May 18, 2013
I did something very rash this afternoon. I paid to take Dad out to the local cinema to see the new Star Trek film. For those who aren't already aware, I hate public spaces. I hate the noise, the crowds, the mess, the stink, the brightness, the speed at which everything moves and well, everything about it.
It's not a mental condition to be scoffed at because it ruins your life and that's before agoraphobia has crept in through the back door.
Photo by MGL
I took it upon myself to do this today not for myself but for my Dad. He wanted to see the film but didn't want to go alone, and I felt bad for grumbling 'no' when he asked. I was also spurred on by Matt Haig and his blogs on Booktrust, which revealed what it's like to live with mental health problems.
After reading what Matt had to say, I did something that I find difficult; I thought outside of myself. I come across as a narcissist but it's not an option. I have hard time connecting to my feelings and understanding that people have feelings too, and how that feels. The will to empathise is there but the capacity isn't, not in its entirety.
So I paid a stupid amount of money for cinema tickets, packed my bag, dosed myself with Vallium, wrapped myself up (cinemas are always fucking cold), and donned my shades.
I made sure to book the seats just where I needed them too, just in case I needed to leave. We settled into the screen room with a drink and popcorn (I wanted an authentic experience for my Dad because it's been so long) and sat through the film. I'm sure he enjoyed it but I spent most of the time fidgeting and flinching. It was too loud, too bright and the things on the screen were too big and moving too fast. I'd forgotten my earplugs so pulled my hood up to muffle the sounds, intermittently plugging my ears, and distracting myself with a Chunky KitKat whilst trying not to vomit, and figuring out where I could vomit should the bile arise.
In addition to this massive sensory overload, I was sitting in a big, loud room surrounded by strangers. I found this abnormal as opposed to a natural human thing to do.
The film finished and to top off the day, I got Dad and I some nosh from a fast-food place. The whole experience, film, food and all, was hard. It was uncomfortable. It was something that I never want to do again because I gained no pleasure, confidence or strength from it.
There are many, including the mental health folk who presume to know what's best for me, who will argue, until the cows come home, that this exposure is a triumph. It's a great leap, a step forward, the beginning of my recovery.
No it's fucking not.
I'm exhausted. I'm stressed. I'm traumatised by having to be around people in the dark for that long.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is all about taking gloomy, negative thoughts, challenging them and turning them into life-affirming, positive components for the recipient to absorb and live by. What I did today is a typical exercise: face your fears, challenge them, destroy them. The only problem is, it's not that simple in my case.
Assessments for my mental health have been inadequate. There are things that haven't been explored that should have been, which makes for an incomplete and messy picture of what's going on. And in the meantime, I'm following the CBT rules because they're the only thing I have. Only, they're crap and don't work properly. I spend hours every week challenging my negative thought processes and, yes come out with more helpful alternatives, though I remain haunted by one thing.
It all feels wrong.
I've tried challenging this but the result is the same. Why isn't this working? This article explained a lot. Basically it says that whilst CBT can be really effective, it can sometimes leave a patient in disarray. Mental health issues might be too complicated for such a straightforward approach or the individual may have most likely been misdiagnosed. The therapist might not be looking at the bigger, humane picture. Psychiatrists might decide that an individual isn't 'suitable' (awkward, unpredictable, unwilling) for CBT; other conditions can also impact on the effciency and success of CBT, both mental and physical. For example, I'm totally confused as to how I'm meant to work within new cognitive parameters when my social phobias, agoraphobia and other health problems not only contradict the therapy but outright subvert it.
How is it possible to sit in a cinema and be happy, relaxed, feel safe, put your fears in place when it all feels so wrong? And why isn't it okay for all these things to feel wrong? Where are the rules, written in black and white, enshrined in law, stating that I am legally bound to be happy about situations I dislike with all of my heart?
Why is it so hard for people to accept that we are not all the same, that others thrive on things that a lot of people would lose their sanity over?
I don't want to be an isolated recluse for the rest of my life. I would like joy and close friends, a partner, a safe home and activities which both challenge and stimulate me. Oh, and a pug named Horatio. And a small, manageable garden.
I don't want loads of money, a flash car or fame; I don't want to go out drinking in crowded bars or eat at fancy restaurants; I don't want to be directly in the public spotlight; I don't want to go to the cinema again (seriously, I paid over twice the price of the DVD which will be out in a few months, on the tickets alone); I don't want to be part of the massive global world because I don't believe in it (I believe in small communities); I don't want to have the same cultural interests as everyone else, or the same sense of humour, or the same outlook on life. I don't want to fight or be manipulated.
I want to be me.
