CBT Part II – Testing a theory

I have just come back from another great session, which ended in a real climax of excitement! Its all happening in the NHS mental health support team!

We covered some exposure exercises, to simulate the feelings associated with a panic attack. It is important to familiarize yourself with these sensations, so as not to fear them. Once in an anxious situation, anxiety tends to peak and then starts to drop. So-called coping strategies prevent the natural decline of anxiety, and prevent the subconscious from ever properly learning that a dreaded situation (such as getting on a bus!), is actually not all that dangerous after all, and there is nothing to be anxious about.

By trying to avoid bodily sensations associated with anxiety, we lend them a power they do not deserve. I call this ‘mythologizing anxious sensations’, something which feeds into the cycle of avoidance and furthers fear. Eventually anxiety becomes a general dread which you will dedicate the whole of your life to avoiding! The short-term cure, avoidance, is worse than the disease. And those who say that time heals all ills have obviously never recovered from a panic disorder before! Time will not heal this.
I must now expose myself to these situations and bodily sensations. This will let the natural course of things play itself out, and the subconscious can learn once and for all that there is nothing to fear. Likewise, I will stop fearing the sensations in my own body, which I have already done much to achieve.

This is all made much easier by going into what I am really anxious about, which my therapist helped me with by proposing a theory. Before we get to the theory, we need to examine my true fears.

Today I boiled down my fears of a panic attack to two things: i) fear of embarassment, not being helped and public humiliation. ii) Fear of bodily weakness after a panic attack, losing my independence, being dependent without a trustful support network.
So we proposed two theories. Lets start with Theory A. This states that if I have a panic attack people will laugh, think I’m weak, and might film it on their phones. The evidence from this comes from seeing lots of humiliating incidents at school and the general shittiness of certain human beings. If theory A is true, then a panic attack would be rather devastating, and the best thing to do is to avoid panic attacks at all costs and restrict my freedom. On recollection, I believe this theory to be about 20% true. In other words, its a load of anxiety-induced shite.

So lets move onto the (infinitely more plausible) Theory B! This states the problem is worry that other people will judge me, be humiliating and unhelpful. But the evidence is against it: I would definitely help others if they needed it. Some people will always want to be helpful, even heroic in such situations. And some people have similar problems with anxiety and depression, so can actually be understanding. If Theory B is true, I need to try to think more realistically and positively about things, and dispel the power of the panic attack. This is as far as I got in working things out. My therapist took the next step.
She gave me an analogy which really helped explain what we had to do to truly see the theory through. Imagine an apprentice on his first day at a building site. The workers on the site put up a wall and tell him to hold it up, or else it will fall down! He spends the whole day standing there, holding up this wall, getting tired and uncomfortable. As night falls, his bosses tell him he has to stay there all night. Well, this just won’t do. So what does the apprentice do, now that he is in doubt about the worth of holding up the wall? He can gradually release his hold on the wall, he can release his support and slowly step away. But will this do? What if there is a gust of wind or something? To truly see if the wall is sturdy, he will have to give it a darn good push!

Ultimately, a theory needs to be tested. ‘If panic attack then people will be helpful, and there will be no harm’ is the crux of the more plausible theory. So lets just say that we might end up doing some field research soon!
I am most excited about the opportunity.
p.s. Get CBT if you can, its great. Just be prepared to look deep inside yourself and realize what needs to change inside you.

 

Into the mind of an abuser

Much anxiety in the world of human beings is caused by abusive people. Rather than reacting to their ways, and affirming their power, I want to try and understand their motives. Whilst we have an abuser in our heads, and alter our ways around them, they have some power. Through understanding, we can develop the means to exorcize their influence, and restore our sovereignty over ourselves.

Abuse is automatic

Abuse is on auto. An abuser does not consciously pull up the desire to undermine or criticise someone. Their disrespect for others and entitlement to power runs much deeper than that. You can see this in the automatic reactions an abuser will have when challenged. They probably don’t know why they are doing it either. There is no solace in that.

Abusive attitudes can be further entrenched by society’s values. An abusive father, for instance, has the extra protection of familial ideology (the third greatest lie ever told), the sacred bond of a father and his children (the second greatest lie ever told) and the dominance of men over all others (the first greatest lie ever told).

