I’m just really friendly, you know

Last night, Becky and I were invited to Alison’s house. Alison is an incredible quilter, her work is amazing, and I’ve never seen anyone with so much passion for her craft.
I don’t ‘do’ going to people’s houses. It buggers about with my anxiety, and to be honest, I nearly didn’t go. I’ve only met Alison a few times at a monthly knitting group, and I don’t think I caught the whole conversation and thought that there would be Other People there. In the end, there was just the three of us enthusing over fabrics and yarns (Alison recently went to Liberty’s and brought back some gorgeous fabrics) and it was lovely to natter with other people who could be passionate about buying a knackered shirt in a charity shop and cutting it up because we like the fabric.
Becky rang before she set off to my house, and when I’d got ready I made a decision. Usually, when she picks me up for knitting groups, I wait outside the house. It’s something that I can use as therapy – to get used to the whole “being outside” thing – and it doesn’t seem so bad because I’m waiting for something. Last night, I decided to start walking towards the edge of the estate.
I set off walking, feeling pretty okay. I was on the look out for a dark green car – my only anxiety was that she’d not see me and drive past. It was raining, and as usual my glasses needed windscreen wipers. I was trying to think of how I felt, so that I could write it down for my next meeting with D, when I saw a green car. I waved enthusiastically, a grin on my face because I knew how proud Becky would be. The car didn’t slow down. As it got closer, two burly pit-bull-esque blokes gurned at me. What could I do? Well, I continued waving as they drove past. I have no idea who they were, and they did look confused. It was a rather priceless moment – and my reaction?
I just burst out laughing in the middle of the street.
Writing this, I’m thinking of how I would have reacted even six months ago. Probably “I’m stupid, I can’t even see the right person, I want to go home..” It may have escalated into full blown panic, as I fretted over who the people were and whether they were going to stop the car further up the road and confront me. My reaction last night is a big step, I think.

Advertisements

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.

Visitor

I’m sorry I haven’t posted recently, I’ve had flu and was going to post about how being poorly affects anxiety. This, I think, is much more interesting, although writing it has taken a while because it increases the anxiety when I think about it…
At half past seven on Wednesday morning, Mr D went out to work as he always does, locking the door behind him. I took more notice of this than usual, reassuring myself that the front door was most definitely locked. Trying to be aware of it, so I didn’t start worrying later that he’d forgotten. I have placed a note pad and pen by each front window. I have left the blind in the kitchen closed. I have closed the bathroom door because it casts a shadow at the top of the stairs. I have brought my bag with keys and purse upstairs, and have the front door key and my mobile phone (fully charged) in my pocket. My anxiety was high.
Why?
Last Tuesday, at about 11am, someone knocked on the door. Well, “knock” is a poor choice of verb. “Bang” or “pound” might be better. I froze – then went to the front bedroom window to see if I could work out who it was. Normally, if it’s the postman, I can see their van. The person knocking stopped a moment, then rattled at the letterbox, which is brass, spring loaded and makes one hell of a clatter, before going back to pounding on the door.
There was another knocking – fainter this time, and I wondered if they’d gone next door or something, before realising that they were knocking on the living room window. I peeked out of the upstairs window as much as I dared to see who it was. I could see nothing. They banged on the door again – persistent and belligerent.
Then I heard them try to open the front door.
Words cannot describe how I felt – my mouth was dry, and that familiar hypersensitivity prickled my body. My chest tight, my heart pounding. I ran into the back bedroom that is used as an office and picked up the phone, speed-dialled Mr D’s number and when he answered I heard myself loudly whispering that “they won’t stop knocking, they won’t go away and they’ve tried the front door and…”
By this time I was in a full blown state of panic. I sank to the floor and sat against the wall in the bedroom, wanting to hide, wanting to feel safe. I could hear Mr D talking, yet again being my rock. He asked “can you see who it is?” and I stood up and peeped out of the window – in time to see a turquoise car pull off the drive. Yes, off the drive. I didn’t have my glasses on so couldn’t see a registration number, and because I was in such a state I don’t even know what make and model it was.
My afternoon was spent in a state of high alert – every car that went past I was aware of. I closed the blind in the office, and stayed there, hardly daring to move. I didn’t want to think about it because it was making me feel worse, but every distraction technique I could think of meant that if someone did try to get in again, I might not hear them. I was leery of putting the tv on in case the light or sound could be seen from outside. I didn’t want to put my mp3 player on because my headphones are noise cancelling ones. I couldn’t concentrate on a book.
Rationalising afterwards, and trying to figure out who it could be, I decided that it couldn’t be anyone I know – they wouldn’t be that cruel. Maybe a salesperson. We have some loose tiles on the roof, and sometimes builders knock to see if we want a quote. Maybe the police – but surely they would call out to announce themselves if it was that important? Plus in all of these scenarios, WHAT THE FUCK GIVES THEM THE RIGHT TO TRY THE FRONT DOOR???
I’m okay now. I think. I was thinking that this has knocked me back a bit, I’ve been way more anxious when I’m out, and on Friday when B brought me home from the knitting group, I was almost scared to open the door. However, nobody has been back since, so I’m inclined to think it was some kind of salesperson.
Bastards, whoever they were.

