The things about phobias…

…At least for me, is not only having to deal with the overwhelming flood of crap from my nervous and endocrine systems, but also having to deal with the social aspect.
This post has been brought to you by the single solitary crane fly in the pizza place last night.

The scene – a very popular busy and crowded Italian eaterie. Six people, my husband and myself and two other couples are sat round a table celebrating my husband’s birthday.
I’m quite good at ignoring flappy, flying things. I’m not phobic of most of them. So much so that I’ve experienced the start of a panic attack which died instantly on realising the flappy thing in question was a moth rather than a crane fly. I know all of this is in my mind but that doesn’t mean it’s under my control…
A crane fly is investigating the hair of both the female friend sat next to me and the lady at the table behind. I become aware of this at about the same time as everyone else. The subsequent batting at hair makes the chaotic flapping of the detested creature even more erratic than usual. It’s almost a game for everyone else, I can feel the panic rising.
Unfortunately, the seating arrangement is triggering another of my panic triggers – that of not being able to escape. I feel trapped, both the crane fly and at least 4 people are between me and escape.
I murmur loud enough for my husband to hear, either the crane flies goes or I need to….
He knows, he understands, he’s on the case. However the place is crowded and noisy and it’s not that easy.
I resort to the only tactic left to me – if I can’t see it, I can pretend it doesn’t exist. I curl away into the wall, hide my head in my hands and concentrate on breathing and pushing away the thoughts that I’m nearly 40 and one fucking insect that is among the most pathetic of insects shouldn’t affect me this way. I wait to be rescued feeling ashamed, trying to react as little as possible, conscious of not wanting to cause a scene, not wanting to have to explain myself, of how I must look to people. I hear someone say it’s gone.
Then comes the moment that breaks me. The moment I think the crane fly has landed in my hair, the thing of my nightmares, and I’m shaking, tears spill down my face and I tighten and freeze, all I can hope is someone will take pity on me and free me from this hell.
It was a misunderstanding in the end, someone who doesn’t know me that well, didn’t realise what was going on for me having a joke and ruffling my hair. Hubby did come to my rescue and stopped them.
I was left with the social aspect though…
Shaking, in tears, ashamed and embarrassed, I had to get over that as quickly as possible in order for the celebratory feeling to return. While I couldn’t quite bite back my annoyed response at the usual rational sentences thrown my way as if I’ve never heard them before:
“They can’t hurt you”
“more scared of you” (actually I dispute that one…)
etc etc etc
And I respond, “yeah, coz logic and rationality play such a big part in phobias…” forcing a smile to try and counter the bitterness of my tone as I’m forced to be rational less than five seconds after a ridiculously huge surge of hormones has flooded my system and while every nerve is suggested I flee.
The next five minutes are so are spent consciously being as polite and social and amusing as possible, reassuring any who catch my eye that I’m okay really – and while that is technically true, it’s not what’s felt. It’s consciously forced until slowly my body and mind accept it as the truth.
Throughout this time, my understanding husband holds my hand across the table.
I still felt guilty for breaking the atmosphere, and feel responsible for restoring it. On top of the phobic reaction, this just feels extra unfair!

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Of phobias and panic attacks

This week I have been pushed face first into the deep end of my personal phobic pool (because it’s different for each of us). It’s been so long since I’ve had to face this issue that I’d actually forgotten just how phobic I am of Crane Flies/Daddy Long Legs. I’ve been more used to my anxiety being the Generalised kind that is amorphic and nebulous.

Having such a sharp focus to my anxiety is different. It means as soon as I’m away from the trigger I can start to recuperate and recover – although the anxiety has rippling after effects evidenced by my difficulty in getting to sleep all week (as soon as my eyes shut my brain decides to regale me with how the next day could be so much worse!).

However my trigger is ALL over work… I’m having to walk past a van windscreen that is blacked out with them, having to walk past them clinging to the walls of narrow corridors – or worse, they are flying chaotically in a corridor that is too narrow to get past safely, I’m trying not to look out of floor to ceiling windows spattered with them, their corpses litter the stairwells I have to climb sometimes disguising the ones that still live – and this just reinforces the phobic belief that they can come back to life if I get too close to them.

Even leaving work is hard, they pepper the glass doors, get inside the sections of the revolving door and line the underpass I have to go through. Monday that triggered an attack, Tuesday I cupped my hands over my eye so I could only see the ground right below me and barrelled through whispering “it’s okay” over and over to myself, the panic still rose as I stepped on a dead one and I had to firmly tell myself “now it’s REALLY okay” a few times once I was out the other side. Luckily today there was no lady to stare at my strange behaviour as today’s behaviour was much weirder than yesterday’s! On Wednesday I had asked a friend of mine to draw me a picture of an armour wearing flamethrower weilding bear to protect me. He duly did and I printed out that picture and held it inches from my face, staring fixedly at the bear whispering “the bear will protect me” as my mantra as I walked through. That day I didn’t have a panic attack on the other side.

