I need help

Sorry for the week-and-a-bit’s silence, and sorry to say that this is going to be another whiny post.  Those of you who are not fans of self-indulgent whingeing should look away now.

At the moment I feel like I’m struggling to keep my hold on reality.  That’s probably far too dramatic a way of putting it.  I read other people blogging about this kind of thing, and they’ll mention that they used to walk along the road conducting birdsong, or that they believed Danny John Jules was lying in wait to attack them.  Certainly I’m not in that situation myself, and I don’t know I have the right to even pretend to compare my experiences with theirs.

But at the moment, every time somebody looks at me in the street I know they are part of a team that have put me under secret surveillance.  If I’m looking out of the window and someone walking past happens to glance even vaguely in the direction of my block of flats then they’re part of the team.  When I’m out for a walk, cars seem to pull up alongside me all the time.  Sometimes they pull up alongside me, wait for me to pass, drive slowly ahead of me, wait for me to catch up, and then pull off.

Rationally, I understand that I’m extremely unlikely to be under surveillance – I haven’t done anything that would attract the attention of the authorities.  Rationally, I understand that if I was under secret surveillance then they wouldn’t be being so obvious about it.  Rationally, I understand that when people look at me in the street it’s probably because I flinch away if they even turn their head towards me, and the strangeness of my behaviour is what’s attracting their attention.  Rationally, I understand that if a car pulls up alongside me it’s most likely to be for some reason that’s utterly unconnected to me (although it seems to happen so frequently I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’m imagining some or all of the cars, rather than just misinterpreting what real cars are doing).

Rationally, I understand all of this, but at the moment, understanding something rationally is not the same as knowing it.  I’m extremely unlikely to be under surveillance – but that doesn’t change the fact that fundamentally I know I am.  People looking at me in the street probably have no sinister motive – but fundamentally I know they do.  A car pulling up alongside me is a random occurrence – but fundamentally I know they’re keeping tabs on me.  (And, no, I have no idea who “they” are.)

I find myself wondering if this is what it’s like for other people.  Do they find that there is such a huge difference between understanding something rationally, and actually believing that it’s true?  There are times when it feels to me that trying to think rationally about this kind of thing is like sticking a plaster over a cut that’s still bleeding.  The best it can do is cover things up for a while, but underneath nothing’s actually changed, and it’s certain that the blood will soak through.

The under-surveillance thing is the most obvious example of all of this, but there are other ways that I’m struggling.  Over recent months I’ve become absolutely certain that I’m in imminent danger of picking up food poisoning, or some other stomach trouble, and that getting it will be the worst, most doom-laden experience imaginable.  Every time I come across any reference to anyone catching something like this I become instantly convinced that this is confirmation that I have it also.

A little while ago one of the bloggers I read wrote about her husband contracting a stomach bug.  It was only really a passing reference, but I instantly knew that I was going to come down with it in a few hours.  This is obviously completely irrational – no bug I’ve ever heard of can be transmitted over an internet connection* – but that didn’t stop me having to get out the anti-bacterial spray and obsessively wipe down my mouse, keyboard and screen, and it didn’t stop me spending the next few days in absolute terror of getting ill.  A similar thing happened to me with the stories just after Christmas about norovirus, except in that case the terror lasted for weeks.

This fear of infection is having some fairly major consequences.  I can’t eat or drink outside my flat.  I can only buy food that comes double-wrapped, so that I can discard the outer wrapping as soon as I bring it inside.  If I accidentally touch the inner wrapping with the outer one, or with my hand, I have to throw the whole thing away.  I can think of a saucepan as clean so long as it’s done nothing but sit in a cupboard, but as soon as it touches the hob it becomes instantly poisonous, and I have to wash my hands every time I touch it.  This is still true, even though I know for a fact that nothing has touched the handle except my clean hands.  Anything that comes from outside the flat is poisonous, so a letter coming through the door has to be treated as though it’s a biological hazard.  I keep my phone unplugged, because if it rang unexpectedly that would mean the whole flat would be infected.

