The No Panic Book Of Not Panicking (well-being through creative writing)

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The No Panic Book Of Not Panicking well-being through creative writing written by No Panic (Sutton & Merton) creative writing exercises written by Sally Pomme Clayton edited by Sally Pomme Clayton illustrated by Richy K. Chandler produced by Apples and Snakes


Š 2016: No Panic (Sutton & Merton); Sally Pomme Clayton; Richy K. Chandler; Apples and Snakes. 2

Contents 5

Introduction: Writing to help others, writing to help yourself


No Panic - offering help to sufferers


Freeing the mind - five minutes creative writing


Chapter One: What is panic and anxiety?


Portrait of panic - creative writing


Chapter Two: What people say


What to say - creative writing


Chapter Three: Personal stories


Journey to the other side - creative writing


Chapter Four: Coping strategies


Spell to cure panic - creative writing


Chapter Five: Different sorts of help


Differing view points - creative writing


Chapter Six: Darkness and light


Holding on to the light - creative writing


Chapter Seven: Letter to a friend


Letters - creative writing


Chapter Eight: Meanings all around


Stories hidden inside objects - creative writing


Chapter Nine: What panic has taught me


Your success story - creative writing


Chapter Ten: Setting up your own self-help group


Inspiring books about creative writing


Biographies 3

Introduction Writing to help others, writing to help yourself This book was been written by self-help group No Panic (Sutton & Merton). No Panic was formed for, and is run by, people who are suffering from panic and anxiety. They meet to share advice, and gain help through mutual support. The group have found that creative writing is of great benefit in helping their state of mind and sense of well being. The group worked with writer and storyteller Sally-Pomme Clayton, and participation co-ordinator Daniela Paolucci at Apples and Snakes, to produce a book of poems for the Olympics (2012). No Panic amazed themselves by overcoming stage-fright and performing their poems in public at Sutton Theatre. The group then had the idea that they wanted to write a self-help book for people who might be experiencing panic or anxiety. They felt there was not enough knowledge, or literature, on the subject of panic, and wanted to write about their own experiences to pass on what they had learned and what had helped them. The group were committed to this idea for several years and it become possible when Apples and Snakes received funding from Awards for All for the project. No Panic then worked again with Sally-Pomme to write and edit the book. The book uses creative writing to explore the themes of panic and anxiety, ranging from: practical and factual self-help advice to stories about imagined and invented characters and situations; poetic and metaphorical descriptions of panic, to brave personal accounts of true life stories. This combination of fact and fiction has allowed a freer 5

and deeper form of expression. The group said that creative writing: ‘Helps you express what you feel.’ ‘Helps me to understand things better and gain a sense of proportion.’ ‘Helps in getting my thoughts and feelings down on paper. In some strange way it is cathartic. The anxiety has gained expression and now exists on a sheet of paper instead of just inside my head.’ In this book the group write about their own personal experiences of struggling with panic and anxiety. They share practical strategies for coping. They explore the things people should, and should not say to someone with anxiety. The book journeys from dark to light, it is moving, wise and inspirational, full of testimonies that even in the darkest moments hope can be found. The stories and poems are full of helpful ideas about how to face your fears and begin to find the inner tools to live a brave, calm life. No Panic hope that their writing will: bring relief to those who are suffering with panic and anxiety; help families and carers; inform the wider public, and help towards eradicating the shame and stigma linked to the condition. We all suffer from stress at various pressured times in our life, and the poems and profound advice contained here, are helpful to us all. The book also contains some of the exercises from the sessions, devised and written by Sally-Pomme Clayton. We have included these exercises so that you might enjoy trying them out, and find them valuable too. The group found the process of creative writing to be calming. It allowed them to express their emotions and put them into words, to contact their imagination, and feel the potential that is inside us all. 6

Creative writing has been liberating for the group, they say: ‘It has enabled me to look back and see how far I have come’ ‘I do not feel ashamed about having anxiety. It is ok to be me.’ ‘Writing has helped me to recognize more clearly where my problems have come from.’ ‘It underlines how far I have come in the battle against anxiety.’ Sally Pomme Clayton


Anxiety causes panic Oh no! Not again, this disabling panic, anxiety, so crushing, remaining so static. So much pressure, things slipping, sliding, my mind in such turmoil, loneliness abiding. Giving, never taking, in many ways, so suffocating, anger finally rising, my identity not knowing. Like waiting at a station, my train missed yet again, it’s always just the same. Am I normal, what am I like? Then buses go on strike. An accident on the line, my mind out of time. Anxiety causes panic, panic set in motion. This feeling is so awful, disabling, so crushing – what emotion, not knowing which way to turn. Whenever will I learn? Complete panic, sets the wheels rolling, my throat constricts inwardly, no controlling, heaving, I struggle, no air forthcoming, feel that I’m dying, the sound, high pitched, choking, groaning. Trying so hard to recover, finally, slowing, deeper breathing, now sobbing, what a bother, I have survived another. Jenny Arpino 8

No Panic - offering help to sufferers No Panic (Sutton & Merton) was formed in 1997. It was the idea of the current Development Worker, Jean Bevan, who had suffered from years of anxiety and agoraphobia. She decided to start a self-help group. Over the years the group flourished, confirming the need for its continuing existence, and highlighting the number of people from all walks of life who are subject to the devastating effects of phobias and panic attacks. No Panic is now widely recognised throughout the borough and referrals come from a wide range of sources. No Panic is a self-help group and therein lies the secret of the group’s success. The people best placed to understand the awful effects of phobias and panic attacks are fellow sufferers. Newcomers to the group are often frightened and confused by their illness, particularly if it is of recent origin. They don’t always receive help or encouragement from family and friends. As a consequence, sufferers often feel ashamed and misunderstood and can become increasingly isolated. Those attending No Panic meet fellow sufferers who know exactly what they are going through. Newcomers learn helpful strategies for coping with attacks, offered by people who really know what they are talking about. Regular attendees often make remarkable recoveries. Some continue to attend regularly whilst others move on and are able to resume normal work and social lives. Robin Bevan




Chapter One What is panic and anxiety? Definitions of panic and anxiety based on personal understanding. Portraits of panic that fuse fact and fiction. Descriptions of anxiety that combine metaphor with real life experience.


Anxiety Anxiety is when we worry about what will happen in the future instead of focusing on the present moment. It restricts you because you feel out of control, imagining the worst. This may limit the things you are able to do in life. Anxiety is not freedom. It grips you with its claws and keeps you imprisoned. Janet Davis


Lonely Room Here I am again, on my own, sitting in my barren, lifeless dark room, with only the sound of ill-fitting windows making noises against the wind. I could open the windows, and let in the sounds and hostility of the outside world, with all its noises, anger, and fears. But I shut them out. I am now feeling the dark power of negative thoughts crowding in on me. The thoughts of a life misused. What if I had done this, what if I had done that, turn another corner they say. Where are my friends I once knew? The hours I have lost, the fun I had as a young man, the halcyon days of my teenage years. What was it all for? What have I got to show for it? A lonely room and the sound of being alone. Lawrence Ashenden


A dark alleyway I need to get home urgently, but don’t know why. I come across an alleyway which I know will take me home. It looks very dark, but I believe once I am in the alley I will be okay. I enter the alley and immediately I am engulfed by blackness. Fear takes a hold, but I must go on. Every part of me is screaming ‘turn back!’ But I am immobilized by fear, I can only go on. Very slowly, I place one foot in front of the other, but the blackness seems to deepen. My heart is thumping, my body on high alert, to fight the damage I feel is evident. I feel so alone and vulnerable. Jean Bevan What anxiety feels like In my case, anxiety usually reveals itself as a rapidly beating heart and a knotted feeling in the stomach. It is certainly possible to control it, up to a point, and its worse symptoms can be dealt with. However, it is easy to see how it could be destructive if allowed to get out of hand. It has a place in that it alerts us to potential danger. To me, I see it as being like the ripples in a pool of water after a stone has been thrown in - vigorous at first then gradually diminishing as the tumescence subsides. It certainly isn’t pleasant but isn’t abnormal if not sustained for too long. Robin Bevan 17

A dark mountain scene

I see a landscape that is rugged, sharp looking, empty, dark, with feelings of loneliness, death, abandonment. This enormous place is surrounded by high mountains, covered in razor like boulders, rocks and stones covered in slimy dark green moss, spiky grasses which appear to have died. This place reminds me of a slate quarry. I am startled by the sound of rocks falling, hitting the jagged surface, as they crash down to the ground, hitting my consciousness like a hammer hitting an anvil in a blacksmith’s yard. No sounds of twittering birds, no animals, just the sound of the wind as it gusts throughout this lonely space, sending the rain scattering amongst the sodden earth. The air smells of a mould and I feel a coldness beyond my reasoning. I turn around and see a white looking building, rising up out of the depth of darkness, positioned halfway up the steep slope which I had not noticed before. Its windows are a mismatch of different shapes and sizes. At such a sight, the desperation I feel subsides, until I realise this building is deserted, just a shell left to the elements, like the feeling once again of nothingness. Jenny Arpino 18

Ogre I am engulfed by my negative thoughts, this ogre is very large, dark green, and ugly. All I can see is the dark green with an aura of black surrounding it. It is rough to touch and warm and clammy, it growls in a very angry way but smells of nothing. It is going around and around me growling, keeping me in the centre, as though ready to attack me at any moment. It repeats over and over again ‘I am going to keep you where you are’. My response gives this ogre power. I stay huddled in the centre. If we are going to be together for a while I will call you Fred. Fred is my constant companion, while I sleep and when I am awake. Do I want Fred as my constant companion? My answer is NO. Therefore I must break out, instead of being huddled in the centre. Fred is a bully, and the only way I can go is to stand up to this bully How? Make a friend of Fred and work together to change. Jean Bevan



Chapter Two What people say Sometimes it is hard to know what to say to someone who has panic attacks. The kinds of things that people should, and should not say became starting points for poems, stories, memories.


