Glorious Holidays

Like most people with ongoing depression issues I struggle with the holidays and find this whole time of year overwhelming.

Unlike several members of my intimate circle (friends and family) I like spending the christmas hols with my parents and siblings  -our political differences are not so dramatic as to cause real hurt and we are quite good avoiding ‘issues’ where that seems to be required. Though they often don’t understand my choices we seem to have reached a happy détente and I feel no need to rock the boat so to speak.
Similarly, I am too far removed from office politics to give a shit about who I should kiss when or how I should frame our holiday schedules to make them make sense to monogamous folk.
And yet even having decided to not worry about whether people know about my intimate relationships or not, and whether or not that changes how I have to live my life – I am still stressed.

I am stressed not just because being open is not sufficient protection for the people I care about and they still have to deal with the judgements of others both on the basis of their decisions and mine – and yes some of our more poly sceptical friends our coming round to at least the “well I don’t approve but I can’t see anything obviously wrong with YOUR lives” view but its not quite making up for the “I’m not saying you can’t but you do know you are fucking up x’s life don’t you” camps… There are people I have known for years I just don’t know how to say to – “I get you care but back the fuck off because we are making this work by making our own rules and your constant whining/worrying is making it harder”… yes this makes it hard at this time of year when everyone is all about fucking hetero, mono family values but because actually its not as hard as just being expected to talk to people.

All the fucking parties. Organise this, make sure you have x,y,z together for when you see so-and-so…. leaving the house is a fucking struggle in spring when no one notices and you only have to get to the shops/see Mrs A./ go to your Dr.’s appt once a month or less but in december when everyone has a party and you need to do the shopping and getting a dr’s appt is a miracle, suddenly a week is a stack of unreasonable goals piled on almost impossible imaginary ideals.
And oh gods above they are all so cheery – if I believed what I heard at parties I’d know for sure that their relationships always got better and their jobs got more interesting

But that’s not what I feel as I curl up and battle back the tears before each time I venture outside, each time I wonder how to stop the shaking and hyperventilating to start a new conversation and everytime I want to apologise as someone starts to congratulate me on our new venture.

The desire to tear my skin apart is worse than it has been for nearly a year, my shoulder is hurting a lot again and I feel like a failure before we have even begun. Yay for self-fucking-confidence and all that shit.

Work at t’Mill & Losing touch

I haven’t really talked much about my volunteering at the archive here (normally discussing it over at my other blog) but it deserves a bit of a mention since it is currently my only truly regular activity outside of the domestic sphere.

The archive itself is dedicated to Mills and milling heritage and operates from a lovely listed building about 40 mins walk from my house. I don’t really have enough background in archives to have any idea how it compares to others but they are certainly working hard to do things right both in terms of procedure and with regard to making sure the material is used rather than simply stored.
The theory is that I go two afternoons a week – the minimum commitment for a volunteer is supposed to be 1 full day a week but in a fit of self-awareness I acknowledged mornings are hard for me and therefore 2 afternoons are more achievable and also get me out the house twice rather than once a week. However, I still struggle; it turns out that going into an office ticks all of my social anxiety boxes and that heading out of the house in the middle of the day might allow me to wake up appropriately but does also give me time to worry about going. Usually once I get there I can relax unless someone tries to talk to me or worse I need to ask someone a question… which fortunately doesn’t happen very often because actually cataloguing stuff is pretty straightforward and I now know as much or more about it in this context as anyone else. (It is more interesting than it sounds too)

Its good to get out of the house, and not just to walk the dog, because I am finding socialising pretty daunting at the moment. Not being at the pub means that people notice when I walk in and then I feel pressured into making conversation but without the safety-net of a bar between us. This effectively means that I only go in when there is someone with me and worse I have been semi-avoiding other bars in town because I know that there will be people I know in them as well. I need to push myself to break through this not just because its bad practice to ‘give-in’ to my anxiety but also because otherwise I will end up totally out of the loop with regard to new beers and best-sellers. I need to know what is available, what tastes good and what is doing well in the area if I am going to retain my position as ‘guru’. I don’t want to lose touch with what is going on in the world of beer just because I am currently between jobs, especially if I am going to order beer for next year’s beer festival and even more especially if I am ever going to run a pub of my own…….

On Anxiety

I never used to think of myself as the anxious sort. As a child, I had a few repetitive  nightmares but nothing that cowed me; I was never terrified of any particular thing – even when I was obsessed with the causes and effects of chemical warfare aged 8… When I was small, I would face any challenge, not undaunted, not without any sense of danger, but with no sense that I would ‘fail’. My parents worked hard to make sure that I never felt I had to conform to fashion or to gender stereotypes – in fact they actively encouraged be to be individual, different, to stand up for myself and to question authority and I was good at all those things. I think it made it harder to admit to being afraid.

When I first began to recognise that I had slipped into the rabbit hole of depression I still didn’t see anxiety – I was reckless with my personal safety and I thought of my inability to face my life as being simply a manifestation of being suicidal… looking back though I see how much the depression was entwined with fear. I thought that I was a failure, and since I was terrified of failing at anything I was tormented almost as much by the fear as by the overwhelming certainty of my own awfulness (& yes I still fight those feelings).

Only now do I see the beginnings of the anxiety that haunts me every day. The protections I put in place to face people each morning were there at 14 even before the idea of them dropping away plunged me into misery. It easy to see how each quick tot calmed the nerves; easy to see that leaving exams to sob and shake on my knees because I could no longer control the hyperventilation were early panic attacks; easy to see how my sense of isolation led to the failed attempts to walk into seminars… I have watched the words dance chaotically across the page in every exam I have taken since I was 15, as I slipped in and out of full consciousness whilst hyperventilating and couldn’t even admit I was afraid.

