mother’s little helper

Just a quick update today – I’ve decided to mix psychotherapy (CBT) with medicine. My doctor has prescribed 20mg of citalopram, just to give my brain some time to cool off whilst I start to work the CBT hard. Interesting feeling. Jaw hurts from clenching. Teeth chattering. Feels like I’m on coke without the exciting inane chatter. Pupil dilated on one side. 

It’s so FUN being mentally ill!

Jesting aside, I hope I can a) stick it out and b) be improved by the meds. I ummed and aahed about it for a while – and I want to discuss why in a longer post, perhaps tomorrow – but hopefully this is the right path. It might take a while but we shall see!

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whatever you taught me, I didn’t believe it – the power of the unspoken word

I can think of at least three examples recently where I’ve taken a positive statement, focussed on it, and managed to turn it into a negative statement, loaded with connotations about my health and my diagnosis. This is my anxious mind playing devious tricks on me – and perhaps it’s something you can look at whether you’re doing when you’re feeling glum. My examples…

Significant

After my MRI, the staff at the private hospital went out of their way to get me the results as soon as they could. They really were excellent, having seen how anxious I was, and gave me a call in the car to confirm to me that my MRI was clear and that there was nothing to worry about. My anxiety lifted, reassurance gained, I had an entirely pleasant weekend – not clear of symptoms but certainly they were less prevalent. My MRI was clear, right?

Wrong. Sort of. The next time I was at the doctors, she produced for me a copy of the letter she had received from the hospital, meaning to reassure me. The exact words of the letter stated ‘no significant abnormalities have been found and the scan of the eyes and brain are reassuringly clear’. Now, your average person would see that and delight in the fact that the thing they were worried about (MS, in my case) had been ‘ruled out’ and they could progress in their life. However, I saw one word: ‘significant’. To me, that means that abnormalities HAVE been found, but they’re small, and someone has made a judgment call, and what if they are wrong, what if they weren’t paying attention – and then the doubt begins. See how backwards the thinking is? I don’t take comfort from the ‘reassuringly clear’, I take worry from the ‘significant’. My husband tells me they have to say ‘no significant findings’ as opposed to ‘all clear’ to cover their backs, and that I was being daft. Luckily, I didn’t succumb to questioning the diagnosis, but it proved an interesting mirror in which to see how I was thinking at the time.

 A remote possibility

 The second occurred on a website which has been a great comfort to me during my health anxiety period. I posted a good old moan about my constant shaking, and despite getting lots of reassuring thoughts and good wishes, someone posted ‘For someone who is 27, Parkinsons is a very remote possibility’. Again – most people would read that for the well-meaning, kind gesture that is clearly is – someone saying that the chances of me having Parkinsons is minute. However, to me, it’s almost a confirmation that I could have it. I ignore the ‘minute’ and only see ‘possibility’. I ignore the fact that the possibility is tiny, and that it’s equally as possible I could win the lottery tomorrow (god I hope so, imagine all the CT scans and MRIs that would buy!). This one took a good hour or so of rational thought before I filed it away and told myself to stop being such a fool.

Speck

The final moment came at the opticians – who, after spending almost an hour performing all manner of tests on my eyes, declared them to be in good working order with no concerns. When he was pushed (by me) as to what could be causing my vision problems, he pointed out there were two tiny specks of nerve damage at the back of the eye (NOT on the optic nerve, my fear!) and almost everyone has some – and it would take my eyes a little time to adjust. Clearly, as my body is in a sensitised state, this is very true. Did it matter? Did it buggery. I could have thought about the millions of nerves around my eyes that were working well, but instead I ummed and aahed and looked sad in the car about something pretty much everyone has got or will get as they get older. That’s why people tend to need glasses as they get older – the eyes do weaken.

What can I take from all of this?

All three occasions I’ve taken good news, wrenched out a negative aspect (even where there was no such aspect) and turned it around into something I can worry about. Each time I’ve been able to be sensible – eventually – and accept the good news, but how many more times can I do that to myself before I start believing my own doom-and-gloom view of the world, and the ‘good news’ will not filter through? Well balls to it. I might be health-anxious but I need to take a moment or two every now and then to say NO to over-analysing words and meaning and simply just to concentrate on the positive.

