In October last year, following several years of social isolation, homelessness and severe mental health issues, I began working with a local organisation who describe themselves as being “a psychosocial rehabilitation day program who provide group and individual psychosocial rehabilitation and recovery services” in order to “maximise the social and community participation of people with mental illness“.
During the first term I was with them (Oct-Dec) I kept my participation simple by attending two groups; a Scrabble group and an 8-Ball pool playing group. In the second term, I upped my quota by adding an ‘Acting’ group (to combat my social anxiety) and the Hearing Voices Support Group to the aforementioned two groups.
Today, following a brief sojourn, my third term with GT House commenced. This time around I’ve challenged myself a further by taking on a number of groups that will tackle key components of my mental health; my anxiety, my trauma and my recovery.
Given the more educational and challenging nature of the groups I’m undertaking this term (it’s a little hard to write entertaining weekly accounts of whipping people’s asses at Scrabble unless you take a more literal, fictional viewpoint!) I’ve decided to write weekly accounts of some of these groups in the hope that other people will glean knowledge and inspiration from my (occasionally embarrassing) anxiety and determination to become a better version of myself.
One of these groups is Acting Up, which is described in the program as: “an opportunity to express yourself in many different ways. From discussing favourite films and books to experiencing some new ones. Gain confidence by participating in different drama activities and acting exercises. This is a great opportunity to learn some new skills and have some fun.”
A perfect fit for someone with a passion for film, television, books, acting, creativity and a desire to gain confidence and (finally) have some fun in life again.
Will this group help reduce my anxiety? Increase my confidence? See me gain a few new friends? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see! :)
A polite request…
Under normal circumstances I am not a fan of the ‘read more’ button. Normally, I reserve its use only for posts of epic length and/or boredom inducing whiney tediousness. However, it’s use today is for neither of these reasons but for something entirely different.
I am aware that some of the staff at GT House (and Gateway) read this blog from time to time, so it is to them I politely request to read no further in this post. This is not because I’m about to insult the organisation (quite the opposite) but because it reveals something I’m not comfortable with the workers knowing at this point in time. It’s nothing bad, saucy or intimate, just something mental health related that I’m sure I’ll share somewhere down the track.
So, as you’re workers in the mental health field (ahhh, isn’t emotional blackmail fun!) I would be most grateful if you could respect my privacy on this occasion.
Thank you kindly :)
Everyone else may continue (if you wish to!) :)
Why doesn’t real-life come with trigger warnings?
Now, the reason I’ve requested staff of the organisation to stop reading is because the central reason I decided to take undertake the Acting Up group was so I could combat one of my primary triggers head on. Under normal circumstances it is recommended to let support workers know what your primary triggers are, but when one of your primary triggers is a staff member, things get a mite complicated!
As I don’t wish that person to feel uncomfortable or offended (for she is actually quite marvellous) I’m not comfortable with the organisation being privy to this information at this time.
The reason this staff member is a primary trigger for me is a combination of several things (in no particular order):
1) She is a woman (and after how I was treated by my abusive ex-girlfriend, all women have the ability to trigger me, hence my isolated, lonely single-status!)
2) She is beautiful (and beautiful women [or at least their interpretation of beautiful] is a primary trigger for all of my voices!)
3) She has a kick-ass fashion sense (and women with a kick-ass fashion sense are a primary trigger for Meadhbh and Audrey!)
4) She is intelligent (which triggers my innate feelings of inferiority and worthlessness as I believe I’m no match to superior intellect!)
and, more importantly,
5) She shares a startling physical similarity to the real life Audrey (so much so, that when Audrey first met her, she had to confirm it wasn’t the real Audrey!)
I have long believed that one of the only ways someone can remove the danger attached to a trigger is to put themselves in a position where they are faced head-on by that trigger. It normalizes it and – over time – proves that the trigger is no more dangerous than a teddy bear with a water pistol. Unless you’re triggered by teddy bears and/or water, in which case I humbly apologise for that thoughtless comparison.
The problem is, putting yourself in head-on contact with a trigger is an exceedingly dangerous thing to do. It has the potential to lead to all sorts of flashbacks, anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD, unwanted memories and mental health crises. Thus, if you’re going to do it, make sure you have support and are in a safe and protected environment.
Although the staff are unaware of this particular trigger and that I’m putting myself in such a position, I do feel as if I am in a safe and protected environment purely because of the nature of the organisation and the compassion its staff have shown me over the months. Also, even though I have no-one in close proximity to help me, my blog is and has been a support for me over the years.
