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).

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

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.

Agoraphobia diary: day 3

Hello to all readers. It’s the third day of my agoraphobia challenge, and today has been an easier day, as anticipated. The effort needed to tolerate my anxieties is very tiring, so I knew I needed to be upfront about that, and not to do too much. After a slow morning in my room, I walked a longer way round to see my family, crossing a large playing field. That might not sound very significant to most people, but as I was doing it, I spent the time reflecting on the first time my agoraphobia really burst right out into the open. This was when I had a dreadful panic attack whilst crossing a grassy area close to my home. I had no idea what it was, or what had caused it. The strength of the fear precipitated an instantaneous avoidance of going out alone. Of course, I now know that avoidance only makes fear worse, but I had everything to lean then, and no internet to fall back on.

Eventually, I confided in a hospital physiotherapist, asking her if she’d ever heard of anyone feeling as I described. She gave me a strange, hard look, and said that she’d never known anyone at all like me. It was many years before I mentioned it to anyone else again.

Anyway, enough about the past. After lunch we went to Wicken Fen, as planned. It’s the most beautiful place of water, reeds and woodland. I took all the sights and smells, colours and textures in as much as I could, storing them in my memory, so I can imagine myself there again at will.

This evening I’ll be taking the family out for dinner. It will be noisy and busy, but it’s only a couple of hundred yards up the road, so shouldn’t be too challenging. There have been plenty of meals interrupted by panic in the past, but I’ve practiced enough to be pretty confident of coping, by the use of my standard techniques of patience, endurance, going to the loo for a few minutes alone, and holding the wooden cross I always keep in my left-hand pocket!

Here is this evening’s prayer, a celebration of the natural beauty I experienced all around me this afternoon:

One with you

Almighty Father,
You are everywhere –

Throughout this little earth,
And far beyond.

Your glory spills from
Everything you make,

For you are one
With all created things,

And all created things
Are one with you.

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

I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength support me (Psalm 139:9-10; NLT).

The Lord made the heavens, the earth, the sea, and everything in them (Exodus 20:11; NLT).

Then God said, “Let lights appear in the sky” (Genesis 1:14; NLT).

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands (Psalm 19:1-2; NIV).

Whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17; NIV).

 

Agoraphobia diary: 10am day 3

Hello, everyone. Well, today is the third day of my agoraphobia challenge, and this morning brings a chance to catch my breath. I slept like a log, with only one anxiety dream – much better than the night before. The plan for today is to walk to my family’s house, have lunch, then sit in the middle at the back of the car again for a shorter drive to one of my favourite places in the world: Wicken Fen. Hopefully, this will be less testing than the previous two days, though the cumulative effect of facing feared situations is very tiring, especially on top of chronic fatigue.

For now, I’ve got time for an extra pot of tea, then a space for contemplation, before plunging into the day’s activities. Meanwhile, here is this morning’s reflection:

You give us all a lifetime

He gives breath to everyone, life to everyone who walks the earth (Isaiah 42:5; NLT).

How short is life, how full of trouble! (Job 14:1; NLT).

The Lord must wait for you to come to him so he can show you his love and compassion (Isaiah 30:18; NLT).

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me (Psalm 23:4; NLT).

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

Lord God,

You give us all a lifetime,
Long or short,

To come to terms
With how we are brought up,

With who, and what,
We are,

And all that
We experience.

Plus, you wait to help us
Every day –

If only
We will ask.

Agoraphobia diary: day 2

Hello, friends. Well, after texting my son to explain my claustrophobic fear of sitting in the back of the car between two child seats (as mentioned in my previous blog), I managed it – all the way to Cambridge and back to Ely. Being honest about it was a huge help. The only time I was uncomfortable was when we were looking for a parking space in busy side-streets. I felt we might never get out of the car, but hung on to my courage, and coped.

The object of the journey was an archaeology open day, mainly intended for children. It was busy and crowded, the only bad moments being when I couldn’t find any members of the family. Afterwards we had a windy, cool picnic by the river Cam, watching the boat crews of various colleges going through their drills. As I got more tired, I began to long for some security and a good rest, so was very pleased to get back to my hotel room and put my feet up for an exhausted sleep.

My most triumphant moments involved herding a large, aggressively-hissing swan back into the water three or four times. It came astonishingly close, and was taller than my grandchildren. It was an unusual thing for me to do, but perhaps by then I felt I had nothing left to lose!

Increasingly, I’m reflecting on what healing actually means, as seen in today’s blog:

 

What is healing?

 

Lord God,

We know
You heal all our diseases,

But what, exactly,
Does this healing mean?

Sometimes it means
The end of pain and suffering;

Sometimes it means
Embracing them, like you.

 

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

He […] heals all my diseases (Psalm 103:3; NLT).

Yet I said to myself, “This is my sickness, and I must endure it” (Jeremiah:10;19; NIV).

“The Son of Man must suffer many terrible things,” he said (Luke 9:22; NLT).

Those who suffer he delivers in their suffering; he speaks to them in their affliction (Job 36:15; NIV).

I was given a thorn in my flesh […] Three times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:7-9; NLT).

In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind (2 Corinthians 6:4; NLT).

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28; NIV).

