Today couldn't have got any better really. I have had a fab week. I've still had anxiety but other than three anxiety attacks and a feeling of impending doom on Thursday, I am pleased to report the rest of the week has been so much better. When I say that, I always touch my head (wood) as we all know good and bad days come and go. Just three weeks ago even having a conversation with a friend in my own home produced so much adrenaline in my body it kick started the physical feelings of anxiety and I would feel dizzy, agitated, off balance, hot, shaky, and very shortly, exhausted but since realising that intrusive thoughts and feelings - including all the feelings I have just described- are in fact just that...intrusive, I have been making great headway. I started telling myself these feelings, although they felt very real at the time, were not real and I ignored them as far as possible. I stopped fighting them and just let them roll. It was so hard at first but soon I was making headway and although it's taking time, it is getting easier in general and I am beginning to see more of ME.
This week I decided if these thoughts and feelings were intrusive, I had better start showing them who was boss and facing up to some of them. After all, bullies will only continue to bully you if you give them the power to do so. I was always the one to take a stand against bullies at school, in fact I was always strong and opinionated and happy but somehow I had lost that girl somewhere. In the quest to get her back, I decided to take back a little control over my life and see if I could find her along the way!
I started off earlier in the week by using a different product in the shower. I had got to the point where my anxieties were so bad I could only use one soap, one brand of toothpaste, eat a few particular things from three shops ( a little victory in it'self as last time I was this bad I was down to asda's digestive biscuits only), so to use a new shower product was a massive step for me. I think when you have anxiety that badly you become so scared of even getting out of bed in a morning in case it brings on anxiety or panic but then eventually you get sick of living such a limited life. It takes vast amounts of energy to be that anxious all of the time you eventually decide to take a few risks. After all the anxiety couldn't possibly be any worse and you may actually get to enjoy something! I survived, thankfully and so I thought come on P lets see what else you can do. I started trying a few other things that day too. Starting off with little things like hand soaps (because they only had to be on my skin for a few seconds) then I started waiting a little while before washing my hands after I had touched a plant or something else I would usually deem as dangerous for me. My OCD was so bad when it came to touching things I had to wash my hands immediately afterwards, to be able to break that habit was huge for me. But not nearly so difficult as I had imagined. Then the real turning point for me...I walked the dog around the block in the opposite direction to usual and took her further than I had walked on my own for a long time. The progress was small in most peoples eyes but for me it was amazing. Not only had I gone against all of the alarm bells in my head but I had also walked twice the distance I would usually walk...on my own...and I had walked through a part of the village that wasn't that close to my home, so had I had an anxiety attack I wouldn't have been able to get home in any less than 15-20 minutes.The achievement of that felt fantastic. The one thing people who suffer with anxiety and depression totally forget to do is to appreciate the things they have achieved, no matter how small they seem and this I believe hinders recovery.
Now don't get me wrong. I haven't avoided any of these things because anything has happened to make me feel anxious about doing them but when my anxiety started getting out of control I found I started to avoid things which made me anxious, hence sticking only to things that I felt comfortable with. Every time I heard those little voices in my head warning me not to carry on or something bad would happen (the worst of which was usually a panic attack in all fairness), I would stop what I was doing and do something more familiar or avoid doing anything at all. I had fallen into the trap of avoiding anything those little voices in my head had an objection too. I was even terrified of being in my own home, regardless of having my family around me. I felt so very alone, even in a house of 5 people. By listening to these inner voices and acting accordingly all I did was magnify the anxiety in every situation. As soon as I started to ignore these voices the effects were the opposite and I found within days I was feeling much better generally.
