Tag Archives: Agoraphobia

Therapy and Healing

I’ve not been writing a lot about therapy lately. My last post about Paul’s absence was actually twoWP_20131116_001 weeks old. I’m not sure what’s going on for me right now. In the days leading up to this therapy programme, I often wondered what healing from trauma might actually feel like and what shape the process might take.

Each one of us have our own route to healing, but my own journey  feels as though I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of reflection and rumination, writing and talking… anger… regret, and many stages of grief.

We learned early in our group how important it is to observe the feelings. There were months when I seemed to exist in a weird trance like state with a whirlwind of emotions circling inside my head. I thought acceptance, healing, and change might never come into focus, but this is beginning to feel much more likely.

The last group I attended was two-weeks ago. I had only just received the bizarre telephone call, which brought news about the death of my long lost friend, Anne.

I’m still trying to grasp how extraordinary that coincidence actually was and the news has been difficult to come to terms with. However, the experience came to mean so much more than synchronicity or grief.

In the days that followed the news, my mind was awash with long forgotten memories of the past. It took a few days to realise that beyond the nostalgia, was a clear view of how I once viewed my existence.

I recalled the enthusiasm and heaps of confidence that would eventually become lost beneath years of mental health problems. I have able to taste what life once meant to me and what I meant to life.

When I first approached a Psychiatrist five years ago, almost begging for help, the distress came from a realisation that I didn’t want to get any better, “not if it means interacting and trusting other people again…” My perception of life had been utterly dismal for so many years, it was easy to lose track of what existed before the days of mental illness.

th0UQOMD3LIt feels as though these long forgotten memories form part of the missing jigsaw and now I can see a lifestyle that is worthwhile aiming for. Of course, everyone changes with time and there is no return to a former self, but I finally envisage what life could look like.

We return to usual sessions next week, but already my time is running out in therapy. We finish group in December and from January until June, I will be on a rapid sliding scale with my Therapist, Paul.

It might sound strange, but my least problematic condition in recent years has been Agoraphobia because it kept me safe and comfortable within an isolated cocoon. At the heart of the debilitating phobia is a fear of venturing into strange places with the prospect of meeting unfamiliar people. This brings me full circle to the very place I started with my Psychiatrist five years ago, only this time, I do want to face those fears and I will ultimately find a new life, but the prospect of change is scary and therein is the next stage of my therapy.

Dr Gerald Stein writes a nice post on avoiding our fears, taking control, and making the best of life here

The Fear Depresses me the Most

It has been a long time since I experienced significant bouts of depression. I’m quiteblack dog sure many readers will relate to that jittery feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, never really knowing how low the depression will go, or if it’s merely just a passing blip.

My MH diagnosis’ includes Major Depressive Disorder so I guess it does what it says on the bottle. There was a time not so long ago when chronic depression became more than a regular occurrence, but it feels as if I’m out of practice, although this can only be a good thing.

Where did this episode begin? The largest part of it seemed to settle during my therapy with Paul yesterday. I was already exhausted and feeling pissed off on arrival, which just seemed to snowball during our session.

We briefly talked about a number of issues, without going into anything in depth, but those topics possibly held more significance than I initially realised.

I told Paul about my emails to the narcissistic mother and Sissy, the Golden-child, asking for no contact. There’s not one shadow of doubt or regret hanging over that decision, but underneath the certainty, is a weird sense of loss. I didn’t expect this to happen.

The fact is, childhood memories and dysfunctional family dynamics have dominated my life for such a long time and now that my mind isn’t so swamped, there’s this vast empty space just waiting… waiting… for… my… future. The fear depresses me the most.

Somewhere along the way, I lost faith in myself. I was always a worker and the opportunities were more than I could’ve ever wished for, I loved and breathed my vocation. But, fifteen years disappeared and there’s no way I would qualify for the same positions today.

Nevertheless, Cat does have something in mind, but the plan entails going back to college/university for four years. It’s not the time that feels daunting and I can handle the cost and even the debt, but the thought of returning to study at 52, feels humiliating. I know, I know, we’re never too old, but I just can’t snap out of feeling a complete failure for reaching this time of life without any solid roots.

The biggest hurdle of all is PTSD and ‘related’ Agoraphobia, which is something I don’t often talk about on this blog, but it’s hard to imagine being able to live my life as freely as before. The “related” part is not a medical diagnosis, but it’s entirely the aftermath of being a victim to violent crime, which I wrote about here.