Office whisper Heard about Lawrence? They say he’s gone funny. Guess it’s all that power and money! I always thought he was a bit sad, but who would believe he could be mad. Something in his past must be to blame, but I suppose it’s just him being insane Lawrence Ashenden

What not to say Stop playing the victim, she angrily said, your worries and fears are all in your head. Weak people annoy me they just make me sigh, it makes me so angry to see people cry. When children are starving, the world’s in a mess, my patience with you is waning I guess. I’ve been there to support you and help you to grow, your problems I’ve dealt with but now I must go. I’ve listened so much to your woes you see, I now need somebody to counsel me ! Janet Davis


Depression - lack of understanding Memories in such confusion to trust your mind is an illusion. Friends or foe? It’s hard to know. Confidence not high but low. Demons still there from long ago. How to let all this rubbish go? Get over it it’s in the past. These feelings will never last. Forget all this baggage. This all adds to my pile of luggage. So kindly put? All this soot. Get on with your life. Why such strife? Buck your ideas up - just pull yourself together. How I wish I could. It’s down to the weather. Never say never. Get out of bed, or stay there for ever and ever! Jenny Arpino


The Visitors Lying in bed, I hear voices downstairs ‘It’s not our fault that something is wrong.’ They come to be seen but they don’ t stay long. They want a quick fix so they can go away. But no kind words at the end of the day. ‘Get out more.’ ‘Get yourself together.’ Not ‘how are you feeling?’ I’m looking for someone who will bring some healing. Someone who knows me, and is able to listen. Not a know it all, but one who has vision. Lawrence Ashenden


What people say I was once very anxious. People kept telling me to pull myself together. My doctor was not very helpful, and my family did not care. It took a long time to pull myself together - as they had told me to do. But now I have - thanks to the No Panic group. I am well and that’s what matters. Maria Alvarez


Mental health is an invisible illness I am very aware of the difference between telling someone about a physical illness or a mental illness. When I told someone I had been attending the Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital, people could not have been kinder and said the most helpful and supportive things: asking if there was anything they could do; if I ever needed to talk; not to hesitate to call them, day or night. I felt surrounded by love. When I told people that I was attending Sutton Hospital (Chiltern Wing for Mental Health), the story was completely different. People looked awkward and embarrassed. I certainly did not receive the same support as before. But I needed exactly the same support for the mental illness as I did for the cancer. This gave me food for thought. I would like to put the record straight. When I tell people about my mental illness (and anxiety is classed as such) I would like people to be supportive, offering me help. Asking me if there is anything they can do, saying if I ever need to talk, I could call them day or night. It helps me when people have sincere empathy for me. This helps me feel valued and accepted. Listening is very important as it makes me feel I belong. The person who listens needs to ‘listen’ without interrupting or giving advice. It helps if their voice is soft and gentle. I have been in therapy and when we have approached a highly emotional session for me, the therapist speaks in a very kind and gentle way. They certainly are not patronising. This is what I would like from other people. Jean Bevan


What to say Confronting your fears is a brave thing to do, you need someone there to listen to you. To support and to show you you’re not all alone, that anxiety shrinks when you face the unknown. A calm voice to soothe and not judge how you feel, to say facing your fears is how you will heal. Janet Davis


Words of wisdom Jack is a good friend of mine and I was looking forward to seeing him again. It wasn’t the first time he had contacted me about getting together, but I had put him off with vague excuses. During the last few months I had been suffering from depression and anxiety as a result of a number of unfortunate incidents in my private life and at work. Any offers of allowing me to talk about my problems, even to an old friend like Jack, made my anxiety worse and to my mind reduced my chances of a good and speedy recovery. Better to tough it out and get my act together – an attitude that now seems short-sighted and extremely foolish. We met at what used to be our local pub and this, given the warm, comfortable surroundings, put me at ease. I thought that it would be difficult to explain my anxieties to someone else, even to a friend, but Jack’s demeanour seemed to make it easy for me. His facial expression was kindly and the tone of his voice sympathetic without being patronising. He maintained eye contact with me and was clearly quite prepared to listen to me for as long as it took whilst I unburdened myself. He listened attentively, only speaking when it seemed appropriate, and clearly demonstrated that he understood what I had been saying. At one point he told me that he, too, had suffered from depression and anxiety in the past, something which surprised me and made me realise that he knew only too well what I was going through. Several things that he said to me were encouraging. For example, he commented that, bad as it was, the anxiety would not last for ever – a thought that I found immensely comforting. He also pointed out the positive aspects of my situation, such as the considerable and ongoing support I was getting from my wife and family and the fact that I was still able to work despite the anxiety. These things I had taken for 29

granted but were indeed a blessing that I should have welcomed with open arms. Jack also came up with practical advice, such as learning relaxation techniques through the use of CDs which are readily available. He also recommended that I should regularly write down things that caused me stress as a means of getting them out in the open and viewing them objectively and with a sense of proportion. At the end of the evening, Jack invited me to see him the following week and said that in the meantime I could ring him any time for a chat. He had demonstrated the importance of positive listening and empathizing and the wise use of helpful comments. All-in-all, it was a very helpful evening and one which made me realise that there was a way forward and that there were a number of positive things that I could do to resume control of my life. Robin Bevan



Chapter Three Personal stories Brave personal stories about suffering, living with, and recovering from anxiety. One person said, “I’m glad I wrote my story. It was helpful to put everything I went through into words, and get it out into the open. I should not have to fear or worry about telling this story anymore. This is part of my life.” Telling personal stories was not something everyone wanted, or need to do. But there are many ways to tell a story, and so others wrote fictional stories and poems, imagining characters and inventing their journey.


My story The Problem Declares Itself - It happened one morning in the early hours – I awoke gasping for breath and knew that something was seriously wrong. For the past month or so I had been suffering from what I took to be a chest infection which I had unwisely ignored. Lying down in bed resulted in coughing bouts which prevented me from sleeping, so for several nights I had slept in an armchair downstairs until things got better. The gasping episode was worrying enough to warrant a trip to the doctors, where arrangements for an x-ray were made. The radiologist rang me and advised me to contact my GP again. An appointment was made for me to see a chest physician but explanations weren’t provided – a worrying situation. However, I didn’t have to wait to see the specialist as I had another breathless episode which resulted in my being seen at the A & E Department of the local hospital. My condition was bad enough to warrant an admission. Tests revealed that I wasn’t suffering from lung cancer, as I feared, but from emphysema, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. At this point I made a fundamental mistake and sought further information via the internet. Not a good idea – the website I consulted was full of grim statistics and seemed to predict a steady decline in health followed by an early death. My rapidly increasing anxiety had already been boosted by being placed in a ward of people suffering from similar conditions. The man in the next bed to me had casually told me that there were two types of emphysema, one of which could kill you within months - just what I needed to hear! It certainly didn’t seem likely to me that there could be a favourable outcome and I hadn’t been given any reassuring information from the hospital at this stage. I was discharged home with a couple of inhalers and a heavy heart. Ironically I felt better physically and that should have been that. However, much worse was about to come. Whilst 35

in hospital (and, for some weeks before my admission to hospital) I had experienced a fear of falling asleep lest I choke as a result of the coughing from the chest condition. Now, painfully mindful of the recent diagnosis, it became an obsession. Supposing I fell asleep and couldn’t breathe properly? Would I wake up alright or would I choke to death in my sleep? It seems silly now that I was fearful, as the instinct of self-preservation would undoubtedly kick in. But it didn’t seem like that at the time. I had become convinced that I was suffering from a condition that would rapidly progress and inevitably lead to my early death. In addition to an increasing fear of going to sleep, came an irrational belief that I had to be constantly on guard against the possibility of choking. I kept clearing my throat in response to this and felt that only constant vigilance would save me and in any event the emphysema would surely kill me, quite possibly in the near future. From Bad to Worse - Things did, in fact, get much worse. When, as was inevitable, I nodded off to sleep I would wake with a start, convinced that if I allowed myself to sink deeply into sleep I would choke. My heart would pound and I was sure I had avoided certain death by a whisker. I started to avoid the risk of sleep like the plague. I was scared to close my eyes for fear I would nod off. I would watch TV during the night. I surfed the web endlessly. Anything to avoid sleep which I started to dread. I didn’t like even thinking about it. In fact any verbal or written reference to sleep would upset me deeply, how could other people be so blasé about something that I feared so much, they didn’t know how lucky they were! I would get out of bed exhausted as soon as it was light, relieved that the day had come and I didn’t have to worry about sleeping again for several hours. But the dread would start to kick in about lunchtime – only another few hours and it would be dark. The night-time sleep avoidance strategy continued. I started cooking in the early hours, mostly 36

Quiche Lorraine for some reason. Amazingly, I was still working. My job involved interviewing staff in the Sutton schools. On one occasion I was so tired that during an interview I fell briefly asleep and was catapulted awake by a spasm of panic. I can still see the look of surprise on the face of the poor woman I was speaking to! The sleep deprivation and deep-seated anxiety were taking their toll. One day my son was called for because I ended up sitting in my garden weeping – a grown man crying because he was exhausted but too terrified to fall asleep, it would have been laughable if it hadn’t been true.

Bumping along on the bottom - Not surprisingly, my developing illness started to have an effect on my wife. I have to say that she never once complained or made an issue of it. Nevertheless, the constant disturbance as I was catapulted awake by spasms of panic caused by a dread of choking must have been hard for her to take. With this in mind we arranged separate bedrooms for the time being. As it turned out this wasn’t the solution I hoped it would be. Although she wasn’t now shaken violently awake by my panic attacks, I took to going into her room to seek re-assurance when things got too much. “Why is 37

this happening to me?” I kept asking, like a broken record. I have to pay credit to her great patience, it can’t have been easy for her. I also started asking her for Diazepam, of which I knew she had a small stock. She resisted my requests as much as possible, only agreeing to administer minimal doses if things got really bad. It didn’t really matter anyway, they only worked for a few hours then I would be thrust into wakefulness again with a pounding heart. I tried alcohol as an alternative solution. I would knock back as much as a quarter of a bottle of scotch in one hit in an attempt to bludgeon myself into oblivion. It worked, but only for a short time, then the panic attacks would start again. My wife told me what I really didn’t want to hear, that l would only recover by facing my fears and not running away from them. In other words, ignore the dread you feel on closing your eyes, and allow yourself to drift off, irrespective of what you fear may happen. For me, this felt like jumping into a bottomless pit, black as pitch and full of untold horrors. It was no good, I couldn’t face it, back to cooking Quiche Lorraine and visiting the internet in the early hours. On one occasion I rang a friend in Australia. God knows what time it was over there. The same lament; what was happening to me and why? I don’t quite know what I expected him to do about it. Neither, I think, did he. Fighting Back - This state of affairs continued for quite a long time. Although I was still able to work during this period, my greatest concern was that I would come to some harm from a lack of sleep. Normal sleep was denied me, and it seemed that the panic attacks counteracted any beneficial effect that my depleted and severely disturbed sleep pattern may have had. I started to wonder if relaxation exercises may help. There was just one problem – I was scared to close my eyes in case I fell asleep and choked. By that time I had started to attend the self-help group, No Panic. At one of our meetings we had 38

a speaker, Sophia, who was to provide us with guidance in relaxation techniques. Although she suggested we should close our eyes, she said we didn’t have to. This was music to my ears. I found that I could still do the exercises and relax with my eyes open. Furthermore, the fact that I didn’t have to close my eyes emboldened me to try doing just that in this supportive and safe environment. It worked! I had read somewhere that just twenty minutes of relaxation exercises was the equivalent of two hours ordinary sleep. I now had a tool to fight back with and I could see a way forward. If I were to practice the exercises every night I would effectively be receiving the benefit of two hours sleep. I started to carry out the relaxation techniques and this took away a lot of the anxiety about the harm I may have been doing to myself by not sleeping. I had a follow up consultation at the local hospital. The results of the tests were good and I needed no further treatment, just puffer sprays as and when required. Further help came in an unexpected form. A friend with whom I had discussed my problems made a strange observation. Wasn’t it amazing, he said, how the mind tries to help in these situations by endeavouring to alert us to possible danger? I hadn’t thought of it in this way before. I had come to view these attacks as a horror that was being wickedly and unaccountably visited upon me. If he was right and my mind was merely trying to protect me by triggering an alert, perhaps it could be persuaded to stop doing so by telling it that no danger actually exists. I found it tremendously comforting to think that this problem came from inside my own head, and might respond to a change of attitude and perception. Resolution - Gradually over the next few weeks I persisted with the relaxation exercises, forcing myself to close my eyes. When I nodded off and woke with a start I tried to lie quietly until my heart stopped pounding, resisting the urge to get up and prowl around the house. 39

I would close my eyes again and breathe deeply and regularly, which took my attention off the fear and apprehension I was experiencing. It started to work, albeit slowly. I would still wake up frightened but the fear was diminishing gradually. I started to record my sleep patterns in a note book. Over a period of several weeks I noticed that I was getting more sleep, even if it was in stops and starts. On one blissful morning I awoke in bright daylight to the knowledge that I had slept without waking up frightened for over five hours. I was triumphant! It took many weeks to resume a near-normal sleep pattern but I got there in the end. Reflection - That miserable period in my life seems like a dream to me now. I’m still unsure why things went downhill so quickly and how I managed to lose control of my life, albeit for just a few months. These days, I drift off to sleep with no fear and don’t wake up terrified as I used to. I’ve come to appreciate what I took for granted for so many years. Without the help of my wife, members of the No Panic group and others it would have been a different story. Oh, and did I mention that I still cook the best Quiche Lorraine in Sutton? Robin Bevan


