It’s not quite the end of March and there are icy showers of hail aplenty, but my stress levels are already rising.
I have more problems in the warmer, brighter weather when people come out to enjoy the sun. I don’t look around and think “awk, look at all the people! I’m going home!” Usually what happens is that I set out to have the same kind of day that I had yesterday and the day before, and it’s only when I notice how troubled I feel that I realize there are more people around than usual. The increase would be marginal and I react to it before noticing on a more conscious level.
I felt quite bad today, and it’s only Friday – it felt more like a Saturday. I didn’t want to continue feeling that way, so I straightened up and looked around, thinking there must be something in the way I think that brings it on. It’s often what you can’t see that is so scary… if you are looking away and there are shadowy figures loping towards you, they could be anybody. But if you look directly at them, you see a harassed mother clutching her 6-year old; an elderly couple ambling around contentedly; a group of tall schoolchildren looking at nobody but themselves. They are no threat. But even as you glance at them, they move out of vision and other shadowy figures enter in.
I’m not afraid of them as people – not in any real sense. Sometimes I feel alien in their world as though not experiencing life the way they do, but as soon as I recognize them as fellow human beings with troubles of their own, my inadequacy dies away. It’s this initial lack of recognition that causes the problems. When I first start to stress out, I don’t shake, although a panic attack would be on the cards if I felt really trapped. I feel tight, tucked in, maybe a bit dizzy – and ill. I’m not sure I know what ‘sick building syndrome’ feels like, but if you put the word ‘people’ in there instead of ‘building,’ that’s what I imagine it would be like – though I’m probably way off course.
To get away from the bodies pressing round me, I withdraw more and more into myself. I’ve been accused of not seeing friends when they pass me on the road… “I waved and said hello and you didn’t see me”. That’s deliberate – that’s me trying to escape into myself. I have no intention of ignoring anybody, and if I do see you, I will smile back; relieved to see a face I know… but disassociation seems to be my way of keeping to what I’m doing or where I’m going without being thrown off course by the strangers around me.
The problem is, having withdrawn into yourself, you can’t withdraw any further; you’re still conscious of people, and would pull back even more if there was anywhere to go. That’s where the tight feeling of tension comes from, as though I’m leaning back into a wall and wishing it would let me through.
I decided there had to be a way of re-asserting my right to the spot I’m standing on. I’m too aware that others are challenging me for it – some humbly, others more aggressively. I’m constantly under the impression I have no right to standing room unless I’m alone. The only thing to do is to stand tall, take a deep breath, and look calmly but directly at the other people and at the area around me, and stop trying to escape when there’s nowhere to escape to.
It gives me a little breathing space, but I continue to feel ill – and I can never stop in one place for long because there’s always somebody trundling round a corner and bouncing off me.
Talking of what gives us balance – I’m a much steadier person when I have lots of time alone. It makes everything else seem like an adventure in comparison. If I experience too many such adventures, it becomes stressful… I’m usually much better after a few days at home, rather than going out day after day. It was like that when I was going to the skating rink… I was a fair and balanced skater for a few days after getting the hang of it, and then I lost my nerve, surrounded by other people wheeling crazily around. I stood at the side, gripping the handrail, and didn’t want to go back. I didn’t get better the more I tried… I got worse. I’m like that with lots of things. I don’t believe that ‘facing my fears’ and immersing myself in situations I dislike is to my benefit; it usually has the opposite effect.
I’m looking out at softly falling snow… it’s brighter weather, but not all that warm yet. The sun is coming, though. Oh yes, I can feel it, waiting with trembling anticipation behind its cloud. Nothing I can do will make it stay there.
Agoraphobic people hate sunlight. Well we don’t really, but you know what I mean! It encourages people to come out and trail around in large shambly groups; everything we do is lit up in a bright glare which makes us even more self-conscious; some agoraphobics have a sensitivity to light – maybe all of us do without realizing it? We have to take off our jackets and sweaters when we would rather huddle into them, and there’s no excuse to put up our hoods (unless we’re hoodies) or duck under an umbrella.Bright sunshine is overrated!
Too many folks!
At one point I couldn’t move. “They have nothing else to do on a Sunday,” said Mum, apologetically. But on the whole I was in a good mood and smiled at everybody and made room for them, and me and the wheelie bag went skipping about (yes I know that’s bad grammar) and nobody fell over us this time. Well, when you were feeling agoraphobic in town – dizzy and not even able to cross the road – it’s a huge relief when you can go where you want and buy things without hesitating and gallop blithely across roads which would have made you shudder only a fortnight ago. That would put anybody in a good mood because then it stops being something you take for granted.