There’s little point telling a victim of any kind of trauma that it might never happen. The fact is, it did happen, and sometimes the unimaginable becomes someone’s reality. .

Yes, I know how unlikely it is to become a victim of abuse or violent crime again and I’ve heard all about “statistically,” but I was once one of those statistics, so applying that kind of logic doesn’t seem to cut it for me.

When I first started therapy, many things were hard to imagine.

It would not have been possible for me to talk about childhood memories without recoiling in shame and trauma.

It was hard to imagine ever finding peace and acceptance for the childhood hurt and disappointment, and I never thought it possible to find the courage to ‘divorce’ my family.

thU6CGHWTTWhen I first asked the Mental Health Team for help three years ago, I shamefully admitted to the Psychiatrist, “I don’t want to get any better, not if it means re-joining life again or connecting with people” and here I am, anticipating and planning both.

It seems these “hard to imagine” scenarios have a habit of becoming reality and this needs to be my focus in the next phase of therapy, but that doesn’t mean every part of my senses will not still be screaming out “DANGER” whenever I try to push past those safe boundaries.

Therapy – Moving Forward

I am not sure what I expected to happen when the childhood trauma finally faded into the past. Maybe I envisaged bright colourful healing lights with life changing eureka moments, but my own experience of “renewal” has crept up so slowly, I almost didn’t notice.

I was apprehensive about therapy with Paul yesterday, mainly because I couldn’t think17423085-3d-small-people--with-a-question-mark of anything to say. We’ve spent months analysing my experience of childhood trauma and the ambiguous family relationships, but these have finally run out of gas.

Turning up for a fifty-minute therapy session without any kind of agenda will run the risk of hitting a wall of painful silence, but I’ve learned in recent weeks that these are often the most powerful sessions.

The Psychiatrist – the wonderful Dr J – used to say, “Whenever you don’t feel like coming to therapy, those are the times when you need to attend the most.” She never did offer an explanation, but the glint in her eye said, ‘try it and see’.

I’m still not entirely sure what it achieves, other than to force someone to sit with the discomfort, and maybe this is the purpose of the exercise, so off I trundled to therapy yesterday afternoon.

thLPKB5TKTI told Paul that the door to my past has firmly closed behind me and now I only see this vast empty space, and this represents my life and the near future. It is my opportunity to build a new existence, but I am apprehensive about pottering around a strange environment.

Paul and I talked about the fear, which didn’t altogether make sense. I did the professional life once before. Of course, I couldn’t waltz back into the same jobs today and there is still the ‘little’ problem of PTSD and Agoraphobia to overcome, but retraining is not out of the question.

Of course, it would be an enormous challenge and I am not even sure if funding (at my age) would make this dream a reality. As we were exploring this, it felt as if there was something more than fear that was potentially holding me back.

And then it happened, a true eureka-therapy-moment, a very small and simple realisation with an enormous potential for healing. I heard my subconscious speak the words that accurately describe my fears for moving forwards. “I’ve completely lost faith in myself.” I bowed my head.

The enormity of those words hovered in the silent space between Paul and me. “How can I trust myself after all these years of running… hiding… and failing.”

Last night I realised the significance of our session. I can barely believe this is little-ol-broken-me, thinking and actually talking of a future. I remember an appointment with my Psychiatrist three years ago, “I no longer want to get better,” I confessed in despair, “Not if it means reconnecting with life or building relationships again.”

Only last year, it didn’t feel possible to get to where I am today, when the positivethNKAGMHVY thoughts start to outweigh the negative ones and suddenly there is a future waiting just ahead. As it happens, Yes, I do want to get better and, yes, I do want to connect with life again.

I think this is progress.

Castle & Moat

I didn’t attend therapy last week due to the hospital fiasco, I feel a little out of touchth532FIEZM already. Looking back through my blog, which is like a memory bank, I now remember talking about “The Void.” Maybe this is why everything feels so blank right now.

There is this metaphorical Castle and Moat that I built with my own bare hands over many years. It is my crusade for ridiculous isolation and keeps me safe from the world I perceived as dangerous. The only problem is that the original building plans never did include a drawbridge.

It feels as though I already have the materials to build a bridge, which will reconnect with life on the outside. I just need to figure out how to put it all together.

