Further adventures from a recovering agoraphobic

A challenging visit to the Mind Body Spirit Wellbeing Festival at the NEC on Friday.  For someone who still has agoraphobic tendencies, it was challenging because I went on my own, it involved train travel, the NEC  is huge and the environment of a busy, noisy hall is difficult. But, I had the opportunity of a workshop with the Barefoot Doctor and that was my motivator.

My hope in sharing is to deepen understanding of how this feels and not to jump to conclusions about someone who seems to be behaving slightly oddly. And for anyone with agoraphobia – it might not disappear, but you can work with it and accept it as being a part of you, making you who you are.

IMG_3846No problems with the train journey, and arrived at the NEC feeling fairly relaxed. Found out where the Hall was, and set out. This I knew would be tricky with the huge enclosed spaces, bright lights and reflections, all of which make me feel disorientated.

I’ve been recently learning about ‘sensory defensiveness’ in relation to ‘sensory processing disorder’, which is being linked to agoraphobia, and also resonates with what my friend Stella has written about being ‘highly sensitive‘. The feeling of everything being completely overwhelming  in these situations that can become very scary and trigger panic attacks.

 

Having wIMG_3832alked through this environment, including two long escalators, came to something called the ‘Skywalk‘ (link to extremely boring Youtube video) and FROZE.  A long, enclosed corridor disappearing into what seemed like infinity. So, decided I’d walk back the way I’d come, and try and get around the outside of the buildings. All the time saying to myself that I really want to do this, so don’t give up! Back to the beginning, and down four flights of enclosed stairs to the perimeter road. Trudged along there for a while, getting increasingly anxious, and then decided to turn back again. Up the four flights of stairs, heart beating quite fast due to the exertion. OK – ‘Skywalk’ or go home? Back to the ‘Skywalk’ – it’s not going to beat me! A five minute walk or less if you use the two travelators. I try the travelator, then get a bit panicky that I can’t get off it. Unless I run of course, which even in this state, I realise would be a bit ridiculous. So I get off at the half way point and re-group. Now I’m stuck in the middle – do I go on, or go back? I go on, but I walk the last bit. More corridors and escalator, finally making it to the Hall. Hurray!

Hall 7

Photo courtesy of Mind Body Spirit Festival

I’d booked another workshop, starting soon, but decide I need some time to settle and some distraction. Sitting in a room listening to someone is going to give me too much time to think about how I’m feeling and how far away from home I am. So abandon that and sit outside in the sunshine for a while, and begin to feel better, deciding to brave the Hall, full of stalls, noise, people. But, also the calming energy of crystals and scents of incense.

 

tim and cherubSit down in the ‘free stage‘ area and join in with some chanting, which is just what I need. Tim Wheater playing guitar and flute, accompanied by the wonderful, smiling Cherub with flowing pink hair. Deep breaths and aahhhhh… out. Feel tension beginning to shift, but still tight in my neck and shoulders.

 

tim van der vlietFind that I’m quite happy sitting there, so stay and listen to Tim van der Vliet, an ex trader from the Amsterdam Stock Market, calling his philosophy ‘Zen from Amsterdam’. One thing he says is that “you don’t have to be a yoga teacher to feel zen“, and I think, well actually, this yoga teacher isn’t feeling very zen at the moment 🙂 but gradually getting there……..

I have a slow meander round the stalls, not really taking in too much of what’s there, but at least my body is present. When I’m anxious, I find that I’m so concerned with monitoring myself and the environment that interactions with people are much more difficult and the social niceties tend to go out the window.  One lady ambushed me from the side, and asked me ‘do you love pussy cats‘? I’m afraid I just said ‘No, I don’t‘ and walked on (apologies to all my cat-loving friends!).

