Anxious and depressed – The next day

Following on from my post Anxious and depressed I went to bed feeling flat and depressed.

As is often the case with me but unfortunately cannot be predicted, I woke up the next day feeling physically better and mentally ok. I wouldn’t say 100% as they are rare days indeed but definitely considerably better in the head.

The next step was to obtain a medical certificate from my doctor to cover me for my absence for 2 days. The first question the doctor asked was ‘How are you?’. My response was ‘Good!’. Probably not the response he would expect from someone that is asking for a medical certificate but it was my honest response.

I then went on to explain that physically I felt great but I had been struggling mentally. Honestly, I always feel awkward in these conversations as mental health issues must seem like a scam for anyone that doesn’t suffer from them. It’s not like a blood pressure or thermometer can tell the story of what is going on in my head.

In fairness, I’m not much better than the rest. If anyone complains of a migraine, I just think they have a headache and they are overreacting. Surely a bad headache only needs an aspirin? Of course, I have never had a migraine and therefore have no idea how bad they are. Like mental health problems, it is not something I can see and I can’t relate to the pain it causes. I should know better, I know.

Anyone, the doctor was understanding and offered to write me a certificate for the rest of the week off. A nice offer (especially as I have 4am starts) but I do find that the longer I’m away from work, the harder it is to return, so I said I will return to work tomorrow.

Hopefully, the black dog of depression doesn’t visit for a while.

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Anxious and depressed

The last few days I have noticed that I have been noticeably run down. Not feeling unwell but lacking in energy.

To counter the lack of energy and to stave off a possible cold or flu, I have been trying to take it easy and get a lot of sleep. Unfortunately, I had to work on the weekend and one of the mornings was very cold and I was situated in a breezeway.

I arrived home from work last night and did very little. I slumped in my lounge chair and stared at the TV screen for a couple of hours without taking much notice of what was on. I had almost zero energy to do anything but eat and take a shower.

In the back of my mind, a worry started to creep in about specialised work training that was due to commence today. The training would involve being around approximately 50 colleagues over 3 days. I had known about the training for a couple of weeks but only last night did I start to experience anxiety about being in a room with a large crowd.

I slept a bit restlessly and struggled to get out of bed when the alarm went off. I got up and started to wander around. I felt physically unwell and drained but not to the point of needing to take a day off sick. Unfortunately, what was overwhelming me was a feeling of anxiety and depression about the days training.

I went through the motions of having breakfast until I decided that I would not be able to confront the training and called in sick. I went back to bed and slept until 10:30 but awoke feeling no more refreshed.

For me, there is often a direct correlation between my physical and mental health. When I feel fit and healthy, I am able to cope difficult situations. Frequently, I am able to resolve matters calmly and methodically when others around me panic. However, when I feel rundown or sick, I find it impossible manage even simple matters and can barely face people. Not ideal when the job is face to face customer service.

Oftentimes, I am still physically able to attend the gym and train but the thought of going to work is overwhelming. I’m sure people would consider I am bludging as they don’t understand mental health and the impact it has.

I know the pain will pass in time but at the moment, that seems forever away, even if it is only a day or two. I also know that the training is essential and my absence today will be a black mark against my name.

Sometimes there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel and only dark.

I pity miserable people

‘Miserable people love to make other people miserable. I don’t hate them, I feel sorry for them.’

Brandi Glanville

A few weeks back I was at work during a train track closure. A track closure normally is due to essential track repairs. Alternative transport is organised to accommodate customers. My job on the night was to provide customer service through to guidance, advice and directions to appropriate transport.

Track closures are an inconvenience. They add time to a customers trip and mean there are sometimes multiple transport changes. All the same, they are performed for a purpose to provide a safe service for customers and are traditionally scheduled well outside of peak transport times to minimise disruption.

Well, I was half way through my shift and waiting for the next connection to arrive at the station. Customers were waiting and I was standing back with a couple of my colleagues on the night. One of my colleagues shared a joke and we had a laugh together. I excused myself from the group and made a round of the customers to see if anyone looked confused or had questions.

I was stopped by a sour-faced middle aged woman. The conversation went something like this:

Woman: I don’t appreciate you laughing while we are being inconvenienced.

Me: My apologies but we were certainly not laughing at your situation.

Woman: That doesn’t matter, you shouldn’t be laughing at all.

Me: Ummm…ok

Woman: I’ll be talking to my priest about it tomorrow.

From memory, I might have just nodded and continued me walk around the customers.

Surprisingly, my immediate thought wasn’t ‘What a miserable old bitch’. My first thoughts were 1) Is that why people go to church?; and 2) I feel sorry for her.

