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...