How casual remarks can affect a person with anxiety

It has been a long long time since I have felt able to write anything here. I nearly didn’t go through with it because I saw something similar on Twitter and decided for an instant that my voice was unnecessary.

But I overrode that voice and here I am

Some of you will already know that I suffer from anxiety. This week has been a good week, even though it doesn’t feel that way. Because I have been out and about 3 times!!

One of my trips was to my local shop. And I noticed how my anxiety levels peaked and dipped throughout the experience. I will try to explain why I think that is

I believe that some people are more prone to anxiety, low moods and lack of confidence than others. And I think this is due to a mixture of nature, nurture, genetics, environment, experience, society and culture. I’m not an expert in these matters but from articles I’ve read and from my own experience, that is the conclusion I have come to.

I am one of those people prone to anxiety, low moods and lack of confidence. As a child I was told things that have stayed with me and that still have an impact on how I behave in situations. They were not intended to be malicious or in any way hurtful but I still carry them with me.

  1. I was often told to move out of peoples way
  2. I was told to hurry up because there were people waiting

You’re in the way

I think as a young child I stood in doorways a lot. Which is very inconvenient for people wanting to use the door. So I was told to move, which is understandable. But when I stood somewhere else I felt to be in the way of a whole new set of people and would get anxious and agitated and not know where to stand. I remember just wanting to disappear altogether.

As an adult I have seen young children standing in inconvenient places and it doesn’t bother me. It’s what young children do. Their sense of spatial awareness is probably not fully developed. Or maybe it’s that they haven’t yet grasped the concept that there are other people in this world apart from them. Their parents notice and apologise and the child moves and I smile and say thank you.

But I still have a problem with me being in the way. Especially in shops.

Everyone does it, you’re standing in front of one row of shelves looking at the other row of shelves for what you want. Seeing that makes me anxious. I can’t go directly behind them because there’s no room, and I don’t want to go in front of them because they are trying to find something and I will interrupt them and block their view. So I get anxious and sort of awkwardly shuffle in front of them in an apologetic manner. And when it’s me looking on the opposite shelf for my bread or my milk or whatever, I sense someone coming and shuffle out of their way with a feeling of embarrassment or shame. But someone else comes and I shuffle out of their way too. Until I start to get frustrated because all I want to do is find what I’m looking for but everyone keeps interrupting and why can’t you have a shop where it’s just for me??

Hurry up, there are people waiting

This is a bad one for me.

It happens at every queue. Shops, public transport queues, cinema queues, cash machine queues….. Everywhere. It even happens when there is no queue because someone is going to want to be next at some point. Or when I have to pay the taxi driver, because he has to get to his next pick up.

And again, everyone does this. It’s time to pay and your money/credit card/bus pass isn’t exactly where you thought it was. So you fumble around a bit and hey presto, there it is. With this one I’m not sure that I am quite as accepting about waiting for others as I could be. I think watching someone look for their money makes me anxious and although I probably (hopefully) don’t show it, I get frustrated inside

When it’s my turn, the shame/embarrassment/anxiety, whatever the feeling is, probably starts BEFORE I can’t find what I’m looking for so whatever it is is even harder to find and my fumbles take longer and my shame/embarrassment/anxiety grows…. And then if I get given something in return, change or a ticket or whatever, my anxiety increases because now I have to put it somewhere AND move because someone is behind me in the queue….

It’s exhausting

And even though my rational brain can analyse and explain all of these things, it never seems to translate through to my emotional brain and I continue to feel awkward and anxious and in everyone’s way.

Why I am unable to work

Anxiety makes it difficult for me to perform simple tasks. It is happening now because I am worried about the letter. I am finding it difficult to focus and concentrate, which in a work environment are key skills. When I am at home writing blogs or doing research I am able to stop and watch tv or go for a nap. I am able to switch off. This is not an option in a busy office.

 


2 hours later

The television has worked its magic. My mind is clear and my thoughts unjumbled. My creative juices are flowing again.

I have resolved not to edit the first paragraph as it was written in a moment where I was not at my best. I want it to stand as a reminder of what I am able to achieve. Reading it now, it’s not too bad. It is coherent and grammatically correct, but what is different is the feeling inside. It is difficult to explain. It is the like the difference between sailing on rough seas and sailing in calm waters. In rough seas you manage, you survive. You do what is necessary to bring you to shore but it is a constant battle between the elements and your own inner strength. In calm waters the boat practically steers itself. There is very little effort involved and the journey is filled with joy. (Ha, now I’m starting to worry about my sailing analogy.  But this worry is not like earlier, it is just a momentary thought rather than the all encompassing anguish of two hours ago.)

And this is the reason why I am unable to work. Yes, I can survive the rough seas and the work I produce during those times is acceptable. But the toll it takes on my mind and my body builds up over time until there is nothing left. I start to drown. This is a process which is endlessly repeated. The drowning man comes back to life and lives again. But inevitably the rough sees return, the boat sinks….

I worked for over 20 years. I don’t recall the total amount of weeks and months I spent at home, ill with depression. And the times I worked from home because I couldn’t face going in. At home I did actually work, but I was able to pace myself a little more effectively. At home it didn’t matter if I was still in my pyjamas and if I needed a couple of hours to revitalise myself I would make up for it in the evenings. This would have been a perfect solution but my job was office based – meetings had been scheduled, help from colleagues was needed, documents needed to be printed and signed. There was always a reason for me being there.

