Diary Entry 14: Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.

Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.

 By now, you will be aware that ‘worrying’ is my thing.  I worry about everything but, over the years, I have developed some particular areas of fretting specialisms.  One of these is ‘travel anxiety’; a complex combination of fear which can manifest itself in all manner of ways.   With that in mind, I intend to cover this vast subject during the next few diary entries.

So yes – Travel Anxiety is one of my more complicated fears because there are so many aspects to it.  I’m never sure whether the anxiety is about being away from home; or about embarking on a journey; or whether it is linked to being in unfamiliar territory.  No doubt it is a strange mix of them all.

Despite a lifelong battle with anxiety, my travel fears were a late addition to the mix. When I was growing up, people didn’t travel as much as they do today.  In other words, I didn’t suffer from travel anxiety because I never really went anywhere.

And then one day I stepped onto a plane and flew to Peru to visit an old school friend who was teaching there.  I was twenty-seven and it was the first year that I had ever travelled by air – or travelled beyond the North of France.  It was an epic journey for me.

It all started so well.  I booked the flights and counted the weeks until departure.  I was hopping with excitement on the day of travel.  I enjoyed the flight and I was glued to the live flight map which charted my Atlantic crossing, the skirting of the Caribbean and, finally, the descent into deepest South America.

On arrival in Lima, I felt like the coolest, most adventurous person in the world. I was on the other side of the world!  My friend Julia was waiting for me and, after much hugging and shrieking, we made our way to the overnight accommodation – a rooftop room in someone’s house.  It was dark; it was the end of the day and I fell into a happy, exhausted sleep.

So far so good.  Until I woke up in the morning and staggered out into the open.  It was 5am and a hazy sun was rising across the half-built roofs of the city. From nowhere came an all-consuming, electrifying terror.  My knees buckled; my stomach churned and I started shaking.  When Julia asked what was wrong I lied.  I told her it was jet lag.  I didn’t know how to explain this new emotion; an acute distress about being too far away from home.

And therein lay the birth of my Travel Anxiety.  For two weeks I was plagued by irrational emotion and fear.  Until then, I had no idea that familiarity, security and routine were so important to me.  Without them I quickly lost my bearings – and my mind.

I loved Peru but, amidst the cloud forests and the Inca ruins, I was on edge the entire time.  I cried and lost my appetite; I quaked in my bed and eyed everyone with suspicion.  I was desperate to get back home and assure myself that my family was OK and that my dog had not been run over.  I was convinced that I might never see them again and I watched every minute passing until it was time to fly back home again.

I was overjoyed when I touched down in the UK. I collected my luggage and found my loved ones in the arrivals hall.  My family were surprised to find me hysterical with relief.  They expected tales of far off lands but there was none of that.  Just me, wailing and declaring that I would never leave the country again.

It was days before I could look at my holiday photographs.
But, when I did, I could only see evidence of an amazing trip.  There I was – on top of the world at Maccu Piccu, snoozing on a bus to Chiclayo; perched on a bench in the Plaza de Armas.  It was hard to remember the terror that had ensnarled me during those moments.  In fact, I could almost convince myself that it had all been in my head.  According to these photographs I had a great time.

Which is why I was more than happy to repeat the trip to Peru the following year.  No way did I suffer from Travel Anxiety.  Next time I would be an oasis of calm.

But of course I wasn’t!  Next time I was much, much worse…..

Next Week: Travel Anxiety – Part Two of a Personal Journey

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary Entry 13: These Boots Were Made for Walking

Diary Entry 13: These Boots Were Made for Walking

Well – there has been another fabulous moment of insight into my Anxiety and how it filters into life without being noticed.  This recent revelation came in the form of my new heeled boots.  I bought them a couple of weeks ago because I started to crave a bit more height!  I am a reasonable 5ft 6 but I do feel a bit shrunken these days.

I also had a desire to ‘walk tall’ because, apparently, it brings all sorts of physical and emotional benefits.  It straightens the back, aligns the body and opens the chest out for more efficient breathing.  It also improves confidence and purpose, encouraging the wearer to look the world in the eye and say “Yes, I am GOOD”.  All of this positive energy for free (other than the price of the boots of course)!

Anyway, I found the perfect pair of black heeled boots – which, of course, they did not have in my size.  In order to get the comfortable ones I liked, I had to switch colour to ‘tan brown’.   Not my ideal, but fine for wearing with jeans.

Yesterday I teetered off to meet Mum and the Aunties and my choice of footwear really did cause a stir!  My Mum said “Those are funny little boots!” Of course, everyone turned to look at them and a conversation commenced on whether my ‘little boots’ really were ‘funny’ and, if so, what was it that made them so.

Mum thought it was the colour; she was not convinced that they were ‘tan brown’ and, in the cold light of day, I had to agree.  They were almost orange.

Then we discussed the material – suede.  This is a fairly inoffensive fabric but, given the strange colour, I could now see that there was something ‘animal-ish’ about them.  In fact, they made me look like I had hooves instead of feet.

Next – potential shocker!  Perhaps it was not the boots that were funny – but the fact that my jeans were too short.  We all know that half-mast trousers are a terrible fashion faux pas but I could see the point!  When I looked down, my jeans only came to the top of the boots and they were too tight to go over them. Not a good look.

