Some Kind of Equilibrium

For anyone who knows me, it’ll come as no surprise that I love running and often refer to it as my #1 feel good tool. Or #1 type of self care. It makes me feel good in every way I can think of:

  1. You just know you’ve been good to yourself when you’ve made your heart beat faster and worked up a sweat.
  2. It clears the mind.
  3. I changed my routine and began running first thing in the morning and it sets a brilliant tone for the rest of my day.
  4. There is that beautiful rush of good feelings.
  5. Even if you remove all of the above, it feels good to have done something good – running for me falls into the Good category and afterwards I feel virtuous and accomplished.

About a month ago, my hip began to hurt. Because I had this once before, in 2010, I immediately recognised it as piriformis syndrome. Basically it’s a muscle that gets inflamed – in my case, it appears to be due to lack of stretching – and it then pushes on a nerve, which in turn sends sharp, stabbing lightning bolts of pain down my leg and side. It’s not the sort of tender pain you might get from over worked muscles, but rather the white hot kind that immediately stops you in your tracks. So I knew what it was, and unlike ten years ago when I initially ignored it, I immediately knew what it was and did just that – I stopped in my tracks. I’ve not been for a run in a month and I won’t mess with this. It’s now been over a week since I’ve felt a twinge and I’m getting ready to attempt a short and gentle run, maybe some time this morning. I last tried about two weeks ago, after having been given the all-clear by my osteopath – try gently but take it slow, and if you feel it then leave it longer. It won’t do any harm to aggravate it but it’ll hurt like hell, basically.

But that’s not the point or what I was getting to, other than to say I’m being patient – something Sober Me can handle and deal with.

What I was getting to is this: I’ve had a real wobble. With the counselling course. I mean, the whole thing from the start has been a wobble, but I’ve been persevering and was seeing small, but distinct, improvements and my hopefulness knew no bounds there for a while. I felt for a while like I was winning the war against my own brain. I had begun to discover that there were times I spoke up in class when my heart DIDN’T race, when I didn’t feel like crying, when I didn’t get paralysed with crippling fear.

But then, there is was – and seemingly out of nowhere.

During a lecture that was about a heavy subject – suicidality – but one I personally had no direct experience of or triggers around, I’d gone in to class feeling cautiously nervous due to the sensitivity of the subject but calm in myself. I spoke up because I had something to say. Nothing super personal or in any way difficult to share. Yet suddenly I found myself in the icy grip of what felt like the beginnings of a severe panic attack. I cut what I was saying short and fought hard to not faint, not cry, not fall in a heap or freak out. My heart was pounding so hard I worried it was about to give up, I couldn’t catch my breath and my skin went cold as my temples began to tingle just like they do right before I faint.

OK, so that’s shit, but what’s worse is that it really did come out of nowhere. I still don’t quite understand what triggered it. It knocked me for six. No joke. It has really dented what little confidence and faith in my own ability I’ve so painstakingly built up over the past two years. I’ve worked so hard at soldiering through my fear – at the rehab facilitating groups and then on the counselling course speaking in class – and those wins were so hard won and slow to build up. Then this.

Since it happened, I’ve felt defeated and crushed. Initially, I tried to ignore it. Tried to tell myself it was just a bump in the road, but yesterday I had no choice but to accept this has really rumbled me. In class, I was asked a question. Immediately the panic over took everything. I understood the words, I knew I had the answers somewhere, but I couldn’t connect the two. All I could think was don’t faint don’t faint don’t faint. I told the tutor:

Sorry, I’ve gone blank“.

It’s not the end of the world and I nearly wrote “and I doubt the others paid any notice to it” but I find I definitely DO believe they all REALLY noticed and now I’m written off as “why is she even here, she doesn’t understand anything”.

Of course I took this to my personal therapy over the weeks since it happened (as part of this Diploma course I have to have 70 hours of personal therapy – very handy for Yours Truly as I have a shit load to work through). Last week my therapist said “just enjoy it” about the course.

I reflected on this a lot over the past week. And I realised this: I don’t.

Unsurprisingly, given my all or nothing nature, I can’t find many things I feel neutral about. How I feel about all this can be divided up into two very distinct lists of love and hate.

I love:

  1. The client work on my placement.
  2. Supervision – I learn TONNES.
  3. My personal therapy.
  4. Our tutor’s teaching, i.e. lectures and workshops.

I hate:

  1. Skills practice.
  2. Fish bowls.
  3. Presentations – mine is in JUNE NEXT YEAR and yet I feel sick just thinking about it.

In a way it felt good to just establish how I feel, as opposed to just telling myself over and over what I want to feel. Want and do are opposites in that sense. I want to feel I can enjoy it, trust the process and not suffer like this. But I don’t enjoy that hate list. I hate all those things and I am back to those early stages of dreading it every time. I go into class on Fridays now with dread and anxiety. That’s crap, I know, but in a way it felt good to just recognise and verbalise that this is how I feel – whether it’s right or wrong, there it is. And I now think of the course as something I just have to suffer through in order to get a piece of paper that allows me to work with something I love and feel passionate about for a living.

I’m not AT ALL at any stage where I feel like giving up, but for the first time in a long time I am now wondering if I’ll manage to get myself through this. Before this wobble, I had so much hope. I even felt that the big presentation (in June!) was something I could do. I even felt a little excited at the thought that I’d overcome so much and had faith I could do this too, even though it’s something I once never believed I could make myself do.

It’s a set back for sure. No, I’m not going to give up on this. But there is a LOT of work ahead and I need to really knuckle down and get a handle on this.

The running? How is that connected to this?