I know exactly why I fell into this pattern of avoidance and it started in my childhood. I was about 10 at the time and I was a little chubby...as a lot of 10 year old's are and wanted to loose weight. My parents had bought me a beige wool dress with a black patent leather belt around the middle, black polka dots and a turtle neck. I presume it must have been Easter time as we always had new clothes for Easter and the photo taken of me in the garden suggests it was still cool but sunny.I remember looking at the photograph and thinking how fat and ugly I was. As a rule I would come in from school and have a couple of biscuits before my tea and I loved snacking on whole nut, full fat yoghurt's. I had seen a program on the T.V about allergies and how some people were allergic to nuts. This was my first experience of hearing about serious allergies and for some reason my mind took that information and put it in an alarm box and stuck it right in the middle of my subconscious. It wasn't a repressed memory because I have always been aware of it but it has been, what I know know to be, an intrusive thought! Well that single intrusive thought has plagued me in one way or another for 28 years now and it's high time it went away! I started coming in from school, selecting the yoghurt from the fridge and not enjoying it at all. Then this spread to only eating half of it and within a week or so I avoided whole nut yoghurt's altogether. At the time it was just the yoghurt but as time went on the worry of allergies spread through my brain like a virus and soon it all started to spiral, very slowly at first but gradually it went on and on. Eventually I had a serious eating disorder but we will discuss that at in another blog.
So there was my first experience of avoidance and it did it's job I guess. It kept me safe. I never had a allergic reaction to those yoghurt's because I didn't eat them. If only I had known then what I know now or at least If I hadn't of frightened myself so much with that one intrusive thought and let it get a hold of me at such a young age I may well have spared myself from so much anxiety all of these years. But if it wasn't that it may well have been something else! Maybe I was just pre-dispositioned to having anxiety. I had always been a sensitive kid and I had always suffered with a little anxiety but I was yet to learn the true horror of an underlying anxiety disorder that would haunt me for many years to come.
Getting back to this week...I was now using different soaps and shower gels, my hairdresser used a different product on my hair which threatened to send me into wild panic but instead I managed to keep a grip on the situation and I was fine. She didn't tell me she was going to do it. She just did it and told me later but that worked in my favour. I started to try different hair products myself and allowed myself to try different margarine's and breads. I tried a couple of different drinks, including half a larger and I was doing really well. The more of my fears I faced the easier the General anxiety seemed to be. But of course these were small low risk steps I was taking. The next step was watching the news. I don't like the news at the best of times but when I am anxious I avoid it completely because hearing upsetting news about war, illness, accidents etc is just too much. If I don't watch or listen to the news then I can't be upset by them. Yes this helps reduce my anxiety to an extent but it only compounds my intrusive thoughts. Thursday was a blip. I had watched the news in the morning, something I hadn't done for months and hearing about all the things going on in the world made me worry. Not initially, I was fine while I watched it but gradually as the morning progressed I became more and more anxious. To the point I felt physically ill and it stopped me driving to see a friend. By the afternoon the anxiety had moved on from mild symptoms to those awful feelings of dread, gloom, terror and by 2pm panic flooded over me while in the Que in Aldi with my husband and all I can think of was because I hadn't ignored the intrusive feelings that morning they had sprung up and grabbed me like a monster from under the bed just to say "Ha! You haven't got that much of a grip on me love!", but it is very early days in my recovery yet and I have done so well otherwise I won't beat myself up about that or let it hold me back. I can view Thursday as one bad day in the middle of a whole week of really good days. Not perfect days (although I did have one) but days I had never thought I would see again had you asked me three weeks ago.
On Friday my husband had asked If we wanted to go to the football at Notts County foot ball club. Now I love going to a game but I don't do it too often because the adrenaline sparks my anxiety and I hate crowded places or places where I can not get to an exit quickly so I have 'avoided' them for over a year now. But this was my week of pushing myself and ignoring intrusive thoughts so I said yes I would go. He booked the tickets in advance to get the best deal and also maybe to ensure I didn't back out (money doesn't last long when theirs only one of you working regularly and it has to be used sparingly for treats). Saturday morning came and there was a big blow out in our house. My eldest had had a scrap with his Dad over his room. Both were tired, both a little emotional, and as a result it all got a little out of proportion and they had an argument. I got involved trying to keep the peace....when will I lean to but out...but I was the one who got upset because my son was upset and my husband was upset and my husband was upset because our son was upset and oh dear, to be part of a sensitive family! I made my son get dressed and we went out to walk and talk. I know he's got a lot on his plate at the moment and he has been very low too. He's in his final year at school so there is a lot of pressure on him. Some people have made some insensitive comments recently...without thinking...and because he's quite a sensitive lad and has never had much self confidence in himself he has taken them to heart and started 'avoiding' situations that make him uncomfortable. I am aware he has been having a few anxiety attacks himself and that he's been shutting himself in his room but I didn't realise just 'how' low he was feeling. He's also just had a horrible sickness bug which knocked him off his feet for 2 weeks and he's missed some important stuff at school so I guess all of that adds to his stress. We walked for miles and had a really good chat. I again took routes I haven't walked in months and so it was good therapy for both of us.