Anyway, whilst all of the above contributed to the appearance of ‘funny little boots’, we finally got to the main issue – and it wasn’t really about the boots.  It was because I NEVER wear heels.  The three inches of height I had gained (not to mention the weird style walk that followed) was an unfamiliar sight for my family.  They had never seen me looking so tall – and that was clearly down to my heeled outfit.

So then….and I promise we are getting to the revelation ….. we discussed why, as a woman, I had never been a fan of high heels and why they had never really featured in my wardrobe.  And it was a good question!  I had to think about it and when the reason came to me, it made perfect sense.  Or, should I say it would make perfect sense to anyone who thinks they are always five minutes away from catastrophe.

I recall shopping with friends and having them ask why I was sticking to flat shoes when those gorgeous high heels were in the sale.  And my answer would be “because I can’t run in them“.  They would look at me with a puzzled expression and ask “but why would you need to run in them?”.   And I would think “Doh! Don’t you watch the news?” but I wouldn’t actually say it because it would take too long to explain.

 But now I can put it into words.  So yes – the reason I have never liked high heels is because I can’t run in them.  And if I can’t run, then I’m not safe!  If I can’t run, then how can I ‘get away’?  How would I flee a burning building in high heels?  How could I leap out of the path of a raging bull?  And are we not always told to avoid wearing high heels on the escape chute of stricken aircraft?

To my anxious mind, the wearing of high heels reduces your chances of survival.  It messes with the ‘fight or flight’ instinct which has been so powerfully instilled in us.  The only advantage is that, if they do prevent you from taking ‘flight’, they may still come in handy to ‘fight’ with (by taking them off and using the pointy bit as a weapon).

So how come I am wearing them now?  What does this mean?  Have my new anti-depressants reduced my anxiety enough to have me wearing high heels?  Is this a sign that there is a new part of me that does not see catastrophe around the corner?  The very thought of this development does make me want to ‘walk tall’!

Of course I still have my fashion catastrophe to deal with i.e. the wearing of tan/orange boots with half mast jeans and a silly walk.  But that won’t kill me!

Next Week: Travel Anxiety – A Personal Journey.

Diary Entry 12: Water Shortage

Diary Entry 12: Water Shortage

A few weeks ago, hubby and I finally accepted that the damp problem in our flat would have to be resolved for once and for all.  And I also accepted that it would be madness to try and stay in the flat while the professionals shredded my walls.  Hence I decided to book holiday accommodation near our flat.

It was great!  I set myself a five-mile limit and took to Trip Advisor as if I were a visitor from the Far East, rather than someone who was born and bred in the area.  And two weeks later, we were off!  With bags packed, we merrily drove three miles out of town and commenced with our ‘holiday’ in a lovely wooden cabin high up on the hill.

Given that our ‘holiday lodge’ was only a few miles from home, I had no need to torment myself with my normal travel anxiety; the endless visions of illnesses, air disasters, muggings, deaths and any number of other incidents.  I could enjoy the excitement and relaxation of being away from home – without the anxiety of being away from home!  Brilliant!

Unfortunately, anxiety will always track me down in one form or another – and it came knocking at our door on the evening of our second day.

The lodge owner turned up on the step with a five-litre bottle of water for us.  My heart sank as soon as I saw it.  I knew exactly what he was going to say – and my instincts were correct.

The water is going off tomorrow” he said.  “Essential works in the area”.

 What time?” I said, pale-faced.

8am” he replied.  “It should be back on by 4pm but remember to let the water run clear before you drink it again”.

I wanted to tell the owner that I felt mildly anxious at the thought of this ‘life essential’ being cut off; that having no water would give me a cold glimpse at what the world would be like if civilisation collapsed.  Crucially, I wanted to know what would happen if I forgot to run the water until it cleared. Would it kill us stone dead if we drank it?

But the questions died in my throat and I could only manage a meek ‘Thank You’ before the owner was gone.

Now I wouldn’t say I felt panicky as such, but there was a definite unease about me and I took it to bed.  Hubby fell asleep quickly but I lay awake for a while pondering the risks of ‘the water going off’.  And the more I thought about it, the more I reckoned that the five-litre bottle of water we had been given, was woefully inadequate.  If I wanted to remain in control, then I would have to get up sharply the next morning and get ready for it.

I set the alarm for the early hours and, when it went off, I was up like a shot.  I was poised, alert and highly focused.  I filled the kettle with water and had a shower.  Once dressed, I decided to fill the bath (not to bathe in but just to keep the water in case of emergency).   Sadly, the water flow was so slow that I abandoned the plan because I needed to make sure that Hubby had time to shower before ‘the water went off’.  Time was passing quickly so I fell back through the bedroom door and shook Hubby awake with dramatic urgency.

Quick, quick – get in the shower” I shrieked.  The water is going off!”

Hubby said he didn’t care and that he would ‘shower later’.  Well – I was stunned by this relaxed approach to ‘the water going off’.  While he snoozed for a bit longer, I let my water shortage fears fill me.  What would happen if I had a stomach upset during the day? What if I could not use the flush and I clogged up the pipes?  Even if I didn’t develop mystery dysentery, there was still a risk of having to leave something lying in the toilet for hours.  I tried to solve this problem by sitting on the pan and willing everything to pass.  No such luck.

There was nothing else for it but to get on with the day and to pray that we would survive the next 7 hours without running water.