Still, none of this prevented a severe anxiety attack both before and after the group – especially when my trigger phoned me out-of-the-blue to confirm whether I would be attending or not! Telephones, after all, being a major component of my anxiety!
These anxiety attacks in the ninety minutes leading up to the group prompted me to arrive ten minutes late which, in the scheme of things, wasn’t all that bad. Especially when you consider that the real-Audrey has been on my mind for the majority of the day (in the unlikely event that she reads this, I hope you have/had a fantastic day!)
So, in hindsight, it probably wasn’t the smartest idea to tackle a major trigger on a day when I was already being triggered!
How sweaty were my palms?
Last term, the Acting Up groups consisted of: some warm-up exercises (i.e. vocal and movement), writing a spontaneous piece of writing, reading this spontaneous piece of writing to the entire group, talking about how it felt to read the piece and then read it to the group again, only this time with movement and gestures.
Suffice to say, I never made it past the ‘warm-up’ exercises stage. I can write like a dervish when I’m on my own and/or not on a time limit, but spontaneous writing in an already anxiety filled situation is nigh on impossible. Thus, however bad it made me feel that I hadn’t contributed anything, it always cheered me up that I wasn’t humiliating myself by reading my shitty words to the entire room in my boring and monotonous voice (that inflicts pain on everyone I talk to!)
Fortunately, the second staff member who normally runs these groups was absent today, so all we did was sit around the table having random conversations about books, film and life in general. A passage from the Welsh classic How Green Was My Valley was read (prompting memories of my childhood in the land of leeks and male voice choirs), Jennifer Lawrence’s masterful performance in Silver Linings Playbook was mentioned (followed by an orgasmic sigh from one of the attendees as they thought of embracing Bradley Cooper’s glistening, naked body) and I fought my anxiety by valiantly trying to explain to my triggering staff member what “meta” was.
Something that probably would have gone better if (a) I hadn’t been rendered mute by having to directly address my trigger (b) my palms weren’t resembling Niagara Falls and (c) Meadhbh wasn’t nagging me to quit my pointless “meta” conversation and instead ask the important questions, such as where did you get that black/white skirt from?
All in all, the four sentence explanation I gave (utilising the TV comedy Community as an example) was my sole contribution to the group. For the two hours either side of these confidence-free sentences I sat in my chair; legs shaking, heart pounding, butt clenching, palms sweating, desperately hoping that time would move faster so the group would end and I could run to the bathroom to vomit uncontrollably – such was the extent of my anxiety!
Why is this segment called why? Why that’s because you’re probably asking yourself why I’m bothering to continue with this group when:
a) It’s run by a staff member who triggers me to the point of severe panic and anxiety.
b) I said four sentences in two hours. Hardly an awe-inspiring, confidence busting, anxiety spanking contribution!
c) I am terrible at spontaneous writing.
d) I can’t read aloud to a group given the complex my abuser gave me regarding my (boring and monotonous) voice (that inflicts pain on everyone I talk to!)
e) I have clearly taken on far too many groups this term and (based on a-d) this would seem the obvious one to discard.
f) My presence at the group will increase my voices’ presence, given that the staff member triggers them as well.
To be honest, I don’t disagree with the question nor the doubt in your minds, as I too am feeling all of it and more. My life would probably be rendered less stressful, anxious and altogether easier if I stopped attending this group…but…how am I going to become a better version of myself if I consistently give up just because something is difficult?
Living on the streets for half a decade was difficult, painful and had a severe impact on all areas of my mental health; especially anxiety, panic and my voices. Yet I managed to fight through that horrendous situation (un)scathed. If I can attend these groups, if I can lessen the impact of one of my triggers, if I can find a way to fight the anxiety so I can contribute more confidently, then surely there is nothing I can’t do?
That’s why I’m doing it!
Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself every time the anxiety makes me want to throw up! :p
Things I learned at the Acting Up group this week:
- Being in close proximity to a trigger may make me exceedingly uncomfortable, sweat like a hairy sweat monster and cause several nasty panic/anxiety attacks, but it won’t kill me. Hopefully.
- Meta is an incredibly difficult thing to explain under pressure.
- Sometimes my reasons for doing something make very little sense, even to me!
- Audrey has never read ‘How Green Was My Valley’ and wants me to read it to her sometime. In a Welsh accent!
- Some people react to Bradley Cooper as I do to Karen Gillan and Vanessa Hudgens. Each to their own, I guess! :p
- No matter how tired, exhausted, scrappy, anxious, nervous or stressed I get, I still surprise myself by going to groups that scare the living shit out of me in the hope I’ll prove to myself (and others) what an awesome beautiful bastard I really am! :p