My life in crisis Anxiety is horrible. It happens to many of us after years of hard work, bad marriages, divorce and problems in relationships. Anxiety is often misconstrued as depression. Although they are sometimes linked together. Anxiety comes with physical symptoms which makes it more difficult to cope with. Sometimes doctors confuse anxiety with other illnesses as the symptoms include pain, tremors heart pain and pain in the left arm. Anxiety is not like depression, it is horrible but it will never kill you. However, there is still not enough help for anxiety out there. In the past I have been through some terrible experiences with my family. They have not been supportive. They have said things like: “You’re not ill, there’s nothing wrong with you.” “Pull yourself together.” “You are 63 years old - start acting like it.” “Stop going to the doctor they are going to think you are crazy.” “You really have a serious problem.” “Get a job.” “Stop ringing me.” “You’re going to pass on this crazy behaviour to me.” This was all said to me by my own family! One dismissive doctor said to me once, “What now Maria, I have checked everything. There is nothing else I can do for you. Maybe we can start looking at different ways to treat you.” I left there crying. Some of my friends have been more supportive and said nice things like: “Don’t worry there is nothing wrong with you.” “You look amazing, there can’t be anything wrong with you”. “These feelings are only temporary and they will pass.” Maria Alvarez 41

Claverton Just me and two boys, their mother would send, mine for company, every weekend. Leave the door open, round we would run, thoughts of toys, sweets and fun. Mine for two days, to satisfy my soul, but when they went, it left a hole. Now they are men, memories I now own, days at Claverton, when I was alone. Lawrence Ashenden


From anxiety to peace I cannot fully remember when I realised something was wrong. I was aware from a young age how I felt ‘different’. I was a very shy and nervous girl. I didn’t have many friends and felt I was always on the outside looking in and didn’t belong. Somehow I struggled on, keeping what I was feeling locked-up deep inside me. When I went to secondary school, it was even worse. My self-esteem plummeted and I was bullied. I continued to struggle on. Still keeping everything locked-up deep inside me. I did not know the words to express how I was feeling at the time. This all came much later. I left school at fifteen and I suppose this is when I realised something wasn’t quite right. I was frightened to travel too far, especially on my own. I had several jobs, all local, hating them all. I was extremely worried something dreadful would happen to my mother. How on earth would I cope if it did? It was one Saturday when I was watching the television when suddenly I felt as if I was ‘outside’ my body, a most peculiar sensation. This experience really frightened me, but again I kept it locked-up inside me. I then began on a downward spiral, crying over the least little thing, couldn’t eat, couldn’t sleep and finally not being able to go out even with someone. Unfortunately my parents, especially my father, were not at all sympathetic. They kept telling me to, “pull myself together,” or asked, “what on earth is the matter with you?” This just added to this awful feeling and I guess I asked myself too, “What on earth is wrong with me?” I was beginning to be aware of ‘me’. This may sound strange, but it made me feel peculiar. I couldn’t really tell anyone as I wasn’t sure what was happening to me. Over the weeks this feeling grew. I still couldn’t eat, or sleep. I continued to feel frightened, but what of? I began to avoid situations. I still did not know what was happening 43

to me. I cried at the least little thing. Jumped out of my skin for no apparent reason. My mother accompanied me to the doctor. I explained that every time I stepped outside the front door I had this most dreadful feeling. I would feel light-headed as though I was going to faint. My heart thumped in my chest so hard I thought it would burst. Pins and needles in my arms and my legs felt like jelly. Who the hell would venture out anywhere feeling like this! Eventually not being able to go out at all, just sitting indoors, and frightened of living. By this time I was fit for nothing, so alone and bereft. I explained how I was feeling and the GP said I had agoraphobia I had never heard of this and thought it was like chicken pox, a few weeks and I would be fine. I didn’t realise what a long, hard journey lay ahead of me. I felt ashamed, as though I was the cause of this. Family and friends were perplexed, saying it is only a phase and it will pass BUT WHEN? On and on I suffered, one antidepressant after another, until 18 months later my GP referred me to a psychiatrist. Oh what a relief to me - at last proper help. But to my family it was shame. My mother was mortified, her daughter seeing a psychiatrist at twenty two years old! This attitude didn’t help me at all, just adding to my dreadful feeling. When I asked the psychiatrist what on earth was happening to me, he told me I had had a nervous breakdown. This may sound strange but it was such a revelation and relief to know I was not going mad – I was ILL! But stigma reared its ugly head - mental health in the family – we don’t mention that. If we pretend everything is normal and okay it will go away. Sorry folks, I have news for you, anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia are here to stay for a while. I told someone I had agoraphobia, which was very brave of me. They simply said, “Oh dear, you must get out more.” I felt stupid and completely misunderstood. I kept my panic attacks to myself until I could no longer cope. At 44

one stage my father said to my mother, “phone the hospital and get her locked up in the loony bin.” I felt afraid, alone and completely isolated. I did not know what was happening to me. I thought I was going mad. I didn’t want to live like this and was so, so scared. Family and friends looked at me strangely, as though I was really different. I felt really different. Although it was a relief to hear I had had a nervous breakdown, I felt nothing but fear. With this news I started on my journey. I could conquer this with strength within myself and a lot of help from professionals and support from family and friends. I attended Clare House at St. Georges Hospital in Tooting. I had intensive Cognitive Behaviour Therapy with a psychiatric nurse and an occupational therapist. We went out on a one-to-one basis, gradually exposing me to my fears. I was beginning to feel hopeful. After a while I met with a group of ladies who also suffered from agoraphobia. The relief! I was not alone. After a year as a group we were cured, but individually we were just the same. It was then suggested I attend the Day Hospital at Atkinson Morley in Wimbledon. As I started on this extremely difficult journey I saw a chink in the blackness. A small chink of light and hope. Now and again the blackness would again engulf me but bigger chinks of light came through. Slowly, slowly the blackness was becoming smaller. Light was taking over. A new beginning finally happened. I attended the Day Hospital for five months. During this time I made great progress. With the help of an occupational therapist I began applying for jobs, ones that I wanted. I managed to secure a job at Putney Hospital as an Auxiliary Nurse in the Out Patients Department, which I absolutely loved. I felt I was ‘normal’ and ‘belonged’. They knew all about my past history. I worked there for three months when sadly my mother had a stroke, aged fifty one and died. I was devastated but somehow I coped. 45

After a year I decided I would like to become a State Enrolled Nurse. The Matron, knowing my past history, suggested I worked on a ward to get some experience before I applied. I hated working on the ward and wanted to go back to the Out Patients Department, but it was too late, they had replaced me. My father and I did not get on. We were both grieving for my mother. Whilst working on the ward I was introduced to Becky, who was a State Registered Nurse. We became friends immediately. Through Becky and her husband Mick, I met my husband Robin. We married in June 1978. Unfortunately my agoraphobia came back. I was under the Chiltern Wing at Sutton Hospital. I attended a group which was facilitated by a Community Psychiatric Nurse. There were six people in this group, all suffering from anxiety, which showed itself in different forms. The nurse was not very welcoming and there weren’t any boundaries. One of the group members dominated the whole session and spoke of their bad back. When we left the meeting three of us questioned why we had attended, as we had not talked about anxiety, only when we introduced ourselves at the beginning of the meeting. This experience taught me how not to run a group! Then in 1996 I decided I would like to meet with fellow sufferers of anxiety. I asked a lot of professionals if there was such a group. Everyone I asked said, ‘No, there was not such a group.’ One person said to me, “If you want a self-help group for anxiety you will have to start one yourself.” I thought, “Right I will!” So on the 3rd September 1997 No Panic (Sutton & Merton) was born. When I look back I am amazed how far I have come! I always say to people, “You will get there, just keep on going and believe in yourself.” Jean Bevan 46

A journey to the other side

The young fearful girl enters the house so cold and unfriendly, she creeps like a mouse a chair bars the door keeps the world at bay the real world is scary she runs away escapes in her mind to a magical world of colour and kindness unknown to this girl. The young girl has grown now but still blocks the door anxiety spreading more and more no doors can be opened no cupboards or drawers clutter mounts up all over the floor. Then help is offered by someone kind to clear all the clutter in house and mind someone to open every door slowly each week one cupboard more the fear decreases a little each time at the end of the tunnel a light brightly shines. Janet Davis 47

A lifetime of uncertainty

As a child I was extremely shy, seemed frightened of my own shadow! I never seemed to do anything right – it must have been because I was always being told off. My siblings were not like me. My father died at 41 years old - I was 18 or 19 years old at the time. My mother was not an easy person. I ran the household for a long while after Dad died. My mother at that time was unable to do so. It was not a good place to be – I took my father’s place. I can honestly say I never felt loved or praised for anything I did or achieved. I was not allowed to be myself – just controlled. I met my husband and eventually married. But life as it was, seemed to change. I was told money was short and could not go out, except to work. I felt something was missing. I had a child, then did not think she was mine. She was born early and taken to a premature unit. I did not recognise her and found it hard. After a short period I still thought something was missing and thought maybe to have another child. A boy this time to replace my dad. I carried on as one does, doing everything as best I could. It was never good enough. My husband was not a touchy, feely person. When I bought shopping, he said that he could get it cheaper. He wanted me 48

to produce bills for him to see. The love I so badly wanted – I never felt. I did not feel appreciated – it was just like my mother had made me feel. Depression was there. My work load increased, trying to be there for my mother, children, husband, washing, ironing, shopping, cleaning and cooking. Running a club in our road. Organising events. Working of an evening to earn money of my own. I felt bullied at home - mentally. My doctor put me on antidepressants. He sent me back to hospital to see a mental health consultant, a professor. I attended one-toone therapy there every week for a year. An awful experience. At these sessions I found it so hard to talk, the hour passed mostly in silence. I had passed my driving test by now - the 2nd time but no congratulations given. When out, my mileage was checked on the car. On driving home from these sessions I would sob, tears rolling down my face – not being able to open-up. After a year I felt no different. One day I awoke knowing this was the day of the end. I felt so happy that day – knowing I would end my suffering that night. The children in bed and my husband back at work for a committee meeting. My husband arrived home, went to the kitchen found lots of empty pill wrappers in the bin. And an ambulance was called. I was in hospital for a while, then transferred to a mental health hospital and admitted for six weeks. Whilst there I had electric shock treatment, sleeping treatment for two weeks, and cut my wrists. When I came out I could not remember how to cook or even boil an egg. It took quite a while to return to everyday things. Still seeing a consultant at the mental health hospital, I was sent to a day centre and took the children with me daily. They attended the nursery whilst I went upstairs doing craftwork and meetings. Others like me with children were taken out occasionally to parks by their 49

transport. I functioned - just. One day, whilst there at lunch time, I peeled apples I had bought with me for the children with a small knife I had in my bag. After lunch I was summoned to the office. I was asked why I had a knife in my bag? I was sent to a mental health hospital for more shock treatment. On the second day I was taken in for another six weeks. I felt empty – depressed beyond belief. My tablets were changed. I could not function. Different ones were tried. I found other people in similar situations to talk to. You were lucky if you saw a consultant. It was as if you were in limbo, but suffering at the same time. I also had sex counselling at another hospital. My husband and I were both finding ourselves separated but together. Our feelings were damaged. Then my stepfather found out he had a brain tumour. He kept passing out at work. He went into hospital. I took Mum to see him and took her home. On the day of my stepfather’s operation, I had a telephone call from my mother explaining that a lift to the hospital was not needed that day as she had been asked out to afternoon tea. I was delighted for her. And I could also try to unwind a little. That evening my brother rang me to say he had visited our stepfather in hospital, and the operation went well. I invited him round for some dinner. On arriving he told me mum was also at the hospital. I was confused and told him she had been going out to tea. My brother got so very angry and told me to ring her and ask her how the tea party went. I told him it was not important. He insisted, he rang her, then gave the phone to me. Yes she said, the tea party was lovely, and she had rung the hospital and been told her husband was doing fine. My brother was angry that my mother had lied to me. The next day she rang me and accused me of turning her son against her, and why was I not at her house, as she was waiting to go out shopping with me? Then she said she had never wanted me or loved me, I was nothing but trouble to 50