Well, I think it does play a part. The wobble happened after a week or so of no running. For all my talk about how much I love running and how much good it does for me, I think it played an even bigger part than I realised. It turns out I was left vulnerable than I expected to be with this #1 self care strategy. I do think there is a connection, even if perhaps small.

This is why I sometimes feel I can’t trust my emotions. Well, not SOMETIMES. I very RARELY feel my emotions are being accurate. And so I have to work so hard to see past everything my entire soul appears to tell me. It’s trusting in something bigger than I am. It’s having faith that a higher power will show me the way when I can’t see it. And so I go on fighting through this. But right now it’s really hard. I feel I’ve been pushed down so many pegs and it’s disheartening. Last night I just wanted to cry. 70 class sessions of this course. Nine down, 61 to go. This is how I’m currently looking on it as there’s no point trying to convince myself I enjoy things I just don’t. What I do hope to do is get back to the point where I don’t feel invincible but at some kind of equilibrium where I at least feel I have as much of a shot as anybody. I got there before, I’ll get there again.

That’s what we do on the Pink Cloud, remember? We keep going. The cloud isn’t pink as much as it’s a deep grey right now, but I’m on it and I’ll stay on it, damnit.

So there it is and I’m nothing if not open and honest – I’m low and I’m disheartened and I’m disappointed and I’m feeling shit. But I’ll keep going. I won’t roll up into a little ball and mope. I’ll keep going, I’ll keep showing up and I’ll keep working.

And here is that one magical thing that, even in this shitty spot that I find myself in right now, always makes my heart sing with joy:

Today I’m not going to drink.

Made of Stronger Stuff

What a drag this pandemic is… Heading into another lockdown here in London as the infection rate and daily death toll have been steadily climbing over recent weeks. It’s less daunting this time around and from what I can tell less of a panic too, and I suppose we are OK with it as we know from last time around we can be cooped up together 24/7 without being overcome with an urge to throttle each other. And the routines are sort of familiar too – head out once per day to exercise and other than that just pop to the supermarket to get food.

What it does cut off is seeing friends and my placement sessions will now be done via Zoom, which I’m not a huge fan of as I much prefer seeing my clients face to face, but I guess it’ll have to work. Over video call just isn’t as natural as in person for obvious reasons, but it’s also less comfortable to just let the silence sit there for a while as you end up wondering if the wifi connection has frozen. You there? Can you hear me? Just checking? Not the best but it’ll have to work.

As for my recovery, I’m just ticking along nicely at 1,016 days (just checked my app!) and as I suspect is pretty normal it isn’t something I think about that often. These days it’s just my normal and when the 23rd of each month passes I often don’t even notice. Having said that, I never want to lose sight of how precious my sobriety is and how much it has changed my life, so whilst I may not be so acutely aware of which month milestone I might be at, I still feel immense gratitude at the simplest little things. Like the gift of waking up feeling well and not regretting yesterday.

It’s a good place to be.

The counselling course does take it out of me and it’s been nice to have had a little break for half term last week. Now for another six week stretch until Christmas.

Up until the last session almost two weeks ago, I was feeling really happy about seemingly conquering my fears little by little, but then there was suddenly what felt to me like a huge set back. The session was around suicidality. Whilst the subject itself is incredibly difficult and I knew it’d be a hard session – many people have had difficult experiences and it was bound to get emotional and triggering – I was also really looking forward to it as there is so much to learn. Personally, I have not been affected directly by suicide – I haven’t had those dark thoughts myself, nor have I lost anyone close to me in that way – so I wasn’t worried in that sense. I think mostly I was feeling quite conscious of wanting to really think over anything I shared in case it’d seem clumsy, ignorant or insensitive. But no, I wasn’t fretting going into the session.

Our tutor read out a story one of her clients had written about a moment when they had made up their mind to go ahead and take their own life but changed their mind. Of course it was a really difficult thing to listen to, the words of someone who felt so cut off from the world and hopeless. When we were sharing thoughts afterwards, I had something to say. Nothing controversial, nothing too personal and nothing that’d leave me vulnerable. Yet, when I raised my hand and the tutor called out the order of us – three of us had our hands up and so she normally notes down who wants to say something and decides who speaks first, second, etc in order for the session to flow and we don’t talk over each other. I was third. And the moment the first person started talking, there is was – my racing heart.

It came out of nowhere and oh my God, it was there with a vengeance. By the time the second person was winding down their bit, my heart was hammering so hard I found it difficult to breathe. It was the worst it’s been for over a year and it really confused me. When it got to me, I somehow managed to say what was on my mind but had to cut it short because it got so bad and I was shaking so much. My temples started to tingle and I was starting to get tunnel vision, like I do when I’m about to faint. What in God’s name?!

All I can do is soldier on. I feel upset that my brain’s alarm system is still sometimes out of whack and it did feel like a huge set back, given I’ve over the past months have felt so happy that I seemed to be getting over this crippling fear of speaking up, but maybe it’s just the Universe telling me not to be so cocky and remain a bit mindful that there is still so much work to be done. Who knows. I won’t let it stop me, but I won’t deny it has really shaken me and created a tonne of new anxiety around whether I’ll be able to do all this. Before this episode, with a couple of presentations that both went really well under my belt, I was actually feeling really hopeful, and this sort of knocked all of that confidence quite a lot.

Well. No running away. No wriggling out of things. The only way is forward and I suppose I will just have to trust that I’m made of stronger stuff than my brain wants me to believe. Again. Fuck you, panic. Have me under siege all you like, I’ll keep going even if it’s the last thing I do. Even if I do end up fainting, I’ll keep going.

Today I’m not going to drink.