Irrational Thoughts- How to overcome

Every Day Challenges (Irrational thoughts)

My depression and anxiety lead to me having many irrational thoughts. I’m going to share with you a passage from my journal I composed a few weeks a go. At the time we had workmen in the house fitting a new bathroom, my worst nightmare! Things like this badly effect me. My home is usually my safe zone, but having strangers in it for any length of time leads to me quite literally being petrified. I had to strategically plan my toilet trips to the down stairs loo in a desperate attempt to avoid running into anyone. I was left feeling like an intruder in my own home!

Irrational Thoughts

I went away with my mum for a few days but when we returned the work was nowhere near complete. Worse still on the Monday it was mums volunteer morning at the hospice and I was going to be left alone. I decided the lesser of two evils was to go with her. I didn’t like the prospect of sitting in a room full of folks having to make conversation, but it was better than the alternative of getting under the work men’s feet. Here’s word for word what I wrote at the time.

At least the suns shining, it’s not such a bad day to die, if this is to be my time. That’s what was going through my mind 10 minutes a go, walking down the road from the Kirkwood hospice, with potential threats to my life at either side of me. I wasn’t scared but at the same time felt distinctly uneasy! I just prayed that if this was my time, it would be over quickly and relatively painlessly, maybe a swift knife to the chest or something along those lines!

I’m now sat in a café in Moldgreen, I feel uncomfortable and extremely self-conscious, but at least it’s safe in here. Safer than out there anyway! As usual I have picked a spot in the darkest dingiest corner, as far away from prying eyes as possible. This will be ok for the next three hours. It turned out I couldn’t stay in the hospice with all those people and I couldn’t stay at home either! so here I am in the middle of plan C. It’s not ideal, I haven’t been out on my own for this long for some time and I’m feeling very vulnerable. Writing this is passing time and if I can some how keep hidden for another hour, I will attempt to walk back. The world is a scary place and I’m not equipped to cope. I wish I was normal, I wish I wasn’t such a freak!

Another problem’s just occurred to me. I need the toilet and I’m going to have to walk past a table of students to get there. Oh my God, what am I going to do now! Maybe I’ll be able to hold on until they’ve gone, I’ll have too, there’s no way I’m walking past them! How ridiculous, I think I’d rather wet myself than walk past people who are probably to engrossed in their conversations to even notice me!

Somehow I’ve managed to get back to the hospice unscathed, and bravely come in to join the group. I’ve even found a corner seat again. Maybe if I keep my head down writing folks might leave me alone. Apparently there’s 40 people in the room, to me it feels more like 400!

Monster Or Not?
   

Outside of my house I feel extremely small, as I let my irrational thoughts take over!

 

 

For 12 months trying to sell my house was an extremely stressful time for me. But once I’d sold it, people thought that I’d miraculously become a different person over night! Well I have news for them, I’m still depressed, I feel just as anxious as ever, just as lost and afraid. It almost feels like one of my main excuses for being such an emotional wreck has gone but I’m no closer to being able to cope. I was very confused about what to do next. I needed a purpose, some structure, a set routine, something to work towards, and then I started to write this blog.

Is it possible that the elderly couple at the bus stop are just simply waiting for the bus? Why then do I view them as such a great threat, why do I genuinely believe them to be carrying weapons! So much so that I have to cross over the road to get past.
Is it possible that the work van parked on the corner of my street, is just parked up whilst the work man has his lunch break? Why then do I think He’s waiting for me to walk past so he can bundle me in to the back and kidnap me! so much so that I have to find a much longer alternative route.
I see a garage door slightly open, light on in the garage. Is it possible they’re doing some work and want a bit of fresh air, maybe they’ve simply forgotten to close the door. But that’s not what goes through my head, instead I convince myself that someone’s in there spying on passers by and they’re going to jump out and attack me! Again I can’t risk walking past and so I find an alternative route.

Later when I’m sat at home I see these scenarios as what they are, totally irrational thoughts on my behalf. I feel foolish and embarrassed that I’ve reacted in this way, but it’s hard to stop, as at the time the threat seems very real and very frightening!