her and wished I had never been born. So many tears – how could a mother hate her child so much. It just confirmed to me that I was a bad person. A nothing. More abuse. Over the years, I managed to continue working – trying hard to do the right thing – but never feeling I was happy. I did not like or love myself, but still tried my best. Still not good enough. My doctor sent me back to hospital as I was struggling with life yet again. I saw a Consultant and at the end my husband was called and a nurse put in charge of me. An ambulance was called and I was sent back to the mental health hospital. Utter despair! I could not sleep. I did not want to eat. I lost weight. And felt as if I was in prison. Staff giving out pills, I was not functioning. After a week I walked out of the hospital, went to a chemist and took an overdose. I lay in a park looking at the sky, but my dad did not answer me. I staggered back to hospital. My husband arrived later that evening – accused me of doing it because we were due to go on holiday! He then took the children on holiday. I was sent back to the mental health hospital. No one talks to you on the wards – staff are there – but no interaction. Six weeks later I was back home with my husband who did not understand or help at all. Much, much later I saw a Consultant at a mental health Resource Centre. I was sent downstairs for therapies. Art therapy etc. I was there for two years, and went to Cognitive Therapy. The sessions touched on dark happenings in my life but I left feeling no different. Then an acquaintance I used to work with asked me out with her friend to a night club. I had never been to a night club and I used to love dancing, so I went. Three men were waiting outside. To my surprise, my so called friend, introduced them to me - it had been arranged. On leaving this club, coffee was suggested and there was no option as my friend drove us here. We all went in their car. It was 51

the worst night of my life - in a Victorian house, with empty rooms. That night I was raped, threatened by a knife at my neck. It was not reported. I felt dirty. To this day the smell of sweat or sharp knives left around, takes me back there. Next I asked my doctor for Trauma Therapy. It was at another hospital that I went for six interviews. The information went before a committee to see if I would be accepted. But ‘no’ was the answer. The doctor there was so understanding and treated me as a person for once, after so many, many years. He sent a full report to my doctor saying that I needed a co-worker and also one-to-one counselling over a long period of time. This was never given. Next time I was sent back to hospital to see another Consultant – which turned out to be another awful experience. He saw me for six sessions to assess me. Every time I went he would sit on a high chair, whereas I would be on a short chair. He never spoke to me as such, but just sat staring at me. He made me feel so small and worthless. He made me feel as if he was a highly intelligent person, in control over me, but it felt as if I was a bit of dirt he was looking down at me, as if I was nothing, not intelligent or worthy of his help. I told him so on one 52

session. He did not comment. On the last session I was 10 minutes late due to traffic. His secretary told me to go straight in but the outer door was locked. I rang and rang but got no answer. Half an hour went by. I felt bad. He then clicked me in only to tell me that he could not help me. Time passed yet again. I had been going to a drop-in centre over the last year and a half. A help worker arranged to see me several times. She was a lovely person and she managed to get information on oneto-one counselling, but I would have to pay. I managed to get two years of counselling. For the first time in my life there was someone who actually listened to me, going over all the stages of my life, going over and coming back to all the areas. Never putting me down, giving me another point of view, to the way I felt. After two years, my time was up, even though I wanted more. She managed to get me another month but told me she felt I was not ready to leave, but that was their policy. I could reapply after six months, but maybe would not get the same counsellor. I tried so hard to manage for two years, but found I was getting worse – thinking that no one liked me – not ever having a close friend. Hiding away from friends with strong personalities. I have since returned to counselling. I was so lucky to get the same counsellor! So I did not have to go over everything in my life again with someone new. I hope this time with their help I can come full circle. Jenny Arpino


Understanding my anxiety I was born in the late forties in South London to a working class family, still reeling from the effects of the second World War. My mother stayed at home and my father was in engineering, being the youngest it was thought that I was spoilt more than my siblings. However, I lacked proper attention. My mother was an extremely nervous woman, due to the fact she had my brother and sister during the war years. Although I loved my father many of her problems stemmed from his fondness in gambling. Junior school was a trial most of the time, being sent home for imaginary pains, and having accidents in class were a common occurrence. Although I had friends, and was popular, I never had the push, the security at home, someone who would inspire me and help me develop my talents. To be second best at a lot of things was ok for me. I had no will power to aspire higher. Being small and skinny, and being told I was a weed by my siblings did not help. I had talent but no one to help bring it out in me. Needless to say I failed my eleven plus, and was sent to a secondary school for boys. My anxiety was still there, but being popular masked my inadequacy. I failed most of my exams which enraged my father. He only took an interest in me when it was too late. Although I was proud to have got a job in a city bank, there was still a profound feeling of disappointment. The advent of the sixties, with its music clothes and freedom, was the best thing to happen to me. There was The Stones, The Beatles, and girls of course! On top of this I spent many happy years playing for the banks football team, halcyon days of my life certainly. Marriage and buying my own house, having two children followed. Doing well at work, and having a secure home life, there seemed little could go wrong. There was no anxiety, no 54

depression and nobody could see what was to come. One day I came home from work and was told by my wife that our marriage was over. After six months of dialogue and more dialogue, she left and divorce followed. Anxiety was back big time. A period of attending the doctor, a stay in hospital and frequent medication followed. My wife, house, and job had gone overnight. My family were miles away, and were little help. Only the will to be there for my sons existed. My families approach to my problem was negative in the extreme. They gave no help or positive ideas. They gave me the impression that my condition was an annoyance, rather than an illness. I felt by their attitude that I was letting the family down. I was told to “forget my children”. I was even told to “go and live in Scotland”. Then came the turning point, an old family member looked me up. They took me home, saw I got treatment, and I was able to return to a new flat. I had a happy time at weekends, looking after my sons. I found myself a new job and a new partner. Although my anxiety returned some years later due to other factors, my life had returned. A new wife, a new house, and two step children. Sometime ago I was able to join a support group, where I was able to mix with members with the same problems. I can now say I am anxiety free, more secure, more confident. I can handle anxiety when it comes. I am grateful to my friends, my wife, my children and the magnificent work of No Panic. I am now in control of my life, my thoughts, feelings, and desires, It has taken me a long time, many tears and many fears. But I am there. Lawrence Ashenden 55



Chapter Four Coping Strategies Stories, poems and practical instructions on ways to cope.


Best friend Somebody called me on the phone. Somebody called when I was alone. Somebody called me when I was blue. Somebody, I guess was you Lawrence Ashenden

Helping negative thoughts A tiger reading your thoughts with his piercing eyes stalking you, ready to pounce sensing your fear. But I will not run and hide I’ll stand my ground deafen your roar clip your claws become the hunter not the prey Janet Davis


Anxiety management in a nutshell Slowing down. Relaxation exercises. Writing things down. Reflection on past successes. Peer support. Rational thought. Avoidance or confrontation (each may be appropriate at times). Keeping busy. Safeguarding good health. Rest. Robin Bevan


Changing my anxiety The colour of my anxiety is deep, deep black. I will exercise, which will raise my endorphins so the black becomes grey, then turns into bright colours. The landscape is very rugged and difficult to walk on. I will go to a yoga class to help myself become more supple, so walking will become easier. The sound is a deep boom, as though announcing something dreadful. I will practice deep breathing and relaxation. I will meditate. I will listen to music that uplifts me. The weather is thundery, big black clouds hanging low in the sky. I am going to meet with some friends, who I know I will have a good laugh with. This will disperse the clouds. Jean Bevan


There is a way through If - there is a stormy black cloud descending, the horizon is empty and barren and rain is pouring down against the bedroom window panes - open your eyes, get up out of bed. Help is needed. Ring a family member, or a friend. Let them know how you are feeling. All is not lost. If - you find it hard to leave the house or flat on your own - get someone close to accompany you. Try to tell your doctor how you are feeling. If - you cannot cope with crowds, people, places, open spaces, tall buildings, buses and underground trains and are absolutely petrified, unable to move, wanting to hide, shaking, crying, not able to breathe, thinking you are going to die - try to slow your breathing. Slowly and deeply count to three, breathing in, count to three breathing out. A paper bag can help you. Listening to relaxation tapes, try yoga or even Tai Chi. These techniques help to calm the mind and body. If - you are feeling like a prisoner in your own home, and everything around you makes you feel hemmed-in - try to de-clutter. Bedrooms, wardrobes, things you don’t wear or use, take them to a charity shop. Hoarding things makes everything feel worse, allowing no room to breathe. Kitchens, living rooms - do the same, clear surfaces. Declutter. This is not so easy. Get a friend to help. A little at a time! If - you are not feeling good about yourself, over come with problems, and pressures of life - try to go out to a park or make a short trip by bus or train. Go outside, breathe in the fresh air, look at the trees and notice different types and colours. Hear the birds singing, feel 64

the sun on your face. Feel the green grass beneath your feet. See the wild flowers. Take your mind away from your life. See the wonders of nature. A little time out in beautiful surroundings helps. If - you are stuck at home, not doing anything, your mind full of everything, and feeling troubled - try baking a cake, or going into the garden. Try digging and planting, tidying-up. Help a neighbour with theirs. Doing things for other people takes your mind off your own situation for a while. If - you are suffering from loneliness, or feeling abandoned - there are places within the mental health system that you can go to. Drop-ins, meetings, and finding other people in similar situations, helps. Start your own No Panic group. Jenny Arpino


On Coping

When the ticking clock disturbs your peace drown the noise with music. When the grey mist descends take a stroll in the park. If the curling snake tightens round your neck take long deep breaths. Rid the taste of sour milk by chatting to friends. Chase the howling wolf from the door with gentle exercise. Undo the turning screw with yoga stretches. Turn your back on the black witch with peaceful meditation. Ignore the tapping window with mindful relaxation. Janet Davis 66

A bouquet of pink carnations Although Fred, my ogre, and I have become firm friends, I need to say goodbye to him for ever! I receive a bouquet of beautiful pink carnations, so pink and smelling absolutely beautiful. They have been delivered to me by special delivery. They engulf Fred with their bright pink colour, beautiful scent and most of all love. Fred is totally engulfed by love. Love is saying – let go, everything is going to be okay. Fred begins to shrink and fade, leaving me feeling peaceful. Love covers a multitude of things kindness, peacefulness beauty, hope tranquillity. Jean Bevan


Anxiety therapy at the court of Queen Bess Sir Francis Drake had been summoned before the Royal Council to explain his recent alleged acts of piracy and looting of captured ships for personal gain. He had given the matter much thought during the past few days and had prepared what he hoped was a feasible explanation. However, he was concerned that whatever he said would not be believed and would be dismissed out of hand. The Royal Council, chaired by Queen Bess herself, had many items of business on the agenda before it was Sir Francis’ turn to be called and he had to sit on an uncomfortable chair outside the Council room as he waited. He watched people entering and leaving the room, some under close arrest and others in obvious distress. This resulted in his heart beating faster, his mouth getting drier and drier and his anxiety levels soaring. After all, he could lose his head over this! Then he remembered the tip given to him once by an old sea captain with whom he had served. The advice was to breathe slowly and deeply, however stressful the situation. This would not only divert attention away from the anxiety he was feeling, but would help relieve the other unpleasant symptom he was experiencing. Sir Francis started to breathe deeply and steadily and he found that 68

this helped considerably. At last the time came for him to be called before the Council. Taking a deep breath he walked slowly and sedately to the dais, his right hand resting on the silver pommel of his rapier, the picture of composure and self-assured elegance.

