Of bellies and dancing

I did it.

I went to the belly dancing taster.

Something I’ve been wanted to try for decades and never found the confidence. If ever there is a time for faking it till I make it, it’s now. I also figure what better way to regain core strength and confidence after my hysterectomy than with something so intrinsically and fundamentally feminine?

New town. New home. New life. But not a new me…. a more me. A deeply strongly confidently solely me.

This week was about being big and brave. Diving straight into that deep end. Finding a yoga class, starting the deep work with my counsellor, discussing a new project and this. Dancing. Belly dancing. New people. New place. Several things that alone make me anxious and here am I combining them.

Tonight was a demonstration raising money for some charity or other, then a chance to try it out.

The setting was incongruous – an old man’s fishermans club so I felt so incredibly self conscious with a fair amount of people sat round watching, but still I did it. I did make sure I was close to the stage furthest from any audience. 

I’d started talking to a woman outside while we waited to go in, someone who looked as nervous and as unsure as me. She was in a similar position – always wanted to try it and never before had the confidence. We agreed to look after each other. We sat together and chatted while waiting for things to get started, shared a bit of our life stories, found some similarities. 

What she failed to tell me was she knew several other people who were also turning up, so all of a sudden I’m introducing myself to several new people and being unexpectedly social! Everyone was friendly and included me in their social conversation without a second blink. 

The demonstration thrilled me with the rich vibrant colours and the flowing silky or chiffon fabrics, the glint and the ting of golden discs and the fuck your conventional body shapes sexiness.

Then it was our turn. 

I have fuck all core strength, not much balance (you need core strength for that it seems) and I swear I used to have some coordination and dexterity. Which arm goes with what leg again? Oh, we’re turning now. Oops, other way!

I felt awkward and exposed and vulnerable. 

But I also felt a glimmer of what it could be. 

The power. The strength. The confidence.

One of the women in the dance class (not the sea gypsies performance group who were also there and performed) approached me and started chatting. A mind blowing 62 years old (does not look nor act it, I want to be her), she was so friendly and made it easy for me to take down the details of the Tuesday night class (I’ll have to swap yoga to Thursdays…) and agree to go along. The lady I’d got chatting to outside is planning to go too. I made her promise.

I was checking what to wear, admitting I loved the outfits and the lovely dance lady gave me a coin belt. One I’ll wear to my first class.

At that point all the emotions came up to say hello and I don’t want to walk home alone too late in a city I’m still learning so I excused myself and left.

Laughter and tears mixing as I walk home.

I did it. And I can’t wait for Tuesday. 

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Donkey and Pride

Friends know about my “slight” obsession with task lists and getting things done. There’s a reason for this.

Living with anxiety goblins, I need weapons with which to fight them. I need an array of weapons. They are sneaky clever fuckers, and they learn to fight back. They have over 40 years of my life with which to attack me with and they wield my dark moments like pros.

It was while studying counselling and psychotherapy (and being the client, and being the therapist) that I learned I wasn’t a failure at life, I had an anxiety disorder. I’d spent most of my three decades up to that point comparing myself with the people around me and wondering why apparently inconsequential things knocked me sideways, why I just couldn’t seem to cope with life as well as most, and why fear seemed to rule me and be my initial response to pretty much anything.

I’d attempted to cure this by staying away from situations that caused fear. Seemed a reasonable response… but it made my world so very small. I self medicated for over two decades to numb the overwhelming physical symptoms of anxiety – until it became a habit and addiction that was deeply entwined with my sense of self. And the fear remained, attached itself to other things, attacked me with the coping mechanisms I was using and I eventually realised this just wasn’t working. I needed to change. I was dying from the inside out. Existing but not living, surviving but not thriving.

So slowly, so very slowly, I started facing things, pushing back the boundaries of my comfort zone, doing things just because they scared me (tandem skydive for one! Singing solo in public for another), but choosing them carefully, building up slowly.