All of this is getting to me, and the stuff about the surveillance is particularly worrying me, because that’s a new development over the last few weeks.  That’s why I headed this post: I need help.  But the thing is, Yvonne (the nurse specialist who I’m seeing for psychoanalysis) is off at the moment.  It started with a fortnight’s holiday, and since then she’s been off sick, so I haven’t seen her for four weeks now.  I’ve been told she’ll contact me when she’s back at work, so I have no idea when (or even if) I’ll see her again.  This is far and away the longest period of time I’ve gone in the last year-and-a-bit with not knowing when my next appointment will be.  I’ve had longer gaps between appointments – I had to wait several months for my initial contacts with psychiatry and psychology – but at least those were scheduled well in advance, so I knew they were coming.

Maybe what I should do is go and see my GP, and tell her.  But two things are stopping me.  How can I possibly explain all of this in a 5 minute appointment?  The way that I can understand something works one way, but at a much more fundamental level know that it works the opposite?  And even if by some extraordinary fluke I did manage to actually articulate all this, and didn’t just sit there feeling like a malingering, time-wasting fool, and mumble things like, “Well, I’ve not been feeling so good,” what can she do about it?  All she’ll be able to do is suggest I wait for my psychotherapy appointments to re-start and be sure to discuss it then.

I usually try to bring these posts to some kind of a sense of conclusion, but with this one I don’t think I can, because everything feels so up in the air right now.  Anyway, whinge over for now, and, assuming anyone is still interested in reading these inane ramblings, I’ll try not to leave it so long to the next post.

Thanks for reading,


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11 Responses to I need help

  1. la says:


  2. DeeDee Ramona says:

    I get the paranoia too when I am in the middle of a depressive episode. These are called “Ideas of Reference” as you no doubt know already. Your GP will know what these are, I take it you’re worried that you’ll lose your insight and they turn into delusions?

    It’s definitely associated with depression – the Hamilton rating scale for GPs assessing depression has a section to check for ideas and delusions of reference.

    I agree that no matter how much you know it’s irrational, it makes no difference, you still feel that back-of-the-neck skin-crawling feeling…

  3. jono says:

    HI Athelred
    First off i’d like to say how much i enjoy your blog.

    secondly i’m certainly no doctor but your symptoms sound like the result of severe anxiety to me (depressions evil twin), i’ve also had depression and anxiety and i found this site really useful ; http://www.nomorepanic.co.uk/forum.php, loads of info on symptoms feelings etc and tips from people on how they manage them. Reading it regularly helped me to calm down as i felt less alone.

    The other thing i did – was, when i felt calm, i worked out a reason why whatever i was afraid of happening was actually a good thing. For example i became paranoid that i had a terminal illness, I told myself when having a panic attack about this that actually a terminal illness would be a good thing because i would go into hospital people would look after me and i would be protected from stress etc by the nurses and i mentally pictured myself happy and relaxed in a hospital bed. Weirdly this approach worked and it would quickly calm me down. to the extent that after a few sessions of this my anxiety shifted onto something else but something less traumatic and again i followed the same principle. I’m not anxiety free! but i’m massively better than before. Anyway if this doesn’t help i’m sure you’ll find plenty of other useful advice on no more panic.

    Please also tell your GP: give them a copy of your post if you feel you can’t talk to them properly. Living with anxiety on top of depression is hell, I really hope you manage to get it a bit more under control

    good luck

  4. Chouette says:

    I had that at the start of this year, especially the food poisoning thing. I just more or less stopped eating at home (subway got a *lot* of custom from me), because it was too much hassle. I have to say it didn’t really feel like an anxiety thing, more a depression thing (that and my suicidality were the first things that lifted once I started improving). Unfortunately, I didn’t have the insight into it that you do (though I did into the other stuff).

    I hate loosing touch with reality like that, it’s really quite hard, especially so if you have insight I think. Hope things start looking up for you. I would go and talk to your GP, but having said that, I’d be far too chicken to do so myself.

  5. Mandy says:

    You need help. I need a miracle. :>)

  6. aethelreadtheunread says:


    Thanks as always for the comments.

    la – i like your single-word approach to commenting, it’s almost like you’re handing round the nibbles at a party: “Peanuts? Stuffed olive? Emetophobia?”… ;o)
    To take your point seriously, i’m not sure how much, if any of this, is to do with straightforward emetophobia (which is, i think, an irrational fear of vomitting?). I don’t fear so much the thought of being sick as i do other consequences of food poisoning or a stomach bug, which i couldn’t actually define or quantify. It’s really the thought of getting infected i have a problem with – i can freak out about a mild sore throat too – maybe that’s a separate phobia?