But imagine for one minute that monster approaching you isn’t a monster after all. Imagine that they’re actually scared of you! You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, someone may not be as intimidating as you first think. Think about how you’re coming across to them. A friendly smile or a ‘hello’ and suddenly their face changes, as relief hits home. It turns out lots of people have confidence issues, especially when they’re walking on their own. Not everyone’s out to get you. Their shifty looking exterior could easily be misconstrued, maybe they’re feeling vulnerable and don’t want to give any eye contact. On the other hand they might be standing tall and looking you straight in the eyes, portraying an ultra confident person, when deep down who knows what’s going on. They could be petrified!

 

 

 

 

Challenge Yourself- Small Steps

Challenge Yourself

Shoot for the moon, even if you miss you’ll land among the stars!

Challenge yourself to get the most pleasure out of life.

 

 

Personally I think it’s important to face up to your demons and test yourself daily. Whilst doing this you need to continue looking after yourself and be accepting of the limitations caused by your mental health. It’s all about finding the right balance for you.

My daily challenges can include, walking to the corner shop on my own, going to the supermarket with family, picking up mail from my old house, forcing myself to have a social chat with a friend, answering the telephone or front door. These last two might seem a bit trivial to some, but they can be the most difficult, especially if I don’t know who’s on the other end of the line or behind the door. Its the fear of the unknown that often prevents me from being able to do this. My home is my sanctuary, but it’s so easy to become trapped. Don’t let isolation become your friend. I’m all for protecting yourself and keeping safe, but not if it means you’re sacrificing experiencing life.

‘ Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action’ (Benjamin Disraeli)

I’ve began visiting the town centre twice a week with my mother, even though I’m always extremely anxious on the day and in the build up to it, I still force myself to do it. To be honest with you, at present I don’t enjoy any part of the experience, but I view it as a necessary infliction. If you’re like me and you fear busy places, I don’t think there’s any harm in avoiding them as much as you can. However in life you can’t guarantee avoiding places such as town centres, indefinitely. There will be times in the future when you have no choice. I attempt to make such times less stressful by remaining well practiced, so there is method in my madness!

‘ Live all you can; it’s a mistake not to. It doesn’t matter what you do in particular, so long as you have had your life. If you haven’t had that, what have you had?’ (Henry James)

Challenge Yourself Small Steps

Just keep putting one foot in front of the other!

 

 

In previous posts I have mentioned attempting to walk further distances on my own, this of course is dependent on how I’m feeling on the day. As well as distance, I also challenge myself in other areas such as:

  • Slowing down- It might sound a simple thing to do but for me it’s not. Due to my anxiety I tend to race from A to B in record speed, all so I can get back to the safety of my home. The walk itself should be a pleasant experience, I just need to remind myself to take my time and appreciate the journey.
  • Keeping pace- If someone’s in front of me walking at a slower pace, I will slow down to avoid catching them up. Equally if someone’s behind me walking faster I will quicken up. Allowing someone to walk past me is a huge challenge. Sitting on a bench and having several people walk past me is extremely daunting but something I try hard to achieve.
  • Being sociable- When I’m out walking with my friends I’m a completely different person. I always smile and say hello to people passing by, on occasions I might even enter into a conversation. When on my own walking past the same people in exactly the same kind of location, I don’t say a word! Shoulders slumped and head down I don’t even risk eye contact with them. This is providing I haven’t found an alternative path or crossed the street. And so I challenge myself to keep my shoulders up and my head high and acknowledge fellow pedestrians. This of course is easier said than done and completely depends on the day.

Just like anything, if you do something regularly enough, the task will become easier and less intimidating. Often the anticipation is far worse than the actual event. Repetition is the key, pretty soon you’ll look back and wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place!

 

 

 

 

Nicer reality- Minature Paradise

A nicer reality    A nicer reality

Sometimes we all need to escape to a nicer reality

 Sat on a bench at the far side of the park, far away from the noise of the children’s play area; I am enjoying the stillness surrounding me. What can I see? A perfect blue sky with the occasional white cotton cloud. If I look closely I can make out different shapes, its fun to do so. This one looks just like a puppy jumping for its ball. Golden leaves are beginning to form on the trees. Birds are tweeting their afternoon songs. Butterflies are flying side by side on the delicate breeze, performing a hypnotic dance just for me. A fluffy dandelion seed floats up inches away from my face and disappears into the distance.