I know that I have conditions to manage and that their certainty is a matter of opinion. I'm prepared to explore these conditions within parameters that stretch me but don't endanger my stability. I'm scared. I know what I want but everything that's meant to be helping me get there is leading me in an unsuitable direction. All the professionals in the world can insist but if what they say feels wrong, if my solar plexus aches and that voice in my head says
“uh Sam, buddy. Nah…”
I'm not about to do shit that I don't want to. Anything or anyone that states I have to and is not within moral and ethical standards, or within the law (this one worries me because mental health law disables more than it enables) for insisting that I should, can jump ship. They're breaching my human rights, that fundamental right to say 'no'.
I won't have that taken from me. And that attitude feels so, so right.
February 18, 2012
Finish reading A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
- Finish the draft of my short story in preparation for either the Mslexia 2012 Short Story Competition or the Bristol Prize
- Complete the first wristwarmer I’m knitting and begin the second one
- Complete sock 1/2 that I’m knitting
- Write the next post to continue the ‘Creativity for Agoraphobiac’ series
- Draft ideas for my novella
- Redraft Scene 2, Chapter 6 of Trace
My yoga practice Write letters to friends
- All of the above without exhausting myself
Update: It’s almost 5 pm and I’ve barely touched the list. Some of this will have to be moved to tomorrow.
Update 2: Getting there. I’ve decided to pick three more I know I can accomplish by the end of the day. Number 11 obviously isn’t one of them…
Update 3: So picking three was a bit adventurous. Moral of the story: be realistic about what you can achieve in one day. I’ll do more tomorrow.
August 17, 2009
Going out is a very complicated process for me. It’s not as easy as picking up my keys and wallet and then skipping off into the sunset. For one thing, I can’t drive at the moment so I have to arrange transport, which is usually my Dad because he’s normally willing and has nothing better to do and he’s also the person I trust the most to help me escape from any uncomfortable situations.
Situations that are the reason for why going out is so difficult. When I say ‘going out’, I mean taking a quick trip to a shopping area to grab or look at something Amazon is unable to adequately demonstrate to my unquenchable curiosity. Going out isn’t setting myself up for a night on the tiles – I hate that, it’s boring.
When ‘going out’ comes around, I have to take into consideration where I’m going, how long I’ll be and how fast I’m going to have to walk in order to get through the crowds as quickly as possible. I make a base assumption about where I’m going and always accommodate for the fact that there are going to be people everywhere, like cockroaches.
I have to calculate the odds that what I’m looking for is going to be there – usually, I talk myself into believing that it won’t be there, just to avoid disappointment and give me some added relief, like a sort of prize you get at the end of a competition to compensate you for the ordeal.
On top of that, I often concoct witty sentences and dramatic escapes to cover the probability of having to communicate with other people and it all goes terribly wrong; they might not understand me because I talk too fast or they might not know what it is that I’m looking for and then make a huge fuss and call the manager who will look at me like I’ve just emerged from a nearby swamp.
Before I’ve even stepped out of the house though, I have to make sure my satchel is packed with essential urban survival kit: keys, phone, money, water, headphones to drown out the world, sunglasses (even indoors and in bad weather) to make it easier to avoid eye contact, and a paper bag. For cases of hyperventilation.
Everything is executed with paranoid, maniacal precision when I go out. Everything that could possibly go against me is calculated and recalculated, even when I’m finally home and a few days have passed. I spend a lot of time thinking of what can go wrong and what could have gone wrong.
Of course the best plan, the one most easily executed is the one where I don’t go out at all.
February 1, 2009
No wonder people wipe their feet on us. Manners? Please. Sensibility? Indeed. The bottle to follow through on a decision? Oh wait… that one’s a bit too much.
It happens. That weird occasion when predictability goes against our expectations in such a violent manner that it fulfils the things that we were hell bent on wishing it to do. Basically, predictable surprises us by being … predictable.
The thing that might leave you wondering (or worrying if you’re that way inclined) is whether this predictability was drawn into existence by the collective will; the unquenchable desire to master everything even when it’s clear that our control is just an illusion, something to make us feel secure in light of the devastating obviousness that we have little control over anything. We foresee and we remain adamant; we invent and our monster devours us.
So what do we do in the shadow of our vision? We shit ourselves.
I have boots and a good number of layers to wear, a hat and headphones, gloves and whatever else I need. I have stamina and a good tolerance to the cold. I have a thermos. I have dedication, determination. I’ll take a shovel if I have to.
We predict snow and we shut down; the desperation to control cripples us.
It’s … just … snow…
September 29, 2007
I’m blessed, and cursed.
Cursed for many reasons, but blessed for the fact that something quite amazing happened today. I had to go to my local shops, so grabbed my jacket etc, jumped on my bike and peddled off into the proverbial sunset toward retail heaven. Well, as heavenly as retail can get in Hoo village.
