How the Olympics helps my agoraphobia
Posted Monday 6 August 2012
For the last two and a half years I’ve kept a diary of all the things I’ve done to help me to recover from agoraphobia. When I first started it, the most I was able to do was to spend 5 minutes at the end of my cul-de-sac with a relaxation track playing in my ear, rescue remedy in my pocket and a football at my feet for distraction. Through perseverance I’ve made a lot of small but positive steps since then. Strangely though, over the last couple of weeks my progress has leapt forward and I put it down to the Olympics!
The feel good factor is one obvious reason. The amount of positivity and excitement emanating from the Games has helped to lift my mood and made me forget about things like the weather and the economy. I’m now focussing on something external instead of my own thoughts and feelings all the time. It feels odd that I can well up for the athletes when I’ve felt emotionally numb myself for a number of years. I feel more alive suddenly and, seeing so many world records smashed, it feels like anything is possible.
In the past I might have tried to avoid all the hype surrounding 2012. I know lots of people who can’t wait for it to be over and I could have felt the same. But maybe it’s because I can’t watch any of the events live or even see the torch pass by that I don’t take these things for granted as much nowadays. I can appreciate much more the importance of joining in and how great it feels to play a small part in something so much bigger than me.
Over the last week or so I’ve felt inspired to be more adventurous and to test my limitations. There are parks and canal paths near me that I’ve been intending to go to ‘when I felt ready’. But watching Bradley Wiggins and the other Team GB road racers cycle more than 150 miles through the Surrey countryside has made me think “if they can do that, I’m sure that I can push myself to go a mile down the road.” And when I did it I surprised myself that it was so much more comfortable than I expected it to be.
Like a lot of people I feel that I want to follow the example of the Olympians and be more active. A friend has been asking me to play football at the nearby high school for more than a year but I always put it off. Buoyed by my success getting to the park I finally gave it a go and found that the worry thoughts, palpitations and dizziness that I was anticipating just weren’t there. My confidence was snowballing anyway and now the extra exercise and social contact are helping me to feel more positive, healthy and relaxed.
There are lessons in mental strength to be taken too. Victoria Pendleton could have let disqualification and the pressure of performing in her final games, in front of a home crowd, overwhelm her. And Andy Murray could have let the disappointment of losing at Wimbledon undermine his confidence. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger indeed.
Since I first began my diary I have thought of myself as being in training. For example, I have a set number of exposure tasks to complete each week that get progressively more difficult over time. Every day I perform a different relaxation exercise. I’m careful with my diet, especially alcohol and caffeine intake and I use vitamin supplements. So in many ways what I’m doing mirrors the preparation of an Olympian leading up to competition. It’s really encouraging for me then to see the amount of dedication, discipline and hard work that they put in rewarded with the accomplishment of their goal. My version of a gold medal is to be able to live my life without feeling restricted by panic attacks. Hopefully the London 2012 Olympics has given me a big push towards a place on my own metaphorical podium.
Simon is the founder of Face Your Fear Limited, you can visit his website here.
If you are struggling with the additional crowds in London this summer, our regular blogger, Charlotte, has produced some handy survival tips which may help.
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