Entering the ogre’s lair …

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not calling my GP an ogre, he’s surely a nice enough chap, but after the events of last year, going to see him again was about as scary as standing before a ravenous ogre with a particular taste for ‘Hearts’ about my size and shape.

The only available appointment was at 10am. Any appointment before 11 always presents additional challenges because my morning routine is lengthy due to the requirements of my Bile Acid Malabsorption and also issues around sedation, pain and mobility that are particularly problematic when I wake. I made it past those, and past anxiety around getting out for the first time in four months – too complex to detail.

‘Debriefing’ afterwards, my advocacy worker, who accompanied me, commented that there was marked difference in my GP’s response to my discussion of my mental health and of my physical health. He said nothing in response to the former. She said his expression could’ve said … well, what do you want me to do about it? By contrast, presented with physical symptoms he leapt into action, examined my abdomen, listened to my chest and took my blood pressure … twice. He ordered tests, including an E.C.G. and prescribed several medications, and appeared thorough.

Discussing a gastric issue, I described my symptoms and said that I’m aware that my weight gain may have caused them or at least be a contributing factor. He agreed, said that I was right and that it would help if I could do something about that. I didn’t pick him up on it, and perhaps I should have done. I did feel disappointed, if not a little angry, given that I have an eating disorder and that I asked for help – clearly and directly – so many times last year and yet I received none. I understand that he cannot ‘magic resources out of thin air’ where services have been reduced or cut, but I really would appreciate an acknowledgement both of much I am trying to help myself, and that I haven’t been offered any help or support. My weight and related issues will be being discussed when we next meet and I hope then to have the confidence to say that.

I’ve blogged and tweeted recently about my ‘flaring’ skin. A first episode occurred around five or six weeks ago when I woke to find my eyes puffy and my skin reddened and itchy. I suspected eczema but noted that the usual emollients gave me a burning sensation. It was annoying and didn’t look great but it wasn’t horrendous and it cleared up after a few days. A couple of weeks later I had another episode but this time the skin around my eyes was more swollen than puffy and I suspected an allergic reaction, but I couldn’t pinpoint what might have caused one. On Wednesday last week I woke again to a red face and swollen skin around my eyes. Like me, my GP suspected eczema or an allergy and he prescribed hydrocortisone cream.

In the hours after my appointment, my face became increasingly red and a little more swollen, by the evening it was burning which felt very unpleasant and was difficult to manage. The following day I awoke and gasped in shock when I looked in the mirror and saw that my whole face was swollen. I could barely open my right eye and the left was also affected. The areas where I’d felt the intense burning sensation – mostly around my mouth and under my eyes – now felt very tight and had become extremely dry. I was able to speak to my GP on the phone later that morning and he opted to additionally prescribe an anti-histamine and a specialist moisturising lotion. All of the new medications were delivered on Friday evening by the delightful ‘Pharmacy Bob’, who was concerned about me, with my bright red, ballooned visage. The swelling slowly reduced over the weekend and the redness decreased somewhat, then my face began to peel, everywhere but for the top half of my forehead and the sides of my face, and continues to do so. I have been liberally applying moisturiser and, thankfully, today when I had to go out to an appointment with one of the practice nurses, it looks better than it did.

I have some concerns about the cause of this skin issue related to my other diagnoses, but I’ll blog about that once I have the results of the tests that the GP has ordered.

I asked my GP if I might return to using my treadmill as I want to do, promising that I would not try to run before I could walk. I am MUCH heavier than I was when I took up running in 2014. I have no idea what I will be able to achieve this time around. Building up to being able to do a brisk walk will at least help me to lose weight, it may be that I will not be able to run until I’ve done so. I wondered if I might be advisable to wait until the tests have been carried out, but the GP said that he’s happy for me to start before that, so long as I’m careful.

 

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Getting my s*it together, as I believe is the expression, and publishing a post!

WordPress loves to remind me how many posts I’ve drafted but not published. I know this, dear WordPress, it’s not for the want of trying. Today, I decided that I would prioritise writing a complete post AND publishing it, over just about everything else.

My current situation is so complex and there are so many things happening that it’s impossible to explain it in a few lines, even though writing about it and sharing that writing is very helpful to me. Doing so takes a lot of time and even more energy, and ‘spoons’, that’s chronic illness shorthand for energy and ability to function, click the link for an easy explanation), are currently in very short supply.

Yesterday, I managed to shower and dress in order to be ready to answer the door to receive a delivery from a parcel courier. I have had to force myself to allow ‘Pharmacy Bob’ (who I’m certain is the antithesis of his more famous namesake) to see me in smelly dishevelment but fear negative judgement too much to ever make a habit of it with others. Afterwards I had to get back into bed because I was so physically depleted by chronic fatigue and pain. I longed to be productive, there were things to do, so much I wanted to do; it was a struggle to limit the impact of my lack of capacity on my mood. I managed to get a bowl of cereal and kept hunger at bay for the rest of the day with dry crackers, risking a flare up of a painful stomach issue that occurs if I get too hungry. That seems to have been triggered when struggling so much last year I went, at worst, eight days surviving on only sips of water. (I ended up in A&E some weeks later with urinary retention, a complication thereof, which is, I discovered, a medical emergency.) I didn’t sleep after my return to bed, despite having only managed a little over three hours the previous night, but I rested and by evening, had at least the capacity to watch the BBC Question Time election special and engage in some lively political ‘repartee’ on Twitter, as it aired!