All of this sounds positive stuff, but excuse the absence of a royal fanfare. We need to really want something before we’re able to bring about the necessary changes to achieve it. I am not sure where my motivation is, or maybe I’m uncertain of which direction to take.

thDCBQB7FJ

None of this comes easy. I’ve been isolated for so many years, I’m too comfortable and protected from all the nasty things that might – WILL – happen in the big bad world, but this doesn’t mean I should avoid facing them.

Many of us take trust for granted, but it’s an essential ingredient for living together harmoniously and for going about our business with a certain degree of safety. Of thL8M3E5X1course, there are different levels of trust, but each of them begins with the most basic, trust in strangers.

Apart from family members, every person in your life was once a stranger who you needed to trust to reach a point where the relationship is today.

I used to pretend to trust people and would build my relationships on false foundations, which is probably why everyone came to mean very little. If I’ve never experienced trust as a child, how would I know what it is or how to experience it?

The only emotion I feel right now is a kind of blandness, not feeling or thinking much of anything. The territory feels strange, even a little disconcerting, but I’m going to stick with it and see what unfolds at Wednesday’s therapy with Paul.

The Court trial & the martyr

As regular readers already know, years ago I was the victim of a completely unprovoked attempted murder by an evil character who is your movie-style psycho killer.

I asked my parents not to attend the High Court trial in an effort to save them from hearing personal details of my life echo around a courtroom disparagingly. There was a vulnerable need to protect myself against mother’s judgemental mentality and those familiar speeches of martyrdom.

I could only envisage my parent’s shame as their son’s life became public before a Jury and a busy public gallery. My assailants defence team were preparing to tear my testimony to shreds with accusations of the most despicable kind. There were only two of us in that room that night, no witnesses, just my word against his.

A High Court trial Jury in the UK are never aware of a Defendant’s criminal convictions until after a Judge passes a verdict of guilty, so for the duration of our humiliating trial, my character came under cruel and degrading scrutiny.

My assailant’s academic intelligence arrogantly tried to justify my extensive injuries and blundered through a ridiculous explanation of why I would jump through a first floor window in a dangerous bid to escape, if I was the attacker. The Jury were there to make a judgement.

The Defendant’s respectable middle class parents sat quietly in the courtroom in support of their precious son, while I couldn’t trust my mother to provide that same unconditional support, not without it being regurgitated sometime in the future with that familiar statement of, “Oh, what a terrible time I’m having.”

On the day of the verdict, I couldn’t go anywhere near the Courthouse. A bizarre and rather shocking twist to this story is that only a couple of years previously, my assailant had actually been sent to prison for life, for the first murder he ever committed.

Two years into his life sentence, he took his appeal to the Supreme Court and the Judges ruled that the Jury in the first murder trial were prejudiced into finding him guilty. Even though he admitted to the murder, those idiotic Judges, in all their glory and wisdom, overturned his guilty verdict and set him free. He had walked free once, this trial could swing either way.

Waiting at home alone for the verdict, I have never felt so nervous in my entire life, the sort where you just cannot get off the toilet, while watching the second hand sweep away the minutes. When the phone eventually did ring, it was the martyr, my mother.

Mum: Well Cat, That’s it finished… (She has that familiar patronising voice, the one that stinks of ‘woe is me’). Now listen, son, I hope we can put this behind us now because me and yer Dad ‘are done’, this is taking its toll on everyone, you know.

Silence

Mum: Hello? Are ye there?

Me: Well? Have they reached a verdict yet? Have you heard?

Mum: Eh?… Oh… Aye, they got him for it… he’s found guilty. Now listen, son, I really hope we can start to move on with our lives. Your only young, you’ll get over it.

Stunned silence

Me: Um…well, ‘Leaving it all behind’ might not be so straightforward for the victim.

Mum: I know that you’re the victim, son, (my tummy turns queasy whenever she uses ‘son’ in that emotionally blackmailing way) but listen, we’ve all been through a hard time over this, we’re all victims, it’s not all about you, you know.”

That telephone call is the beginning of where we are today. There is little point in trying to speak up against such narcissistic thinking and my silence has pushed her further and further away, but the anger, the guilt, and all the things I should have said, but couldn’t, are fuel to the chronic rumination today and this is one of the things I will be working on in therapy over the coming weeks.

