The mask I wear

Today I wore my mask to work. After a restless nights sleep, I awoke under a cloud. Not a stay under the blanket cloud but a day where I would prefer not to have contact with people.

Unfortunately, today was a work day. My job is customer service and I was working today at a high-volume location. Not ideal when I didn’t really want to interact with humans.

I had no choice today, I had to go to work. My paid sick leave is very low and I didn’t want to sacrifice income for a day off. I headed off to work.

I got to work and put the mask on. The mask where I have a perpetual half smile on my face. My eyes would be a giveaway to someone close but my customers don’t know me, so the mouth smile had to do the job.

IMG_3706

Today won’t go down as one of my best days of customer service. My interactions were pleasant but I can’t say I was as proactive and alert to the customers needs as usual. Regardless, I got through the shift, feeling somewhat drained.

Days like this happen. I wear the mask that I need to wear to allow me to function at work. I’m certain this is not particular to someone with mental health issues and that almost everyone has to put a mask on at work when they have problems in their life or just wake on the wrong side of the bed.

Sometimes, the saying ‘fake it til you make it’ applies and by constantly trying to happy and upbeat, you start to feel that way and the smile becomes natural.

Today wasn’t one of those days for me.

Advertisements

My experience with claustrophobia – Part 3

Continued from My experience with claustrophobia – Part 2

I slept restlessly. I awoke several times secretly hoping some mysterious ailment would claim all the train travellers so I could have an easy trip to work.

The weather was poor, so the train was the only logical option. I got ready and dragged my feet to the station. It was early morning and the crowd wasn’t too bad but I was still feeling overwhelmed. I walked to the end of the platform praying that the carriage on the next train would have seats available. I was watching the entrance to the station. Counting each additional person as an obstacle to my success.  I’m not religious at all but that day I was. Any deity would do, just as long as they got me through the trip.

The train arrived. I jumped on quickly and secured a seat. I was sweating profusely and my heart was thumping. I grabbed my forearm and pressed so firm my finger tips went white. The train doors closed and I was stuck for the next 2 minutes. I closed my eyes and tried to focus on something else.

My suffering increased 2 stops later when someone sat next to me. I didn’t see them as my eyes were firmly closed but I sensed their presence. My stomach was churning and I was feeling light-headed.

Like the day before, I set myself the goal of making it to the next stop. Each stop was a chore but again I made it all the way to work.

The trip home was no less painful and I kept my eyes closed throughout until I reached my destination. I had taken a couple of days off going to the gym, as my mind was so jumbled and I was so exhausted from the train rides.

And so it continued. Each day I struggled to get to and from work on the train but each day I made it. In very, very small increments, I felt it was getting easier. I continued the hypnotherapy but not for long due to the cost and also as I felt my personal exposure therapy was more successful.

There were setbacks though. If a train was overcrowded and I had to stand, I would wait for the next train with disappointment at myself. I was coping but struggling.

For months this is how it went. I realised early on if I listened to music on the train it distracted my thoughts enough to reduce the unpleasant sensations. I still had my eyes closed and had a firm grip on my forearm but the sweating had stopped.

I would like to say that one day, it was all gone. Well, maybe that would happen if they transplanted a new brain in my melon. The initial attack occurred approximately 4 years ago and I still have some residual problems.

To this day, I will always move to the end of the platform for the less populated train carriages. I have the ability to board crowded trains with standing room only but I can’t say I feel overly comfortable.

I still prefer trains that have frequent stops rather than express trains. Mentally, I can manage when I know the time between stops is less than 10 minutes. Ironically, I now work for the railways but in a customer service role rather than as a driver.

I have yet to board a plane. It is a massive obstacle for me. The thought of sitting on a plane with no option to escape for hours on end is a mountain too high for me at the moment. I suppose I could light myself up with Zanax and be zonked out for the duration but that doesn’t appeal to me. With my aim to retire to 5 years to Thailand though, I will have to get on a plane again. It won’t be fun but I know I will do it.

By chance, my friend Brakes for Beauty posted A Fear of Flying as I was in the middle of drafting the final part of this post. Her courage to overcome her fear has made me reconsider my current strategy of avoidance. I am encouraged to follow her example and get myself back on a plane again and open up the world again.

Mental disease is a constant challenge and just when I think I have it figured out, it throws up a curve ball that sits me on my butt. The illogical thinking that accompanies my thoughts is upsetting and frustrating. I’m glad in one way that I recognise that my thoughts are without reason but sometimes I wish I was oblivious.

