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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ™„ 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! πŸ˜›

(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. πŸ™‚

Posted in Lost in Thought, Political and Social Issues

On Kindness and Competition

Thomas, from Living Next Door to Alice, linked from his post Kindness to a Guardian article:

‘We depend on each other not just for our survival but for our very being…. Modern western society resists this fundamental truth, valuing independence above all things. Needing others is perceived as a weakness. Only small children, the sick and the very elderly are permitted dependence on others; for everyone else, self-sufficiency and autonomy are cardinal virtues.’

That’s not too far from what I was saying in Cat Dreams and Invisible Women, though I put it in a much woollier, personal, female-centred fashion!

I noticed my reaction to a claim about the NHS’s survival being proof we still care. I thought, rather sceptically, that we want it there for ourselves. The best way of ensuring it’s there as a net for us and our own families is to ensure it’s there as a net for everyone. And there I go… saying that it’s self-interest guiding us, whereas there’s nothing to say it’s not still kindness or a sense of fairness, or that we wouldn’t have the NHS in place anyway.

My attention was also caught by:

‘Free markets erode the societies that harbour them. The great paradox of modern capitalism, the ex-Thatcherite John Gray has pointed out (False Dawn, 1998), is that it undermines the very social institutions on which it once relied — family, career, community.’

Worldwide competition can be destructive both individually and to societies. We touched on the potential for damage to individuals at 1sojournal’s (Cocoons and Comfort Zones), so it interested me to consider how much more widespread this type of damage could be.

There’s an old saying, “look after the pennies and the pounds will look after themselves.” People are referred to as ‘human resources’ these days, so that saying could morph into “look after individuals, and society will take care of itself.”

Why not?

Posted in Agoraphobia, Dreams and Nightmares, Health Issues, Hearing Loss, Lost in Thought, Music, Political and Social Issues

Deprived Senses

Total Sensory Deprivation – a few nights ago I recorded a Horizon documentary on the subject. It reminded me of the office I used to work in.

You would expect everyone to have a fair number of office connections and opportunities for socializing (if only by the water cooler, though we didn’t have one). Unfortunately I wasn’t really talking to anyone after my original friends and contacts left for pastures new. I tried in my quiet way to make new friends, but people had their own friends already and didn’t pay a lot of attention. I think they didn’t want to get involved with someone so deaf and so ‘shy’, feeling that I was not their responsibility. They could get on with office life in their own comfortable bubbles and leave me to my colleagues in my own small department. After all, the folk in my department were the ones who chose me.

The feeling was awful, actually, and the longer it went on, the worse I felt. I wasn’t getting any of the office news or gossip, and I had no one to vent steam with or help me get a sense of proportion about things.

Some people were quite kind and friendly, but when I asked one what happened at a pension-related meeting, she forwarded my email (without checking with me first) to the Human Resources Manager. He told me people were not allowed to advise others, for legal reasons. It was now office policy.

Because of my profound hearing loss, I never knew what people were saying at meetings or amongst themselves. It made me wonder how I was ever going to inform myself if no one was allowed to discuss meetings with me… I wanted to tear my hair out!

There was an image in my mind of what I was going through, and I can still recall it. It felt to me as though I was falling down a bottomless well. I was trying to reach out and touch the sides but all I felt was air whistling past my fingertips. Not Alice in Wonderland – more like Diddums in Limbo.

That was my state of mind not so long before I crashed.

Total Sensory Deprivation? No, not quite. But the concept reminds me of that office situation – of me falling down my dark well, disassociated from everybody else.

The Horizon documentary was interesting – in an experiment, people were shut for 48 hours in small, bare cells without light, sound, human interaction or entertainment. It had quite a disturbing effect on them – some started to hallucinate, but I wondered how much that had to do with tiredness. That’s probably the point – they’d feel tired, out of touch and less sure of themselves.