I’m aware that to some people that much of this post could sound like I’m moaning, feeling sorry for myself, demonstrating narcissism, or focusing on the negative. Actually, anyone really getting to know me understands that I am relentlessly positive and also hugely enthusiastic about grabbing life by the horns and making the most of it. Call me a snowflake, but sometimes it hurts to be thought of as otherwise.

We so often shy away from hearing difficult stuff, we hyper-focus on the positive, often because we realise the difficulty or horror of something, and perhaps that a positive outcome may not be possible, and sometimes we don’t know what to do or we can’t deal with that so we shut it down, don’t really listen and we fire out the positive platitudes.

I love blog comments, tweets and interactions in general. I really do. I love hearing from you. Please just don’t tell me to be positive, if you’re tempted, even though I know that you mean well. If you want to be supportive, hear me. Tell me that you understand that I’m facing grim circumstances. Tell me that you appreciate my determination to try to keep going. Offer help if you’re able, and I appreciate capacity for this can be limited in all sorts of ways, anything from a friendly word on a postcard, a poem or a film you think I might love, or a chat to a ‘care package’ or a visit. I’m fighting the urge to delete that last line – and I’m going to leave it there however uncomfortable it makes me feel, the reasons for that are for another post.

I’d woken, yesterday, with a very red, swollen and itchy face. It’s the second time that’s happened in the space of a month, but it hadn’t ever happened prior to that. I’ve had eczema, relatively mildly, since I was child, although as a child my family didn’t recognise it as such. I was screamed at when I scratched, punished if I dared to get blood on my nightclothes or bedding, and asked if I had fleas. It’s only really been in the last few years, since I entered my forties, that I’ve begun to experience severe episodes of eczema, at first on my hands, later on other parts of my body, and then on my face, particularly around my eyes. At first I assumed that this month’s sudden flare up was eczema, only the worst to date. The skin was red, itchy, and a little scaly. The area around my eyes was also puffy and swollen. I used the usual emollient treatment for eczema but it burned and felt sore. It took several days for my skin to begin to settle and clear up. The episode that began yesterday got me thinking. Severe redness and swelling/puffiness were the main issues, the majority of the area was not itchy and it isn’t scaly. I suspect I’ve developed an allergy to a skin product that I’ve happily used for some time, and is in fact the only thing I found that actively helps to reduce the impact of my Acne Rosacea. (Yep, I’ve got that too. Apparently, chronic conditions like to party together.) I’ve only used the product twice recently, the night before the two reactions. Phooey! I would get it checked out by a doctor or a pharmacist – but getting to see either is an issue just now, one that I’m working hard to surmount – more on that, again, in another post.

My fingers are also being attacked by pompholyx, and feel as though they’re getting more raw and painful to use by the second. I also have the more usual eczema on the rest of my hands, although that flare up does, mercifully, seem to be easing. Added to that I’ve had a infected thumb for a few days, and I’ve had an extensive flare up of something – again, I think this is eczema – on my neck and chest for several days. My skin is a rebellious teenager – raging out of control.

My ‘spoon count’ is generally very low just now because a series of challenges including bereavements, divorce, low income, the emergence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – involving flashbacks, dissociation, nightmares, depression and suicidal feelings, and the absence of sources of support. These have left me unable to maintain the rigorous regime of self management that keep me ticking over as best as I possibly can while still living with chronic illness – that’s ongoing illness for which there is no cure – it’s not my fault I got it, it’s just something that can happen to people. I’d barely been near a doctor bar the odd routine visit until it happened to me, then suddenly my medical notes looked like War and Peace in triplicate.  Chronic illness can become acute and be life-threatening, often it’s debilitating and life-altering. It may not kill you but it can decimate your life.  My self management regime includes physiotherapy exercises (very many ‘reps’ per day), graded exercise, diet management, medication, meditation, and a lot more. Without that rigorous regime, and with added stress, difficulty, lack of available support etc, the conditions flare up and begin to rage. It’s fair to say that I’m far from at my best just now … she said in the best tradition of understatement :-D!

Today, I’ve managed to shower and dress in order to receive a further package. Beyond that I’m prioritising this blog and keeping in touch with friends online because isolation is a major issue just now that’s jeopardising my safety. More on that too in another post!

Taking a break just now to nip the loo stole another a ‘spoon’ because, as is often the case, I needed to clean it due to the, shall we say, explosive emissions associated with the condition Bile Acid Malabsorption. Sometimes I leave it a while, when just getting to the loo was challenge enough, sitting on the fear that someone somehow will want to use it in the meantime!

