Sunday, 16 September 2007

On guilt

When I started this blog a couple of months ago, my main aim was to write a bit about anxiety disorders and agoraphobia. To inform, maybe to try and break down some of the stigma that still, even in this day and age, surrounds this sort of condition.

In essence, to tell it like it is, hopefully with a bit of dry humour thrown in for good measure.

It hasn't quite worked out like that, not least because what I wasn't expecting was the level of feedback I've had, or the insight I've gained into myself and the way my mind works.

It's better than therapy, and just as well, since I'm still on the waiting list for my CBT.

In her comment to my last post, bohémienne noted that I seem to carry an awful lot of guilt around with me about something I haven't chosen for myself.

That's not something I've thought very much about up until now.

When I first started having panic attacks around ten years ago, the medical professionals I saw shoved me out of the door with beta blockers and an affirmation that I should be thankful, because at least I could "still make it out of the house". I didn't want chemicals and I didn't want patronisation. What I wanted was to be pointed in the direction of someone who could help me to understand, to work through it, to get well. This wasn't forthcoming, so I carried on with the medication and carried on with my life. Or tried to. So I worked, and worked, and worked, the idea already planted in my head that I was a time-waster, an attention-seeker, a statistic they didn't want. Maybe that was when the guilt set in.

At the time, I was in a long term relationship with someone who didn't understand and didn't want to understand. And that's fair enough. Not everyone can cope, and although we never took our wedding vows, "in sickness and in health" does not mean the same thing to everyone.

Every attack was greeted with scolding, and shouting, and yelling, and protestations about ruined days and ruined evenings and ruined nights sleep.

More medication - valium - provided a little relief, until it was time to come off, time to go through six months' worth of withdrawal and several years of after-effects, and then the relief was gone, replaced with assertations that I was a 'mental bitch'.

Guilt, laden on me in bucketloads for seven years.


And then there's work. Guilt, that sometimes you have to phone in sick with something you can't, or don't want to explain. Guilt that you can't be reliable. Guilt that you're not pulling your weight, because that's the Great British Way - stiff upper lip and get on with things. Or, "Don't Panic, Mr Manwairing!" Guilt that at the age of 35 I haven't managed to hang onto a job for more than a two years - I was intelligent at school, did well, and should have made more of myself. And the inevitable guilt that when you finally have to leave, or get fired for taking too much time off, you're sponging off the state, living on handouts, not paying your bills, not making ends meet.


About eight months ago, I tried to make the drive to see my elderly parents. Driving is a big problem for me: what if I lose control at the wheel and hurt myself, or someone else, or worse? But still, I tried; the guilt of not seeing them, of staying away while as far as they're concerned I'm living it up in the big smoke, too busy to make the trip home, evidently too much.

I made it about 20 miles down the A303 before I called for help. A nice man from Green Flag came and collected me, and my lie that I was suffering with a migraine and couldn't see to drive, put my car on the back of a low-loader and transported me in silence from somewhere in Hampshire to the arse end of Devon.

It was a long journey. Much longer than it would have been had I managed to get a grip.

That evening, I sat in my parents lounge, fighting off yet another attack, with my mother fussing around me not knowing what to do and my father almost in tears, reciting the words "We've done this to her," like a sad mantra.

More guilt. Guilt that he's carrying that guilt for himself.

I managed a day and a half before I came home, and haven't been back since.


And finally, guilt thrown on me from the medical profession. Guilt about calling for help when I honestly, truthfully am convinced that I'm about to die. Guilt when they wheel you out of the back of the ambulance into A&E, guilt when you're greeted with hard stares from hard nurses who don't have time to waste on a mental case when there are heart attacks and strokes in the next room. Guilt when, lying on a trolley three hours later, you start to feel better and kick yourself in the head for doing it again.


That's the thing about this sort of thing, you see. Everywhere you go, you're greeted with guilt, with accusationary stares and implications of time-wasting and of being the person that 'nobody knows what to do with'. It says an awful lot about the state of the mental health services in this country that a good deal of this pressure comes from medical professionals - even the terminology given to the condition, Panic Disorder, conjures up images of overreaction, of making something out of nothing, of a chicken with its head cut off. But that's a subject for a post of its own.

I find myself wondering how much this guilt is driving my condition, and whether I will ever be able move past it without letting it go. But how, when it's all I've ever known?

For Migraineur - thank you for your concern. This weekend has been a little better and the black mood has lifted somewhat. The latest thing is meditation; I feel faintly ridiculous sitting there chanting in my head, but it does seem to be having an effect.

