Exams, Revision and Anxiety. Simple.

exam-hall2I was stood there in the dull, familiar corridor, breath coming rapidly from apprehension, though not the kind one feels when entering an exam. No, nerves struck me because of such a simple thing, something that shouldn’t have caused such havoc in that moment and beyond. I’d gone to the exam early because I was embracing the new confidence I had been blessed with, this new independence I felt. The cold weather bit my nose and ears, my summer coat not suitable for the first glimpses of the new year. I was prepared, ready and confident to face this exam, having recently had a year of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) to help with my Social Anxiety. I walked into the sports building, an old converted church, down the modern grey steps to the bottom floor, where through the blue double doors, I would be taking my first exam of the year. I’d already checked I had the right day, right time, right seat number. All was going well and I knew I could face my fears of judgement and sit in a overly sized sports hall to take my General Studies.

And then something happened. Something that to someone else, might not have caused much panic and would have been easily sorted if mentioned to an invigilator. Although I had already checked my seat number, I just wanted to take a glance at the sheet hung up on the wall, in case of any last minute changes. Except I couldn’t find my name. I apparently wasn’t taking the exam at all. I didn’t exist and suddenly there was a heavy weight hanging over me, one that I had spent months trying to tackle. Rejection. That gut-wrenching feeling that you have been forgotten about and you’re not really welcomed to your surroundings, you’re not important enough to be remembered. I searched for the seat number A6, where I should have been and there was someone else’s name.

At first I tried to keep calm. I thought maybe I had gotten it wrong and I was in another room somewhere, maybe in another exam hall. But no, I checked and checked to see if I was anywhere and I wasn’t. I told myself I couldn’t let my anxiety take over me. I won’t let it beat me, I won’t let it beat me. So I decided on my next option, find someone I knew who could help me understand why my name, why I didn’t exist, someone who could sort this small problem out. Except I was new, having taken a year out to sort my mental health and I knew no one. Everyone else was familiar with the people in their classes from the previous year. I was alone.

People began to fill the corridor and my chest restricted more and more, the grey walls seeming to close in on me with every passing minute, the nearer the exam dawned. I could feel my hands shaking as I tried to calm myself and hide my panicked face. The breath in my lungs wouldn’t pump quick enough, tears threatened to break the barriers of my eyes, my heart threatened to kill me altogether, or at least that is how it felt. I had to do this, I had to. I had to stay and face my fears. I’d worked so hard over the past year to defeat the demons laughing at me inside my brain, defeat those thoughts that told me I was inferior to everyone around me.

But I couldn’t do it. I had to escape this claustrophobia, this judgement, this overwhelming rejection.

The corridor now packed full of people, exam minutes from starting, I fought my way through the crowds, back up the grey stairs and out the double wooden doors of the old church building, ignoring the looks I received from the people around me. When I reached fresh air, it didn’t calm me, the cold grasp of winter didn’t knock sense into me either. I just headed for home, knowing I was leaving behind an exam, something even the senseless wouldn’t do. But there was no way I could go back, go back to all those people who would look and see a panic stricken girl who has no seat number, no place to go, no friends to support her.

Luckily, some sense did manage to find its way in to my adrenaline fuelled brain and I managed to sit the exam a little bit later than everyone else. I found a learning support worker who calmed me down and managed to sort the little hiccup before it was too late to actually take the test.

I have said all this because Social Anxiety has really affected me over the years. I’ve struggled with it for a long time and it’s a serious issue. So difficult was that moment of my first exam to me, that it has affected the rest of my exams this year and my progress of tackling my Social Anxiety. I try not to panic, I try to keep calm and not think about the people around me because I know they’re not judging me like I imagine and I know they’re worrying about their own exam. I know I won’t make a mistake when I carefully prepare in advance, switching off my phone and pulling out the battery so that I don’t get disqualified from my future. But it’s not as simple to stop these thoughts as people seem to think, no matter how many times they try to comfort your over-active brain.