“Your Majesty,” he said, “all that I have gained is and always will be yours and the plunder from the Spanish galleons was being transported to my home for safekeeping when I was wrongly apprehended by these varlets I see before me”. He continued in this vein for some time, his confidence mounting as he saw his sovereign’s stern expression change to one of sympathy and understanding. He knew that he had got away with it! Robin Bevan


Joseph My name is Joseph. I am a well-to-do citizen in my village. Although I look well-to-do, all is not what it may seem, in fact I have some real issues which will not go away. I am very insecure, there have been things that have gone on in the past that are causing me great pain which I grievously regret. The very thought of this coming to light would bring me untold misery. The burden of this is becoming intolerable, a real weight around my neck. What everybody sees is not the man I am. I am telling you this, because today I will be meeting Peter, an elderly priest of the local church. Peter is a kind, stately man, who people love and trust. A tall upright man, who has an air about him. I am sure whatever I divulge to him, he will be able to help and not hold it against me. I told him about my younger brother Matthew, who about a year ago came to me to tell me he had fallen on hard times. He had lost his job together with his wife, and consequently had no where to go. With no money or friends he was at the end of his tether, and pleaded for my kindness. I never got on with my younger brother he was far too up front, liked to show off his house and wife. I know this would have been a major blow to his inflated ego. I was angry as I told him to pull himself together, saying he was an embarrassment to his family. Matthew left, telling me he would no longer be a nuisance to me. A few weeks later I received a 70

letter from my elderly father, stating Matthew had taken his own life. Peter listened to my story without any comment. He then said that he could not undo the wrongs I had done. He told me to put myself in my brother’s position, how I would feel for someone to say these very things to me? “Go away,” he said. “And do what you know is right.” A few months later I visited my brother’s widow. She, like me, had regrets she could not handle. Together we were able to put our souls to rest, in confiding our grief. We were better people, more intent to listen and to always remember Peter’s remark - put yourself in the other person’s shoes. Lawrence Ashenden



Chapter Five Different sorts of help

Facts and fictions exploring different experiences of accessing and getting help: from using the web, to taking medication; from writing invented journalists’ reports, to imagining how it feels to help someone with anxiety.


Mental health facilities – a journalist’s eye I recently interviewed a sample of 30 patients who lived in a busy town in the London suburbs and who have suffered from mental health issues. Co-incidentally, two patients attended the same large GP practice, although they saw different doctors. I thought it would be interesting to compare the experiences of these two patients who suffered from broadly similar conditions, and who had visited the same surgery. And so it proved to be.

Patient ‘A’ - Jackie - started to suffer from panic attacks which seemed to come out of the blue. She had been a patient of her current GP for a number of years and had found him to be competent in treating the physical conditions she had presented with over the years, if a little brusque. On the occasion she first approached him about the panic attacks she was in a very anxious and bewildered state. She sat down at his request and related what had been happening to her. His rather stern demeanour didn’t alter and he seemed to have formed a view about her condition immediately. He prescribed a course of mild tranquilisers and advised her to revisit the surgery if things didn’t improve. During the consultation he barely looked up from his computer screen, nor did he say anything encouraging. He did refer rather vaguely to her seeing someone if things didn’t improve but 75

wasn’t specific as to who this would be and for what purpose. She left the surgery feeling isolated and more anxious than when she had come in.

Patient ‘B’ - Simon - had experienced panics attacks as a child but had been well for more than twenty years when the symptoms reappeared. He attended the surgery during the same month and, like Jackie, was anxious and confused as to what was happening to him and why. The doctor he saw seemed to be interested in what he was saying, and maintained eye contact throughout the consultation, only turning to the computer screen briefly when it was necessary to do so. Her body language invited Simon to talk freely about his symptoms and, importantly, how it made him feel. She appeared willing to give him all the time in the world to explain things to her, notwithstanding the large number of patients who had to be seen that day. She discussed the possibility of medication with him, explaining the pros and cons of tranquilisers and the need to regard these initially as a temporary measure. She also spoke of the possibility of Simon being seen by someone else if the symptoms persisted. She explained that this could possibly take the form of counselling to get to the bottom of the problem. She made it clear that Simon’s views would be taken into account at all stages of treatment. At the end of the consultation she asked him to make a follow up appointment specifically with her. 76

Finally she told him that although things clearly looked black at the moment he wouldn’t always feel like that. Now, on the face of it these two patients received the same treatment and this would doubtless be reflected in the GP case notes that would record the outcomes of the consultations. However, this is where the similarity ended. Jackie was prescribed tranquilisers without any recourse to discussion as to the pros and cons of this approach. Reference was made to her seeing someone else if things didn’t improve but she was left confused and in the dark as to what form or purpose this would take. It almost felt that she was being threatened with this unspecified treatment if she didn’t have the good sense to get better. There was also the feeling that her GP was treating her condition as though it had a physical basis and could be treated by taking pills in the same way. By contrast, Simon was treated to a full explanation as to the medication being offered him, its’ nature and possible effects. The GP also took the trouble to explain a bit about counselling, the reason it may be needed and the likely form this would take. Crucially, she took the trouble to demonstrate that she was listening to the patient and didn’t regard him as one of many people she had to see that day. Lastly, she told him that he would not always feel as bad as he did then, thereby demonstrating an interest in his feelings as opposed to his symptoms and empathising with him as a fellow human being who was going through a bad time through no fault of his own. On paper, the same treatment emanated from the same surgery for each of these two people. But what a contrast in the way this was perceived by two vulnerable and highly anxious patients at this very low point in their lives! Robin Bevan 77

Using the World Wide Web

The internet can be very useful and helpful. It can also be a worrying experience. If you are suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and phobias you will be able to search for anxiety and immediately there before you is a wealth of information – use it wisely though! I have used the web for obtaining helpful information on anxiety. People have found out and inquire about No Panic from the web, and this is an easy way to communicate. It is fast and immediate. But I think it is very important to use the internet wisely. Sometimes the information may be worrying and not at all helpful. Only look at things that are positive. If it makes you feel uncomfortable and scared - do not use it. Jean Bevan


Do drugs help? Your own G.P. is normally the first port of call. The doctor should make time to talk to you and help you open-up and discuss whatever is making you depressed, and to take whatever action they deem necessary for you - maybe to see you weekly to check how you are, and monitor your condition. It might be decided whether drugs are needed. If this does not work you may be sent to a mental health professional. A consultant (psychiatrist) can then decide which way forward is most helpful to treat you. If a person is deemed a danger to themselves or violent, hospitalisation may be necessary to get the right help, medication or diagnosis. Certain conditions need constant drugs, constant monitoring and regular help from a psychiatrist. Conditions such as schizophrenia, manic depression etc. are an imbalance in the brain, as well as conditions caused by drug taking over a long period of time. Excessive drinking is another form of depression – there are drugs to help with this condition. Some people need group therapy or cognitive therapy. Some people find it hard to talk about problems, and art therapy can help problems come to light as pictures. Other people cannot talk in groups, and one-to-one help with a psychotherapist might work better. This treatment is usually limited to a year. But extensive problems need more. Problems can often go back as far as childhood, this takes much, much longer, so skimming-over problems does not help in the long run. Due to mental health cut-backs people find they cannot get the long-term help they need. A one-to-one counsellor – which has to 79

be paid for privately - is the only way to get the time and commitment needed to be understood, to be able to talk of personal happenings some of which might be so dreadful to the extent that the patient finds it hard to talk about them. This type of counselling is confidential. Repeatedly bringing to light the most problematic areas of one’s life, to help you understand why you act the way you do, to try to change the way you feel and think, by letting go of the dark areas of your life. Mental health in many places around the world is still not understood. Some people need to be prescribed drugs daily as they cannot be trusted not to overdose. If after time you feel you are more able to cope, the doctor will cut down the amount of drugs taken over a period of time. Drugs, however, are not the answer for everyone. Jenny Arpino


Another way What a life this is, lying here feeling alone and fearful. I need some sleep, and in a moment I guess I will take something that will make the world go away. I’m glad that I took my friends advice to go and see the quack, for sure he loves giving me all that I ask for. He don’t care, he’s happy to get shot of me. “These will just give you a bit of support,” he will say. I feel I’m in a trap now. I expect him to write out a prescription, and on my way I will go. I can’t wait to take them, as many as I can. I have no will power, so why worry? How I wish I could turn back the clock, to have had better friends, to look for support without drugs. It only takes a moment to take them, but a life time to stop. My advice to you my friend is to find another way, to get your life back on track. Do not panic, find someone for support. After all when you take the first pill, it will be the start of taking them forever. Drugs don’t work, trust me. Lawrence Ashenden 81

A story from the other side I have been a counsellor for several years, specialising in anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. It is quite challenging, sometimes successful and sometimes not. Claire was the most challenging yet! Claire presented with severe anxiety, panic attacks and agoraphobia. I always make sure my room is warm and welcoming and has a relaxing atmosphere. Claire arrived with her mother, who explained Claire couldn’t go out by herself. I asked Claire to give me a brief history of her life and what had happened to her which resulted in the agoraphobia. I usually see people for one hour. Most of Claire’s hour was spent on her life, from an early age to date. I didn’t feel it appropriate at this early stage to interrupt her. Towards the end of the session I asked Claire if she had tried deep breathing and relaxation. “I tried both, but it didn’t help,” she replied in a dismissive voice. My first exercise for Claire was to give her a chart for anxiety on a scale of 1 – 10. 1 - fully relaxed, 10 - extremely anxious. I also gave Claire a relaxation CD and asked her to listen to it every day. Noting the anxiety level on the chart before listening to the CD and also after. I saw Claire once a week and said we could have a review after six weeks, to see if we could continue working together. 82

On the sixth session, Claire still had not listened to the CD, and had not attempted to complete the anxiety chart. On the sixth session I had a review with Claire. With other clients, I think I would have said perhaps counselling was not what they needed at the moment. With Claire I wasn’t going to give up. I could see potential in her. We spoke of why she hadn’t listened to the CD or done the chart. Claire shrugged her shoulders, “I don’t know,” she said in a flat depressing tone. We sat in silence for a while. Finally Claire asked, “Why haven’t you given up on me?” We explored this question together. In Claire’s previous experiences people had got fed up with her, lost patience and gave up. I realised this is what she had been waiting for from me, hence not doing the ‘homework’ given to her, and waiting for me to reject her after six weeks. After this Claire took on board all that was asked of her. I continued to see her for three years. During that time I saw someone change from a timid, shy, anxious person who suffered from panic attacks and agoraphobia, to a very confident, happy person. Claire also overcame her agoraphobia. One thing I believe is that with help, support and perseverance, two people can change for the better. It has certainly taught me, as a counsellor, to never give up on a client and look beyond what you first see. Jean Bevan


