Something old, something new…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how things come to a natural end, and how this isn’t necessarily a bad or sad thing as it inevitably makes way for something new.

I spend a good deal of time standing at the bus stop, under a canopy of trees. This gives me the time to stop and really notice the trees, how they’re changing througout the year, regardless of what is happening in our lives or the world around them. Winter comes, they shed their leaves, safe in the knowledge that spring will follow soon.

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These trees got me to thinking about how I don’t need to worry about what might or might not be around the corner. I need to enjoy the here and now, safe in the knowledge that what will happen will happen. When I was at my most anxious, I feared every coming second, but it passed, as it always does. I need to remember this for next time, it will pass.

And who knows, change might bring something better. If I hadn’t had such a terrible summer, I wouldn’t have started Silver Linings and met so many amazing people. I wouldn’t have realised I’m not alone, that there is a whole world out there that I am finding the courage to explore, that I have friends who “get” me, that I hardly knew before.

Talking of change – today Mr Silver Linings’ niece is in labour with her first child. We are all so excited for her, and this marks a new era in the family, the first of a new generation. While I was thinking about this, and checking for messages on the bus, a funeral car went past. Someone else is experiencing a loss today. As one life ends a new one begins. There will be tears of sorrow and joy today, but tomorrow will carry on regardless, and I find some comfort in that, in the bigger picture.

Which brings me on to fate, and chance encounters. I was browsing the Mindfulness books in Waterstones yesterday (other good bookshops are available…), and noticed a guy who was clearly browsing a little aimlessly. After a while I plucked up the courage to ask him if was new to Mindfulness, and if I could recommened him a book. Now, some of you will know that my favourite book in the world is Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world, so I had to recommend it to him as a starting point. He said a big thank you, and I left feeling ever so slightly embarrassed. But I couldn’t help wondering if he bought the book, and if it will change his life like it has mine. Why was he looking at minfulness? Was it a chance encounter that we met, or fate? Was I meant to be there to help him? Who knows….

Image from www.pinterest.com

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Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (in context)

To put this in context – I don’t go out much.

I go out with my boyfriend, and occasionally my best friend (she lives in another county), and very occasionally with my boyfriend’s family (my family live in Scotland). This is really hard to write as I know that people I have kept this from will be reading this, but here goes.

I avoid going out because I get really nervous. I get nervous to the point of feeling physically sick about it every day until the event, and then bottling it at the last moment because it’s all too much. The more important the event, the harder I try, the bigger the hurdle becomes. This has included every work’s Christmas meal for the last decade, my best friend’s wedding, well, everything really. The more I avoid, the harder it gets to go out, and the smaller the things that become insurmountable. It’s the classic vicious circle, and all my own doing. I am so ashamed at the excuses I have made up over the years. To everyone I have made excuses to, I am so so sorry.

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The background

It all seems to stem from a meal out with friends where I panicked, out of the blue. I became unbearably hot, and I couldn’t eat a thing. The more I tried to eat, the more I couldn’t do it, and the more obvious it became that my plate was still full. I felt so embarrassed. That night I had an enormous migraine, the worst in a very long time. Now, in hindsight, perhaps that is why I couldn’t eat, and I should have explained that I didn’t feel well instead of failing miserably at covering up, but I really didn’t know what was going on.

To cut a long story short, from then on I avoided meals out (in case the same thing happened), which in turn became any kind of going out, particularly anything with food involved. To make matters worse, I LOVE food, but I physically can’t eat when I’m anxious. I worry so much about what people think of me, what I look like, what I’ve said, it just makes a night in on the sofa look so much more appealing, and so the vicious circle goes on.

The revelation

But, and this was a recent revelation to me, I actually enjoy going out and being with people. For years I’ve been telling myself that I prefer my own company, that I choose to stay in, which is much easier than facing the reality that to be happy I have to conquer this.

I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post that I struggle to tell the difference between events I want to attend, and events I don’t want to attend. I am so used to telling myself that I don’t want to attend anything that I’ve managed to convincingly fool myself. Apparently I need to go with my initial reaction – a quick flutter of excitement means I should go.

The invite

One of my dearest friends invited me to her leaving do, at a pub I hadn’t been to, with people I only knew a little bit, with FOOD. My initial reaction – I’d love to. I love this friend to pieces, and I wanted to do this to show her how much I care, and to show myself that I can do it.

A HUGE tick in the motivation box.

This is going to be a long post, so please bear with me while I write the next bit…

Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (self-help books)

Over the years I have tried so many self-help books that I’ve lost count, I don’t even want to know how many there have been.

I’ve tried Claire Weeks and her “Pass through Panic” CD, the “Linden Method”, Paul McKenna books and CDs, online CBT courses, you name them – I’ve probably tried them. I’m not knocking them, I know these have worked for many people, just not me. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time.