And here’s the funny thing.  It was 6pm before I remembered that the water had ever been off.  And by that time, it was already back on again.  After all my fretting, I was taken aback at the absence of consequence.  No toilet disasters; no crawling to the roadside gasping for a drink; The emergency five-litre bottle of water lay unopened in the porch.

You may think I am over-reacting but…..

When I realised that I had indeed survived a few hours without running water I was euphoric. I had some residual panic because I could not for the life of me remember if I had inadvertently drunk it without ‘running it clear’ – but I am still here to tell the tale and that’s all that matters.

And so, yet again, my anxiety about something that might happen – was far worse than the thing I feared.  When will I learn?

Having said that, our dependency on water does make me nervous because it is such a vulnerable resource.  We are fortunate that, in this country, we get more than our fair share of the stuff falling from the sky.  But how easy would it be to poison the supply? How quickly would a major engineering problem bring the nation to its knees?  Quick as a flash we could find ourselves brawling in the street and pushing each other out of the queue at the army patrolled water station.

“Pass the rifle will ya – only a matter of time before things turn ugly!”

 So for that reason, I will be taking that unopened 5 litre bottle of emergency water home with me and keeping it in the hall cupboard – along with the others…….

Next Week:  These Boots Were Made For Walking

Diary Entry 11: Confessions of a Hand Sanitiser Addict

Diary Entry 11:  Confessions of a Hand Sanitiser Addict

As a ‘clean freak’, I LOVE hand sanitizer.  I praise the day that it became available to us in dinky little bottles.  It is cheap and it fits just about anywhere – which makes it very easy to keep one in your bag; in your pocket; beside the bed; in the car; in your desk drawer; in the kitchen; in the bathroom…… plus a few spares scattered in random cupboards.  It has changed my world; it has probably changed the world for many ‘clean freaks’ because it offers us ‘peace of mind’.

But where did this need to ‘sanitise’ come from?  Did it come on the back of all those microscope images that show us exactly what germs, bacteria and viruses look like?  I know the photos are magnified but these things look horrific!

Aaaaaaaaargh!!

Scientists fell over themselves to tell us that these horrors are caked onto EVERYTHING.  When the shop assistant passes your change she is giving you a handful of Norovirus.  The office door you have just walked through is crawling with Influenza (and possibly Ebola depending on how active your imagination is) – and don’t even start me on public bathrooms.

If ‘knowledge is power’ then it did not apply in this case.  Knowledge about these horrors brought alarm!  And I initially responded to my alarm by carting Wet Ones around with me.  That was back in the day when they were only available in large plastic containers with a flip up lid.  Not so handy for your pocket; handbag etc, but the inconvenience was so worthwhile.  That sweet sensation of a damp cloth wiping away the horrors was both comforting and uplifting.

And it soon caught on!  Society (and advertising companies) soon realised that Wet Ones were not just for chocolate caked babies and oily handed mechanics.  They were an all purpose, portable solution for everyone (and a calming device for anxiety sufferers).  When shops first began to stock ‘pocket sized’ hand wipes I almost wept with joy.  As a self confessed ‘indecision maker’, I was momentarily thrown by the influx of brands and fragrances but I found a ‘lemon fresh’ option and stuck to it.

With every wipe of my hands I gaily banished germs, bacteria and viruses. I watched others do the same, all of us feeling free from the risk of lurking infections and illness.

But then the guilt set in.  How many of these little wipes were being discarded every day across the globe.  How would the environment cope with the waste.  My anxiety about ruining the earth was up against anxiety about catching a nasty bug from a door handle.  I compromised.  I began to tear the wipes in half thus reducing my waste volume by 50% but it was still a worry.

And then it arrived – the ‘hand sanitiser’.  A wonder liquid that hits the skin with a germ busting tingle and then disappears!!  No waste! (other than the empty bottle of course but lets not spoil the feel good factor here).

Peace of Mind in one handy sized bottle

With every bus trip, Tesco trolley dash and visit to my Dad, I skoosh my cares away with a little bottle of hand sanitiser.  Of course, there is still a place for hand wipes in my life, but nothing beats the feel of that clear liquid coating my hands and vaporising the surface; that nippy, fresh sensation as the alcohol zaps the microscopic baddies.

I feel INVINCIBLE!

So who can blame for closing my ears when I hear certain rumours on the wind.  The suggestion that hand sanitiser may not be all its’ cracked up to be!’ WHAT? That it might even be BAD for us!  NO!

Oh but YES! There may be a whole pile of ‘cons’ to counteract the ‘pros’.  It pains me to list the down side of my beloved hand sanitiser but a problem shared is a problem halved.

 Apparently it may not actually work at all; it does not eliminate all types of germs; the alcohol content might be less than claimed; it may destroy ‘good’ bacteria’ on your skin; it may reduce your own immune system; it may contribute to the emergence of powerful resistant bacteria and superbugs that will one day destroy us all (OK I didn’t read that anywhere but it’s a reasonable assumption isn’t it?).

Of particular note is that it may lull us into a false sense of security and discourage us from washing our hands with soap and water.  In other words, whilst thinking that we are being super hygienic we may actually be taking less care with our cleanliness!  As an example we are reminded that hand sanitiser will not remove dirt.

So if, for example, there is a spot of invisible ‘faecal matter’ present then we will simply smear shit all over our hands when rubbing in that gel!  Can you imagine?

And (gulp) …… I can hardly bare to tell you this but I read that the residue which remains after application of hand sanitiser may cause us to pick up even more unsavoury particles because they stick to the gel.