I used to be a ‘why me?’ victim. Now, I accept that it is a constant companion and I adapt my life accordingly.

I celebrate the days of a peaceful mind.

My experience with claustrophobia – Part 2

Continued from My experience with claustrophobia – Part 1

The next couple of days were a blur. Almost literally so, as I seemed to be looking constantly through a haze.

Thankfully, the weather was clear, so I would get up early and ride my motorbike into the city. This was not all happy sailing though as if I had to slow down or stop in a tunnel, I would feel a wave of panic start to come on.

The elevator at work was difficult but not impossible. As I was arriving so early to work, the lift was generally empty so I could manage. If there was a few people waiting though, I would let them go and hope that I would get them next lift without issue.

Unfortunately, I had to share the matter with my manager. Unfortunately, because she had previously demonstrated her lack of consideration for my mental health issues (a story for another time). I had little choice though as there was a company meeting scheduled for the following day to be held in a conference room. The thought of attending the meeting filled me with dread as I knew the close confines (close in terms of my condition at the time) would set me into panic mode. She agreed, which was a relief. I did not divulge to her at the time that even sitting in her office was causing my head to spin.

Despite the quick fix remedies I had set in place, I still had no workable solution going forward. Traditional therapy to me was not the answer as I needed some sort of solution to allow me to function on a day to day basis immediately. My experience with therapy has always involved numerous costly sessions to achieve any sort of meaningful outcome.

I started to Google anything to do with claustrophobia and treatment. I came across something that I was somewhat cynical about but I felt that I had to try, hypnotherapy. I started calling local hypnotherapists. After a few calls, I secured an appointment the next day with a therapist close to work. The hypnotherapists important credentials for me that day was that she was close to work and she had an appointment available.

The next day I arrived as scheduled for the appointment. Of course there was a lift to negotiate and the waiting room seemed exceedingly small. I was invited into the office, which again was small and I started to panic and sweat once the door was closed behind me. The hypnotherapist was thoughtful, understanding and distracted me to a degree with questions about what had occurred, what was I feeling, etc.

She then asked me to lay back in the chair and close my eyes. It was an interesting experience. She talked calmly and softly for a while and then asked me to put myself mentally into a seat on a train. I note that I was able to respond verbally should I need to. I immediately started to feel uncomfortable and wanted to open my eyes. The therapist obviously sensed my distress as she asked if I wanted to stop. I said I wanted to keep going. She continued by placing scenarios into my head such as the train doors closing, a person sitting next to me and the train stopping between stations. Each situation was very unpleasant but I continued on. While under, she suggested that should I have difficulty in the real world, I press my fingers against my forearm and this will alleviate the claustrophobic sensation.

To be honest, I did not think I was under. I was so aware of what she was saying. However, when she started to count down to one, her voice became very loud and much clearer. I genuinely felt like I was jolted awake, even though I was fully conscious of our conversation with my eyes closed.

I scheduled a follow-up session for the next week and hoped that, by some miracle, the world would be all good again when I left that day. Well, you can always wish.

I noticed no improvement. I managed to get home, with a fog clouding my thoughts. To distract me, I immediately turned on the TV. I started to watch a movie, which was fine until the main character boarded an airplane. I started to feel light-headed and uncomfortable and I had to change the channel. Let’s just say, I was not feeling at the top of the world about what was happening to me.

The weekend came. Though I had a respite from having to put myself into enclosed spaces, my mind was still racing about what challenges would happen the following week, particularly as inclement weather was forecast. This meant that riding the motorbike to work as an option was doubtful.

Sunday came and I challenged myself to ride the train. Sunday is traditionally a quiet day on rail, so I thought it would be the best day to expose myself to rail travel again. I arrived at the station to very few customers. I breathed a sigh of relief but knew the real challenge was ahead of me. The majority of people had clustered in the middle of the platform, so I made my way to the very end of the platform.

The train started to enter the platform. My heart rate started to build and I was sweating. It was a warm day but no way was it hot enough to sweat. I watched intently as the carriage came past. It wasn’t empty but as close to it as I could realistically hope.

The doors opened. I hesitated, thinking I could wait for the next train. I jumped on though, hoping the doors would close quickly before I changed my mind. I sat down quickly and heard the doors close behind me. I was stuck inside the metal tube.

