Tuesday, September 01, 2009

So... here's the thing.

I have thought long and hard about blogging this, but given that a) (and I say this with some irony) my next book deals in part with a variety of mental health issues b) I think as a nation we are still far too good at brushing such issues under the carpet, and c) I thought it might help anyone who is going through/has been through similar, I have decided to lift the lid on the last six weeks, which rate as among the most peculiar in my life. Please feel free to look away if you think this is pile of self indulgent clap trap. I won't be offended, I promise...

I used to be a bit cynical about psychological issues - I always liked that joke in Crocodile Dundee, when Mick can't get his head round why everyone in the States is in therapy - where he comes from, if you have a problem, you tell Wally, he tells everyone, no more problem. I thought that for a lot of people going to therapy was a form of self indulgence, and it was certainly not something I would have considered.

That all changed eleven years ago, when a series of lifechanging events, some good, some not so good sent me spiralling out of control, and I realised I was suffering from a mild form of depression. I had never sought help after my father died, but my GP suggested bereavement counselling might help. I went for six weeks, found it every bit as excruciating as I'd expected, but did realise that I had been knocked off kilter by events, and that I would bounce back, which I duly did.

Five years ago, I found myself at my wit's end, feeling overwhelmed with the combined responsiblities of looking after the children, and mil. I took myself off to the doc again, and he prescribed anti depressants. I did take them for a short period, but on that occasion, the act of seeking help, was almost enough, and I found that in time I didn't need them.

I don't think I'm suffering from depression now, but I am feeling the effects of long term stress. I don't wish to sound like an aggrieved martyr or anything (because I don't view it like that), but Spouse and I are unusual among our peers in very soon after we became parents, we took on some of the responsibility of his parents, when my fil had a stroke. We had an eight month old baby, fil was in hospital for three months, and when he came out it was clear that they couldn't manage in their house. Fortunately we were able to find a flat up the road from us, which has been a great boon, and meant we have been able to be on hand and look after them both originally and mil now. We haven't been alone in this as Spouse's bil and sil are luckily also on hand, but as I'm the one at home, I do tend to do a lot of the day to day stuff. All of this, coupled with looking after four children has been at times quite stressful, particularly this year when mil has been very ill. (On the plus side, the children have seen a lot of their grandparents, and I know fil took huge pleasure from that, and mil still does, so it ain't all bad.) It is no wonder, though, that my body has now apparently said enough is enough.

When I came back from Menorca and saw my GP, I was so relieved that I wasn't about to instantly cark it from a massive coronary, I felt much better. I had some trusty propanalol (beta blockers) to take in case of adrenalin surges, I knew exercising, of which I do a reasonable amount, helped, and most of all I knew what was happening to me, which meant I could regain some kind of control of the situation. Wrong.

As it turns out the last three weeks have been a hideous hideous experience in terms of all my many many anxieties about life, some real, some imagined have exploded in my head and left me in a ridiculously heightened state of anxiety about absolutely everything.

Viz. We had a weekend with my family& some friends visiting the Globe to see Romeo & Juliet a couple of weeks back. Given that the Globe is my favourite place in London now alongside the Tower of London and I have been desperate to see a show there for ages, this should have been a great day out. And it was. For everyone else. For me, though I enjoyed it on one level, on another level there was an undercurrent of worry that ran like a hidden stream through my whole day, to the point at which I was talking about my writing to someone - something which absolutely does NOT make me anxious, and even that set me off.

The next day lots of family came to lunch. It was a beautiful sunny day. The kids had a blast in the pool and garden. We sat soaking up the sun in a relaxed and easy manner. I was thrilled to be with my siblings whom I don't see nearly enough of. And yet, that too was marred by the undercurrent of worry which persistently refused to go away.