I shut my eyes and feel the warm autumn sunshine against my forehead. I’m concentrating on slowing down now and relaxing. Starting with my breathing, I take deep breaths in through my nose and out through my mouth, I allow myself to be consumed by the serene beauty all around me. I can feel myself totally shutting down, leaving all my troubles behind me and being one with nature, nothing to prove, no expectations, a perfect moment. It’s ok to feel small in its presence and I do feel small in this tranquil solitude.

I have a few special places I like to visit, which I call my thinking spots. Although I guess they shouldn’t be called this, as I go with the intention of completely switching off and escaping from the day-to-day pressures of life.

The places I choose tend to be out of the way, often high up at the top of a hill where there are few people around and I have the benefit of some stunning views. Your special place could be totally different to mine, a lot of people find sitting by a river bank and listening to flowing water, a calming experience, unfortunately all this does for me is makes me desperate for the loo! The important thing is you view the place as an escape, a nicer reality.

So anywhere that you can sit peacefully and be mindful of your surroundings will do just fine. Allow yourself to take notice of every little moment, almost as if the world and time has gone into slow motion and you’re suddenly aware of everything around you. Every detail from the humming insects scurrying on the ground, to the individual leaves rustling in the trees. All the small things that you wouldn’t normally notice when you’re rushing your way through life. I say take time to see the beauty of the world; it’s easy to take it for granted.

Happiness is a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which, if you sit down quietly, may alight upon you (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

One thing you can guarantee living in England is the unpredictable nature of the weather. Now I for one like the rain (probably because there’s not as many folks around and possibly because I’m slightly odd!) but I appreciate that not everyone does. Therefore it’s a good idea to have a few spots in your memory bank. One of my favourite is in Jamaica, a place that I’ve been fortunate to visit twice in my lifetime, but somewhere I can easily go back too, just by being in a quiet room and closing my eyes.

A nicer reality A nicer reality

 

I imagine myself sat on a wall outside my beech hut, looking out to sea. It’s the end of the evening and I’m having a rum and coke before I retire to bed. Just below me on the beech, dozens of baby crabs are burrowing holes in the sand and then popping their heads up somewhere else. Like a big game of hide and seek, it’s fascinating to watch them at play.

Looking out to the stillness of the sea, a cruise ship appears as a small dot on the horizon. A distant lightening storm lights up the whole scene creating an incredible spectacle. Breath-taking and beautiful, like my own miniature paradise. I remember never wanting to leave this perfect moment.

All these places-the ones in my memory and the ones I’m able to visit regular, all help remind me that life’s not that bad. I use them as a way to de-stress and put my problems into perspective or sometimes simply as a method of cheering myself up when I’m having a down day. However busy and hectic your life gets I recommend that you occasionally find yourself some time to escape to a nicer reality.

 

Perspective, Appreciate your life

I’m fascinated by the wonders of nature. Like the waves crashing against the rocks, spellbinding and magnificent in all their beauty and raw power.

Perspective

Nature reminds me that we’re all just a tiny part of something much greater. Much greater in fact than we can ever fully comprehend. This really helps me to put my issues into perspective.

I don’t mean to sound morbid, but the one thing we can all guarantee is that some day we’re not going to be here anymore. I’m not afraid of this prospect but due to recent events and having come close to the edge, I’ve become more appreciative of life and I take less for granted. I now understand that life is less about success and more about personal experiences. After all when we do die, we can’t take anything with us.

When you’re battling your mental health it’s hard to see the positive side to anything. Even though your friends might see big improvements, it’s hard for you to notice any progress what so ever. Its easier to believe that everyone’s superior to you. But try to remember, other people have their issues too. Others also struggle with the everyday pressures of life. Nobody’s perfect!

Perspective Allow yourself to become lost in the vastness of nature. You are very significant but for once just enjoy being small and pressure free.