The letter I received from the Job Centre, the reason for my anxiety, tells me that one of my benefits will end in February. I will still have my PIP, but my income is being cut by about 50%. I have savings, I own my own home, I am nowhere near destitute. My family will step in if need be. So what am I worrying about? Are my concerns justified?

I don’t think I really know. At times I am able to accept the situation, it is the way of the world, it is as it should be. Then there are times when I feel a sense of injustice. Earlier today these contrary thoughts were raging simultaneously in my head. This is the curse of being able to see things from other peoples perspectives. It leaves me confused and lost.

My solution is to see if I am eligible for other benefits. This might help in the short term. The long term solution is less clear. I do not feel ready to return to work. The idea horrifies me. It isn’t that I can’t apply myself, I am able to do “work” on behalf of CMHS.  But the key point is that CMHS is my hobby. I choose when and how I devote my time to it. If there is a job out there that allows you to do as you wish and turn up whenever it is convenient, I’ll take it. Sadly I think that the person paying my wages would want a little more from me.

Citizens Advice has a page with information on benefits which may help if you are in a similar situation: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/

I enjoyed Christmas Day. Is that wrong?

My mother died in January. This was the first Christmas without her. And I enjoyed myself. I felt a wee bit guilty afterwards, so this article can be my self therapy. A way to tell myself that I am allowed to have fun.

Since my mother’s death I have found out a lot about myself and my family. I am accepting the fact that as children my sister and I lived in an atmosphere of control which continues to influence our lives. Together we are working through our past to understand our thoughts and behaviours and to change them. We are making progress.

This could not have happened, for me anyway, whilst my mother was alive. I remember that whenever I met a new therapist or psychiatrist I would be asked about my parents. My response was always that my family life was a loving and happy one. The only concession I would make would be to say that my parents were a little overprotective, but under the circumstances it was understandable. End of conversation.

And I believed it.

Until my mother died. By this time I had already repaired the fractured relationship with my sister. We had spoken about our childhood and things which had been said and done, and though my brain believed, understood and agreed, my heart always sided with my mother. I found excuses for her behaviour, but towards the end of her life these excuses were more difficult to hold on to.

My childhood beliefs, put there by my parents and which I am beginning to challenge, include:

Only perfect is good enough (and even then there’s something slightly wrong and it isn’t perfect after all)

There is only one way to do things, anything else is wrong

I am different

I am not important

I am not capable – of anything

I am responsible for other people (their feelings, behaviour, words, everything)

I am not likeable/loveable

I am not allowed to tell people my problems, because they won’t be interested/won’t want to be my friend

There are more, but you get the picture.

This is how Christmas used to be. A few weeks before Christmas my mother would tell me that I was invited to my sister’s for Christmas. My sister and I were estranged and communicated through my mother. I would send my acceptance in the same way.

Christmas Day would be, not awful, but moments of joy interspersed with moments of awkwardness and anxiety. And thoughts of “when can we go home?”. Drinking didn’t help me either. I would be on my best behaviour, a don’t show myself up in front of the family mindset. My alcoholic brain would be saying more, more, I need more. My anxious side was agreeing with this sentiment, get drunk so that nothing will matter any more. But I was fighting these feelings and trying to moderate my alcohol intake – it’s too soon to have another glass of wine, it’s not polite. It will look bad, mum will get upset. It was uncomfortable. And since my sobriety everything was the same except for the alcohol battle. This was replaced with trips to the garden to smoke. Which were similarly disapproved of. I still felt shameful.

This year was different. My sister and I discussed the arrangements together. I offered to supply the crackers and the chocolates. We agreed that Dad and I would get a taxi to her house and back home again. Which I arranged. (My dad’s driving is his lifeline, but I know that he struggles with it, even if he doesn’t acknowledge this himself). This also made things easier for my sister. She was concerned about having the family over and all the stresses that entails for her, so having a fixed time for us to leave made her feel more comfortable.

Christmas Eve was a late night for me. I was up till 2am finishing presents. Christmas morning I dragged myself out of bed, had a shower (I couldn’t justify not doing so, however hard I tried) and got ready. I was at my fathers house half an hour before the taxi was due. The taxi arrived early and the driver helped me load the presents in the boot. Once dad was ready we set off. And the taxi driver was so lovely. He was helpful and he knew where he was going and how to get there (believe me, this isn’t always the case). He also helped with the presents at our destination.

A little side note here. My father is hard of hearing. One to one conversations are generally not too bad, although if he can’t understand what I’m saying he sometimes says random things like “why are you talking about bananas?”. I wasn’t. In a group of people he finds it even harder to follow the conversation. He has a hearing aid for each ear, but doesn’t like to wear them because he says that the background noise is annoying. I could have suggested that he take his hearing aids, but based on previous experience this would most likely have produced an annoyed grumble which could have spoiled the whole day. So I didn’t, and the result was that he didn’t interact with us much. I feel a bit bad about this but he knows where they are and is capable of making his own decisions…..?

Where was I? Oh yes, at my sister’s house. The day was lovely because everybody was relaxed and happy. There was no tension, no doing what is expected of you. It was perfect because we weren’t trying to make it perfect.