So with that in mind: hooray for my clear MRI, thanks muchly to the kind souls on the forum I visit for their well-meaning and generous words – and thank f**k my eyes are alright. Phew!

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warning: self pity approaching

I confess that, somewhat unusually, I am struggling really hard today to accept that my two ‘symptoms’ are just anxiety related. I haven’t run through a full litany of tests yet on my legs or my shakes but I have had a few. I had an MRI of my brain and eyes and it came back with no significant abnormalities. I’ve also seen an opthamalogist who said my eyes were in a good state of health. I have to wait until May to see a neurologist unless I pay privately, and my partner can’t support that because we’re trying to save money.

Basically, I have two constant, non-abating symptoms – a full body shake, and problems with my left leg.

The shake is like a constant hum, which gets worse towards the middle of the day, meaning I’m physically shaking hard. This shaking is also affecting my vision in that my vision shakes.

The second symptom with my leg is the one that is concerning me most. I have a constant ‘dead’ feeling in the leg, like it is heavy and I’m having to almost pull it along. Occasionally it will go to pins and needles or a very sharp ache right behind the knee.

Now – I am going through a period of health anxiety, I know that. I am trying to control it through CBT, medication and deep-breathing.

The reason I am struggling is twofold. These symptoms are constant, non-changing – they don’t disappear when I’m distracted or calm or even deep in thought, but they’re always there. I’ve had anxiety before and it manifested in quick breath and a racing heart and I ‘knew’ I was anxious and thus I could calm down. This time, I actually feel pretty calm, but because it is a constant nag at me. I’m not constantly scanning my body for new symptoms and I am going out of my way to fight this head-on, but when it hurts to walk and hurts to see I just feel depressed and down. I try to be jovial and I can’t keep it up. My partner has been very supportive but I feel like I’m pushing him away with my constant moaning and queries.

Bit sick of life, to be honest. I know that is ridiculous but that is the way the mind works. I am off to the doctor tonight not to talk to him about shakes or my leg but to ask him for drugs to calm that mind of mine down.

M

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salvation lies within

a quick post today, because it’s actually been a good day. Updating my thought record at work shows that I was pretty much fine until about 1pm, until I started jiving and jumping about. Coping strategy? I’ve asked for a quiet room to be given over to me so that I can ‘meditate’. By meditating, I mean lying down, doing my deep breathing exercises, and calming down. 

Admittedly, the room I’ve been given is the shower room, and lying on the floor (albeit a very clean floor) in my work clothes makes me feel like a bit of a fruitloop, but it’s a good example of doing something to break up the routine of the working day and to stop my worries head-on. Give it a go. It didn’t work 100% – I was still fixated on my shaking, but if I had sat at my desk moaning to myself, I would have been MUCH worse.

Oh! Something else. The Husband and I decided to try going along to a proper meditation class this evening, held at the local Buddhist centre. It was…interesting! I have to confess, I’m a terrible cynic about these sort of things, and the fact that I was sat next to a lady with the most horrendous smelling socks did little to prove me wrong. That said, she was probably sat there looking at me in my work shirt sniffling and snorting through my blocked nose…! Ah well. We sat for an hour, doing different ‘silent’ breathing exercises, and it worked! I came away feeling quite relaxed, even if my mind did keep drifting away to various matters when I was trying to concentrate on breathing. Nevermind, I’m only human – if anything, I can take away some small solace in the fact that I didn’t get too relaxed and break wind in the room.

* one thing – I originally meant to drop five English pounds into the ‘generosity’ bowl as a thank you. I couldn’t find that in my bag, so I dropped a load of coins into the bowl instead. Only when we were outside did the Husband tell me I’d donated about 60p and the wrapper from a Quality Street Caramel Cup. Crikey. I have to go back next week too – I bet we get given the crappy cushions to sit on as karma!

It’s not all bad, folks.

