Monday, January 27, 2020

Best Laid Plans ... Cognitive Restructuring in Action

Friday did not go to plan. This was not in my schedule. I just don’t go out alone yet here I was. Alone. Sat in a foyer where a meeting should have taken place yet didn't due to illness and miscommunication. The receptionist was great and he made me a coffee. Said there was no rush and that I could stay as long as I needed. These things happen. Just not to me. My days are planned to the nth degree around lifts and appointments, medication and ME flares. But I found myself in Sheffield with two hours to spare before my cab was due to come. Initially, panic set in. Shortness of breath and brain fog, chest pains and white knuckle fear. Once, I would have stayed in this state and got a cab straight home.


However, undergoing CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) last year really changed my thinking patterns over time and moved me from a very black and white way of thinking to looking at all those shades of grey. One of the first practices I learned was Cognitive Restructuring. This process helps you to identify and change your negative thoughts into more helpful responses. Whether done in therapy or on your own, cognitive restructuring involves a step-by-step process where negative thoughts are identified, evaluated for accuracy, and then replaced with more helpful thoughts.


So for me in this instance, I CAN'T DO THIS!! was slowly turned around by employing these strategies. Consciously and doggedly I managed slow breathing, thought through my 'Do it Differently' toolbox that I've put together over the last few years and found myself calming down. This involved lots of little phrases I've tucked away for times like these.

I was able to think YOU'RE FINE. YOU'RE SAFE repeatedly until I felt calmer. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO STRUGGLE.

Stranded in a power chair miles from home is no fun but it was not insurmountable. Once I was calm, I considered my options:

  • Ring another cab and go home immediately
  • Call a friend and stay in Sheffield
  • Stay in Sheffield on my own and find a close cafe to sit in to write and treat myself to lunch.
But I didn't want to go straight home as i know how disappointed I'd feel with myself. The old me (the newly disabled one) would have been home by now. But I allowed myself to think this through. After all, it had been an adventure getting up in to Sheffield with make up and a decent outfit on!

I knew I couldn't stay out on my own. I'd call a friend and meet up with someone living nearby. I drank more coffee, rang friends and calmed myself down, giving myself a sharp talking to as I did so.
Calling friends also did not pan out quite as I hoped. Out of my first three, none were available. Eek. I started feeling quite trembly and hot so I stopped this line of enquiry. I could do this.

I'M ALLOWED TO TAKE UP SPACE. MY HEALTH ISSUES DO NOT DEFINE ME.

Kate. Relax. Breathe. You're going to be fine.
The Showroom Cinema and cafe was very close by and wheelchair friendly so I would trundle away from the cancelled meeting up to the Showroom Cinema, have a coffee, then get my cab to pick me up from there. I sent out my plan to my faithful few:

I got to the meeting and it has been cancelled! So I’m going thinking of going up to the Showroom. It's not far. Not sure what to do!

This strategy has really helped me to formalise plans or even just to help in daily life. Having friends at the end of  phone who know the situation is a huge help. My friends and my lovely Mum (Chief Cheerleader) texted me words of encouragement. I still find being in my power chair awkward, kind of embarrassed at how different I look and how differently I must be perceived. I hate being out in it and generally go a few places (usually gigs) with friends where it's dark and I'm not really noticed. I know. Silly but just still something i'm coming to terms with.But who really cares? I know this is my insecurity and that no one really cares one iota. At least not the people that matter.

Quick pep talk and off I went. Being out in the fresh air was good once the security guard had helped me with the door as I left. It was freezing and I loved being outside. Short journey up the hill and I would be there. It was exhilarating! I negotiated the dropped kerbs and was relieved that all was as it should be on thee pavements up to my destination.
One hundred yards later I was inside the Showroom. I found a table and transferred from chair to sofa. My brain fog affects my eyes too so I had to sit for five minutes or so until everything calmed and I felt that I could go and order food.

I AM WORTH TAKING CARE OF.

I could turn this round. Next text to friends:
!I'm going to have a cup of soup and roll (£4 - bargain!) then coffee and cake (vegan pecan brownie) then come home x I’m a nervous wreck but this is my workout for the day x

Managed the soup and roll order. Tick.
Ate the soup and roll without spilling any. Tick.

The urge now was to ring my cabbie and go home but I was torn as I loved being there. Ideally, I wanted to see a film and have coffee but on reflection, i knew the film would be a step too far. I watched all these people just getting on with their day, walking around, making plans, seeing the 1pm screening of 1917 that i wasn't brave enough to do. Once upon a time i thought nothing of doing all of these things before my health nosedived!

IT'S OKAY TO FEEL THIS WAY. THIS WILL PASS.

Best laid plans ... I thought about how far I'd come. This is yet another CBT strategy which I find really empowering. Here Goes: Last year I’d have gone straight home and been very tearful and anxious about being cast adrift without a schedule or a plan. I would have felt hard done to and had to have had a gin to steady my nerves.

It is true that I always go door to door for appointments and usually have someone with me all the time or at least one way but here I am. Sometimes we are thrown a curve ball. These problems can scupper us or we can use them to try something new. I had got to the Showroom, ordered lunch and managed not to cry! I'd done something differently and survived.


I decided I'd earned coffee and cake too. The pecan brownie and soy latte were all they promised and when my lovely cabbie arrived, we chatted all the way home.

So on this day I was a shade braver. I hadn’t planned to be. But we are, at heart, problem solvers and today I was able to flex that muscle. Today my health issues were just a tiny part of me. They didn’t overwhelm me or stop me in my tracks. Using the strategies I've been learning through CBT and reading around the subject, I got through. Although plans changed, I did something I enjoyed instead. I just did my day differently and lived to tell the tale.

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