Look on the positive side

Last week I took a trip in to the town centre for the first time in about 18 months, the last time resulted in a panic attack. I did this with the intention of challenging myself. I was accompanied by my mother. Although I was uncomfortable to say the least, all was going surprisingly well. We’d parked in a multi-storey car park which was very busy, and I’d managed to get out of the car! Once at the piazza among the shops I was surrounded by people, some walking towards me, some coming at me from behind. A terrifying prospect for me, but one that I was coping with, although admittedly I did considerably tighten my grip on my mums arm! The next challenge was to go into a shop and buy something (some deodorant I think but that’s not important). This was to prove more problematic. I was doing Ok until the queuing stage but sadly this was all too much for me with far too many people in such a small space. I ended up hurrying out of the shop without purchasing anything.

Perspective

At the time it was all about looking after myself, as I went into survival mode. But then came the feelings of foolishness and failure. I was so disappointed with myself. I’d soon gone from feeling elated, ‘look at me, look how well I’m doing’ to feeling overwhelmed and out of my depth. Later that day once I’d had time to calm down and reflect, I actually felt extremely proud of what I’d achieved. Its all about perspective. Yes I’d had to leave the shop, but I’d managed to get into town in the first place, which was a major feat in its self. I’d also managed my anxiety well and avoided having a panic attack. All positive steps in the right direction.

I recently played in my local league championships at table tennis. I got to the semi final stage before losing to the player who went on to win the event. Frustratingly, as good a player as he is, I had beaten him both times we’d played in the league and I really fancied my chances. There were people watching, not many but enough to make me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. On the day I didn’t perform and let nerves get the better of me. But wait a minute!, twelve months prier to this I’d had to pull out of playing in the league all together and I wasn’t even well enough to come and watch the tournament, let alone play in it. Just being able to stay in this kind of environment and actually feel ok for most of the day, was and is a huge testament to how far I’ve come. Again it’s just about putting things in perspective. I actually managed to get all the way to the semi final stage which is a huge thing to be proud of!

For other people suffering with their mental health its really important that you try to put situations into perspective. Try to focus on what you’re doing well as apposed to what you’re not. You might struggle to see it at the moment but there’ll be more positives than you think.

 

 

Self-Worth, Be Proud

My Self-worth was at an all time low “I hate myself and want to die! there’s nothing you can say or do to stop me killing myself, so don’t bother trying!” This I repeatedly said to my counsellor and at the time I genuinely believed it. Thankfully I no longer feel this way, in fact every single day I thank God that I’m still here, that I found the strength to battle my mental health and that I’m finally beginning to feel better in myself. As crazy as it sounds, I’m actually grateful for my illness. I’ve discovered a whole new side to me and believe I’m a better person now, due to my recent experiences.

My journey battling depression has also been a journey of self-discovery and I quite like what I’ve discovered! I’m so much more open minded and  compassionate towards others. Sure I can be over-emotional at times. Vulnerable and fragile I certainly am, but I’m also a much stronger person than I ever gave myself credit for and I no longer view my sensitivity as a weakness. I feel I have a lot to offer and crucially that I’m worth fighting for.

Take a closer look

Building confidence and self esteem. Self-worth Several months a go my counsellor asked me what I saw when I looked in the mirror and this is what I came up with.

When I look in the mirror I see lots of things, surprisingly! It’s hard to get past the initial thought of hating the way I look, big bags under my eyes, dry flaky skin, spots everywhere, bald on top making me look at least ten years older! But when I look a bit deeper, the main thing I see is sadness. I try to mask it with a smile but it looks awkward and forced. In the end my haunted looking eyes give me away. One minute I look like a frightened little boy with all the troubles of the world on my shoulders. The next time I look I see nothing, emptiness, a distant blank expression. Maybe my defence mechanism is to completely switch off, or maybe I’m seeing someone whose lost all hope and is slowly giving up on life. Either way this vulnerable person staring back at me both scares and disappoints me.

 

I’m pleased to say that at present my perception of myself has somewhat changed. I’m not about to insult your intelligence by saying I’ve miraculously gone from hating my appearance, to suddenly liking it, because that’s simply not true. I have noticed some subtle changes though, that have made observing myself a little more bearable. Where as before, I saw emptiness, fear and confusion in my eyes, now I see more understanding and even glimpses of hope and optimism.

It’s perfectly normal to see all your flaws, especially when you’re studying yourself so intently. Even the most beautiful people will still find things they’re not happy with if they look hard enough. We are our own worse critics after all.

