Monday, 9 February 2015

Finding The Rainbow In The Rain

A while ago, I told you all about my battle with thanatophobia and my decision to start seeing a private counsellor in order to help me deal with it and the anxiety and panic attacks it causes.

It's been quite a while since I gave you an update on how the counselling has been going so I thought that today I'd share with you how I've been getting on.

On the whole, my counselling experience has been very positive.

I have discovered a lot of underlying issues that really do help to explain why I feel the way I do about death, and understanding where the fear comes from does seem to help me feel somewhat better about it.

I have always thought, and indeed always been told, that I never experienced death as a child any more than anybody else did....and when you look at my immediate family members that is probably true...all are alive and well.

But once you start thinking back more I came to realise that actually I was exposed to rather a lot of deaths at a young age, and many of them were tragic and unexpected.

Before I turned 5, I had experienced the deaths of my grandmother, my step-grandfather and a favourite aunt - all natural deaths at a reasonably old age. 

I was also always very aware of the tragic and all-too-soon deaths of my grandfather when he was just 45 years old, and my mums brothers very unexpected death by drowning as a young boy.

These two deaths, although they occured before I was born, were often talked about and I have always been aware of how sad they were and how much they affected the people left behind.

During the next five years, I experienced the very sudden and unexpected death of the toddler boy who lived next door to us, the death of the young disabled boy who lived across the road, the death by hit & run accident of my 9 year old school friend, the death of  a cousin, the death of a neighbour (after which I also saw his body in his hallway), the deaths within a 6 month period of my 8 year old school friends mother and then father, and the natural death of my elderly grandfather.

Throughout the years, when discussing my fear with my family, it's always been said that there's no reason for it as I haven't been exposed to the deaths of any immediate family members and have never really experienced anything much of death in general....I very much believed this to be true.

So, after discussing my experiences with my counsellor and having her point out to me that actually....the above is a rather a lot of death to experience before the age of 10 and particularly a lot of unexpected deaths of young children, and that it is quite understandable why.... having seen the devastation theirs deaths caused...seeing my school friend lose both of her parents....having seen the woman next door screaming in the street following the death of her little boy...I would find this fearsome.

Something else that came out during my counselling sessions was my rather strange habit of deliberately exposing myself to tragic stories in the news or via social media.

I would follow news stories relating to child murders or disappearances with almost obsessive tendencies....I couldn't just read the story and move on, I would have to fully immerse myself in it. I would have to know every last detail of the case.

If I saw a sad story, even though I knew it would upset me terribly and I wouldn't be able to get it out of my head for weeks, I would have to read it. 

I knew it would make me angry, I knew I would end up incredibly upset....but I had to read it.

I recorded every TV show I saw about murders....I watched them even though I always ended up in tears, I just had to know what the victims had been through.

I thought this was something of a morbid curiosity I had....but my counsellor pointed out to me that I was forcing these things upon myself even though I knew they would hurt me. 

She told me that this was basically self-harm.

That if I inflict something upon myself knowing that it will make me upset, make me angry, make me weep....that I was self harming and that I somehow wanted to feel those emotions, perhaps because I wanted a reason or a justification to feel the way I did.

Once she had me seeing this behaviour as self harm, it made it a lot easier to stop.....I deleted every recorded programme I had about murders or crimes, I threw out any books on murder cases I had, I blocked all of the news websites from my computer, I stopped watching the news and buying newspapers.

It's not easy to do....especially after a lifetime of deliberately exposing myself to everything that happens in the world that scares me....but it helps.

I realised through my counselling sessions that I also have a problem with immersing myself far too deeply in the news stories that I read....

Most people will read a news story, feel sad for the victim and move on.

I would always imagine myself as the victim. I had to imagine it all through their eyes....imagine the pain they must have felt, imagine the fear....which would fill me with absolute terror of course, but I somehow felt I owed it to the victims to know their story and feel their pain. 

In my mind, I felt that this somehow showed I cared....that it was all I could do for them.

It's very difficult to explain such odd and complicated thought processes in writing....and I'm sure I sound crazy!....but this has always been the way I felt about such things.

And so now, recognising this behaviour in myself, makes it easier to step away.

And one simple thing that my counsellor told me has actually been the one thing that has helped me the most.

Before, I would read every story of accidental death of a child with horror and store it away in my mind....adding to the fear that something awful will happen to Tyne, living every day in constant panic, watching him sleep at night and crying for things that haven't even happened....because in my mind they were so very real.

Now, I avoid these stories as much as possible.....but when I do come across them, I remember the simple thing she told me.

Yes...awful things do happen to some people. The world is not a perfect place. But thank the lord, these things are rare.

Yes it is truly awful to read about the murder of a child....but thankfully millions of children survive their childhoods without this or any other terrible fate befalling them.

Yes it is so scary to read just how many people lose babies in the womb or to cot death.....but so many more babies survive than don't.

Yes it is terrifying to read about deaths in car accidents....but thank the lord that the majority of people do NOT die in this way.

It may not sound like much....and it may sound very simplistic....but managing to turn the thought patterns I have around in this way has helped me massively.

Everytime I stumble across a story that upsets me, I try to remember her words and turn it around....

Just this week, I read a news story concerning the death of a toddler due to cardiac arrest....this threw me into a huge panic attack.....I was having a wobbly week anyway, I was avoiding the news carefully but somebody on my Facebook friends list had shared this story and I saw it.....I had a massive panic attack, the biggest I have suffered in months.... But eventually I managed to get back to what my counsellor taught me....Yes its awful, Yes it is heartbreaking that this happened to this child....but it is so rare....don't concentrate on the child it happened to, concentrate on the millions upon millions of children it does NOT happen to.

I struggled with this concept for a felt somehow selfish to not focus on a victim. As though it was somehow disrespectful to their memory.

I feared that focusing on the people these things DO NOT happen to was leaving me open to fate....that it was somehow better for me to live in constant terror, and feel as though it had already happened to me when actually it hadn't.

But I have to put my own mental health first and this is what is currently getting me through.

Seeing the positive over the negative, remembering that there is always a light in the darkness.....finding the rainbow in the rain.

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