I knew the next station was 2 minutes away (an eternity!) and if I could just hold on, I could get off there. The train started to move and so did a wave of panic that swept across my body. I started to feel queasy and hoped that I wouldn’t pass out or throw up in the next 2 minutes. I pressed my forearm with my fingers as the hypnotherapist suggested. It helped slightly, so I pressed more firmly in hopes it would help more.

I focussed on something outside in the distance and wished the seconds away.

After 30 minutes…or so it felt but really only 2…I arrived at the next station. I stood up quickly and hovered at the door. Maybe I could hang on for one more stop. And so it went, stop after stop. Each one was a mini goal and achievement. I still felt horrendous but the cloud of uncertainty had lifted slightly. I travelled all the way to my normal work stop. Only 21 minutes had passed but it had felt considerably more and I was drained.

Of course, I had to get home but buoyed by my success, I climbed onto a return train and started to tick off the stops again until I reached my destination.

This process continued for the next 2 hours. I would board a train, go to the city and return home. My discomfort eased slightly but I was still on edge constantly and had to concentrate hard on something else so I wouldn’t start to drift off into panic again.

I arrived home. Feeling significantly better than when I had left that morning but still concerned. I had travelled successfully with an almost empty train.

But what about peak hour tomorrow?

To be continued….My experience with claustrophobia – Part 3

 

 

My experience with claustrophobia – Part 1

My recent post content has drifted from the original topic of early retirement. I found that drafting my blog The best day of my life – Being diagnosed with depression and anxiety was very cathartic. For personal reasons, I have been reluctant to share my past  mental health issues, so it was somewhat of a relief to share some of my struggles.

I’m therefore keen to share some of my mental health experiences. I get to unload some weight from my chest and if there is someone that can relate, all the better. I consider that the mental health issues may provide some context to the normal content I blog and my life goals.

Today I want to share my experience with claustrophobia. Out of all of compromises and adjustments I have made through my life due to my mental health issues, my experience with claustrophobia was the one that really made me question my ability to function in society.

I like to keep my posts concise so they don’t get overly wordy but in this instance I think the detail is important to paint the full picture of how my mind was functioning at the time. I will split over a few posts so I can really focus on each aspect of my experience with claustrophobia.

Some history. Since my early teens, I have been uncomfortable in smaller spaces. The proviso is that the small space must be occupied by other people. This has applied to locations such as bus, train and air travel, office meetings and seminars or restuarants. I think the issue stems from my constant concern of attracting unwanted attention to myself.

Despite being uncomfortable, I have always managed to cope in the above situations. I would position myself to the back of the room in a meeting so I could make a quick getaway if needed. I would ask for exit aisles on planes so I could at stretch out slightly (I am 190cm, so air travel can be cramped). If no exit aisles, I would ask for a seat close to a toilet. The contradiction of course is that an airplane toilet is super cramped and I only use if desperate, however, it somehow gives me comfort to have it close by. On trains, I would normally board one of the end carriages as they are usually less busy and there may be a chance of a free seat.

Regardless of the situation, I would have a strategy in mind for an easy exit or a less crowded space. I found this need to be irritating but not debilitating as such.

Anyway, things continued like this. It was inconvenient but totally manageable. One day in my mid-40’s when I was waiting at the airport with my partner at the time. I’m normally a little quiet prior to a flight but I realised this day that I was a more agitated than normal. The plane had been delayed by 2 hours, so I had extra time to wait and think (never a good thing for someone with mental health problems). I was mulling over the cramped confines and what would I do if I got sick on the plane and everyone saw me. At no time did I contemplate the potential of a plane crash as clearly, death is far less terrible than being sick on a plane. Yes, I do sometimes wonder how ludicrous my thought process is sometimes..

Time came to board the plane. In one way I was glad that the waiting was over but on the other hand, I was dreading the thought of getting on the plane. As I had feared, the plane was full to capacity. The inside of the plane seemed exceedingly small and cramped. I had started to sweat profusely at this point even though I was only wearing a t-shirt and it was not hot weather. My heart was beating like a drum and I was breathing fast and shallow. I was eyeing the open cabin door and wondering if I should make a break for it before it closed. Of course, that would attract attention to me, so I stayed in my seat.

I told my partner I was going to close my eyes and rest. In honesty, I was closing my eyes to avoid the confines around me. I heard the cabin door closed and now I was stuck. My heart rate stepped up a few more beats and I started taking some deep breaths as I was starting to feel light-headed from breathing so shallow.