The abusers goal is always to subdue another, to take control of their will. Given the chance,  they would completely hollow out those they abuse, utterly dominate their will in the manner of a dictator. This won’t be with open violence and brutality, endless put downs and hatred. Such extreme tactics do not work, they either inspire rebellion or push those they abuse away. An abuser will use a mixture of criticism, put down, insult and disrespect with moments of love and tenderness, kindness and a respect for the others. They are still human after all (even if the most reprehensible and pitiful of our species).

Abusers cannot truly love anyone. Firstly, their ego places them above others, so no reciprocal relationship or mutual bond can exist. Secondly, their love is always conditional. Worse, it can be an excuse to justify abuse. Love for an abuser can be a bargaining chip, traded in for the opportunity to cause harm. Love can also be an absolver of their guilt: there was a kid at school whose dad used to beat him up and then buy him a bag of sweets the next day. True love knows no conditions. Nor is true love a means to an end.

In his walnut-sized brain, the abuser knows that he knows best. Often they will transgress their own moral compasses, but it is for some imagined greater good. ‘Sometimes people just don’t know what is good for themselves.’ What they need in life, is an abusive, disrespectful person to help mentor them through the winding pathways of life! You could call this a hero-complex, the wish to do ‘good’ for others around them all life. Invariably, the ‘good’ an abusive person can do is never a good at all. Anything that reduces the liberty and sovereignty of a sane, moral human being is an evil.

You will often hear people leap to the defence of an abusive person. He is, after all, a brother, a friend, a comrade, a colleague. This leaping to the defence skews the attention away from the person being abused. They could even be made to feel guilty for bringing such things up, or blamed for being ‘too weak’ to resist the complex web of abuse and helplessness that has ensnared them. Such is the broad arsenal of an abuser – they know how to get the feedback they need to maintain their position. They are, outwardly, the nicest people you will ever meet. Such recognition feeds the angel / devil dialogue in the abuser’s mind, that he is a good person really, this is just a bump in the road.

Rather than, as is actually the case, an absolute prick who needs to change or fuck off.

 

Into the mind of an abuser

To escape the mind of an abuser

Through the hole

In the back of his thick skull

 

 

 

The power of CBT – Part I

So I have started CBT proper. So far, so good. In summary, here is what I have learnt after my first session.

Short-term coping strategies prevent long-term healing.

My short term strategies to deal with panic disorder, such as carrying medication, not straying far from home and avoiding long journeys, means that I am not getting a chance to ‘update’ my thinking. I am not challenging my catastrophic misinterpretations. By not testing them, they are given immense power by the imagination. Until I put yourself into the situation I dread, I cannot come to realize that it is nothing to be feared.

What is it I have been dreading? Firstly, fear itself. The dread of dread – a wholly pointless, but understanable, fear. Another thing I dread is shame. I have carried with me a long standing prejudice that panic, being different, being perceived as ill, is a weakness and shameful. This fear of not being able to cope, of humiliation in a public place is so powerful that, even though it is a myth, I am avoiding going into the situation. I have coped with some of the hardest shit you can imagine, time and time again. And when I have really needed help, I have almost always received it from friends and trusted people. But even so, I have a belief that I can’t cope, can’t rely on people, and need to hide from shame.

Well its time to test those beliefs and update my false perceptions!

It is illusion that keeps us most powerfully chained, hidden in fear. Truth must be allowed to prevail.

There is no shame on panicking in public transport and asking for help. Think – if someone was having an episode of panic opposite you on a bus, would you do everything in your power to help that person, show them compassion and strive to understand their situation? I would! I would go out of my way for a stranger, and try and be useful in helping them. There would be no judgement in my heart for such a person.

So why am I so hard on myself, and why can’t I turn that compassion inwards? Because I have these impossible fucking standards and expectations which find their root in having to be ‘perfect’ to avoid abuse – standards and expectations that need to be ‘updated’ (to say the least!) And why am I so doubtful of others, and so untrusting? Perhaps because I never allow myself to be put into a situation where I might have to trust people.

In some respects this is wise – caution is there for a reason. I have had a fucking hard life , especially emotionally. It has not been easy to trust people. But to lose your trust in humanity is the absolute worse thing you can do. Without being naïve, one must have a general faith in humanity in order to live at all. Without that faith, we become as hermits – paranoid, isolated, self-serving, self-confirming. It is a deeply sad, and retarding state to be in.

CBT is giving me the courage to challenge my negative thought patterns, going deeper beneath them, rooting out the hidden shame beneath the surface.

It is also showing me in detail that the fight or flight response is not something to be feared, and that bodily sensations should not be misinterpreted as danger signals (at least when there is no danger around!) It is opening my eyes to the truth.