How easy is it to stand in front of a full-length mirror working your way from head to toe, highlighting all the things you’re not happy with. Tiny blemishes can soon get magnified into hideous deformities. Of course these are only visible to you and not to others around you. In fact some of the time, what you view as an imperfection, someone else might find to be an attractive feature.

Give Yourself a break

Building confidence and self esteemMental health is hard to live with. One of the hardest parts for me is the unpredictable nature of it.  sometimes just as you think your doing ok and moving in the right direction, something happens that completely floors you. Its like having a giant elastic band attached to you which never lets you get to your destination. When You’re climbing up the hill, you can feel it pulling you back, you can almost reach out and touch where you need to be and then suddenly your tugged  backwards and you end up right back where you started! It’s hard. It’s frustrating, I know  but you need to dust yourself off and start again. Make the most of your good days and don’t put too much emphasis on the bad ones.

I have anxiety and depression, but I refuse to let it define me, there’s much more to me than that. Don’t let your illness define you. Life is hard enough for anyone. If you suffer with mental health issues it’s even more important that your kind to yourself and manage your expectations.

 

 

Great Expectations, Staying in the present

Societies great expectations are too much for me to handle. great expectationsLooking too far into the future fills me with dread, it really doesn’t work for me. My two greatest fears are fear of the unknown- which I link with  not knowing what I’m doing, potentially making a complete idiot of myself and risking humiliation on a grand scale! This immediately transports me back to being a little boy cowering in the corner of the school play ground whilst everybody points and laughs.

The only thing that has an even bigger impact on me than this, is the thought of not meeting peoples great expectations. I think that most people who know me accept that I’m not fit to work at the moment, although some probably still struggle with the concept of me being on benefits, due to an illness/condition they can’t even see. The truth is I’m doing ok at the moment, even showing a few signs of improvement, but these slight signs of improvement result in more pressure.

Society expects me to get back into work eventually, some expect sooner rather than later. I imagine they probably think Shaun’s been given the expert help he needs now, so its about time he was getting better. I really wish it was that simple, I really wish the doubters could be in my head for just one day! Then they might begin to understand.

Getting up in a morning, going to your place of work, doing your shift and then returning back home. sounds pretty simple and lets face it millions of people do it every day. For several years I did it myself. If I could magically click my fingers and go back to being that self-assured person, believe me I would.

Whatever kind of employment you’re in involves a certain amount of responsibility, people having to rely on you. Right now you couldn’t rely on me to go to the corner shop for some tea bags! Some days it wouldn’t be a problem but on bad days I’m still too anxious to leave the house. Even at my best I try to avoid groups of people and can only manage short distances on my own. I have amazing friends and family, who always allow for the unpredictable nature of my illness. They don’t have any great expectations of me. Somehow I doubt an employer could afford m the same luxury.

So here’s what happens when I start looking too far ahead, and I warn you its not the rosiest of pictures! I have the best part of 30 years before I reach retirement age, the way I feel now, I don’t believe I’ll ever be capable of working a standard job again. These thoughts aside, I don’t see the DWP seeing it this way, they will continue to have great expectations of me. I fully expect to fail my next medical and be deemed fit for work. I have a few savings I can live off for a little while but when their gone I can’t bare the thought of having to rely on my family for financial support. Its at this point that suicidal thoughts start to enter my head again, as I slip into a negative unhealthy mind-set.

I’m sorry for seeming so negative but this is what I see when I look to the future, which is why staying in the present and concentrating on one day at a time is so important for me and the only way I can function. For people like me who become depressed when looking too far ahead, my obvious advice is to try not to, even though this is easier said than done! Nobody can predict the future, the only thing we can control is the here and now. Its pointless obsessing over things you can’t control. Its about trying to be the best version of yourself right here, right now and feeling comfortable in your own skin. Your mental health is not a quick fix and your own expectations need to be realistic. Keep challenging yourself but don’t rush it. By taking one small step at a time you might be surprised by what you can achieve.

great expectations

 

 

 

No Shame

Please don’t be ashamed of your mental health. I’m not suggesting you stand up and shout it from the roof tops, but at the same time don’t be ashamed of it.