I really thought the anxiety and upset of the morning would have given me an anxiety attack by the afternoon and I fretted I wouldn't make the match but I was determined to go. I am so darn sick of this thing ruling my life and I have missed out on so much fun this last year. I look older than I have ever done, I am 3kg lighter than my lightest weight (I fluctuate between 9'10 and 10'5) my hairs going white in places plus because I haven't worked much in 16 months I haven't been able to afford nice new clothes and so I have felt really flat....this is all about to change and it's starting now! So I changed into my jeans, boots and purple top, threw a spangly cardy over the top (got to have a bit of glam even at a football match) and climbed into the car. we were armed with water, pop, home made cakes and three very excited boys. My husband drove so I didn't have any extra pressure but then he often drives when we go out as a family so that was fine. We arrived an hour early so there was no added stress to get tickets and find our seat and the boys wanted to look around the shop. We were all excited at this point and as Dom went to get the ticktes I took the boys around the crowded shop...on my own...get me...we really are making progress :)
The little ones bought a football each and as I paid for them there was a camera right in my face. The lady behind the counter said 'Smile your on the telle' and I just burst out laughing. I haven't done a lot of that lately but I was feeling great. We were in the Kop stand, right behind the goal and about half way up. What a great place to be, The drummer was playing and the fans were already in full song. It was really busy and the atmosphere was great. My initial thoughts "This is going to make me ill" All that noise, the busyness, the chanting, the excitement. Someone was sat in our seats and I challenged them asking them to move...no anxiety...gob smacked...They didn't move but we had a laugh and actually would have been sat behind a pillar if we had of sat there so we found other seats and settled down to watch the match. Our middle son is mad abut football. It's quite a new thing for him as he's always been into his swimming but over the last two year's he has become more and more interested in football and since the summer he lives, sleeps, and breathes football. All he wanted was his Notts County shirt signing so down he went to the front to see the players warming up. No one came to sign his ball so he came back to the stand head hung low as the match kicked off. He sharp cheared up when Notts County scored twice in the first 20 minutes! I can honestly say that was the best game I have been too. The team played really well. The fans were on form. We won 5-3 against Crawley Town but there was so much going on it was better than just a win. Crawley had obviously had a rollicking at half time when we were 3 up and came out steaming for the second half. They scored twice then we scored again then they scored then we scored and the goal was discounted...something about the ball coming off the keeper but the keeper saying he was pushed...liar...the ball rolled passed some 6 thousand of us and we all saw it! What ensued was a complete slating of the ref but it was so funny. Jack anounced he had learnt a new word and I was relieved when he came out with the word 'Arse', (it could have been so much worse). The fans of Notts County are amazing. I guess most football fan are but I have little experience to draw upon as my Dad always thought the foul language too much for his little girls so only ever took us to see on Sunderland match that I can remember and I have only been to a few matches with Dom but I have loved it every time I have been.
The songs they were singing and what the fan's came up with had us all howling with laughter. Soon we were all joining in (if we didn't know the words we just mumbled and stuck the word 'army' on the end). We sang something about a wheel barrow only having one wheel. It' all gone quiet over there. Come on county and many many more. At half time my son still didn't get his shirt signed, even though he went back down to the pitch and by the end of the match, when they still hadn't come over to him, he was in floods of tears, which sparked off the little one crying too. He was so desperate to have his shirt signed. It had been such an amazing game filled with up's and downs (more up's than downs I am pleased to report) and I was still surprised I had had no anxiety. No buzzing or spinning head. No heart pounding...well not with anxiety anyway and only a little blurred vision but the light was starting to fade by that point and that's always difficult for me. I was NOT going to let my son come away from that game upset and ruin the day, so I messaged the club via facebook. I never expected them to reply in a million years but as my Dad always says "shy bairns get nowt." If you don't try you will never know. So I tried.
