Tuesday 1 July 2014

Time to relax Lachlan, the floor of the parking garage is flat!

What the bleep is going on here?
You may well ask.
Well it's all to do with my anxiety disorder.
My disorder exhibits in checking things obsessively.
And these checks have two main forms.
In the morning when I have to leave home and drive away a distance, I have to check that my oven is not on, and that my jug is unplugged.
Thus neither can burn out and set fire to my lovely new flat.
At the other end of the day, I have to check that my car is okay before I can relax and watch TV, and then go to bed.
My nightly car check involves making sure that the car is in "Park", that the handbrake is on, and that the ignition is off.
I have been doing better with these checks lately, a bad night can take me ten minutes to check the same three things over and over.
An average night is four minutes, and a good night is two.
I time these by hitting pause on my TV, and then checking how long I took when I get back to the car.
One of the reasons that I have been doing better is that where I park my car now, the underground car park here at Byron Central is flat, and so that allowed me to relax a bit, and say "Well even if your left the hand brake off and the car in neutral, then it wouldn't roll anywhere because the floor is flat".
However, the the other night I had a sudden panic attack, that maybe the floor of the parking garage isn't flat, with consequent deleterious pressure on my equanimity, and further fears that the car could roll away in the night.
So I got out my spirit level and went down and checked, as you can see in the pics.
However, all is well, the floor of my parking garage is indeed flat, and so I can do my nightly checks quickly and get back to The Simpsons straight away.
But this then led me to wonder, how bad is the anxiety problem, society-wide?
Apart from gaining help from you all by writing it down, and you reading it, I would also like to think that I am helping you by allowing you to say, "Man, I thought I was nutty, but I'm nowhere near as loony as Lachlan".
I might add, as a little aside, that I likewise hope is humorous, a few weeks ago, I didn't take my car out for three days.
With Autumn in full bloom, I had no gardening work to do that week, on the third night I went down to check the car, in the same place it had been for the greater part of seventy-two hours now, and I went through my checking and then realized how silly I was being.
So I sent this text to a few of my friends: "Okay, the car hasn't moved for three days now. I think we have satisfactorily established that the damn thing is in park and the hand brake is on!"
As my friend McKayhi responded, "Well at least your sense of humour is still in place."
Which it generally is.
However it is not much fun being a loony, and I am so thankful that I have the support of Paula the Wonder Horse (my therapist), my friends (like McKayhi, and all of you reading), and my work colleagues, Scott and Suzanna.
Scott and Susanna have now agreed to help me by coming over and checking my oven and jug for me when I have to leave home for a distant lawn.
Thanks everybody.
So how big is the problem for the general community?
These figures are taken from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
"Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population)."

Also: "Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment."

And: "Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion total mental health bill."


A third of all mental health money in the US goes toward anxiety.
And what of Australia?
Mindspot.org.au tells us that: "Anxiety disorders affect 1 in 7 people in Australia each year. Stress, worry, fear and panic are words that describe anxiety."
One in seven, means 3.1 million Australians suffer from this.
Man, I had no idea it was such a large number!

So here is some general information about types of anxiety.
The Beyond Blue website is very good on this: http://www.beyondblue.org.au

Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD feel anxious and worried most of the time, not just in times of exceptional stress, and these worries interfere with their normal lives.

Social Phobia. 

"For people with social phobia (sometimes known as social anxiety disorder), being the focus of other people’s attention can lead to intense anxiety.
They may fear being criticised, embarrassed or humiliated, even in the most ordinary, everyday situations.
For example, the prospect of eating in front of other people at a restaurant can be daunting for people with social phobia."

I have social phobia, which means I feel uncomfortable when meeting new people, at a party for instance.
This website tells us that social phobia is often caused by:
"Learned behaviour/environment – Some people with social phobia attribute the development of the condition to being poorly treated, publicly embarrassed or humiliated (e.g. being bullied at school)."
In my case apart from being bullied at school, I was of course unmercifully bullied at home.
I have absolutely no doubt that this phobia was part of my excessive drinking.
I would go to a party, feel scared and anxious, and so drink to help ease the nerves.
Then of course, four hours later I would be dragged into the cop shop fighting drunk and with my pants around my ankles, after having displayed my overly large backside to some passing motorist who annoyed me for some reason known only to my drunken idiot self.
Ten per cent of us, says the website, suffer social phobia at least once in their life.
But I feel that it's probably more common than that, social phobia, is, I feel, largely unrecognised, and undiagnosed in a large proportion of the population.