Bottoms Up!!

Finally – there are folks out there who have been drinking it!  Apparently the alcohol content makes for a potent liquor that can cause blindness, memory loss and organ damage.  Obviously I do not want to see myself on this ruinous path but I have a dilemma now.  If I can’t use it to sanitise my hands any more, what else am I going to do with the 237 bottles which are lying around the house?

Next Week:  Water Shortage!

 

 

Diary Entry 10- You’ve Got The Power

Diary Entry 10 – You’ve got the Power!

Anxiety and Depression – Have you ever considered that it’s just NOT your fault?  If you think about it, today’s world seems determined to drive us all mad!  The list of modern triggers for anger, anxiety and intense emotion is endless, so I’m going to cover one today.  Let me describe my latest experience of contacting our power supplier and how it left me sobbing on the floor.

I bought a property which has a pre-paid electricity meter.  I hate it.  I do not want to trot down to the shop in my slippers every time it runs out.  For the last three years I have tried to get this pre-paid meter removed so that I can pay my bills by direct debit like a normal person.  The pattern is always the same.  A long phone call to the power supplier; a promise by the staff member to resolve it; and then….nothing.

Take me back to the stone age!

My most recent attempt is still raw in my memory.  When I think about the impact it had on my emotional state, I start to question why society has allowed these vessel-popping systems to remain in place.

In a nutshell, my last contact with the electricity supplier resulted in a phone call which had me on the line for one hour and fifty minutes, during which time I spoke politely and patiently to four different staff, none of whom could be bothered to help.  Eventually the phone battery ran low and I had to lie on the living room floor so that I could stay on the line while it recharged at the socket.

As it happens, the floor was the best place to be; because it meant I did not need to collapse with rage when the fourth member of staff simply hung up on me without warning – after nearly two hours on hold!  I was in the right position to throw a full blown hissy fit.

Your call is extremely important to us – and that’s why our staff will be delighted to help you in approximately 13 hours time – in the meantime, please enjoy this soothing music!”

On hearing the line go dead, I couldn’t breathe for a minute.  I remained on the floor choking with fury before coming out in a rash.   My first gasp of breath was used to turn the air blue with ear bursting expletives.  Hubby asked what was wrong with my face (the rash!) and he suggested that I should ‘calm down’.   At this point I turned on him like a wildcat because everyone knows that the very worst thing you can say to anyone who needs to ‘calm down’ is “Calm Down”.  I promised to tear him apart if he ever made such an unhelpful remark again.

There was only one healthy way to channel my emotion – and that was to phone the power supplier straight back and rejoin the long queue.  But when I did call, I was given the automated response which informed me that the offices were now closed and that staff would be ‘delighted to help me’ when they re-opened the following morning.

I simmered in my bed all night and then rose early, determined to catch a call-centre person the minute the lines opened.  And I got straight through – to Alex!  It was incredible, but then I was passed from pillar to post; from Vikram to Akachi to David.

I was asked, for the millionth time, to give them a reading from the electricity meter.  Now that is all very well when your meter is under the window, but not when it is located above the front door and is only reachable by using two people; a table; a chair and some footage from Britains Got Talent.  Hubby had helped me the previous night but he was already away to work.  I was on my own so I gave ‘David’ my reading from the night before.   But it wasn’t good enough! He wanted a new reading.

Just another inch….

Well I told him about the inaccessible meter and that it would take me about five minutes to get the reading.   David said he would be ‘happy to wait’ on the line for me (which is fair enough given that I stayed on hold for two excruciating hours the previous evening).

I had to drag all the hall furniture to the door and make myself a stable platform on which to reach the meter.  I twisted my ankle when it all collapsed but at least I had the reading – and well within the five minutes I had estimated!  I hopped back to the phone feeling very pleased with myself.

But you already know the next bit don’t you?  Yes indeed …. the line was dead.  Clearly ‘David’ had not been ‘happy to wait’ five minutes for me to get the reading.  My spirits slumped and I knew I could not face another call that day.

The next morning I rose early once again, and grabbed the first call-centre person (Colin).  He seemed genuinely bothered by what I told him.  He sounded ashamed of his employer and maybe even a little tearful as I poured out my woeful experience to him.  He made a big deal of lodging a complaint on my behalf and assured me that I would hear back within five working days.

A month later, I hadn’t heard ANYTHING despite emailing them every Monday with a polite reminder.  It was not until I added the line “your customer service is disgusting”, that I received an instant reply. They were frightfully sorry to hear of my experience and they arranged an appointment to come and remove the prepaid meter.  Obviously nobody turned up and when I called some weeks later I was told that the complaint had been labelled as ‘actioned’ and the case was now closed.

Maybe next year… next year…..next year…..

So there you have it!  Just one example of how our mental health can be affected by hair-tearing, recycled communications.  Who wouldn’t feel anxious, stressed and depressed after being treated so shoddily; running up a large phone bill; falling out with their spouse; and twisting their ankle – and still with no resolution to their issue.  Who could muster up the energy to call them back?  Not me!

Not until next year anyway.

Next Week: Confessions of a Hand Sanitiser Addict

 

 

Diary Entry 9 – What Would John Steinbeck Say?

Diary of an Anxious Mind Entry 9: What Would John Steinbeck Say?