Visiting a friend in an NHS mental health facility I am visiting a friend, a patient on a mental health ward, who has been so depressed for quite some time, that she has become a danger to herself. After being let into the locked ward, I found her pacing up and down the corridor in the ward sobbing and then she stopped a while at a window at the end of the ward. I could hear her saying, “what am I to do?” and leaning her head against the window pane. Then turning to continue her painful ordeal. There was a middle aged man crawling on the floor and I could hear him saying, “there are cracks appearing on the floor,” and there were no cracks on the floor. Other patients were sitting on chairs just looking into space around them. They appeared to be drugged. Others were in their cubicle bedrooms, lying on their beds. Others were hiding behind the curtains that can be pulled around their beds. In the room, where the nurses station was situated, the occupants were writing reports – talking. There was no supervision that I could see on the ward. Not one professional talking to patients. No actual support that I could see was being given. I was shocked. I could not see any communication and it was as if the patients were locked away and ignored. I hoped this first impression was not how it really was. Over time my friend slowly recovered. When visiting she would tell me about the running of the ward, and the other patients she could or could not talk to. One day a week the consultant comes into the ward. The patients have to sit in a circle with the staff and consultant. They are asked individually how they are. Some answer, some do not. The drugs my friend were given made her fall asleep in the meeting. Her drugs were then changed. When you are in the ward and you are a danger to yourself, you are not allowed to get dressed, and have to stay in your nightwear. Patients are not allowed to leave the ward and all meals are taken on the ward. Patients must eat, otherwise they could not leave 84

the table. My friend was not able to eat at that time and it became very difficult for her. This was supervised by paid helpers that came in daily. The patients were weighed weekly. A consultant was only seen at meetings - and did not to talk to patients individually. I found this arrangement was not good enough. My conclusion from my visits and from talking to my friend, was that NHS mental health wards need more staff, and for the staff to be much more dedicated. More handson communication with the patients and a greater showing of some kindness and understanding to the vulnerable. Jenny Arpino


Therapist or patient - a journey made together I was glad to learn that Jack didn’t feel he needed to see me anymore. It confirmed the impression I had been forming, that he had improved considerably and could now manage his life with no more help from me. I am a psychotherapist working at a busy NHS hospital. Jack came to me nine months ago, suffering from acute anxiety and panic attacks. During an initial interview with him I had formed the view that his problems were related largely to his impending retirement at the age of 65. However, subsequent probing uncovered a number of other aspects to this interesting case that had a bearing on his problems. My office is in an old Victorian block of the hospital in which I work and leaves much to be desired. There is little natural light and the ceilings are high, with crumbling mouldings and a slightly musty smell. I have tried to counteract these problems insofar as I can. Bright floral curtains, well positioned standard and table lamps and a sheepskin rug to accompany the comfortable leather armchairs were begrudgingly allowed out of my share of the department’s budget. I believe a comfortable, safe-feeling environment is essential for my patients, who I try to put at their ease as soon as possible. Jack worked hard during our sessions, full credit to him for his honesty and willingness to confront unpleasant memories which had been deeply buried over the years. One revelation that came out of 86

the blue was the fact that his father had died at the age of 65. This impending milestone in Jack’s own life was rapidly approaching and it had a huge bearing on his outlook on life. Another factor was his daughter, who was due to leave the family home soon. Added to this his son’s wife was shortly due to produce their first grandson. These forthcoming events, happy though they were, served as a reminder to Jack that his current role in life would soon be over. He was no longer required to be a breadwinner, a role that he had held for over 40 years. Furthermore, neither of his children would need him anymore. The impending new arrival served as a reminder that the next generation were due to arrive. His approaching 65th birthday, the age at which his father had died, was further proof that not only did he have no specific role, but that the end may be just round the corner. Over the months that followed, we explored these matters. It wasn’t always easy - I am rapidly approaching Jack’s age myself and have two children who are of an age when they may be considering leaving home. Some of his fears resonated unpleasantly and gave me food for thought in my own personal life. At one point I questioned who was the patient – Jack or I! Nonetheless, we were able to reflect on the positive side of things: the increased leisure his retirement would offer him; the many blessings of being a grandparent; the opportunity of pursuing new activities. Jack’s prevailing mood gradually lightened. I started to notice his improved mental state and his more cheerful demeanour. I began to experience a feeling of pride at having worked with someone who had tried so hard to improve his situation and had succeeded. The success, I felt, applied to both of us. Robin Bevan



Chapter Six Darkness and light Poems and stories exploring images of darkness and light, and journeys that encounter both.


Days when it was dark There were days when it was so dark I could hardly move out of bed. The thoughts of hopelessness abound. At times it was beyond my tether. But just as things looked lost, a light came in and saved me. Something like a friend coming, a loved one phoning, something that turned me round, a saving grace. So remember, keep searching for that little slither of light. It may take some time, you will have set backs, but that light is there. The light is your happiness, your life, your loves, your self-esteem. The light is a smile, a joke, or even a group hug. Don’t be afraid of the darkness. Lawrence Ashenden


I can see light My heart beats fast through fear I need to escape from this place, there is nowhere to run. I reach out for help but none comes my entire body sags with hopelessness. I remember what I have been told about deep breathing, counting the breaths, in and out. Breathe in to the count of one, breathe out for two. I struggle to do this, but gradually find I can just about do it. I continue to count the breaths. When my mind wanders to dark thoughts, I bring it back to the counting. My body begins to relax. My mind begins to change from the dark thoughts. As I begin to relax I can see light it is like a large ball that reminds me of a beautiful sunrise in the summer mornings. As I concentrate on this lovely orange colour, it gets bigger and bigger. It brings hope. It is a glorious colour that destroys the darkness. I am free! Jean Bevan 92

Holding on to the light A golden light of hope flies by on a fluffy cloud in the summer sky. I watch it drift and fade from sight ‘till darkness falls and day is night. Stillness and silence bring fear and dread, panic takes hold as I lie in bed. The candle flickers scent fills the air the darkness lifts light is everywhere. Janet Davis


The journey from darkness to light It came as a surprise to arrive because the journey seemed impossible at first. I had weathered the journey of sleep with its imagined threats of deep, eternal, sucking, life-draining, tumbling death. I had come out of the other end into a day of possibilities, where I was calm, rested and, most of all safe. And, importantly, I had learnt that I had been safe before. And even at my lowest point, sleep and darkness were my friends, friends whom I could turn to in the future without dread. Robin Bevan


Stairway of hope It is late November, darkness drawing its curtain over this scene. I close my eyes as I sit in the cold darkness of this quaint little church. In the calmness of the dark, my concentration is repeatedly broken by the noise of creaking timber. It is as if the spirits of congregations past were playing tunes on the furniture. It is a friendly atmosphere, you could imagine the life and laughter which could fill this church on a happy Sunday morning. Heaven knows that tears were shed here too. Good things come into my thoughts, like a cool wind in my face. The refreshing taste of spring water, all the things I take for granted. I was here to remember others, others were not here to remember me. But suddenly negative thoughts were cascading in my brain, thoughts of the inhumanity and horrors we bestow upon others. I was at odds with myself and with the world, and badly in need of a higher presence to put my mind at ease. This old chapel with its creaking wood and craggy staircase was spread before me. It was as if I could hear a voice calling me to ascend. I climbed the stairs hoping it will eradicate the thoughts of the day. Then it came to me, that to find hope, you must witness fear and sorrow, and out this comes hope. As the evening bestowed its darkness, outside as well as inside, I noticed a slither of light protruding through a gaping door, just as my prayers were answered. In a relaxed state of mind, stillness, and the quiet of a job well done, it was time to leave the darkness and enter out into the world, with hope that my silent prayers had been answered. I had found my stairway to life, and was making my way back, feeling calm and tranquil. Lawrence Ashenden 95

Flight to freedom He was being sucked down into a black, bottomless abyss. No light, no last minute reprieve, no mercy shown. He came up for the last time, a drowning man, a ball and chain round his ankle. Then he sank slowly into the thick, sludgy mud of eternity. It seemed that he was finished. Then the first feelings of resentment declared themselves. A murmur, a whisper of injustice, a sliver of resistance. No one should die like this, he wouldn’t accept it! With growing anger he started to struggle, and agonisingly slowly at first, then with increasing speed, he started to rise. The darkness seemed less intense. Until suddenly he burst awake into bright sunlight, like a cork out of a champagne bottle. He looked around, feeling exhausted but triumphant, then stepped out of bed. Taking off his sweat-soaked pyjamas, he glanced in the mirror, and was amazed to see a pair of wings sprouting from his back. He flexed his muscles and saw the wings unfurl. He opened the window, climbed onto the ledge and launched himself, climbing higher and higher, feeling a wonderful sense of freedom, as he soared above the clouds, revelling joyfully in his new found freedom. Robin Bevan 96


Chapter Seven Letter to a friend Imaginary letters to comfort someone suffering panic and anxiety.


Dear friend, I know you are having a hard time suffering with panic attacks. It is very hard to motivate yourself to leave the safety of your home and confront your fears, but you can call on friends and family for support. Try to take small steps each day, even if it is just going to your gate and back. Your doctor can help with medication and there are support groups to go to. Counselling and behavioural therapies are a great help. Remember your anxiety will peak at a certain point and then subside. Nobody has ever died from a panic attack. As you slowly confront your fears, anxiety will lessen. If possible have someone to support you, and keep you safe. Be assured, one day your panic attacks will fade as you learn to deal with the underlying causes. Remember you are not alone, share your fears and ask for help. Janet Davis


Dear friend, I understand that you are suffering from panic attacks. It is an awful feeling and when you are ‘in it, you cannot see yourself ever getting better and being free from panic. Here, I can offer you hope. I too suffered from panic attacks and felt I was going to be like it for the rest of my life. I am now free from panic attacks and live a very fulfilling life. I would like to offer you some advice. First, practice deep breathing. At the moment you will wonder what on Earth I am talking about, but deep breathing really does work. Take a deep breath in for a count of 3, and slowly exhale to the count of 6. Try to practice this when you are not feeling too panicky. Gradually over time, when you feel a panic attack coming on, take your deep breaths and relax. You will be pleasantly surprised how quickly the panic will either disappear or not arrive at all. It is a known fact that deep breathing helps you relax. Again as I say, when you are relaxed you cannot be anxious. Try also to do some meditation to calm yourself. If you are relaxed you cannot feel panicky – it is a fact. Look after yourself. We wouldn’t dream of talking to a friend the way we talk to ourselves in such a negative way. Be kind to yourself, love yourself. I know at the moment this is probably hard for you to take in, but believe me, it works. You are ‘in it’ at the moment and cannot see the wood for the trees, but you will get better. I wish you well. Jean Bevan


Dear friend, I understand that you are not at all well at the moment, and that you suffer more than your fair share of anxiety. I hope you do not mind me writing to you but I would like to tell you that I was in your position sometime ago. Please know that you are not alone, and must not blame yourself. Many people suffer this, but in time you will recover. I am not telling you to pull yourself together, or cheer up, or even get out more. You must dismiss these remarks if they are made to you. Please confide in your real friends and loved ones, who will sympathise with you and above all support you. Please seek the best help. Contact your doctor if you think they are a good person to talk to. They will help you, maybe give you a drug which will help in the short term. They will have the details and get you access to a support group. I belong to one myself. I was like you, but I found meeting people who felt the same as me to be a huge of a support. You are not alone. There is a supporting and caring person waiting to say hello, come in, we understand, please feel free to talk. Please do this for me, I know you will feel, look and be better in no time, Good luck. Lawrence Ashenden


My dear friend, I know how you must be feeling at the moment. Like you, I have been in a similar situation. I had symptoms of not being able to leave the house. When I eventually did I found myself stuck in a telephone box unable to move and had to ring my husband to bring me and the children home. Whenever I had to speak to someone about my problems I felt that I couldn’t breathe, my throat closed up, I was heaving for breath and felt like I was going to die. My advice is go to your doctors and try to open up if you can. If your doctor is aware they will send you to someone who can help and will understand why you are feeling the way you do. One-to-one therapy helps. Joining a centre for people with similar problems can support you. In the autumn of my days I found a one-to-one therapist, and it was the best thing I did. At last I have been able to do something for myself. Help is out there for you also. Your dear friend, Jenny Arpino