Everyone helped my sister with the cooking (this is not normal) and my sister enjoyed her dinner (I don’t remember this happening before). And the best bit? The crackers. Inside each cracker was a wind up Santa. There was a board with starting positions and the aim was to release all the wound up Santas at the same time and see which one reached the North Pole first. It was hilarious!! Some of the Santas went everywhere but the North Pole, and the ones that did reach their destination carried on walking away from it. My sister and I were laughing hysterically.

 

If someone else were to tell me that they were worried because they had enjoyed their first Christmas after the loss of a loved one, I would say, “but you are allowed to enjoy yourself. It doesn’t mean that you are not sorry your loved one is not there”. Telling this to myself is hard. I know it is true but I have trouble believing it in my heart.

One day……

 

 

Me, Work and Mental Illness

BBC article – How mental health costs up to 300,000 jobs a year

I tried to do some research of my own, this proved quite difficult. So here is a report I found which had already done it for me! thriving-at-work-stevenson-farmer-review.pdf

This report mentions Aviva as having a support strategy in place. I would also like to add Unilever to that list.

My work life is littered with breakdowns, sackings and extremes of brilliance versus ineptitude. I realise that by posting this publicly I am shooting myself in the foot if I ever decide to go back to work, as my official CV glosses over the real reasons for changing jobs. But isn’t that just a reflection of the fear and stigma of owning up to being mentally unwell, and shouldn’t this be challenged?

After leaving school I went to college. I wanted to work with children and started a Nursery Nursing Examinations Board course. This involved spending a term at a local Primary pre School for the 4-5 year olds. I was an assistant to the teachers and got involved in the daily lives of the children. I loved it. But it didn’t like me. It involved a lot of creativity – having to plan and help with art projects. I love art but looking at it and trying to create it are not the same thing. Also, I wasn’t eating properly. I think at that time breakfast didn’t happen, lunch was an apple, and dinner was the least I could get away with eating in front of my parents. I don’t know why everything went wrong but it was probably something to do with the lack of food exacerbating my depression which combined to affect my concentration and performance.

So I found a job. It was local and my mother would drop me off in the car on her way to work. I was eating even less at this point and I remember one morning when I really didn’t want to go to work. Mum dropped me off, I waved goodbye to her and as soon as she was out of sight I went for a very long walk. There was no phone call from me to say that I wasn’t going in because at that time I didn’t understand what was happening and my eating disorder made it normal for me to hide the truth. The company I worked for put up with me for a year or two, but poor performance eventually lead to my dismissal. This is probably a direct result of weighing about 6 stone and being depressed. My brain was unable to function properly and I had memory problems and made frequent mistakes.

Then my mum got me a job at the company she worked for. She had worked there ever since I was 4 or 5 and I had visited her at work a few times during the school holidays. I already knew some of the people who worked there. They needed holiday cover for about 6 months. I was there 5 years. This was a job I excelled at, but I made it very difficult for myself. My drinking and sexuality “flourished” in this period. I was working in a family run business which employed about 100 people, 85% of them men. I knew everybody who worked there and they all knew me. Some better than others if you get my drift. Christmas parties were all day drinkfests until the pubs wouldn’t accommodate us any more. Then we just caused havoc in a local football club instead. I have memories of anxiety and over confidence at this time. To get to the ladies loo you had to walk through the shop floor. Sometimes this caused me huge anxiety. But at the same time I was flirting and bantering with everyone. One of my contradictory phases I think.

Possibly because of my mum’s relationships with the directors of the company, my absences due to depression and hospitalisation weren’t an issue. Until I got a new boss. I don’t entirely understand this, but I didn’t like my new boss. I’m usually a very easygoing, accepting person, someone who is not quick to judge. But there was something about this woman who rubbed me up the wrong way from the start. Then I needed time off for medical reasons. Whenever you were absent from work due to sickness you had to complete a form stating the medical reason for your absence. I didn’t want people to know, so I decided to ask for a day’s holiday. I thought that no one would ask questions that way. But my boss refused to let me take holiday that day and I didn’t understand why. I can’t remember how it got resolved, but I attended my medical appointment on a Friday and was back to work on Monday. I probably shouldn’t have been because I remember being in pain until the following day, but I soldiered on.

On the Wednesday I felt a lot better. And that is the day I had a huge argument with my boss. I had gone ahead with something without allowing her to check it first (maybe this was what troubled me about her, she didn’t trust me to be able to do things on my own?). I flipped massively. I made a huge fuss and said I didn’t want to work with her and I left. There and then, I went for a walk to calm myself (didn’t work).

I got myself another job. There was a similar pattern of mostly good work interspersed with weird, inept moments. A similar pattern of depression and drinking. I was made redundant, which I think is the only true reason for leaving on my CV. Another job followed, this time in the film industry. I was working in a support service in a film studio complex and loved it. I got an insight in to the world of film and we visited a couple of film sets. The team I worked with was small and very supportive. It was like a little family. Then one of my clients head hunted me. This was my opportunity to combine work and pleasure and get paid huge amounts of money. The film industry then was a closed, uncertain, stressful world. It was mostly about who you knew, and each project lasted a matter of months. I don’t think I thought about the between projects moments. My first film job was for a BBC production. I got on well with my new boss and we went on set a couple of times. I met the cast and crew. I was working hard but having a great time. Then we moved on to a Hollywood film which was being shot on location in England. I joined at the pre-production stage. The work was manageable to start with, but as the production moved forward I was asked to do more and more. I was under quite a lot of pressure and responsibility. I would start at 8am (I still don’t know how I did this, as getting out of bed in the morning is not one of strong points) and a 12 hour day was the norm. Then I would go home, get drunk, go to sleep and turn up at 8am the next day.

