I’ve been asked how I got over the worst of my agoraphobia. The really bad days are years in my past, thankfully, but I’ll write what I can remember. For me, I suspect it was mostly luck, as I live in a small town and have managed to make most of it my ‘safe zone’.
When it came to getting out of the house… I didn’t want to become house-bound, so when it was starting to happen, I broke out of it by doing something my mother told me later was stupid… I left the house at night, when it was quiet and dark — walked in the local area, round and round. I went out to where the small shops were, and walked there too, among the buildings and narrow paths.
At one point I nearly tripped over a man who appeared to have taken drugs or was drinking or something.
I walked past my own house several times in my trips around, and could see the cats sitting in the porch watching me in a puzzled way… that made me smile, though faintly!
Was it stupid? Yes, maybe it was dangerous and I shouldn’t have done it on my own, even though I live in a quiet town. For people in a bigger town, it’s an even worse idea. Did it make a difference? Maybe, in the sense that I was demonstrating to myself that the local area was mine and I could walk around in it if I chose to. It was as much ‘mine’ as anyone else’s.
Having got out of the house, for me what helped:
(1) It’s not a huge town and I could walk most places rather than get the bus.
(2) Family were in the area, so I wasn’t alone.
(3) It helped if I had something along with me (a steadying influence) so I take my shopping trolley everywhere. It made a huge difference, to the degree I can sometimes go without it now, though it depends on where I am and how long I’ll be there for. The best shopping trolleys have big rubber wheels… plastic wheels rattle and are noisy.
(4) Take small steps. For instance, at the beginning (when recovering from a bad spell) I’d only go to a small shop round the corner for groceries, and just get a basketful at a time — a huge barrowload is too much! Best to pay by cash and not spend long. I’d usually hang around admiring tins of peaches or something if there was a queue, but as soon as the queue disappeared or became much shorter, I’d abandon the peaches and join it.
(5) I’d go really early in the morning if I had to go to the supermarket — it was quiet but they had an annoying habit of only having one checkout open, so sometimes the queue might back up a bit… usually it was OK. I remember a colleague telling me I was masochistic going to the supermarket so early in the morning just for a can of kitten food. 🙂 Trouble was, if I didn’t go early, I felt I couldn’t go at all.
(6) I’d get myself a little gift sometimes to get myself into a shop… for instance, I saw a plush rhino through the chemist’s window that I took a fancy to, so going in and buying it was its own reward.
(7) Distraction is a very good weapon, as is fading memory. The best way I can explain it, is that I’m more likely to get wound up if I’m going out every day or thinking about my anxiety all the time. If I rest a lot and do something fun at home, like artwork, and only go out sometimes, I am much more relaxed… it’s as though I’ve literally forgotten. My mother thinks people should go out every day to keep in the swim of things, and I guess that’s what works for her… but for me it’s a bad idea! Perhaps she proves to herself every day that people are nice and she can get on with them, but as I’m too deaf to really talk to anyone, I just remember every day how busy the roads are, how difficult it is for me to make myself understood, and how impatient people can be. 🙄 When I’ve forgotten all about that, I’m better able to focus on the positive aspects of going out.
(8) When I was working (and going through the worst of it at that time) I remember a couple of psychological tricks I used when walking to the office.
(a) I was too scared to go, but knew I had to. So I would say to myself that getting out of the house didn’t mean I was really going to the office! I could just walk a little while and see how it went. I said to myself “just walk as far as that lamppost, and if you still want to go home, you can go home.” That way I would get all the way to work because I no longer felt pressured into going… it had become a choice.
(b) Another trick would propel me across open ground, which was harder than walking alongside a wall. I’d pick something I could think of as a kind of wall… yellow lines running through the car park or the rooftops of nearby houses… and make those my ‘wall’ while getting across the open space. It was a bit dicey, I admit, as someone suddenly racing towards me (or cutting between me and my ‘wall’) could throw me off balance! 😛
(9) Usually there are workarounds… a quieter shop, a quiet footpath instead of the busy road, a different time when most of the people have gone.
(10) Stay aware of the seasons. Town seems to be more busy at certain times of the year… I noticed my anxiety would start rising in May, when more people appeared on the streets. Perhaps this is the real reason I’ve started to love autumn… the pace slows down.
