Yesterday was a really good day and showed me just how strong I can be sometimes. Despite living just 3 minutes’ walk away from my local shops, I’ve only been able to go into one 5 times in the last 6 months. I can only go in when I’m having a particularly good day and really managing to keep a lid on my anxiety and even then I really struggle and have always left without being able to buy anything. It’s hard to explain to someone that doesn’t have an anxiety disorder what it feels like but to me, leaving my flat feels like I imagine being forced to skydive would feel – completely life-threateningly terrifying. I’m not just a bit scared or nervous, I’m full-on terrified and so most days I simply can’t step outside my front door. On the days that I do manage to cross the threshold I usually have to have a task like taking the rubbish out so that I’m occupied for the first part of being outside.
Once I’m outside, things don’t get easier like many people assume they will. I don’t suddenly realise that I’m outside and I’m coping and can therefore go on coping, I have to take control and keep it so that I don’t get overtaken by a panic attack and this takes all of my focus. If a panic attack starts coming on then I usually feel like I’m going to collapse and my vision goes very blurred which then makes me more anxious because I don’t feel like I can safely get home and people often stare at me because I’m hyperventilating and crying. This is the point at which I’ll try to phone someone to calm me down, which is great if they answer, but I don’t have that many people I can call and they all work so often I just have to rush home as fast as possible and deal with it alone. Sometimes I get too far into the panic attack to be able to do that and then I have to sit on the pavement and wait til the panic attack goes. This majorly increases my anxiety each time it happens because I can’t bear making a scene and people looking at me.
The few times I’ve managed to be brave enough to go into a shop the anxiety has ramped up a notch. I feel trapped really quickly and feel like everyone is staring at me. My anxiety is centred around people having expectations of me and the possibility of me letting them down or failing in some way so the more people I encounter, the worse my anxiety gets. I often get paranoid and feel like I can hear their thoughts even though I know they’re almost certainly focusing on what loaf of bread they want rather than judging me but those thoughts are enough to make me want to disappear and escape. The further into the shop I go the more trapped I feel and I stop being able to focus and start to panic about how I can get out when there are people blocking the way. This is what has always stopped me buying something – I simply can’t face standing in a queue and not being able to just leave because I’ve got to get rid of the items I’ve picked up first.
This brings us to yesterday which I originally described as a small victory but the more I’m thinking about it the more huge I’m realising it was. Yesterday, I was itching to get outside having not been out at all for 15 days. The last time I went out was not a success because I managed to get into Co-op and then felt really trapped and had to leave and was so panicky that I had to be calmed down by my mum on the phone so that I could continue getting home without having a pavement incident. I took some rubbish downstairs and felt quite in control of the anxiety so started walking towards the shops. I decided not to go to Co-op because I find it so overwhelming so instead I walked straight ahead to the charity shop that I know sells wool. Luckily, it was empty and just had the two members of staff in so I went in to the back of the shop and started looking at the wool. I tried to really focus on the colours and picked up the two that I needed more of and then looked at the other colours just to keep myself occupied and not let the anxiety drag me out of the shop instantly. I picked up some other colours and took the wool to the counter and the shop assistant commented on how much I was buying and asked what I do with it so I decided to be brave and tell her that I make crocheted animals. She was really interested and instead of listening to the anxiety which was telling me to escape I focused on being normal and friendly and told her about it all and answered her questions. I left the shop and could feel my breathing getting faster and my vision started to blur but I put all of my focus into getting home safely and not having a panic attack – I wasn’t going to be that brave and push that many boundaries and then have it ruined by a panic attack. I went into Co-op and decided to not buy anything but have a look around just so that I could have a good experience. It was really challenging but I was able to walk around half of the shop before I decided to leave and not push it too far. I managed to get home without a panic attack and just couldn’t stop smiling at what I’d achieved. It’s such a small thing to normal people but for me it’s something that’s been impossible for 6 months.
The other small victory which again, seems larger the more I think of it, was telling people. In the past when I’ve told people that I’ve achieved something that I wasn’t able to do before they’ve often jumped on it and assumed that I’ve done it once and can therefore do it again and that it’ll be easy. I wish this was the case but alas it’s not. I’ve not suddenly improved and won’t be able to do this every time I run out of milk or need more wool. But I do hope that I’ll be able to do it more often and build it up to being able to buy things when I need to! I often keep these things quiet so that people don’t think I’ve improved when I actually haven’t because to me that’s a huge amount of pressure to keep performing and my anxiety is really triggered by pressure and perceived pressure from others. Whenever I feel like I have to do something, it’s much harder for me to do than if it were just up to me because I often feel like I’ll let people down or disappoint them. This means that usually I just tell them months later when that thing is no longer an issue and has become second nature to me again but that means that I miss out on the encouragement and support.
So yesterday, still feeling brave after venturing into the shop, I decided to post about it on my Facebook profile and was completely overwhelmed by how many people liked and commented and to my surprise, not one of them mentioned improvement and all of them were just happy for me and excited that I’d managed to do it. Getting that encouragement and support and hearing how proud of me and excited for me they all were was such a huge thing for me. I often feel very alone because I spend so much of my time trapped in my flat on my own but knowing that I’ve got a whole heap of people cheering me on and being brought to tears by this tiny thing I’ve done is just wonderful and I know it’ll spur me on to keep fighting for the small victories on the days when I’m feeling particularly brave and able. I promise to let you all know the first time I’m able to buy milk when I need it instead of going without tea because that will be a day to have a party (a small one that’s indoors and quiet, with no pressure, but nevertheless a party)! To those of you who have supported me in whatever way, thank you, you’ll never know how much it helps me to Fight for Small Victories!