As I went to chain my bike up, I noticed that my key was missing. Along with my mobile phone. I’d had them with me when I’d left. Panic exploded out of me and I set off, back the way I came in a fit of limbs, stricken screams and a near traffic accident.
It was my original belief that the phone and key had fallen from my pocket whilst navigating the speed bumps in the residential area, but to my surprise, I saw a recognisable black lump in the middle of the road that turns off onto the site. There was my phone. And key.
If that wasn’t shocking enough, it became apparent that a car had driven over my phone.
If I had been in an anime show at the time, my nose would have streamed blood when I discovered that my phone was unharmed, save for a small scratch on the bottom of the handset.
Blessed? I don’t like to attribute occurences like this to higher powers, but you can’t deny that I was lucky…
July 22, 2007
If I’d have known I was to spend my Saturday off subjecting myself to Bluewater, I would have stayed in bed. Or even better, just gone to work.
What possessed me to brave the vast interior is beyond me, but it resulted in approximately twelve minutes of terror as I was faced with the task of finding my way out of Marks and Spencer.
One wrong turn later (possibly at the handbags), I resorted to following two women back from the “Blue Car Park” (how I ended up there, I don’t know) which would have looked worryingly suspicious if I had continued to follow them beyond the French Knickers.
After finally spotting the exit into the shopping centre somewhere in the distance, I made a beeline amongst the throngs of shoppers, near clambering over trolleys and buggies in my desperation to be free.
It occurred to me, as I burst out of the shop front, that all the people I had passed somehow managed to make shopping look important. Their faces had hard looks on them, eyebrows knit together in concentration and eyes staring straight ahead at symmetrical patterns as fingers inspected sleeves and seams.
Could it be that Bluewater isn’t a shopping experience, but is actually a career?
It baffled me as I wandered past clumps of fashion that I could only assume to be people and felt sorry for the kids that were being dragged about by their mums, looking gormless. The truth is, that glazed expression may have been down the fact that every child I saw was eating a pot of frozen yogurt (a.k.a ice cream). These kids weren’t awed, they were stoned on sugary goodness.
I suddenly realised that this was how you make shopping look important. Put on your best drags and don your only pair of Gucci or Dolce and Gabanna sunglasses, and walk about with stylish paper bags for hours on end, as if you’re strutting up and down a catwalk (at this point, it helps to forget that you’re still in Kent and not London). Additionally, if you have kids, save yourself the embarrassment of being a parent by drugging them with confectionaries. They’ll keep quiet and you’ll remain gorgeous.
Adding fuel to the fire are the people who work there. I wandered into the O2 shop to look at my next upgrade – the Samsung U600. Yes, it is a commodity, but if O2 are going to give me a brand new, up-to-date mobile phone for free every twelves months in return for the pathetic £20 a month I pay, then I’m allowed to gloat. Little did I know that as soon as I set foot into the laminate-clad store, I’d be quietly stalked. Observed as I fiddled with grubby looking handsets on patches of plastic grass. Circled. Smiled at. Pounced upon like I was a juicy lunchtime snack. Do they not feed these people? Perhaps they’re threatened with thumb-screws or The Rack if they fail to reach their sales targets. Either way, the staff are no doubt there to make this the most important purchase of your life. LG Shine, or Prada…
In that moment, I came to understand that I was a form of anti-christ to these people. Why? Because I’m the savvy shopper. I don’t need someone to tell me about phones, because I have the power of the interweb at my command (apart from when my router crashes). Review it online and then brave the outside world to feel it in your palm, with Anthropophobia being the price to pay for a near life time of being able to make your own informed decisions without ever having to interact with people.
I politely refused assistance (by avoiding eye contact) and left before Bluewater Security were alerted to someone not actually shopping, but god forbid – browsing.
I had only been at Bluewater for half an hour before I began feeling doubtful of my role in existence. Chatham High Street employs at least two hours to achieve this.
My day was spent dodging Professional Shoppers with their armfuls of bags and fistfuls of buggies, and queuing – on a day when the seventh Harry Potter had been released. What was I thinking? Why did I even dare to consider indulging my bibliophilistic tendencies in Waterstones when I knew it would be packed with eager fans?.
I had gone to meet a friend for the day. A good friend. Unfortunately, having to spend so much time weaving, waiting and working through what we could manage in the ways of conversation made me long for the orderliness and isolation of MSN.
Popular as it may be, Bluewater does little for real social connections and even less for someone who just wants to sit down to a cup of green tea and muse over the tranquility at the bottom.
Needless to say, I won’t be taking any of my friendships there again. Unless I want to destroy them, leaving them to drown and shatter upon the rocks of hyper-consumerism.