Monday, 24 March 2014

Group CBT Week 3: Worrying About Nothing

Today at our meeting we spoke about the difference between hypothetical worries and current worries. Current worries are when you worry about something that is currently happening, for example, when you're driving around a car park and can't find a space, so you might start to think 'What if I can't find a space?'. A hypothetical worry is when you worry about something that hasn't happened and might never happen. For me, pretty much all of my worries are hypothetical. You might think that hypothetical worries are dismissed more easily, because they have no substance - there really is nothing to worry about.

However, hypothetical worries can land you in the same state as a current worry. Whatever your worry, as a sufferer of anxiety it is bound to escalate to uncontrollable peaks, and that is why it is important to get help to manage it.

Here is one of my constant worries that I went through a couple of weeks ago.

Meet Tony:

Tony is a really good dog. He will come to you when you shout for him, whether in the house or on a walk, and he always asks when he wants something, ie. if you drop food on the floor, he will only eat it if you say yes. If you say no he will leave it. Which is very good considering he's always pestering you (and dribbling!) when you eat your dinner. Plus he knows loads of tricks like barking on command. He's a very clever dog!

However, my worrying means that I can't go out for walks with him, and struggle to leave him while he's in the garden. I tend to panic about him getting stolen, running off, running in the road etc. When he's in the garden I worry that he will find a hole in a fence, run into another garden and run into the street. Then I worry that he will get lost and be taken or run over. This is a worry I tend to have ever day, whenever he is outside.

The other day my Dad went to the shop and took Tony with him. For some reason, they seemed to be taking ages. I was thinking about Tony being left outside the shop. Then a thought popped into my head: 'what if somebody unhooked his lead from the lamppost and stole him?'. I began to worry. It could easily happen, and we don't live in the best of areas. Don't be silly, I thought.

A few minutes later and they still weren't home. They'd been gone ages. I could imagine Dad walking the streets trying to find Tony. Dad doesn't have a phone so I can't text him to find out where they are. Don't worry, I thought, there's probably a queue.

Ten minutes passed and they still weren't home. They'd been out for 40 minutes, at the local shops!
'Where's Dad gone?' I ask Mum. 'They've been gone a while.' I try to ask as casually as possible, so she doesn't know how worried I am.
'Oh I don't know Tash,' she says, completely unphased.

By this point I was really panicking. I was hot and sweaty, and I was literally shaking with nerves. I was imagining Dad being attacked while he was out, with Tony either running about lost and scared, or having been stolen and scared. It was one of the two.

I sat on the edge of the sofa, unable to sit still. I had images running through my mind of Dad and Tony being hurt. Run-over, lost, attacked... I was so scared I was considering putting my shoes on and going to find them. I began to feel sick at the thought of what had happened to them.

Then a key turned in the lock. In came Dad, with Tony and and arm full of shopping. I went to take care of some of the bags.

'What took you so long?' I asked.

'Oh I decided to get us a takeaway...'

Monday, 17 March 2014

Group CBT Week 2 - Sleep and Relaxation

Again this week I really didn't enjoy being in a group. After last week, I was paralysed into keeping quiet. Our psychiatrist again asked me directly for input, even when the only thing I had to add was what the rest of the group had already said. It's really daunting speaking in front of a group and I really hate it.

However, this week I guess we actually did something constructive. Sleep and relaxation is a good place to begin, as it is one thing sufferers of anxiety struggle with. Usually worrisome thoughts tend to just pop into my head which means that right before bed, or even in the middle of the night, I find myself worrying. The problem with this is that it feels like you can't help but worry.

Our therapist introduced to us a few ways to relax. Firstly, she highly recommended exercise. Exercise is not only good for the body but good for the mind. Whether it's a walk, jog, sport or a class like yoga or pilates, keeping active can help us release energy in a way that makes us feel good, and when we feel good we actually do more. It gets rid of that sluggish feeling that keeps us up at night. And because you're using more energy, when bedtime comes, you may find it better to sleep.

