Sunday, March 03, 2013

They made me point at a tower.

I think it started before I left Sweden; two of my good friends left, and then a whole heap of new people arrived, and my natural tendency to introversion took hold once more. It wasn't that pronounced, but I can feel that's when it really set in. In summer that year, in Oslo, I stopped leaving the house by myself because I was gripped by a dread that if I ventured out, I would get lost and be unable to ask for directions and then it would be obvious that I didn't belong there. Even though everyone in Scandinavia speaks English.

That summer, anxiety that I had previously only felt fleetingly- that I would stand out as an outsider because I couldn't pronounce the vowels, and I couldn't pick up on the subtle signals that tell you what to do, and how to walk, and who to make eye contact with- began to pervade my psyche. Basically, I began to lose my shit.

Upon coming back to Australia, any friends I had in Sydney had moved on but stayed still at the same time, and they weren't interested in hearing how my outlook had changed. I'm sad when I think about those friends now. I never made close friends at uni, and I suspect that my constant refusals to come to out for drinks or hang out on the weekend came across as standoffish, when in fact, I was sitting at home in my room with nothing to do except be angry at myself for being paralysed by anxiety.  One only has to decline a couple of times before those friends drift away and the invites stop coming.

I have lots of photos from 2008.
Most of them are taken out of this window..
Or taken of things just inside the window...
I stopped going to the grocery store. It was too scary. I stopped catching the bus. I was too worried that the other people at the bus stop would think I was strange, or I would press the button at the wrong time, or I would miss my stop. I stopped leaving my house on the weekend because I was living above a cafe in a very fashionable beach strip, and the people in the cafe were too fabulous. Too judgmental.

I went to my classes, and I bought coffee from one place only, and I went to work...which was in the same place as my classes and involved changing the bedding of about 150 mice and sterilising their water. Mice are not great conversationalists.

I moved in a small triangle, and I got sadder and more anxious. As I got more anxious, it got more difficult to do anything outside my triangle of class, work and home. I began to see a counsellor again, but it wasn't helping. So I got sent to an anxiety clinic, and specifically, got told that I was experiencing social phobia.



Do you know what they do to people who have social anxiety?

Group. Therapy.

For socially anxious people. Twelve whole weeks.

Social phobia group therapy takes the form of cognitive behavioural therapy, and you get told the following things:
  • It is all in your head
  • It's not as bad as you think
  • Thinking those thoughts is bad, and if you can't fix it, you aren't trying hard enough
  • Every one gets anxious, therefore, it's all in your head and it's not as bad as you think
This form of CBT is focused on "evidence gathering," the idea of which is to force you to challenge the beliefs about the world and yourself which form the root of the anxiety. For example, neurotic perfectionists who terrified of doing a task poorly and are unable to accept that they're not hopeless idiots are supposed to look for evidence that the work they do is recognised as being good by others, and therefore accept, on a rational level, that it's not all as bad as it seems.

CBT works by showing you that the way you're thinking is irrational, and attempts to force you to think rationally and make everything better. Which is fine if you're unaware that your behaviour is irrational. What was always so distressing for me was that, on a logical level, I knew that my behaviour and some of the thought patterns associated driving it, was irrational in the extreme, and yet I couldn't make it switch it off.

All of this is to say that I think CBT is a crock, and I am still incredibly annoyed with myself that when the clinic did my final follow-up call, I gave them misleadingly good data because I had come into a natural upswing that was unrelated to my 12 weeks of crazy class. Depressive episodes come in swings and roundabouts, and I have learned now that I was on my way back up after a prolonged period at the bottom. The CBT people I encountered were also relatively anti-medication, which is disappointing because it took me a long time to overcome the feeling that needing to take medication was a failure or the easy way out.

One of my homework tasks at the crazy clinic was a "behavioural experiment" designed to show that it wasn't all as bad as I thought. I was paired up with one of the others in my group, a socially anxious journalist. We met up in the city and first completed a variety of smaller tasks, like ordering a coffee in an alien Starbucks, and asking a question in the pharmacy, before attacking the mammoth.

For five minutes, we stood in Pitt Street Mall and pointed at Centrepoint Tower. Both of us. The idea was that one of us was to monitor the behaviour of passers-by so that we could compare our expectations with the reactions we actually got.

We looked like crazy fucking nut jobs, and passers-by lived up to expectation.

Oh, and I take lots of medication now. Best. Fucking. Decision.
Ever.


1 comment:

Meg said...

thanks for sharing! even if i have only suffered it in a mild form, it is comforting to hear your story and that you are doing well again. stay strong!