Starting to study counselling was one of these things. I didn’t consider myself particularly academic after failing my A levels (forgetting the huge personal and mental health issues I had going on at the time). I gave myself a hard time. I struggled to give up the habits and addictions holding me in place.

Another thing about me, relevant to this post is that I work in images, in stories and characters. If I can frame something with a character and story then I can understand it better.

And thus we get to the point of this post.

While studying what ended up being half a Masters Degree in Integrative Counselling and Psychotherapy, I came across a part of my brain that seemed utterly set on sabotaging me. I had to deal with this, I’d invested a lot of money that I didn’t have in this course and wasn’t about to lose it just because part of me wasn’t playing the game.

I investigated this part of me and eventually found an image that just fitted. At the bottom of all this, hiding under the Sabotage and the Fear was Stubborness. There was some part of me simply, firmly, consistently saying, “NO”.

No, not going to do that, not going to look at that, no no no you can’t make me.

The more I tried to force the issue, the harder it stuck, like a psychological finger trap. I realised I needed to be clever. The image that I discovered was that of a donkey digging it’s back heels in.

stubborn-mule

Pulling and pushing at the donkey just made it worse. I realised, in an obvious epiphiny, that I needed to motivate it. I needed to find the right carrot…

And for me, that carrot was pride. The Golden Glittery Carrot of Pride (because making something slightly silly is fun!). I thrilled in getting praise from my tutors, from getting good remarks on my essays, for having work done by the deadlines and research ready to show the group. I suddenly realised that I’d rarely felt proud of myself before and it was a powerful intoxicating feeling. One I wasn’t willing to give up.

I thought long and hard and about what made me feel proud – and it’s an ongoing process. I am by no means a workaholic, but I do like achieving things. I have discovered a very competitive side; with myself.

The question isn’t “What makes me feel proud?”, rather it’s “What will make me feel proud TODAY?”

Because it changes. Sometimes it changes throughout the day. And that doesn’t matter. What matters is developing an honest and congruent conversation with yourself about what’s needed, what’s possible, and what, if this is something that will assist you as well, will make you proud. Doesn’t have to be work, or studying. It can manifest in any and every area of your life and activities.

Sometimes it’s going the extra mile. Sometimes it’s just getting out of bed. Sometimes it’s having that self-care day and staying in bed with movies. Sometimes it’s reaching out to people and sometimes it’s riding out that dip on the rollercoaster.

Getting that donkey onside is a powerful weapon against the brain goblins.

So that’s why I have a constant task list. That’s why I put things on there just to tick them off. That’s why I sometimes say that I can’t rest, I can’t get that treat until after that thing. Because I need and crave that feeling of Pride. Which luckily doesn’t manifest by overdoing it, that’s Stupidity, not Pride. There’s no pride in running yourself into the ground, there’s only exhaustion. Pride is working within your means, and discovering that your means stretch just that little bit further that you initially thought.

As the hashtag says, #thisgirlcan. (please adjust for gender identity preference of your choice)

And there’s only one way to find out…

Henry and Liza

I’m not normally quite this prolific, but I’ve been in need of distractions lately. This isn’t a personal post as some of them are, but more a general pondering that was sparked by randomly coming across this song again –

There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, a hole.

Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then fix it, dear Henry, dear Henry, fix it.

With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I fix it, dear Liza, with what?

With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With straw, dear Henry, dear Henry, with straw.

The straw is too long, dear Liza, dear Liza, The straw is too long, dear Liza, too long.

Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then cut it, dear Henry, dear Henry, cut it.

With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I cut it, dear Liza, with what?

With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With an axe, dear Henry, dear Henry, an axe.

The axe is too dull, dear Liza, dear Liza, The axe is too dull, dear Liza, too dull.

Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then sharpen it, dear Henry, dear Henry, sharpen it.

With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I sharpen it, dear Liza, with what?

With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With a stone, dear Henry, dear Henry, a stone.

The stone is too dry, dear Liza, dear Liza, The stone is too dry, dear Liza, too dry.

Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, Then wet it, dear Henry, dear Henry, wet it.

With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, dear Liza? With what shall I wet it, dear Liza, with what?

With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, With water, dear Henry, dear Henry, with water.

In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, dear Liza? In what shall I carry it, dear Liza, in what?

In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, dear Henry, In a bucket, dear Henry, dear Henry, in a bucket.

But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, dear Liza, There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza, a hole

——

It occurred to me that this song is actually a pretty good analogy for anxiety and depression. 

Not being able to sort things out yourself, asking for help but not taking it, circular arguments justifying the position of stagnation. Helpful advice from people that sometimes actually doesn’t help or is turned aside (sometimes with good reason, sometimes not). 

In the lyrics of the song I always felt I could sense the growing frustration of both characters as Liza’s advice is constantly thwarted and Henry’s problems aren’t accepted.

When we speak up about our fears and restrictions sometimes we don’t want help. We want acceptance. Helping can (intentionally or not) sound like “can you just be better so I don’t have to deal with this please.”

Not all the time.

But sometimes.

And the helper doesn’t get to choose when.

It can be agonising for the one struggling if the helper is someone they care about as often we don’t want to upset or offend them by being negative about their well meaning offer.  We want them to be reassured that they are in fact helping us, so we try and hide the fact that we are still in the same place. This all takes yet more mental energy.

Then it gets complicated.

Acceptance says, “yes this is rubbish and you’re still worthy of love and attention and time.” Sometimes help can be given after enough acceptance. Sometimes not. Sometimes acceptance can even condone the state of doing nothing. There is no perfect list of instructions here.

There wouldn’t be a song if Liza sat down and said something along the lines of, “wow, stupid bucket, that sounds really shit, shall I put the kettle on?”

But maybe that’s what Henry needed.

Life analogies from sewing

I’m spending a lot of today on my sewing machine making and adapting kit for an upcoming event. To distract from my oh so achy back, I amused myself with sewing analogies that can apply to other areas of life too.

  1. Before you start, make sure you have enough thread. If you run out part way through you may not ever finish your project.
  2. Snapped threads happen. Try not to let them discourage you. Thread your needle again and carry on.
  3. Do your research. Time spent planning and figuring out isn’t time wasted. Yes you can jump straight in but you’re unlikely to end up with exactly what you want.
  4. Follow your dreams. Yeah doing your research is great and sometimes diving straight in is more fun!
  5. Invent, adapt and overcome! As nice as it is to end up with there the exact idea we had, adapting and changing as we go along can often lead to something better.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There’s oodles of help out there and generally people like to be helpful and useful.
  7. Sometimes your sewing machine will just hate you and you’ll never know what you did wrong.
  8. Going slow is better than unpicking. It can be gruelling but sometimes slow and careful is best.
  9. Sometimes your stitching gets away from you and you just have to cope.
  10. Tidy up your loose ends. It makes a real difference.
  11. Knowing when to stop is a very under appreciated skill….
  12. Measure twice, Cut once. Or your kilt ends up too short.

Easy to forget

It’s easy to forget how powerful the grip of anxiety is.

How despite all the measured deep breathing and rational calm talking, it refuses to lessen it’s grip on both mind and body.

How it feels like a spear through my chest. A physical weight and pressure in the centre of my chest both external and internal, through to my spine. Or maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it feels like a balloon slowly expanding and taking up the space where my heart and lungs should be, making it hard to breathe.

It’s easy to forget how laboured my heartbeat can get at times, feeling like a knackered horse struggling to get up a hill, it’s erratic beats doing nothing to soothe and reassure.

It’s easy to forget that the words in my mind at this time aren’t real. Aren’t based in fact, but are my own fears and insecurities reflected back to me. They swell in my throat making casual socialising almost impossible to navigate.