My dear friend, Many thanks for your letter. I was very sorry indeed to hear that you have been suffering from recurrent panic attacks. What an awful time you must have been having. You may be unaware of this, but I found myself in a similar position a couple of years ago. I hope you will allow me to give you some advice relating to this, particularly strategies that I found helpful. In my case I suffered from panic attacks when I had to undergo journeys on the tube. The attacks were so acute and frightening that I used to think I was on the point of dying. From what you say in your letter your experiences have been similar. First of all, let me say, that although these attacks are awful they are not going to kill you (I know it feels at the time as though they might!) The feeling of dread will pass. As you will be aware, this feeling is so terrible that you just want to avoid any situation that might cause it. However, the more you confront the situation that is causing the attacks, the greater your chances of a speedy and complete recovery. An option exists which is to avoid all such journeys. This is alright on the face of it, but your world will be much more restricted if you do this – no more trips to the theatre, no visiting friends etc. I feel personally that you need to face your fears gradually and arm yourself with as many coping strategies as you can. I found that practicing relaxation techniques linked to calm and regular breathing was a great help. They say that it is impossible to have a panic attack if you are relaxed and regular exercises will enable you eventually to relax quickly and easily in any situation. I read somewhere that twenty minutes of relaxation exercises is the equivalent of two hours of sleep, a thought that I found very helpful. When I was too anxious to sleep I would do my exercises and it would often send me off. Relaxation CDs are readily available – I found the exercise of tensing and relaxing 105

muscles throughout the body systematically whilst controlling one’s breathing, was particularly helpful. It’s funny how thinking about things differently can help. I used to regard panic attacks as an enemy – one whose sole purpose was to make my life a misery. One day I was talking to a friend and he said he thought it was marvellous how the mind effectively tried to help us by making us panic and therefore avoid situations that we had programmed it to believe were dangerous. Seen from this perspective, whatever was causing the attacks was almost a misguided friend rather than a sworn enemy. I found this thought strangely comforting - perhaps I could ask this friend to pack it in, no matter how wellintentioned he was! As I’m sure you have found, suffering from panic attacks, particularly when they stop you getting out and about, can be a lonely and isolating experience. Perhaps there is a self-help support group that operates near to where you live. I would urge you to make contact with them as I’m sure you will find, as I did, that the members can offer helpful advice and proof that it is possible to recover fully and get your life back on track. With very best wishes, as always Robin Bevan



Chapter Eight Meanings all around Everyone has an object that is special. Important objects contain meanings, hidden stories, histories, and hope.


My friend George I entered my office, after several months away. It seemed I had been gone a lifetime, so what do I say? But the answer was looking at me, on top of my table, for all to see. It was George! Or should I say George Bush! But where did this miniature doll come from? I took a closer look. “Press” it said on his little finger. My friends were now about to linger! “My name is George” and then a rude noise! This I guess, has come from the boys. A tag on the back said 99p who in heaven had given this to me? “I saw this,” said Wendy, “and thought of you. Very soon you will be brand new.” People come and people go they all press the finger. So you never know, what makes people laugh, happy to be, to listen to rude noises with George and me.


Now time has caught up with my friend, his voice came to a sudden end. Will he be binned, or charity shop bound? NO! He came home all safe and sound. He still sits on the table, for he was a friend when others weren’t able. Lawrence Ashenden


The family bible My most cherished possession is a bible which has been in my family for 175 years. The bible is approximately 7”x 5”and 2” thick. It is covered in tooled brown leather, is somewhat scuffed at the edges, the binding intact (but only just!) The first printed page tells me it was produced by J. W. Parker, University Printer for The British and Foreign Bible Society, ‘translated out of the original tongues; and with the former translations diligently compared and revised, by His Majesties special command.’ The bible smells musty, the pages are brittle and covered at the edges with brown moisture spots (‘foxing’ I believe they call it.) To me the most interesting features of the bible are the hand written sheets at the front and back. The former announces that the bible was given to Isaac Marsden on 18 June 1839. It goes on to tell the reader that Isaac Marsden, the son of Isaac and Alice Marsden, was born on 25 February 1810. This inscription is in bold and confident copperplate writing (in contrast to my own near illegible scrawl), probably written with a quill pen. The writing is faded to a pleasing shade of sepia. The back sheet records the dates of birth of Isaac Marsden’s children, of whom there were eleven in all. Sadly it records the death in childhood of two of them, and also the death of his wife Betty, age 45. In sharp contrast to these entries, and added at the end in pencil, are the words “Mary Ellen, born – “ No date was added. I can’t help wondering if Betty had died in childbirth. She was certainly producing children up to the age of 43. Perhaps Isaac had started the last entry and didn’t have the heart to complete the date of death. Why is this scuffed and not uncommon item of such value to me and why do I keep it at the back of a book shelf, away from prying 113

eyes and hands? There are a number of reasons. Marsden is my mother’s maiden name. I remember one cosy evening about thirty years ago, we were sitting round the coal fire on a winter’s evening. My parents handed me the bible and told me they would like me to keep it. Apparently I would be more likely than my two siblings to treasure it and ensure its’ safe passing onto the next generation. I felt vastly flattered by this compliment but was acutely aware of the responsibility that this placed on me. Small matter if it were to be lost to perpetuity some would say, but I don’t believe that and covet this link with my ancestors. This somewhat dilapidated item speaks to me from the past. Isaac and his family were Congregationalists or ‘Independents’ as they were sometimes known. One of a number of what were termed non-conformist religious orders that flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. They had their own chapel in Upper Darwen, Lancashire. It would have taken a degree of courage to be a non-conformist in those days. The Anglican Church held considerable sway and was responsible for the spiritual, social and, in times of hardship financial support of the community. No welfare-state in those days. To be different in the matter of religious persuasion meant risking the 114

approbation of the community in which you lived. I don’t find it too difficult to imagine Isaac, his wife on his arm and his children in single file behind them, striding to chapel on a Sunday morning, perhaps clutching his bible in his hand, ignoring the disapproving glances of his neighbours. So I shall continue to covet the family bible and will have to decide which of my descendants is best suited to inherit this potent symbol of the past. Robin Bevan


My beautiful grandchildren My object is a photograph of my beautiful grandchildren, all five of them. My object is used to remind me how very, very lucky I am. No amount of money could be equal to this wonderful feeling. The photograph reminds me of all those awful years when I was mentally ill. I never thought I would get better, let alone married with children! Out of illness came wellbeing, and success. The object has pride of place on my shelf in the living room. Five delightful faces beaming at me. The object I carry in my heart. For everything that people said about me when I was ill, they got so very, very wrong. It is a shame they cannot see me now and my lovely family. And how well I am! The meaning this object has is perseverance. Never give up, hope wins through and most of all love. The object makes me feel extremely blessed. I really am a very, very lucky person. Whenever I get the opportunity I show off my grandchildren and I do not apologise for this. It shows to others that out of mental illness can come joy and wellbeing. Jean Bevan


Faith, hope and what keeps me going The most personal thing I have and which I wear every day is my cross on a necklace, which of course hangs around my neck. It is made of gold, as is the chain. But it does not really matter to me what it is made of, as long as it is a cross. My cross is so special to me. I was christened at the age of six, alongside my brother then eight, and my sister aged one. I said my prayers every night as way back as I can remember, although not so often now. Normally now to ask for help for a friend or family member or someone that needs my prayers. I remember being in the Brownies and at the church I attended they had a fair. I bought a wooden cross with a silver figure representing Jesus. There has always been something so very important to me about how Jesus suffered upon the cross to free us. To think what pain he had to bear and how he was condemned to death for preaching and forgiving and healing. Maybe in our darkest moments we are being tested. Some people are tested more than others, I know not the reason why. I was confirmed later in life at a church in Streatham, it has held such a special time for me. My cross is my confident, my special friend who knows everything about me, even in my lowest moments - which have been many. A support, a crutch to lean on. It gives me comfort. This cross has an everlasting history of faith, betrayal and hope. Jenny Arpino



Chapter Nine What panic has taught me Learning from, and living with panic.


Far more common Panic, phobias and anxiety are far more common than I realised. It is important to try to understand the origin of the problem. These conditions can be overcome with understanding, determination and support. Having overcome these problems, people are much stronger. It is important as a human being to try to help sufferers to help themselves. Robin Bevan Just a word Anxiety has taught me that there is a world beyond anxiety. Knowing now that I can control anxiety is a great help. I can spot it when it comes along. But I can leave it on the back burner. Anxiety is a word in a dictionary, I can use it or leave it. Lawrence Ashenden The rainbow Panic has shaped my life into something positive. Somehow I have evolved into an optimistic hopeful person, which I don’t think I would have, if it wasn’t for the panic. I have learned patience. I have empathy for others, and I feel hopeful for a future, for me and other people. Panic has taught me to look for the rainbow, because believe me it is there. Jean Bevan 121

Change - do I really have to? It’s warm and snug and safe in here, a cocoon I chose to weave and freeze the present as it stands. A present where threats are known and managed well, a cosy hole that I dug, where I chose to lie. But nothing lasts for ever, I hear you say. The world moves on, the future beckons. Change, survival, go hand in hand. Adapt I must and do so gladly. Jobs, homes, illness and death – some but not all can be controlled. And, like it or not, change will come. So accept it willingly with a light heart it’s never quite as bad as first it seemed. Robin Bevan


The green space in the distance I feel fearful, but not sure why. I am surrounded by destruction, everywhere seems bleak. Fear brings sadness and feelings of insignificance. How do I get away from this awful place? I search and search. In the distance it looks like there is some greenery. My heart gives a jump. Does this mean there may be hope? I stumble across the ruins, and aim for the green space in the distance. Gradually the green space gets bigger, and I find myself in a beautiful place. I hear birds singing. I see flowers of various colours, and smell their wonderful different fragrances. I see fish swimming. There are tall elegant trees, and above a beautiful clear blue sky. I feel uplifted and hopeful.


I ask myself, “how did I get here?” The reply in my head says, ‘by looking and working things out. Instead of just staying in the fear state, you searched and searched and found’. Now hope engulfs me. I am happy, and full of hope for the future. Jean Bevan


On my way back Many years have passed so long my spinning world did last. Various help was given My thoughts, my life was hidden. Why does love and friendship alter? Special bonds in such array dropped from my life far, far away. Nothing in life was freely given, it felt all things were forbidden. Those thoughts they slowly fester, so I play the jolly jester. People laugh, they think me daft, another day has passed at last. A counsellor I so gingerly sort, the hardest journey that I bought. I must try to summon-up the courage, sharing my burden, to release my luggage, to stand up and fight to have the right finally freedom was within my sight the future suddenly seems so bright.


A kindred spirit, a hand to hold, an ear to listen, eases the load. A hug, a smile – lasts a long while. A softly spoken voice, my preferred choice. So talk the talk, you have a voice. Open your door, keep your feet on the floor. Nature is awaiting its all free for the taking. Your five senses finally awakening! The touch of rain, the smell of the sea, the song of the birds, the rustling leaves, which fall to the ground on the friendly breeze. The horizon seems brighter, in my life, I now hear laughter. Jenny Arpino


Past anxiety How was I so insecure all the years looking for a cure. So much time not knowing followed by tears forever flowing. Anxiety is a lesson indeed the person I am and the person I need. I know it is hard when bad thoughts come, be on your guard look for positive ones. Count your blessings when the day is done. Think things through and pray. Good times will come too, when you live each day. Lawrence Ashenden


Hope You fade and flit flag and falter sinking, straying fleeing, flying hiding, hurting testing, teasing tempting, trying pulling, pushing growing, glinting boldly blinking lifting, leaping glaring, gleaming leading, lighting streaming, smiling rising, rampant bright and blessed hope! Robin Bevan 128

What panic has taught me Opening up and sharing fears unlocking secrets kept for years freeing thoughts that hinder and bind the fear and worry locked in your mind to live in the moment mindfully and find comfort and peace in tranquillity releasing the past can set you free that is what panic has taught to me. Janet Davis



Chapter Ten Setting up your own self- help group

Some ideas to get you started.