One thing that kept me going was the thought that it would be easier to deal with it now… things always start feeding on themselves if you leave them too long. If I was going to break through the anxiety and get some of what I wanted out of life, why shouldn’t it be now rather than later?
I used to avoid catching people’s eye when I was going through the worst of it, but one day looked up and looked straight at this guy, who smiled. I smiled back — that’s when I knew the worst was over! It does show… you have no idea how much your kindness can affect someone.
Agoraphobia is a tough thing to deal with and I have learned not to underestimate it. I anthropomorphized mine as a ‘black beast’, and made this poem by Ted Hughes my own… merely because I love Ted Hughes poetry?? The causes of anxiety can be as hard to locate as the beast in the poem! Perhaps thinking of it that way made it easier for me to deal with, as though it was a creature in a book and not part of me.
I hope something in all of this helps someone, though I don’t really recommend wandering around at the dead of night. 🙂
tired of your world?
try on another’s skin
read a book
I used to read all the time, but it’s an ability I’ve largely lost. I dip in and out of this book or that, and it can take me a long time to finish anything. Today, though, I found out that books still have their place in the world, even in mine.
I’m upset just now about a lot of different things, some of which won’t be resolved any time soon. There’s nothing I can do but wait. I couldn’t concentrate on anything I was meant to be doing, so curled up on the sofa and read.
I was previously dipping into this book for minutes at a time, worried I wouldn’t finish by its library due date, but today wrapped it round me like a blanket and read all afternoon and evening: Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey.
It was brilliant and I would recommend it whole-heartedly. It upset me a lot. 😀
I know that doesn’t sound so good, but I don’t regret reading it. It gives me a different understanding of what it must be for people to go through memory loss.
The main character talks about being treated like she’s back in school… I could relate to that, as the same thought flashed through my head during a meeting with a nurse. Being talked to like I was six was a very big reason I rebelled and refused to have anything more to do with her proposed anxiety treatment.
Yet anxiety is a horrible thing… I wonder why it should hit me so hard that I needed to pull up the drawbridge and hide inside a novel. I don’t think anything will change me, and maybe it’s not out of the ordinary… we all get overwhelmed at times. I wonder what life would be like if no one ever felt fear?
Whatever… I was surprised how quickly I went from only being able to concentrate for a few minutes to spending hours reading. People talk about how the internet and ‘information overload’ has changed the way we read, think and engage. Perhaps, but I don’t believe it’s a permanent change. If for any reason you mentally disengage yourself from your internet habit, you can still take up a book as though nothing else exists.
Have now begun Dark Eden by Chris Beckett.
‘Hmmph, hmmph, hmmph, went the trees all around us, pumping and pumping hot sap from under the ground.’
See you when I get back. 🙂
It’s not anger, exactly, and I’m not annoyed with anyone in particular, but I feel as though my fur has been stroked backward.
I completed Session One of the online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) course.
First I had to sort out incompatibilities.
(1) Adobe Flash Player — had to use Adobe’s uninstaller before I could install the most recent version of Flash Player, which turned out to have been put in by old software. I hesitated because I couldn’t see why it was necessary, and was suspicious.
(2) Safari (probably because of Flash). Needed a different browser.
I tried to install Chrome, but it kept saying ‘thanks for downloading’ though nothing was happening. So I got Firefox, and found myself registering for an account so I could synchronize bookmarks (why?), then downloading Firefox to the iPad so the process could be completed.
I suspect it wasn’t mandatory to have a Firefox account, but by that time I was past trying to figure these things out — I just wanted to do what I was told so I could get on with life. I even made Firefox my default browser (I was that far gone!) but reverted to Safari a few days later.
The two browsers were playing tug of war. Safari used to be a happy ‘only browser’ on my Mac, but now there was another in the roost.
“Do you want to make me your default browser?”
You fire up the first one out of habit, as it was your default browser till very recently.
“Do you want to make me your default browser?”
“Er…. oh, go on then!”
You switch back to the other one, as that’s where the online CBT account is lurking.
“Do you want to…?”
By the time all issues were fixed, it was almost bedtime, so I left ‘Session One’ for another day.
