The Relaxation Group
by Jackie Dinnis
My arrival at the group will be a minor miracle. Venturing out of my four walls into unfamiliar territory is like asking me to fly to the moon. The past few days have been spent rehearsing in my mind as an actor would walk through a forthcoming scene in a play. Being a glass half-empty type of person I spend my life constantly expecting the worst, but it still came as a slap in the face when the worst actually happened. I won’t bore you with the details because I no longer feel the need to tell everyone about my catastrophic life. Finally things all caught up with me and I am receiving treatment for anxiety. I hope the relaxation group will play a major part.
I am on the number 5 bus, after many hours of pondering, poring over bus timetables, taking practice rides in the car, and walking to the hospital. So many decisions to be made, and I feel incapable of even deciding whether to drink tea or coffee at the moment. My mind tries to think logically; if I walk, I am more in control of things. I know how long it takes me to make the journey, so there is no doubt what time I need to leave the house. The bus trip needs to be taken in two parts and will take just as long as walking, but I will be able to sit on the buses and not get hot. I could drive. I know where to park when I get there and it is only a ten minute drive on major roads with no tricky right hand turns into busy traffic. Everything is such a worry; there’s no rest for my mind at all. Who would have thought the treatment for anxiety would be so scary? In the end my decision is made for me. Since I find my car boxed in by visitors to the local park, there’s not enough time to walk and the bus is my only option.
I rush to the bus stop and sit by the window, then mentally count off the number of stops as we progress along the tree-lined avenue. No one sits beside me, so I can ignore the worry of having to ask them to move as I get off the bus by the town hall. That was the shorter journey, and I change to the number 5 bus to complete it. There are fewer people on this bus, the sun shines through the windows and I try to remember to keep breathing. As the bus slowly progresses through the town centre to the outskirts, I take the official looking letter out of my handbag, noting again the time of the appointment and where I am to enter the building. Somehow the actual going in is on my mind more than anything else, as once I am inside there will be no turning back. All the time I am still outside, I can decide to turn around and go back to the safety of my home. I have control.
I recognise the road we are on; it leads into the hospital grounds. I prepare to leave the comparative safety of the bus.
Going into the hospital is, in the end, no problem at all. Everywhere is clearly labelled and signposted. I am gently shown into the relaxation room and told where to sit. Did I really think they would make it difficult to gain entrance to a group designed for people suffering from anxiety?
On entering the relaxation room a quiet, steady background sound permeates the interior–the constant low sounds of water flowing and birds gently singing. It comes from a CD player on a shelf by the window. Panic rises along with my temperature. This sound of water might make me need the loo, and I have no idea where it is. I sit there, unsure whether or not to remove my coat, and if I do, where should I put it?
Welcome to my mind, the place of constant turmoil, one decision after another, worry piled on worry until it all topples over like a pile of laundry constantly overfilling the basket.
The sweat trickles down my top lip, and casually my tongue pops out from the corner of my mouth, mopping up the salty liquid. It’s no good, my coat will have to be removed, and I can feel everyone’s eyes on me as I struggle to get my arms out of the sleeves while remaining seated. Standing up would be one step too far at this stage; it would make me fill more space in the room and draw even more attention to myself.
Suddenly I notice a bubbling sound coming from the corner of the room, a kettle is having its own little panic attack on the table as it reaches boiling point. I want to rush over and switch it off, allowing it to calm down, but it automatically stops itself after a while. I wish I had one of those switches inside me.
I risk lifting my eyes, noting with some relief that the other occupants of the room all seem as mad as me. We’re all wearing clothes that could have come from a dressing up box at a nursery or the reject pile at a charity shop.
Worry, worry, worry. When will this group start? Looking around the room out of the corner of my eye, I see: twitching limbs; fingers scratching naked arms; tapping feet; crossed legs flapping uncontrollable; a horrible sense of loss of control.
‘Hello everyone, here we are then, and first it would be good to introduce ourselves–just our first names. I’m Tom.’
I don’t hear anyone else’s name, struggling to remember my own, saying it under my breath again and again until it comes to be my turn to speak. What is my name anyway, and who am I?
Jackie lives with her son in Brighton, England. After leaving school at 16 in 1974, she continued her education recently, studying at the University of Sussex and gaining a degree in Community Development. She now does what she wants to do which includes writing, researching her family history, watching Brighton & Hove Albion and enjoying her life.
Watch for another Honorable Mention story on Friday!