What makes people confident? Who out there walks into a room full of strangers and genuinely doesn’t feel nervous/insecure/vulnerable/downright terrified? I mean, are those people who seem to be able to do it all faking it or is it just not something to worry about for some people? Because, do you know what? I’m so tired of not being able to blow my own trumpet or being able to stand up for myself. I want to be one of the confident people.
My husband and I have been listening to a lot of the Distraction Pieces Podcast and recently we hear Scroobious Pip interviewing Aisling Bea and she was talking a lot about feminism and how men and women need to encourage each other for equality. And she was talking about how women need to let men be vulnerable and open with their feelings and cry and all these things which still aren’t seen as ‘masculine’. (It’s well worth a listen by the way and worth a separate blog post – a more worthy one than this!). So last night, in the spirit of letting him air all his pent up terrors, I asked my husband, ‘when was the last time you were scared?’ But he just says he doesn’t feel scared very often – he felt nervous about a presentation at work but not scared. And that was that. Seriously? So why am I afraid of everything? At this very moment I must be afraid of at least ten things, from failing in the play I’ve just started rehearsing (and in front of all those new faces in the cast) to the possibility I gave myself alcohol poisoning last time I drank too much wine. But hang on, I can perform in a play in front of an audience – I’m just scared of the other cast members talking to me…
I think fear is physical trigger in your body. Your mind recognises a situation as unsafe and thinks you need to protect yourself and, if you’ve got some traumatic memories in there (and as children, even things we can think of as trivial as adults could be traumatic), it can go into overdrive so that you’re adrenaline is up and you’re ready to run, even if you rationally know that you are not in physical danger. And excitement and fear can feel very similar so you can misread the signals and positive adrenaline can suddenly become a scary thing too.
But knowing this doesn’t change that fact that I’m not a confident person. I’ve being trying to fake it for years and I haven’t made it yet. I mean, that’s OK – it’s part of who I am and mostly I’m happy with that person. But goodness, it’s tiring. Wouldn’t it be nice to take a holiday in confidence just for a little while?
This week I had an interesting therapy session. I’m really getting on with my new therapist and I feel like she gets me and when we talk about things, we make connections. Even though I spend a lot of the time staring off to the side and feeling a bit awkward, but that’s just kinda me.
We spoke about a teacher I was afraid of at first school. I used to swear blind to my mum that when he shouted at kids his eyes went red. I was deemed a ‘slow starter’ at school and I think for a while my parents were a little concerned. I was awful at spelling tests. And this teacher used to get the kids that did well to stand on the table, fairly well on chairs and down it went until you got to the ‘failures’ like little old me who had to lie on the floor. It was humiliating and I was terrified. It got to the point where I couldn’t recognise the patterns in the lists of words I had to learn and was so afraid I kept doing badly. My therapist says that there’s evidence to show that children can’t learn when they are afraid so it’s no wonder I didn’t do well. But it certainly taught me that I was stupid. Interesting that I decided to be a proofreader though…
Since then I continue not to do well in quick situations like that where my knowledge is put to the test. I get a panicked buzzing in my ears. This was a massive issue when I was taking shorthand tests in my 20s. It means I struggle when I’m put on the spot. I think it was part of the reason why I struggled to learn my lines when I was afraid of the director (in the blog I wrote a few months ago). It means I always feel that I’m dumb, even that rationally I know I’m quite intelligent.
So we talked about this in therapy. And we’ve been talking about more difficult things from my past too. And it’s great to air them, really it is. But I just feel really down. I’m not sure how to go from ‘well, that’s interesting’ to ‘I’ll use that to make myself more confident’. And that I’m putting up a wall of glass between myself and the world, I’ve sort of shut myself off because it all just feels a bit painful. So is it actually helpful?
Well interestingly, I’m currently reading Heretics by Will Storr, and he mentions that here’s evidence to show that any ‘healing’ done in psychotherapy is a placebo affect – or possibly just that time is making things easier anyway. There was a study in 1979 where people suffering with anxiety and depression were sent to either real therapists or fake ones, and there was no more improvement in those who saw the real therapists to the control group. And I do wonder if this therory could be right. Especially after my Schema therapy experience, which I’m sure didn’t help at all. On the other hand, I have beaten anorexia with the help of therapy – but could it have been the more practical refeeding, introduction back into ‘real life’ and my own determination that got me through it?
So guys, how about you? Do you find therapy has been helpful? Or am I wasting my time (and money)?