Sometime in my first few months at uni I realised I wasn’t just “stressed” & a bit “depressed” I was pathologically miserable and terrified of everything around me. I muddled through partly by being more afraid not to and mostly because of a rather wonderful girl. However, I was offered a job by someone I trusted & didn’t want to let down in my 2nd year of uni and I believe it has got me out of the house most weeks since even once he left. All through 2 years of undergrad & 2 years taught masters I had panic attacks on public transport and every time I went into certain shops and more significantly I had panic attacks before I left the house each time I did  and again before going into lectures or seminars, even leaving in the middle to freak out in the toilets whilst trying to contribute (greek translation I’m looking at you especially) but I went to work and played my part because they relied on me to do so and those moments of being forced to fight saw me through university.

So every sodding day I fight

Sometimes the walking out the house isn’t too bad and crowds of people are easy to ignore; sometimes the knots even unwind a little but often it takes me 30 mins to walk out the door just to walk the dog and I never know how to express myself. As well as the physical discomfort of anxiety (racing heart, shortness of breath, insomnia, shaking, sweating, nausea, headaches etc.) there is a sensation of permanently struggling to get one’s head above water, of inadequacy, uncertainty of being permanently scrutinised. I grit my teeth and know when I need to find a quiet space and glass of water to stop the shakes and the stuttering. I don’t have many panic attacks now – I am much better at controlling my breathing  at least – and I have both the CBT and mindfulness techniques for recognising illogical ideas, living in the moment and pushing myself to keep going. But knowing something isn’t true or isn’t harmful is not the same as stopping feeling like it is (logic is not enough to stop the whirring) and it doesn’t go away.

Turns out I’m pathologically anxious after all

Brief Comment on Democracy

The UK did some electing recently and I was able to participate thanks to the postal voting system.

It might sound like a trite thing to say but it is worth drawing attention to; I don’t have a postal vote because I am frequently out of the country or live at two addresses – I use one because it means that I can be part of the democratic process no matter how my health is on polling day.

If you suffer from any kind of depression or social anxiety walking into the polling station and making any sort of decision is mind-blowingly intimidating and overwhelming for the cognitive processes. Not to mention you have to get your shit together enough to know which day it is and where you are going.
I managed it only once; stood in a booth sweating, shaking and crying whilst I tried to remember something relevant about the names in front of me and knew I would probably never do it again.

But.
With a postal vote, I receive my ballot papers in advance. It means I have a chance to look at the candidates, walk away, look again, let them sink in & even go away and read about them on the internet all over again; I have a chance to read the instructions 3 or 4 times so I don’t just spoil the ballot paper and to actually make a choice. A real informed democratic choice.
It also means I have about a week to remember to take it to the postbox whenever I feel confident without time-pressure.

So when we talk about all the people who don’t vote and wring our hands in wet liberal despair about disenfranchisement – just remember that a simple change of process meant that my mental health no longer gets in the way of my vote and it might help someone else too!

Dog Walking – Health and Obligation

Before W and I got a dog we thought long and hard about the implications and responsibilities inherent in a pet. Particularly the time and energy required to walk a dog – as a couple who both have jobs, joint problems and severe social anxiety this was not a minor consideration.

I know that even though our Rory boy is old he needs to get out of the house regularly and that proper exercise keeps him healthy physically and psychologically. Its good for us too.
I am currently aiming for 2 brisk 20 min walks for the boy a day (which if I do both gives me 20 mins of raised pulse in total) and although I know that some days without a walk or with just one 30-50 min walk are acceptable I also know they do none of us any good.
I know that walking regularly helps me keep my weight down, forces me to get fresh air and daylight to lift my mood and generally promotes my overall wellbeing.

It is my duty to walk my dog.

Its not easy. A cold or flu makes the energy vanish, a headache makes any kind of focus fade, the cold and wet weather (or a heavy shift) mean that my knees and back ache and every step hurts.
But far more harshly my desire to hide from people paralyses every step. When I was deeper in the throes of misery I would walk my anxiety, anger and suicidality off at 2 or 3am when the streets were empty. Even now every day it is a battle to step through the door. I am at my worst when I anticipate other people on the walk.. the 8am club of dogwalkers at the local park who in their very existence make me feel inadequate as a dog-owner and person; the schoolchildren heading home; the people with their real jobs heading to or from places of employment – all of them are torture. When leaving the safety of my bed is tricky, leaving the protection of my home is a battle and panic attacks are only just under the surface.

I know that it is good for me not to let my fear rule my life and I know that therefore walking my dog is good for me. But I worry that W sees none of these benefits since my obligation is stronger than hers – she works harder and doesn’t have the same opinion of what a dog of Rory’s age needs – so it doesn’t seem to help her out the house etc. Plus some days when I am too tired for the fight with myself I worry that I am a cruel person to bring a dog into my struggle; that I might in some way let my health impinge on my dog’s wellbeing.

I guess the point of this post is just a reminder that whilst a pet is a fantastic companion and brilliant motivation for exercise and social interaction sometimes the price in exhaustion is heavy and the ability to guilt-trip oneself is strong.
I need to remember that actually its fantastic even when its hard, that sometimes its ok to say “its your turn – I need a break” and that “I’m sorry boy, how about I pet you and you lick my toes and show me you love me regardless?” works too.