I strongly recommend that anyone who has anxiety problems seeks out cognitive behavioural therapy. It is not designed to go deep into your emotional world – psychotherapy is there for that. But challenging our thinking patterns and changing our behaviours is just as important as the deep emotional shit, make no bones about it.

The price of being sensate

So the price of being sensate to the world, and expecting to be treated with love and respect, is often to absorb a lot of pain and be easily hurt by others. The higher your entitlement to basic dignity and respect, the more easily it can be tarnished. 
 
Not that anything can change in me at least, but it is a heavy price, which needs a lot of consolation and connection to maintain. It is a heavy price I must constantly re-evaluate every time pain is absorbed into my very being.
 
Where are these safe havens we can go to, where we can be ourselves in all of our vulnerability and as our true selves? Where are these doorways out of the capitalist world, where you need only wear a mask if you choose to?
 
Isn’t it time to melt the charade of individualist non-life and form one, great community?
 

I am, I exist, the world is, the world exists

Aged around three I gazed at my hand and thought ‘I can’t believe I am actually here! I can’t believe this is real and I exist!’

I remember it distinctly. I recognized myself, and the stupendous odds of my ever having incarnated.

It took twenty seven years, but just this week it truly hit me that the world actually is, and the world actually fucking exists. It actually is, it really is, it moves through time, it is. I can’t believe it is actually there, its incredible! The stupendous odds of it.

Strange things happen in this universe.

 

 

They hurt people

It is impossible to escape the news, as much as I find it necessary in my current condition. It feeds anxiety, sensationalistic violence and ‘unprecedented’ tragedy, every day.

The news is a narrative, and a sorrowful one. The mind, wishing to predict the future, looks to the past, and projects it outwards. We watch the news, then, to be safe, to gather memories from society’s great ocean.

As with most anxious thoughts and dispositions, there is exaggeration and skewed perception. The news, like an anxious mind, focusses on danger, terror and harm.

But the news only tells of ‘cinematic’ harm, massive harm, sellable harm. The news about the millions of people, elderly, with disabilities, poverty-stricken, living in absolute psychic squalor is few and far between. These drawn out sufferings, if added together in some utilitarian calculus, would far outweigh the pain of war and terror.

This is in the billions: the exploited and the starved. The objectified and the enslaved. Billions, everywhere. Not only overseas, in distant lands and different narratives, but here. Your own elected officials will harm people in your own life time in your own country. This is real and it is happening.

Slaves all to ‘progress’, more aptly described as fear of stillness and re-evaluation. The juggernaught carries on, humanity is swept away. Chugging oil in its engine, it breathes out thick clouds of noxious smoke.

Fortunately, it will slow and eventually grind to a halt. There is much cause for optimism as humanity evolves, and I have no doubt we can grow from our pain, if we finally learn from it.

The antidote to anxiety does not lie in the cause of anxiety. One that takes cannot give, one that silences cannot implore, one that demeans cannot exalt. We must look beyond the societies around us for answers. We must plumb the depths of our histories, reaching back to stone circles and we must dream to the future where things improve and technology is used for the common good. We must dare to imagine something beyond capitalism, or amoral systems which can never provide for the most important thing of all. Human, plant and animal wellbeing, safety, encouragement and happiness.

They harm people every day, but you never hear about it in the news. Well, you can hear about it here. Now that we have these shared nodes of consciousness, let us expand until we reach critical mass. Let us undo these shackles of thought and throw off the heavy weights of despondency. Evolution is unstoppable, be part of it, and make sure you are evolving mankind in the right way.

It is possible. It is only the part of the mind that builds predictions based on anxiety that says it is not. That is a worm of the mind, planted by those who harm people.

New Places

Blog,

I often go on an upward spiral when I remember you. Of late, my handwriting has become so bad my notes are like hieroglyphics! Nonetheless, plentiful wisdoms await, yearning for their chance to the see light.

Writing in this notepad is like finding seeds in a meadow, and expressing them the digging, tilling and planting. Looking back, what I have written is often good advice on the right track; glimmers of what is to come all but presaged. But to embody truth takes something else I cannot quite put my finger on. The words say what would be best for me to do, but this awareness alone has to become practiced and truly embedded someplace deep within. That ‘someplace’ is a mystery beyond us all. As unknowable as the forces behind the cosmos.