The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:21; NIV).

Agoraphobia diary: 3.30am on day 2

Hello everyone. Spoiler alert: this blog will be mentioning child emotional abuse, so if you don’t want to think about that, you might want to switch off now.

Well, managing the inevitable challenges of day one resulted in a really bad anxiety dream last night. So I’m typing this at 3.30am, whilst thinking about the day ahead. My main worry is that I will be travelling about 20 miles in the back of my son’s car, wedged between two large, fixed child seats and my two grandsons. As yet, I don’t know if the car’s automatic child locks will be engaged, but all aspects of this scenario are a torment to a severe claustrophobic like me. I can clearly remember panic attacks in enclosed situations from before I was 3 years old, so in some ways my claustrophobia is even worse and more longstanding than my agoraphobia.

It’s taken me 65 years to manage this fear relatively well on a plane, but it’s interesting that the fear in a car, a lift, or a loo is still so bad. So, thinking all this over, I’ve decided to briefly tell my son how I feel. We could perhaps then arrange that he will stop the car to let me get out and collect myself, if I ask him to. Not looking forward to it, but ready to face up to it, if that makes sense!

Lastly, I haven’t even mentioned that any lift means going away from relative safety, and having to wait until the driver is ready to return. So there is a risk I will have to deal with a panic attack without a quick escape route I can control. I still routinely turn down kind offers of a lift because of this anxiety, though always giving a socially acceptable reason. Maybe I should now start to review that policy…

 

Why should I be ashamed?

 

Lord,

Why should I be ashamed
Of my agoraphobia?

It’s a standard consequence
Of child emotional abuse.

Why should I be ashamed
Of my depression?

It’s a text-book response
To child emotional abuse.

Why should I be ashamed
Of my anxiety?

It’s a basic reaction
To child emotional abuse.

But acceptance is not
Passive resignation –

Help me to fight back, Lord,
Till my last breath.

Agoraphobia diary: day 1

Hello everyone. As promised, here is my usual blog, plus a short report on today’s agoraphobia-defying journey. My husband took me to the Isle of Man airport, and all went well with the flight, though it was a very fast and bumpy landing.  When I got to arrivals at London City my taxi driver wasn’t there. For a moment I felt completely alone and bereft, with no idea what to do. Then I got out my phone and called the company. Within 15 minutes the driver arrived and I was safely in the car, but the experience was definitely stressful. Worth it, though, as whilst I was waiting I saw a cool businessman in a suit glide by on a special scooter that also carried his suitcase.

Traffic on the motorway was very bad, sadly owing to an accident, so after a lot of long queuing, we turned off on to tiny lanes and roads through old villages. It was picturesque, but made me more anxious that I would have been if we’d gone direct, especially as I had no idea where we were. A journey that would normally take two hours took three, and I had to exert myself to relax and let it happen. The driver had Radio 2 on, playing music quietly, but with an insistent drum-beat all the time. I used headphones, tried to sleep etc, but the drumming was unpleasant, very migraine- provoking. After a fair bit of rehearsing, I managed to broach the subject just as we arrived at our destination, having previously felt I couldn’t possibly say anything direct about it.

So, here I am at my hotel in Ely, very tired, but pleased with how the day has gone. Tomorrow I’ve been invited to go to Cambridge by my son’s family. Before I got here, this excursion had been suggested, but felt impossible to me. However, I have now agreed to go, because full “flooding” or immersion treatment is often the most effective. So much more comfortable to cling to the safety of my hotel room and the surrounding streets!

Anyway, here is tonight’s prayer, for regular readers. Hopefully, I’ll be back tomorrow evening to report on the day.

My task

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

Love your neighbour as yourself (James 2:8; NLT).

To acquire wisdom is to love oneself (Proverbs 19:8; NLT).

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

I love you, Lord,
So now my task
Is learning to love
Everyone on earth –
Including me!

Agoraphobia diary: introduction

Warm greetings to you all. Some of you may remember a short trip I made by bike a couple of years ago, during which I stretched the boundaries of my agoraphobia. Today I’m starting a new challenge: the most demanding and complex journey I’ve ever made on my own. It will use all the skills I’ve slowly been working on throughout my life, including flying, cars, and trains (though I haven’t actually been on a train for many years). I’ll also be staying in 3 different locations, and having some painful hospital treatment, just to add an extra touch of excitement and exhaustion. As well as the agoraphobia, I also live with chronic fatigue, chronic depression, and chronic migraine, so the whole project will be taxing in a variety of different ways.

During this 7-day trip, I’ll do my very best to keep up with the daily blogs, but will also add a short, honest report on how things are going. So, to kick off, before I leave for the airport later this morning, here is today’s prayer, which is introduced by one of my very favourite quotations from the Bible:

Agoraphobia

Ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12; KJV).

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

Lord,

I’ve suffered
All my life
From agoraphobia,

But now accept,
Embrace it,
Without pain.

I know that
It’s the product
Of my childhood,

For fear
Has shaped my body,
And my brain.

I live with it;
I’m not ashamed
To speak of it;

But manage it
As best I can,
With prayer;

So in one sense
I’m no longer
Agoraphobic,

For I do not suffer,
Now I’ve learned
To care.