(Above - Dr Claire Weekes)
A few people having read my blog have got in touch to tell me about Dr Claire Weekes. I have listened to her recordings on the website linked above.
In the last year i have noticed a shift in the way i think and they way i approch my illness. It is in my OWN opinion that therapies don't really work. But i want to stress that this is my own opinion. If there are people out there who have used therapies and have found success then i congratulate them and i am glad they have found what works for them.
However, i have spoken to so many people who have over come their anxiety or their agoraphobia and that is due to feeling the fear, but facing it anyway. This is how i plan to get my life back. I am going to put myself in the situations that will cause me to panic but instead of running for home i am going to stand there and accept the sensations no matter how horrific they may be. I know this is not going to be an easy task.... but it will be worth it.
Having spoken to various people i have learned that this may take 6 months, 8 months or a year, but really that is nothing compaired to the years we could spend suffering and giving into our situation.
This year it is my goal to face my fears and to BEAT them. Who know's i may go out tomorrow and panic and run straight home but instead of feeling defeated i will try again and again untill i have mastered it.
I would love to hear from ANYONE who has gone through this. Wish me luck
Wednesday, 30 January 2008
(Above - Dr Claire Weekes)
So this is me today. Have i made any great progress??? I would have to say yes and no. Obviously my agoraphobia has me limited in so many ways but mentally i feel far more able to deal with it. I have spent so many years working myself out, questioning why this has happened and how i'm going to fix it and now i feel i have the answers.
I am happy. Life isn't how i planned it. Having just turned 27 i had imagined a career, maybe marriage and kids but that's not happened for me and do you know what? That's ok!
I have my family. I have a beautiful home. I have my 3 wonderful nephews how make me smile. I have the 3 best friends a girl could ask for, Lynne, Laura and Angela and i have Chris.
What's the point in getting upset about what i don't have or what i've missed out on? I am young and i have my whole life ahead of me. People say they feel sorry for me, that someone my age shouldn't have to deal with this. Oh well, it's happened so no point complaining!
My life is just the same as any other girl my age. Ok so i don't work and i don't go out clubbing etc but i have the same day to day issues that they do. Love, Family, bills etc
I love the gossip magazines, watching my favourite tv shows, complaining about my apperance. I've been on a diet since November last year and have lost quite a bit of weight so that's given me a boost. If people think i'm a weirdo because of my condition then that's fine, they obvously don't know me very well and that's not the kind of person i need in my life.
I believe everything happens for a reason. I believe this was just something that was meant to happen to me and instead of feeling sorry for myself, i am going to turn this negative into a positive.
I have enroled in an open university course. You study at home and i have plenty of time for that ha ha. The course is in Health and Social Care and i plan to get into counselling or Social Work of some sort. I want to help people who have gone through the type's of issues as me. Instead of them meeting someone who will say 'Yeh i think i know what you mean, i've never had a panic attack myself'. I will be able to say 'I completely understand, i've been there' and hopefully i can put this experience to some use. Just need to help myself first.
Last year i joined another website. Bebo. Bebo has been fantastic for me. More than any site before it has put me in touch with so many people i had lost contact with over the years. One of these people was a guy called Christopher.
I had met Chris years previously when i used to go clubbing. We didn't know each other that well then, only just to say hello to, but when i spotted him on Bebo i said hello. We got chatting and Chris asked me if i would like to go for a drink.
So it was that awkward moment again, i had to explain my situation and hope he had an open mind and didn't think i was a bit strange. Luckily for me it didn't put him off and we decided we would meet.
The first time i met him was a very quick visit. Chris was working near my home and one day when driving to work he said he would pop by and say hello. It was summer time so i walked to the bottom of my street and we stood chatting in the sun for a while. After that Chris came to my house. We started to see each other regularly and our nights would usually consist of watching a movie and ordering a take away. We got on fantastically and always had a really good laugh together. Then it all went pear-shaped.
To be honest i wasn't making any effort to get out and do stuff with Chris. We had quickly fallen into the routine of just sitting in my house and chilling out but after 3 months Chris was getting a bit bored of it all. We split up. We talked after wards and he explained that he felt i wasn't even TRYING to do anything with him...and he was right. I guess i need to really know someone and really trust them in order to make that effort. They would see me at my most vulnerable and obviously i didn't feel i was ready.