‘Another day’ arrived…
I could think of fun things I would rather be doing this sunny afternoon, such as uploading photographs from my camera and looking to see if they were any good, but I might as well get this CBT thing over with.
Some time ago I put cheap paper in the printer especially for the CBT course, but Mum used it all on a manual for our new dishwasher, so I put in more… and now we were ready to rumble!
Subtitles were turned on so I didn’t need to listen to the course, and automatically put on some soothing music. The subtitles said something about music playing at the start, and I thought to myself, “Well, thanks, but I’ve got my own.”
I don’t know what they were playing, but mine happened to be Just the Way You Are by the Piano Guys.
Right now, I lack words to describe what I thought about Session One.
I mentioned in my last post (Shrouded in Scottish Gloom) that I’ve done CBT before and didn’t take to it. On the other hand, I thought once I got into this online course, I might enjoy it. I have a tidy mind… I like creating databases, organizing files and photos, and answering questionnaires and quizzes. Why wouldn’t I enjoy this too?
Nevertheless, I began the session feeling irritated, and it only got worse. I didn’t want to answer the questions.
“Did anything happen during the past week to upset or disturb you?”
“Oh dear. What was it?”
I couldn’t believe I had to answer this.
“Well, we had to vote in a general election and then there was all the political fallout with everybody blaming everybody else…”
OK, I didn’t type that, but, honestly! I ended up backtracking and saying, “No. Nothing happened.” and the squiggly figure gave me a squinty-eyed look and said, “Hmmmmm…”
I don’t think it believed me.
It shocked and surprised me how reluctant I was to give any information at all. I just wanted to see what it had to say and have done, but if I had to interact to this degree, I had no wish to complete the course.
I realize this isn’t the point… it’s supposed to be a tool that I use to tighten up screws in my head that might happen to be a bit loose, so if it doesn’t know what screws those are, there isn’t a lot it can do. This reflection didn’t comfort me, and my irritation grew so bad I kept stopping and staring unblinkingly at the screen for long moments.
How many times a week do I get anxious? Once a week? Five times a week?
No, it doesn’t work like that!
I quit the session altogether, absolutely smouldering, then gave myself a good talking-to. I didn’t want to have to explain to people why I didn’t want to do it… it seemed easier to shut my eyes and get it over with. That way you make fewer waves and it defuses the situation. After all, it’s not a big deal… it’s just an amped-up questionnaire.
I went back in and found I had to sit through the entire thing again, homilies and all, answering questions I’d already answered… but changed a few of my responses this time, taking a more measured attitude to it, so it was all to the good.
At the end, I was asked if any of it helped, and I answered honestly… no it didn’t. If I could have given it a minus score, I would have.
The forum did, though! There were people on it who had almost identical thoughts and emotions about the first session, including “I reallyreallyreally don’t want to do this!!” but in the end rationalizing that it’s not a big deal and just to get on with it.
What gets me is that it’s been a few hours now since I did the session, and I still feel like an electrocuted jellyfish.
One thing worth noting… people on the forum said the first session is notoriously awful, but it gets better, and I might gain some benefit in later sessions. So just hang in there…
…just stay clear of my stingers for a while. 😛
The garden looks really good just now. My sister takes care of it every weekend, and I’m amazed at how neat and pretty it is. When I peek out the back door and smell lilac, I understand why gardeners love what they do. There’s something sane, calm and peaceful about the outdoor landscape… it’s an escape for practical, hard-working people.
It makes me yearn to be that kind of person too.
I’m more the kind of person who strolls around with a camera and feels happy at the beauty other people have created. Unfortunately, Scotland doesn’t like us to have heatwaves for very long, and there’s a lot of dreich weather at the moment. Yesterday it couldn’t make up its mind between strong sun, drenching rain, and the occasional bolt of lightning. Today it decided to go ‘all rain’… dark grey clouds parading overhead with shimmering sheets of crystals dangling from their misty earlobes.
When the day was at its darkest, I came across a monster snail clinging to the upstairs window. It reminded me of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea… water all around and this muscular, glistening creature seeking a way in. Visualizing its fellows squirming all over the house, roof and all, I could understand my mother’s utter abomination of them. She gets the same look on her face that Ripley gets in Alien.