We came out of the stands and by this time our youngest was also doing his Charlie Brown impressions, head back, howling like he had lost his Ipad because he wanted his little Notts County ball signed. I asked Dom if we could go to the shop and ask there but he said there was no point. The players would be leaving via a secure car park and we would just be wasting time. I was so drawn to walking down to the shop it went against every part of my being to walk to the car park but there was no point in upsetting anyone further and Dom was sure there would be no one there. We headed back to the car, chatting about the great game but slightly sad that we had two upset boys. I almost didn't check my phone at that point but as we got in I was so determined to at least try and get my boys things signed I looked to see if the club had messaged back...they had! OMG they had messaged me back! The message said for us to come to the footballers car park by reception and meet the players. I was out of that car like a flash heading back to the ground like a woman possessed, dragging the boys behind me. We asked at the gate if we could go in and were told by security (eating a large sausage roll) that we could indeed. I think we actually ran that last few meters! I was more excited than the boys were. I couldn't believe the club had messaged me back. Dom's been a county fan since he was a little boy and I knew this was all a massive deal for him too. (At this point I didn't even remember I had had any anxiety or depression. I was all consumed by the excitement of the day)
The first player out was number 2 Mustapha Dumbya. I remembered we had been signing an adapted version of Come By Are My Lord when he was subbed late in the second half, which made me chuckle. He looked tiny coming out of those big reception doors but George was on him in a heart beat, holding out his shirt and pen and asking him to sign it, grinning from ear to ear. The excitement on that boys face really made my day, (my year even), and I couldn't thank Dumbya enough for granting his wish. All of which Dumbya took totally in his stride. I guess the players are used to neurotic women on a Saturday afternoon. If that was all George had got that day he would have been ecstatic but the best was yet to come. Out came all the players one by one. We started asking for photo's too and when one of the directors came out he handed Jack a copy of 'The Mag' As Jack was already having his ball signed Ben took the book and started asking for autographs too What a change in him from recent weeks. All my boys were bouncing and it made a great afternoon perfect! Dom was quiet as a mouse but I could tell by his face he was really chuffed. We had won, we got to meet the players, the kids were getting T.Shirts, balls and books signed and pictures taken with the players. I think it had to be one of the best days we have ever had as a family.
We met Alan Smith, Greg Abbot, Jordan Cranston, Dirssa Traore, Harry Andrews and his poorly foot. (He's about 5 minutes older than our Ben but he was so sweet. I was so tempted to offer him a Reiki massage so his foot would heal faster but thought it too forward seeing as the poor kid had never met me before. He was gorgeous. I could have brought him home with us). Then came Curtis Thompson, Gary Jones, Ronan Murray, Zeli Ismail, Shaun Harrad (OMG how tastey?), Liam Noble, Louis Laing, Stephen Mclaughlin, Jimmy Spencer, and the icing on the cake for all involved...Roy Carroll...complete with kebab. A little sweaty maybe but he had beautiful eyes and was really pleasant to chat too. Ray Trew and his lovely wife and handsome son came out and chatted with us as they singed the boys things. What lovely lovely people, the car was a bit tasty too, we did contemplate nicking the Bentley emblem off the front of the car but they were nice people and we thought being arrested for vandalism may have tainted the day slightly (:))
What surprised me was that the players all seemed so quiet and shy. Except of course the North eastern lads and they were both so very lickable. And yes I did say Lickable not just Likeable ha ha They were lush. I may be old enough to be their mother ( a very young mother) but non the less snuggling into them two lads to have my picture taken was the highlight of my day. Unfortunately the picture of us with Louis Laing disappeared somehow from Dom's phone...I'm gutted My Dad (An avid Sunderland supporter) would have been so chuffed as would my nephew who plays for Sunderland Academy. I will have to go again before he goes back to Forest and get another picture of his with the boys but that won't be hardship now. I think I have the football bug!