Specific Phobias

Under the heading of Specific Phobias we see:
  • Animal type: fear that relates to animals or insects (e.g. fear of dogs or spiders).
  • Natural environment type: fear associated with the natural environment (e.g. fear of thunder or heights).
  • Blood/injection/injury type: fear associated with invasive medical procedures (e.g. injections), or with seeing blood or injury
  • Situational type: fear of specific situations (e.g. elevators, bridges or driving).
  • Other: any other specific phobias (e.g. fear of choking, fear of vomiting).
That lot are enough to make none of us want to leave the house.
Spiders is a common one, and I might add, here in Australia fear of spiders is not just a phobia, but a good way to stay alive.
However phobic responses to spiders can mean sufferers may not want to go to bed, for fear a spider may be somewhere in their house, and thus can't sleep due to the worry.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Then we come to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and this is the example the site lists, first up:

"Anxious thoughts can influence our behaviour and this is helpful at times.
For example, the thought 'I may have left the oven on' leads to the behaviour of checking the oven and keeping things safe.
However, if that thought becomes obsessive (recurring), it can influence unhealthy patterns of behaviour that can cause difficulties in daily functioning. Obsessively thinking 'I have left the oven on' can lead to repeated checking."

But that is of some comfort, the problem is widespread, and thus I don't feel like such a loony after all.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

Next is Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), needless to say I suffer from that as well. 
Some of you reading this who had likewise difficult childhoods, will almost certainly have it too.
Of course, I never shut up about it, but many of you may feel that you are not allowed to complain, and so your PTSD may be still undiagnosed.
On the site it tells us:

People with PTSD often experience feelings of panic or extreme fear, similar to the fear they felt during the traumatic event. A person with PTSD experiences four main types of difficulties.
  • Re-living the traumatic event – The person relives the event through unwanted and recurring memories, often in the form of vivid images and nightmares. There may be intense emotional or physical reactions, such as sweating, heart palpitations or panic when reminded of the event.
  • Being overly alert or wound up – The person experiences sleeping difficulties, irritability and lack of concentration, becoming easily startled and constantly on the lookout for signs of danger.
  • Avoiding reminders of the event – The person deliberately avoids activities, places, people, thoughts or feelings associated with the event because they bring back painful memories.
  • Feeling emotionally numb – The person loses interest in day-to-day activities, feels cut off and detached from friends and family, or feels emotionally flat and numb.
And of course, many, many people with PTSD have an alcohol and/or drug problem, as they seek to numb the pain.
These days our blog gets about four hundred readers a week, thus 60 odd of you reading this may have troubles of your own.
So how can I help?
Well, the best way I can is to strongly, in the most vehement terms, to not just say "Oh, that's just me, I always worry too much", but instead to seek out some treatment.
If you contact your GP you can access ten mental health treatments a year through Medicare.
Your GP will refer you to a counsellor, most likely a clinical psychologist, and they will be able to help you.
I've found that simply talking about it, reduces the pressure.
It was no coincidence that in the days after seeing Paula, I would be able to get through my morning and nightly checks with relative ease.
There are various methods they may use, and each counsellor has a different approach.
But probably the most important thing for you to understand if you, or someone close, suffers from anxiety, is that it is not logical, so glib, logical solutions suggested by well-wishers, rarely work.

A good example of this was when pharmacist Fleur came over to my flat for coffee.
I was (as usual) telling her about my nutty checking, and she pointed out that in the case of the jug, it had an automatic cut out, so even if I left it on, it wouldn't boil dry.
However, supremely logical though it is, I still have to unplug the jug to make super sure.
And because these things aren't logical, logical solutions are often no help.
Paula sent me this Youtube clip of US psych, Dr Geoffrey Schwartz, I found it very useful.
It's thirty minutes long, but if you have the time, it may be very useful in helping you with anxiety.