Then one Wednesday I arrived at my desk and burst in to tears. The pile of paperwork had grown overnight and I crumbled. Massively and publicly. The nature of the industry being driven by time schedules and money, there wasn’t the option for me to take a couple of weeks to recover, so that was the end of my dream job.

It hit me hard. I remember feeling broken for months. I would stare in to space for hours, I had the shakes and I felt constantly nauseous. I withdrew into myself and communication was difficult.

I was conscious that I needed to work. I had just moved house and bills needed to be paid. I had lived for a while on my savings, but knew they wouldn’t last for ever. So I got another job. It lasted a week. I wasn’t really ready to go back to work. I remember not really knowing what to do. I would look at the paperwork in front of me and it just looked like gobbledygook. Sacked again. Then I started temping. This was easier. Every couple of weeks I would have a new challenge and I was never in one place long enough to allow them to see my true self. I worked, got praised and moved on.

So now we come to Unilever. It started as another temporary role. I stayed 10 years. I think I was made permanent after about a month.

William Hesketh Lever started a soap factory in Warrington in the late 1880s. He was a forward thinking employer, he built a small village for his workers and was interested in their welfare. Now a multi national company, its emphasis on employee welfare has continued.

We had an on site nurse. Once a month I had to work in a small room with a very noisy, temperamental machine. We were given earplugs and all trooped down to the nurse for a hearing test. I became a regular visitor, but for other reasons.

I don’t remember exactly how my visits to the nurse started, I think I was told to go and see her. There was a redundancy scare. I reacted badly and found myself becoming ill and taking more and more time off. The nurse referred me to the company Doctor, who I also got to know quite well, and I was also referred for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. All of these appointments were office based, I’d just go downstairs to the Occupational Health Department and then go straight back to work. I think this is the best thing that had ever happened to me. Over the years I had seen various counsellors, psychotherapists and psychiatrists, but it was sporadic. I would decide that I didn’t want to see them any more because it was too upsetting and I would be tearful and low for a few days.

But with Unilever it was different. Some of the sessions were still quite painful, but I had developed positive relationships with the whole team. I don’t know why this worked when everything else hadn’t, perhaps it was the support network and the understanding of my line managers. Maybe the ease of access had something to do with it.

I was also encouraged to use my private healthcare for psychiatry treatment. I had a whole team of people helping me to understand myself and create a way of living that worked for me. And at the same time I was working hard and creating a good impression. My psychiatrist decided that I had an alcohol problem. I don’t know how he reached this conclusion because I don’t remember ever discussing my alcohol intake with him. He suggested I go for treatment. No thanks.

But the idea stayed with me. I carried on drinking and after a series of alcohol related injuries I decided that perhaps I did have a problem after all. My psychiatrist arranged for me to be a patient at a well renowned private hospital and Unilever backed me all the way. In the end I was in hospital for 5 weeks and Unilever agreed to fund me through private healthcare for the extra week. Then there was about a month where I was on day release, a few days at hospital as an outpatient with a staggered return to work.

That was 2008 and they got 5 more years out of me. In that time I continued with CBT, continued with private psychiatry and continued to be supported and understood at work. My colleagues accepted me for what I was. Having been a party animal one minute and then coming back to work sober was hard to ignore. And my absences for medical appointments together with some of my mood swings and physical appearance were all too apparent. But I was accepted and supported by everybody. Even new colleagues who weren’t aware of my history were aware that I suffered from depression, but it never held me back in the workplace.

Then in 2013 a family event triggered an attack of anxiety. Taking time off work for my depression/bipolar/Borderline Personality Disorder (diagnoses changed from time to time) was nothing new. But this was different. I was unable to contemplate ever going back to work, and a couple of weeks became a couple of months, became a year. All this time Unilever were supporting me, for a lot of the time they were still paying me, and we had regular meetings to try to find a way to get me back to work. They never gave up on me. But I made a decision. I was feeling guilty that they were putting all this effort in for me and I was still feeling scared about the prospect of returning to work. So I was honest with them and the result was termination of employment on mutual grounds.

So now, here I am today. I still have no desire to work, I don’t think I could. Yes, I have moments of productivity, but they are interspersed with naps during the day and periods of low mood. I am able to be productive at my own pace. There are no deadlines or responsibilities and the only pressure is that which I inflict upon myself. This piece has evolved over 2 days. Yesterday was particularly difficult as there were a few moments of emotional overload. And I’m thinking that maybe once this has been published I might go for a little nap. I get drained quite quickly.

Writing this has shown me that a supportive work environment makes a huge difference. It didn’t cure my depression but it provided me with the tools to be able to cope. People with mental illness are driven, creative people. They just need an environment where they are allowed to flourish.


If you would like your employer to create a supportive workplace, here are some tools to help you convince them to sign the Time to Change Employer Pledge.