We kept in touch and actually became really close friends. Closer than we had been when we were actually in a relationship. I started to have feelings for him, more so than i'd had before. I didn't say anything though because i knew that Chris wanted to have a 'proper' girlfriend. Someone who could actually go on dates with him. We would talk on the phone for ages, laughing and joking. He even came to me with his girl troubles which was kind of strange but it was nice that he felt he could open up to me, he's usually a very private person.
He started to send me nice texts round about christmas. Telling me that i was the nicest girl he'd met and how he could really talk to me, more than he could with his other friends. I felt that what we had was pretty special. Then on christmas say he text me saying 'Let's do it, I want to be with you'.
Obviously i was totally over the moon. We have been together ever since. I would say the break up was the best thing that could have happened. We had the chance to really get to know each other and become good friends before taking on the pressure of a relationship. It is going so well infact that Chris has said he would like me to move in with him.
That's going to be fun!! So far we are a month into the relationship and again we haven't even gone on a date but this time i don't feel so much pressure. Chris has already said he's just happy to be with me because he know's what it was like when we weren't a couple, he thought about me all the time etc. I KNOW i'm going to need to start making changes. I told him that the move would be more likely to happen in the summer, so thats a few months away. Like i said, i make more progress then and i will need a few practise runs in the car to actually get to his house. Chris lives in a completely different town from me and it's totally beyond my comfort zone. It's further away than i have been in years! Will i be able to do it??? Truthfully i have no idea. It's a very scary thought and i actually think worrying about it is what caused me to be so anxious these past few weeks.
Chris has told me to stop worrying so much, to relax. He's happy, he's not bored so why stress myself out. I guess that's easier said than done. I know that i am in love with Chris. He means so much to me that i don't want to let him down. So i'm going to keep my finger's crossed that i can make these changes for him....more importantly, make these changes for me!
Am i the only agoraphobic who is affected by the winter weather?
When it's summer i am out all day. Even if i am only lying sunbathing in the garden i am much happier. I feel more confident and i am able to trying pushing the boundaries further. I enjoy walking in the sunshine, or going for a ride on my bike with my mp3 player on..... but then there's winter.
When the bad weather arrives (which it does very quickly in Scotland) i go into hibernation. I don't want to go out on my bike because it's too cold and i don't want to go out walking and trying to push my boundaries because, let's face it, who really wants to go out walking in the rain? My progress comes to a halt. I sleep a lot. I spend a lot of time in bed watching tv or going online. I lose my routine and the days all just blur into one. I know that sounds really dull and depressing but i just want to be totally honest about this.
I know it's me who allows this to happen. I know nobody REALLY wants to go out in the winter but hey they have lifes to lead so they just need to get on with it. But for an agoraphobic like myself it's really not the best time of year. Does anyone else have the problem?
There is a social club not far from my home and within my comfort zone. Now that i was able to walk a little more i decided i would try and get to the pub for a night out with my friends. This would of course involve a little alcohol which seems to give me a bit more courage (not that i am saying anyone should rely on it). I had a few drinks with friends and then set off for the pub. Amazingly i made it! I was totally delighted. When i was there i felt absolutly fine. I did think to myself throughout the night 'Do i feel ok'? and told myself 'If i start to panic i can be home quickly enough' but i was fine. Happy and proud. Go Me!!
This became a regular event from then on. It's not the nicest place by any means but i started to go there every Friday night with friends. Karaoke night. So again i had a bit of a social life going on. The club was always packed, i always had fun, and i always got up and sung....badly.
I knew that going by past events i would need to keep up the routine of going every Friday. If i missed it one weekend it would make it harder for me to go back and that's exactly what happened. I missed one week, then two, then three untill suddenly going back seemed like it was going to be a challenge.
The last time i went to the club i actually had to laugh at myself. It was a friends 21st birthday party and i really wanted to attend. I was so determind but the walk seemed a bit too difficult. Oh well i always had my bike!! My friend Laura came to get me and i told her that i might need to take my bike. She said it didn't matter what i needed to do as long as i made it to the party.
