Posted in Health Issues, Life and Family, My Cats

Sweet Power

A neighbour who is also an electrician came in today to talk about power sockets. He is the tallest man I’ve ever seen… Man Mountain. I don’t mean he is overweight, because he certainly isn’t. It’s amusing to see the cats’ reaction when he’s visiting! Their eyes get very big and round, their bellies drop to the floor, and they don’t want to be in the same house with him.

He’s a pleasant fellow, but my anxiety makes me feel trapped if people are standing between me and the door. That’s multiplied when it’s someone as tall as him, so I can laugh at the cats all I want… I’m really no better!

Perhaps the universe is playing a trick on us and sniggers up its sleeve when you think, “I don’t know why I get so nervous!” and all the time it’s just that you were a cat in a former life. Nobody could possibly know that except the universe itself.

My sister brought us odds and ends (milk and other groceries we asked for) and also turned up with a large apple pie. Said we could share it, and cut it herself in the kitchen (turning it into apple crumble in the process). She wasn’t staying long, and took off out the door again with her share.

I know she was looking at desserts anyway to tempt my mother’s appetite, but I think it’s cute when somebody can’t resist something — hard to explain. I have a couple of bags of my favourite sweets squirrelled away in my room but haven’t touched them… just feel happy knowing they are there in case of need. Chocolate peanuts and Bassett’s Mint Creams, in case you wondered!

I need a cleaning agent to whiten some grouting in the kitchen. Asked everybody I could think of (other than Man Mountain) what would work. My mother was trying to tell me, and I said unfortunately my battery had just gone phut and she’d need to write it down. We didn’t have a pen and pad to hand, so she traced letters on the kitchen worktop with her finger: the name of a shop in town. Should see if they have something suitable.

I was amazed I could read what she wrote when it was invisible writing!

A few days ago, I had a strange not-quite-headache. All my energy vanished in a puff of smoke and I couldn’t even get up the strength to sleep. I had a persistent cough that got worse and worse, and my mother pointed out that it started when somebody gave her daffodils. My lurgi did have that kind of vibe… could have been an early spring allergy.

Once I start coughing it takes absolute ages to go away, so I was dismayed… then remembered a friend dissolving a dessertspoonful of honey in a mug of boiled water. He said his mother gave him that whenever he had a cold. I tried it again for the first time in years, and it’s really comforting. My cough is nearly gone. The honey’s nearly gone too, sadly…

Posted in Lost in Thought, Observations

Less Fear, More Adventure

I’m busier and more energetic than I was during previous months, but lurking under all of that is a feeling of sadness. I won’t say that I don’t know why… it would surprise me if there was even one person under the sun who doesn’t know the feeling. The more connected and involved you are, the more deeply buried is that discomfort, but it will surface eventually.

I think a lot of it is because things change so fast. You have parents, grandparents and friends at school, then suddenly it’s just your parents (maybe one parent), and friends at university (different friends)… then you are working and living somewhere else. You have pets, and when they die, you soothe your grief with new kittens or puppies, who grow old in their turn.

With every year, your past drops more and more behind, and all of a sudden you wake in the middle of the night and realize the sheer weight of all of the things you don’t have any more, some of which you didn’t even notice stopping or going away.

Every year it gets worse. The things and people you have right now, most of which you take for granted even while you love and appreciate them, will one day be mist and memories like everything else.

Even as you look around the room, paying more attention to your surroundings than you normally do, there’s something unsatisfying about the experience. Objects fade into hazy dimness after your gaze moves on, and it’s as though your here and now isn’t real… in fact, it isn’t! The moment is already gone, and what’s no longer in your sight (even while still in the room) is just memory… if that.

Your mind is the same — like your gaze, it moves over objects and environment, spotlighting things for as long as you care to dwell, then letting them slide into the dark. Having gone into that dark, it can be a struggle for some things to ever reappear again!

It turns into a merry-go-round or baggage carousel, with your thoughts as the same oddly shaped baggage passing time after time. There’s the big blue trunk… the drab rucksack… the red vanity case. The big blue trunk again — I’ll need it soon, but the moment’s not right. The red vanity case… so bright and pretty nobody would ever forget about it. Wasn’t there another one? What was it again, and do I care? I’m comfortable enough without it. Oh wait, the drab rucksack! I do need that because my documents are in it.

On some days the same bags pass repeatedly, and I can never understand why they don’t stay put in my mind for when I need them. Instead, they are doomed to constantly disappear, and when they reappear, I’m as surprised as I was the first time.

Some nights I use a particular thought to comfort myself, as though I’ve found a cosy spot and collected the red vanity case onto my knees. I open it and spend time admiring the colourful contents and inhaling favourite perfumes. I don’t move on from that for a while, but eventually my mind drifts away of its own accord, sometimes to scarier places. Finally those thoughts too, flit away, and I fall asleep.

I feel quite sorry for us as living beings. We aspire to be more, but are mere flashes of light and electricity; sparkling stardust and water. Amongst each other we walk, striving to keep each other fixed and secure, but things continually move on and change. New technologies become old in no time at all, and the sands shift beneath our feet.

