Grimble was now halfway through her initial bout of treatment and taking stock of what had happened on this route to recovery and an anxiety controlled existence.
Road to Recovery
There were several side roads on this recovery route as Grimble had immersed herself in the range of therapies offered to her in order to locate the source and control it. The funny thing was that really she knew the source: work. What she didn’t know was how she could amend or control work. Her plan was to survive for eighteen months until she escaped abroad. Her mind was focused on blue skies, long hours of daylight and more time with her G. As each day passed, the fantasy in her brain was growing closer to reality. Coupled with anxiety was the excitement of a new life . A very disconcerting but slightly reassuring coupling.
Make my mind think
Treatment 1: CBT, cognitive behavioural therapy, or how to make my mind think problems in different ways. The psychology department was sited on the second floor of a bland, modern Swindon surgery. The course was set out with about twenty five chairs replete with clipboards and pens. This was overly ambitious as there were seven victims in total. It wasn’t a miscalculation but the inevitable outcome of a course designed for people with anxiety issues. Anxiety could rule the brain and a trip through soulless Swindon would create anxiety in the most hardened souls.
In order to reassure us that we would not be placed in an uncomfortable situation, they mercifully explained that there were to be no ice breakers, no whimsical self introductions, meaningless as no one ever remembered them, but they made each individual, even those who didn’t suffer from anxiety, feel agitated and ill at ease. Grimble cynically recalled the heavy number of training days, when the ubiquitous ice breaker was imposed on groups of disparate people. Here at CBT HQ, participants only had to don a sticky label with their handwritten name which no one ever referred to, rendering it useless but making the whole event seem more personal.
Each session was supposed to be just information based, but not even in her keen first year of Uni, could Grimble have sat for a full two hours just listening, even with a hangover. It was clear that the two psychologists would have struggled to keep a disparate group of anxiety ridden individuals entertained. Instead, despite them telling everyone that there was no need to contribute anything, they offered open ended questions to the group which was met with a cold silence and a general close inspection of our own footwear. As the tumbleweed rolled through the room, as the silence persisted for an inordinate time, Grimble and another brave soul decided to contribute to the questions to just to break the solid wall of silence.
CBT wasn’t bad. It offered constructive ideas. It taught the participants how to breathe better and take time out for our selves, even in the workplace. Initially, Grimble pondered the rationale behind this and then articulated to all how she couldn’t actually see this working. Her 35 minutes lunch lasted about 25 minutes maximum, once she tidied up her classroom. Walking off site would take her, at best, to Tesco and back. Putting in her headphones and ignoring her colleagues could seem anti-social to them. They’d keep asking what was wrong. Her only escape would be to sit in her classroom, on her own, thus assuring her colleagues that she was devoted and dedicated but leaving her open to a type of solitary confinement. Perhaps she could just breathe deeply at them, using her new techniques. Grimble concluded that all these ideas were marvellous if they could be applied within a real and stressful world.
Counsel me better
Treatment 2: individual counselling. A forty minutes chat really helped to focus her mind on the important aspects of her life. The counsellor had the expert knack of combining listening with prompting. Grimble felt everyone should have this on tap when they felt low. This was really the best form of treatment ever. No drugs, just time to talk through the myriad of mad moments that invaded her mind. Grimble had a range of sleepless nights. An attempt at sleep usually started about 11pm, then a thought would enter her head: sometimes trivial, on occasions, existential but always with the same result. She stayed awake with her mind racing until about 4am when she drifted off with nothing solved. The counselling was a way to try to put these ideas to bed, so that she could go to bed.
Treatments 3 & 4: regular doctor support and occupational health. Given past experiences of OH documented here, fear and dread accompanied the wait for the call from them. However, Grimble was surprised by the sensitivity and kindness here too. Yes, for sure, the ultimate goal was to get her back in work: productive and efficient, but there was an acknowledgment of her state of mind but also the recognition that it was better to be strong and functioning too. She had explained to OH the overwhelming feeling of failure and the needless and, often ridiculous, tasks she felt compelled to complete. She explained how the anxiety made her feel lethargic generally but, if she thought about work, she began to feel a sense of sheer panic.
The ensuing report was fair and reasonable. It suggested that work could communicate with Grimble to offer good wishes. In the period prior or this, there had been work emails with messages such as don’t worry about year 10 reports (she wasn’t) and we will see you soon (maybe yes, maybe no). But, on receipt of this report, Grimble had no further communication at all from work. It was as if, without some reference to work, no one was able to say anything to her at all. This was rather sad but not totally unexpected. In truth, Grimble was aware that there was little, other than work, that connected her to her colleagues and the brutality of this silence confirmed this. In every job, she’d accepted her expendable nature. Jobs might dominate people’s lives but it rarely gave us life long friends. This, for Grimble, explained much about why all work needed firmly putting in its place and why life’s priorities had to amount to something more.
Anxiety for dummies
Finally, there was the self help that Grimble introduced into her life, anxiety therapy for dummies. This included walks around their village, following her mobile’s health app, to get her steps into the required 1000s. She even dragged G on one of her circuits, tempting him out of his deep daytime, post work slumber with a promise of a post power walk latte at the newest café in town. It worked: once. She then added length swimming to her recovery repertoire. The local leisure centre had a tight schedule interspersed with school groups.
Grimble initially selected an over 50s forty five minute slot on a Monday morning. She had hoped that the receptionist might age challenge her: she didn’t though she was significantly younger than the other swimmers. Her aim was thirty minutes and twenty lengths and she was both draconian and determined in this ambition. However, a setback in her scheme was the others who seemed determined to thwart her steady pace. A group of several women geriatrics seemed to be convinced that simply immersing themselves in the water constituted exercise. They had made a token gesture with a semi floating doggie paddle and then abruptly ceased all further attempts to swim in favour of a mid pool natter. Grimble wondered why anyone would want a wet social gathering when there was a great selection of coffee shops in town. However, their rendezvous made the length swimming more of a slalom. Her future swim would be the early morning lanes when, hopefully, the rope barriers would be a clear indicator as to the purpose of the pool.
Midway through and physically Grimble was feeling better than ever. In fact, she pondered on the idea that, when she returned to work, on the outside she’d look better than she had done in years. To the extent, that were she to venture back to the over 50s swimming session she’d demand her age was challenged.
Her mood was lightened further by the government announcing that pointless tasks were to be removed from the teaching workload , simply because it made her belly laugh and guffaw. As G perceptively observed, if the tasks were pointless why did it require government intervention? Surely, he noted, pointless tasks were simply that and shouldn’t be in any workplace: shouldn’t they just be stopped? Perhaps G’s common sense had revealed the ultimate cure for her anxiety.