Another good way to relax is through breathing exercises. The good thing about these are that you can practise them at any time, wherever you are. They are good to practise for relaxation everyday, but also in stressful situations. We tried this one together in the group. Here's what to do.

  1. Ensure you are sitting in a comfortable chair. 
  2. Through your nose, take a deep breath for 4 seconds (so your tummy goes up).
  3. Hold the breath for 2 seconds.
  4. Slowly release your breath for 6 seconds.
  5. Pause and repeat until you are relaxed.

It was recommended that you practise this twice per day, but if not once will be fine. Everybody said that this was simple yet effective, and that it really helped.

The final method we were taught was progressive muscle relaxation. When feeling particularly anxious, sometimes you might feel your muscles tense up. This method makes you practise tensing your muscles and then releasing them, so that when you are feeling stressed, you can learn to relax. I reckon this method is pretty useful to try at home, but while in the group, I was so tense anyway I couldn't feel the affects! This method requires a tape or audio of somebody telling you what to do. You can find the one we listened to here (spoken by a lovely scottish gentleman). There are loads more relaxation tapes here.

What was recommended is that whatever form of relaxation you choose to try out, make it manageable. Although it would be great if you were able to go for one jog per day, it's probably not going to fit into your lifestyle straight away. And when you miss a day's jog, you feel rubbish and go back to feeling down again. She advised to start with one jog per week, and then as you become more used to it, go twice a week, or three times. Then you start to feel the benefits of achievement, which is great for someone suffering with anxiety or depression.

These methods seem to be really good, simple ways to help relax. I hope they are of some use!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

"Mental People Can't Read or Write"

When you're surrounded by people that are similar to yourself, you tend to find that everybody has similar attitudes and beliefs. Since I've been diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression, I have found myself surrounded by a community of very understanding people, many of whom have first hand experience of mental illness. It's easy to forget that the rest of the world isn't so knowledgeable on the subject.

At work I am currently working on a project where we are giving away a load of notepads and pens to local community groups. I was speaking to someone about it the other day, and told them how my company would be donating pads and pens to a mental health charity.

They said, 'That's a funny choice of groups you've chosen to give notepads and pens to.'
 To which I was confused and replied 'Why's that?'
'Well, mental people, they don't really read and write, do they?'

I was so completely flabbergasted (sorry no other word that better describes my complete shock), that I didn't even know where to begin in dispelling that myth. I wish I had replied, because there is so much I wanted to say, but it caught me completely off guard. I didn't say anything, I was speechless. Our conversation ended right there, and I just carried on doing whatever it was I was doing. Needless to say they didn't know I have mental health issues.

I mean, are people really that ignorant? Do they imagine people in padded white cells in straight jackets? I can imagine others not understanding what goes on in people's minds to make them 'insane', but surely they don't truly believe that we can't READ AND WRITE?

The way this person said this remark was like this was common sense, or a well known fact about sufferers of mental health. Like, does the pope have a balcony? It wasn't their opinion, they didn't hate 'mental people' or believe that they shouldn't have pens and paper. They honestly believed we wouldn't need them.

I get on really well with this person. They're not a bad person and they're not trying to be ignorant. If they knew a loved one was suffering with mental health issues they'd probably do their utmost to help them. Yet, at this point in time, their only concept of mental illness is some strange Hollywood film character.

I'm not even offended by this belief. I don't despise them. I don't want to laugh at them. I'm completely shocked. What has society done that means people think this way?

This remark has made me realise how important the #TimeToTalk campaign really is. As a society we really need to have a greater universal understanding of what mental health is, because some people's ideas are wildly off the mark.

Has anybody else been subjected to such complete and utter ignorance?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Group CBT Week 1

Today was my first therapy session and I had been really looking forward to it. Recently I've been really positive, mainly because I've felt like I've been progressing but also because I've had a really good month. Aside from this morning's nerves, I was excited to get started.

