Agoraphobia diary: 7.30am, day 7

Hi, all. Just a short blog this morning before I set off early for the most challenging part of my trip: taking a train from Loughborough to Nottingham, then another from Nottingham to Warrington, a journey of several hours. I haven’t used a train for many years, and have complex multiple fears of travelling alone, not coping, getting lost, changing trains, tunnels, panic, train toilets, no food, etc etc. However, it’s time to stop avoiding all these feared situations and to crack on with facing them head-on instead.

Along the way, I will use as many of my coping techniques as are necessary, including relaxation, contemplation, prayer, holding my wooden cross, music, distraction, reading, and writing down how I feel. In preparation for the whole experience, I’ll spend some time in silence before the day kicks off, because it really does make a difference to how I cope, as described in today’s short prayer:

Lord,
May silent prayer
Return my fears to zero,
So I can face each day
With inner peace.

Agoraphobia diary: 6pm on day 6

Hello, everyone. Well, today has been by far the hardest yet of my week-long agoraphobia challenge. It began very pleasantly with a slow walk in a local country park with my sister. There were deer chewing the cud calmly, close to our path, and a large herd to be seen on the way back. The autumn colours and blue sky were glorious.

After lunch my sister dropped me off at my mother’s care home. As I walked toward her room, I felt the familiar burst of anxiety. She was lightly asleep, moving in the bed, and opening her eyes a little from time to time. I found it impossible to stay in the room, and repeatedly retreated to the corridor. My big fear was that she would wake up and want to relate to me. Eventually the owner-manager stopped by, and after a few pleasantries, I asked if I could talk  to her in private. Without going into too much detail here, I told her about my childhood, and its effects on my mental and physical health. She was a great listener, warmly sympathetic, kind, and very understanding. I was extremely grateful for her help.

Afterwards, I settled sufficiently to sit with my mother again for a few minutes, then left. By accident, I set off the fire alarm as I let myself out, but coped without panicking.

Now, here’s a strange thing: I had to wait at a bus stop, catch a bus, then walk half a mile back to my sister’s house. I’ve only done this once before in my whole life, so you might expect it to be pretty demanding from an agoraphobic point of view. However, I made the whole journey feeling totally empty and blank, as if after a shock, with almost no thoughts in my mind, or feelings in my heart.

On paper, tomorrow is due to be the most demanding day of my trip, as it involves using trains for the first time for more years than I can count. However, just at the moment, I’m so physically and mentally drained that I have very little sense of anticipatory anxiety at all. Of course, it may well rise later, as the effects of such a stirring afternoon wear off a little.

Meanwhile, this evening brings two contrasting prayers. The first expresses the shadow side of how I feel about my mother. The second shows how I ask God to forgive her, and to spare her from suffering every day:

1. Sitting with mother

I don’t mind
Sitting at a distance, Lord,

But I don’t want my mother to stir,
Or wake, or speak.

I don’t want to hear her voice,
To touch, or kiss her.

She’s an unexploded bomb,
A sleeping tiger.

Surely she cannot live forever?

2. Please bless

Lord God,

Please bless, forgive,
And heal my mother.

Enfold her in your arms,
And draw her to your heart,

For evermore.

 

 

Agoraphobia diary: 7am day 6

Hello everyone. Today is the 6th of my agoraphobia challenge, my second location, and my second visit to my mother in her Care Home. The weather forecast is much better for this morning than for the afternoon, so my sister and I plan to go for a walk before lunch, saving the visit for the afternoon. I would have preferred this arrangement the other way round, to get the hardest bit out of the way first, but it isn’t going to work out that way.

I’ve suggested a large local country park for our walk. It’s a place we often went to when I was young, so I’m interested to see how I feel when I’m there. I’ve had some very bad panic attacks during walks over the years, but more recently have been better at recognising my anxiety as it starts to rise, and just staying with it, without escalating it. Time will tell.

When I’m out in the countryside, it helps me a lot that I can see God shining out of everything around me, and something of this is reflected in the morning’s prayer:

You speak

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1; NLT).

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light (Genesis 1:3; NLT).

The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship. Day after day they continue to speak; night after night they make him known (Psalm 19:1-2; NLT).

I will wake the dawn with my song (Psalm 57:8; NLT).

*******************************

Lord,

Each day
You speak the earth
Into renewal.

Each day
You sing, to light
The heavens above.

Each day,
You dance all creatures
Into waking.

Each day
You smile, to fill us
With your love.

Agoraphobia diary: 6pm on day 5

So, today is drawing to a close, and it’s been quite hard in some ways. Trigger alert: if you don’t like mild references to the effects of childhood emotional abuse, now is the time to do something else.

After an early start, I said goodbye to my family, then travelled up to Leicestershire, with my son driving. It was interesting to note that I felt fine until I saw the first sign for the town where I was brought up, when a sharp pang of anxiety automatically shot through me.

My sister and her husband made us very welcome for lunch, then my son left, and I fell asleep, very tired after the cumulative efforts of the previous few days.

Then came the hardest part of the day: visiting my mother in her nursing home. I was alone with her for about 40 minutes. She never leaves her bed, and slept the whole time, so I sat quietly, observing both her, and my own feelings. Even though she is very old, deaf, immobile and blind, I still dreaded her waking up, or speaking, still felt she might rise up and be as she used to be. I didn’t touch her, approach her, or speak to her, but tried to pray.

My sister returned exactly when she had promised, and I left the Home with relief. Tomorrow may be harder, as I’m imagining that a cheerful staff member with a loud voice might rouse my mother. She’s so deaf that people have to shout into her ear, and that means getting close. However, I have developed the technique of keeping my arms behind my back, so she can’t get hold of me in any way. That has given me a small sense of retaining some control over allowing her to intrude on my body.

