Posted in Health Issues, Lost in Thought

Mindfulness Experiment Gone Awry

A good way of escaping unwelcome introspection, I’ve read, is to imagine yourself in the ocean. The colourful fish swimming past you are your thoughts — you observe them swimming past, perhaps going round you a few times, then they are gone.

My initial reaction, really, is that I don’t want to be in the ocean! Just yesterday I viewed a photo of sting-rays and sharks nosing sharply around, and that’s the image that came to mind when I read the above idea.

Some of my thoughts might well be sharks, not clown fish. I wonder how many other people out there would empathize with this? Well, let’s just go with this mental image for a while, and see what happens. Here’s me floating in the murky sea water, surrounded by flitting predatorial shapes.

What is this shark? He’s looking right in my face, like the old fellow from that turtle film, Sammy’s Adventures. What does he represent?

Whoa!

When I started the exercise, I closed my eyes and visualized a 3D cartoon image because of remembering about Sammy the turtle, then linked the looming shark to the worries in my mind. Instantly, the oceans closed in. Depths dropped away below me, all my friends were gone, no safety anywhere. Nothing was in my future but cold drowning and too many teeth.

Do what you do with a nightmare — banish it. Swim back up for a few breaths of fresh air. I don’t think that’s what they had in mind… I’m supposed to be relaxing happily, my thoughts swimming past and disappearing unchallenged. How do you let go of a big grey Thought that’s taking far too much interest in you?

Summoning it up in that form may have been a mistake, unless I take control and cause it to swim away. Is that doable? No, it’s just hanging there in the water, staring at me. I can’t imagine it gone. Even if it swam off, it would circle round then return.

“Do I look like food to you?” as Sammy said to the wee red fish, who grinned toothily and nodded. This is not my idea of relaxation. Maybe I could try an inflatable swimming pool instead?

Hmm… Ground feels bumpy underneath, but at least nothing is swimming around in here. (Feels around dubiously). There’s grit in the pool, and bits of grass. When I climbed in, I took bits of the lawn with me, stuck to the soles of my feet. Irritating.

Any minute now, somebody’s going to scream at me to come in for lunch.

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Posted in Health Issues

Online Cognitive Behavioural Therapy: a patient’s view

I finished the online CBT course on Friday. Do I feel any different? No… just relieved it’s over!

A number of people on the forum say it made things better for them.

“It must be nice to be you,” I mused enviously. “Able to say something positive and encouraging about the course, and follow it up with a ‘thank you!’ That’s the desirable reaction.” Some went so far as to say it has turned their lives around. It would be amazing to be able to say that.

One or two, on the other hand, say they didn’t find it helpful. I was disappointed we were in the minority, but maybe only a few of us negative nellies made it to the final session. I read that a lot of people drop out of the course. It shouldn’t have taken me so long, but I had a long hiatus in the middle.

The course is intended for ‘mild to moderate depression or anxiety’, but it seems if it doesn’t work, it’s because of โ€œlow adherence and engagement with treatment, rather than lack of efficacy.โ€ See the Guardian article: Questions raised over effectiveness of online CBT for treating depression

I don’t know enough myself to be able to pinpoint why it works for some and not others — can only give my personal experience.

A lot of the time when I was trying to do the CBT exercises, I felt irritated, even angry. If I put it down and did something else for a while, I would eventually be able to complete the exercises, but my heart wasn’t in it… I felt distanced from what I was doing. For instance, I had to list positive self-beliefs, and was jollied along with, “don’t be modest.”

Having got over my spat of grumpiness, I wrote: “I read a lot; I write well; I try to improve my artwork.”

As the online course reminded us, ‘practice makes perfect’. I’m supposed to keep doing these exercises; these tools to improve my mood or how I handle things — but right now I look at those three self-beliefs and feel on the low side of neutral. I’m confused about the kind of beliefs I’m supposed to come up with, and have a sneaking feeling I got it wrong. This exercise is a spin-off from a section about ‘attributional style‘. Healthy beliefs about oneself should be ‘permanent, internal and general’ as opposed to ‘specific, external and temporary’.

So… ‘I read a lot’… is that specific or general? I would have said ‘specific,’ as it’s a specific thing that I do, but the relevance by-passes me at the moment.

It’s internal, I think, because it’s a way of taking credit to myself. I’m not depending on someone else to do all my reading for me! Also, it’s a permanent belief; I read a lot while I can. So what does a temporary belief look like? “I read a leaflet yesterday but probably won’t bother again?”