Working in high-volume customer service, I encounter miserable people that complain almost daily. On the whole, and putting things into perspective, their complaints are petty. There would have been a time when I would have reacted with irritation and anger. But perhaps due to some of my roles I performed over the last decade that dealt with death and real suffering, I see minor annoyances and complaining people as very small issues.

My honest response to miserable people now is pity. Are they so miserable that the smallest thing is an opportunity to be upset? Do they see no joy in life? Or maybe trying to demean others gives them pleasure? Either way, it is not a pleasant way to live and I feel sorry for them. Barely moments after our encounter, I have all but forgotten them but I assume they will continue to stew on the issue for some time after.

Life is hard, why make it harder when something minor disrupts your day. Just go with the flow, there will be plenty of really bad experiences in your life to test you without worrying about being 2 minutes late or your coffee is slightly too hot.

And if you come across one of these people, just let there bad energy slide over you. Don’t absorb it and take on their negative point of view on life.

Be your own normal

For a large part of my life, I tried desperately to be normal. What I mean is that I tried to conform with what the majority of people were doing.

With age and reflection, my past attempts to try to be normal led me down paths that gave me no happiness and were at times, exhausting and destructive.

It was only when I reached my mid 40’s that I realised that for me to normal I had to  follow my natural instincts and do what feels right for me.

I’ll give you an example. I was always under the belief that being socially active was the normal thing to do. Attending morning teas and parties is what everyone else would do, so I followed suit. However, I found that the only way I could attend a function with a large group of people and feel at all comfortable was to drink alcohol. And not just a beer or two but to binge. This obviously is not the healthiest thing to do but probably worse is that I acted completely different to my own personality. I was loud and out-going, where I am generally reserved and reflective. Strangely enough, the loud and out-going me was quite successful with women but needless to say, when they met the real me, it was awkward and things did not progress.

That is just one example of where I have followed a path in the past to be normal and socially accepted. Others have been:

  • Following a safe and secure career path
  • Buying a particular type of car, or car in general
  • Wearing a particular brand of clothes
  • Not taking risks with career or finances

I’m not sure exactly what the trigger was but one day I started to consider that maybe I should put myself first rather than worry what others thought of me. Maybe it was from a discussion I was having with a friend from a previous job. He is very attracted to men, however, he insisted that he wanted to get married to a woman and have children. When I pressed him a little, he responded that it would make his family happy and it was what they did in his culture.

I didn’t argue the point further but it did seem strange that he was doing something to make other people happy and to meet his cultural standards rather than following what was natural to him. Anyway, it made me consider my choices. Was I basing my choices on what was right for me or just to conform.

I realised then and more so since, there are so many 07403197a4f3c8e09d8d5128febdf78fthings that are normal to others but seem abnormal to me. Some that come to mind:

  • The Kardashian’s. While I love reality TV, I cannot see the universal appeal for this family. To me, this family seems to lead a existence without substance. To me this doesn’t serve as entertainment yet their every movement is of social importance.
  • Going to church or following a religion in general. I won’t get into a theological debate on this one. I’m very spiritual and I’m a strong believer in karma but organised religion and praying to a God does not seem logical to me.
  • Buying a ‘forever’ home. I rarely stay in a home for more then 2-3 years. To wake up in the same room for the rest of my life seems depressing.
  • Having children. I don’t particularly like children and don’t feel compelled to have my name carried on.
  • Working for one company your whole career. I actually admire this but it isn’t for me. To my career advancement detriment, I change jobs frequently.

Please, don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with any of the points above. They are simply my opinions and I don’t judge anyone for thinking the opposite. Well, in the case of the Kardashian’s, I pretty much assume you are not right in the head if you like them! What I really mean is, what is right for one person does not mean that it has to be the only way.

Recently, I was in conversation with a colleague at work. He was telling me that on the weekend he had some activities to do with his family. He asked if I was married and had kids and I said no. He asked me then ‘So what do you do then?’. I actually took offence at this comment as I perceived he was judging me and that my life had no value without a wife and kids. This bugged me for a while until it came to me that he didn’t know me, what I had done in my life or what my interests were. His life was not normal for me but I didn’t judge him for choosing it and he shouldn’t have judged me.

To summarise my point in a nutshell, I would say ‘Follow your own path’. Do what feels right for you and makes you happy. I would much prefer to be considered an eccentric that goes by the beat of his own drum than a sheep that follows the herd.

In saying all this, you still have to follow some reasonable societal standards. For instance, regardless if it feels normal or not, you should not purposely break laws just because it feels right. Also, you must be reasonably considerate of others. To swear loudly on a crowded train may feel comfortable for you but would be unpleasant for others and may get you a punch upside the head.

In general though, be your own normal. I definitely feel more calm, content and happy then when I tried to be everyone else.

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.

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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.

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