So off i went walking to the club, with my bike.... in a skirt and heels. I didn't really care what i looked like as long as i made it to my destination. Even better was when the party ended and i cycled home in my heels haha. I must have been a sight for sore eyes and would that be classed as drunk driving???
Next i decided to try Hypnotherapy. I contacted a local women and explained my situation. She came out to my house armed with her cd player and calm voice.
She started to play the soothing music and talk me into a 'trance'. I lay there waiting for something to happen. She talked about how i would be able to go out, to feel relaxed etc etc.
This was taking place in my living room. I had unplugged the phones so as not to be distracted but just as i was getting into a state of relaxation the door was opened and i heard someone shout 'JAN ARE YOU IN'. My mum's friend had decided to pop by! After that i was so uptight and annoyed that the session was basically a waste of time...and more money.
I had tried Hypnotherapy once before but again i honestly don't think it worked for me. I didn't feel any significant change, it didnt reveal any hidden fears from my subconscious but most importantly it didn't make me start going out.
So another therapy tried...another therapy failed.
I should say however that even though hypnotherapy didn't work for me, that doesn't mean it won't work for others and when your living with panic attacks or agoraphobia i think it's worth giving anything a try because you never know which therapy is the one to suit you.
Tuesday, 29 January 2008
- Get me essentials like, deoderant, razors etc
- Do my clothes shopping
- Pick up my medication
- Pay my bills
- Go to the bank
Now that i could get to the shops i could at least do some things for myself and this increased my confidence. I live in a small village with only a few small shops like a chemist, post office and grocery store so i was still limited in what i could buy but i felt great not having to rely on other people quite so much. I was able to get out a little more than i had for a while but i was still living inside a comfort zone. My agoraphobia doesn't seem to be about the fear of open spaces, or crowds. For me it seems i am just happier in my safe place, my home, and when i go out i don't like to travel far from there. In my head i want to know that if i panic i can get home as quickly as possible. If i was to take a panic attack out side my instant reaction would be to run for home.
I am always interested in hearing how other people with agoraphobia cope with day to day things such as shopping or doctors appointments. All i can say is i am so glad i found the internet! That became my new source for clothes shopping, before then i had other people picking clothes for me and it's not really the same. Also i was lucky in that my doctor would visit me at home but there was also a lot i was missing...
My brother got married and there was no way i was going to be able to make it and if i'm completely honest i didn't even want to try. I'd rather stay at home and avoid putting myself though such an ordeal as i would have had to travel quite some distance to attend.
I have a nephew Luke who is in hospital quite a lot as he has spina bifida. He is the best thing in my life. My family was blessed the day Luke was born. I love him more than words can describe. He is such a character with a heart of gold and he is more like a little brother to me. When Luke was in hospital i didn't visit. Again this was way outside of my comfort zone. This hurt. Luke understood, he's a bright boy, so he didn't expect to see me at the hospital and he didn't hold it against me but i feel the guilt.
Then there's my mum. My mum is my best friend. I know most girls would say the same thing but she genuinley means everything to me. She is one of those people who spends her life putting other people first, always helping people in need. I have such a close relationship with my mum that i sometimes wonder if that's what caused my agoraphobia in the first place. Ever since i was a little girl i didn't like to be away from her for long and it seems this has continued into adulthood. But there is guilt in this relationship too. Guilt that i am her only daughter but she doesn't get to do the mum and daughter type things i know she misses. Going shopping, going for lunch etc. She doesn't have the best health so has to attend the doctors or hospital regularly and i feel i should be there to support her but these places are so far out of my comfort zone that it seems impossible.
Time to seek more help... Push the boundaries even further.
Monday, 28 January 2008
I had been living with my panic attacks for a couple of years by now. For a while i was able to live a some what normal life. As i mentioned before, i kept up working for a while and although i eventually quit everything else in my life was pretty much the same. I still saw my friends regularly. I would visit my family most days and my social life was as busy as ever. I never missed a Saturday night clubbing with friends. But i noticed the changes starting to take place.
