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!

 

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Starry moments: day 19

Today’s moments that made me smile:

Waking up in the arms of the guy I love, that feeling of belonging, and of not having to go to work! Bliss.

An invite for another crafty wedding afternoon. I love doing crafty bits, but never quite find the time. This way I know I will make the time, get a great girly catchup, and make pretty things, perfect! The whole thing also makes me feel a part of the family, which can be a tricky one with step families. Anyone else have a step family?

Spotting a line of seagulls, one on each post by the river. It would have made a brilliant photo if we hadn’t been in the car. It really tickled me.

Cuddling the two FLUFFIEST cats on the planet, a friend’s two ragamuffins. I could have happily buried my face in all the fur, I had to drag myself away… (If you’ve seen the little girl in Despicable Me when she shouts “fluffy!”, that’s me).

Last but not least, seeing my old house in the city before Adrian and I moved in together, in the country. I miss the convenience of the location, but I didn’t feel sad. That house belongs to another era, it was a great house with happy memories, but now it needs to look after its new inhabitants. (To put this in context, I moved into that house when my ex finished with me after 12 years, my first house all on my own, so leaving it was hard, but the future has been so much better).

This will be my last daily “starry moment” post because I can’t keep up! But (and a huge thank for all your support and suggestions), I’m now going to do a weekly update, which will hopefully free up my time for all the other posts I want to write...

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?

Parents Magazine, Girl with cat

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.

Switching mind to manual

Day 10: #reverb13

Living life on auto-pilot can feel disorienting and dull. How did you cultivate a life worth loving during 2013?

How can you turn off your auto-pilot button in 2014?

I was so pleased when I saw this challenge. Switching off the autopilot has been the “thing” that I’ve focussed on most this year. I have been learning the principles and practices of mindfulness, learning to live in the moment, not distracted by past regrets or future “what ifs”. I’ve been learning to turn off the constant stream of negative thoughts and self doubts. So refreshing!

Instead of battling to suppress negative thoughts I’ve been learning to spot them, and give them the attention and credit they deserve – none. This is still a work in progress, perhaps it always will be, but I’m getting there, moment by moment.

Turning off the autopilot frees up the mind to notice all the beautiful things around us. For me, I try to cultivate this habit by taking photos on my phone, photos of the little things that go unnoticed on autopilot. 2014 will hopefully see lots more mindful photography,with a focus not on technique but on spotting and capturing the moments.

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Thank you

Day 9: #reverb13

Who inspired you in 2013? And why?

What gifts did they give you? And how will you carry these forward in to 2014?

I’ve thought long and hard about this and I really can’t pick out just one person.

I have been inspired by so many people this year. People who have spoken publicly or privately about their struggles. People I know well, and people I have never met. People who’ve been knocked down repeatedly, and have found the courage to get back up again every time.

These wonderful people have given me the gift of knowing I’m not alone.They have given me the invaluable gift of courage and hope. Some of these people are reading this post. Thank you from the bottom of my heart x

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A toast…

Day 8: #reverb13 What went right in 2013?

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Attending a wedding went right for me.

That might sound funny to anyone who doesn’t know me, but if you add crippling anxiety and paralysing fear into the mix, it might start to make sense.

My fears went a bit like this (every day from the moment the invite landed):

  • I can’t go
  • I have to go, but I’ll never manage and I’ll ruin it for everyone
  • I’ll be in such a state that I won’t be able to get in the car (the point of no return)
  • I wonder how I can get out of this?
  • IF I make it to the church, I’ll get claustrophobic and have to leave
  • I’ll ruin the service
  • It’s better for everyone if I don’t go

This list goes on indefinitely, I won’t bore you with the gorey details.

But…I did it. I got in the car, I enjoyed the beautiful church service, ate in front of people at the reception (I find it physically impossible to eat when I’m nervous, a vicious circle…), and the best bit – I boogied the night away with my gorgeous guy. Happy days. I ENJOYED it! Ok, there were a couple of wobbly moments, but I didn’t let them spiral out of control. A moment to myself, a few kind words instead of my usual inner dialogue, and all was good again.

I can’t begin to tell you how different the reality was from all the scenarios I’d spent so much time and energy running through in my head. I am so proud of that day. Everything went right.

Lessons learnt:

  • Imagine things going badly and they probably will
  • Picture it going well, and it just might do that
  • Dont waste precious time on what ifs
  • Learn to speak kindly to yourself
  • Learn to spot and stop any black & white thinking

(Getting to the church and then going home wouldn’t have been failure, any step outside the front door was better than staying at home. Life isn’t pass or fail).

  • Learn to remember the good bits more than the bad bits

A toast to the happy couple, and to one very happy guest.

Advent calendar

Day 7: write a kind rhyme.

This is for everyone who has supported me this year, big and small. For every kind word, for every kind thought, thank you x
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