Even just last week I felt I’d got to the point where I could tell myself “I don’t get panic attacks anymore” – When I could feel one building up, it was usually possible to breathe/talk my way back out of it (I don’t mean to suggest this is easy for anyone who struggles with panic but that it is possible to some degree and everything is individual and relative to your life – no beating yourself up if you get panic attacks and can’t talk yourself out of it you hear?).

I was proud of how I dealt with my anxieties and proud of how I’d changed from a bullying attitude toward my fears to one of supporting and understanding myself.

None of that seemed to apply this week!

Since Sunday lunchtime I’ve had 6 panic attacks of varying intensity and length. One of which hit me as I was seconds away from meeting the group I support and I had to turn to my colleague, beg forgiveness and run to a toilet cubicle to give into the fears and tears for a bit then try and get myself back under control to meet my group and start the day.

Another caught me as I was about to walk into work… the number of flying bastards plastered to the outside and on the ground meant I panicked and couldn’t walk into my workplace! I wasn’t at all sure what to do and just stood helplessly in tears (feeling like a prize twat of course) until someone came out to help and I walked in blindfolded (ironic given I work in vision impairments) with him being my guide. Took me half an hour to get over that one and my colleagues had to help me out by bringing my group up to my room so I could stay there in a blissfully flying fuckers free zone.

They’ve been lovely, actually, as the week has gone on it must be clear to them that this can’t be something I’m exagerating or making up and it’s getting worse as the week continues, the same colleague escorted me along the corridor so I could get to the canteen for lunch!

I’ve had to try and explain my weird behaviour to colleagues, painfully aware to my own ears of sounding childlike and pathetic. I can’t imagine anyone else thinking kindly to me over this as I can’t think that way about myself. I hate that something as insignificant and harmless as a flying insect has rendered me thus. I hate that I can’t seem to talk myself out of this one.

I’m aware of course that this attitude just adds to the anxiety and stress, but I can’t seem to help it. I can hear the words I’m using – condemning and judgemental words, rationalising and downplaying my reaction – but I have to admit I feel I deserve them… It makes asking for the help and support I need to cope with work difficult to ask for as I transfer all of my feelings onto them. I feel so pathetic and stupid, how could they think any differently of me?

This of course isn’t helped by the few that presumably have no form of phobia or anxiety in their lives or the lives of loved ones close to them, that’s the only explanation I can think of for their careless dismissal of my struggle. I’ve been told stories of when there were more flying fuckers than now, of one being in their car and they just had to get on with it, that they can’t do me any harm, comments along the lines of “what are you like you crazy thing?” and an illjudged joke of “watch out for that crane fly behind you” when there wasn’t anything there (that “joke” triggered a panic attack…) – I’ve tried to calmly answer that they aren’t helping or aren’t funny. For the lady with the crane fly in her car who “just got on with it”, I politely and quietly answered that I was really pleased she was able to do that. She got the message and actually walked along the corridor to my office in front of me to clear the insects away. She was forgiven!

Fortunately most of them do think differently and have continually offered their help or just their understanding and slowly as the week moves on, it seems I’m able to become more accepting. I guess I just have to… I mean there’s sod all else I can do apart from work on accepting this state, I can’t control or stop it and I can’t not come into work. I’ve noticed a gradual thawing of attitude toward myself as this week progresses (this post has been written over the course of this week as a form of therapy for me) and I’m not quite as loathing of myself as I was on Monday.

I do wonder if I’ve been through a version of Flooding this week. Sleep has been less than ideal so I am so very tired today and today I’ve not had a panic attack… I honestly think I just don’t have the energy for one and that’s so absolutely fine with me right now! The flies are slightly less in number and I’ve managed to squeeze myself down corridors on the opposite side to a wall clinging flappy. I’ve also been able to ask my colleagues to do a few things meaning my exposure to certain corridors, windows and stairwells has been limited.

I feel very humbled as I reach the end of this week. I bow my head and admit maybe I’m not as far along my path as I perhaps thought, that some issues remain just as strong, I just haven’t faced them in a while. It’s a reminder to me not to assume about myself and that there’s always room for improvement when it comes to Acceptance of things we wish weren’t so as without that acceptance I wasn’t able to make the adjustments I needed to perform at the best of my current ability.