First Step

Before I disappear to clean up and get ready to head our later for a gig I’ve been invited to this evening, I’d like to sit here and attempt to collect my thoughts on my experience during week one of the Anxiety Management course; funded by the NHS and available locally through Positive Step.

As I often do before visiting a new place or an unfamiliar area; I spent some time last night Googling the location and the panoramic vision of Street View to find my destination, to suss out the entry points, to locate the car park and, of course, my preferred driving route from home. This appointment was made about a month ago yet, before last night, I hadn’t sat down to plan the journey at all. I knew my approximate leaving time; it just felt like I was procrastinating, in some way… That, of course, reads like anxiety in itself! I did the exact same when I was due to attend an assessment with my worker in the beginning and, just before I started writing this, I was planning my trip to the gig tonight… It’s a location that’s well known to many in Bristol but, erm, not myself! It looks as though it’s very close to one of the walking group’s meeting points so, I also know that I can park there.

I reached the car park in good time, in a town that I hadn’t even driven through for at least three, if not four years. I was about ten minutes early; sat waiting in the car park (anything but full), opposite the meeting place. I didn’t want to arrive early and fall in to an awkward silence while we waited so, I tried to distract myself from checking my watch by playing with my phone; checking the apps and e-mails.

With five-minutes to spare, I took a deep breath, exhaled twice as much and looked to cross the road and to make my way in. Traffic had suddenly emerged and so, I had to wait a while as another man was looking to do the same… As it would turn out, he was also heading to the CBT course. I tried opening the front door (even though the lights were off and there was a sign directing visitors) and then the other guy directed us around to the side door. Inside, I found the signs directing us on where to go to be very clear. As we headed up the stairs, I had to turn back and double-check what my mind was telling me I’d read (anxiety). Then, a woman came in behind us, asking if we were also attending the course. As the others seemed to pause momentarily, I took it upon myself to be bold and to be the leader as I marched assertively up the stairs! Perhaps even skipping the odd step.

It was interested to notice that I can ‘take charge’ of a situation like that. Even when I was ‘over-taken’ as we reached the first floor, I found my assertive side coming through again as I pointed to a sign on the wall and lead the way up to the top floor. I was even the first to march in to the room with its open door, where we were greeted by the our course leader and a volunteer to help out (I probably shouldn’t say this but, she’s quite attractive!!).

Not long after we sat down (I found myself taking a seat, again, as the leader and first to enter the room) without having to ask for confirmation. There were only five of us to arrive on time, leaving seven empty seats. Two others arrived a little later (they welcome you even if you are late) but it still seems as though five decided not to show, for whatever reason. It could’ve been anxiety-related; maybe not… Hopefully, we’ll see some of them in the next session.

So, this first week was basically an introduction to the course and what to expect. It was made clear from the beginning that this is very much a course on learning all about anxiety and ways in which we can tackle it. To paraphrase the course leader; it is more educational than therapeutic, in the sense that no-one is asked to disclose personal histories or stories. We’re there to learn about and to discuss anxiety. Not to counsel each other and not to be counselled either. We were asked to give examples of things we notice (thoughts, physical symptoms, etc.) when we are anxious and, together, we complied a long list on a large sheet of paper. No-one is under any obligation to speak up or to comment. If you don’t want to talk or say anything, that’s fine.

To gloss over it briefly, because I do not wish to detract anything from the course itself; we looked at the typical ‘Fight or Flight Response‘, we practiced some breathing exercises towards the end and, before we left for the night after a two-hour session, we were introduced to a physical practice (I forget the name) where by you basically tense up certain parts of your body in time and then ‘notice’ the relaxation as you release this tension. It’s very much like mindfulness and some of the things I’ve practised in meditation. We were also set our homework for the next session (which’ll sadly have to wait until after Easter). I was going to add something else to the paragraph but it’s gone now…

There were times during the evening where discussed symptoms of anxiety a little further and the volunteer made an interesting observation that’s stuck in my mind since. Many of the physical symptoms of anxiety (sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, etc.) can also be experienced when someone is excited or elated; in an ‘un-anxious’ state. This is, of course, true. So, what she then suggested was that it might only be our brains that our interpreting certain events and experiences as negative and frightening.

That’s an interesting thought, although my rendition isn’t as succinct.

At the halfway point in each session, we’re allowed to break for ten minutes and I found the courage to leave the room behind another guy, as we headed downstairs in search of the kitchen. That was straightforward but, we couldn’t quite say the same for the location of the light switch, what appeared to be only two glasses (for water) in the large cupboards and then, I wanted to find the tea bags… As he returned to the room with three drinks to share, I was waiting for the kettle to boil. I was the only one who wanted a cup of tea but still, I felt strong enough to go ahead and to take what I wanted, as it was offered. I did feel a little awkward and even ‘selfish’, as I walked back in to the room with my warm drink but, I hope that my action might inspire others to attempt the same next time.

I realise now that I didn’t ask whether the bags were decaf (my preference), because (as I was told by my worker) caffeine replicates the symptoms of anxiety. I also wanted to ask whether this service was only open to solely to people within the council area or perhaps, say, a 20 mile area of their office…

All questions I can prepare for our next session and another positive step towards beating anxiety! 🙂

…This evening has even got me thinking about one day volunteering to help out for myself.

3 comments on “First Step

  1. howanxious says:

    That was an interesting session. Well, it is true that some symptoms of anxiety are similar to that of the feeling of elation but I think we know from the heart when we are anxious and when we are elated because of the plethora of thoughts that come swirling by in the mind or in some cases, the resultant numbness in the mind.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, HA.

      I agree that we ‘know’ when we are anxious but then, is that only because our minds are telling us it is a frightening situation, when others may be excited about whatever opportunity?

      Skydiving, for example (which is also something I’d like to do).

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