One man who was kept in solitary confinement in real life talked of his experiences. When he mentioned his auditory hallucinations, I laughed out loud. The more he described them, the louder I laughed – and this was in the middle of me grieving for my cat, so I felt slightly hysterical. It wasn’t because I thought what happened to the man was funny, but because I get those… those auditory hallucinations.

I hear music – choirs, orchestras, jazz singers, country singers, opera singers. When you allow them to disturb you, they get louder. And then suddenly they stop, just like that! As though someone took a needle off a record.

It’s very strange.

I never thought of it as hallucinating, which is probably why I’ve been more fascinated than stressed; even comforted sometimes. To me it’s a form of tinnitus. Maybe it even masks the real tinnitus, which to many people is just a wasp’s scream (description courtesy of my mother).

Nor is it like having pop hits playing in your head, or (you’ll hate me for this) How Much is That Doggy in the Window? You can HEAR heavenly choirs or beautiful baritones or whatever – the sounds are in your ears.

At my old house I abandoned my bedroom, preferring to sleep on my sofa. I was never quite sure why I did that, apart from a general feeling of claustrophobia. The documentary offered me a fresh insight. Was it so different from the kind of experiences the people in the experiment were going through? With my blinds closed and lined curtains drawn, it was fairly dark in my room – and without my glasses I’m very myopic. Without my hearing aids I’m almost stone deaf. There were no other humans to talk to in that house: lack of human interaction. Then, when you’re lying there, trying to get to sleep, there is nothing to occupy yourself with. Thus I got the auditory hallucinations quite frequently, and when I was absolutely exhausted but not dropping off for any reason, I very occasionally got visual hallucinations as well. (Like Mr Guppy). Now that DID frighten me, in a way that the heavenly choirs didn’t.

It wasn’t Total Sensory Deprivation, but it wasn’t all that far off.

When I moved out to the sofa, I had two windows and a glass door – it was a lighter room. There were the cats strolling in and out: company. There was the TV… talking people and entertainment just a switch away. I feel sure now that’s why I changed rooms… and I’m not potty or anything, I’m just like any other human being. I like to be a part of life.

Posted in Quizzes and Memes

Who, Which, What, Where?

Chani suggests that everybody answers these 35 questions. Sometimes I think it’s easier to give a point of view when prompted, rather than come out with odd snippets out of the blue… and some of these things are good to say.

I enjoyed filling this out. Some questions I’ve answered before (but can still come up with something new), whereas others were quite hard to answer, and made me think.

1. What is your idea of perfect happiness?

A more inclusive world with more balanced aims and methods… and far fewer control freaks. πŸ™‚

2. What is your greatest fear?

Being misunderstood, spurned and never fully heard.

3. Which living person do you most admire?

I really don’t know. I tried to think whose ways I’ve rather liked recently, and the first to leap to mind was C.J. from the Eggheads. Don’t ask me. That was just the first figure to mind. After Stephen Fry.

4. What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Not living up to my own expectations.

5. What is the trait you most deplore in others?

The tendency to dismiss other people, views and experiences as worthless or ‘wrong’.

6. What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

I have to agree with Thailand Gal (Chani) – it’s being ‘hard working’. You have to see the bigger picture and the people around you – not just your own little treadmill.

7. On what occasion do you lie?

Polite lies – “I really enjoyed the dinner.” Or “I would love to come but I’m too busy that day.”

8. What do you dislike most about your appearance?

Probably my shyness – that has an effect on one’s demeanour. πŸ™‚

9. What is your greatest regret?

Not knowing older family members better, including my dad who died when I was 24.

10. What or who is the greatest love of your life?

A lad from Singapore. He came the closest to accepting me for who I was.

11. Which talent would you most like to have?

Clearer, more fluent speech.

12. What is your current state of mind?

‘Hunger’ seems to be the best description – not for food, but for all the things I want to say and achieve right now. I want more hours in the day.

13. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

I have to say it, because it’s true – I would welcome nice crisp hearing, just a little bit better than everybody else’s! Just for a change.

14. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

2002 Winning the British Mensa Championsh…. oh, wait! That wasn’t me, that was C.J.
Several times Best in Show Oriental… nuh uh, that was Sharky.
Oh I know… getting born. All those other spermatazoa were loooooosers.

15. If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A cat – claws and all.

16. What is your most treasured possession?

My little house.

17. What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

When I worry that nobody understands where I’m coming from and is not prepared to try. A sinking suspicion that people are too busy going round and round in their hamster wheels to stop and really connect.

18. Where would you like to live?

Kenya – or a more rural area of Scotland.

19. What is your most marked characteristic?


20. Who are your favorite writers?

Among them: Tove Jansson, Terry Pratchett, Larry Niven, Orson Scott Cart, Neil M Gunn.

21. Who is your favorite hero of fiction?

Same as Chani’s – Anne Shirley. She was a writer and a dreamer. I tried to come up with somebody different, but got stuck. Moominmamma? You’d all think I was crazy.

22. Who are your heroes in real life?

My family and pets… apart from that, I don’t know. I don’t know anybody that well.

23. What is it that you most dislike?

Loud ways, narrow-mindedness.

24. What is your motto?

‘It will all be the same in a hundred years.’

25. Favorite journey?

Chuffing across Kenya by overnight train. Dreamy.

26. What do you value most in your friends?

Willingness to communicate; reliability; kindness.

27. Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

“Oddly enough…”
“I was just thinking…”

28. Which historical figure do you most identify with?

GMB (without the drinking)!! If you could call him a historical figure. He certainly liked his history.

29. What is your greatest extravagance?

Books. Bears. Gifts. Nice furnishings for my Most Treasured Possession.

30. If you could change one thing about your family, what would it be?

Their age – I would roll it back.

31. What is your favorite occupation?

Pottering around at home.

32. What is the quality you most like in a woman?

Connection of minds.

33. What is the quality you most like in a man?

Connection of minds.

34. How would you like to die?

In my sleep.

35. If you could chose what to come back as, what would it be?

A cat – a well-loved one in a warm home.

Comments for this entry (during its previous life in Blogigo):

1. ThomasLB wrote at Dec 1, 2007 at 22:01: I can relate to #15. I wouldn’t mind coming back as a cat – but I want to come back as *my* cat, and I’m not sure that’s allowed.

2. Diddums wrote at Dec 1, 2007 at 22:34: That could be the basis for an interesting science fiction novel! Especially if the cat was aware he used to be his owner.

3. Pacian wrote at Dec 2, 2007 at 14:12: Now this one, I’m definitely stealing.

Posted in Books, Political and Social Issues

Life With More Meaning (and Fewer Swimming Pools)

Did you know there were ‘ethical banks’? Yep, news to me as well! I’ve been enjoying Drifting’s reflections on living more ethically, which were sparked by a book.

The whole ideal sounds like a minefield, as I can’t imagine there is all that much left in our society that is completely ethical. Even to live within the framework of Western society as it stands seems to me to go against the grain of nature. Still, it might not be impossible to fight our way out again by consistently rejecting the more unethical groups and corporations, even if little by little – and learning to live within the boundaries of what we have as a population, rather than within the boundaries of what we have as individuals.

None of this sounds as exciting as a ‘bloody revolution’ but it’s maybe less violent – and we don’t replace one bad authority with another.

Edit Feb 2008: Comments to this post when it was hosted by Blogigo:

drifting wrote at Jul 29, 2006 at 06:34:
Hey, thanks for the plug. πŸ˜€
One thing the author of that book does say is that you should start small and you can’t do everything. Every little bit helps. For example I avoided buying something today because of what I perceived as excessive packaging. I don’t need a small object encased in a large see-through plastic package! Recycling, composting, using the car only when necessary (unfortunately for me that’s every day as there is no suitable public transport and I live too far away from places to walk), and a general awareness that products may contain poisons or unhealthy additives and finding alternatives, are all little ways we can be kinder to the earth.