It’s easy to forget that we can find evidence to anything if we look hard enough. Easier to accept the words spoken so passionately and evocatively. Best protect yourself against what is to come… it’s hard to keep fighting against the words when the physicality accompanying them doesn’t fade…. surely if your rationality and logic was correct you’d feel better by now….? And so it goes on.

Times like this, the dark and scary part of the ride we are all on, just hold on, remember to breathe and wait. Just breathe, that’s all that’s required today. It doesn’t last forever.

But it’s easy to forget.

Ship to Shore

A recent chat with a friend got me thinking in metaphorical terms about where I am in my life at the moment. There’s a limited amount I can say about my current situation as it doesn’t just involve me so forgive me if I seem particularly vague in details.

I’ve always used images and metaphors to describe emotional and pyschological states, it’s just easier. The image that came to mind currently (probably partly due to the set of Robin Hobb books I’m currently storming my way through) was that of being on board a ship.

So here I am on board this metaphorical ship. Between lands. I’ve put myself aboard this ship, I’ve set it’s course, and I’m partially in charge.

There have been other times of limbo and change where I haven’t felt in charge at all, where the metaphor that came to mind was an extended periods of falling, occasional pauses on juts of rock before having to fall again and just waiting to land and preparing myself to deal with wherever I found myself.

This isn’t like that. It’s more controlled and I can see land ahead of me. New land that I am both excited and terrified to explore.

Yet I’m not completely in control. I may set the destination but there are currents that can sweep me off course or delay me. There are events on the land behind me that affect the course of the planks I sail upon. No one controls the winds or the tides.

So I stand on my metaphorical ship, looking at the metaphorical shore that lies ahead of me, thinking I know what awaits me, what I can build there, while deep down admitting I haven’t a clue, not really.

The metaphor has some roots in reality. I’m moving to another city as I can’t afford to keep living in the one I’m in. Not without living in a shoebox or sharing with strangers, neither of which I’m prepared to do; I’m too old and too antisocial for that. The nearest city that starts to come close to my solo budget is a good hour away from where I currently am. It’s a big change, and all the preparation and organisation in the world can’t really ready me to start a new life alone in a place I barely know. As a perfectly happy introvert, the work of creating a new community and social circle is one of the most terrifying things I can imagine. Yet that lies before me also.

There are things I can do. I guess a metaphorical equivalent of preparing fishing lines best I can and hoping the fish are curious! Then it comes down to standing on deck, hoping for a kind wind and friendly people where I dock.

But for now I stand on board, hand on tiller, waiting and at the mercy of some currents that could yet see me drifting off course.

Reset

I feel as if I have a reset button at the end of this week.

I’ve not planned past Friday (bar a few obvious essentials of having care and food).

I have vague thoughts of getting health and fitness back on track – motivation became subzero in the last few months. I’ll have to think about finding somewhere else to live and ponderings of rediscovering the “me”ness of me. But that’s all they are. Vague thoughts. The planning and execution of which will happen after Friday. After the big red button is pushed.

Any scifi/fantasy watchers out there will doubtless have seen a storyline involving the wrong version of a character – maybe the timeline got corrupted, maybe a transporter beam went awry, they got pulled in from a parallel universe or a spell went awry – and we as viewers know that this version is wrong, that for order to restored, for everything to be right again this character needs to be replace by the correct one – by the end of the episode the reset button will be hit and the wrong character will be replaced by the one we love. Then all is right with that world again. We know this. We expect this. We root for this.

But for the “wrong” character, all they know is they exist and they have to die. They may or may not agree with that, they may or may not know. But they stop existing.

This is the only way I can explain how I feel this week. Of course I know that I’m not going to stop existing. Surgery and general anaesthetic is scary but I don’t have a not going to wake up again fear. That’s not what this is, and I don’t mean to overdramatise things. But I do have a weird nebulous existential feeling that on Friday everything changes. I will go to sleep that afternoon. I will wake up sometime later that afternoon and everything will be different. I will be different. Irrevocably changed. There is no putting back what is taken (not that I want it anyway, it’s defective and needs to go).