And yet… nothing has changed at all. We’re the same people, living the same lives. I feel as though I’m living a life that somebody else has lived before me, experiencing trials and tribulations that troubled someone else in another age. The same words are used over and over through the generations… right, left, poverty, trade, global, independence, freedom, nation, kindness, love, fellowship, hope, despair. The old forces still stalk the land. We invent things… then decide the way we did things in the past were better, often because they were.

I’m rambling now; thoughts passing by repeatedly. I don’t know any more if they are connected — I’m just lighting on each one in turn.

This doesn’t mean we should cling to possessions no matter what. My family used to collect books, cameras, postcards, cat ornaments, Piggin ornaments, teddy bears, model cars… We also used to get into hobbies like silk painting, machine knitting, cross stitch, beadwork and more. Stuff built up around us and became a burden.

We made serious moves to declutter. The house is emptier but feels easier to clean and move around in. Things are easier to find. I remember a few items with regret and nostalgia, but in general there’s nothing I miss or would have back. I wish we had never accumulated so much stuff — it sat around for years and got in the way! Wasted space, wasted money, wasted energy.

We are more cautious buyers these days. The things we keep are those we really love or appreciate. Like everyone, we are limited… limited in energy, scope, memory, appetite, patience and time.

I’m not sure what the world would be like if there were no limits in what we could have, do or remember! That sounds like a dream come true, but if nothing was fresh and new any more, imagine the boredom. It’s nice for things (and living beings) to constantly renew; not just corporeal forms but also minds and personal experience — for young lambs to be born for whom the world is still a shining wonder. For those of us who have lived some time, forgetting may have its issues, but it’s also a part of healing.

Perhaps, instead of grieving after what we have lost, we should look forward to whatever might still come into our lives; new loves we don’t yet know… even if it’s only more space and greater peace, or a more unpredictable and adventurous life.

Posted in Life and Family

Some Fish to Fry

Meant to write this at the end of the night when I got some rest, but have run out of energy. Oh boy! Trying to write it anyway.

It is hard finding foods my mother will eat. She is more likely to shake her head and say she doesn’t like something than she is to accept it. It’s almost a reflex reaction.

A week ago I was telling her about stripy ‘Pink Tiger’ lemons I saw in Marks & Spencers. I’d never seen them before, so it was just a matter of curiosity. I didn’t buy them, but when I was describing them, all she said, very clearly, was, “I don’t like lemons.”

Well, I know! These were awfy pretty, though. Can you buy lemons just because they’re pretty?

Decided to fry some fish for supper tonight. I absolutely hate asking over the counter for anything, and could have asked my sister to do it instead, but I decided it was time I screwed my courage to the sticking place and did some things for myself. So I ended up at the supermarket fish counter just as someone else was leaving. Previously I’d had a surreptitious look at the fishmonger and decided he would probably be quite kind… and so it proved!

I’m extremely softly spoken, so, even as I spoke, I instinctively reached over to show him my shopping list, which was quite long! But near the top it said ‘2 small fillets haddock’.

He smiled, showed me the small fillets, then wrapped them up with the price sticker on, and handed them over, still smiling.

Sometimes there’s absolutely no reason to be nervous! I still felt slightly on edge, out of habit, and while he was wrapping the fillets, passed the time by studying the other fish and similar squirmy things on display. Right in front of me were a couple of octopuses.


That makes me sad. Of all the things we fish out of the sea, octopuses seem more like personalities… though perhaps fish, crabs and limpets are personalities too. I sympathized with the lady I saw on TV the other day who said it always upsets her to see rays in the fish barrels. She said in the water they seem to smile, but in the market they all have downturned mouths.

It upset me too when she said that.

At home I told my mother about the two octopuses just in front of me. She frowned.

“Don’t think I would eat those,” she said.

As to the haddock… they tasted very good. My mother normally cooks them herself, whereas I’m weird about fish, so this is the first time in my life I’ve ever fried any. Don’t tell her I said so, but mine tasted better than hers. 🙂 I tried harder to get good coverage with the breadcrumbs, and they tasted absolutely perfect with chips and mushy peas.

I have one of those ‘grinding’ sea-salt cellars, which I bought in Aldi’s ages ago. I thought it would have to be disposed of after the salt was used up, but to my surprise, I was able to unscrew the top and refill it. I’m quite possessive about it, and when it was empty, wouldn’t let anybody dispose of it on my behalf. I’m sure I filled it up with salt again purely to stop people throwing it out anyway. Which they would have done eventually. So.

I put salt on my plate of food in the kitchen so my mother doesn’t have to watch me having something I can have but she can’t. Meanwhile I feel sure she reaches for a little cat-shaped salt cellar that sits smirking nearby… never when I’m looking, of course! We have become a shifty-eyed household who only salts food when nobody’s looking. Don’t tell anybody.

I don’t know why the song ‘Never on a Sunday’ (by Nana Mouskouri) has been in my head all day.

