterday afternoon. I picked up the phone without thinking about it, and just dialled. The chap I spoke to was very pleasant, and obviously in a call centre. I told him I’d had the letter, and he asked me when would be a good time for me to attend.
“Well” I said, “that’s the problem.”
I explained about Mr D’s new job, and how getting time off might be an issue, and that I couldn’t attend without him. The man offered me a cancellation today, which was impossible – Mr D couldn’t even give his employers a day’s notice, and it would be unpaid leave. I turned it down, along with another one for the beginning of next week. The man explained that he was only able to offer two appointment choices, and while my head was spinning trying to work out what to do, he said, “tell you what, I can put you down for December 14th in the circumstances”. So, December 14th it is. Mr D will have to take half a day’s holiday, but at least he’s able to let his employers know well in advance.
Of course, my other big worry about this is who will be the examining medical practitioner. I asked the chap on the phone, and he said that all I could do was ring the place where the medicals are held nearer the time. What if it’s that same doctor? Do I have the right to refuse to be examined without it affecting my benefits? I’ve been working on something to say just in case – along the lines of “I do not want to be examined by a doctor who has obviously no experience with mental health issues, and no idea what medical problem he is assessing”. I don’t know. If it comes to that, I’ll probably gabble on incoherently and get upset. It may not come to that, though, and I have to keep my thoughts rational – at least, until nearer the time – I can be as anxious as I like on the day…
PS comments are off – I was being spammed to death, so email me if you have any burning thoughts.

Woolfest 2007

I know, I know, I’ve been back over a week and I haven’t told you all about it. Truth be told, I’m utterly buggered, and now I’m home and don’t have that Iminent Goal I’ve sort of pooped out.
The thing I want to say the most is that you can’t put a price on good friends. These are people who look out for you without you even noticing it, who give you space without leaving you alone, and who really show they care. Thank you, Becky, Kath, Carrie and Andrea. I love you guys, seriously.
Becky and I set off on Thursday evening, our destination a beautiful campsite just outside Cockermouth (they do B&B too, Mr D and I are definitely going back someday). We got there around 8pm, and it was gloomy, windy and raining. Out of all the things I’d packed, stupidly I forgot a coat. For the most part, I was okay, and borrowed Kath’s afghan blanket and fleece jacket when I needed to.
Kath had arrived the day before with her husband, who’d left her there with the caravan all nicely set up for us. The weather was so atrocious that night, I think if we’d had to rely on the tent, I’d have gone to ask if there were any B&B rooms spare. The caravan was lovely, though, and we cozied up with our knitting, a bottle of wine and chinese food. Heaven.
Woolfest itself was the same as I’d remembered from last year, but a few people have said in hindsight that it was better this year – and I agree. I can’t put my finger on it. Maybe it was because I was with other fibre addicts rather than a bemused spouse, maybe it was the fact that (in Kath’s words) I was “seeing it with new eyes” because of everything I’ve learned about spinning etc since last year, and I knew what I was looking for. Maybe there was some other mojo at work. At first, I stuck with the girls, my anxiety okay, but I didn’t want to push it yet. We headed over to the raw fleece sale – Becky and Kath both wanted to check them out. I wasn’t so bothered – I had two raw fleeces at home that I needed to work on, and knew another wasn’t going to help. Carrie and I wandered off, and I slowly built up my confidence and wandered off a bit too.

I spent a small fortune, of course. My goal had been to get as many different fibres for spinning as possible, and (off the top of my head) I got small bags of cashmere, milk protein, bamboo, linen, ramie, cotton, tencel and Crokeback angora. I also got a larger bag of baby alpaca, something that I do intend to spin, but for now I’m just going to stroke it every now and again… I also got some yarn – some handpainted hemp in a gorgeous green colourway. I also got some handpainted kid mohair/silk, but only got 50g of it, so might have to mix it with something else to make a shawl or something. To be honest, it’s very much like Rowan’s kidsilk haze, only varigated.
Two days was wonderful, and flew over. Although three of us took our spinning wheels, only Becky did any spinning – the rest of us were too tired! It was lovely on Friday night just watching Becky spin – there’s something very soothing about the rhythm of a spinning wheel. Aside from anything, the baby camel/silk she was spinning was incredible! You can see the finished result here – I’ve seen it “in the flesh” and believe me, it’s utterly gorgeous.
It was also really cool to meet a few knitting bloggers I’d heard of, especially Artis-Anne and her daughter Kath, who are both really lovely.
So, what about the anxiety? Well, I only got properly anxious once. ONCE! Becky had gone to a lecture, and Carrie and Kath had gone to a workshop. Andrea was around somewhere, but as she only came for the day on Saturday, she was off on a shopping mission. I had her phone number, but wasn’t sure where she was. Rather than instinctively trying to find a familiar face, I decided to stay where I was. My anxiety grew as I realised for the first time I was actually on my own. However, I managed it, telling myself that Andrea was only a phonecall away, and it wasn’t long before we met up anyway.
In all, the whole thing was a resounding success, and now I just have to find another goal. I guess my maxim from now on will be “I managed Woolfest, I can do anything
More photos on my flickr set.