Possibly out of mental exhaustion, I fell asleep quickly while the plane was still taxiing. It was a relatively short flight of just over an hour, so when I awoke we had already started our descent. I felt fairly calm, so I kept my eyes closed until we had landed. I had survived the trip but the experience certainly frightened me. I had obviously had a panic attack as I had them before, however, it was more severe than I had ever experienced.

As I didn’t have another plane flight planned anytime soon, my concerns of the experience faded and life went on. My hope was that this was a one-off type panic attack and it wouldn’t occur again.

A couple of weeks later, I was commuting to work as usual on the train. It was peak hour and the train was standing room only. My usual practice was to watch a TV program on my tablet to pass the time. This day though, I was struggling to concentrate. I was feeling uncomfortable in my seat and queasy. The trip is only 20 minutes and I had only started to feel off the last few minutes, so I made it to my stop and thought I may have just eaten my breakfast too quickly. Once I was off the train I felt fine and continued on with my work day.

I noticed that over the next few days, the feeling of discomfort on the train was getting worse. The queasy feeling was there from nearly the start of the trip and the crowd on the train was very obvious. I became overly concerned about finding a seat so I didn’t have to stand for fear I may pass out during the trip. I found myself rushing in the morning so I could catch the earlier train, which usually had fewer passengers.

One morning, I arrived at the station to find the platforms were full of passengers. My heart started to race as a packed station was not normal at that time of the day. An announcement came over the PA that an ‘incident’ had occurred down the line and that trains had been delayed. I started to panic but tried to reassure myself that it was only a small trip and I would be OK. About 10 minutes later, a train arrived. It was packed to capacity. I think maybe half a dozen people in total got on as they were packed in like sardines. My heart continued to race and I could feel the cold sweats starting. The next train was marginally better but I could not force myself to get on and stood aside for others. Again, I let the next train go for the same reason. I realised then that it was unlikely that things would change in the next hour as it was becoming heavy peak time. I had to commit to getting on the next train.

Despite my mind and body telling me not to, I boarded the next train. I was standing in a crowd. I stared at the ground, with my heart pumping out of my chest and a sheen of sweat on my body. I held my breath at every station hoping that no one else got on the train to increase my discomfort. Of course they did.

A wave of relief came over me when I reached the last stop. With it though, a took an overwhelming concern about how I had reacted. I was living in Sydney at the time and peak hour trains were often very crowded. I was already arriving at work an hour before anyone else just to get a less crowded train, so getting to work any earlier was not really practical.

All that day at work, my mind was wandering to the trip home. I was starting to develop a headache and was not feeling overall that well. I started to consider what options I had available to get home. I checked the train timetable online. The longest period between stops was 12 minutes. That’s not long, right? Well, to me it seemed an eternity. There was no way in my mind I could last 12 minutes without going into a full panic attack. I found an alternative connection that would take an additional 30 minutes to get home but had a longest period between stops of 6 minutes. Even 6 minutes seemed an age but hopefully I could manage that. At the time this all seemed totally logical but it is clear now I was really having a massive mental struggle.

The time came to leave work. I snuck out early for the connection train. I arrived at the platform and saw no more than 50 people but again, in the mindset I had, it seemed like 500. I watched the carriages carefully as the train pulled into the station to ensure it jumped onto a carriage with seats available. I got onto the train and jumped into a seat. I heard the carriage doors close behind me like the gates at a jail.

I stared ahead at the (almost empty) carriage. The walls literally seemed to be vibrating and closing it. My heart was already pacing but stepped it up a notch. I was sweating like I had run a mile. I was feeling light-headed and I had to get off the train immediately. The next stop was only 90 seconds away but it felt an hour. I jumped off the train as soon as I could and stood on the platform shaking.

I stood as train after train came past. I watched in the hope that a totally empty train would come past but obviously, this was not going to happen. I couldn’t think. How would I get home? It was 17kms home and I was starting to consider how long it would take me to walk. I walked outside the station and saw a cab. My mind was so polluted with mess that I hadn’t even thought of a cab.

As I was so worked up, even the cab ride was difficult. I was in the confines of the car. I warned the driver that I was feeling unwell and may ask him to pull over at any time and kept the window open for the whole trip.

I got home exhausted and distressed. I was really rattled and struggled to come up with a solution. I couldn’t afford a taxi each way to work. I had a motorbike and could ride to work but I had to leave very early to ensure I secured a space. And if it rained, the motorbike was not a great option. I checked the weather and it looked clear the next couple of days. This gave me some relief that I could at least ride to work but the long-term solution was beyond me.