Diddums wrote at Jul 29, 2006 at 12:30:
That reminds me of when I bought (tsk) some packaged sweetcorn cobs, took them home, peeled off the outer wrapping, then started to peel off the inner wrapping, much more difficult. Suddenly stopped and thought “WHY is it wrapped twice? Something odd going on here.” Took a closer look – turned out they were pre-cooked! I was supposed to leave them in their boil-in-a-bag and heat them up for 5 minutes. I thought it only took that to cook the things in the first place?

Posted in Lost in Thought, Political and Social Issues, Rants

Rebel Without a Cause?

When I was in my mid-20s, someone said to me, “you’re a rebel without a cause.” I was surprised to be called a rebel at all (being a person of no consequence), but when I thought about it, I wondered why he considered – after most of the discussions we had shared – that I had no cause? Isn’t the phrase rather flippant and belittling, particularly coming from someone who knew some of my main hang-ups?

Is it a way of saying “you’re always annoyed about something, and it’s always the little things”?

Maybe (without his quite meaning to) it’s a way of saying “I’ve never experienced what you’ve experienced and so it’s of no importance to me. If I don’t know what you experience, then it’s probably something that doesn’t even exist.”

I was uncertain what he meant – but something about the look on his face gave me the impression he was feeling particularly pleased with himself that day – “look, I’m using a poetic turn of phrase while being perceptive and sceptical. I don’t need to listen – I’ve got you figured out.”

I wonder if he realized I would remember and worry about it long after the other, more thoughtful things he said had been forgotten.

Well, years have passed since then, so would he still think it applies? I’m older now and… well, I tried to say “more mellow” but I really don’t think that’s true. Many of the same things trouble me, even more than they did when I was younger. Some issues I understand more and have quietly ditched by the wayside. I’ve found other things to rebel against. There are things I used to be OK with but along the way the red mist started to descend.

The main difference with growing older is that I slide away from some battles or phrase myself more carefully – well a few of you may not believe it, but I do :-). I could be quite a confrontational rattlesnake when I was in my 20s, but a lot of the time it was misplaced wit, or an attempt to impress with my frank views – immature, yes. Other times I didn’t really believe anybody was paying attention. The more frustrated I got, the harder I complained. Sometimes all I needed was a soothing “quite right too” to make me shut up. Try telling that to my victims though. I haven’t necessarily changed my mind about whatever issues upset me before… I handle them more cautiously, making more effort to see all sides – and ending up more confused in the process.

Meanwhile, it’s still a world where some of the people you clash with don’t appreciate what you’re trying to say even if you spell it out fifty times. If they respond, it’s with a completely distorted reflection of what you said. They never get it straightened out, often because they don’t want to – that’s something you do realize with age! In mankind there’s a strong desire to believe in pure goodness and black evil – folk can be all too willing to file you under the ‘E’.

Getting back to this expression ‘rebel without a cause’, I suspect that it says as much about the person who uses it as the one it’s used about. Is the first person listening? REALLY listening? …Probably not.

Edit Feb 2008: Comments to this post when it was hosted on Blogigo:

ilovetchocky wrote at Jul 12, 2006 at 17:14:
I also feel at times that we are all walking around, making noise, only hearing ourselves.

Dilan wrote at Jul 11, 2007 at 07:10:
I think you’re right… if A tells B that B is opinionated, doesn’t that mean A is opinionated as well?

Know ye this: The world just doesn’t understand those who don’t conform with it. The world works off the basis that ‘society’ is *always* right… πŸ˜‰

While I think that pure good and evil can exist, there are conflicting opinions on what this pure good/evil is… and a load of strife ‘cos of that….

Reckon you’re an anarchist/libertarian of sorts (no bad thing!)… and I guess that makes two of us…