The next week wasn't too bad. I had moments of anxiety, but as I wasn't doing a great deal, and not straying too far from home, it all felt manageable. So much so that on my follow up visit to the GP I felt emboldened to say that I felt my anxiety levels on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the worst, were at about 4. Which only goes to show how wrong you can be. On the Saturday, we did have a lovely family day out - one of the best of the whole holiday. We went for a long tramp across the downs, and ended up kite flying. Aha! I thought, I have found my happy place (a suggestion of my twin was to find my happy place and try and go there when the anxiety gets too much), and I have vanquished my undercurrent deep underground.

But the following day the undercurrent burst forth in a veritable flood. We went to visit Brooklands for the day, and I felt so bad I was reduced to surreptitiously blowing into a paper bag in the car hoping that the kids wouldn't notice. I had bargained without eagle eyed no 2 however. I tried to fob her off with a, there's nothing wrong with me (yeah, right) kind of conversation, but realising it panics her more not to know what's happening I've given her an edited version. Thank God for Friends. She knows all about panic attacks because Janis had one once apparently...

Last week then went from bad to worse. I was waking early overcome with crippling feelings of anxiety, which rode my body in waves. The days were spent staving off the anxiety, and trying to ignore the hammering in my chest, the tightness in my throat, and the prickling in my arms.
In desperation I turned to a relaxation tape my brother had kindly sent. Only to discover that when in the grip of intense paranoia about the workings of your body, you do not need to get taken to such a deep place of relaxation that all you can hear is the beating of your heart. I must be the only person in the world who feels more anxious after they hear a relaxation tape then before...

By Thursday I was at my wit's end. We were going away for the weekend, the whole thing was beginning to feel really debiliatating, and I didn't know how I was going to get through each day. So I rang my GP, who decided that I needed some low level (and non addictive antedepressants) to help me regain my balance. Producing too much adrenalin (if I've understood this right) creates a chemical imbalance, and depletes your cerontonin levels, which need some help to get restored.

Now. A few years ago, like I say, I'd have said no way to drugs of any description. Surely, I thought you can pull yourself out of things by willpower. People who succumb to anxious feelings are just giving in. However, now it's happening to me, I realise this just isn't the case at all. I can no more control my anxious feelings then I can fly to the moon. And what's worse is they're with me every minute of every day. Sometimes they come more to the forefront, at which point I am in hell, and sometimes they subside, but I'm conscious they are still there, ready to bite me on the bum when I'm not looking. I just can't function like that. And I can't afford to take weeks off to recover, because who'll look after the kids if I don't? I am fortunate enough that I can ask for help (something I am very bad at) from a whole group of supportive friends, but can't do that on a permanent basis. So I need something to get me through. And if that's a mother's little helper, then so be it. ANYTHING to stop feeling the way I have been for the last six weeks.

Unfortunately, the antedepressants haven't kicked in yet, so while we managed to have a nice time away, I spent some part of every night awake, drinking hot chocolate, and breathing into my wretched paper bag (I'm not even sure that works very well for me.) to try and keep my feelings at bay. Last night, however was off the scale. So it was back to the doc's this morning. He tells me it will take time, and the drugs haven't kicked in yet. But clearly the propnalol aren't working, so as a temporary measure I'm back on diazepan just to calm me down enough till the other drugs kick in.

Like I said, I'd never have gone for this option in the past, but I have realised being on the other side of this that the view is somewhat different from here, and nothing is as straightforward about it as I might have once thought. It's been an educative lesson in discovering that even though I have a happy life, and am blessed with a wonderful husband, beautiful children and good friends, I am not immune to things going wrong. It's difficult to accept you're ill when it feels like it's all in your head. But I am ill. And I will get better. I just need a little time...


Persephone said...

I was in the black hole of depression when I was 17, so had no idea what the hell was going on. For a few years, my elder daughter participated in university study for adolescent depression (as a control, I hasten to add, but given my history, we thought her participation might be a smart thing to do). Parental interviews were required as part of the study and I remember telling my interviewer: "I've been unhappy and I've been depressed. That's not the same thing."

By the same token, I doubt being worried or even being scared out of one's wits is the same as clinical anxiety. My unhappiness comes from without: fears for younger daughter and sorrow over having to live in Ottawa. Depression, even if it starts from an outside cause, gnaws from within. Am I being unspeakably presumptuous in thinking it's a similar situation with your trials as a member of the "sandwich generation" and your current anxiety attacks?