Yesterday, I opened my front door to put the rubbish out and was greeted with a huge box on my doorstep; beautiful flowers from a very dear online friend. I'm presuming she read my last post - I don't know because she hasn't said why she sent them, but that doesn't matter because it made my day. So I went out, to get a vase to put them in. I only managed ten minutes or so, but it's a start. And again today. Half an hour in Hammersmith, to get a few bits I needed; feeling unreal, heart banging out of my chest, tapping my fingers nervously against my thigh as the cashier took just that little bit too long to ring up my purchases, jumping back on the bus as soon as I could.

Was it fun? No. I hated every second of it. But I tried.


Anonymous said...

*hugs* seems inadequate, but I'll give them anyway.

One of the things I've seen again and again is that people I know who've been going through bouts of depression (the direct experience I have is with my friends who are/were clinically depressed; I only know about agora from your wonderfully vivid explanations (it seems odd to compliment you on your wiritng when you're writing out your pain and frustration, but I know you'll understand if I say you should be extremely proud of this blog - and indeed everything else I've seen you write) and from Ness.

But one thing people with mental health issues (I can't think of a term that sounds better; apologies if that's not the correct terminology) is this belief that they're not "really" ill, in the same way that someone who's having a heart attack or an epilectic fit is really ill. It may well be a different type of 'ill', but you are no less "really" ill. It's just that the problem is not so easily seen or diagnosed because it's locked up in your brain, which is notoriously difficult to understand (and also affected by 'non-real' things such as memories, non-rational reactions and beliefs and so on). My dear friend Mel spent a whole term in the depths of depression, where she'd spend whole days lying in bed, crying. I had to shout at several people who thought she should 'get a grip'. On her worst days she was honestly no more able to get out that bed than if she'd been laid out by a fever or muscular disease or something. Yet she also was convinced that she wasn't "really" ill and shouldn't bother the doctors with it.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that to assume that your pain is less real because it's caused by something 'within' you, rather than a car crashing into you, or hot water scalding you is wrong - whether I it's you doing the assuming or hospital nurses (who should know better, frankly). I expect in many cases the heightened anxiety might exaggerate that feeling that everyone wishes you'd put a brave face on it and get over it, even when that's not what they're thinking at all.

*hugs* again, Sheenagh x

bohémienne said...

Ditto. Everything that Sheenagh said.

And then people like me tell you that you "shouldn't" feel guilty. Which isn't helpful either.

Your pain is real. Keep writing about it here. It can only help.

Izzy said...

Everyone should be sent random flowers ocasionally. Even (especialy?) people not living in Impusle adverts...

camille said...

This is a beautiful and heart-wrenching post. It is cliched but I feel overcome with empathy for you. Every word and experience I find myself nodding my head, agreeing. As some one who suffers from a mild anxiety disorder I know all to well the guilt that seems to go along with it, always there. I've only recently, in the last eighteen months or so come under the grips of anxiety but I still can't help feeling like it is a problem that is just in my head and so controllable. And if it is controllable, then it is my fault, my choice perhaps that I feel this way. I've been lucky though, I've been able to access a fantastic psychologist who has helped me curb the anxiety to a manageable level and some days I feel like I'm really getting better. I hope the meditation helps you. Yoga usually works for me, I guess on the same principle. Anyway I hope you can learn to offload some of that guilt.. again it is cliched but I think recognising that it is there, is half the battle. :)

Dan H said...

Wow. Just discovered your blog, and I've never read such a perfect description of how this feels.

I suffered badly from panic attacks for several years, also resulting in agoraphobia.

Nowadays I have them only very rarely, and am able to control them quite well.

My natural instinct is to offer some advice, partly because I remember how desperate I was to be told what to do, and partly because I know you can (and will) get past this.

Please forgive me, then, if this sounds patronising or you've heard it before or you just don't want advice, but I found two completely different things really helped me.

The first was improving my physical health as much as possible - cutting out booze and fags, improving diet, but most of all getting fit.

The second was an exercise where whenever I was feeling calm and relaxed I would try to consciously bring on a panic attack (I never could). I don't know why, but this really helped me to begin to control my attacks.

Anyway, good luck, take care, be positive.

Migraineur said...

Did you see this?

You're not alone. None of us is alone.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant writing. Superb articulate, emotional expression of fundanmentals. Thanks a lot for this.

3dsmith said...

Guilt was given to us so that we might come to an understanding of our own sin and to give forgiveness for others. Thus without it, we do no wrong. No need to delve into ambiguous emotions or so called clinical diagnosis, its too cloudy....
This is not spoken in judgment, but rather a solution. Life has a purpose, you are unique and capable of finding a balance. I have a friend,marathon runner,no legs,and a changed outlook on life.