Para-RARGH!a-noia (and it’s battlements)

Apprehension and wariness of others is unfortunately, for me, a consequence of feelings of fear and anxiety lingering about from some not-so-fabulous past experiences. I often agonise over the meaning behind this or that comment, searching for the clues that confirm my suspicions – they don’t like me, I’m annoying them, they think I’m an idiot, they’re just hanging out with me because they’re bored/out of pity, etc. Why the distrust? This tendency to predict rejection really isolates me from others; a lonely walled space; drawbridge raised and battlements guarded.
I’m afraid to expect certain things from people, such as understanding, compassion, time even, horrified at the thought of imposing any kind of obligation. At one time in my life I believed this approach to be realistic, fair and principled – as if to count on more is too emotionally burdensome, impeding on other’s freedom! Not too long ago though I came to recognise this as a (semi-sub-conscious I guess!) strategy to avoid being let down.
I have a friend who once jokingly labelled me a “flight risk” due to my disappearing acts; connoisseur of the “Irish goodbye”.
A few drinks hampered my stringent self-monitoring. I’d jump ship at the slightest chance of judgement or criticism coming my way. Throw myself to the waves rather than reveal my vulnerable self and suffer any form of emotional abandonment. Such a contradiction, self isolation to avoid . . . well, . . isolation!
Admitting the problem, first step, so on. It’s not easy though to lower that drawbridge and disengage those braced arrows. It feels like moving to a yurt, perched on a cliff, wind howling and waves crashing hundreds of meters below.

Fear

Sometimes I feel like i’m 99.9% imbued with fear, fear overwhelms me. That poor little 0.1% courage has to do battle continuously, day and night, week after week, year after year; a lifetime of internal warfare. Even Hercules only had the 12 tasks and no doubt got to take a fair few breathers with alluring shapely maidens in between!

I’m not Hercules, I’m Aisling and my tasks are in comparison pretty puny; I doubt people would have judged Hercules too harshly had he been defeated by the nine-headed serpent lady or if he had taken two days rather than one to clean the smelly shed. Comparatively, people find it harder to fathom why getting out the front door to work would be such a laborious task or sitting in a one-on-one meeting with an authority figure or having to spend long periods of time alone.

In my anxiety ridden mind that step out the front door is a step into a world where criticisms and judgments are hurled at me like fiery canon balls; agents of this fast and furious city are lurking and ready to snuff out my pathetic, useless self; my terrible secret could be spilled at any moment – my inability sloshing onto the street for all to see. That authority figure is going to tear me down, “put me in my place”, like my English teacher did when I was in Secondary School. Those long periods alone is when that harshly critical voice, (people who tend to doubt themselves know well), gets louder and more seething.

On my worst days I give up, depression and self-loathing snake in and I step backwards into my lonely cave, out of the fight, into the fog full of whispers. “Where’s my shapely maiden?”, I ask full of self pity.

The psychology books and the CBT councilors tell you to face your fear, that cowering from it may provide short-term relief but it will inevitably lead to a lowering of self-belief in the long-term. I’ve found this to be very true, however, the more difficult sub-clause to this is learning not to berate myself when I do skulk back into the shadows. I’ve had to accept that sometimes I will be beaten by that fear but as yer man Beckett himself does be sayin –

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better”

Cooperating with my CBT training I now aim to move past the failure by writing down what happened, the triggers, the feelings, the feeling following the initial feelings! (variously called an Emotional Diary/Thoughts Diary/Cognitive Diary, see http://www.excelatlife.com/forms/cognitive_diary.htm). 

CFT (Compassion Focused Therepy) might recommend I write myself a compassionate letter, e.g. “Memories from the past were triggered and your fightflightfreeze or appease response kicked in to protect you. You got scared, it happens to everyone, nobody finds dealing with distress easy but you do have the strength and wisdom to do it”(http://www.compassionfocusedtherapy.com.au/resources.html)

Both methods are ways to allow me to learn more effectively from the “failure” (let’s be sickeningly positive and call it a “lesson”), to identify what feelings reared their head and why, and ultimately to put it behind me and move on to the next battle. 

Each time courage wins or even just makes a little ground, it grows in size. Fear’s proportion shrinks a little and there’s room in me for more me! 🙂

“A small daily task if it really be daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules” – Anthony Trollope

It really does take courage to clamber out of that dark hole in the rock, turning away from those foggy whispers that tell you they are protecting you, teaching you . . . but that view from the outside is worth it; that feeling of having control of your own choices.

If anyone tells you that’s not an admirable feat akin to a legendary champion just laugh in their face, manically if you want to add some extra umpph.

Bit O’ Background

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you” – Mary Angelou

My name is Aisling and these are my mind memoirs.

I was always a bit on the anxious side, even as a child. When I was about 17 I got my first panic attack – I had no idea what it was or why I felt like I couldn’t breathe, I knew I just needed to escape, to run, to squirm away from the hands around my throat. For a long time I was so embarrassed and ashamed of the panic attacks, I felt weak and pathetic, dramatic and ridiculous. I feared what people thought of me, I wondered why I wasn’t strong and together like I believed everyone else was. I’m still learning to try and let the frustration at myself go after an episode of panic, to leave it behind and move on.

A few times in my life I have suffered from periods of overwhelming depression, including a spell in St. Patrick’s Mental Health Hospital in Dublin. Depression for me is like being transported to a whole other universe; it looks a lot like this one but it’s cold and oppressive and no one really wants me around. I feel like I’m a burden on everyone. I feel like a parasite and the only solution I can see is one that involves removing myself from the equation. I overwhelmingly feel a sense of loss and grief, for what, I’m not quite sure.

It is so important for people experiencing this to know they are cared about, wanted, important, worthy. Depression is not a weakness inherent to you alone, it is a human condition and can happen to anybody (some of the most admirable people who have walked and are currently walking this earth have suffered with mental health issues). You have just as much right as anyone else suffering to seek help and to want to be happy.

The first psychiatrist I ever attended wasn’t the right practitioner for me, which can be frustrating, but it was the start of a journey towards recovery. I attended quite a few doctors and therapists who I couldn’t relate to so the jouney thus far has had many ups, downs, set-backs and topsy-turvey loops. Medication was tried and it didn’t work but for some people it works wonders. Recovery isn’t always linear, in my experience it’s more like playing snakes and ladders which is why it’s so crucial to have support, a friend who understands and will listen, even if it’s just the number to the Samaritans saved in your phone.  Samaritans’ 24 hour Helpline Ireland: 116 123

Getting the right kind of help is not always easy but things are improving in the area of mental health, don’t give up, there are good therapists and services out there. If you don’t feel you are being listened to or understood find someone else, trust your gut on this, don’t doubt yourself, you’ll know if something is working for you or not. If you have a close family member or friend who can come with you to visit the GP or a therapist don’t feel you can’t accept their help, or don’t feel you can’t ask for it. The voice telling you not to put people out with your “silly little problem” is not reason, it’s the depression talking, everyone needs support from time to time. Being assertive is so difficult when you are down, your energy is missing, your body is flooded with stress hormones and your self esteem is at an all time low. This is the very reason there is not a drop of shame in asking someone you trust to support you and even advocate for you when you need it – “Can you come with me to the doctor/therapist? I am so scared”. 

I have now found a clinical psychologist who fits me and my particular difficulties and I’m moving forward.