So last week I spoke about ‘Morning Anxiety’.  That is, waking up in the morning with a low mood, a panicky feeling or some other bleak sensation.  The source of the anxiety may be known to you – but often it is not.  It may simply feel like a black cloud which has settled over your head without good reason.

In the last diary entry, I revealed my own coping mechanism – which is to flee!  If I wake to find the demons are lurking, I bolt from my bed; get showered and dressed; then I sprint for the nearest café and absorb the real world.  Always works (and Starbucks have made a fortune from me over the years!).

But prevention is better than cure and if I could find a way to stop morning anxiety, I might enjoy a more leisurely start to the day.  And on this point, I have recently been pondering the biological side of anxiety.

My interest was piqued after a rare nap on the sofa.  It was a Sunday afternoon, my work and family tasks were reasonably up to date; and Colombo was playing out reassuringly on some random TV channel.  When the sun moved round to my window I couldn’t help drifting off into a pleasing snooze.

When I awoke (feeling fine), I was struck by an important question.  Why does anxiety only attack me when I wake up in the morning and why does it never get me if I wake up after an afternoon nap.

I was reminded of a famous quote by John Steinbeck in which he states that “it is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it

Unless you suffer from a General Anxiety Disorder that is…… 😂

I wonder what it is that happens inside John Steinbeck’s head that doesn’t happen in the mind of anyone who suffers from morning anxiety!

Because our version of Mr Steinbeck’s observation would read a little more like this.

It is a common experience that a seemingly non-existent matter at night is turned into a real big f*cking deal after the committee of sleep has worked on it“.

Similarly, neurology expert Professor Daniel A. Barone, also claimed that, at night, a key function of the brain is to ‘take out the trash‘.  Again, I suspect that the reverse applies in the case of anyone who suffers from morning anxiety.

I suspect that my own brain actually goes out at night and brings the trash in; it fetches back the mental rubbish that I have already disposed of.  If that were not bad enough, it slopes off down the street, ransacking the neighbours trash too – like a racoon.  And, by morning time, my head is full of it.

Something else for Kate’s head!

Now you might think that clue is in the name.  ‘Morning anxiety’ is bound to affect us in the morning rather than after a daytime snooze but, for me, it’s all about what happens inside the sleeping mind – and we all know that there is a world of difference between a ‘nap’ and a ‘sleep’.  Our body clock knows when we are properly going to sleep at night – as opposed to being slothful on the sofa for a couple of hours.

At night, our brain undertakes a vast range of rest and regeneration activities.  I was often told that depression and anxiety can be down to a ‘chemical imbalance’ in the brain (which I always thought was a great excuse) but it actually makes a lot of sense!  And, if the brain carries out a lot of chemical processing at night then it makes sense that morning may be the moment that you feel any ‘imbalances’ more acutely.

So what exactly is it that is out of balance?  What is it that overreacts or under-reacts and leaves anxiety sufferers fleeing from their demons every morning.

Let me remind everyone that I am not a medical expert.  I am led to believe that there are billions of chemical reactions which take place in the body and mind every day, so I will not make a fool of myself by selecting one at random!  Instead I have picked up a couple of common suggestions which crop up when reading around the subject of morning anxiety.

One is that adequate Magnesium levels are essential in regulating the stress hormone (Cortisol) and maintaining a healthy mind.  Many of us are now deficient in Magnesium so is that something which is worthy of consideration?

The other is that, if our blood sugar levels have dropped considerably during sleep, then mornings may start with anxiety or low mood.

As I say, I’m no expert and you should read up on these findings yourself, but I may just toy with some Magnesium supplements and see if it makes any difference.

Ah well – it was good while it lasted!

I would also like to try a jar of honey before bedtime but, as you know, I am also trialling a sugar free diet as a means of stabilising my mood.  A spoonful of honey before bedtime will mean that my sugar free diet is out the window.  And then I will be at the mercy of all the cake and biscuit delights that I have lived without these last few weeks.

Oh well – something had to give!

Next week:  You’ve Got the Power!

Diary Entry 8: Return of the Anxiety Demons

Return of the Anxiety Demons

Did I really think that a few anti-depressants, a bit of yoga and a sugar free diet would be enough to cure four decades of anxiety?

It’s a new dawn; It’s a new day” or so the song goes.  But, unlike Nina Simone, I am NOT ‘feeling good’ this morning.  I don’t even need to open my eyes to know that the Anxiety Demons are back.  The protective barrier which I have been enjoying recently appears to have shattered during the night.

“Has my strategy stopped working already?” I wonder.  “How DEPRESSING!!”

Anxiety Demons just LOVE to get you in the morning.  They surround you while you are still sleeping and defenseless.  They poke at you with their cold hands and fill your senses with black smoke.

Your head feels like a sponge – soaking up the bleakness.  JKR Rowling got it just right with the Dementors she created for Harry Potter.  In their presence, happy thoughts go ‘pooft’.  In their place come thoughts of  death and mayhem; remorse and regret; unspeakable events and catastrophes.  In those waking moments – all of them seem very real.  AND you’ve just remembered the weird little black hairs you found growing on your big toe the day before.

So – Yes; the demons were definitely back this morning.

Although they have not visited for a while, I do have emergency procedures which I can put into place.  But I need to act quickly – and I mean within thirty seconds.  Hubby may well be snoozing beside me, but so too are the demons.  I need to get up and out – FAST!  I need to leap from my bed, jump in the shower, get dressed and then run out into the street and over to Starbucks, or Costa, or any other café which opens early.  Only then can I relaaaaaax.  Once I am out of my own head and back into the outside world, I start to feel better.   The demons dissolve and things veer back towards normality. Phew!