Journey of the Something

I’ve fallen behind with the blog again. Not by much – not compared to my usual marathon sabbaticals, but enough to be sitting here with two or three half written blog posts in Notepad, that really should be published in order.
The truth is, I am mentally exhausted. I am trying so hard to go further, push myself harder, that I’ve tired myself out. I look at the text box on my blogging software and the letters turn to mush before my eyes. I write a couple of sentences, and my concentration wanders onto anything – usually nothing.
On Thursday 30th May, I walked to the corner shop by myself. I went inside, and bought a pint of milk and a rather delicious chicken sandwich. An achievement that warrants a blog post all of its own, and indeed, I had mostly written a blog post all about it. Then on Friday 1st June I did it all again, and waited at the edge of the estate for Becky to collect me for her knitting group. Monday saw another knitting group, followed by a grand outing with Becky and her two daughters to the Botanical Gardens. Another blog post. Somehow, I fell behind, and now I’m sitting here at 7am on a Saturday Sunday, thinking “Crap, I really ought to get my skates on and write”.
I need to write. I need to document all the things I’ve been doing, partly so I can tell D my psychologist when I see her on Tuesday. The plan had been to write about each outing in detail, because if I said, “oh yeah, I’ve managed to go to the shop then walk down as far as the post office, cross the road and walk back home” it sounds like I’ve not been doing anything in between and I could do this all along. I’m supposed to be trying to convey what it’s like recovering from agoraphobia. Saying “I went to the shop yesterday” doesn’t quite do it.
The plan was to do “graded exposure”, build up slowly with an eventual goal of going to the Post Office to post Something. I have been doing this, and managing well – thinking about what I’m doing, making a note of any negative thoughts, considering how I feel. On Friday, I walked to the shop and bought a sandwich again, then walked further down the road towards the Post Office. I felt like I was a million miles away from home, exposed, vulnerable. It’s a strange sensation doing things like this when you haven’t for so long. I know it will subside the more I do it, but right now, it feels weird. When I came home, I thought about when to post the Something at the Post Office. I decided against Monday, simply because it would be so busy, and I think the first time I do this, it needs to be on my terms.
So, yesterday morning as Mr D was getting ready, I wrapped the Something, put it in a jiffy bag, addressed it, and set off. Going with a purpose seemed better, somehow. I think this was partly because this was my End Goal – and I was doing it. When I’d mentioned to D about doing this before Woolfest, it seemed so distant and unreachable, but now here I was, striding off with a purpose. The more steps I took, the more I reminded myself that I’d already done this (barring going inside the Post Office) I’d gone this far, I’d managed and not freaked out.
I walked into the Post Office, and the chap behind the counter greeted me with a cheery “Good morning!” He’s a lovely bloke, with a wicked sense of humour and always has a cheerful smile. He weighed my parcel, I paid the postage, took my receipt, thanked him and went. That was it – my Something was on its way. Walking back, I don’t know if it was my imagination that I had a spring in my step. I’d done it – I’d gone to the Post Office, and no-one had died, the sky hadn’t fallen, and I hadn’t panicked.
I need to keep doing this, but there’s only so much I can do at the Post Office before the postmaster thinks I fancy him. I might chuck stuff on ebay, so my therapy is lucrative in more ways than one. Whatever else I do, I can’t stop now.

All By Myself

The latest Twitter thing – “in Borders ON MY OWN!” doesn’t quite explain it.
Yesterday, Mr D and I went to the big retail park out of town. We’d gone into M&S where I’d found a massive stainless steel stock pot for £7.60 (bought for dyeing yarn in) and we’d bought things like wine and potatoes – then the man on the bakery tempted us with just-out-of-the-oven cheese scones. The bastard. We decided to take these things back to the car, but as I have a cold I balked at the idea of walking all the way back to the car, then retracing my steps as we went to the shops further away from M&S.
“I’ll tell you what – you take the stuff back to the car, and I’ll meet you in Borders”
I wish I’d taken a photo. I thought about it, but the fake shutter noise is incredibly loud, and I felt conspicuous as it was. To get to Borders, I had to go past a massive sports shop, an enormous Argos, and a dirty great travel agents. Not to mention the BANK HOLIDAY CROWDS.
I did feel odd, that familiar strange sensation that something was missing (yeah, Mr D!) or something was wrong. I cheated slightly and cut the corner off, but I would have done that anyway. In Borders, I went straight to the magazines at the front. Carrie Anne had found a copy of Spin Off Magazine in Borders, and I crossed my fingers and held my breath that they had a copy. They did – and I grabbed my prize and wandered off with a smug grin.
A blog entry about wandering around Borders book shop may sound a bit passe. In reality, I was aware of my heartbeat, the fact I was fiddling with the press stud on my jacket sleeve, my senses were heightened – I could hear everything louder, see everything brighter. I was anxious, but I rode it rather than run away. I went upstairs and looked at the craft books (how predictable!) then looked at the DVD’s. I was looking for one in particular, and there was a man standing Just There where I needed to be. I said “excuse me” and we swapped places. I didn’t chicken out, I didn’t turn and go a different way, I faced him. Albeit for a second or two, I faced him.
It felt like I was in the shop for hours, but eventually Mr D turned up. I was relieved, but then I walked off and left him to pay for my magazine! I felt shattered afterwards. It’s amazing how physically tiring this thing can be. It’s also worth pointing out the effect that this has on people around you – Mr D later commented that it seemed to take him ages to get the stuff to the car and find me in Borders. I guess the time slowing down thing goes both ways..
I shall leave you with a shiny photo of my shiny stock pot:
IMG_0210
(note strategic placement of the 50p Gap Jacket…)