Shyness

I was incredibly shy as a child. But when I talk to strangers I have no problem communicating. This got me thinking. Does my childhood shyness have a link with my adult anxiety?

I found this article on shyness and I think I have come to the conclusion that shyness in a child could lead to problems in later life.

The article says that shyness can lead to:

  • Substance abuse
  • Damaging relationships
  • Difficulty attaining goals
  • Anxiety and depression

I can say yes to all of these.

I am a recovering alcoholic, have used drugs in the past, have a history of food disorders and can get easily addicted to just about anything, including writing blogs.

I have relationships with abusive people, people who are damaged in some way. I find relationships with “normal” steady, caring people difficult to maintain

I agree with the difficulty attaining goals issue, but only after having read the explanation. Withholding ideas and opinions and letting others take credit for any I might have is a definite yes. If I am congratulated on doing something well I will often offer up the fact that another person helped me and it was a joint effort. And I know I have anger issues. I know that I don’t always know how to express anger or annoyance and can sometimes appear to behave like a small child.

I can also agree with the causes of shyness:

  • A parent or guardian who is over critical
  • Over protective parenting
  • Traumatic life experiences

I had over protective, critical parents. I believe they were over protective because of my illness as a child (traumatic life event).

I mentioned in a previous blog that as a child I was instructed in what to do and say and what not to do and say. I was told I didn’t want things that I thought I wanted. It was all a bit confusing. But I have recently remembered something else. If I went to see a friend, when I got home my mother would ask all sorts of questions about the family and what they were up to. I could only ever answer “I don’t know, I didn’t ask”. It continued into adulthood. If I spoke to my mum and said that I had met a friend recently she would ask lots of questions. I had usually been talking about the things my friend and I were interested in so I was still unable to answer. I realise that this made me feel as if I had failed in some way. And I suppose that somewhere in my unconscious I was nervous about what I should say to people. Because I didn’t want to let my mum down but I invariably did.

In my anxiety blog I went in to detail about my childhood illness and the physical and emotional fallout that resulted. I believe this is why my parents were a little over protective. They would tell me that I couldn’t do things, I think, in the belief that it would shield me from disappointment. But this resulted in me believing that I couldn’t do anything and that I would be dependant on other people for the rest of my life.

This is not true. I can do things. Sometimes not very well, but I am able to look after myself and look after other people. I live on my own at the moment, and I’m not looking after myself properly, I’m not looking after my flat properly. But this is not because I can’t. It is because of my current state of mind which leaves me feeling anxious and unmotivated to do practical stuff like cleaning and eating. I have moments of activity, but just now I’m in “I can’t be bothered” mode. And this is ok. For me, now, I am doing the best I can and that is good enough. Anyone who tells me otherwise will soon know that they have said the wrong thing!

So what is the answer?

The trick is to try to determine if shyness is making life difficult. Children will not be able to tell us. Having been a shy child I know that I didn’t realise that anything was wrong, and even if I had, I would never have spoken up about it.

So the responsibility is with adults. Parents, teachers, friends’ parents, anyone who regularly comes into contact with a shy child can quietly monitor their progress. I would like there to be an atmosphere where one adult can say to another “I’m a little worried about your son/daughter” without the parent getting defensive or angry that someone has dared to criticise or judge.

Parents do not see how their child behaves at school or with their friends. Teachers do not see how the child behaves at home. Parents of the child’s friends may not be aware of shyness because the child is probably relaxed and “normal” when playing. So everybody has to talk to each other openly and honestly. Then maybe something can be done to try to prevent a shy child from developing problems in later life.

 

 

Me, anxiety and panic attacks.

Part 3. Panic Attacks

I’ve explained about different forms of my anxiety stemming from events in the past. Now it’s time to bring it up to where I am now.

I am sitting indoors. I last went outside on Thursday (it’s Sunday today), and that was only to go to take some rubbish out. Even that simple task makes me feel anxious. Once I’m inside again my breathing becomes quick and shallow and I have to calm myself with a cup of tea and a cigarette and often some sort of distraction, like watching TV.

It wasn’t always like this. There was a time when I would go anywhere and do anything. I would go on holiday on my own. I’ve been on Safari in Africa, I’ve been to China and Nepal. I flew over Everest. All by myself. Thinking back, I did have moments of panic before I went. Thoughts of “what am I doing? Why am I doing this? I can’t do this” would race through my head the day before I left. But I always did it. Often I would have a day or two of depression whilst I was on my travels, usually around the middle or towards the end of the trip. But I did it. And mostly enjoyed it. I was free and doing whatever took my fancy. I was in control of me.

So what changed? I think I know what the trigger was but I still don’t understand why my anxiety has stayed so long. I have always had “breakdowns” scattered throughout my life. Periods of weeks or months where I become unable to function and living becomes excruciatingly hard. But in the past I have always got better. I have always rebuilt my life and gone back to work and functioned.

Christmas 2012. I can’t remember why, but I had a mini crisis. I was lower than I had been for a long time. But I recovered and went back to work and got on with my life. Then in January 2013 my mother had a stroke. This, I think, is the trigger. I remember feeling very scared. It was the first time I had acknowledged that my parents would die. I had a strong bond with my mother. She was the centre of my world. The concept that she would leave me was unimaginable. Her stroke came with complications because of an ongoing condition she had. DNR (Do Not Resuscitate) was talked about.