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yesterday, when I was mad: the importance of perspective

One of the key problems with health anxiety is how quickly you can lose perspective. Anyone suffering from anxiety knows how quickly bleak thoughts can cloud the mind, and then it becomes a struggle to rationalise your symptoms, leading to a vicious circle of not being able to see any hope / point in fighting your anxiety.

I had a good example of this today. Despite having a good weekend, with few ‘symptoms’, I had an almighty wobble. The husband and I had decided to go for an afternoon walk in a nearby forest (no rude shenanigans…I’d only end up getting a prolapsed rectum or severe knee burns or suchlike). This forest path is hilly, covered in mud, and I was wearing my rubbish trainers that I use for city walking. Prior to this, we’d spent pretty much the entire weekend sitting around watching TV and relaxing (key word: sitting!).

During the forest walk, I noticed that my legs felt heavy and they were aching at the knees, which was a key trigger for my MS worries. I’ve actually managed to put the MS fears to bed, and I’ll talk about that in a later ramble. This set off a little ‘ticking’ in my mind – there’s something wrong…what is it…whilst you’re here, what about your eyes…are they shaking…your arms feel weak too…must be something serious…and so on.

This is where the snowball starts. ‘Normal’ me would have realised that my legs were aching because it was muddy, we had hardly moved all weekend, we were up and down stairs and hills and banks and my shoes were crap. The Husband even had the same thing in his legs. However, ‘anxious’ me took one symptom and health-anxiety thought, took it home with him, and dwelled, which ultimately culminated in a crying fit (fairly unusual for me – I’m not a crier!). The snowball was now an avalanche, completely out of control – I was crying because I thought there would be no escape – that either way, I’m doomed to a miserable life – if I have a muscle-wasting disease, I would be in pain – and if I haven’t got such a disease, then my symptoms are all in my head and THEN there really is no escape as I don’t have a cure. Then what happens? The anxiety REALLY blows up and that one symptom becomes THIS trainwreck of thoughts:

  • illness or anxiety means I’m upset and depressed, which means…
  • …I can’t cope with work, which means…
  • …I’ll have to stop working and relying on my partner for an income…
  • …which means he’ll end up resenting me…
  • …which means I’ll end up alone, with no money, and only the voices in my head to chat to (shouldn’t joke, bit of a phobia about schizophrenia too)…
  • …and then I’ll die from a horrid disease.

See how the anxious mind works? My CBT (which I may add, means an entirely different thing in the gay world – no wonder I was worried about starting it) teaching suggests that I am catastrophising – taking one simple situation and creating the worst case scenario in my head, and then worrying about that. The thought of dying alone, broke, trapped in a useless body terrifies anyone – so someone with anxiety is naturally going to over-react to it (or at least, I do).

So the key here is – perspective. Rather than looking coolly at the facts, I decided to let my emotions grab hold of me. There’s an even more delicious twist to the whole situation – prior to the walk, I was telling my husband that I was feeling better, and I was. I hadn’t noticed my eyes shaking, my legs aching as much or any of my usual anxious feelings. Did I remember that when I set off on my wobbles? No.

I know I’m a lucky person. Always have been. Stable upbringing, relatively clever, own my own house, fantastic caring husband. I would even go so far as to say I’ve still got my health, even if I’m determined to tell myself I haven’t. When I was wailing, my husband broke me off mid-ramble and told me bluntly that I was sounding spoilt, and I was. Whingeing about what COULD happen rather than looking at what HAS happened. Not realising what I’ve got but bemoaning what I don’t. There’s a strong element of truth in that, and whilst it won’t work for everyone, perhaps the next time I’m stringing out on a health anxiety attack, I’ll try and cool down by evaluating what I have got healthwise (no problems with my hearing for example, and I can grow a mean beard) as opposed to imagining what I have got and don’t want. 