I honestly don’t know how I’d manage if it weren’t for the progress I’ve made through faith and contemplation. So for those who like such things, here is today’s evening prayer:

Facing each day

The same Spirit gives great faith to another (1 Corinthians 12:9; NLT).

It is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8; NIV).

*********************************

Lord,
Facing each day
With you

Is very different
From facing it
Without you;

So, thank you
For the gift
Of faith in you.

Agoraphobia diary: day 5

Hello to all readers. Today is the fifth day of my week-long agoraphobia challenge. The most difficult parts of my trip start to kick in today. My son will drive me from Ely to Leicestershire (about two hours), where we will arrive at my sister’s house around lunchtime. After lunch, my son will leave, and my sister and I will visit our mother in her care home not far away. That might not sound terribly difficult to some readers. However, seeing my mother is always stressful, as my agoraphobia, depression and anxiety go all the way back to my very earliest memories at home.

Over recent years I’ve slowly developed One or two coping techniques to help me through these visits, but I still dread them. As always, it will be interesting to observe how it goes, so I plan to share that with you in my evening blog, as long as I have sufficient energy left.

Finally, I’ll be staying at my sister’s house for two nights, so must say goodbye to my quiet hotel room and move on to a new temporary home. This is just another part of my week-long exposure exercise, but, as ever, it will take mental effort and physical energy to cope.

For those who follow this blog each day, here is my morning prayer. I’ll be keeping it pretty close to my heart during the car journey, later, at the nursing home, and in the night at my sister’s house.

Always with me

I know the Lord is always with me (Psalm 16:8; NLT).

When I wake up, you are still with me! (Psalm 139:18; NLT).

*******************************

Lord,
You are always
With me –

So when I wake,
I wake with you;

When I roam,
I roam with you;

When I work,
I work with you;

And when I rest,
I rest with you.

Amen.

 

 

 

Agoraphobia diary: day 4

Hello to you all. Day four hasn’t been too bad, as expected. I checked out a couple of charity shops and my favourite kitchen outlet, then met my family for an extended exploration of Ely Cathedral. It’s surprising how distracting it is to pay close attention to two small children in a huge public space. Between us, we managed to watch the boys whilst gazing up and around sufficiently to take in something of our surroundings.

We had lunch in the busy Cathedral Cafe, then the boys had a run around outside on the grass. I was beginning to tire, and to long for a rest, but they wanted to show me their favourite charity shop. Again, I forgot myself for a while, helping one to read aloud from a big book about weapons and armour! The inner process of deciding how much further to push myself is a very delicate one. When I’m alone, of course, I only have to stay for as long as I wish!

Eventually, we had all had enough. I exerted myself to do my own very small amount of shopping, then returned to my room, where I immediately fell asleep. Today feels a bit like the calm before the storm. I’ve got used to my room, and feel safe there now, always pleased to return to quietness and rest. However, tomorrow I have to leave this new-found security behind, and move on to Leicestershire, where I will stay with my sister, and visit my 101-year old mother in her nursing home. Meanwhile, the train journey on Thursday morning is coming a little closer each day, and preying on my mind.

Today I realised that being completely honest about my fears has made it considerably easier for me to cope with the days with my family. So this became the subject of my prayer:

Real things

Lord,

I can speak
And write
About real things!

Real feelings,
Real anxieties,
Real fears!

I can be honest!
What a relief!
I’m not ashamed!

I make sense.
I do my best –
And life is good.

Agoraphobia diary: 6.30am on day 4

Greetings to you all. This is the fourth day of my agoraphobia challenge, and it’s amazing what foolish things my mind can attach my anxiety to. As the time with my family draws to a close, I’m still ruminating about how to manage my luggage. Before I arrived in Ely I sent a bag of clothes ahead so as not to have a heavy, unmanageable suitcase. So by the time I leave Ely on Tuesday for the next leg of my journey, I need to change into clean clothes, then ask my son to wash the dirty dirty ones, parcel them up, and send them back. This seems like an appalling thing to ask of anyone, so I’ve been worrying about it for days. You might say it’s not really part of being agoraphobic, but in fact it’s all part of not wanting to be any trouble, not attracting any attention to myself, and, above all, not wanting to presume on others in case they reject me. All these things were big no-no’s during my childhood, and I still struggle hard with them. I guess that partly explains why I never developed the confidence to cope with life.

Anyway, the plan for the morning (worked out over a very good dinner at Pizza Express), is to meet in a coffee shop, then go round Ely Cathedral. It might make you smile to hear that though I’ve visited Ely Cathedral  quite a  number of times, and love it dearly, I’ve only once, many years ago, gone past the barrier where people pay to enter. Normally, I confine myself to the free side-chapel for private prayer, and the excellent shop. Spending money to go round the whole building just seems too extravagant, and I’ve never overcome this. Hopefully, with encouragement, I’ll do better today!

After all that tangled thinking, here is today’s prayer, which is perhaps rather suitable for reflecting on whilst visiting one of the most magnificent, beautiful and richly-decorated buildings in the world…

 

We are one

I praise you! (Psalm 63:3; NLT).

You alone are the one we worship (Isaiah 26:134; NLT).

I love you, Lord (Psalm 18:1; NLT).

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one (John 17:22; NIV).

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It makes no sense
To say, “I praise you, Lord,”
For we are one.

It makes no sense
To say, “I worship you”,
For we are one.

It makes no sense
To say, “I love you, Lord”,
For we are one.

Yet still I say
These things to you each day –
For we are one.