Most of the programmes I’ve tried have been along the lines of starting with something which only brings moderate discomfort (e.g. for me, tea and cakes), and, as that situation becomes more comfortable, trying the next step up the ladder until that too becomes comfortable. This was ok on the first rung of the ladder, but I never got past the first rung because I didn’t have the confidence or skills to move on. I struggled because:

• It was too big a step – how do you move on from a café to a restaurant? Or from a cup of tea at someone’s house to a full meal? It was too daunting.

• The steps were too far apart in terms of timings. I needed to be able to build on these steps every day, or I’d be back to square one again. But how do you invite someone out for a cup of tea one day, then tea and cake the next day, then a meal the next day, without them thinking you are totally crazy? (for me the answer has been several things – by admitting I struggle, by blogging about it and receiving so much wonderful support, by building my confidence with my counsellor, and practicing mindfulness – learning to switch off the panic button).

• Authors would say I needed to drop my safety behaviours, such as having mints to stop me feeling sick, a valium in my bag in case of emergency, taking Mr Silver Linings with me, having an escape plan. The thought of this meant I couldn’t face it, I need these things. (However, my counsellor says that these are all fine, they’re not unhealthy, the important thing is that I get out there and try things).

• Claire Weeks (who has helped a lot of people), asks that you don’t escape anxious situations, that you stay and wait until the anxiety subsides. Escaping and avoiding are two things I am very, very good at.

My problem is that I’ve been BATTLING anxiety for over a decade. I’ve gritted my teeth and made myself attend things I haven’t wanted to attend. And none of this battling has worked – I figured I lacked the willpower and courage needed, and so I beat myself up even more!

The next post will look at the counselling I’ve had, and how it turned out I was doing it all wrong. No more battling, no more teeth gritting!

 

Me, social anxiety, and a little night out (the counselling)

 

As some of you will know, in the summer of 2013 I spent 3 long weeks in my bedroom, racked with anxiety, knowing that something had to change. And that I have managed a big step recently, a little night out. This is the latest instalment in how I managed it….

I contacted a counsellor (recommended by my doctor), who specialises in person centred therapy. I expected that I was about to face the biggest battle of all, that I would be given weekly homework to conquer my fears, when all I wanted to do was hide!

It turned out that this wasn’t going to be the case at all. My counsellor is very gentle (which I need), there’s never any scary homework – instead we discuss things I want to do, how I feel about them, and how I might go about them. The main thing is she prompts me to rethink some of my assumptions, like… everyone thinks I’m boring because I’m quiet, that I have nothing to say, that people only invite me out or politeness, that I’m not “normal”, that I’m weak, I could go on….

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Anyway, 12 sessions with my counsellor and I can now see that:

• Quiet people can be just as interesting, a room needs a mixture of quiet and loud people otherwise it would be hellish.

• I’m not boring, I have interesting things to say, I just tend to think about them before I say them, and only say things that I really believe in. (I feel a post about being an introvert coming on…)

• People may have a different perception of me to the one I believe to be true, and they might be right and I might be wrong (see Johari’s window)

• People invite me because they like me, people really aren’t that polite!

• People don’t judge nearly as much as I think they do, they’re busy in their own worlds, with their own thoughts.

• I need to be kinder to myself, and stop being so self-critical.

• I need to learn that just because I think something, doesn’t mean it’s true.

• I need to learn to look at the evidence for my beliefs a bit harder. I tend to think in terms of things “always” happening, which isn’t really true.

• I need to stop seeing everything as black and white, pass or fail.

• My perception of everyone else being “normal” is apparently skewed. In my head, everyone is “normal” except me, everyone else is capable of doing “normal” things without a second thought. I’m now figuring out that there is no such thing as “normal”, everyone is different, and everyone (or nearly everyone?) has something they struggle with. I’m still getting my head round this one – all my life I’ve wanted to be “normal”.

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“Normal” people go out with friends, they stay over with friends, they see a band, they catch a flight. You know, “normal”, your average Joe? I am learning that the above quote is true, that we often only see the façade that people are happy to show the world – the “perfect” marriage that ends, the “perfect” colleague who hides their own struggles. But I still want to be NORMAL!

Some quotes I found on Pinterest about being normal:

(What are your thoughts around the word “normal”? How have you learnt to accept yourself – good and bad – and stop comparing? I am still struggling with this one…)

Back to the counselling. Through these sessions I have started to build up my belief in myself, to trust myself a little bit more. Previously, only staying out for an hour or so would mean I’d failed – I’d failed to stay out all night like “normal people” (to be honest, knowing I might only cope with an hour would mean I wouldn’t go out at all). Now I see the positives – just going out at all is a huge improvement, an improvement that can be built on gradually, in my own time. I try and give myself the encouragement that I would give a friend, instead of letting my harsh inner critic take over (that bloomin’ anxiety monster).

I still want to be “normal”, and I still have a HUGE fear of panicking, but I’m chipping away at that one.  – more in the next post (on mindfulness)

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 All images from www.pinterest.com

Starry moments: day 17

Today was a HUGE starry moment in my relatively small world.