It was a lovely sunny day and quite mild, but my sister said the weather is forecast to become very cold again in a day or two.

“Ice, and that sort of thing, you mean?”


Oh boy. According to the TV, we have Canada to blame. All of their frosty weather and chilliness is billowing ominously in this direction, if not already here. The sky was a funny colour tonight.

There was a short, quiet period after lunch when my mother was having a nap, and I felt sure somebody had come into the house. A door opened softly, and a shadow crossed the pool of sunlight at the back of the house. I didn’t move… just watched quietly, but the shadows seemed formless and flickering. What where they… the leaves of trees facing the street?

Then I noticed Samson (one of my cats) staring fixedly out towards the front door.

I got up and went softly out into the hall… if someone was lurking outside the house, I didn’t know if I wanted to draw their attention. Somehow I didn’t suspect a burglar, though there are reports of a sneak thief in the locality, and we are all supposed to keep our doors locked.

There was a bouquet of yellow roses which hadn’t been there before… also a carton of fresh Cullen Skink soup.

The roses were obviously for my mother, who frightened all her friends with her illness, but I didn’t know who had brought them. For no particular reason, I searched online to find out what yellow roses mean… they stand for joy, happiness, and true friendship.

When she got up at teatime, I showed her the carton of Cullen Skink soup… and waited.

A cloud crossed her face. “I don’t like Cullen Skink soup.”

“Not my thing, either,” I said.

I’m weird about fish, remember. My sister is vegetarian, so as a family we’re a bit stuck about what to do with it. Don’t get me wrong… it was a nice surprise, and kind. There is no good reason why any of us should be funny about fish soup… it’s sheer bad luck.

Posted in Agoraphobia, Health Issues, Hearing Loss, Life and Family

Fire Angels and Stay-At-Homes

Mum came home a few days ago — they say she’s in the early stages of heart failure, and needs to be on a low salt diet. I’ve been keeping a spreadsheet of the nutritional values of food we’ve been eating — I’m not sure how to calculate values for home-cooking, but it would be good to find out.

Someone came from the local fire service to fit a Fireangel smoke alarm especially for me! It has a vibrating pad that tucks under the pillow, and it flashes like billy-oh. I said, “yes, that would definitely wake me!”

Mum’s of the opinion that absolutely nothing wakes me, but if this doesn’t, nothing will.

I was reading the instructions that came with the alarm. The first thing I noticed was how utterly *black* the booklets were. Perhaps we’re intended to think “this would be the colour of all my stuff after a fire.”

The booklets warn that the alarm can only advise me of fire if smoke reaches it, so it’s possible a fire will burn in another part of the house for quite some time, and by the time the smoke gets to me, it could already be too late.

However, these alarms can work as a network, so if there are alarms in other rooms which are linked, the first alarm to notice something iffy will pass the message along, and my own alarm would go off as a result.

I have a little fire angel sitting next to me… ain’t that nice. 🙂

Moving on…

We all had appointments with various health professionals over the last two days. My mother went to the community hospital to see her GP, and we had to drag her around in one of those portering chairs. I pointed out to my sister there’s a diagram on the back of the chair showing somebody dragging it with the poor passenger facing backwards. There’s a big red cross next to the diagram, so presumably we aren’t meant to do that. She laughed and said a nurse told her just to pull it because the steering is completely hopeless.

So that was Mum’s appointment. Today sister and I both had appointments at the same hospital; for me, it was to see a nurse about the anxiety, which I’ve decided is here forever on some level.

The nurse asked if I got on well with E… she claims she argues with her own sister. I said yes, we do argue sometimes… but the thing is, we never bear a grudge. We can be screaming at each other one day, and the next day there is no ‘atmosphere’… It’s as though we ‘get’ that the other is only human.

Then it was the turn of my mother’s cat, who squirms, hisses and bites when people try to clip her talons. It took two people to clip her claws at the vet’s!

I’m glad nothing much is going on tomorrow, other than making parsnip soup without salt.

Going slow with frequent breaks to chill out is a pace that suits me — I don’t tire out so much or get frazzled. Earlier this month, I was getting more and more stressed when we were going every day to the hospital. It wasn’t just worry about Mum, as you keep a lid on that and focus on the practical… it’s the actual going out, being on constant alert trying to understand what people are saying, and dodging between crowds who all want to walk where you’re walking or stand where you’re standing… that’s what starts to get to me.

You would think when you learn your way around and find out what’s what, you’d start to relax… but that’s not how it works with me. It sounds unflattering, but perhaps I’m simply a homebody! I’m mostly quite happy running the household, even in these dark times. It’s not that I don’t want to see wonderful new places, or go out and get along with people; the issue is that in practice it’s not easy and sometimes impossible — I tire out eventually.

Makes me think of the poem ‘Sweet Stay-at-Home‘ by W.H. Davies. Swop ‘sweet’ for ‘salt-free’ and we’re well on track. 🙂

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?


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.

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 “low adherence and engagement with treatment, rather than lack of efficacy.” 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.” 😛 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. 😈

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. 🙂 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. 🙂