I haven't needed medical intervention (yet..), although my teen depression might have been resolved better with such, as it was, I came down with mononucleosis (glandular fever). However, we have two friends who have needed months, even years of sick leave as they battle with severe depression. Clearly, as you already know, it isn't all in their heads. Nor yours.

Lisa Rullsenberg said...

Get all the support you can, whether that be medication or talking support. having worked with students who are depressed, and alongside people experiencing stress, you probably will benefit from both. Moral support, and practical support in taking off your hands what they can (however small or temporary those contributions may be), are one thing; the medication to address the biological imbalances are another. Each complements the other.

Above all, do not feel you have to do this alone. Writing about these things publicly is hard, but you provide good justifications for your speaking out. And do not feel that what you say is 'self-indulgent': your voice is important, and in the cacophany of demands on you that is your life (as much as you usually cope and relish it) you need all the tools you can to allow you a space to speak about how you feel.
Much love

Cathy said...

My teenage son has struggled for several years with depression and very severe anxiety causing agoraphobia. He had medication, but the thing that ultimately worked best for him was CBT alonside the chemical assistance.

He is now out the other side and meds free. Although I suspect he will always be a slightly anxious adult, he is functioning well and picking up the pieces of his life and education.

Three years ago we could never have imagined he would get to this place and we are very proud of him. There is hope, just accept all the assistance you are offered, medical or otherwise.

Jane Henry said...

Thanks Persephone, Lisa and Cathy for your support.
Persephone, you've hit the nail exactly on the head, and it's not presumptuous in the slightest. Have always been prone to worrying but the level at which I am currently angsting about stuff is quite frankly ridiculous. And you're quite right, it comes from within. Think I am reacting to many years of worrying about other people, so now I worry about everything, even when I don't have to.

Lisa, aagh, got it in one too. I do relish my life normally, so it's bloody hard finding I can't cope,as there's the ridiculously overachieving side of me is shouting Failure, from the sidelines. I chose to blog about it because I suspect there are a lot of people like me, who think they've failed when they hit a wall like this. I know it's not true, but my head doesn't. I think it's worth talking about because so many people do suffer this way, and mostly in silence.

Cathy, that is very helpful, thanks. Am considering CBT, because I think it would be helpful to have some strategies to deflect the worries. It's good to know that it does work.

Nic said...

Thinking of you.

Anonymous said...

We've spoken elsewhere, but glad you're thinking of CBT. I know it works and think it would be helpful.


Mary said...

I've somehow stumbled on your blog and it is the strangest thing, because everything you describe has also been happening to me for the last six weeks, and I totally understand how frightening and out-of-control it feels. I too felt that anxiety was something that could be controlled, but my God, if I could control this I absolutely would!!!

I just wanted to wish you lots of luck in your journey and the knowledge that you're not alone - and if it helps, I repeat my eight year old niece's favourite saying: Courage. Honour. Bravery. It makes me laugh and it keeps me strong.

TeresaP said...

I picked up your book to help my recovery after a breast op having at the same time been diagnosed with a heart murmur picked up during the pre-op tests. What a wonderful bit of serendipity that I got half way through the book today and thought I must go and read this girl's blog. What a wonderful inspiration you are for having put your experiences here for us to share. I can't tell you how reading this has helped. Thank you. Teresa ps. the book is soooo good ;-)

Jane Henry said...

Hi Mary and Teresa, glad that this post helped you both. That's why I wrote it really, because I do think that this is something people are afraid to talk about. Some months later I am feeling much better, but not out of the woods quite yet.
And Teresa, so glad you like the book! Thanks for buying it.

Jane Henry said...

Hi Mary and Teresa, glad that this post helped you both. That's why I wrote it really, because I do think that this is something people are afraid to talk about. Some months later I am feeling much better, but not out of the woods quite yet.
And Teresa, so glad you like the book! Thanks for buying it.