Sunday, 8 March 2015

It's OK to ask

Just recently, BigBear and I were invited to a wedding. This is awesome for  lots of reasons:

  • Yay! Friends are getting married! Celebrating other people being happy is brilliant.
  •  A day out having fun without LittleBear! (Not that I don't love being with LittleBear, but just once in a while it would nice to have some adult company and conversation that isn't punctuated by "Mummy? What did you say?", "Mummy? What did he say?", "Mummy, when are we going to Antarctica?", "Mummy, where did the beet harvester we saw on Tuesday go to next?" etc etc)
  • The ceremony is in a bandstand on the seafront. Could a wedding be more awesome? Oh yes, it could, the reception is in a pub.
In case you hadn't gathered, I am really looking forward to going to this wedding. I even have a new dress, and am planning to buy some new shoes too (BigBear, if you're reading this, yes, I do need more shoes. I need shoes that match this dress. Yes, it is important. No, there is not a one-in-one-out policy on shoes.)

Despite the overall happiness induced even by the idea of going to a wedding again, there are a couple of things percolating away in my brain that are making me anxious.

Firstly, and I think I'm just going to carry this anxiety with me throughout the day, we're going to leave LittleBear with GrannyBear for the day. LittleBear loves GrannyBear. GrannyBear loves LittleBear. Where's the problem? GrannyBear is going to have to put LittleBear to bed. GrannyBear has only done this once before, and BigBear and I were in the house at the time. She's never had to fly solo with him, and he can be a little... capricious. Especially when tired. I've never actually spent a night away from LittleBear, and for that reason, even though we're leaving him for the duration of the wedding, we're going to drive an hour and a half back to GrannyBear's house at the end. That's right, the reception's in a pub and one of us is going to not drink. The sacrifices of parenthood. Or perhaps the sacrifices of dutiful-daughterhood, as I can't in good conscience abandon my mother to the maelstrom that will be LittleBear waking at dawn and finding Mummy is not present. He'd probably be fine... but... but... but... It's that "but" that holds me by the throat and won't let me go.

Secondly, the half of the couple I know better is an old university friend, and therefore, along with almost all my old university friends, I only met him because he was friends with TheEx already. TheEx might be there. So? TheEx left over ten years ago now, and I haven't seen or spoken to him in nine years. I don't spend my time thinking about him, I don't really care what he's done with his life in the intervening years, I don't think I have anything particular to say to him now. And yet, the visceral anxiety that the thought of seeing him again evinces is almost paralysing. Every accusation he threw at me, every insult, every verbal assault has left its mark, has left the fear: what if he was right? What if he starts again where he left off? What if he convinced everyone else at the wedding of all the things he'd once said about me? (Yes, really, my brain actually went that way). Once I'd got that far, the anxiety had me in its clutches.

Maybe you don't know what I mean when I talk about anxiety. It's the feeling when your stomach clenches to the point of feeling physically sick. The fear reaches up and holds tight to your throat so it feels as though you'll choke if you try to speak. Your heart feels as though it's skipping beats. You try to breathe deeply but you lungs won't fill. You start to salivate in anticipation of vomiting. And then the internal monologue breaks into imagined conversations that play over and over again. You lie awake at night, with more and more unlikely conversations playing out in your head, each of them more painful or humiliating than the last, until you're in tears and it all seems so bloody real. And you still can't breathe, and you still feel sick and you just can't make your mind think about anything else at all, no matter what tricks you try to play on it.

This isn't just how I feel about seeing TheEx again...

BigBear and I went on holiday to Andalusia a few years ago, and had tickets to go into the Alhambra one day. The night before, with the prospect of having to navigate our way there, in our hire car, get in, find lunch, interact with people whose language we didn't speak, this is exactly how I felt. I lay awake utterly overwhelmed with the anxiety induced by facing an unknown situation.

A few years before that I flew to Los Alamos to install a large scientific instrument there. I was the last person to board the plane as I sat in the departure lounge throwing up. The purser wouldn't let me on as he thought I was infectious. The delightful motherly stewardess took one look at me, gave me a cuddle and said "it's nerves isn't it?"

This type of anxiety is how I ended up sitting in my doctor's surgery, my son playing on the floor at my feet, and sobbing "I just don't want him to grow up like me". This is how I ended up being referred to CBT.

The CBT has helped but it hasn't exactly cured me. I'm not sure that's what CBT does. I'm not sure that's how anxiety works. What it has done is given me some tools. One of the things it's made me do is to be honest about how I feel to other people. It's also made me be realistic about whether a fear is based in reality, and can be addressed, or whether it's something that is coming entirely from inside my head. Not that the things inside my head aren't real (thank you Professor Dumbledore) but the way of fighting them is slightly different.

So, I was honest, I emailed my friends, who aren't really aware of my battles with anxiety, told them I was anxious and asked if TheEx would be there. And he won't be. So suddenly, the tight bands around my chest are gone, the conversations in my head have evaporated, and I can go back to worrying about serious matters...

Where am I going to find the perfect shoes?

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