A lot of people on the CBT forum seem to like that exercise, so they must know what it means and how to correctly label their beliefs. It’s just me who’s the numpty!

Come to think of it, “I was lucky to win that tennis match,” is probably a temporary belief. A more self-believing belief would be, “I won the match because I’m a good tennis player.” No wait, that’s an internal belief, whereas “I was just lucky” is external because the gods smiled on you.

“I read a lot” doesn’t make me feel I can take on the world. People write such contradictory things I find myself believing stuff that cancel each other out, don’t know what to believe, or do daft things because I uncritically internalized the last thing I read. So much for all that reading.

At any rate, perhaps a better self-belief would be “I am kind.” That’s more ‘general’ because it’s something I am, whereas “I read a lot” is a specific belief because it’s something I do… though don’t take my word for it!

It should really be “I am sometimes quite kind.” ๐Ÿ˜› Does that make it a more temporary belief? Is that the very thing I’m being warned against by the CBT course? I would probably be told I’m giving away credit for my success.

Well, that brings us to the point of the attributional style. When you have successes or disappointments in life, you use your self-belief in the following way: “I made a new friend today because I’m kind.”

That would be better than saying, “I made a new friend today because the other person is kind,” which would suggest there’s nothing about you the other person thought was remarkable.

“I made a new friend today because I was on my best behaviour and hid my usual surliness”… that’s pretty realistic for many people, especially me, but I think the CBT would frown on it!

I could just switch off the niggles in my head and say, “I made a new friend because I’m kind and witty and clever, and the other person likes me.”

Does that make me feel good? Hmm……..

Just had a lightbulb moment! I noticed the word ‘control’ when reading online about attributional style. People are depressed and anxious if they don’t feel in control, so it makes sense that being able to make more powerful statements should be beneficial. That’s easier for me to grasp than whether or not my beliefs are ‘permanent, internal and general’.

I hate to be curmudgeonly, but you’ll note I didn’t say that I believe telling myself that I believe something that I don’t believe is going to make me step out more confidently! However, since practice makes perfect, I will keep trying the various exercises for a while. I would enjoy setting up a special CBT journal to fill in every day… though perhaps actually filling it in is another story?

Posted in Videos

Invigorated by YouTube

For so many years I mostly ignored YouTube. I hated the name, which sounded rude! I would check out music or a Simon’s Cat animation, but mostly internet videos were an irritation. I hate going onto a news page and finding it slowed down with embedded video clips that take up space and don’t even have captions, and you have to carefully scroll past the wretched things in the hope of finding actual text… a commodity that becomes rarer and rarer, especially in the news world. When friends post video links, even to Simon’s Cat, I follow with great reluctance. From past experience I know I would enjoy the video, yet am still reluctant to be drawn in.

Then I realized I can follow videos (to a limited degree) provided they have automatic captions. I gain access to things I would otherwise have no access to at all, such as some radio shows. Unfortunately, BBC trailers on YouTube never seem to have captions. Somebody consciously removed autocaptions and hasn’t replaced them with edited ones? Oh well, I won’t watch them.

The majority of videos on YouTube have autocaptions, however, and I’m grateful, even though they are garbled in places. You find yourself mentally changing words or glueing a selection of them together to transform into the word that’s intended. Breakfast means Brexit. Barney means Barnier. Mr Young Kerr is Mr Juncker. Jumani chairs might have been Jean Monnet chairs. Large Parrot is Nigel Farage. I will have to look for other examples. What does ‘rather eat a mockery knee’ mean? (Approximately 38.20 mark on LBC’s EU Army video).

I don’t just watch political videos… I was surprised to discover how therapeutic some of the other offerings are, with repeated mantras and soothing delivery. Seeing someone sitting down and looking you in the eye; their humorous expressions, quiet confidence and polite acceptance of you (though of course they can’t see you)… it has an amazing effect.

Up till now, articles and blog posts are all I’ve ever looked at. I enjoy those that take you on a journey of some kind, even if a bit rambling sometimes. I hate shallow, repetitive ‘sound-bite’ dribbets that don’t tell you what you really want to know. Instead they repeat bare facts you might be having doubts about… people parroting each other without appearing to question the information. You think “but is that really true? How do they know?” and search for something more. It’s frustrating when nobody really goes into it… you wish they would look deeper, or wider (at different situations). Like when you want advice how to repair a friendship and instead keep finding stuff about married couples when that’s not the dynamic you were interested in. It almost makes you question your own validity… like “I’m not the important person here; I’m not married… none of my issues are relevant.” That’s not a good example, as there’s actually plenty of stuff that addresses platonic friendships, but you get the drift.