Quick – into Starbucks!

And if I don’t act quickly?  If I don’t leap from my bed within thirty seconds? Well that’s a whole different ball game.  I will simply lie there, paralysed, and let the demons take over.  I will feel so weighed down by my heavy thoughts that it will be hard to imagine ever getting out of my bed again.

Usually I do manage to bolt out from under the duvet – but not this morning.  Today I have been taken by surprise.  I have felt much better this last few weeks and I wasn’t expecting this.  By the time I realise how awful I feel, I have missed the thirty second escape window. The weight of my grim visions forces me into the anxiety trough – and there I wallow.

Now I will come back to this point next week because I am intrigued about why some people suffer low mood and anxiety in the morning, often with no obvious source, and then they feel better once they are up and about.  What is it that does, or doesn’t happen inside our heads during sleep?

Anyway – that one is for next week.  So for now, I reason with myself.  At the back of my mind I know this may just be an off day.  I remember that I am on such a low dose of anti-depressant that they may not be effective.  I was advised that if the effects wore off then I can simply move up to the next dose.  I allow this happy thought to chivvy me out into the day – but I don’t properly cheer up until I have an unexpected near death experience (OK I’m exaggerating but read on).

Death by ‘inhalation of parcel tape’ – that is what the post mortem would have concluded if the events of today had turned nasty.  I was packing up some orders from my online shop and, in a strange combination of events, I managed to bite off the parcel tape and, at the same time, take a sharp intake of breath.  I have no idea why I breathed in so hard but, to my horror, I felt the bit of tape whoosh into my mouth and become lodged at the back of my throat.

“Help! HEEELLPPP! I’ve inhaled sellotape! I’m choking! I’m dying!!! I’m… I’m…..well I’m OK actually…..”

Well the panic!  As you can imagine!  Which way did it go?  I had no idea whether the tape was heading down my windpipe towards my lung or through the oesophagus towards my stomach.  If it went to my lung would it cause an instant blockage resulting in rapid, painful death?  Or would it lie in my intestine for months and turn all of my cells cancerous.  What would Columbo make of it all?  Would foul play be suspected?

In any case I started to plan my goodbyes and pick my funeral music (again).  It was a somber afternoon so when I did eventually cough up the parcel tape I was ecstatic!  I was alive!  I was happy!  In the aftermath of my near demise, the overall sense of gratitude was better than any anti- depressant.

Is this a realistic approach to add to my anti-anxiety strategy?  Along with yoga and a sugar free diet, should I factor in a daily near-death experience?  Nothing too risky but just enough to give me perspective on pointless anxieties and to banish irrational fears.   Something to remind me about the bigger picture of this beautiful life?

Hmmmmm – maybe not!

Next week – What would John Steinbeck Say?

 

 

Diary Entry 7: Celebrating Fathers Day – When Dementia Has Stolen Your Dad

Its Happy Fathers Day!  A day to celebrate these wonderful men who do their best to bring up the next generation.  And it doesn’t matter whether they are still here in this life – or if they have passed on.  Because being a Father is about family relationships; its about the influence that men have on their children and grandchildren – and that is something that endures long after a Father’s lifetime.

So while some of us are spending the day with our Dads, others might be raising a glass in his memory.  They both count.

It sounds harsh – but I will be doing both.  Because my Dad is a bit in between.  He is ‘here’ but he isn’t.  He is still my Dad – but not as I remember him.

My Dad has been stolen by Dementia.  And he is not alone.  In the UK there are probably over 300,000 men who are suffering with this heart-breaking condition. They may not recognise their own children on Fathers Day; they may need us to put the home made cake into their mouth;  to hold a straw for them to wash down the wee whisky toast.

It would be easy to get depressed – and I often do get anxious about seeing my Dad disappear – but there is another side to it all.  A surprisingly positive slant which, for me, means that Fathers Day is probably more meaningful than it has ever been!  And here it is.

My dad was a man of his time.  By that I mean that he raised his daughters the same way a labrador might raise its pups.  In other words his priorities were based on making sure that we were warm, fed and out of harms way.  All the other crazy stuff that comes with bringing up a family was firmly left to Mum!

Warm? Fed? Safe? Job Done!

The result of this traditional upbringing was that I was always much closer to my Mum.  I loved my Dad but we had little in common and we did not seek each other’s company in any real sense.   I sometimes felt a bit sad and guilty that we weren’t closer but it wasn’t really an issue – that’s just the way it was.

Our relationship changed dramatically when Dad developed dementia.  I always thought that this condition brought about a slow decline but, for Dad, it came on very suddenly – literally overnight.

When I saw him on the Monday he was in Marks and Spencer, buying something for his dinner and chatting to the checkout girl about what he had been up to.

When I saw him on the Tuesday he was secured to a hospital bed, trying to ‘catch a rabbit’ and rambling the most bizarre nonsense.  I was beyond shocked.  There was a moment of relief when he responded positively about whether he wanted a sandwich – but it quickly passed when I watched him trying to eat it through the plastic casing.

Two years later, I still remember that Monday as clearly as the Tuesday.  On Monday he was his normal self; on Tuesday he wasn’t.  And he was never the same again.

