Tag Archives: stress

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™‚

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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. πŸ˜€

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. πŸ™‚

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. πŸ˜›

Do I Get in a Flap?

Recently I’ve frequently got “you’re paranoid!” or “you’re getting a bit worked up” from different people. As I have had several flaps lately — a good example being the Mussel Episode — I stopped to wonder.

We have such a low download limit with our ISP (the very lowest, normally intended just for people who check their emails about twice a day and download occasional software updates) that I have more than once put the two of us over our limit. Every time that happens, I lose access to the internet (get redirected to a finger-wagging page from the ISP) and I feel completely hangdog for the rest of the day. As though I’ve been ordered to go to my corner.

It’s not as if I’ve committed a terrible crime; just got a bit too enthusiastic about choosing birthday gifts on Amazon, uploading photos to my blog or viewing other people’s desktop pictures! But it’s such an unpleasant feeling (and the top-ups too expensive) that we will be moving on from this ISP — and not because they asked us to go (though presumably they would eventually ask us to upgrade).

Still, it gets me that I can feel so bad about something like that… it’s all part of the “getting worked up about nothing.”

I asked Mum if she thought I got too worried about things, and she asked for examples… I deliberately picked something small and far away that I wasn’t actually bothered about! I said I got on a train when I was 19, and a woman said “dinnae fash yersel!” when I started asking how one went about getting off trains again. “That’s normal anxiety,” said Mum.

I suppose so, though I’d much prefer to feel relaxed and in control, realizing that if certain things go wrong (such as missing my station or being refused access to Google) that it isn’t the end of the world. With my severe hearing loss, I would find a missed station more difficult to sort out than most, unless I happened across a good Samaritan, and there are many! All the same…

It makes me think of a documentary we saw yesterday about WI members. Some of those ladies had such hard stories to tell about their lives… it made me think how I’ve really had it easy compared to some. But I was struck by one of the ladies (a survivor of physical and mental abuse) — she said that every individual is convinced of his/her own importance… but none of us are at all important. Anything could happen to us, often through our own mistakes… but it’s not the end of the world. Ultimately (she said) we have to realize all of this, and be kind to ourselves.

With my brain cells fizzing gently (from getting in flap after flap, like wondering whether the Google page keeps morphing because it’s not really a Google page), I insisted on a chocolate cake today in town. Mum said “you’re the one who waves and says ‘no no, not having cake’, so why are you demanding some now?” I said “because it’s a cold and miserable day and I want a treat.”

This is My Experience Too

I identified with the following two posts from Bella Online’s deafness editor, though I’ve been deaf all my life (not late-deafened).

Deafness — a foreign country

Deafness and speech — mishearing

In this piece, the story about the checkout queue is one of those things that happen — strangers think you will hear them if they address you from behind, and some get impatient when you don’t. It’s one of those things wearing away at you like a dripping tap.

This one reminded me of the first part of my Landlady dream! I suppose it’s something that does tend to happen, unless you have a very strong personality and get yourself involved a great deal.

There are other articles like the above, indexed on this page at Bella Online.

Sun, Sun, Sun, Here it Comes

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.

I’m Blogging in German – Quite Impressed With Myself

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 cafΓ©s, 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.

Nastiest Phobia of All

Once I watched something flat and uninteresting on TV about a well-known personality. I didn’t know that she suffered from various anxieties and phobias. Having experienced similar things myself, I wanted to know more. For her, it’s flying, travelling, crowds. Surprisingly little was said about all that – more was said about her stalker! I don’t think he should have been given the coverage, and she said she didn’t want to talk about him. I didn’t want to talk about him either – or listen to him talking!

My dissatisfaction with the programme got me surfing the internet and I found this: “Agoraphobia is known as the ‘mother of all phobias’.”

I didn’t know it was referred to as that – I don’t hear it often. The article warns against agoraphobics throwing themselves into some program that claims to cure phobias in minutes. Well good grief, I’m a complex person; I can’t be mended with superglue. Meanwhile it’s reassuring to know that others know what I already know.