When i was going out clubbing i would need alcohol before hand as the negative thoughts would already have kicked in. What if i panic in the nightclub? What if i can't get a taxi home quick enough? What if i panic in the taxi? So i would have a few vodka's for dutch courage and continue my night as normal. It seemed to be the build up to the night out that made me most anxious but once i actually arrived at the club i would be fine and would enjoy the rest of my night without a care in the world (the alcohol must have taken effect by then).
When i was out about about doing other things like shopping or visiting friends i realised i had this feeling inside me that i would really just rather be at home. I didn't understand WHY i felt this but i was aware of it, so i decided to tell my doctor.
I don't know if that was a mistake or not, but the day i told the doctor was the day that my life changed the most. After explaining how i had been and the feeling of wanting to be at home my doctor said 'It sounds like you have Agoraphobia'. I had heard about agoraphobia before. I was sure this was a condition which made people scared to leave their homes. I didn't realise that there are different types of agoraphobia or that people can have different symptoms. So i left the doctors feeling extremely worried.
That night i had to walk home. I was walking along and feeling ok when suddenly i started to think about what the doctor had told me. 'Well if i have agoraphobia i should be a nervous wreck right now'. 'I should be freaking out'. 'I'm not indoors so i shouldn't be handling this situation'.
Cue panic attack! Once again it was horrific. I was looking around and everything seemed huge and scary. The sky, the houses. I grabbed onto a fence and this time was literally paralysed with fear. My legs wouldnt move. I managed to phone my boyfriend and he came and prized me off the fence. From that day on i was full blown, never leaving the house, agoraphobic.
For me the main person who helped me at the start was my GP. I would make regular appointments and when the doctor told me i wasn't insane, that would be enough to keep me happy and calm for a while. However one of the first things my doctor done for me was refer me to speak to a counsellor. To be honest i don't have much to say about this. It's not that the counselling didnt help me or that i found it to be a useless experience, it's just that i didn't have many appointments. I think i maybe spoke to a counsellor about 4 times in all. I did find it helpful to talk about what i was dealing with. It wasn't something i discussed with friends and i still don't really. I feel they don't need to be dragged down by negativity, i'd much rather we have a good gossip and have fun when we are together. So it was a nice releif to be able to get everything off my chest. Also once again i found it a comfort when the counsellor would tell me my worries and thoughts were common in people with anxiety.
My next referal was to the Community Psychiatric Nurse. I would say that this was more helpful to me. I would meet with the nurse Donna once a week and we were going to be working on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The sessions took place in my home so i would be nice and relaxed and didn't have to go through the ordeal of travelling to and from appointments. We started with the basics, what i had been going through, my symptoms, how i coped with panic attacks etc. Donna provided me with a lot of reading material about anxiety and as per usual i found this helpful as i was realising i was not alone in this. She also taught me breathing excersises and how to relax, telling me that these would be the best methods in dealing with panic. Donna explained to me that i was thinking negatively and that by having these negative thoughts i was creating a vicious circle of anxiety. I began to understand my condition and realised she was so right! I did have a lot of negative thoughts and Donna tried to teach me how to over rule them. Ignore them. Why should i let these things control my life?
I was finding the CBT sessions very helpful. I was gaining a new confidence that i didn't have before. I could see that i could beat this. I had the strength to control my anxiety instead of it controlling me. That's when Donna told me she was leaving her job. She was moving to a job elsewhere. It wasn't the best news really. I felt i was making progress but with Donna leaving what would i do next? She told me that i would be assigned a new nurse. But after those weeks with Donna i never did see another nurse on a regular basis. A lack of staff or Staff sickness were the excuses i was given. I felt very let down, i was on my own again.
(above - Me and My Boyfriend Neil at T in The Park )
The Seroxat seemed to be working and at the end of January i waved goodbye to the family home and moved into my new flat which i had bought with Neil.
Neil and i had been together for 3 years by then and i was very happy. Our new place was perfect, my panic attacks had settled down and we were in love. Once again life was sweet.
Neil and my mum were my 'safe' people. When Neil was around i was ok. I would say that the first year in the flat i was 99% ok. I had no major panic attacks. A few wobbily moments but nothing i couldn't handle. I settled in easily and was instantly very comfortable in our little home. Maybe too comfortable....