The history of No Panic (Sutton & Merton) I attended a group facilitated by a community psychiatric nurse. There were six people in this group all suffering from anxiety. The nurse was not very good, there were no boundaries and she was not very welcoming. But I learned from this how not to run a group! In 1996 I decided I would like to meet fellow sufferers of anxiety who could understand what I was going through. I asked professionals if there was such a group. Everyone said, “No! An anxiety group does not exist”. One person foolishly said, “If you want a self-help group for anxiety you will have to start it yourself.” I thought, “Right - I will!” I received a lot of help from the Small Groups Worker based at the Sutton Centre for Voluntary Sector. They gave me two years funding for room hire. I rented a room at the Carer’s Centre in Sutton. I also received support from No Panic in Shropshire. On 11th September 1997 No Panic was born. For the first time I felt listened to and HEARD. No one judged me for suffering anxiety and agoraphobia. The group was slow to start with, only two people attending. I did wonder if there was a need for such a group. Gradually the numbers grew and at one stage we had twenty people attending. The room became too small so we moved to North Cheam Resource Centre. I was asked by several people if there was a group in the afternoons, as they did not like going out at night. I started a group on a Wednesday afternoon. My supervisor said I was now offering a professional service and should get paid for this work. I applied to ‘The Big Lottery’ and ‘The Tudor Trust’. They kindly gave me three years funding. So on the 4th June 2004 the Wednesday afternoon was born. Again it was slow to start, but numbers went up to sixteen. In 2007 funding ran out. We managed to struggle on for two years. In 2007 we became a registered charity. A board of Trustees was formed, who were all helpful and supportive to me. The Director of 133

the Sutton & Merton Primary Care Trust came to one of our meetings and was very impressed. The PCT said they would fund our service on a yearly basis. And we began a partnership with them. Because we were funded by the PCT Sutton & Merton, we changed our name to No Panic (Sutton & Merton). We started a group in Merton but unfortunately it was not successful. I always welcome new people. I ask them how they are, and try to ease their fear of joining the group. I explain the format of the group. I give them a welcome letter and a copy of the ground rules. I ask them to read the ground rules and if they agree to abide by them, to sign the form. I ask for contact details, medical history and next of kin in case an emergency arises. At the beginning of the meeting we go round saying our names, what we suffer from, and how we have been during the past two weeks. I explain that we do not go into great detail as we do not have the expertise or time. All the members understand this. The ground rules help keep the boundaries. Usually we have a topic that is relevant to anxiety. We also have an exercise related to the topic. The topic gets everyone talking and gives the opportunity for everyone to speak. I believe the group is successful because we are all sufferers and understand what each individual is going through. All the group members are very supportive to each other and friendships have been formed. I am extremely proud of the group, and all members, past and present. On page 135-137 you will find the documents we give to members when they first join the group. Jean Bevan


Welcome Letter from No Panic (Sutton & Merton) self-help and recovery group. I would like to offer you a very warm welcome to the group. The reason that I started this group was because I found that there was nothing in the Borough of Sutton for people who suffer from anxiety, panic attacks or phobias. The aim of the group is to support and help people overcome the anxieties and phobias that they experience in their lives, so they can have a more positive outlook. At every meeting, each member is given the opportunity of speaking if they so wish. Other members may use their experiences to provide help and support. I would point out, however, that we are not a miracle cure! If you were learning to drive you wouldn’t just have one or two lessons and then expect to pass your test. Or if you were learning to swim you wouldn’t just have one or two lessons and expect to swim a length. The same applies to overcoming anxiety. It will take time to recover and change. If you have been suffering from anxiety, panic attacks or a phobia, it has become a habit. The way to overcome this is to change that habit. Look at the way your body becomes tense without you realising it. How your thoughts have become negative and change them to positive thoughts. Learning to do deep breathing and learning to relax. We have suffered from anxiety for probably months – if not years. This is not going to change overnight. It will take a slightly longer time to recover from this – BUT IT CAN BE DONE! Recovery is in our own hands, no one can do it for us. We also have to want to change – to take back control of our lives. This is where the group comes in. We will support and help each other on this journey. The first step was coming to this group so you have started your journey to freedom. Good Luck 135

No Panic (Sutton & Merton) - Ground Rules The focus of the group is to support each other through our experiences of anxiety, panic attacks and phobias. 1. Confidentiality: everything that is said by members of the group must be treated as confidential, and not repeated outside the group. Please do not ask another member for their contact details. If you wish to give your contact details to another member you must take responsibility for this. 2. Member’s right of privacy should be respected at all times. 3. At all times members should respect each other’s beliefs and ideas. 4. It is important that when members are talking they should be listened to and not interrupted, especially when we go around the group at the beginning of the meeting. 5. Members are reminded that comments should be positive as opposed to negative, and that the aim is to offer constructive support to other members. Discriminatory remarks should not be made in the group as this may cause offence. 6. Anti-social behaviour during meetings will not be tolerated. E.g. being under the influence of alcohol or illicit drugs. Also any form of harassment. If a member is disruptive within the group they will be asked to leave. 7. All members must take responsibility for their own feelings and actions. 8. If you have a complaint that you feel has not been dealt with satisfactorily then you have the right to access the Complaints Procedure (available from the Development Worker). 9. There will a charge of £2.50p at each meeting for the subs. 10. ‘No Panic’ (Sutton & Merton) has an Equal Opportunities Policy. 11. There is a ‘No Smoking’ Policy within the building. 136

Equal Opportunities Statement ‘No Panic’ (Sutton & Merton) is committed to actively oppose racism, sexism, and all other forms of discrimination experienced by people from ethnic minorities; by women; by people because of their sexuality: their class; their religious beliefs; their disabilities. ‘No Panic’ (Sutton & Merton) declares that it will introduce measures that will combat all direct and indirect discrimination in its practices and in the provision of its services. Ground rules acceptance form No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Self-Help/Support Group I have read the No Panic (Sutton & Merton) ground rules and agree to abide by them. Name (Please Print) __________________________________________

Signed___________________________________ Date______________



Inspiring books about creative writing Becoming a writer. Dorothea Brande. Jeremy P Tarcher. 1981. Everyday Creative Writing, panning for gold in the kitchen sink. Michael C Smith and Suzanne Greenberg. NTC publishing Group. 1996. Expressive Writing - Counseling and Healthcare. Kate Thompson and Kathleen Adams. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers 2015 Expressive Writing: Words That Heal. James W Pennebaker and John F Evans. Idyll Arbor. 2014. I Am Here Now: A creative mindfulness guide and journal. The Mindfulness Project. Ebury Press 2015 Start Where You Are: A Journal for Self-Exploration. Meera Lee Patel. Perigee Books. 2015 The art of fiction. John Gardner. Vintage. 1991. The creative writing handbook. John Singleton. Macmillan Press. 2000. The Five-Minute Writer: Exercise and inspiration in creative writing in five minutes a day. Margret Geraghty. How To Books. 2009. The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing: Writing Myself. Gillie Bolton and Kenneth Calman. Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2000. The writing experiment, strategies for innovative creative writing. Hazel Smith. Allen and Unwin. 2005. What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. Anne Bernays, and Pamela Painter. HarperCollins Publishers. 2005. Words for Wellbeing: Using Creative Writing to Benefit Health and Wellbeing. Carol Ross (Editor). Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust. 2012. Writing down the bones. Nathalie Goldberg. Shambala. 1986. Writing Poems. Peter Sansom. Bloodaxe Books Ltd. 1993. Writing Works: A Resource Handbook for Therapeutic Writing Workshops and Activities. Gillie Bolton (Editor) Jessica Kingsley Publishers. 2006 139

Biographies Sally Pomme Clayton Sally Pomme is a pioneering performance storyteller and writer. She founded The Company of Storytellers with Ben Haggarty and Hugh Lupton in 1985, spearheading storytelling in the UK and Europe. She worked with self-help group No Panic from 2012 2016 with support from Apples and Snakes. She performs nationally and internationally, recent performances have been at: Wellcome Collection; Soho Theatre; The Royal Opera House; Northern Stage; The British Museum; Southbank Centre. She has published ten children’s books, her latest is Greek myths, stories of sun stone and sea (Frances Lincoln 2014). In 2015 she appeared at The Pelion Storytelling Festival, Greece. In 2014 visited Jordan with The British Council performing at The Hakaya Storytelling Festival. In 2013 she was commissioned by The Royal Shakespeare Company to write and perform Cupid have Mercy. During 2012 she was Artist in Residence at The Swedenborg Society making daring performance for adults Night Visit combining narrative with digital images and sound, which toured throughout 2015. Richy K. Chandler Richy is a comic creator and illustrator. He is the creator of weekly webcomic Lucy the Octopus and WASP (Webcomic Artist Swap Project) as well as co-creator of fairytale Manga Rosie and Jacinda and bedtime story comic Bang! Crash! Whizz! His comic publishing imprint, Tempo Lush, has released two Tempo Lush Tales anthologies which Richy conceived and edited, as well as contributing writing and artwork. Richy has worked as a freelancer 140

for Titan Comics both scripting (Almost Naked Animals, Wallace & Gromit, Adventure Time) and drawing (Dreamworks’ Home). He also runs comic workshops for children and adults. He is currently working on his first long-from comic for Jessica Kingsley Publishers, When are you going to get a proper job? (Parenting and the Creative Muse). Apples and Snakes Apples and Snakes is England’s leading organisation for performance poetry and spoken word. Apples and Snakes raises the profile of spoken word and pushes the boundaries of the art form through producing and curating live events and creative digital content, working extensively in partnership and commissioning and touring new writing. Apples and Snakes nurtures spoken word artists, providing guidance and support, mentoring and shadowing opportunities, critical feedback, a wide range of masterclasses and in-depth professional development projects and programmes at a regional and national level. Participation is at the heart of the work, with projects and programmes involving schools, libraries, prisons, hospitals and other settings, with a focus on disenfranchised voices, marginalised communities and those at risk. Apples and Snakes is a national organisation with a head office in Deptford, South East London, and Programme Co-ordinators in the South East, South West, Midlands and North of England.



Thanks Special thanks to: Daniela Paolucci, Participation Coordinator, Apples and Snakes Jean Bevan, Development Worker, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Lawrence Ashenden, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Robin Bevan, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Jenny Arpino, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Janet Davis, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Maria Alvarez, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) Thanks to our funders and supporters: Apples and Snakes The Big Lottery Fund Arts Council, England Granfers Community Centre, Sutton The Salvation Army, Sutton Sutton Central Library



The No Panic Book Of Not Panicking shares personal experiences of struggling with panic and anxiety, practical and creative strategies for ways of coping, along with poems and stories about attitudes towards mental health. Thanks to funds from Awards from All, No Panic (Sutton & Merton) have been able to work with writer and storyteller Sally-Pomme Clayton, Apples and Snakes, and illustrator Richy K Chandler to produce a book full of testimonies that even in the darkest moments hope can be found. They hope it will help those who are suffering with panic and anxiety, their families and carers, and contribute towards eradicating the shame and stigma linked to the condition.

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