After three weeks he had improved enough to be discharged from hospital but he was no longer capable of independent living.  We refused a care home place and opted for a care package to be put into place in his sheltered accommodation.  That required me to become part of his daily routine.  The very thought of it filled me with dread.  I didn’t know how on earth I could fit this in to my already manic days – and I didn’t know how to be the daughter that my Dad now needed.

OK Dad – lets do this!!

But life is full of surprises and, since then, Dad and I have never been closer.  Its not just the daily company and familiarity that does it – its what we do with our time together.  We get out and about and try to keep things normal.  We look at old papers and pictures.  He can’t remember what he had for his lunch but he knows who everyone is in a photograph from 1953.  And now I know them too.

His inhibitions about what to talk about are lessened so when we unearth some old love letters I realise that my Dad had quite a few girlfriends before meeting my Mum.  I never knew!  There’s lots of things I never knew about my Dad – until now!

And a lot of my emotional boundaries have gone too.

I always said that I would not be able to deal with any of Dad’s ‘toilet’ accidents but what do you do when it becomes apparent that there has indeed been an ‘incident’.  Simple! You get him in the shower and scrub him down before putting all his clothes in the laundry.

I always said that I did not ever want to see any of my Dad’s ‘bits’ but what do you do when you find him buck naked in the hallway at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon?  Simple! You get him dressed.  You let him lean on your shoulder while you get his pants over his feet and you try not to think about the fact that his willie is only inches away.

And what about all the animals and people that Dad thinks are in his flat.  Do you deny that they are there? You may not be able to see the tramp on his sofa, the fish on the floor or the women in his bed (he wishes!).  But he can.  There’s babies in the cutlery drawer, a horse in the bathroom and his dead Mother in the porch.

Unless they are troubling him (in which case I gently persuade Dad that they have left), I just see them too.  I see the world from where he is; I sit with him amidst all the crazy things that seem so real to him.  And he likes that!

“There’s three women in my bed!!”

When your Dad can’t do his own shopping you do it for him. When his dementia robs him of his mobility you get him into a wheelchair and keep up the routine.  When he tries to get ready for his work you have a wee joke with him about how he retired 15 years ago.

And when he cries in front of you for the first time ever – you cry too.  Because, at that moment, you know he’s not confused; it’s worse than that.  He’s having a moment of realisation; he knows that something is horribly wrong with his world.   And he is terrified; he needs you to stay close to him and be in this strange world with him.  He needs you to comfort him and and make him smile again.

My Dad’s dementia has been as much of a journey for me as it has for him.  And it has made me a better person.  I have found a level of patience, tolerance and optimism that I never knew I had.  I have had to slow down to my Dad’s speed but, instead of making me stressed, it has actually made me calmer.  I hope I have always been a kind person but caring for Dad has filled me with compassion and the overspill goes out to everyone in my life.

Dad has now gone into care but this has not lessened the time or love I give him.  Today, my Sister will come over from her home two hours away.  We will bundle Dad into his wheelchair and rattle him over a mile of potholed pavements and into the town.  We will sit in the centre and have an ice cream.  We will watch the world go by and, yet again, I will feel grateful that I  have this incredible, albeit belated closeness with my Dad.

You may think that Dementia has stolen your Dad – but has it really?  Maybe it’s given him back to you.

Happy Fathers Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Diary Entry 6: Three Oms! A return to yoga!

Entry 6:  Three Oms! A return to yoga!

So, I’ve been meaning to go back to yoga for ages but, as we know, making time for ourselves is usually bottom of the priority list.  If you are busy working, caring for an elderly parent and worrying about everything in the world then it is unlikely that you will be saying ‘Om’ anytime soon.

Unless you embark on a sugar free diet – in which case you will urgently need something to counteract the rage and despair.  Oh yes, the sugar withdrawal symptoms have been so terrible that I would have happily agreed to an induced coma; just until the worst had passed.  Sadly, medical ethics have not yet reached that point so it was easier just to drag myself back to yoga.

I am no stranger to this mode of exercise and I have dabbled with it many times over the years.   Strangely though, I find that yoga only works for me when my state of mind is already at peace.  If my head is in ‘tumble dryer’ mode, yoga makes me cry – not because of a failed ‘salute to the sun’ but because my mind cannot deal with being ‘quietened’.  It makes sense when you think about it because a quiet mind must surely be a target for anxiety demons; it is a beautiful empty space into which the horrors can pour.

I have spent many Shavanasa sessions in tears, which is a shame because it all starts so well.  The golden ball of light; inhaling the white energy and exhaling the black.  There is the deep sense of self and that shroud of calm when the yoga teacher whispers for us to ‘let things go’.

And then it starts to slide.  The golden ball begins to fade and I get my breathing all wrong.  I inhale the black energy and exhale the white.  I stop ‘letting things go’ and, instead, I torture myself with bleak thoughts about;

  • the time I pushed in front of an old lady in the Supermarket because I was in a hurry AND in a bad mood (horrible person!)
  • The time I attended a friend’s wedding and had my photo taken with someone’s husband – him biting one end of a very short cocktail sausage and me biting the other end.  The resulting photo was met with stony silence (cheap flirt!).
  • The time I didn’t check on my Dad properly and he lay helpless on the floor until 3am (useless daughter!).

