Going out for a meal: surprisingly traumatic

The first part of this post was written last night, while I was still anxious; the last part was written this morning.

Another example of the fun I have with mental (and, this time, physical) health.

I went out for a lovely meal this evening. I stupidly had dessert as well (though no starter). I’ve spent the last hour feeling strongly nauseous and with an upset stomach.

This is partly because I long ago lost the ability to distinguish between “full” and “nauseous”, but partly also because I’m nervous about going into London tomorrow (to spend the night with someone I know well, in a hotel I’ve been to before).

It’s taken two decades for me to work out how to explain to my mother what it is I actually experience and why panic disorder is so crippling for me. She’s a (very) intelligent woman but, before she visited around Christmas last year, she’d never quite understood why it was that I’ve never visited the house she’s lived in for about 15 years now.

That, in itself, is a reasonable question. After all, she lives in a village I’ve been to countless times; getting a train from London to Plymouth is definitely something I’ve done often before. It’s maybe half an hour’s drive from the station to the house. But the very idea makes me start to panic, makes my blood run cold.

And the frustrating thing is that it effectively all boils down to “what if I get ill?”.

Well so what if I get ill? Big bloody deal. The absolute worst that’s likely to happen is that I soil myself or vomit on myself. Hardly the end of the world. I’d manage.

But even sitting in my own flat right now, the epitome of a familiar environment, and I’m anxious just because my stomach is signalling I shouldn’t add to it.

And what made my mother finally understand? What helped her realise that my lack of visiting wasn’t because I didn’t love her enough or that I couldn’t be arsed to travel?

Well, about six months ago, I had a course of cognitive behavioural therapy. I think it helped; it’s difficult to say, to be honest. But one of the things I had to do was create a “hierarchy of feared situations”, to list out things I find anxiety-inducing in order of severity, from things I almost always manage to do down to things that I wouldn’t even countenance attempting. I started writing a better blogpost about all of this but never finished it. For that blogpost, I put this hierarchy list into a Google Doc so people could see, so here it is: Owen’s hierarchy of feared situations. Mam reading that list finally helped her understand what it is that I experience.

And yes, just to be clear, the two “easiest” items that I would normally avoid are “Going to the theatre or cinema” and “Visiting a work client near [rather than in] London”. Part of the reason I stayed at my first London job for 8 years is because the idea of interviewing for another was terrifying. Part of the reason I’m still in my current job after 6 years is probably the same.

That’s what people don’t understand — that it is, quite literally, crippling.

(Everything so far was written last night; the rest of this piece is written this morning.)

So everything above was written last night, over the course of a little more than an hour, during which I was constantly feeling like I was going to be ill. This morning, I still feel unwell and over-full. I’m still worried about whether I’ll be psychologically able to head into London — over 18 hours after the meal — despite it being familiar and, frankly, not-scary!

I’ve been to see the physiotherapist this morning and even just lying on the table for 45 minutes left me anxious and focussing on conversation with Andrea (who is lovely). I think I’ll be fine for heading into town this afternoon but I probably won’t eat before dinnertime, for the risk of being ill.

Most people perceive me as a confident, forthright individual; it tends to be a surprise when they realise that, actually, some of the thing they take for granted are things I find intensely difficult — even things as simple as going for a meal out and eating more than one small course.

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