The Black Dog, His Anxious Friend and Those Who Judge Them
Today I am writing again from deep withing the trenches of illness. But this time I am not battling the great war of physical illness. I am battling a different war … one on mental illness. I had hoped to get back to the more research type blogs. However I am so very deep in the trenches that I’m not certain I would have the required cognitive skills.
Tuesday was the start of the next phase for the treatment of my gut parasites and the beginning of a nightmare. It has also culminated in a huge step and a realisation of deep prejudices I was carrying, ones which were contributing to the mental illness stigma. Something I would never admit in public, well not until today and not without my keyboard to hide behind…not to mention the small circulation of a week old blog.
After starting what was to be a gentle liver cleanse on Wednesday, by 4am Thursday morning I was still wide awake, my resting heart rate in the ‘fat burn’ zone for the 5th hour straight. It was quite simply, one of the worst nights of my life. My personal tragedy being – I only need to look back weeks to find similar other ‘worst nights’ or days. I was constantly on the verge of vomiting and had spent as much time in the toilet as in bed. My anxiety was through the roof. I had tried to look the anxiety in the face. I practised my technique of embracing it, inviting it in. The idea is that this invitation is like befriending the bully; it should take the wind out of his/her sales. Well circa 2am I ‘befriended the bully’ and she punched me clean in the face. I invited anxiety in and boy did she come. She tore up my house, took all that mattered to me, and laughed as she left ….. ‘haha’ she said, ‘that will serve you right for inviting me over’. Will I do it again? Probably as I’ve learned the hard way if I lock the door, she smashes through the window with a meat cleaver.
I was trying to self-calm with all the facts; ‘inviting it in won’t really make it worse’, ‘even if it comes in it is self-limiting; your system can’t cope with more than eight minutes of a panic attack’. Well it turns out my system is amazing. Who else can lose 700grams (1.5lbs) weight overnight just with their mind? True story.
When these techniques failed I turned, in desperation, to every other trick in my anxiety/nausea/diarrhoea bag. I tried EFT (emotional freedom technique), hypnotherapy, meditation, mindfully sitting with it. I could not figure how much diarrhoea and nausea were causing the panic and how much it was the reverse. Somewhere in the wee small hours of this lonely dark night, I decided I needed to figure it out …. which of course is not even possible. So I gave up and starting figuring it was it a heart attack, kidney failure … surely it was … no-one could feel so ill and terrified if certain death was not at the door.
Anxiety is such a difficult thing to describe if you have never had it, and if you have; it needs no explanation.
Just imagine for a moment you are confronted in dark alley alone at night by someone larger and stronger with whatever weapon terrifies you most. Can you imagine that fear, call it up, get in touch with it …. nice … you’re doing great. Now image you are sitting on your couch on a warm Saturday afternoon and out of nowhere that same level of fear hits you. What is awful about this is when there is no perpetrator there is nothing to escape, no way to escape … wherever you go … there you are. It is for this reason that sufferers sometimes narrow the places they go, thinking they can control or avoid attacks. After all you would not return to that dark alley, would you? So what if your dark alley was work, or the supermarket, the hairdressers?
For me the only beauty in such dark nights is the dawn comes. So it did eventually Thursday, my anxiety had settled, my nausea was down to a point of just horrible as opposed to unbearable. Not yet enough to eat and start to regain that weight loss. I had no idea what way to turn next, I did not know if I could face another such night, my tenuous grip on sanity was slipping … I was hanging on to a cliff for dear life with no strength left. Should I stop the new treatment, push through…self-medicate with fine New Zealand Chardonnay?
A colleague of my doctor was kind enough to see me within a few hours. A silver lining is now knowing two great local doctors (should one suddenly retire). Many health professionals over the years have recommended medication for anxiety. Two things have stopped me one. Firstly, many were coming from the place that all my illnesses were in my head (this doctor was coming empathetically from a place that my mental illnesses were making treating my physical ones impossible). Secondly (this is the big realisation bomb that dropped for me) my own prejudice about mental illness. My own high and mighty attitude that I was just that touch better than others living with mental illness if I managed it by myself, naturally. After all … I am a qualified hypnotherapist, executive coach and writing a PhD that includes mindfulness don’t you know? I realised I felt more secure being a non-medicated ‘survivor’ than a ‘victim’ on medication. What an ugly thing to face about myself on this horrible day, when I was pretty low on processing epiphany energy. Epiphanies are best had on expensive yoga retreats after five days of downward dog at dawn and tedious repetitive mantras around the fire in place of wine o’clock.