I was interested in a new yoga block, so approached that stand and took up an invitation to sit on it (the block, not the stand). Then the stand-holder said she’d show me how I could use it lying down, and was already rolling a mat out before I had a chance to run away. So, I’m lying down, and she’s trying to insert this block under my buttocks, meaning my head is lower than my hips (not good for my stability). I look up, and there are a few people watching this spectacle, one lady smiles and says ‘you don’t mind if we watch, do you?‘ The social nicety did kick in there fortunately 🙂 Meanwhile the stand-holder is asking if I’m comfortable, and I’m afraid at that point I did have to say ‘No, not really‘ in a very quiet voice.  Beat a hasty retreat, but it was fairly controlled.

aura photo1More time recovering outside, mulling over whether to have an aura photograph taken – something I’ve had a yen to do for a while. The unknowns of how long it will take, will I have to go into an enclosed booth, will I have to stay and talk to someone about it? Decide to go for it, and end up with a beautiful photograph (showing I’m well-balanced, amongst other things – what??!)

barefoot doctor

Photo courtesy of The Barefoot Doctor

Find my way to the room for the workshop with Stephen Russell, the Barefoot Doctor, via more stairs and through a huge open space. This is what I’ve come for – it had better be worth it!! – and it was. So grateful and appreciative just to be here.

(Even he couldn’t turn the NEC into something that looks like this, but it was full of magic).

And Skywalk on the way back – a piece of cake.

 

IMG_3858

Going again in December, and here’s my motivation for that time 😉

 

Working with fear

Javelin trainHigh Speed Javelin – Photocredit: wikipedia

Following an acute experience of agoraphobia many years ago, one of my personal challenges (still) is working with fear and anxiety. I’ve explored various different therapies and techniques in my recovery and am so grateful that I came across the transformative power of Dru yoga, which has helped me so much. I’m now able to teach yoga classes, drive longer distances and travel on public transport – all of which would have seemed impossible when I was virtually housebound and having panic attacks. Although able to do most of the things I’d like to do, there are still times when the fear kicks in or I think the fear will kick in.

If I’m not careful, I start judging myself, thinking that I should be able to ‘deal with’ the fear and not be afraid of it still. But those habitual patterns seem hard to break.

So I thought I’d try a mindfulness course, and am half-way through an eight-week programme. A quote that our lovely tutor, Shelly at The Mindful Road, sent us this week reminds me to stop judging myself:

“Note that this journey is uniquely yours, no one else’s. So the path has to be your own. You cannot imitate somebody else’s journey and still be true to yourself. Are you prepared to honor your uniqueness in this way?” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

Acceptance has been key for me, but more recently, I’ve been working with embracing the fear, rather than trying to banish it or push it away.  One of the concepts of mindfulness is to notice and be curious. So with the fear, to be curious about how it feels, how it changes my breathing and what thoughts appear. And at the same time to welcome it (which is really hard!).

In a video clip that we were asked to watch this week, Jon Kabat-Zinn demonstrated this in relation to pain – not pushing it away, but moving in closer. If you’re interested, take a look at the video, and go to around 31 minutes into the clip if you don’t have time to watch it all.

One of those things that I’d still like to do is to go on the Eurostar, and this weekend moved another step closer to that by going on the hi-speed rail link from St. Pancras to Ashford. 12 miles of tunnels out of London, so great practice for the Chunnel. Paris, here I come!

Appreciation

pebbles and sea

“Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot”

Joni Mitchell

Back from a few days by the sea this week and just read a blog post by braith an’ lithe, which made me think about appreciating what we have in life. In her post, she writes about losing her sense of smell, and the feeling of loss and sadness accompanying that. Being by the sea, one of the first things I noticed was the wonderful smell of the seaweed, of the salt in the air and the particular smell of warm pebbles on a beach. I try not to take it for granted, but reading that blog today made me appreciate it even more.

We sometimes don’t appreciate what we’ve got until we lose it, whatever that might be, and we all experience loss in some form or another. If we really appreciate something or someone, will it be harder if we lose it? It might be, but if we don’t appreciate all those people or things that make life special, then we’re not fully living life. Yoga has helped me to become much more aware of the beauty in the simple things of life – to really see them, smell them and taste them.

Living about as far as you can be from the sea in England, I love to visit it, but when my agoraphobia was at it’s worst, I could hardly get to the shop down the road, so going to the coast seemed impossible. I lost my freedom to travel, and with that, lost my visits to the sea for a while. Yoga helped in my recovery, particularly the calm breathing techniques, and gradually I was able to get a little bit further and further from home. Appreciating and loving the sea gave me the incentive to keep pushing my boundaries – and it still does.