So, despite the risk of revisiting these shameful events, I returned to yoga this week.  And it was fine!  Was it my new anti-depressants that kept the demons at bay?  Or was it the steely resolve that has set in while I do battle with the sugar cravings?  Either way, I got the best from the session. I was too unfit to get my forehead on the floor in ‘child’s pose’ but I felt surprisingly upbeat and, dare I say it – CALM!!

This emerging sense of ‘Zenity’ has been assisted by new developments in the sugar free diet.  You may recall that I was struggling to produce anything healthy or tasty but all of that has changed.  My new ‘Nutribullet’ has saved the day.  While Hubby has continued to turn out dahls, pates and crudites, I have been turning out smoothies like there’s no tomorrow.  Every conceivable vegetable has been turned to mush and consumed with great gusto.  I have taken on a superior edge, smug in the knowledge that the national ‘5 a day’ target for fruit and veg consumption, has been smashed.  I can picture the cells of my body enjoying the equivalent of a spa day.  Each part of me relishing the glut of vitamins and minerals.

I taste better than I look – honestly!

Admittedly, the excess beetroot gave me a shock when I first visited the lavatory but my screams about ‘blood in the stool’ soon give way to giggles when I realised where the colouring had come from.  Hubby also took fright when I absentmindedly blended a whole onion into his smoothie mix but, by and large, we are starting to feel the benefits.

I am proud to relay my progress to the Doctor when I attend my one month review.  I hope she is impressed when she sees that I am not relying on the pills for my emotional well being; that I am embarking on other physical and mind based developments.   I tell her that my anxiety has definitely lost it’s edge and that the main thing I am struggling with is the remorse at taking thirty years to deal with it.

I skip out of the surgery with my repeat prescription. I have another appointment in four weeks time but I feel like I might be cured by then.  From what I can gather so far, treating Anxiety is a breeze!

Or is it?

Next Week – Return of the Demons

Entry 5: Detox Foot Pads – Draw Badness Through Your Sole

Entry 5:  Detox Foot Pads – Draw Badness Through Your Sole

As you know, the quest for inner calm is never ending and, fortunately, there is no shortage of mad treatments out there.  I love them all!  I will try them all if I get the chance!  And on that front, I have exciting news.  As the first of many trials in my anti-anxiety strategy, I can introduce you to my new purchase; the ‘detox foot pad!’

Let me explain the concept.  In simple terms, the footpad is intended to aid restful sleep and to draw inner badness out through the soles of one’s foot!   Put a special pad on and leave it overnight.  Toxins, heavy metals and other terrible things will be drawn out through the soles of the feet leaving you on the road to purity.

It sounds simple, but it also sounds unlikely – even to me who is a mug for this sort of thing. Surely, at a physiological level, we do not shed this level of badness through our skin.  A wee bit of sweat maybe – but heavy metals?  Anyway, despite having a science degree, I have never been one for letting common sense get in the way of good health.  I may be a little cynical but I also feel really excited about getting these pads onto my feet.

Is it bedtime yet?

The day drags but finally it is bedtime.  Hubby looks unconvinced when I tell him about the detoxed world that awaits but, as ever, he has been forced to participate.  We get ready for bed and, with gleaming eyes, open the box of foot pads.

Being a modern woman, I am not normally a fan of instruction leaflets but I do not dare waste any of these little beauties.   I scan the user information and note that we will be able to see the results very quickly.  The foot pads will be brown with filth in the morning – our filth – although we should not get too excited.  Like all expensive, faffy, health things we must use them for ‘a period of time’ to see and feel any ‘discernible effect’ in ourselves.  I can live with this though.  At £26 for a two-week supply, it’s not a lot to pay for a good cleanse – not really……!

And so, with value for money far from my mind, I eagerly tip out the box.  It contains fourteen foot pads, each in their own separate pouch and with an adhesive plaster to hold it on.  I open one of the pouches and the first thing I notice is the horrific smell!  Like old fish wrapping.  My Goodness it certainly catches the back of your throat but anything good for you always smells bad right?  On checking the ingredients I see that it does indeed contain shellfish!  And quite a lot of shellfish by the stench but I’m sure the manufacturers know what they are doing – don’t they?

Merciful Lord – is this a Detox Foot Pad or a rank fish?

After gagging and getting used to the smell, we stick the pads onto the soles of our feet, climb into bed and await a miracle.   Right away I feel much more chilled.  I wake a couple of times in the night but, instead of the horrors which usually invade my nocturnal mind, I feel drowsily peaceful when I think about all the badness just oozing out of me.  Even the thought of it is nice and ‘mind over matter’ is half the battle isn’t it?

When morning dawns, Hubby and I are keen to compare foot pads.  They are absolutely rank!  And I mean RANK!  They are just as brown and disgusting as the box promised and mine is the worst.  Whereas Hubby’s pad is brown and ‘moist’, mine is positively weeping and swimming in gunk.

I don’t ever want to face one again.

I undertake some belated research and find that there is not much scientific evidence to support their use – not that we should always need it, but I would have hoped that some lab tests would have revealed something exciting on a sample used pad.  Apparently there are no such test results.   Requests for further scientific data have, thus far, failed to emerge from producers and proponents.

The only claim, which I have been unable to explain, is that, over time, the level of filth on the footpad is supposed to decrease and this outcome is backed up by some users.  So how would this reduction in pad gunk come about?  Do they work after all?  Hmmmm – I leave the jury to decide.

In the meantime, the quest for inner calm continues! It’s time to go back to yoga!

Next Week – “Three Oms”