And even if we know the right path, day to day bad habits pulls us away. Into tunnel-vision, into bad routines, into negative thinking patterns. I am prone to a lot of this, and the isolation and sadness and frustration that follows.

Of course, even that last paragraph is quite unnecessarily gloomy! Things are not bad now, just wobbly and (occasionally) boring. I have made great steps toward recovery, and crossed a threshold of understanding today.

It is about giving the body the time it needs to process things and heal. I will trust myself and those around me. I will trust the flux of all-things we are contained within.

Life has humbled me; my being turned out to be more than just a mind and its expectations. I must learn to live at a new rhythm, away from impossible expectations and unhealthy obsessions.

Reading has helped enormously. Although anxious and vulnerable, the power of words has a much bigger impact on me. Music too. I experience it now with the vivacity of a child. The world is scary and wonderful again at the same time.

But writing, like a mirror, reflects and expresses. I have created a narrative and history here, through Nyteshade, and I am happy that you are travelling along with me.

At one time, this was the only solace in a harsh and demeaning Winter time. Now the spore has landed and grown into a mushroom, I promise to be more active and restore this good habit!

I want to feel good. I want to be well.

That is self-love, writing is self-love. Please express yourself too. Say how you are, say how you will meet Nyteshade in the dark, colourful glade. Say something whimsical and silly, or just be.

Just bring a quill and parchment!

Pain and self-growth

At first I was afraid of the pain. It makes sense. Caution is wise when something new is upon you. And patience too. To be unsure, to wait it out, to dip a toe in the black pool and have a safe space to recoil. All of these are wise decisions.

Yet the day will come when the passage of time has done all of the healing it can. Time alone does not heal all wounds, and anyone who tells you it does is a fool. Once you have something of a stable foundation again, the days and days waiting for inner-pain to go away become wasted opportunities to get back onto your feet. You cannot know when you are ready to go back out (though your body will give you indicators, or guesses). So you will just have to try it for yourself, to trust your defences and trust that you can take what comes and have the self-love and inner-strength to make it. Do not go it if you are not ready, but do not stagnate it you are.

Wait and you will wait forever.

The world is full of suffering. There is no denying it, and anyone sensitive to it will feel it. Pain is unavoidable and inevitable. Thus, one way or another, the time will come when you will fall into a spiral of pain which dominates your consciousness. It is not a ‘mental’ thing – it will permeate all aspects of your body and mind. It will come when it comes, and you will not be able to just will it away.

I would rather face those days of reckoning as one who is trained to face my fears, then one who hides behind shields of repression, or naive hope in the passing of days. And so I did.

When the pain came and took over my body I could not turn it away, and why should it leave on my account? Does it not have an equal right to express itself through the human corpus? Is it not also a part of me? When the pain came and took over my body I stopped resisting it and accepted its presence. I went deeper into it, explored it, and this hurried its course toward resolution.

The black pool is there, waiting for you. Ignore it and you will see it in dark dreams. Dive into it and you will come to know it wholly.

It will return again, the pain is recurring. There is no end point of healing and no end point of anything. But when the inevitable returns again, you can become more and more adept at dealing with it. I have no ultimate choice in what I feel and when I feel – I do not think anyone has that much freedom. But when the storm comes I will ride through to its eye, through to the other side.

Face things, do not let them linger. Confront and challenge things; at your own pace, but swiftly enough to not lose your social life, hope and ambition to them. Human beings evolved on the plains to hunt in packs. They did not evolve in arm chairs and in front of laptop screens to wait and rot.

You were born to hunt, to be an element in nature, so go and hunt. Only, this hunt is not for some animal, it is a quest into yourself for truth, for what truly happened, and the path to changing yourself. I have changed so much since the pain came and I learnt to hunt so much for the better.

When something inside screams, listen. The longer you leave it, the worse your demons will grow…

What I am (to you)

An old vinyl full of sublime sound, never put on

An oil painting from the renaissance, gathering dust in the cellar

A cerulean, sun-soaked sky behind heavy, drawn curtains

A beautiful wandering cat, seeking love from strangers

The words of power that unmake spells of hate, never uttered

A drawer full of field beans, never planted in the garden

A book of depth and colour, you refuse to read

 

You do not need to say the sun is gold and resplendent

For the sun to be gold and resplendent

And if you say the sun is bleak, squat, grey and ugly

That does not make the sun bleak, squat, grey and ugly

 

This is why your words have no power; they speak untruth.