I just had a very interesting session with my sparkly new counsellor about anxiety and physicality. I think most of us recognise our own physical symptoms of stress and anxiety – for me it’s super tense shoulders, holding my jaw tight and grinding my teeth, a quick heart rate, overheating, a sore stomach and a buzzing in my ears. It’s all the little things that our body does to prepare us for fight or flight. But in situations of prolonged anxiety I don’t know what I can do about it.
Today I was given some small things that might help. My counsellor was saying that fight or flight is the body’s way of protecting you (think back to cavemen times) and it can be triggered to deal with different levels of emergency. At some point in my past (I think I can pinpoint when) my red alert has been triggered and my body has responded in kind. Something more recently has reminded my body of that trigger (so back to the caveman – the grass is moving – last time it did that it was a snake, so surely it must be again) and so it is reacting with the same fervour again, but this time unnecessarily so I need to give my brain information through my body to help it realise there is no current danger.
For example, keeping both feet on the floor (instead of crossing one leg over the other when I sit) tells the instinctive part of my brain that I am grounded, not preparing to run, and so I must be safe. Breathing exercises not only increases oxygen but again, are a signal to my brain that I must be calm if I can breathe slowly. Apparently we mirror how those around us are feeling, even other animals, so hanging out with my cat while he is super stretchy and just chillin’ will send signals that I’m safe and can relax too.
The instinctive part of the brain takes over when adrenaline is released so rational thought it much more difficult (hence making mistakes and not being able to spit sentences out). So all this stuff, it’s simple and so straightforward but sometimes it just takes someone else to point out the obvious. When I’m in a blind panic or during a prolonged state of tension, I just can’t see the way out, but she’s reminded me that I do have techniques – I’ve just not been able to see them through all the red mist.
It’s been a long time since I wrote. I thought that, since my therapy had finished, I would end my blog there but I’ve had a few people ask me to carry it on, so hi! Here I am, back again.
Looking back on the therapy I’m now more convinced than ever that I didn’t have BPD. I think I have been depressed but maybe my main problem is a non-specific anxiety disorder. I’m fighting being labelled and put in a convenient box.
Recently I’ve been really, really struggling with my anxiety. I did a play a few months ago and the director was a real bully (to everyone, not just to me and maybe it was more that he just lacked empathy) and I found it really triggering. I started feeling dread in the pit of my stomach every time I had to leave for rehearsal. I was down, despondent and really full of adrenaline (in a stomach curdling way). My heart rate started to rise, I stopped sleeping and I started to panic. I found it hard to learn my lines because every time I looked at my script, I could hardly see because I felt so afraid. I didn’t feel able to stand up to him because he was the sort of man that, when you retaliated, he would store it up and keep mocking you for it later. It was a miserable experience – luckily the rest of the cast were great and kept me going but I need a break from acting now.
The dread I felt about rehearsals started seeping into my life generally and anything I had to do (going into work, meeting friends) started causing some sort of raised heart rate. At work, my hands were often shaking and I felt any slight mistake I made was catastrophic. I was basically living in fear constantly. It was exhausting. On a rational level, I could tell myself that mistakes were’t the end of the world, that my friends were friends for a reason and that I was doing OK but my body wouldn’t calm down, even when I was asleep. The advice in my family is often ‘have a drink to calm your nerves before you go to sleep’ but I was getting hangover ‘fear’ even after just one or two glasses of wine, which made things worse.
It’s finally beginning to ease now but really, I have no way of tackling such anxiety apart from talking about it with my partner and friends and knowing that it won’t always be like this. Also knowing which people trigger it and doing my best to avoid them. I hope that on the surface, I still seem OK and I can carry on functioning but living with anxiety is tough. I guess I’m writing all this to say be kind to people – you never know what’s going on underneath or what being unkind could be doing to them.
It’s been a long time since I’ve written and I feel like it’s been a big time for me. After two consecutive massive mood dips, I’ve made a lot of choices about what I want to aim for, what is going to make me happy in my life. Plans are in place, some not exactly implemented but certainly, I can feel things are changing and I feel like I know myself better. I was a bit lost until the last few weeks and I’ve felt torn between two selves. Now I feel more confident as to which is actually me.
And I think what’s given rise to all this thinking is that today I had my very last therapy session in the Schema Therapy model. Having not really got on with my last individual therapist or with the workings of group therapy, the lady I’ve had for the last few months has been immense and has sensitively yet forcefully brought me through some traumatic memories and has helped me put a plan together to keep my ‘healthy adult’ close.
- Talking to people about my feelings. With her help, I’ve picked out four people who feel safe to talk to and who I think won’t judge me by my worst self, so I no longer have to rely on therapy. It should also help me let people closer.