Everyone at some point in their life experiences extreme panic, either because they’re nervous or because they have to do something they don’t want to do. My therapist explained Social Anxiety in a very easy manner last week. She said, that moment when all seems lost and all you want to do is escape the situation, it is the equivalent to the adrenaline rush you get when a car is coming towards you on a road and you know if you don’t move, something disastrous could happen to you. So it’s simple. You move to escape the danger. Although being judged by others and being rejected by them is not as dangerous as getting hit by a car, because you simply can’t die from that. But people with Social Anxiety, it feels as though they will in fact die if they don’t escape the situation they’re in, the situation they don’t want to be in. It seems extreme I know, however that is the best way to describe that blinding feeling of panic. It is as though it kills you every time.

There are these things called safety behaviours, things that I do to make sure I don’t get that feeling as though a car is coming at me. I do these things to try and calm my anxiety, which it does in the short term. However in  the long term, it hinders my progress and sets me back. I shouldn’t do these things, they’re not good for my mental health because they make me believe, they convince me something bad is actually going to happen to me. Still I have many and they’re difficult to stop. Here is a list of safety behaviours I have to do before my exam to make sure my anxiety is lessoned. Hopefully it makes it easier to understand what occupies my mind on a regular basis (bear in mind, many of these things on the list, I have already done countless times over a couple of days, I just have to repeat them again on exam day to make sure nothing goes wrong):

1. Get up and go on-line to check my seat number.
2. Check my exam is definitely that day.
3. Check that my exam is definitely AM/PM.
4. Ask a family member that it is definitely the right day.
5. Check my pockets for anything that could get my disqualified.
6. Meet someone before the exam so I’m not alone.
7. Check again that there is nothing in my pockets that could get me reported.
8. Put my phone on silent.
9. Turn off any alarms I may have on my phone.
10. Turn off my phone.
11. Take out the battery of my phone.
12. Put the battery and phone in separate parts of my bag. You know, just in case.
13. Go to the exam with a friend at least 20 minutes early.
14. Check seat number on the sheet on the wall.
15. Get whoever is with me to check the sheet on the wall.
16. Ask them to check I have the right day, right room, right seat number and right time.
17. Gets pen and pencils ready, with at least four black pens so that there is no chance of running out of ink.
18. Take a rubber, pencil and ruler into the exam with me even though the exam doesn’t require them. You know, because you never know.
19. Check the sheet on the wall again as I walk into the exam room.
20. Once in the room, avoid eye contact with everyone and go straight to my seat.
21. Do not look around at anyone, or smile, or look shifty, just in case they think you’re cheating.

etc etc

At this current time, I am in the middle of my second year exams at college. I’m a year older than everyone else in my classes because my anxiety took me away from my education for twelve months. But those nerves that I had tackled in CBT have resurfaced and it is a struggle, not only because I struggle being around people due to my confidence, but also because I feel as though all that hard work I put into recovering has been all for nothing. I did all this therapy so that I could be more confident in myself and for my family, not just at a computer screen. Sat here now, typing this, my confidence is fine, I have no worries what people might think of me, that is why I can talk so passionately about animals, animal welfare and my own issues in everyday life. Though, as soon as I am faced with reality, the real world, people who can look at me and judge my character, I become a mouse, scared of those around me and constantly escaping the moving car coming towards me.

I won’t let it beat me. I can’t let it beat me. I hope it won’t beat me.

Iona

Me

A Grand Day Out

RSPCAThe weather has progressed beautifully in recent weeks. The sun has begun to burn the backs of the British people, convertibles are out, bikes are everywhere and the ice cream van’s distinctive tune fills up the background. You can hear the birds chirping, children screaming as they enjoy scuffing their knees with grass stains and the hum of someone cutting the grass with their lawn mower. It’s lovely and rare in this country, or at least that is how it feels. I’ve just got back from my holiday to Anglesey in Wales and apart from the odd day, it has been absolutely joyous.

Though I can’t help but think about one thing in particular, mainly because it’s the season when it happens most often.

Dogs being left behind in hot cars.