The magick of words is their ability to say what is

For magick is power, and magick is just truth, thus truth is power

 

A proud otter swimming through a running river, whose strength you cannot comprehend

My lived experience of anxiety

To overcome anxiety and panic, come to understand it. Anxiety is there for a reason – to protect us from danger. The aim is not to completely get rid of anxiety, but turn the volume down on it when it gets out of hand. Anxious feelings themselves are not dangerous, and cannot lead to any serious harm.

And do not worry – you will not have panic attacks forever! They are going to go. Mine have gone from bad to bearable in four or five months.

Here is a description of my lived experience of anxiety and agoraphobia.

Sometimes when I go out, it feels like something is pulling the hair right at the back of my skull. I can describe it as a constant tugging. I know it is a false warning, but it is nonetheless powerfully there. Describing it seems to rob it of its power. Imitating this feeling at home, literally tugging the back of my hair, makes me realize that sensations are just that – sensations. What they mean depends on the importance we give them. Nonetheless, they are frightening at first. Gradually, you kind-of just get used to them.

When I fear that I am exerting myself too much or someone walking down the street could be a threat, my heart feels like it is not there! I can only describe it like that. It is like my heart moves up and right across my chest, vanishing into a portal. This is certainly the most bizarre feeling. A tenseness in the diaphragm often comes up when I go out walking alone. The chest area has a strong significance for me. At the moment I am experiencing shortness of breath, especially in closed spaces outside. I know it is not dangerous (perhaps light hyperventilation) and it is kept at a low level. But it is uncomfortable, and makes me more prone to stress.

Another lived experience is like feeling a nebula softly exploding and dissipating in my frontal lobes. It could also be described as someone pressing down again my forehead. I don’t know why this one comes up – it hasn’t for a while.

My least favourite experience at the moment is the lightness in the knees, as if the ground is pulling away from me. My head simultaneously feels a dizziness, like a spiralling. I get thoughts like ‘I’m going to fall’ or ‘Have I gone too far’? Often this experience Is caused by anticipating it, leading to a self-fulfilling spiral. But it never gets too bad. I am on top of the dizziness, because I know that when we are in fight or flight mode, the last thing we are going to do is be clumsy and fall. Also, by imitating this feeling at home by deliberately spinning round (not too much!) I am robbing dizziness of its fear-association.

One thing I do at the moment is to have safety behaviours and items. For instance, I am conscious when I leave the house that I should have my keys, meds or phone in my pockets. When walking along the street alone I tend to hold on to these things in my pockets. When I let go of them and walk more ‘normally’, it decreases my sense of anxiety. In short, I am aware that these safety items and behaviours reinforce anxiety – I only need to remember all the times I used to go out without them! I am experimenting with going out without having my phone, or meds. So far, nothing catastrophic has happened as a result. Gradual exposure to anxiety is the way to gradually reduce it, and for me it is working.

Generally my sense of dread is felt in the knees and chest. It feels like something really bad is going to happen, and that I have strayed too far from home. I only real feel a major fear in my head on a particularly bad day. After a particularly bad mood, or conflict, or any gushing of volatile emotion, I can feel quite a lot of dread and anxiety on my first venture outside.

My anxiety is also linked to the weather – dark and cold and dreary makes it worse, sunlight and softness and warmth can almost completely nullify it at times. This is why it is important to warm up before going, and not to push yourself too far at first! I am slowly getting used to colder and harsher weather, although going out at night alone I have not much experimented with. I have had strong anxieties about going out at night for at least a decade. Now is the time to deal with that fear.

These are all uncomfortable experiences. There are also positive and encouraging experiences on my journeys. Sudden bursts of strength, energy and confidence usually follow my realization that ‘I am actually at peak speed and strength! Anxiety is only uncomfortable now because it is not the right time for fight or flight.’ These confidences are sometimes linked to specific areas (crossing at a certain traffic light for instance, or going up a certain part of a hill). I try to remember that even positive associations are based the subconscious. When I really delve into the causes of anxiety, and sometimes get angry inside myself for injustices I have suffered, I feel stronger and less anxious. Expression of something hitherto unexpressed seems to lower my anxiety. But the rules of society and masculinity are still strong even in my ‘rebellious’ mind. They force me into the ‘psyche’ of citizen, and so I have not yet learnt to transcend these expectations and thus greatly lower my anxiety levels.

These are some of my lived experiences of anxiety and how I strive to overcome them. What is your lived experience of anxiety?