Find a Way Back to Me

The thing about dissociation is it often makes us forget why our minds can feel so chaotic at times. But, just because we dissociate, doesn’t necessarily mean the dissociative issues are not still playing out in our subconscious and having a devastating impact on our overall emotional wellbeing.

As I look back over my own posts from recent weeks, it’s easy to see why there is so much chaos, but amidst all the psychotherapeutic work, I have a niggling doubt that something very important is missing.

At the heart of this is avoidance, one of my closest allies and greatest foe’s. It keeps me safe from all those painful emotions, but it’s also the padlock and chain to my isolation.

Sometimes we can bury our emotions so deep over many years that we somehow forget how to form an attachment to them, as if the App is still there but the connection is missing.

I have a reasonably pleasant and comfortable existence with little time to sit around feeling bored, but everything seems to revolve towards mid-afternoon, when the shoes and clothes come off and at last, I can relax in pyjamas and slippers, while pursuing my favourite pastime, writing, and blogging in blissful isolation.

All this may sound harmless and fulfilling enough and you may wonder why I complain. Well, this would be even better if I was eighty years old and retired.

For the first 8-9 months of therapy, I could not see past the trauma from childhood. My gut instinct said that once I start to sweep some of these emotions aside, then perhaps I may well arrive at whatever awaits me in the here and now… and here I am… stuck inside some kind of void, somewhere between the past and the year 2015 and it feels a little scary.

During my last session with Paul, which I wrote about in “Observing the emotion” we talked about the end of my therapy programme and I became incredibly emotional, without really understanding why.

I usually profess not to feel any particular attachment to my therapy programme, so the reason for almost turning into a blubbering wreck have remained an intriguing mystery, until now, two weeks later.

The reason why I became emotional at the prospect of therapy ending was that it forced me into experiencing feelings in the present moment. I had this enormous and overwhelming sense of sadness, of aloneness, and I knew I just couldn’t go back there.

This pleasant and isolated existence has been my sanctuary, but it is not so much a life as it is a symptom of a dreadful past. The person I became is the opposite of who I really am and now I just need to find a way back to me.

PTSD – In Search of the Feelings

At Friday’s group therapy, one of the Therapists said she would like to ask methH941VB95 something about the previous week’s session. I had shared parts of my horrific experience of coming face to face with the psycho-killer from hell.  This is the root of PTSD and Agoraphobia, which I shared in my post, ‘Experiencing Dissociation’.

This was a very public story in its day and my life became an open book in the media. There was no other option but to be open and honest with those closest to me, even about the private and intrusive parts I would rather they didn’t know.

Rather than sympathise with the victim of an extraordinary violent crime, most people thought I was a fool for going home with a stranger in the first place, some openly said, “You were asking for it.” Why would you want to frequent a gay nightclub? Why did you not sense the danger? Why did you not see he’s a psycho? Why did you not realise when he drugged your drink? My Dad, in all his wisdom, said, “You should stay away from people of your own kind.” He meant gays, not psycho killers.

th4ECJ4EQZI nicknamed those ghastly responses the ‘Five D’s’. Disbelief: Disapproval: Disappointment: Devastation and Disgust: It was difficult to testify against my assailant in a High Court trial, but at least the trauma was over in a few days. That’s more than I can say for the cross-examination by condescending peers who would then cast their harsh, holier than thou judgements.

That was over twenty years ago. A short time later, I moved a few hundred miles away, changed my name and, of course, my so-called friends. I never did mention it again, not even to family… until now.

Other than some professionals, people in London don’t know of this secret part of my life and neither do they realise I’ve changed my name. I relocated here under the pretence of “starting afresh” when, in reality, I was running away. Does this mean I’m still running?

I was taking an enormous risk sharing parts of this story at last week’s group therapy. It felt strange to hear myself uttering those familiar words. There was every chance this could bring me face to face with the ‘Five D’s’ all over again, but it didn’t.

Everyone in the room listened intently and supported each word with empathy and, most importantly, non-judgement. They accepted my story as my own pain, rather than a sensational piece of news that somehow seems to affect everyone.

I am not sure where I should go with all of this now. I do recognise this experience as the root of my PTSD and Agoraphobia, but part of my mind thinks it is pointless to go over the same old systematic story without connecting to the feelings.

My detachment watches the reel of film roll out before my eyes and it feels more liketh2FR0ZCWV reading a script for the evening news. Without a doubt, healing partly comes from ‘observing the feelings’…but where the heck are the feelings?