The me that exists now, typing this, will not be the person who returns home at some point next week.

And as much as I have literally signed up for this. It’s an existential fear that just won’t quit.

See you on the other side…

 

 

Mental Vs Physical

Two recent events got me thinking.

Event 1 – I gave up the driving lessons due to the anxiety attacks they were causing.

Event 2 – I twisted my ankle.

Why is it so much easier to look after ourselves, and to let it be known that we are in need of looking after, when it comes to physical pain? Why is it so much harder with mental or emotional pain?

Admittedly sometimes and for some people it still isn’t easy and I know many who will push themselves past what is sensible and not let themselves rest and recover (not to be confused with those that push and find themselves more capable than previously expected, that’s different, I’m talking about those that don’t stop then fall over seriously broken).

With my ankle, there was a clear visible sign of hurt, for a while I simply couldn’t put enough weight on it to walk and I felt grateful rather than guilty that a friend travelled over to lend me a crutch so I could get about easier. I had to cancel some plans, and although I didn’t like having to do so (the timing sucked!), I didn’t feel guilty about it.

When it came to giving up the driving lessons, I gave myself a hard time. I’m not someone who gives up easily (any more), and having experienced the pride that comes with achieving something once thought out of reach, I am happy to work hard to feel that pride again. I know now that my anxiety is not an indicator of my ability. Having taken a long time to get to that realisation, it’s one I cling to. Nowadays, I intensely dislike my anxiety getting in the way of what I want and I’ve been known to pursue something simply because the thought of it causes anxiety (the tandem skydive I once did being a prime example of this, technically it was to raise money, really it was because the thought of it caused a panic attack so I decided to do one just to show my anxiety who was boss).

However, although I knew that technically I could continue with the lessons and eventually pass, I realised that I simply wasn’t willing to allow that much anxiety into my life. It wasn’t that I couldn’t do it, it was that I didn’t want to.

At the moment I have other things that I wish to give my attention and time to, not to mention a job I care about that I need to be on top form for, and the level of anxiety I was experiencing for 24 hours before the lessons was getting in the way of that.

I came to that realisation after I gave up the lessons however and spent a fair few days feeling like a failure and being grateful for my ever loving and supportive circle of friends understanding me and telling me what I needed to hear.

Now that I pride myself on overcoming my anxiety, my self-image took a knock when it felt like anxiety had won. It took a few days of mulling it through, talking it over with some friends to realise why it was absolutely the right decision for me and to be okay with having made it.

Look at the difference in those two paragraphs! There is a need to explain, to justify perhaps, with giving up driving. The paragraph about the ankle is essentially saying – yeah, hurt ankle, got some help, couldn’t walk for a bit, didn’t push it.

I can’t seem to say the same for a hurt nervous system. It’s not treated the same by people around us. We’re expected to push through, carry on, just be stronger. Yet few would advise someone to keep running that marathon on a twisted ankle we can’t put weight on. Is it just that there is no visible sign to point to?

Maybe one day we will get there, in the meantime, see if thinking of your mental and emotional issues as physical ones helps. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. It helps me at times.

Dusting off

So I’m dusting off my old blog.

Been a while, please excuse the dustbunnies (don’t feed them, it only makes them cough) and don’t look in the corners, that’s where I hide the bodies.

Why am I dusting this off?

Because some people I know are having issues with anxiety and it occurs to me I have things to say about that. I have experiences to share, advice to pin up on this virtual wall (take all advice like a pick’n’mix, just take your favourites, there’s no one answer, we have to find our own favourite sweets and create our own blends, and just generally offer support and love to share for anyone struggling with the inside of their own head.

Coz I know what that’s like.

So I’ve gone through this blog and removed the crafting stuff and left anything to do with mental health, including my own breakdowns and struggles during the time this blog has been active (oh dear sweet reader there have been so very many more!) – maybe there’s already something there helpful for you?

This is just something to get me back to this so I will leave you with my favourite poem.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things

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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