I bet none of you realized wheelie bags can walk – I was trying to move it down off the kerb, and it put one wheel down then swung the other down to join it. Thus, instead of falling down with a bump, it stepped neatly off, and I wanted to cheer and tell it how clever it was. Yesterday it had a slight accident when it crashed rather hard over a rough bit of the pavement, and I came uncomfortably close to patting it and telling it “there there, it’s alright.” It took me ages to shake off the urge. Anyway it did good work for us today by taking some heavy and bulky items off our hands; it wasn’t just wheeling around in our wake. Mum collected some used coffee grounds from Starbucks for the garden, and when we gave it to the wheelie bag to carry, it lumbered around like an overfed bulldog.
Buying beary love
Here’s a picture of two of my ‘junk shop finds’ for today – a Primark bear and a Disney Tigger. I collect ‘name’ toys, which includes Russ Berrie, Boyds and Disney – emphasis is on cats and bears. Normally I wouldn’t pay attention to something like a Primark bear as it’s just a cheapie, but every so often there’s something about a cheapie bear that I can’t resist! This one is very soft to the touch and has nice features. I always look critically at bears in shops – trying to give the impression I’m buying them for a child and am just checking them over. I’m not sure how many of the volunteers are taken in, as most of them know us well by now. Anyway, I turned him upside down and round about, gave the ears a tug, parted the fur and smoothed it back from the eyes to check for scratches or cracks, then seized the chin to make sure his mouth wasn’t flapping loose. I suddenly felt as though I was checking the teeth of a nag in Tattersalls.
Tigger only made it because he’s so beautifully clean and has a nice face too – normally Disney is at the bottom of my collection scope.
I’m not a horror fan but I’m an Alien fan
My prime find for today was a clean boxed set of Alien videos for £10. I’ve had my eye on these for a while as they are close-captioned but expensive brand new. After buying this set, we went into the charity shop next door and found they had a set for £11. I’m glad it wasn’t the other way around! A while ago I passed over a set which was £12 – I seem to remember one of the videos in the set was ‘the making of the film’, and those aren’t normally subtitled.
The set I bought was in the shop window, and I had to ask the volunteer for it – he was a boy of about 20, I think, and when I said “the boxed set of Alien, please!” a look of respect came into his eyes. I got much the same look in a shop in York when I grabbed a bunch of videos which were largely science fiction – one was Judge Dredd, unfortunately not subtitled, but I knew I had to have it in my collection ‘just because’. Maybe I’ll find a subtitled DVD of it one day? I love Judge Dredd; it’s one of my favourite films and I could watch it forever without getting sick of it.
The magic of books
I know some of you are a little suspicious of ‘things’ as they just gather dust and take up room (unless you can sell them for a profit on eBay), but ‘things’ are not all I bought – I got six books, including Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison – £1.75. I’ve liked his books ever since I borrowed The Stainless Steel Rat from the library. Today I had to buy Make Room! Make Room! after reading the blurb on the back:
1999 – automation, total welfare, and weekends on the moon…. or an overcrowded world that knows that the dawn of the new century is the edge of disaster – a world of starving billions living on lentils, soya beans and – if they’re lucky – the odd starving rat. In a city of thirty-five million people, Andy Rusch is engaged in a desperate and lonely hunt for a killer everyone has forgotten… for even in a world such as this a policeman can find himself utterly alone…
Totally my cup of tea. And bagsies the well-fed rat I spotted near the car dealership.
We had lunch in a café and ate silently. Upon finishing, Mum announced rather loudly “I’m going to buy a broomstick.”
“Ha ha,” I said politely… but then we went into the garden centre where she picked up a really witchy broomstick and bought it without any humming and hawing. I had no idea these were available and my eyes popped. “What are you going to do with that?” I demanded, as we toted it along to the car. Her only answer was to tap the side of her beaky nose.
I felt a Halloweeny tug of my own when we passed a mound of pumpkins, and stopped short and gazed with all my eyes. I really wanted to buy one but was already carrying books and videos and rubber mats and things. Even the wheelie bag took fright at the thought of adding a pumpkin to the load. I’ve never considered buying one before, which is a good reason why I should do it for once. And only this morning I was attracted by Timorous Beastie’s blog post, Orange Rock. I don’t know about chasing the thing around my house, but I want to make Pumpkin Soup too. Anyone got any good recipes?
Edit Feb 2008: Comments to this post when it was on Blogigo:
Pete wrote at Sep 3, 2006 at 22:43:
bear is cute !!
Diddums wrote at Sep 4, 2006 at 09:19:
Bear says thank you!