Ultimately, it comes down to one core truth. I’m worried that I have Parkinsons, so there’s two outcomes here:

  1. I have Parkinsons – in which case, there’s absolutely bugger all I can do to stop or halt it – what will be will be, and I just have to wait until it’s confirmed by a doctor then I have to suck it up and deal with it; or
  2. I don’t have Parkinsons, or something equally as horrible, and these ‘symptoms’ are all in the mind, or at least I’m attaching an artificial and dangerous importance to them to try and prove my ‘crazy’ theory. In which case, I deal with the anxiety. The what ‘if’ question of what happens if I treat my anxiety but I DO actually have Parkinsons – well, so what – nothing I can do about it. 

So what have I learnt today? If I’ve got something now, there’s sweet FA I can do about it. There’s two lessons about perspective here – the initial perspective of remembering that I was feeling physically OK before I started my ‘wobble’, and the longer-term perspective that my life isn’t going to fall apart, whether I’m ill or not. It will take time, certainly, to fix whatever is wrong, but I have plenty of it.

I know this all relates to me and won’t work for everyone, but I hope it gives some solace to at least one person. 

M

 

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hey, remember that time I had: HIV

I can pinpoint when my health anxiety got out of hand. At the beginning of January, I put myself into a situation where I could have contracted HIV. The chance was utterly remote – millions to one (in fact, I don’t think there has ever been a situation where someone has contracted HIV during the ‘risk encounter’ that I went through) but, partly because I couldn’t talk about it, it snowballed.

HIV, and the symptoms of an HIV infection, tend to present themselves on average within 18 days, and nearly always before six weeks is over. To put this into perspective, I started googling about the symptoms of HIV a day after the ‘event’. Symptoms include a sore throat, unusual rash on your trunk, swollen glands, a dry cough. I hadn’t really given HIV much thought until I read about the symptoms, and then suddenly, boom – I had HIV. 

Or so I thought.

My partner and I were going on a long weekend, and I remember quite clearly driving along the road, feeling my glands swelling up, my throat becoming dry and getting an itch across my chest. Remember: this was around two days after the possible risk. I would be a medical miracle to present that quickly, but present I did. I scoured the internet in secret, looking at diagnosis stories and ticking off each symptom in my head. On the fifth day, I broke down and confessed to my partner how I was feeling. As ever, he was patient and kind, and calmed me down, but still my mind raced.

I booked the earliest possible test I could – a 10 day diagnosis test, and until then, I barely slept, thought of anything else, and walked home each day like I’d been told for sure I was certain to have AIDS. It’s funny – I spoke to several people who all knew more about it than me, who said I was being foolish to worry in the first place, who provided scientific evidence that it would not be a problem, but I tuned them all out. After the 10 day test came back negative, I cooled off – and then again when I had a 21 day test. Negative.

But here is the thing – up until that point, I was CERTAIN I had HIV. I thought, when I was waiting twenty minutes for the result to come back and the doctor hadn’t come back to me after 22 minutes, that he was steeling up to tell me I had been unlucky. I had to ask how the test worked just so I could see for myself that the little pink line had formed. I had emailed my partner to apologise for putting myself at risk and that ‘this was my punishment’.

In the end: I was fine. 

What did I learn? Aside from the fact that I can’t put myself into that situation ever again, and nor would I want to, I learnt the power of the mind. I saw the symptoms list, remembered them, and worked my way down the list. I always say I was only two steps away from shaving in a moustache as a Freddie Mercury tribute. Until someone could tell me for certain that I didn’t have HIV, I had it – and I was suffering with it.

Now, I barely think about it. I’ve been told I am at the tiniest possible risk, and I’ve been reassured that I don’t have it due to my tests. So: HIV – solved!

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first steps – bet I fall over

Now then. First of all, this is another ‘health’ blog and I hope to try and keep my whingeing to a minimum. It’s a pet project of mine to give me something to focus on when I’m feeling anxious or nervous. I suffer from health anxiety, which means every twinge and ache is clearly going to be cancer or AIDS or something terrifying. My aim is to talk about what I fear I have, and then when I see that I have moved on from those symptoms, I can keep an eye on what my triggers are, and how I’m dealing with it. I hope to keep it light-hearted.

Well…maybe not too light-hearted, what with my irregular heartbeat…

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