If you were on a spaceship with those things on it, you’d do better with her as a shipmate than me.
I don’t mind the odd snail or group of snails, but we have too many. They slither all over — slugs too — and roll on their backs, drinking in the downpours.
The other night I was trying to move a wheelie bin without stepping on a single invertebrate, and it was impossible. I swear there was either a slug or a snail trekking across each square foot of ground, and because it was dark, I couldn’t even see them all. Despite the best I could do, the bin and I left a trail of devastation in our wake.
Have I complained about this before? I’ve a feeling I have.
Anyhow, with the lowering weather, some sadness, and a general feeling of being under siege, it seemed a good day to activate my online CBT account.
“What’s that?” you say, suddenly looking nervous. “CBT??”
Our GP thinks it might help combat my chronic anxiety, but I ignored the activation request for two weeks. I could always think of something better to do! I don’t have raging agoraphobia any more, but I’ve had a traumatic few years… it’s like a sleeping Leviathan stirring. If it comes up again, it could be bad.
I don’t like cognitive behavioural therapy. I’ve tried it before and it left me bemused. I felt more stressed attending the sessions than at any other time, so I cut them short.
I have to confess, when I read that I would need to have a working printer in order to do the current course, I was irritated. We have ours loaded with 100gsm stuff. I was determined not to start the course till I’d dived out and bought the cheapest paper I could find — 75gsm. I put that in on top.
OK, well, I activated the CBT course today, answered a raft of multiple choice questions, then it suddenly stopped, and I was confused. It just told me I would need an up-to-date Flash Player (which I’ve got) in order to be able to view my sessions, but I couldn’t see any other links, or a home page, or even a bit of text saying “thank you — see you next week!” or something of the kind.
Is this typical NHS behaviour?
I’ve had similar emails when asking for appointments… no ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ or individual names… just come straight to the point then drop out of sight. You can imagine the staff rushing around like busy ants, so you don’t really resent it, but it’s still a little… leaves you feeling like one of those cartoon characters who was walking on rock and is now pedalling in mid-air.
Thinking about it, it was just the ‘activation’ I was engaged in… if I went back, the first session would be there waiting.
Perhaps it’s all one big cryptic puzzle designed to keep me engaged trying to figure it out so that I don’t have time to stress about anything. There was a multiple choice question I didn’t understand at all, and the only way I could dodge it was to pick the most non-committal response. I felt like turning to someone and saying, “Sorry, what do you mean?” Instead, I said it to the empty room.
I should raise that question with them in case it turns out to be something important… or is that typical catastrophic thinking? What significance could a single, vaguely-worded question have? I gave them a vaguely-worded response… fair dos.
Meanwhile, none of this helped the cats with their own issues. They sat miserably at the back door, looking out at the slurping snails. As far as they’re concerned, this type of day shouldn’t be allowed.
I’ve always liked the company of older people, and felt a little less at home with younger folks (who are more unpredictable in some ways).
Mum was talking about things from her childhood. She remembered buying dresses… they were taken ‘on approval’, and delivered in boxes and tissue paper. She kept missing trams and jumping on while they were on the move. The conductor would say “you’re not supposed to do that!”
I said I remembered double-decker buses with the door at the back with stairs — they had bus conductors with ticket machines. Mum said admiringly, “you’re quite old too!” and I said “thank you.”
I’m fascinated by any nuggets of wisdom older people decide to share… they are individual but have the ring of truth. Like from the rather worried old lady who said you know you can be perfect, but you must expect to make mistakes. Be kind to yourself. (I have a horrible habit of lying awake at night counting the very many mistakes I’ve made. Sometimes I think wistfully about Ally McBeal’s boss who said tactless things, then in the next breath he would mutter “bygones!”)
Liz Smith (elderly actress) had a lot to say that I was interested in. She said you can’t know why people react the way they do; it’s probably connected to things that happened to them. It’s rare to have true friends; people who know exactly who you are and what you’re about.