As i mentioned before i had recently lost my job so i had to find myself some work. This was the easy part. I always had the gift of the gab and could talk any interviewer round my finger. It was rare that i wasn't offered the job. Getting the jobs was the easy bit. It was holding on to them that seemed to be my problem. It was mostly office work, administration, reception, that kind of thing. Suddenly i realised i wasn't interested in working. I know that no one REALLY enjoys going to work but this was different. I didn't want to go, i didn't care about it. I was freaquently taking days off because i 'just couldn't be bothered'. I had this new home which included new bills but i didn't care. I was shunning all kinds of responsability and leaving poor Neil to deal with the outcome. Staying at home just seemed like a better option. I realise this sounds incredibly selfish but i now think this was a sign of my panic attacks becoming agoraphobia.
It is quite common that people who suffer with panic attacks can become agoraphobic. If they have a panic attack in a specific place for example, a supermarket, then they will avoid putting themselves in that situation again for fear of bringing on a panic attack. This is what happened to me.
I remember travelling to work one day and getting a bus home which went straight along the motorway. The bus was packed and there were no seats available downstairs. Being a double decker bus i was able to get a seat on the top. It was a miserable day and the wind was blowing making the bus sway from side to side. On my way home the bus would have to drive over a bridge which was very high and not being a fan of heights i didnt particularly enjoy this part of the journey. When the bus got to the bridge the swaying became worse and i started to panic. I was once again terrified! I didn't know what to do, i felt trapped. I couldn't just get off the bus as i was on the middle of a motorway so i had to sit there and bear it. I remember gripping the seats till my knuckles where white. I closed my eyes and didn't care what i must have looked like, although i'm sure i must have looked ridiculous. I thought the trip would never end and being a smoker i had a cigarette lit before i had even stepped off the bus to help my nerves. It was such an ordeal! The next day i decided not to take that bus route again. I would get the train instead. I now know this was me avoiding things but at the time i didn't care, i just wanted the easy option.
It was going to take me longer to get to work using the train but off i went. Got my ticket and stepped on the train. The train was full. No Seats avaiable. I had to stand. I was standing there surrounded by strangers when the train doors closed. PANIC!!! The negative thoughts kicked in.
I can't breathe, i need air. I can't get to a window, People are looking at me, i can't get off this train! I managed to keep myself relatively calm as i knew it was only a short journey but needless to say the panic attack had scared me enough to make me avoid any future train jouneys.
Next option was to get another bus which didn't go directly on the motorway. This bus would add almost another half an hour onto my journey but once again i didn't care. Then another problem cropped up. Another bridge. This bridge wasn't very high but for some reason it still scared me. It took me a long time to admit why i was scared of bridges as i knew deep down it was totally irrational. I had got it into my head that the bus driver would just decide to drive off the end of the bridge. Whatever their reason may be i had the fear that maybe that day the driver would be suicidal and drive over the edge and take us all with him. I was embarrassed that i was having such a thought but it didnt take the fear away. So everyday driving over the bridge i would panic and hold on for dear life and everyday my anxiety got worse. I got to the stage where i would get the bus and ride to work, but when the bridge was ahead i would get off. I would then walk over the bridge and catch another bus at the other side. I remember how i would feel when i would see the bus i had been sitting on driving over the bridge and continuing it's journey without me. I felt stupid, embarrassed and ashamed.
Getting to and from work was becoming an ordeal. It took so much longer than it needed to and at the end of it i would be exhausted. I can understand why staying at home seemed the better option.
I spoke to my doctor again and explained the problems i was having. I was completely honest about the thoughts i was having, even though i was embarrassed. I was given some releif though as the doctor told me these thoughts are quite common and that i didnt need to feel as though i was losing my mind. Ok, i wasn't losing my mind but this also wasn't exactly a healthy way of life so the doctor signed me off work permanently. I left my job and was put on incapacity benefit. It was time to stop worrying about work and start worrying about my health and how i was going to make myself better.
This is my family -Mum, Brother Derek, Dad, Brother Joseph and Me celebrating my dads 50th.