I started to get worried while waiting in the waiting room. I was really embarrassed to be there, even though I knew that everyone else there was for the same thing, and had the same feelings as me. The therapists collected us at 2pm and took us to the light, airy room we'd be having our meeting in. The chairs were arranged in a semi circle and immediately I was put off. I don't know how I expected them to be arranged or how else they could be arranged but it really freaked me out. It was so open. I wanted to hide and observe.

We sat down and started by filling out the usual questionnaires about how we'd been feeling the last couple of weeks. If you ever do therapy you'll get used to these!

Then we had to introduce each other. It was awful. Like my worst nightmare. We had to get into pairs and speak to our partner, finding out their name and a fact about them. Then we had to introduce them. I really didn't expect this. They said we could talk as little or as much as we liked, which was a lie, we had to speak from the start. Even though we didn't have to say much, I was already annoyed. I think that's what threw me off.

The good thing about the group was how many varied backgrounds people were from. There was 6 of us in total, and ages ranged from late teens to the very elderly. It was interesting to see how people from every age in life was affected by anxiety.

Today's session was an introduction to CBT, helping us to understand what it was and how anxiety works. It became clear we were expected to share examples of our feelings. I felt so pressured to contribute that that immediately made me not want to. The one time I did summon the courage to speak, the psychologist gave me a funny look and asked if I was relating to what everyone else had said. Clearly nobody really related to my comment. It felt just like being at school again when I'd said something stupid. It was so embarrassing I didn't want to be there at all.

At the end of the session we had to fill in a sheet about how the session went and what we'd learnt. I didn't know what to say really. I hadn't learnt anything, it was only an introductory session. I already know that other people suffer with it, I know what my feelings are, so what was I meant to say? We then had to take it in turns to read out what we'd written. So I just said that it was good to hear my thoughts coming from other people's mouths.

I was so glad when it was over. I couldn't wait to get out and I am already dreading going back next week. Being part of a group is what has been making me feel so anxious, so I don't know how its going to make me feel better. But it's early days yet, hopefully next week will be better. I'll keep you updated.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Review - More Than This by Patrick Ness

A book. It's a world all on its own, too. A world made of words, where you live for a while.” - Patrick Ness, More Than This.

I've been thinking about writing book reviews on my blog for a little while now. I love reading and discussing what I've read also helps me to understand things and see things I usually wouldn't have thought about. In addition, I know that loads of my readers are always keen to find new books so hopefully a review every now and again will aid some literary discoveries! It will also put that English Degree I have to good use...

Bit of a Patrick Ness Fangirl

I'm going to start with a book I finished yesterday, More Than This by Patrick Ness. Now many of you probably haven't heard of Patrick Ness... which is a crying shame. Among young adult authors he is highly regarded, but somehow hasn't got through into mainstream. I only heard about him while doing a Writing for Children unit at uni. We read his d├ębut book for children, The Knife of Never Letting Go. From the start I was hooked. His stories are so imaginative but anchored by real problems that no teen (or adult) would be alien to. He's not afraid to drop in an expletive here and there and is the master at evoking raw emotion in even the hardest of readers. Patrick Ness is one of the few authors to have won every major prize for children's fiction, including having won the Carnegie Medal twice. This guy is incredible and everyone should read all of his books.

More Than This Hardback Cover

But I digress, this post is about his most recent book, More Than This, released in September 2013. It is about an American Boy, Seth, who drowns and wakes up in his childhood hometown in England. He finds his house exactly as it was before they left it and moved to America. Through a series of dreams he begins to remember who he was and starts to work out what he is doing back in England...

The novel incorporates a bit of philosophy (think Plato's Cave Analogy or The Matrix) with edge-of-your-seat action and some painful real life problems.

I think what I love most about this book is that while it is about a boy who is gay, the character is so deep and well put together that being gay isn't his defining feature. It is the same with his two friends, Regine, who isn't defined as being fat and Tomasz, who isn't defined as Polish. Ness deals with these factors well, in a sophisticated manner, addressing the topics and responding to them. So much young adult fiction *cough* Jacqueline Wilson *cough* dwells on one feature of a character that the whole book becomes about it. This isn't a book about coming out. This is a book that features a character that happens to be gay. It's excellent.