It was an incredibly emotional time. And what made it worse was that her personality changed. Sometimes she was childlike and needed looking after. But mostly she was angry and frustrated, and because of her near childlike state, some things she said weren’t censored between thinking it and speaking it.

And that wasn’t the only problem. My dad had never had to look after himself before. Mum was in hospital for 6 weeks and he had to be fed and looked after. My sister and I were run ragged between the two of them. We both worked, my sister had a family to look after, there was very little “me time” for either of us.

I was very hard on myself. “Should” became a common thought. I should be able to look after everyone, I should be able to do more…… The reality was that my mental health suffered. I had regularly been going to a support group, but the group got the worst of my anger and frustration and I stopped going. I stopped being able to go to work. Every morning my anxiety would tell me to stay at home in bed. This wasn’t a new phenomenon, I have battled with that for as long as I can remember. But this time I couldn’t get myself out of it.

So I would drag myself to see my dad and we would go to the hospital together. Then I would try to stay as calm as I could whilst my mum took out her frustrations on us. And I would excuse her behaviour because she was ill and in pain and she couldn’t do the things she used to be able to do. I tried to tell myself that it wasn’t her fault. And when I didn’t convince myself of that fact, I blamed myself. I told myself I wasn’t good enough.

March 2013. Mum is allowed home. The house is now all geared up with disability aids. We had carers organised to look after her. I thought things might get better. But they got worse. She only used the carers for mornings and night time. The rest of the day was down to me, my sister and my father. And whatever we did wasn’t good enough. This wasn’t new either, but it was more apparent this time. We all struggled. And I took it on myself to be the person holding the family together. Only I wasn’t strong enough.

I would go to my parents house and do as much as I was able to, but her words and behaviour often upset me. I would regularly go home in tears. Tears for me is a near convulsive body experience that I find exhausting. I would tell myself and anyone who cared to listen that I wouldn’t put myself through that again. But I did.

So now when I go out, I start to get anxious the night before. Then in the morning I feel a huge dread stopping me from going. Sometimes I give in to the fear. But often it is something important I need to do and not going would let people down. So I battle with myself, drink copious cups of tea, smoke endless cigarettes and change my mind dozens of times. I have found that it is slightly easier if someone comes to pick me up. I will often have a panic attack once I’m in the car, but if I remember to breathe and try to distract myself, it generally goes. Eventually. If I have to walk somewhere (I don’t drive), then I usually start to panic at the end of my road, which is a few hundred feet away (0.1 mile). As I turn the corner my breathing starts to change, my heart starts to flutter, my palms become clammy and my thoughts start racing. If I meet someone walking the other way or even in their own front garden, my symptoms become worse. I don’t know why but it terrifies me. Then I arrive at my destination hot, unable to breathe and terrified. A sit down and a cup of tea will usually calm me, but my anxiety is likely to reappear at any moment, depending on the situation. The journey back home is similar, maybe a little less extreme, but a hot drink and cigarettes are needed. Often, once home, I will curl up in bed and sleep. Anxiety is exhausting.

Different situations produce different levels of reaction, but it is rare that going out doesn’t cause some degree of panic. Even sitting inside where I am safe and in control, I panic over thoughts, things I should be doing, people, anything. I get my groceries delivered. It is the easiest option for me at the moment. But even that causes panic. I like the grocery delivery because it is one of the few times I interact with people. I am getting used to the drivers and we often chat and laugh. But once they’re gone anxiety returns, and I don’t know why.

The worst panic attack I have ever had was in June of this year. My dad wanted to go on holiday, it was the first holiday he’d had for years and after my mothers’ death in January he was ready to go away somewhere. I went with him as a companion. I had all my usual anxiety and fear, but I had tried to prepare myself for it happening. My panic started soon after he had picked me up. This is normal I thought, just breathe. Dad was talking to me but I couldn’t really hear what he was saying because I was just concentrating on me. Then I started to feel nauseous and opened the window. This had happened before, it will go, just breathe. The next thing I became aware of was tingling in my hands and fingers. So I started shaking them to get the blood flowing and I stuck my head out of the window and tried to concentrate on just breathing.

But then my hands locked into a strange, slightly painful position. I could not move my hands. They were clenched and they had stuck that way. And I felt physically ill. I can’t describe how I felt, all I know is that I was terrified. I got my dad to stop the car. I was sitting in the front and desperately needed to get in the back seat and lie down. But I couldn’t move my hands to take the seatbelt off or to open the door. So my dad had to help me. I managed to get out of the car. I struggled to open the door to get in the back seat because my hands were still not behaving properly. But I got in the back seat and lay down and closed my eyes. My body slowly started to relax and I fell asleep. I woke up about an hour later. I was fine. We stopped for lunch and I got back in the front seat. The rest of the journey wasn’t anxiety free, but it was manageable.

I haven’t worked since March 2013. My hobby (researching my family tree), this blog and the Facebook page are the nearest things to work I’ve done since then. It’s not stress free. I often find myself struggling, so I stop, watch TV or go for a nap. Then I come back to it when I am ready. With work I had deadlines, but with this I just do what I want when I feel able to. I just have to be careful that I don’t push myself too hard. But I have people around me who tell me when they think I’m doing too much. And I usually agree with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me, anxiety and panic attacks.