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 say “I told you so”

I knew the town would be packed out yesterday. People thinking “ooh, must go shopping” and trying to avoid Saturday. We needed some bits and pieces, and although Mr D said, “I’ll go by myself if you want” I decided to go with him, because hell – you never know what you might need in M&S’s food hall…
We got there fairly early, and the town itself was busy but I could deal with it. As we walked from the car park, I made a note of saying to Mr D “look after me” which is my code for saying ‘I don’t know if I’ll manage very well, and I need to know you’re really switched on to my anxiety’. I know he already is, I guess it’s just my way of being Absolutely Sure. We made our way along the high street, chatting about rubbish, and I was fine.
In M&S, the food hall is at the back of the store. It was busy when we went in, but still do-able. My focus was on getting a small trolley – it makes me feel safer somehow, and I don’t go supermarket shopping without one. As we went further into the food hall, my focus became fuzzier – what did I want? Where was it? Things that I thought I knew started to get lost in a fog of “OHMYGOD where the FUCK did all these PEOPLE come from???” It was half past nine, and the queues for the checkout traversed up the aisles towards the back of the store. And people WEREN’T MOVING FOR ANYTHING. We needed breadbuns, which meant a marathon fight through five rows of people like that. Yelling “EXCUSE ME PLEASE!” fell on deaf ears. The anxiety grew. I turned to Mr D. “Sod this,” I said, “just dump the trolley and let’s get out of here.”
Mr D insisted on taking the trolley back to the proper place, which (in my mind) seemed to take even longer. “I need to get out, please – just leave it there” I begged, as he stood waiting for people to move so he could put the trolley back in the line with the other ones. The world was swirling. “I NEED TO GET OUT! bollocks – I’ll meet you outside.”
The journey to the front of the store is a bit of a blur. I remember people walking towards me – so many people – please just MOVE. At the doors now. Two sets, and in my panic I try to get out of the one that’s locked. I hit it with my fist, retreat and try again. Suddenly, cold air. I hit some railings, and sit down, head in hands, foetal. The panic washes over me, and I feel sick. I can’t breathe – my chest hurts. Now Mr D is here, talking to me, telling me it’s okay.
I sit like that for a while, until my breathing starts returning to normal. I feel numb, aware only of his voice – and the fact that my backside is cold from sitting on the icy concrete. I get up and my legs feel like jelly. I’ve been crying, and my glasses are fogged up. My chest still hurts, and I feel utterly spent.
This morning (Saturday), Mr D has gone back to M&S for opening time. And this time, he’s gone by himself.

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.