The day after my first panic attack i woke up with my mum popping her head into my bedroom and telling me she was going out to visit one of her friends. I felt ok for about 5 minutes then suddenly the feelings i had the night before came back just as strongly and just as terrifying. I had quickly forgotten just how awful it was and realisation that it was happening again was too much for me to cope with.
I threw on my clothes and ran to my mums friends as quickly as i could. This time i knew it was a panic attack but it didnt make it any easier for me to deal with.
Over the next few weeks the panic attacks came thick and fast. My life changed. When i was suffering with anxiety i wouldn't go out. I was completely dependant on my family to look after me. I didn't want to be left alone and i phoned my doctor regularly. I still remember this period so vividly. My panic would build and at it's peak it would be so intense i would fear i was going to lose control. My boyfriend or my mum would be with me at these times and i was tell them to talk to me, to distract me as that was the only way i found i could get myself back down.
My doctor decided it was time for me to try some medication to deal with things. I had always been sceptical about the use of anti depressants. Like most people i had heard horror stories and how you could become addicted but when my doctor offered me Seroxat (paroxetine) i was more than happy to try anything if it would make me feel better.
The doctor told me that the first week on the drug would be the hardest. My body wouldnt be used to it so there was a chance i could feel unwell and even the chance that my panic attacks could get worse....and wow was he right.
It was a living nightmare. I couldn't eat, i couldn't sleep. I felt like i was having a 24 hour panic attack. I was vomiting, sweating it was horrendous. I called my doctor constantly! It was probably verging on harrassment! I needed to know if what i was going through was normal. I was always needing the reasurrance that i was ok, that this would pass. The panic attacks i had at this time were the worst i ever had and the memory of those nights are the ones that will stay with me forever. Maybe i was wrong to keep taking the tablets? As far as i was concerned this medication would help me and after that initial week i never had anymore problems.
I have since heard a lot of horror stories about Seroxat. People being extremely addicted, people whose symptoms have gotten worse because of the drug, or people who experience suicidal thoughts because of them but i can honestly say that Seroxat hasn't given me any of these problems in 8 years (touch wood). All i can say is, i have no idea how i would have coped with my anxiety without medication as i was basically put on it as soon as my problems started.
However, Seroxat leaves me with new worries. Have i been on the drug so long that they no longer work? Worse still.. How bad is it going to be when i need to stop taking them?
Ok, so like i said, i was 19 years old. I was in a long term relationship and had just bought my first home. I had fantastic friends and a very busy social life, life was good. On the other hand it was approaching Christmas and i had just lost my job so that wasn't ideal but i didnt let things like that bother me.... or so i thought.
I remember complaining of dizziness for a few days so i had been taking it easy at my parents house. I wasn't particularly worried, i was a teenager. It was the perfect excuse to be lazy and lie watching tv all day. It was a Thursday evening at around 5pm, wow i remember it so clearly!
My dad and my boyfriend had just come home from work and we were all gathered in the living room for dinner. Suddenly i felt very strange.
I was looking around the room and i felt very detatched from everything. My vision had gone slightly hazy. My dad must have noticed i'd gone quiet because he asked if i was ok to which i answered 'yes'. But i soon said 'no i'm not'. The panic set in! What was happening to me. I was dizzy, my heart was pounding, the room was spinning. My head was tight but most prominant was that i felt utterly terrified!! My mum started running around trying to help me. She grabbed the phone and called the doctor. I crawled to the front door to try and get some air. Maybe i needed to cool down? My dad has suffered Asthma all of his life so he was worried i was taking an asthma attack but my breathing seemed ok. The doctor came on the phone and i was like a women possessed. I was screaming that i needed help. That i didn't know what was happening to me but that he better come see me quick! I remember him arriving straight away. He got me onto the couch and explained that i had taken a panic attack. He told me it would pass or he could give me and injection which would cause me to pass out. Funnily enough I prefered the option of just letting it pass. I actually calmed down really quickly with the doctor there. My whole body was shaking and my legs were actually jumping as if in a spasm. I didn't care, i was just glad it was over!
That night i was actually laughing about it. Saying how strange it was and how weird it had been to call the doctor out like i did as that was something i had never done before. I felt totally fine by then. I figured it was a one off. Scary but a one off, that was untill the next morning ...