Does Avoidance work or does it feed the monster? Sometimes it does help. Cancelling a night out, or declining an invitation to visit a particular friend, can bring instant – even beneficial – relief.
However, at other times, the fear for whatever we avoid can multiply beyond all reasonability. I have had experience of both confronting and then latterly avoiding the same situation, with entirely different outcomes.
Twenty-two years ago, I was a victim of a particularly gruesome and terrifying attempted murder. Back then, the anger – and a core survival instinct – fuelled determination to recover, both physically and mentally.
At first, going out amongst strangers was a horrendous experience. The usual confident and friendly nature was lost. Any trust in fellow-humans, annihilated. I was only 28yrs old and had just separated from a 10-year relationship. There was a determination – a desire – not to allow this tragic incident to quash any chance of leading a normal life again.
Daytime anxieties were a challenge but achievable. Going out after dark, particularly to pubs, clubs or restaurants were an entirely different story.
In the beginning, nights out would only last 5-10-15 minutes, barely enough time to finish one drink. A close friend was a brilliant support, but watched helplessly as I melted in utter terror of our fellow revellers. With sweat trickling down my back, we would scuttle back to the safety of home.
I didn’t give up, but tried repeatedly until eventually we had a full night out doing pub-crawls and then one or two nightclubs. It is certainly proof that the textbook advice really does work. If I could recover from that, surely I could get through anything… right? No, WRONG!
It was the millennium – a time when many of us had big ideas for fresh starts and new adventures. January 2000, I am 37 years old. Life is good, work fantastic. Something dreadful happens, involving my assailant and there is an explosion of interest by newspaper and television programmes. It hits me like a ton of bricks.
It might all have been a delayed reaction. Not only did I avoid becoming reclusive all those years ago, but I had also been avoiding the grief and coming to terms with what had actually happened to me. Predictably, it culminated in my very first mental breakdown. All the seeds of multiple phobias return with a vengeance. This time, I couldn’t or wouldn’t fight.
A year ago, a Psychiatrist told me I am suffering from Agoraphobia. Agoraphobic?… Me?…this same courageous person who previously put up such a determined fight to survive and recover? How ridiculous!
Reading other people’s blogs and reflecting on my own situation, avoidance appears to play a major role in the life of everyone experiencing mental health problems. I believe we all possess the Knowledge of exactly what needs done in our lives to conquer the root of our avoidance. We have the insight to decipher what will work for us, and when the best time is to apply those changes.
However, the important fact that I am just coming to realise and accept, is that we cannot change overnight. If we have awareness of our avoidance, then we are on our way to conquering our fears and should feel proud. If I were to throw myself into battling ALL my fears, it will probably lead into another mental breakdown.
Therefore, while avoidance can be our foe, it is also our friend and protector. In my own case, firstly, I need to want to get better before I can challenge avoidance. Somehow, somewhere, I need to find a desire to change.