Last year when the weather was briefly this nice, my family and I needed a few bits from Morrisons, so we drove together and parked up on the car park, as you do. We noticed the car parked ahead of us had a white, small, fluffy dog sat panting on the parcel shelf at the back. The dog didn’t look overly distressed, though you could tell the car was warming up because the windows were slightly steamed up from the breathing of the animal.

We finished our shopping and got back to the car. The poor dog was still there, sat on the parcel shelf waiting for its owner. So we ourselves waited ten minutes or so, my Dad not wanting to leave until he knew the dog was okay. So we waited and waited, but the owner didn’t come. There were no windows open on this car, no shade and as most people already know, a car is like an oven in hot weather. When the outdoor world is 22°C, the indoor of a car is 47°C. An animal in this environment, unable to cool down and deprived of water, could die within 20 minutes.

In annoyance, my Dad got out the car and checked for any windows open, any water inside the car for the dog, but there was nothing, so he phoned the RSPCA Cruelty Line and reported the owner. But just as he was about to give details, the uncaring man who owned the dog, came strolling back to the car with his shopping. My Dad got out and went straight up to him, telling him that it’s illegal to leave a dog in a hot car without water, without the windows down, etc. The man just grumbled and proceeded to load his shopping into the car and because there was nothing else we could do, we got ready to leave. As we were leaving, another man driving past, wound down his window and said a similar thing to him, he too clearly not happy with the dog being left in the car.

Some people think that winding the window down slightly, is a sufficient enough precaution before leaving a dog in a car. But to be perfectly honest, it isn’t. The car still heats up and the dog will still suffer, possibly from heatstroke.

If you intend to go out on a hot day, please prepare what you’re going to do before taking your dog with you. Make sure the locations you’re going to allow pets, so that you don’t resort to leaving the dog in the car and thinking, “She’ll be alright, we won’t be long.”

They’re part of the family, so treat them as such and don’t let them suffer, at all.

If you want more details about this, you can visit the RSPCA website.

Thank You

Iona Gibson (PiellaGibson)

Maya and I

Mali the Elephant

Mali

Mali

I recently heard about an elephant called Mali, who has spent the majority of her life in captivity and without the company of another elephant. She’s lonely, in pain and watched day in day out at the Manila Zoo. I wanted to personally write a long blog about her to explain her life, but the website Free Mali does it best. So here is her life:

Mali was still a nursing baby when she was taken from her home and family in Sri Lanka, where she was just learning how to swim, roughhouse with her cousins, and find her own food. For more than 36 years, Mali has been confined to a barren, concrete enclosure at the Manila Zoo.

Wild elephants engage in activities for up to 20 hours every day, moving about and socializing with other elephants. The entire Manila Zoo measures only 0.055 square kilometers, and Mali’s enclosure is one small piece of that. For her physical well-being, Mali needs grass to cushion her aching joints and room to move, not a cramped cage. For her emotional health, Mali needs the company of other elephants. She hasn’t seen another elephant in more than 30 years.

Mali has been denied proper veterinary care. In the entire time she has been at the zoo, she has never received proper preventative foot care—something every reputable zoo in the world provides—or even basic blood work. Joint and foot problems are the leading cause of death in captive elephants, and elephant expert Dr. Henry Richardson, who flew to Manila to examine Mali at PETA’s expense, determined that Mali already suffers from potentially fatal cracked nails and foot pads, which are open to infection, and overgrown cuticles. Since PETA alerted the zoo to Mali’s problems, the zoo hasn’t brought in a single elephant expert to help her.

But Mali has an opportunity for a second chance at life. A sanctuary would be able to provide Mali with vast spaces to roam, ponds to bathe in, fresh vegetation, foraging opportunities, and the company of many other elephants. Please urge authorities to take immediate action to transfer Mali to a sanctuary. Her health and her sanity depend on it.

If you wish to help Mali, I’ll insert a link below. She needs all the help she can get.

http://www.freemali.com/take-action.aspx

You can also send your photo into the cause to help get Mali Freed.

Maya and I

Maya and I

Thanks

Iona Gibson (PiellaGibson)

Mali

Mali