Liz wanted to talk with other passengers (while on her cruise) but couldn’t bring herself to make the first move — she was convinced they wouldn’t want her. I feel that more and more, even on the internet; I hesitate to comment, email or join in as much as I used to. I used to have an opinion on everything, but now I watch everybody else making mistakes and putting their foot in it, knowing that this time it isn’t me. More and more I decide it’s safer to pretend I’m not even here!
Perhaps it’s all part of getting older.
A friend and I were having a discussion recently — we were saying how we used to blithely do things that now make us curl up in horror and amazement. We were not mountaineers or explorers… but she used to ride rather nervy horses over jumps she wouldn’t even consider these days. Whereas I used to fill in those email letters that asked for your mother’s middle name!! Perhaps along with age we learn fear… but hopefully other, more positive things as well.
I wonder what pearls of wisdom might drop from my lips when I’m over 80 — everything I’m doing and thinking now takes me closer to those truths! It’s an interesting thought.
During the Blog Monsoon (see last post but one) I found a nice collection of ‘anxiety blogs’ but they’ve actually been pretty quiet. I’m careful not to read them with too much absorption anyway, as I’m terrified they will set me off again! “Don’t think about the hippopotamus.” I’ve been so much better recently that the other day I was whizzing along the street in a total strop about something else. That’s good news.
Jolly the Trolley is still in tow. Mum tried to get me to leave him in the car, but I wouldn’t. I’ve picked him up and carried him, though, which means I’m not really leaning on him. I’ve got fond of him and have started saying encouragingly “come along now” (much to the bemusement of a nearby three-year-old). I also call him ‘him’ without thinking.
Yesterday I said to Mum, “the reason his long handle is rather stiff and I can’t collapse it back down is that he’s got a metal stud down here that’s gone rusty. I better treat it with WD-40.”
Mum, peering intently, said, “mm. I suppose you better.”
When we were in town, feeding cats and buying overpriced ink cartridges, we were crossing the road and Jolly the Trolley got so anxious about the waiting cars that he collided with Mum’s ankles. When we reached the safety of the pavement, Mum spun round and threatened to give him a good smack if he did it again. We both took a step backward.
It surely isn’t just us, though… have a look at this photo of Jolly the Trolley. Do you see a large toothy grin?
You sheltered me from harm
Kept me warm, kept me warm
You gave my life to me
Set me free, set me free
The finest years I ever knew
Was all the years I had with you
If there’s someone you know
That won’t let you go
And taking it all for granted
You may lose them one day
Someone takes them away
And you don’t hear a word they say
(from Everything I Own sung by Ken Boothe)
Edit Feb 2008: Comments for this entry when it was on Blogigo:
1. Pete wrote at Sep 22, 2006 at 21:18:
nice to put a face to the name 😉
2. bluestone wrote at Sep 22, 2006 at 23:12:
ha! I do see that smile!
3. kateblogs wrote at Sep 23, 2006 at 17:48:
Yip a definite smile 🙂
4. Pacian wrote at Sep 23, 2006 at 18:01:
I also see a nose and a pair of sunglasses…
5. Diddums wrote at Sep 23, 2006 at 18:30:
I guess he needs the sunglasses because he’s looking up into the sun so much of the time.
6. Sacha, from IrkedMagazine.com wrote at Sep 25, 2006 at 15:58:
AHA! So THAT’S what Jolley the Trolley (J.Tro?) looks like! Handsome bugger, he is…!
I dig the way you write, Diddums.
Get in touch; come write an article for IrkedMagazine.com…
Once I watched something flat and uninteresting on TV about a well-known personality. I didn’t know that she suffered from various anxieties and phobias. Having experienced similar things myself, I wanted to know more. For her, it’s flying, travelling, crowds. Surprisingly little was said about all that – more was said about her stalker! I don’t think he should have been given the coverage, and she said she didn’t want to talk about him. I didn’t want to talk about him either – or listen to him talking!
My dissatisfaction with the programme got me surfing the internet and I found this: “Agoraphobia is known as the ‘mother of all phobias’.”
I didn’t know it was referred to as that – I don’t hear it often. The article warns against agoraphobics throwing themselves into some program that claims to cure phobias in minutes. Well good grief, I’m a complex person; I can’t be mended with superglue. Meanwhile it’s reassuring to know that others know what I already know.