Combatting my anxiety requires preparation. A trip to the supermarket needs at least one hour of build-up. In order to attend a social group I need at least three hours to ready myself. A munch, or non MH related social outing, requires at least a week for me to build the confidence and resolve to attend. My HVSG needs approximately five hours, thus, as is usual for me on a Friday morning, I set my alarm for 4am so I would leave myself enough time to ‘prepare’ for the assault on my self-worth and anxiety.
It turns out I didn’t need to set the alarm – what with the paltry amount of sleep I received that night – but even if I had needed to, it would all have been in vain anyway, for by the time I left my unit I was a raging battleground of anxiety, confusion and WTF feelings.
Ever since the second week of my HVSG journey, Meadhbh has been accompanying me to the group. She appears out of the ether at least half an hour before I’m due to leave, takes her place on my handlebars when it’s time, and natters incessantly to me along the way. Only this week she didn’t appear; not half an hour before, not mid-way through the cycle ride, nor at any point in the morning.
Truth be told, having a conversation free cycle ride was somewhat of a relief as it allowed me to focus on cycling safely rather than combatting the distraction (and frustration) her personality exudes. But through it all I was left wondering where she was; a question I’ve been asking about all of my voices over the last week.
The two extremes…
Last week, when I walked late into the group, there were fifteen odd deathly silent people staring at me. This week, as I walked late into the group, there were four not-so-deathly silent people staring at me. Over the following fifteen minutes two more people would appear, then, a few minutes later, a seventh.
The eighth – and final – person would appear forty minutes late, missing one of the most random (and monumental moments) of 2013.
Good God man, what the hell do you think you’re doing?
After the usual introduction welcoming us and our voices to the group we turned to the always anxiety producing ‘how was your week’ segment of the group. Regular readers of these posts will know that my reaction ranges from saying absolutely nothing at all to babbling a few incoherent sentences before quickly scampering out the door.
Following the group leader’s question so, who wants to go first? all seven of us sat in deathly silence hoping the spotlight wouldn’t fall on us. After she was forced to ask it a second and then third time, I breathed deeply and threw myself into the deep end. For the very first time in this – or any other group situation – I spoke first! :)
I explained how exhausted I was. How distracted I was. How shitty I’d been feeling. And how I hadn’t been sleeping in fear of nightmare and trauma triggering.
I explained how none of my voices had been around since the weekend. How confusing this was. How much of a relief it was. How unsettling it was.
I explained how my voices usually leap on me when I’m emotionally exhausted. How this state gives them more power. How I don’t understand what’s going on.
I explained how I’m terrified my voices are planning something big for it’s very unusual for them to be this silent for this long.
Then I answered questions: do I miss my voices? (yes to Meadhbh and Audrey, absolute no to Vanessa); why do I think they haven’t spoken to me this week? (it has to be some sort of trap!); do I discuss the events of the groups with them? (yup, especially Meadhbh and Audrey); what do you think will happen when they show themselves? (who knows, but based on past experience, it won’t be pretty!)
All up, I spoke for approximately twenty-five minutes. Anxiety was definitely present, but no-where near as all-consuming as it has been in the past!
So by the time the mid-way break came around, I was feeling pretty good about myself! I did a couple of circuits of the park beside where we meet, smoked a few cigarettes, had a cat-nap because of my exhaustion and spent fifteen minutes analysing why I’d been able to speak so much so early in the group.
Most of you will know by now I spend far too much time analysing every facet of my life. Where do these dreams come from? Why do I want to experience something that most people (erroneously) consider to be weird? What reason is there for me liking Honey Baked Ham Kettle chips so much when I despise the taste of actual ham?
As I returned to the group I came to two conclusions, both of which were insanely obvious:
(i) The group was small; and as I have all-too-frequently said, the smaller the group, the more I talk. Hell, you put me one-on-one and I’ll lead the conversation!
(ii) There was no trigger present (at that point); and in all the other groups, there has been!
Unfortunately, I have no way to control these two factors, so if I want to talk more in the group I need to re-empower myself to be able to share more frequently.
Shame it didn’t continue…
Unfortunately, talkative Addy didn’t last. By the time the second half of the group rolled around there was a trigger present so I reverted to the silent, stoic Addy most people know and hate. For half an hour the five other people in the room (the others had left) had a long and amusing discussion on everything from triggers to voice history to God to coping skills and strategies for dealing with mental health to how a woman would slap a man if he walked up to her and said ‘show me your tits’!
And yet even though I’m opinionated in all areas of the above, I said nothing. I merely sat there like a moron, sipping on my water, pondering how everyone in the room must think I was a twat for being the only person not saying anything.
The most interesting aspect of this discussion was about re-empowering yourself from triggers; something that immediately perked me up considering what I’d been thinking during the smoko. One of the other members of the group shared their experience of re-empowering themselves from serious triggers, in which they took the trigger and found a way to take ownership of it, leaving me realising I have an awful long way to go toward achieving this considering I am the King of Avoidance!
Given the explanation they gave of their re-empowerment journey involved support from friends and support workers, I also realised that doing it alone will be almost impossible. But hey, isn’t that the story of my life?
One of the big aspects of my social anxiety is my inability to make eye contact, with anyone.
When I’m purchasing things from shop assistants, no eye contact. When I’m walking down the street, no eye contact. When I’m at my munches, no eye contact. When I’m talking to my people, no eye contact (this seriously annoys Meadhbh and Audrey, who think that my refusal to look them in the eye means they have ugly eyes or that I’m just not interested in them). When I’m talking to my counselor or support worker, no eye contact.
The rule is: no eye contact with anyone ever, otherwise chaos and armageddon will ensue!
As the (quite inspirational) member of the group continued their advice on re-empowering, she advised me of a way I could try to communicate with my voices and bring a semblance of control to my relationship with them. This involved making eye contact with them, which meant I had to make eye contact with her so I could properly understand what she was talking about.
Cue a sudden surge in my anxiety that refused to dissipate for at least thirty-six hours!
Back to normal…
This surge in anxiety ended the group as all the others did; with me a barrel of nerves, sweaty palms and self-criticism. Thus, because of my solo cycling, I had to stop several times on the way home in order to combat the ever-increasing panic overflowing within me. Fortunately, extending my trip home by nearly three hours enabled me to keep the panic-volcano from erupting until about five minutes after I got home; an explosion of nerves and stress that has been fed by my exhaustion and caused me to do nothing all weekend.
As usual, I haven’t left the house once.
Not even for a minute.
One of these days I hope I’ll be able to just cycle to the group, talk when I want to, cycle home unphased and be able to function over the weekend. But from the quick deterioration of my mood from awesome-Addy to panicked-Addy on Friday, I feel this is a long way off!
Things I learned from the group this week:
- I need to research more on how to re-empower myself from my triggers.
- I need to find someone I feel comfortable enough around to help me with re-empowering myself from my triggers, for I fear this is something I am not going to be able to do alone (due to the – well – triggering aspect of my triggers!)
- Eye-contact still freaks the shit out of me for no good reason!
- Absolute proof: the less people around me, the more I talk.
- Absolute proof: the more triggers around me, the less I talk.
- I become a useless, pointless, incoherent wreck around one of my primary triggers!
- I fucking hate triggers!
- If you walk up to a woman you don’t know on the street and ask her to ‘show me your tits’, chances are you’ll get slapped. Good thing too! :p
- I still haven’t died as a result of attending the group.