I’ve already shared with you my high school experience of desperately trying to fit into a group but never quite achieving it. Well now for the first time in my life I actually belong to a club and it’s a big one! Its called the I have a mental health illness club, At least one in four of us are in it but for some reason it doesn’t feel like that bigger club. Every things hush-hush, people don’t want to admit there part of it. Sure there’s lots of great support groups out there but the majority of people are still hiding. I appreciate that this is completely their choice and there might be other reasons for this, such as them struggling to accept the’re ill in the first place(I know it took me a while!). But if the reason is down to shame, why be ashamed of being in the biggest club in the world?

messing around in the river

Yesterday I enjoyed a countryside walk with a friend. we came across these two above enjoying a cool drink.

we encountered much more animals than people. My kind of walk!

Compared to other conditions

A friend of mine has type two diabetes and is insulin dependant. she has to inject herself every morning and her insulin needs to be stored in a fridge. This is a very important issue when traveling long distance or going on holidays. Due to her condition she has to be extremely careful with her diet and has certain limitations. She needs to do regular gentle exercise but over exertion can be harmful. She manages her condition very well, part of this involves refusing to do activities that may be detrimental to her health. She has no problem explaining that her Diabetes is the reason for this.

My mother is registered disabled due to chronic back problems, caused by an accident at work several years a go. Just like my friend, she manages her condition well and is still able to live a fulfilled life. If someone asks her to do something which is beyond her capabilities and will be a risk to her health, she has no problem refusing, giving her disability as the reason why. I think I speak for the majority of people who suffer with there mental health, when I say Its not easy for us to do the same. I find myself coming up with the most elaborate excuses imaginable, to get myself out of situations I can’t manage due to my health. Admittedly part of this is to avoid having to explain, but its mainly because I’ve felt ashamed. My mum doesn’t have to explain, she can just say “I can’t because of my bad back” so why can’t I be similarly frank about my health. After all as I said earlier, I’m in the biggest club in the world! So millions of people will understand, and for those people who don’t, how can we ever expect them too if we’re not upfront and honest about the way we’re feeling.

I wasn’t able to attend my grandmas funeral due to my anxiety issues. My immediate family know the reason for this but other friends and family were simply told I wasn’t well on the day. In truth I would never have coped in that environment, a building with only one exit, makes me feel totally trapped, not to mention all those people in such a confined space. I weighed up all the pros and cons and eventually came to the conclusion that me freaking out and having a major meltdown right in the middle of the crematorium, was not going to be very helpful to anyone! Instead I had a close friend take me to my grandmas favourite park and I was able to say goodbye to her in my own special way. We did this whilst the service was taking place.

I’m getting better at giving my mental health as a genuine reason why I can’t do certain things but I accept I still have a way to go. Its not easy but when you start sharing you realise there’s so many people just like you, suddenly you feel less alienated and you might even make them feel better too! Remember showing vulnerability is not a weakness, other people will gain strength from your courage in coming forward.

 

 

 

 

living with anxiety

In my last post I talked about panic attacks. Todays post is all about preventing things from getting to that stage by managing your anxiety.

There’s something soothing about walking through the trees in my local park. I find it a useful stress release

 

If you’re like me and you suffer from social anxiety, it’s easy to fall into the trap of becoming totally isolated and disconnected from everything and everyone around you. Your home becomes your sanctuary and the only place you feel completely safe. You refuse to answer the front door or the telephone and pretty soon you’ve succeeded in cutting yourself off from the rest of the world.

Suddenly even the simplest of tasks becomes an ordeal and can result in mental exhaustion. As your avoidance behaviour gets worse you become reliant on family to do your shopping for you, even if you live on your own there’s always online supermarkets, so you really have no reason to leave the house.

Even though staying in like this may help you to feel more secure in the short term, in the long term it can only be detrimental to your health, both physically and mentally. Lack of interaction with people is likely to add to your depression. The longer you avoid going out, the harder it will be when you have to, and you’ll find your confidence will diminish rapidly. I’m no expert but I have experienced how this feels and know that the problem can quickly escalate and get out of control. In my opinion this is the time when you need to motivate yourself to keep going and challenge yourself daily. There are lots of ways you can do this but at the same time keep yourself safe.

Cancelling plans with friends might seem like the best thing to do, but then you find yourself sat at home feeling sorry for yourself and wishing you’d gone! Believe me I’ve been there several times, and the annoying thing is things are never as bad as you imagine them to be, so you’d  probably end up having a good time.