For most of you, the next bit will probably sound odd, as in, what’s the big deal? But for anyone with social anxiety – get this – I went for drinks and food with people I don’t usually socialise with, in a pub I’d never been too. I’m so chuffed with myself.

This weekend I’m going to write how I did it, as a reminder to me and hopefully some help to others.

Starry moments: day 13

A funny mix of a day, it went a bit like this…

The bus sailed past, making me late for work. Hmph. BUT, previously I would have let this ruin my day, telling anyone and everyone who would listen. Instead I made the conscious decision to put it behind me and move on with my day. I read a quote today, ” how people react is their karma, how you react is your karma”. The bus driver was not going to spoil my day.
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A compliment from a student I had helped soon put my day back on track. Little comments / compliments can make or break someone’s day, so I aim to make sure anything I say is only going to make someone’s day a little better.

Then, a farewell to a colleague. But I know it isnt goodbye as this colleague has become the most wonderful friend. I cant remember how we shifted from colleagues to friends, and I cant begin to tell you what a friend she has been. On my first day back at work after being signed off with anxiety, I struggled with every step of the walk to work. Just as I was wondering if I could make it, she rang to see if I wanted her to meet me. We sat (I sobbed onto her shoulder), and she gave me the strength to get back to work. We’ve shared many hugs and a few secrets, and I miss her already, yet know it’s not goodbye.

So, it turns out Monday’s aren’t so bad after all! How was your Monday?

Starry moments: day 12

A stroll to the shops turned into a lovely walk today, and we came across a water mill in the next village that I didn’t even know existed. It was great to stop and listen to the power of the water as it rushed through the man-made channels, racing itself to get to the other side.

Watching and listening to the intensity of the water before the same water found itself calm again reminded me of the power of my thoughts and anxiety. Fight against them and they battle loudly and dangerously, but observe them without criticism, give them time and space, and the same thoughts settle and subside.

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Smile! The thought hygienist is ready to see you…

This post is part of #reverb13 at http://www.katmcnally

What was the best decision you made in 2013? What were the results? How will you continue the good work in 2014?

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I hope that I have finally made a few good decisions this year. I “came out” of the anxiety closet – it was just getting too small and dark in there. I started Silver Linings Project on Facebook and WordPress and have met some amazing people. I also hope it has brought a smile to a few faces along the way.

My best decision has to have been deciding to see a counsellor. I am lucky to have a counsellor that gets me, and I trust her. She challenges my thoughts, sometimes in a very subtle way, sometimes just a smile and/or a quizzical eyebrow is enough. Sometimes we laugh, sometimes I cry, but little by little she is working her magic, and I hope to gradually share that with you on here

I thought counselling would be hard, challenging, and painful. I am sure that it can be. However, my counsellor has been so gentle that at first I admit I wondered what I was paying for, other than a lovely chat! My insightful other half told me to trust in the process, and so I did, and I’m so very glad I did.

We spend so much time, money and energy on how our bodies look, but neglect our thoughts until they get out of control. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if from an early age we were taught to be positive, to be mindful? Why do we only work on our minds when they go wrong? I would love to see a counsellor forever, not because I can’t see an end to my anxiety, but because she helps me keep my thoughts in check, she reminds me when old thought patterns creep back. It would be a bit like a mind check up, like going to the dental hygienist but so much nicer! Why do we rate our teeth as more important than our brains?

It’s a funny old world.

There’s gold in that there mud

#reverb13

I’m a big fan of muddy experiences. They become our greatest teachers when we’re wise enough to exfoliate with them; roll around in the deep until we finally feel ready to get clean.

Today, identify something muddy that kept recurring for you throughout 2013, and then ask yourself this: What’s the clear truth underneath this damn mud if I finally wash myself clean?

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click image for source

My mind is a muddy mixture of thoughts that go round in my head. This time last year my thought process was relatively simple, it was a straight no. No, I can’t do that because I’m petrified. It was a thick black impenetrable mud.

This year there’s a more murky mixture of thoughts. I have recently been trying to work out how to seperate my thoughts from the Anxiety Monster’s thoughts. For example, there is an event coming up that I don’t want to attend. I have to work out if I really don’t want to attend, or if these are the whisperings of that little gremlin again. If I tell myself that I don’t want to attend because it’s not my cup of tea, how can I trust that I’m not reverting back to my old habit of avoiding situations I’m afraid of?

Thankfully I have a wonderful counsellor who helps me wade through all this mud, wellies and all! She recommended I listen to my first thought or reaction, and stick with that one. So, the event in mind started off as “I’m not sure I can be bothered with the hassle, I’d rather stay in” – and so that is what I shall do. PJs, tub of ice cream, bliss. Another event coming up started with excitement, and now the anxious thoughts are creeping in – and so I shall put the anxious thoughts aside and go and enjoy myself.

Sounds so simple doesn’t it? Hopefully it is. Hopefully learning which thoughts are mine and which are rantings of the gremlin, I can learn to be true to myself. That’s the gold underneath all that mud.

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