Then I ‘discovered’ YouTube videos; or, should I say, discovered I can make much more use of them than I realized, provided they have captions.

Videos can be short or long; they can amuse, tell you something you never read anywhere else, or merely repeat the same tired points and — guiltily — you find your attention wandering. Sometimes you watch to the bitter end while distracting yourself scanning the comments underneath, but other times you realize it really wasn’t what you were looking for, so you move on. Small blame to the speaker, whose video will make all the difference to somebody, somewhere; no doubt setting that person on a new voyage of discovery.

Last night I felt anxiety like a growing block of ice that threatened to keep me from sleeping, so lulled myself with watching YouTube videos. It worked amazingly well. The speaker in question was a great story-teller, and when she recounted a dialogue I could really empathize with, complete with expressions of remembered shock and confusion, I found myself weeping with laughter. My mother was sleeping in another room so I was trying to keep it quiet, but became so hysterical I had to muffle myself with handfuls of cloth.

I don’t know if I would have reacted that way if I’d read the relayed conversation in an article. I might had chuckled to myself, even laughed out loud, and probably nodded a lot as though to say, “yeah, I know that feeling!” but I’m not sure I would have had the uproarious reaction that I did.

Unnerving but therapeutic. “Wow, I’m not the only one who feels at times as though nothing makes any sense! And all the time, it was because of something going on with the other person.”

The anxiety in my chest suddenly melted, washed away in a surge of positive emotion. After that I was able to sleep, waking in good humour. Several hours later, I’m still feeling shaky but relieved. The video was expressive in a completely different way from written articles. It was not just the message that came across in bold technicolour, but the person herself.

Nevertheless… the underlying reasons for my current bout of anxiety are still there, and I’ve not yet done anything with those. I must try, over and over, if that’s what it takes. Only then can I sleep properly, though these videos are a good reminder that you’re not alone and other people have similar experiences.

This morning I found myself watching something I thought tremendously relevant on all kinds of levels….

What Happens With Unprocessed Emotions by Richard Grannon

It turns into something you don’t entirely expect, but speaks a lot of truth. If videos were always predictable, we would soon give up watching… a tip for YouTube in their quest to keep our eyeballs in thrall. Not that Richard Grannon was really endorsing our addiction to social media.

It is true… I’ve been sucked into this alternative reality — this other place that feeds on itself and grows and becomes more real with every passing moment. Even after watching the video I’ve just linked to, you absolutely know you’re going to check your news feed, write a blog post, and occasionally check your emails, then maybe try another video. You are not stopped by the realization that it’s unhealthy and you’re only frittering away your time because you can’t be bothered to think or do anything else, partly because you do get things from it that you wouldn’t find in your own environment… and you meet people you would never have talked to normally.

Oh… as Richard says, that’s not necessarily a good thing, especially if you have a picture in your head of a person, and that person is very different in real life. Which can be good, because maybe you wouldn’t have known how decent, kind, intelligent or witty that person was if going by visual impressions. Then again, you do get caught out the other way as well, so we really need to take our time getting to know people, both online and in the real world.

Richard made a real case for not distracting ourselves from the way we feel. Ultimately, we need to put our devices aside and get to the bottom of why we feel the way we do, and what we can do to improve ourselves and our lives.

Talking of anxiety, I could feel it mounting again when I read this news article by The Guardian: Stares, Glares, and Internet Dating: The Harsh Reality of Life with a Disability. It was the bit about managing life as a deaf person. Things get worse instead of better… it’s as though people (government agencies, public services, businesses and organizations) have less and less time and space to worry about you, even while expectations increase, pressure mounts, queues lengthen and people are summarily punished for not conforming as expected. I could tell you stories of my own about the difficulties of getting through and making my concerns heard, but I don’t really want to at this point in time. I’d rather forget…

Posted in Dreams and Nightmares

Halloween Awakening

I wrote this blog post nine years ago and never had the nerve to publish it… it’s been sitting in my draft posts ever since.

‘Last modified 5 Nov 2008’:

This makes me smile every time it shows up on my desktop: Halloween wp (1600 x 1200). It’s not mine, but if you happen to like The Nightmare Before Christmas, it will be your thing.

