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!

 

 

 

 

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.