Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Keys - How I stay strong, keep perspective, and deal with anxiety

I went to the doctors today. On hearing my name called, and my G.P’s smiling face peering round the heavy fire door, I did exactly the same as I’ve always done. With my crutches in one hand, I stand and bend to pick my handbag up off the floor. Still one-handed, I put my bag over my head and slide it on to my shoulder. Then I ‘unpick’ my crutches and slip my arms. Absent mindedly, I wait for the ‘snick’ to tell me that my knee is in the right place, and I begin to walk.  It is all second nature now and happens so quickly that I don’t even register doing it.
Once in the consulting room, I repeat the process in reverse and sit down. Dr Atherton sits in silence for a second or so, and then says hesitantly “I don’t want this to sound patronising…but I don’t know how you do it!” I smile at her, “Do what?” I reply lightly. She grins, “Everything! I’d love to know how you do it all. When you come in here, you manage to smile at me and make me laugh even though I KNOW you’re feeling rough!”
I feel a jolt inside me, a sudden realisation that I’ve never really thought about it, not in any great detail anyway.  “Oh, I don’t know, I’ve never really given it much thought…” She smiles, and we talk about what I came for.
At home, a little under an hour later, I find I’m still thinking about her words. This calls for a pen and paper!  Unable to find my beloved diary, I reach for my draft book, and sit staring into space. I’m wondering where to start.
Colin looks up from his book, “Are you alright?”He asks softly, “You look puzzled!” “I am a bit. Dr Atherton asked me how I do it.” “I wonder that sometimes too. Maybe you should think about it…properly.”
So thinking I am!
It is pointless looking for one key to coping, I realise that pretty soon. One thing that has changed in the last few years is that I was diagnosed with ‘General Anxiety Disorder’ in the months before my parents moved abroad. I began experiencing heart palpitations, cold sweats and rushing thoughts. I couldn’t concentrate and I definitely struggled to write. Colin noticed the change in me and insisted that I see a doctor.
The following day, I was mid panic when I got to Dr Atherton’s room.  There was a feeling, like a burning hot poker was being dragged down the back of my neck and on into the spine. My mouth was dry, and over the previous days, my lips had become dry and flaky. It was the one time Dr Atherton had seen me cry, as I feared I was going mad.
She told me that I wasn’t going mad at all. If I was, I would be unlikely to realise it. She prescribed a mild anxiety tablet, and assured me it was OK to take with my antidepressant’s.  C.B.T. or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy was recommended. I could even do it online. It helps you understand why you feel what you feel and helps you gain perspective.
After the third part of the programme, I suddenly realised I could handle this myself, and hey, even if I was wrong, then the programme was there. When the anxiety and negativity was at its worst, I trained myself to block out everything around me, and concentrate solely on what I was doing. NOTHING ELSE EXISTED. I would focus on my footsteps if I was walking, closing a door if I was closing a door even. For a while, I became that blinkered. I was still able to live normally, have a conversation, and go to writers’ circle, so that nobody other than Colin and my family knew there was a problem. My mantra became “I AM IN CONTROL” I said it out loud if I needed to, and it works.
Two years later, I am off the tablets. I have been for nearly six months now. So one key to how I manage is that I live in the moment. If I feel depressed, anxious, or I am in pain, out comes the mantra…and tomorrow ceases to exist, as does five minutes ago!   It has enabled me to enjoy the good, and the now. I AM able to plan things again, unlike before, but I NEVER go too far ahead. The future will take care of itself. Try it, it works!
Another key is my writing. It is a constant. My love of words, pen and paper has been with me for as long as I can remember. It has given me an ability that I can focus on. It gives me goals – publishing my poetry books, and eventually when I feel ready, maybe my diaries too.
It provides me with structure and, when I need it, writing is great therapy. It clears the mind. I AM able to do this. I can create something from seemingly nothing. I have chosen to make the most of it, even if sometimes people think I’m obsessed. I’m okay with that. It means maybe people will judge me on my abilities rather than my disability. On a side note I wish people could see what I CAN do when they first meet me. I wish they could really know me before they make snap judgements, but too often society doesn’t work that way.
One last key before I go, is that I’ve always tried to see the bigger picture. The world is about more than just me- what I want and need. Other people suffer too and there are people a lot worse off than myself. Sometimes I curse my strong sense of empathy and my desire to make things better because I have been known to neglect my own needs. Nine times out of ten though, I treasure that ability.
It enables me not to think about myself, the things I’ll never have and never do. Obviously, there are days when I feel angry, sad and I want to scream so loudly about the unfairness of it all. I allow myself that now because I understand that those feelings are only natural for someone in my situation.
The Cerebral Palsy, the lack of a job, my constant pain and tiredness, and the fact that I can’t have children would be enough to pull anyone down. I have learned that things can and WILL be better though if I always TRY and look for every little good thing I have. I am in control of my own life. It is up to me to be the best person and live the best life that I possibly can…and I will.


  1. I know you for your abilities, Helen, and I thank you for the extra bit of strength this has given me at a very difficult stage of my life.