So today I started one of two anxiety medications. I have started on a very low dose. The other is for emergencies such as the other night. In this process, I realise a third thing that has put me off medications, sheer terror (isn’t that ironic, yeah I really do think). Like the good girl I am – I read every word on the sheets the pharmacist gave me. People with panic disorder, health anxiety and generalised anxiety disorder SHOULD NOT READ SIDE EFFECTS LIST. My advice is getting someone you know and trust to read it and tell you what you should know, then stay the hell away from the brochure and Dr Google. Because it turns out the best way to get the side effects is to read them, that and having a neurotic disposition. Hence in the next few days I should expect suicidal thoughts, severe allergic reactions and a spot of mania….nice.
So naturally most of today I have actually felt I was going insane. I talk a walk around the park to try and calm myself down and avoid taking the ‘in emergencies’ medications as I am even more terrified of them after reading of people going shopping online and not remembering it, screaming at people, ending up in hospital or killing themselves (yes I went online too, I don’t take my own advice). So there I was walking around the park … and having an overwhelming feeling like I was walking the wrong way or on the ‘wrong side’. I felt I was actually sliding down the face of the cliff into a very dark hole. I was experiencing all the pain of Britney Spears without the money, good looks and future come back (go Britney, so nice to see, there is hope for the rest of us).
Then I realised that my mental illness fears are even bigger than my physical illness ones. That to lose my mind would be to lose my life. That my fears of being that out of control are larger than my fears of cancer or heart disease that sneak in at three am when the street is asleep and dreaming.
I’ve always thought of myself as a coper. I mean I have coped with so much and done so much within what I am coping with. I am a bit of a loner who likes to go off and do these battles by myself. But today standing at the health food shop counter and terrified I could not stand still long enough to get served and would need to run out screaming ……. today I felt a huge need to be surrounded, to be held, to be told it would be ok. Usually even in those “worst night of my life” episodes, I prefer to go it alone and feel it will pass …. but today … with my mind feeling like someone else was pushing it around … today I wanted to scream HELP ME, SAVE ME, GET ME OUT OF HERE!
Instead, I decided to lower the bar of what I set for myself today. I had been planning to do statistics techniques on my research data. So Instead my new goal was to achieve anything, buying the activated almond milk, ringing the cleaning company, having a shower, checking my emails and now updating my blog.
Today I am laid naked, broken and at one of my lowest ebbs. When I thought I could not tolerate any more pain in my life from my physical illnesses … when I had nothing left …. little did I know – I would need to go further, to fight a bigger, more terrifying fight. One that I have been hiding from, disowning, downplaying for decades. I had been so busy painting myself as looking good for managing anxiety without medication. I had not noticed quite how much of my life this terrified dog had taken. So busy painting myself as the ‘talented’ expert that helps others while being amazing enough to live an interesting life with multiple chronic illnesses. I am all of these things and none of them. I am anxious; I am terrified of tonight, of going out, of staying in, of travel, or social engagements, of symptoms, of vomiting, or nausea, of going insane, of anywhere without a toilet, of taking the next pill tomorrow, or upping the dose, or having a glass of wine (even when the Dr and pharmacist said it was safe on my dose). I am not the ‘survivor’ saying hey, just do what I did and all will be swell. Maybe one day I will get that privilege …. maybe I’ll get my moment in the sun holding a basket of organic fruit and vegetables on the cover of my own book (or perhaps a severed cows leg – given the paleo trend and all).
If anyone other than mum (so pleased you made it past the first post mum) is still reading – what can you do to chip away at the mental health stigmas that still exist? My aim in going public is to say (as much to myself) that I am not well both mentally and physically and I am ok, in terms of I am loveable. Big thanks to the many wonderful people in my life that remind me of this when I need it most. Also of course to HimIndoors for taking a day off his important job to get Miss10 off to school and me to the emergency appointment and the house tidied for the cleaners (yes, yes we have perfectionist issues that will be addressed at a later date).
Meanwhile go well in the direction of your dreams.
Footnote: If this post has raised issues for you or you are concerned about others please contact your nearest crisis centre. Country specific centres shown here: