Creating Positive Triggers

Creating positive triggers is a new concept to me, but it’s something I’m definitely willing to try.

Those of us with anxiety have negative triggers all around us. We associate bad things with ordinary objects or locations, because in the past, being around their object or in that location has made us panic.

I have many of these negative triggers: trains, buses, elevators, multi-storey buildings, pedestrian crossings, automatic doors – shall we go on? And usually, they prevent me from doing the things I want to do. I’m restricted to certain places, and I take random detours to avoid my triggers.

But what if we can turn a bad trigger into a good one?

What if we can condition ourselves to not think of something bad when we look at what scares us, but instead think of something good?

Wouldn’t that be fantastic?

I recently met a woman who puts this theory into practice, both with things that scare her and just for random points throughout the day to make life more enjoyable.

To name just a couple, she associates hooded sweatshirts with happiness and pedestrian crossings with laughter.

Pedestrian crossings used to scare her, so this positive trigger in replacement of the previous negative one allows her to use them without being afraid. Instead, she now thinks of something in her life that really made her laugh.

Hooded sweatshirts may not have made her scared, but now whenever she sees them in the street she remembers her positive trigger and smiles; just as a little uplift during the day.

I’m sure it’s one of those things that you have to do over and over again to get any sort of effect from it, so that your brain has time to re-condition itself to your new beliefs about the object or place.

But if it works, it’s so worth it. I’m a little sceptical – it does sound a little bit out there – but surely it’s worth a shot!

Eugh I did it!

After my bad day a couple of days ago, I thought I’d managed to get my anxiety back in order and was back to being confident to leave the house.

However, somehow it managed to show up again yesterday, and again today.

Anxiety is striking me every time I go further than the end of my street and last night I was unable to go into work to grab the keys for today’s shift.

But today, after much stress (and lots of doubt!), I am at work and have managed to open the shop up on my own. It’s a massive relief, not only for myself as a personal achievement, but also because my boss and colleague are currently in Barcelona so if I didn’t open the shop, the shop wouldn’t have opened!

So today I am happy, and my anxiety better be expecting more strength to come for tomorrow’s shift!

Earlier today

Below is a video of me earlier today. It’s not a happy video at all but it’s a real one and today I’ve just had a really bad day.

Right now, I’m just hoping that’s all it is – a bad day. I try so hard all the time to not be this way anymore. I’m just physically exhausted of panic. I hate letting people down all the time and letting myself down as well. And the thought that today it could have got worse frightened me more than anything else has in such a long time.

So I’ve spent all afternoon walking  to the end of the street, walking back, having a cuppa and starting again.

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I can’t let this get any worse. I can’t let myself be housebound. I can’t handle anymore than what I’ve already got going on.

Please know that I am already feeling much better than when I filmed this video – you have no reason to worry! But I think it’s important to show both the highs and lows of this illness. It’s not always ‘I can do this!‘, sometimes it’s ‘I really can’t do this.

We’re human at the end of the day.

Suggestions Welcome – Feardom Fighters

Recently, I let you all know about the Feardom Fighters who are:

empowering people to make their unspoken fears spoken and helping them access strategies to face and take control of their fears
– Feardom Fighters, 2015

You can see my full post by clicking here.

So many of you reacted well to the idea and reblogged my post which I’m so happy about – the more people we can reach with this movement the better.

Feardom Fighter‘s #FeardomFestival will take place this coming October and feature guest speakers, workshops and much more, to help inform people and hopefully give them techniques to manage their anxiety. I briefly mentioned in my previous post that I will be working alongside Kathryn – the founder of  #FeardomFestival – to ensure it is as accessible and comfortable for people suffering with anxiety as possible.

For example, I suggested that during the talks that will be taking place, the rows of chairs have enough space between them so that anybody can easily exit at any point. I personally don’t like feeling stuck and would always choose an end-seat – but if everybody requires an end-seat at the event, this poses a problem!

So firstly, do you have any further suggestions on this? If you were going to attend this event, what would make you feel more comfortable? This can be things pre-event such as specific information on the website and social media, or suggestions like my own at the event itself. There are no silly answers and we want to hear them all!

Please either comment with your ideas or email me at -@hotmail.co.uk

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The building itself is three-storey, with ground level being the second-storey (and so you have the option to either go downstairs or up), and there are lots of little rooms going off the main space as well.