We came away from that game buzzing. George said it had been a dream come true and for a parent to hear that you have assisted in making one of your son's dreams come true it is just the best feeling. I realised then how much my depression and anxiety had affected all of us. Don't get me wrong I always knew it had had a big impact on Dom and the boys but I didn't realise just how much. I know it is a disease and I know it is a hereditary disorder, something we are born with, but I have really struggled this last year. However I am more determined than ever to get well now, after all I have more football matches to attend! I know they won't all be as good as Saturday's but I can totally see why people do get hooked on the game.
What I have to remember in future is to accept this as a condition, an illness that is not my fault. To recognise the signs before it takes a hold and act quickly. To avoid avoidance. To make myself do things that I enjoy and that we can enjoy together as a family and have fun. Not to let the serious stuff get out of proportion because then everything becomes out of proportion but to take control and act on it before it takes a hold. And to LIVE every day. I feel I have wasted so much of my life. I have had two breakdowns now since I was 24. Both of which have lasted over a year in total and I have had anxiety in different strengths and form ever since I can remember. It's not only me that's affected by this illness but my parents, husband and children's live's are affected as well. I am not bitter. I know I can get better because I have done it before and I know other people who have got better. I know there is no quick fix or simple cure. I know it takes time, months of hard graft and determination to get well. But 4 months ago I was so ill I was begging to be sectioned. I almost wanted to die because I couldn't face living in terror and darkness every day and now here I am, having had more good days than bad this week. Seeing a future, feeling like I have regained a little control and looking forwards to gaining more. Every step is a massive achievement and it starts with getting out of bed in a morning. I have been on a huge journey of self discovery and the difference between this time and the times before was I did this all without medication.
I have scrutinised myself inside and out and learnt all the things I both love and hate about myself and everything in-between. I don't have to be false anymore to please anyone else. I can be myself and if others don't like it then tough! I enjoy quiet time and the simple pleasures in life. I treasure my family and true friends more than ever before. I am grateful for everything I have. I spent years doing three jobs at a time whilst studying, raising my family and trying to keep a busy social life, never really knowing what I wanted to do with my life. I was never on one path, I was always trying to live several lives at once. I always fancied writing, I have done bits since I was a teenager but never dedicated the time because I thought to be successfull I had to be out there, earning lots of money and doing something that made me stand out to others. But I know now I don't have to do any of that. I now work part time to pay for a few extra things in life, I can enjoy time with my children without feeling guilty that I am not running a hi-flying business too. I do things I WANT to do and that includes finally beginning my writing career. I am writing this blog and I have started my first novel. I hope to write children's stories and I am really keen to explore my creative side. I love working as a holistic therapist and am enjoying my studies in advanced hypnotherapy and psychotherapy because as well as helping myself I am more equipped to help other people through my work too. There are parts of me that still need serious work but I can look in the mirror and see who I really am inside now and I have a vision of who I want to be in the future. But I understand it's a process. I know I don't have to race through life at 100 miles an hour or make £30k a year to be successful. I am successful already. I can allow myself days to sleep if I need to. I can organise my time more effectively to help keep me well. I am still busy but I am busy doing things that make me and my family happy and who knows maybe one day I can maybe make money from my writing hobby and buy my husband that long desired season ticket or at least take him to a few more games :)
I have learnt that life is not all about trying to prove to others I am worthy of their acceptance and approval because in fact the only person I was trying to prove my worth to was me and I burned myself out in the process! I accept I can't always do the things I want to do in the time scale I want to do them in. I can be kind to myself instead of being my harshest critic! I am learning that I am in control of my own thoughts and feelings. I can't stop them coming or impacting on me but I can use damage limitation to reduce or eliminate their effects. I am aware I need to have more fun and enjoy every day as it comes. My children are only little once and I want their childhood memories to be good ones. I am ME and I am happy to explore who ME is warts and all. I am finding my own inner peace and I am learning to love life again, I found the girl I used to be and realised I hadn't lost her at all, I had just channeled her strength internally!
Hi my Name is Philippa Woodsford and I am a Holistic therapist, Reiki Master Teacher and Hypnotherapist. I suffer with anxiety and depression due to a condition called fibromyalgia which I believe is linked with an auto immune disease I was diagnosed with at just 17. My blog is written for me as a sort of journal but also in the hope it may bring hope and healing to others suffering with similar issues on a daily basis. Enjoy