    DeeDee – actually, i didn’t know anything about “ideas of reference”, “delusions of reference”, or the difference between them (although i’ve done some wikipedia reading now). You’re right, it’s not pleasant feeling that your mind is losing it’s rational edge. And you’re right, as well, that losing insight is a back-of-my-mind worry too – it feels kind of like i’m sliding towards a cliff-edge at the moment…

    Jono – yep, you’re right, anxiety has a lot to do with it. Thanks for the link to nomorepanic, i’d actually come across it before, but the link may well be useful to someone else. I have to say, though, i don’t find the approaches they use helpful with this kind of thinking. Essentially, the recommended ways of dealing with anxiety are either to distract yourself into thinking about something else, or to use calm and logical thought-processes to ease it down. When i’m in a state like this, though, the distraction doesn’t tend to work (although i have had quite a lot of success with it in the past), and calm and logical thought processes don’t seem to work when I already know that what i’m feeling/ thinking is completely irrational.

    chouette – for you, eating out was part of the solution, for me not being able to do that is part of the problem – it’s interesting how we’re all mental in our own special little ways. :o) I read your post about the problems you had with eating – i really related to the thing about having only one “safe” plate – i have only one safe mug.

    mandy – a miracle would be nice – if only they existed! :o)

  7. DeeDee Ramona says:

    BTW what has worked for me to lessen the impact of these is repeated CBT_type thinking exercises. I think, “is this a rational thought? Is everyone on the bus really looking at me, or are they absorbed in their own little worlds?”. It doesn’t work immediately. To begin with I felt just as awful but it let me at least hold on to insight. It took 2-3 years for me, BUT my paranoia was particularly entrenched (10 years+ in the making), and my medication did nothing whatsoever for it, I guess it was one of those residual symptoms, so getting rid of it took some doing. I started getting at least some relief within a few weeks though. I know it sounds simplistic, it’s a lot more complicated than that, that’s just the core of it I guess. The hardest part is having the nerve to fight the thoughts in the first place. I needed a CBT therapist to help me with that.

  8. la says:

    Heh, apols for the brevity. Sometimes I feel very tired and empty and seem to have used up my quota of words for the day.
    When I read your blog, it reminded me very much of an emetophobe I know. It’s not as simple as a fear of vomiting for him, it’s more about getting sick than being sick. Everything has to be disinfected twice, hands washed repeatedly, food straight from the wrapper etc. It could be something for you to look into.

    I agree with everyone else here that anxiety follows depression. When I’ve had one of those long sleep weeks going outside again is nerve-racking. So I’m trying to make sure I leave my flat (beyond going to the corner shop) and have a proper conversation with someone (beyond “No, I don’t need a bag, thanks”) everyday. I’m not even close to batting 7/7 but it’s high on my list of ways to stay sane.

    Like DeeDee Ramona, I found CBT very helpful when it came to dealing with paranoid thoughts. Even though you know you’re being irrational, perhaps it would help to break down the ways in which you’re being irrational? Also, some aspects of mindfulness might be useful? (For example, when you start to panic, be aware of what your body is doing and take a little time to focus on yourself, sending your breath throughout your body. Much easier if you’re sitting down, of course!)

    Just a thought: if you feel you can’t talk to your GP, could you write it down for her? I’m pretty sure family doctors see weirder things in weirder places all the time and won’t bat an eyelid at being handed a piece of paper.

    *takes a stuffed olive*

  9. Argh dreaded paranoia. I get this too a lot. No advice, just hope it passes.

  10. Suzy says:

    “(And, no, I have no idea who “they” are.)”

    Huh, they don’t let me say that (er… ‘they’ being the the psychiatrist-types at CAMHS in this particular instance). I say I won’t go to the loo because they’ve got video cameras in there? CAMHS says ‘who’s they’? And because I don’t have any idea, it’s not paranoia. Alas… I remember the days I was taken seriously…

    Su x

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