The other night I woke up thinking “I must take those wallpapers down; they’re giving me nightmares!” Actually they weren’t, as they’re nice rather than nightmarish, but I had a Halloween experience…

Do you hallucinate when very tired? I don’t mean ordinarily tired; you have to be quite sleep-deprived to qualify…. but I believe it’s fairly common in those circumstances. Sometimes (for instance after a very long bus expedition, not having seen a proper bed for 30 or 40 hours) I’ve been so tired that I couldn’t sleep properly… it’s as though you’re collapsing more than sleeping. That’s extreme, but that’s almost how tired you have to be for this. To illustrate the prevalence of this (if you really need convincing): it happens to students who are studying too hard (and possibly feeding themselves with too much caffeine). It also happens to motorists who have driven too long and are falling asleep at the wheel. Not at all smart, but I couldn’t help being charmed by one person’s story of driving till he saw a cowboy sitting on a suitcase in the middle of the road. That was his cue to park and sleep.

This kind of hallucination is a waking dream; you think you’re awake and looking around, but part of your brain is dozing.

Caution: If you’re squeamish, eating something or prone to nightmares of your own, don’t read past this point. You have been warned. ๐Ÿ˜ˆ

On Sunday night, I was so enthralled by a book (Grumpy Old Men: New Year, Same Old Crap by David Quantick) that it was a shock to find it was nearly 5 in the morning. Oops — time to turn out the light.

I fell asleep and dreamed I’d lost a tooth, which was causing me problems. At the same time I became aware of a cowled figure standing at the door beside my bed… just perceiving him from the side of my eye. He was about to leave the room but I didn’t think I could sleep till the blood was washed away, so I called him back, asking him to sort it out for me.

He came and twisted a dark grey tap, barely visible in the gloom above my head. I expected clean cool water, but it was a foul-smelling, viscous, dark, sticky liquid that glugged out of the tap onto my face. “It’s not water,” remarked the cowled figure with deep satisfaction — “it’s old blood.” And he left the room.

“I can’t stand this,” I thought.

I had been dreaming, but was awake now.

I opened my eyes (they creaked open reluctantly) and the whole room was bathed in a crimson glare, as though a blood-red moon was shining in through the curtains. Gaaargh. Closed my eyes again, and just inside my eyelids were several disembodied faces, squirming with red maggots.

“It’s one of those waking dreams,” I said resignedly to myself. “I wore myself out.”

There was a flash of light through the window, visible through my eyelids… I looked, and everything was steel grey. An improvement on the crimson… but I couldn’t see what had caused the flash. No car, no security light. It made me anxious, as though something was closing in, and my heart started racing.

“This is a real Halloween experience!” I said to myself. “It’s just a shame it’s two nights too late. Maybe I should use it in NaNoWriMo.” The maggotty faces inside my eyelids nodded and stretched their mouths wide in cackly agreement — I saw the funny side, and laughed out loud. Just a quick “hereehee!” — then listened to my heartbeat till it slowed, and finally slept.

At first I was blaming a blog post I read shortly before bed… it was unexpectedly gruesome, and I was hoping I wouldn’t dream about it. Possibly it set the tone. But according to this Guardian/Observer article (In the dead of the night), the brain is dealing with raw animal emotions and fear… and so, ‘anxious’ dreams will often be of a gory and terrifying nature. Nature red in tooth and claw.

Bet you thought you would never meet a real Halloween ghoul… I wouldn’t be so sure.

I mentioned the article to Mum, telling her that people sometimes see the Grim Reaper or even Darth Vader, and she said scornfully, “but what’s scary about that?” I said defensively that I wasn’t frightened by my own cowled figure; in fact he was trying to sidle out of the room till I summoned him back.

He didn’t seem very keen, did he? Maybe he was on his way to a party, and I was delaying him.

Posted in Agoraphobia

Surviving Agoraphobia

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. ๐Ÿ™‚ 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. ๐Ÿ™„ 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! ๐Ÿ˜›

(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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in Books

Pulling Up the Drawbridge

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. ๐Ÿ˜€

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in Agoraphobia, Rants

Throwing a Therapy Wobbly

I’m fizzing.

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.

Initial obstacles

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?”

“Yes.”

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…?”

“No!”

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!

Rumbling

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.

Session One

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?”

“Yes!”

“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!

Hissy fit

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. ๐Ÿ˜›

Posted in Agoraphobia, Health Issues, Life and Family

Shrouded in Scottish Gloom

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.

Brr.

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.

Posted in Lost in Thought

The Pearls of Age

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.