Part 2. Social Anxiety.

This article about depression and anxiety is spot on.

I left the last blog promising something about my social anxiety.

There are a few reasons for this anxiety, one of them being that I think it stems from things that were said to me as a child, things I now know are not true. I am only just working this out for myself and I expect there will be a lot of emotions around it, but I’ll try my best.

As a child I was painfully shy. I remember being afraid of almost every adult I met. And as I got older I became awkward around other children too.

Part of it is to do with feeling different. I have been told a story about my attitude when I was 3. I was attending what was called in the 70s a Play School, which would probably be termed today as going to a Childminder. Because of my developmental issues I was still in nappies. I must have been aware that everybody else was a similar age to me but none of the other children were wearing a nappy. Apparently, one day I told my mother that I didn’t want to wear nappies any more because no one else did. I knew at 3 years old that I didn’t fit in. As I got older my differences became more apparent and more upsetting. I distinctly remember riding a tricycle when all my friends had ditched their stabilisers and were riding bikes properly. I was always aware of why I was different, I had been told the story of my illness many times, but I don’t think I understood. All I saw was that everyone around me could do things that I couldn’t do.

Then I went to school. We had Physical Education where we had to do a balance exercise. PE was held in the school hall which was also the dinner hall and the gym. At lunch time everyone sat on benches, and in PE these benches were used to practice our balance. I would watch all my classmates breeze through it. Then it came to my turn. Balance was one of the things which didn’t come naturally to me. I would only walk the bench if the PE teacher held my hand. Which was the exact opposite of what they were trying to achieve. I might have been able to do it but I was scared and everybody was watching. The older I got, the more excruciating PE and Games became.

Another thing which made me feel different was my absences from school. As a young child I had quite a lot of physiotherapy. Once or twice a week I would be taken out of school to go for private physio lessons. Which I hated. My school friends would naturally ask where I had been, and I would tell them that I was ill as a baby and needed to do these special exercises. All of which reinforced the feeling of not being like other children.

Is it any wonder I used to drift off into space and just live in my own little world from time to time?

Now this is the tough bit to explain. I have always believed that I was loved. My family life was full of hugs and kisses and happiness. But at the same time it wasn’t happy. Only I didn’t realise. Till now.

Things were said to me as a child that I believed to be true. I was innocent and trusting and believed everything that was said by people that I loved. Those insights became the core of my personal belief system and even though I am starting to challenge it, my belief system is still integral in my thinking and behaviour.

I was instructed in everything. What to say, what not to say, how to behave, how not to behave. I was told that something I did or said could have the consequence of nobody wanting to be my friend. I was told that if I was feeling sad or troubled “don’t tell your friends about it, put on a big smile and pretend”. Apparently, no one wants to hear my problems, no one will be interested. Another thing I believe because of these words of wisdom is that people are only doing things for me out of kindness or pity. Never because they love me and want to help and are generous and giving. I learnt instead that people take pity on me. Which makes me annoyingly grateful. All the time.

I have a theory that the person who told me these nuggets of wisdom wasn’t maliciously or knowingly misguiding me. I think that she was passing on her own ways of thinking and behaving without realising the implications. I think she genuinely thought she was being helpful and was shielding me from harm.

But it backfired. An important part of growing up is to try to do new things and to fail at them. That is how a child learns. It is hard for the parents because they can see what is going to go wrong. But a child has to find out for itself. “Ok, that didn’t work, next time I’ll try it differently”. I think that because of my limitations and my fears, my parents didn’t want me to get upset about failure. So I’d be told “you won’t be able to do that”. So I didn’t try, and then it turns out that they were right, I can’t do it. But maybe, if I had tried I might have found a compromise that suited me. I was always too scared to try anything.

So how does all of this fit in with social anxiety? I see now that I was scared of being and scared of doing. I wasn’t allowed to be myself because I had to follow the rules of behaving properly, otherwise I wouldn’t have any friends. And I didn’t talk much because I was probably too scared I would say the wrong thing, because then obviously, the world would explode. And I hadn’t been primed for every conversation the world had to offer, so I actually had no thoughts or words of my own. I so desperately wanted people to like me, I tried so hard to be…. actually I have no idea what I was trying to be. It sounds like I was a puppet doesn’t it?

But none of this makes sense. As a person, in my natural state, I am kind, loving, a good listener. I realise that I collected friends who were outcasts. Children who were flawed, different. I gave them love and a shoulder to cry on and they gave me friendship. I stood up for them when people were unkind and I listened to all of their troubles. It never once occurred to me that other people could do the same for me. I lived in my huge smile and everything is wonderful attitude because I wasn’t allowed to say “actually, I’m feeling a bit sad today”. There was so much sadness and fear and confusion going on inside, only I hid it so well that even I wasn’t aware of it.

I am beginning to realise how harmful the words “nobody wants to hear your problems” are. I spent my life feeling unimportant outside of the family unit. I was always less than, not good enough, I didn’t matter. So when I worried about something I didn’t tell anybody because it’s not important, it’s only me.