Pacian wrote at Sep 4, 2006 at 19:43:
“Maybe I’ll find a subtitled DVD of it one day?”
It’s rare to find a DVD that isn’t subtitled.
Love the bear, btw!
Ooch – I was afraid of that. I got up this morning and discovered I was writing my blog posts in German. Fortunately I save my posts, so I can always replace the corrupted ones.
I’m still giving town a miss because that’s what made me ill in the first place. Boys sitting on the pavement with their backs against the walls (too young at the age of 15 to know how copiously dogs pee around – this pet minder could have told them) and older boys bouncing balls up and down the main street. People eating ice cream in cars and outside cafés, and other people sitting on benches, eating fish and chips. And then there are the people carriers on the prowl for non-existent parking spaces… cars get bigger and bigger every year, and there is less and less room for them. Mum said the folk with Glaswegian accents have disappeared now, and it’s mostly English accents left. The rain is coming down today and maybe it would have been quiet in town, but I’m taking my time. Better than pushing too fast and ending up in the soup again.
I found the following very short snippet in the Scotsman (Edit Feb 2008: their article has gone now):
Scream helps to beat stress
WORK-RELATED stress can be cut by up to a quarter by letting out a loud scream, according to new research revealed today.
A study of 1,000 people showed stress levels have increased this month, partly because of the heatwave and travel delays.
Half of those questioned said travelling to work was a major cause of stress, while most complained that being in an office all day made them bad tempered.
Many of those questioned said they were too inhibited to scream.
Last updated: 18-Aug-06 01:53 BST
Well – how is that mostly work-related stress? There’s an awful lot more going on than that. I bet most of them said it was heat and work and traffic jams rather than admit they were fazed by the crowds.
I said to Mum I can see what’s going to happen – I will get back to normal and then the psychiatrist will come knocking at my door… “can we help? How about a little trip to the bottom of your garden? The flowers won’t eat you, you know.”
I suppose I can discuss this thing’s tendency to resurface, particularly in dense crowds. It would be interesting to know if the psychiatrists receive any feedback from recovered sufferers. Do any of them say they are completely clear of it?
Edit Feb 2008: Comments to this post when it was hosted by Blogigo:
Pacian wrote at Aug 18, 2006 at 15:09:
Ich bin ein Blogger! That article in the Scotsman is a great example of bad science journalism. I don’t quite see how the study it actually mentioned supports screaming. Some vital piece of information has obviously not made it into the article, and given that even BBC journalists are quite happy to give huge clinical meta-studies and small opinion polls equal weight, I’m not exactly going to take them at their word.
Diddums wrote at Aug 18, 2006 at 17:29:
Bin ich das einzige, wer nicht Deutsches sprechen kann? According to Babelfish, that’s German for ‘Am I the only one who can’t speak German?’ Maybe you are too inhibited to scream – LOL. Now that you mention it, I wonder just what sort of research they are referring to. Maybe it will be in the other papers. Does it have to be a scream, so long as it’s some kind of self-expression, like a blog? One thing you learn after a bout of agoraphobia is that we have to deal with things, not simply bear them because we are told to. Agoraphobia (and similar) is the system’s protest at not being listened to.
The small town I live in is full to bursting. Not just with residents but with tourists. Struggling with the issues I mentioned in the last couple of posts, it’s not paradise for me.
Today we were in a tiny shop selling things like whale music, healing bracelets, animals carved out of agate, dreamcatchers, yoga books, tarot cards – you get the picture! Normally it has two or three people drifting round it, but today it did not drop below 15, including us.
The shop keeper must have been ecstatic – she had sold two enormous crystal rocks (cut in half to show their sparkly crystal cavities) – one was about my height. I immediately thought “an American has bought them both and is going to ship them back to the States.”
I couldn’t imagine that level of … knowing how one might do that? Just saying “I’ll have those please – post them to my house in Beverley Hills.” The mere thought of it caused me to break out in a sweat. It’s not so much the money I’m remarking on – imagine having that much bounce and confidence.
Mum said “I overheard one of the other people in the shop asking the shop owner about them, and she said they were £2,000 each.”
I told her my daydream about it being a rich American who bought them both and was going to ship them back to the States (that sounds wonderful so I can’t help repeating it) – and she nodded and said that’s the conclusion she jumped to as well. It’s a little sad, I suppose, that we weren’t assuming some local entrepreneur had bought them. Perhaps we felt if someone local had wanted them that much, they wouldn’t have waited till now.
Though, for all we know, those crystals are the latest fashion and sell like hot cakes. I wonder where in my house I could put mine… I’ll go for a tour of my rooms.
Back in two. Seconds, that is.