This big space with different rooms also allows for many different activities on the day. A few of the current ideas right now are:

  • Creative workshops
  • Meditation
  • A calm zone

…and again, your suggestions are welcome! Kathryn is very dedicated to make sure people actually get something useful out of this event and come away feeling as though it was well-worth attending. Therefore, if you have any ideas on other activities or anything else you think could be useful to yourself if you were to attend, please let me know.

Also, if you particularly like any of the suggestions listed already let me know, as if something gets a positive response we can ensure it’s definitely put into place!

Again, please either comment suggestions on here, or email me at -@hotmail.co.uk

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I look forward to your thoughts!

Feardom Fighters

Yesterday I met up with someone who is doing something pretty awesome for us anxiety sufferers in Leeds after having suffered with anxiety herself; and so I wanted to share with you all Kathryn’s project – Feardom Fighters.

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Feardom Fighters is of the firm belief that everyone suffering with anxiety should be able to access the support and services that they need. And what’s really cool, is on World Mental Health Day 2015 (October 10th), the Feardom Fighters are putting on an event to encourage you to become a Feardom Fighter yourself and grab the information they’re offering with both hands to help aid your recovery.

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The #FeardomFestival will feature workshops, speakers and lots more! There will be places to go and relax and also places to express yourself through various mediums. You will learn strategies on how to cope with anxiety, and learn different techniques of how to effectively manage it.

Most importantly though, you will be around other Feardom Fighters that have years of experience to share, tips to dish out and understanding of what you’re going through.

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It’s going to be a fantastic event and I would highly recommend you follow Feardom Fighters on twitter, whether you’re able to attend the event or not. Kathryn shares lots of tips and videos on the twitter page and so it’s well worth checking out regardless!

You can also sign up for email updates by clicking here.

I’ll be working alongside Kathryn on this event to try to make the event as accessible and comfortable for everyone as possible – being someone who finds a lot of different situations and venues difficult because of my anxiety.

It’s a really exciting thing to be apart of, and when a full itinerary of the day is available, I’ll make sure to let you guys know!

The lead’s doing nothing, really

Agoraphobia is stupid isn’t it. I mean I’m not belittling it, I have it myself. But it’s stupid.

How can I allow my brain to take over me in such a way that prevents me from doing everything I want to do? I allow it to convince me that I’m trapped in certain situations when I’m really not – and even if I was, it wouldn’t hurt me.

It’s what I’ve conditioned myself to believe, but it isn’t real.

It reminds me of my beautiful dog, Charlie. When mum’s in the front garden and leaves him in the house, he barks. But when she let’s him out, he runs out of her site.

So instead, she began putting his lead on him. She doesn’t hold the lead. She doesn’t even have to be anywhere near him, but he doesn’t leave the garden. He recognises that the lead means he’s restrained and can’t leave, but of course that’s not true.

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That’s what I feel like – my poor baby (it’s for his own good really!) being tricked into thinking something that’s not true. It’s as though somebody’s put a lead around my neck and walked away; yet I believe it stops me.

But it’s difficult to re-condition yourself. Simply knowing that you’re incorrect isn’t nearly enough to stop feeling it. So how do you do it? How does one with agoraphobia finally take the lead off and be free?

Let’s do this.

You know I say this a lot – I’m going to get over this; I’m going to face my fears. But then when it comes down to it, I avoid the situation yet again because of the sheer agonising and encompassing fear that I just can’t shake off no matter how hard I try. It’s beyond anything that I can explain, but I know some of you know what I’m talking about.

Recently though, it’s been more than just the fear. I’ve always avoided situations and sure sometimes it’s frustrating, it angers me and it completely alters my life, but in every other aspect I’ve always been happy.

My boyfriend, my family and my friends are all incredible. I’ve finally reached that stage where I’m with who I want to be with and only the friends that are genuine are still around. Even the family that weren’t worth being in my life aren’t any longer.

But this last couple of weeks I’ve lost that happiness that I’ve carried with me throughout. I suddenly feel depressed and defeated. I’m tired and sick of being this way. I loved going to Canada when I was 18 and mine and my boyfriend’s plan last year at uni was to travel the UK to random places that we pointed to on a map with our eyes closed. But instead just weeks after making those plans, this happened and I can’t even travel to the next town.

And whilst he wouldn’t want me feeling guilty at all, it means he hasn’t got a holiday this year because I can’t go. It means in January he walked three miles with me in the snow to a show we were going to see, because I couldn’t get in the taxi. It just means everything is difficult and it doesn’t just affect me.

But I think I had to reach this point. I think I had to reach this rock-bottom of whatever the hell is going on in my head. And so I’m really going to do it this time. It’s going to take a while and I already feel sick at the thought of it. But what else am I going to do?

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I think a holiday is in order this time next year, don’t you?

Thank you for your guest post yesterday, Becky – you gave me the confidence to believe it could be done.

Guest Blog by Becky Prowse – Fight or Flight (My Battle with Agoraphobia)

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Becky Prowse who talks about her journey with Agoraphobia. Rebecca also has a fantastic blog where she features and reviews small business across the UK, Pretty & Petit

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Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, which means when the sufferer is in an environment or situation that they feel could become difficult or embarrassing to escape, they have a feeling of fear and ultimately this ends up as a anxiety attack. For myself, I usually feel extremely hot, dizzy or ‘spaced out’ and feel I need to get out of the situation as quickly as possible. I also feel like I need to be holding on to something or someone so I won’t fall. Falling is my main fear or being sick, which in turn has caused me to up my eating habits and make sure I am carrying water when on the underground or on journeys.
 
The places I feel this anxiety have been long journeys on trains, London underground and in tunnels, any large open spaces like parks and beaches, car parks, crossing large roads, supermarkets, shopping centres, bridges, roads on bright days that have bright surfaces that reflect (yes it really gets that detailed!) train stations and airports.
 
Before January 2011 I had no previous experience of agoraphobia, as any sufferer will tell you it does literally just come out of the blue. Due to unfortunate circumstances I had to visit a&e, where I was told to keep an eye on my appendix as it was very sore. I was written off work and I went back to stay with my mum in Kent. Eventually, I decided to go back to Southampton, where I live and work, to recuperate at home. When I got off the train at London Victoria I felt weak and sick and felt as though I needed to sit down straight away otherwise I would faint. I managed to get back to a station that my mum was able to collect me from and she took me straight to another hospital where they diagnosed me with post viral fatigue. It was at this time I had strong muscle pain in my legs, something which I realise now could have psychologically been linked to not wanting to walk very far from my house, the place that I felt safest. The pain was so bad I struggled to walk to the end of the road without feeling exhausted and I would struggle to get in and out of the bath or shower. So after I returned to Southampton, gaining a lift from my mum this time, I went back to work and slowly resumed my usual daily routine.
 
I found with this routine suddenly some things were getting harder to do. I would feel panic walking down empty aisles in supermarkets, when crossing large main roads and walking through empty car parks. I shrugged this off as nothing but it continued to worsen, leading to me having to change my usual route to work because I couldn’t walk down a stretch of road as it seemed too ‘open’ to even think about walking down. Avoidance of these spaces and situations is key to agoraphobia, and is what causes the condition to worsen, until you are eventually fearful of even leaving the house. Eventually, after moving house I decided it was the right time to go and see a new GP about my problem. I had initially looked it up on the internet but thought there would be no access for treatment and therapy or even hypnotherapy seemed to be a costly option. It was after over a year of frustration and fear that I was eventually diagnosed as an agoraphobic.
I started a course of counselling in Summer 2012, that fitted in around my work schedule. I was given a variety of options, CBT being one of them which is cognitive behavioural treatment. This includes exposure, that is centred around a hierarchy that I have worked on from the most feared situations to the least feared and every week a new fear has been tackled. Obviously a lot more has been involved in these weekly sessions that I won’t divulge into, but if you have any questions please feel free to ask me.
 
I have told this story to various doctors over 7 times now, as many were seemingly unable to diagnose agoraphobia, sending me for countless blood tests. It is only when I moved and visited a new GP that he told me to self-refer to a counsellor who gave me regular CBT treatment over 6-8 weeks. She was wonderful and inspired me to gain my confidence in walking through those places that I fear the most using a hierarchy strategy.
 
Unfortunately in April 2014, around 6 months after I had initially moved to London my condition worsened due to significant stress levels. I was put on a course of anti-depressants to control my anxiety which I had a severe reaction to and was referred back to therapy. This was my lowest point where I felt that I could not leave the house without feeling anxious and I had to be accompanied everywhere I went. The effect that the medication had was absolutely terrifying but my body just reacted badly to it and it is certainly not the same for everyone.
 
I went for weekly sessions with a therapist at a hospital in London where they treated me with CBT. We discussed the various triggers and completed a few ‘field’ trips in large shopping centres to get me used to the open space. We also tackled my fear of escalators which seemed to have emerge after my relapse.
 