As ever, Ness has written a book that keeps you hooked the whole way through. It refuses to let you put it down for a second. I read the book in two days, with 16 hours of work in between. One night I was sat on my bed, freezing, half-dressed, for 45 minutes, as the book did not allow me a moment to put my pyjama top on. I read this book on the bus, on my lunch break, as soon as I got home from work until silly o'clock in the morning, and the same the next day because I needed to read on. I haven't been so gripped to a book in a long, long time.

The overarching theme is the book is that there is always 'more than this', more than what you know and more to life that the problems of the moment. It also questions whether it is even good to know more than what you already do. It's a great philosophy and really good for any person experiencing difficult times, or looking for inspiration.

“I wanted so badly for there to be more. I ached for there to be more than my crappy little life.' He shakes his head. 'And there was more. I just couldn't see it.” - Patrick Ness, More Than This.

So yeah, read this book. It's a great choice for teens that are capable of moving on to adult books but are yet confident to make that leap. And don't be put off because it's a young adult novel, it's basically a very good book that is suitable for teens. And while you're at it, pick up The Chaos Walking Trilogy and A Monster Calls. You won't regret it.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Rediscovering Myself

As I keep saying, I've always had anxiety. But over the last couple of years, it has become too overpowering to deal with on my own. Recently I've been trying to pinpoint what has caused my current episode, in preparation for my CBT which begins next week.

Obviously lots of things have caused me stress over the last couple of years; university, job hunting, working, moving home etc. but I've managed to track it all back to one day. My 20th birthday. It was actually a really good day. I was woken up by all my flat mates and my boyfriend, who had bought me presents and cards and cake. One of the cards from my flatmates had a very long message in it, that described all of our fantastic memories together. At the end was the line 'don't ever change'

At the time I'd only just got together with my boyfriend, who I'm still with, and who was my first serious relationship. My friends, although they may have tried to be, weren't very supportive. I felt a constant pressure to not change, and I was so conscious of it I began to forget what I was trying to maintain. I was trying so hard to be myself that I lost sight of who I really was. I wanted to continue to be the person described in that birthday card. I started to think that I could not be who I was, simply because I had a boyfriend. I began to think that I was defined by my relationship status, and because that had changed, I was no longer me.

That really got me down. I loved my boyfriend, and I still do. But it was that that meant I had changed, it was having a boyfriend that lost me all my friends, the person I had been and the life I had had. That wasn't how it was supposed to be. But I loved him. And so I sank into a deep dark depression that I could see no way out of.

Last month, I read Yes Man by Danny Wallace. It's a really good book, and everybody experiencing anxiety or depression should read it. Many people say it is a life changing book. Not for me. It reminded me of who I was, and who I could continue to be. I began to remember that the reason I'd been so carefree was not because I was single and had no ties to other people, but because I embraced life. I wanted to do everything. That was my motto. Whenever somebody suggested doing something, trying something, I always said yes. Because I wanted to do it. My anxiety was on a back burner because I didn't think about how a situation may unfold, I just did it. 

That's the person I was. That's what allowed me to have all of those crazy adventures my friend described in that birthday card. Everybody thought I was great because I was single. But that's crap. I was great because I embraced life and adventure. 

So, I'm trying to embrace life again. I'm going to do everything. No, I don't have a single life goal to do with my career of having a family. That's never who I was. I want to do everything. Try everything once (within reason - I'm not about to murder someone!). 

And it may be a complete coincidence, but since finishing Yes Man, I have signed up for Race for Life, been given a free weekend ticket to the Isle of Wight Festival, had my first advert published in a national newspaper, and been given a free ticket to Twickenham for England v Ireland in the 6 Nations, (which turned out to be one of the best days of my life) among lots of other lovely things.

I don't care if that's a coincidence. I reckon it's a sign. I'm going to be me again.