Despite my mental health issues, I have always considered myself as someone who can work out a problem logically. This time, my head was jumbled with thoughts and I had no idea of what to do. I will add that I was on a waiting list to be a train driver. I was very enthusiastic about pursuing this as a career path, so being unable to step foot on a train was surely a major obstacle. The probable loss of my career path just added to my worries and I found myself in a deep hole of despair.

To be continued….My experience with claustrophobia – Part 2

 

Depression, my unwelcome house guest

I’ve known him always

But he is not my friend

He arrives at my door without notice

Barging through the door to my mind

He stays days, weeks and sometimes months

One day he is here and the next he is gone

He isn’t here now but I know he will be back

Bringing the black dog of misery in tow

I used to look over my shoulder with dread

His return a constant worry to my thoughts

Now I just treasure the moments

When my home is mine alone

 

Inspiration and Motivation – The Power of a Smile

I woke up this morning a bit out of sorts. I had worked late last night and was looking forward to a bit of a sleep-in before I started work. No such luck though, as I was woken from my slumber an hour before my alarm by a loud knock on the door. I jumped up to find some guy at my door trying to peddle some life insurance, a new religion, a change of internet plan….actually, I didn’t take much notice. I just politely declined and excused myself.

Anyway, even though I wasn’t really listening to the guy at the door, I was still fully awake by the time I closed the door. I thought there was no point going back to bed, so I went about making my breakfast. I aimlessly faffed around for what seemed like 20 minutes (but was more likely 2 hours) and suddenly it was time to go to work.

For some reason, I just wasn’t feeling it today. Maybe it was the early wake up, or maybe it was the grey and drizzly weather, or maybe it was because I wasn’t entirely sure where I would be working that day and had concerns I might be rostered to one of my less favourite job sites. I note quickly that I have a permanent job but occasionally I’m not rostered onto a specific location until the day of work.

Whatever the reason, I wasn’t really that keen for work. I wasn’t what you would call miserable but I certainly was very flat and didn’t really feel like talking to anyone. This is not particularly desirable for a face to face customer service role.

Perhaps by good fortune, I was assigned a particularly busy work site, with no opportunity to make myself busy doing other things in an effort to avoid customers. I had no choice but to interact with the customers. I was looking at a long day ahead.

It wasn’t long at all when I was approached by someone with a big smile to ask a question. What did I do in return? I smiled back. It wasn’t forced, a smile just naturally came to my face as I answered the question and said goodbye.

That smile totally sparked me up! One smile! Immediately, my attitude towards the day improved and I looked forward to the next customer contact. In fact, I actively started seeking it. I started wandering looking for anyone with the slightest confused face to help or even just to say hello. I carried the smile with me and received lots of smiles back. Every smile was that little bit of fuel that carried me through the shift. Surprisingly, the time flew by and it didn’t really feel like I was working at all. Just having 30 second relationships with people.

It’s incredible how quickly my mood changed in an instant. Next time I’m feeling work is a chore, I hope I remember to give someone a smile as it’s a gift that is often returned.

Enjoying the moment…

It’s only the early days of my early retirement ‘project’ and I’m a long way from feeling overwhelmed, stressed, drained, jaded or depressed by the practicality of my impossible goal. My mind is almost constantly thinking of ways I can progress further financially, working on projects to scrape together a few dollars and researching details about retirement and living in Thailand. I’m finding it invigorating and exciting. Of course, in between that, I have my work commitments and general day to day tasks to complete.

I was in the middle of putting a load of clothes washing on today when I caught something out of the corner of my eye. In my fish pond (sans fish) was a single, beautiful flower. It was a vibrant pink in colour and I had to walk over and look at it more closely. I found myself just admiring the flower for several minutes. During those minutes, my mind was totally focussed on the flower and it’s beauty. No thoughts of work, money, my goals, jobs to do or anything else crossed my mind.

IMG_0902

It was a moment of clarity and gave me pause to reflect that every soon often, you have to let yourself take a moment and appreciate what is around you. There are so many little things around you that make you smile, feel at peace and just lets you switch off the gears in the melon for a while. It doesn’t need to be a flower. It could be listening to your cat purr, the smell of your morning coffee or a refreshing breeze on a hot day. Whatever it is, enjoy the moment.

Don’t get so focussed on your goal that you forget to live.