Gradually as I’ve become more accepting of my illness I now choose to involve as many people as I can. This means I have to face fewer awkward questions about my health. Believe It or not in the past, such harmless questions as ‘How are you?’ ‘what you doing with yourself at the moment?’ ‘are you still working at such a place?’ ‘ married yet?’ ‘kids?’, such questions have led to me having more panic attacks than anything else and are still the main reason I avoid going into the town centre or anywhere busy I might risk running into someone from my past. I’m not ashamed to admit that in the past I’ve hidden myself behind shop signs and park benches, just to avoid having a conversation with an old work colleague.

An easier and less drastic solution is to have a well rehearsed script of answers at hand.  For instance when I’m asked what am I doing with myself at the moment? I say that I’m a full time carer for my disabled mother and that I work part time for a hypnotherapy company. None of this is a lie; it’s just an exaggeration. My mother is disabled and requires plenty of support from me and I have a friend who’s a hypnotherapist and on occasions I have helped him out by distributing promotional leaflets.

Another question I’m often asked by friends is Are you getting any better? to which I reply that I’m trying my best and that I’m getting plenty of help at present. This appears to be a satisfactory response as I rarely get any follow up questions.

Much of my apprehensions come from fear of the unknown. Not knowing what’s around the next corner and not having a clue what’s expected of me. I find a good way to counteract this is to plan, plan, and then plan some more! Although you can’t plan for every eventuality, you can limit the number of surprises you get along the way. This can involve going somewhere at a certain time of day, when you know it’s going to be much quieter. Planning the route that you feel most comfortable with. For example when I’m in company I enjoy walking in picturesque surroundings but if I’m on my own this becomes extremely daunting and I much prefer to stick to the main roads. That way there’s plenty of cars passing by and I feel there’s less chance of me being attacked.

I often go out when the weather’s at it’s worse, if it’s raining I instantly feel more relaxed because there’s less people about on foot and less potential threats to me.

It’s human nature to worry about things, some of us just happen to do it more excessively than others! The fight or flight response is our bodies natural reaction to danger and goes right back to caveman times, when they had to respond quickly to life threatening situations. For those of us who find our anxiety getting out of control and ruling our lives, what’s the solution? Well there is no easy answer to this but I would suggest trying to slow down a little and put things into perspective. I’m now able to do this (some of the time!) and I put it down to discovering mindfulness. Using the breathing exercises and meditation techniques really helps calm me down. Allowing me to feel grounded and helping me focus on being in the present. When I have too much going on in my head, the overload of emotions can easily result in me having a panic attack. Being able to switch all this off and just concentrate solely on my breathing is of great benefit.

Remember also though that being anxious about certain things can be helpful. If the caveman hadn’t been anxious about the approaching dinosaur, he wouldn’t have lasted very long! Sometimes our fears keep us safe.

 

 

Panic Attacks

Although its fair to say I’ve always been an anxious person I only began suffering with panic attacks about five years a go.

Around this time I had just started a new job, looking after people with learning disabilities and challenging behaviours, at the time I had no idea how severe these behaviours were or how I was likely to respond to them. For the first two weeks I was away from the home taking part in mandatory training days. Ninety-five percent of which involved learning how to defend yourself and how to safely restrain people who were trying to cause you harm. By the end of the fortnight my body was already battered and bruised, just from the staff role-play and I was feeling decidedly uneasy about my first shift.  I lasted less than two more weeks and during this time I had some truly horrendous shifts, which have stuck, in my mind.

On my very first day I was locked in the kitchen by the staff for my own protection! Whilst in there what seemed like world war three was breaking out in the rest of the home. People were shouting and screaming, furniture and chairs were being thrown around. At one point I heard a big crash, which turned out to be the television smashing against the wall. I remember thinking what the hell am I doing here.

Later that day one of the residents was kind enough to spit in my face and tell me he wished I were dead. This was totally new for me, I’d worked in care for a long time and never had anyone take such an instant dislike to me.