I hated parties because when you got to a certain age you didn’t play games anymore, you had to stand around and talk! At senior school, break times didn’t include playing, they included chatting. I was completely out of my depth because I had nothing to talk about. The puppeteer wasn’t there to pull my strings. And I was (and probably still am) a chronic people pleaser. I find it hard to make decisions because I’d rather do whatever makes other people happy, even if I hate it. The other option is to do something I want to do, and that is insane, unthinkable. Because I don’t matter.

But that’s daft. Because I do matter. Despite myself, people love me and enjoy being with me.

I’m the only person who doesn’t enjoy being with me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Me, anxiety and panic attacks.

Part 1. Mobility Anxiety.

telegraph.co.uk

This article from the Telegraph describes me.

I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Social anxiety and mobility anxiety were overwhelming as a child. This has developed in to an anxiety bordering on agoraphobia in recent years.

I’m not sure that Mobility Anxiety is a thing. If it isn’t, or its medical name is something different, this is my way of describing what happens to me.

Lets start at the beginning. As a baby I was seriously ill. When I was well enough to return home I am told that I couldn’t sit up properly. I was just over a year old but I was just like a newborn. This is where what I call my “mobility” anxiety stems from. My physical development was pushed back to age 0 but my intellectual development was about a year and a half old.

In the physical sense I had to learn everything again. I don’t remember any of this, but I was told that after my illness, when I was learning to walk, I refused to do so unless I was holding something. I think I had a fear of falling. Or this might be to do with the fact that my illness caused damage to the part of the brain which governs movement, balance and coordination. Anyway, I struggled, physically.

Even now I have moments where my brain tells my body “No, I am not going to do this”. Or is it my body telling my brain? I literally freeze on the spot. I remember one winter when it snowed for about a day and then for a week or so afterwards all the local roads and pavements were covered in ice. I was on my way to the train station to get to work. I had been tentatively making my way between the icy bits to safer ground, even if that safe ground was the road. The 5 minute walk lasted a lifetime. All I had to do next was negotiate the corner, cross the road and walk up to the steps to the platform. But the corner, for me, was impassable. All the impacted snow had turned to slippery ice, and all the people who had gone before me had made the ice even more impacted and slippery. I tried, I really did, but my fear of falling took over. I froze. I couldn’t move. Anywhere. Ahead of me was ice, behind me was ice that I really didn’t want to walk on again. I could see a patch of road that might be safe but couldn’t get to it. So I sat on the kerbside and cried. I couldn’t go home and I couldn’t get to work and I just wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. My solution to this dilemma was to phone for a taxi. I can’t remember now whether it took me back home or to work, I just remember how I felt.

That is just one of hundreds of instances of my freeze mentality. And do you know how I make it worse for myself? I tell myself that I am being silly. I tell myself that there are people far worse off than me. I can walk, some people have real disabilities or spend their lives in wheelchairs. They can manage, why can’t I? This is not helpful.

Other ways this impacts me are slightly more subtle but nevertheless unnerving. These things usually only happen when I’m not concentrating, not feeling well or am already feeling anxious for other reasons.

Stairs can be a problem. Especially in public areas. I often find I need to hold on to the handrail, but in public places this is not always possible because other people are in the way or I’m caught up in a crowd. Sometimes this feeling comes over me when I’m halfway up or down. Which throws me. Waterloo station steps, in London, the ones to the main entrance are a constant cause for concern. They are wide with curvy sides. There are lots of people milling around (moving in crowds is something I’ll come to later) and because of the design of the stairs they are best approached in the middle, going straight upwards where they narrow a little, arriving at the top to walk in to the station. Another symptom for me is that I forget. If I remember, I approach the curvy handrail and slowly, in my own time haul myself up. If I have forgotten that this is the best way I approach from the middle then suddenly remember that I need to be at the edge. There are other people happily walking up and down all around me, whilst I stand there, thinking and blocking everyone’s way. So now I have double anxiety, firstly I’m in a sort of frozen moment and secondly, that moment is hindering other people. Eventually I manage to find the handrail and climb the stairs whilst feeling like a fraud.

I have an issue around personal space. I think it’s to do with my fears and my awkwardness and they create a sort of self-perpetuating cycle. If I have to attend a public event, like the theatre, cinema or a meeting, I like to get there early. This way I can get to my seat without having to negotiate my way past too many people. I am worried about treading on peoples’ feet, so the fewer people already seated the better. If I can choose where to sit I will choose the end of a row, or in a restaurant I will choose a seat where I am not squashed in the corner. Easy access is the key. In cinemas I like to get there early because I am also spooked by the dark. If I suddenly go from daylight to darkness my eyes take ages to adjust and I start to panic. Being scared and not being able to see is not a good combination! If I am going on my own, no problem, I can do what I want, but if I am with someone then I have the added complication of either making them go for the adverts (when the lights are still on) or getting incredibly anxious of the dark and treading on people if we’re a little later than I would like to be. Did I mention that I am also a people pleaser? My brain tells me that it is good to do what other people want and bad to expect other people to do what I want. Which is just plain stupid!! Even though I know how pathetic this type of thinking is, I can’t stop it.

Thank you for reading this. It has been a little difficult for me to write as it has brought up so many emotions. When I’m ready, I’ll do a couple more blogs on social anxiety, which I know already is going to be hard, and my current situation, which is sitting indoors every day and only going outside if I really have to.

Till next time