It’s been yonks since I wrote, yet again! This is partly because I have had an awful lot of freelance writing work on – which always takes it out of me more than editing – and partly because we are gearing up for our Big House Move. There has been a lot of packing happening in Casa Squidge!
The house move happens to coincide with the end of my talking therapies sessions: my last one is next Tuesday. I’ve been working on an Exposure and Response Prevention hierarchy to try and reduce my anxious responses / rituals to certain situations. My goal for the end of the sessions was to be able to clean out the chickens on my own, without my husband helping me, and without having to strip off all my clothes as ‘contaminated’ and take a shower afterwards.
To be honest, when I set that goal, I felt like it was pretty unattainable. At that point I was freaking out about salmonella on a daily basis. It was occupying a lot of my thoughts. I didn’t like Squidge or other children being out in the garden – I was worried that the chickens might somehow infect them with something. I hated going in the chicken run. I felt so dirty afterwards. I felt like the soles of my shoes and the palms of my hands were sort of glowing in my mind with all the bacteria they might have on them. It’s a weird way to describe it, I know – glowing – but it’s the best approximation of how I felt.
As I worked on my anxiety, I got a bit better with going in the run. I was able to go in and check on their food and water without getting worked up about it. In fact, somewhere around August, I was doing so well, that I figured I could just have a go at cleaning them out by myself.
This was a very bad plan.
I tried to ‘protect’ myself with a dust mask, but it didn’t fit properly and kept falling down, and also made my glasses steam up so that I couldn’t see properly. I broke a couple of eggs accidentally while I was raking out the straw, leading to a horrid sloppy yolky mess. I ended up hyperventilating, crying, shaking – oh god, it was so bad.
I went back to a lower rung on my hierarchy – letting my husband doing all the cleaning out, while I put in the clean straw afterwards.
Some time after the failed attempt, I spoke to my father-in-law about how hard I was finding looking after the chickens. He suggested that I buy myself a boiler suit that would protect my clothing, that I could just take off when I was done and chuck in the washing machine. This was a bloody brilliant suggestion. I bought one. Now I just had to summon up the courage to use it.
Well, this morning, I did it. My husband was out. Squidge was asleep. I got into my boiler suit, my gloves and my welly shoes. I let the chickens out of their pen to roam free around the garden, and I then I went into the shed and I got out my garden fork, rake and brush.
I monitored my anxiety levels the whole time. And you know what? I didn’t actually feel anxious at all. I felt a bit excited, actually. I took all of the old straw out of the hutch, and then I swept it out thoroughly. I didn’t have a scarf over my hair and I didn’t feel worried that it wasn’t protected. I put in some fresh straw, I topped up their feed, I scrubbed out their water dispenser and refreshed the water. I raked over the wood chip in their run.
Just as I’d finished, Squidge had woken up and I could hear him crying in his cot upstairs. I stepped into the laundry room, peeled off my boiler suit and put it straight in the washing machine. Then I washed my hands and went upstairs in the exact same clothes I had been wearing under the boiler suit, picked Squidge up, snuggled him, and got on with our morning together.
It’s funny. I found it so easy to clean out the chickens today that I can’t really see why I was such an anxious, hyperventilating mess just a few weeks ago. I almost feel like I can’t possibly have felt so awful – which makes me see how hard it can be for people who don’t suffer from anxiety to understand the behaviour of people that do! But that was me. I really did feel that horrendous. And I have worked really damn hard to feel as confident and as calm as I felt this morning.
I’m not saying I’m fixed! I’m still worrying about things. But I am noticing A LOT how things that would have bothered the hell out of me before, aren’t bothering me now. Things like – the other week, I found grit in my bottled water. Previously would have immediately panicked: What if it’s poisonous? I should stop breastfeeding Squidge until I am sure I’ve not had any ill effects. What I actually did was did a quick Google to see if anyone else had experienced the same thing, then emailed the company a week later for their thoughts on what it could be (OK, still maybe a bit more of a reaction than your average person, but not unreasonable). The company said it was just mineral precipitation. Problem solved; no sleep lost.
I feel really good about myself and I feel really proud that I will be able to go to my final counselling session next week and tell my lovely counsellor that I achieved my top goal in my ERP hierarchy. Go me!