So now we are in July 2015 and although my agoraphobia hasn’t disappeared completely I do feel much better. It has been a long journey to get to this point. I still have to plan every journey and avoid going on the tube if I can. I still avoid high escalators opting for the lift or stairs instead and very large open spaces. It is difficult for many to understand agoraphobia, even my closest friends and family are unable to, because it’s difficult to describe a fear and frustration of not being able to do something that is seemingly so simple. I don’t think there has been a session I have had where I haven’t felt emotionally drained and cried because it really is that exhausting.
The sad thing is that so many people are suffering in silence. Agoraphobia, if left untreated, can leave you housebound. This was something that I had to ensure would not happen to me and something that I have kept as a goal over the past four years. I read a fact earlier whilst researching for other agoraphobics who have shared their stories on blogs and YouTube that 20% of those with mental anxiety issues commit suicide. This is a scary statistic and one that I feel will stick with me as I share my own story in combatting this phobia and to hopefully inspire more people. 
There is no certainty that my anxiety won’t return in the future. It could come on just as suddenly, but hopefully I will now have ways to handle the fears and will be able to control it.

Guest Post by Morgan R – A Secret Case of OCD

I’ve decided recently to feature some guests here on my blog to showcase some other people’s troubles with mental health. Here we have Morgan R who talks about her journey with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder after keeping it a secret for a decade. Please check out her blog by clicking here for more.

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I find it odd that I can be having an anxiety attack and no one around me would ever know. Then again, it’s not all that odd because that’s how it was for over a decade. I’ve had OCD since at least elementary school but I was only diagnosed a year ago. And the unfortunate thing is this delay in a diagnosis is not uncommon at all. It’s quite standard for OCD.

I’m not sure why for all these years I put so much effort into hiding all of my fears and compulsions. Maybe it seemed like I was acting odd at times but somehow I did a pretty decent job of hiding my rituals. I remember as a little kid one of my compulsions was to spin in circles evenly to the right and left. Somehow I blended this in all through ballet class. What’s almost funny is I even saw a therapist at times in high school. Yet even she didn’t notice so how could anyone else?

Even if I hadn’t hid my symptoms all these years I’m not sure it would have made much of a difference. Aside from my brief phase of hand-washing in middle school I don’t have very stereotypical OCD fears. If most people heard about my fears and compulsions they might actually be surprised to learn that these are a part of OCD. For example, currently I have a lot of fears about preventing fire, fears about losing information, and even fears about losing information in fires.

It wasn’t until I began college though that my OCD really worsened. It went from fairly annoying to incredibly destructive. An hour a day of rituals very quickly grew to several hours. After enough googling and thinking back to AP psychology it became pretty obvious to me that this was OCD. I don’t recommend diagnosing yourself but the pieces fit too well. I spoke with my mom and we scheduled an appointment for me to meet with a different mental health professional. That day I got an official diagnosis and the road to treatment began!

Now I continue to work on my OCD through ERP (exposure and response prevention) therapy and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy.) For the most part it is helpful. In particular I find exposures extremely helpful. I have already gotten over several fears and am working on more. It is tricky to balance working on OCD with the stress of school and I am being honest when I say ERP is very hard. Old fears like to try to come back when I am focusing on stopping new fears or if I am extra stressed, such as during exams. Nonetheless, I like to remember past successes in therapy to remain motivated and to remain hopeful that I can continue to make progress.

If I can give advice to anyone struggling with their mental health my advice would be to stop hiding everything and take the chance of telling someone. Find someone you trust and tell them about your concerns. Most importantly, make an appointment with a mental health professional. It’s definitely frightening and not always easy but getting better is very possible. It is so worth it too.

Thank you so much to Lauren for letting me write a guest post!

Morgan

Stuck to the Ground

Yesterday after researching for a while I came across this video from Dr. Harry Barry explaining to Panic Away how to manage and stop panic attacks from happening.

I found it really interesting because he takes a different approach in many of his theories to what a lot of us have heard over and over again. For example, he recommends not using breathing exercises during a panic attack as it reaffirms to your body that you’re in a dangerous situation and therefore makes the anxiety worse.

It’s much more about facing the panic and getting rid once and for all, rather than masking it with various distractions.

Anyway the reason I’m sharing this with you is because nothing for me so far has worked, and I know many of you have tried countless therapies, medications, remedies, techniques – and you haven’t made much progress either. I am in no way recommending that you follow this way of thinking (especially if it interferes with treatment that you are currently undergoing – please take a professional’s advice first), but for me I now have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I have no other options left.

Please watch it and let me know your thoughts.