- To remember that my punitive side is not always right and I need to want to tackle it and not always fall back on the critical voice in my head.
- To try new things and discover what I like. Connect to the moment when I detach.
- Exhaustion from doing too much makes me depressive. Doing too little makes me feel worthless – find a healthy balance. Saying ‘no’ is OK.
- Things that happened to me in the past are not my fault. Don’t let the past ruin the now.
And I’m confident and ready to move on and stop relying on having therapy and ‘problems’ to fall back on. I can be my own person without these things.
So there we have it – one journey over and another beginning. I was never massively convinced that I was comfortable with the ‘borderline personality disorder’ label to start with (I don’t mean as a disorder, I just wan’t sure I fit too many of the symptoms – or maybe I was just missing the anger I still associate with it) – now it doesn’t feel like me at all. I know where my flaws lie, what my triggers are and what my behaviours are when I’m struggling or scared and I have enough faith in myself and the people around me that I can keep getting stronger and happier.
The stuff I’ve been going over with my therapist recently is so hard. I guess that we’ve finally come to the crux of the matter and it’s taking a lot out of me to tackle it.
It’s funny because I pride myself in being open about my problems and so, hopefully in turn, helping other people to be more open about their’s. But today’s session showed me how much I’m actually in denial about what’s happened to me at points in the past – or at least refuse to accept the realities of it. I can write about things but maybe that’s actually a way of distancing myself – making rational sense of things rather than actually internally tackling things and being emotionally honest with myself. And I’ve spoken about things in a way I thought was brave and honest with people who are close to me, but actually I think I’ve just emotionally blunted myself and said what I thought I was being encouraged to say, without really feeling it, without knowing what I was saying on any deeper level than my mouth moving. Maybe I thought I needed people’s reactions to make it all real when actually I needed my own. I’m a bit worried that it’s not real at all. That my memory has made it up.
Today we did some imagery and memory rescript so that we could put a different slant on my experience so that next time I access the memory, it’s not as damaging. I was taken away from the moment and into my emotional happy place. And, while I ended up in floods of tears, part of me was still some distance from it all, thinking ‘imagine what things would have been like if this rescript was real’ and finding evidence for why my memory was all screwed up anyway or for why I might have been the one at fault. I was already thinking of ways I could write it down and deny it. I’m supposed to feel angry as well as sad – the only person I feel angry at is me. Still.
And here I am again, writing to you guys, when maybe I should be out walking and finding a way to be at peace with myself and my past. But I don’t feel at peace. I feel ashamed and a bit afraid. I feel like I might not be being truthful. Mostly, I feel exhausted and a little shaken.
But maybe that means I’m actually ready to start the real healing process?
I’m so proud of all the progress I’ve made with my mental health issues – I lead a mostly happy, healthy life, bar the odd anxiety attack and the anorexic voice that whispers in my ear (but gets quieter every day). I’m so proud of all the women I see around me who have made the same changes – who fight for the life they deserve, and there is often no harder fight than the ones in your own mind.
This year’s pledge for International Woman’s Day is #BeBoldForChange. Because I write openly about mental health issues, people often open up to me about their own problems. Every day I hear amazing stories about people who have dared to change – who’ve given it everything they have to break a bad habit or thought pattern, to accept a compliment and fight down a negative thought, who’ve accepted that some days it’s OK just to get through it still breathing. I’ve seen women juggling jobs and families, whilst coping with severe anxiety and carrying on despite just wanting to curl up and sleep. Or run away and hide from life. I’ve spoken to people who’ve reached out and asked for help when their condition has become too much for them to cope with alone. All these are amazing achievements that are battling for change and acknowledging an inner strength that can only make women’s positions in society more powerful.
And I also want to thank those who enable these changes. I’ve had some amazing carers and therapists, all of whom I know must have helped so many women find new reserves they never knew they had. There was Barbara who, when I was hospitalised, taught me to confront the other patient who was bullying me – she showed me I was strong enough and I was worth it. There was Leanne who helped me acknowledge my abusive past relationship and helped me see that it was not my fault and that HE was the weak one – that I was punishing my body because of shame and fear but that I was strong enough to live my life without needing to do that. And now there is Kris who is working on keeping me safe and happy – who is guiding me through memories that are holding me back and allowing me a space to grow and push myself to get everything from life that I deserve. These women – and thousands of others like them – have been bold for me and countless others when we’ve been too afraid. But they’ve passed on their strength and knowledge so that we can dare to be bold too.
Keep helping each other grow. Keep daring to be different. Keep fighting for change – you’re worth it.