One thing that was repeated several times in training was that if your ever alone in a room with a resident, always make sure you position yourself closest to the exit. Towards the end of the first week I made the cardinal mistake of forgetting this advice. In a desperate attempt to build some report with one of the residents, I went to look at his video collection at the far end of his bedroom. At the time I was just really pleased that I’d finally found a way to relate to him but in doing this I stupidly put myself in a vulnerable position. Before I could react he had his arm across my chest and was slamming me into his bookshelf, it took two members of staff to prize him off me. I came out of it quite lucky, with just a small graze to my back but as you can imagine, such a violent incident did shake me up. As bad as it felt I recognised that it was my own fault though and I could have avoided it happening. This made it easier for me to accept, I would just have to be more careful in the future.

The final incident upset me more than anything had so far and turned out to be the final straw. Even though all the residents were in the home due to their challenging behaviour, the youngest called Damien really stood out to me. He was autistic and had more severe learning disabilities than the other residents. He lived in his own little fantasy world where his favourite cartoon characters were his best friends. He was much like the people I had previously cared for. We immediately hit it off and he responded really well to me. I felt sorry for him though, he appeared very young and vulnerable in this environment. That is why I found the incident most unsettling. It all started when somebody broke the glass that sets the fire alarm off, which apparently was a regular occurrence. At the time I was sat in the dining room with Damien, having helped him to make himself a sandwich. On hearing the alarm he became extremely agitated. Before I knew it he had thrown and smashed his plate against the wall and was storming out of the room. I hurried after him but didn’t catch him in time, as he went into the lounge and slapped one of the girls hard across the face. She was just sat on a couch minding her own business at the time and I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing, it was like someone had flipped a switch in his head.

Inevitably the situation escalated as the other residents began to lose their temper. The boss had me take Damien to his room and lock the door for our own safety. But the truth is I didn’t feel safe, this young man who I had earlier felt sorry for, was not that innocent after all. During the whole event I felt totally powerless and I’m ashamed to say I completely froze. I handed my notice in at the end of the shift and didn’t return.

 

Shortly after this I got another job in care, working in a day centre, very similar to what I’d done before, I even knew some of the service users. This should have been a comfortable job for me but in the end I didn’t even last the morning. All of a sudden I couldn’t be a carer anymore. I had lost all my trust in people, everyone seemed like a potential threat to me and I was convinced I was going to get attacked. The fact that there was a door code for the safety of the members was also a big issue. Suddenly I was back to being locked in again, trapped. I felt like the walls were coming in on me and suddenly there were far too many people for such a small space. My chest began to tighten and I couldn’t breath. It was very strange, I could see staff members were talking to me but I wasn’t able to hear a word they were saying. By now my heart felt like it was beating out of my chest and I was gasping for air. All that was important to me was that I got out, I didn’t care how ridiculous I looked, I was just desperate to escape. I frantically tried to open the door but I hadn’t been given the code yet. I’ve never felt so small in all my life; I’ve never felt so afraid, I was certain I was going to die. This was the first time I had a panic attack.

 

Gradually over the last five years my anxiety levels have worsened, the attacks have become more frequent and much more random. Taking place in shops and supermarkets, on public transport and in many other social situations.

My home became my cage, as I was too scared to face the world!

 

Even in my home I would panic about having to answer the telephone, not knowing who was on the other end of the line. I even became fearful of opening my mail.

Having a panic attack is a terrifying experience and one that I now try to avoid at any cost. This can quickly result in not wanting to leave the house, feelings of inadequacy, severe confidence problems and lead to a deep depression. Eventually I got to the stage where I couldn’t function properly and all these irrational fears were becoming disruptive to my life.

The experts will tell you that nobody has ever died from a panic attack. This is true but doesn’t offer much comfort when you’re having one! Things that can help are being with someone who understands and will try to get you to a quieter environment. Trying to use mindfulness to return yourself to the present and focus on slowing your breathing down( see the looking after yourself post). Use of pressure points (something I’m not an expert on but it might be worth looking up). Once you’ve been able to breath easier, repeating a positive mantra in your head may also reassure you that you’re going to be all right. Breathing into a paper bag is a tried and tested method which will stop you from hyperventilating. I believe it’s something to do with getting some of the carbon dioxide back in, but don’t quote me on that!

In my next post I’m going to talk about more ways of managing your anxiety.