Schwartz, points out that the problem is one over overreacting neurones in the Amygdulla, constantly firing.
So you check that the door is locked, but then the neurones fire and send out a false signal and you go back and check again.
He does offer a solution, or a partial one at least, which is mini-meditation.
If you find yourself in brain lock, where anxiety has locked you to the ground and you can't move another step, then stopping and feeling your breath for a few moments coming in and out, is one way you may be able to relax slightly.
When I heard him say that I thought it too unsubstantial for words, "how can that help?", I said to myself, "meditating won't make sure the jug is switched off".
"What a load of Oprah-esque rubbish", I concluded in my hard-nosed style.
But with nothing to lose, I tried it, and it does seem to help.
As stated above, the problem is not logical, and so this seemingly tangental approach, has as much success as anything can.
Of course, if you're late for work, and can't shift that niggly feeling that you've left the house unlocked, finding time to stop and meditate is hard, boy do I understand that.
However, if the alternative is to spend all day at work worrying about it, then a few moments in the company bathrooms meditating, may help.
Final note on the topic, I don't have kids.
I really feel for anyone reading this who has anxiety disorder, and kids to look after.
I just manage to get through with the help of my friends and Paula, I couldn't imagine how hard it is for you parents, with all your own anxiety obscuring your life, while having to make sure your kids are safe.
That must be really hard.
So once again, I abjure you to seek out some help if you suffer from anxiety.
I can assure you that getting help is the only thing that helps, if that makes sense.
If you, and this paradox is completely understandable, are too anxious to get help for anxiety with a GP, then the mindspot website has helpful tools, an anxiety quiz for instance, to allow you to get a glimmering of whether you have anxiety disorder.So hope that's helped, knowing the scale of the problem may help you, check the websites, seek out some help.
Of course, one of the problems I've noticed on reading over this, is that just listing all the types of anxiety may be causing some in you.
I hope not.


DJ Spammy on DJ Sammy

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about covers, and how if you know that it is a cover, it is a sign of ageing (sorry).
In that post I was talking about the latest cover of Boys of Summer, by Don Henley, which I saw in the gym, but didn't know who sang.
Well DJ Spammy left a comment on that blog, informing us all that the cover was by DJ Sammy, and a great version it is as well, so here it is, for those interested:

And thanks to DJ Spammy for taking an interest.

But sadly I must finish on a very sad note.
One of the reasons I am living my dream, living in Byron Bay and working as a gardener, is due to the teaching of the first commercial gardener I worked for, Johnno in Sydney.
Johnno's business was centred on the north shore and northern beaches, and he gave me a start and taught me lots.
Johnno holds a rather unique position in the Australian workplace, in that he is one of the few bosses I didn't hate, and never had  a cross word or disagreement with. (I've had over three hundred jobs.)
So herewith the story of one of the hardest day's work I ever did.
One of Johnno's clients had a house on the steeply sided cliffs of Clontarf on the north side of
Sydney harbour.
They wanted to build some sort of deck down on the waterline, and so needed two tonnes of gravel taken there.
The truck that brought it from the landscape supply house dumped it on the driveway at the top side of the house, then Johnno, another worker, Jeff, and I, had to carry it down to the waterline bit-by-bit.
We would shovel some gravel into a plastic bin, probably 20kg (50lbs) in each load, then we walked down with the bins on our shoulders, through the snaking internecine pathways of the cliffs, including four flights of narrow stairs, to the beach area.
Then we would dump our load of gravel, and carry the empty bin back up the same journey.
It took somewhere around three hours, and at the end of it, I was a staggering wreck.
Clearly, I didn't need to go to the gym that day.
And despite that bastard of a job, I still didn't have a cross word with Johnno, a testament to his patience I can tell you.
The sad part is that recently Johnno's partner Annie was diagnosed with life-threatening cancer, and Annie is currently going through the harrowing process of chemo and radiation treatments.
While Johnno is going through the harrowing process of caring for her in this time.
So I'm sure I can speak for all of you reading this in saying "Johnno and Annie, our best and most healing thoughts are with you at this time".
All of us here hope for the best of possible outcomes for you and Annie.
From Lock and, I'm sure, all the readers of the blog.
Johnno, great boss and good friend,
he is one the innumerable people who offered
to loan me money. (Hand to Earth is the
name of his gardening business).

1 comment:

  1. Another nice post Lock! How often do you need to check that the carpark floor is level?!