I have no compunction about discussing toilet ‘doings,’ pain, ‘oozings’, ‘leakages’, ‘blisterings’ and boils, despair, compulsive binges and skin picking, and urges for self destruction; I make no apology for doing so. That’s not to say that it’s easy to do. It can be really difficult because you’re often met with negative judgement and a lack of empathy. It’s not the most fun when you’re positive, enthusiastic and determined in the face of adversity, hearing that you’re lazy, boring, narcissistic, not trying hard enough or ‘milking’ the system …

I believe that education, communication and understanding of experiences outside of our own are vital to society, and speak and share accordingly.

I need to have something to eat today. I can make a bowl of porridge, but if I want to eat more than that then I will have to cook more extensively. I have the ingredients to make a veggie chilli ‘non carne’, but it will require a lot of ‘spoons’. I hope to have a phone chat with a friend later. I also hope to manage to do a load of laundry and ‘reboot’ (empty and reload) the dishwasher. I’ve yet to have a drink (Edit: I’m drinking a cup of tea as I do a final read through) and, much to my discomfort, I left my bed unmade to save a ‘spoon’, but finally I have something to publish, and another step on the road to telling my story has been made.

This has taken longer to write and waaay more ‘spoons’ than I hoped. Even telling you where I am just now, with little mention of how I got here takes an age. Arrrrgh! Admittedly, fear of people not ‘getting it’ probably does lead me to say more than I need.

Thank you for reading, I really appreciate it. I hope to continue with more frequent, shorter posts. Things are happening. I have a lot to say! x

 

Silence Is Not Golden

I’m waiting for Bob, the smiley man from the pharmacy, to deliver my weekly package of Fibromyalgia medication. Only he’s not so smiley anymore; instead he looks both disconcerted and slightly disgusted, faced each week as he is now with my shambolic self; undressed, unwashed and sometimes smelly. 

I automatically summon a smile and good manners, but with my increasingly poor dental hygiene and dead-eyed dissociation neither can offer much reassurance. 

I’m unsure as to whether it’s a fear of intruding or an absence of community spirit that prevent him, in recognition. of my dramatic deterioration, asking if I am OK or if I need anything.

Weeks ago I couldn’t have dreamed of answering the door, allowing someone to see me in such a state, with Bob it’s become the norm. 

His deliveries have always taken only a moment or two, perhaps because in this largely ‘permit-only’ zone, he is parked on double yellow lines below, or perhaps his speed merely reflects efficiency. I’d guess his age to be beyond that of average retirement. He has a handsome, healthy appearance and sprints up the stairs to my second floor flat with the ease of a teenager. In the wake of my escalating disarray, he’s shaved seconds off his time. 

I did write for several hours on Sunday and into Monday, working on that significant post, mentioned here. I am trying to tell the story of the past year. It looks as though it’s to be set out in two parts, with the first giving background, context; setting the scene. The second a planned to be a bullet pointed list giving details of each trauma as they came, in rapid fire succession. 

I’d have said perhaps that each bullet left clear entry and exit wounds. They passed through and I carried on, like cinematic villains or monsters that just won’t lie down and die, but continue to advance while riddled with bullet holes. 

Now, I wonder about the impact of those bullets. I see now that they must have torn me apart inside  I knew I had been hit, repeatedly. I didn’t ignore it and I did ask for help … repeatedly … but none came. 

I think I was shattered. I realise I was silenced as surely as though a bullet had sliced through my vocal chords.

Bob has just made his delivery, the door is locked once more. My focus is now solely on completing this piece of writing, catching the words as they flow. 

I know that it feels good to write like this – as I couldn’t for so very long. Writing for me is like receiving a life-giving blood transfusion. I’m not sure I can assess the quality of this writing but it feels very good! Instantly I fear that must mean that it is in fact far from that. Yet it’s as though I’ve tapped into a natural spring that flows with exuberant ease. Clear. Fresh. True. It flows, seemingly without effort, almost certainly without strain. 

It’s as though it has to be written, would write itself if it could, and that I’m merely a conduit. Except I am connected to these words, they are telling my story.

On Sunday the pace of progress was rather more sluggish. The flow murky and stilted, like a tap turned on for the first time after the supply has been turned off, to allow the water company to attend to a burst pipe.The cloudy flow splutters, disgorges a flurry of debris into the sink. The tap-turner’s nose wrinkles in distaste.

I found the writing process increasingly stressful. I couldn’t tap into the feelings associated with the traumatic events of the past year without experiencing increasingly acute distress. I determined to press on feeling that this work was vital, the key to progress. I felt that if I could find the words here then, perhaps, I could find the words out there

With ‘part one’ nigh on complete, I reviewed and edited it until I could take no more. I wanted to publish and see the achievement of at least 50% of the task completed, but something held me back. The words felt forced, although they were not inaccurate, they did not feel true. Perhaps that makes no sense? 

The fog was closing in again. The clearing where I’d stood while I blogged for those few days last week, swallowed up. I was left with only terror and desolation for companions. I imagine their laughter deadened by the cloudy cloak but still perceptible. They roared at my gullibility, my willingness to hope that there might have been a way out. 

I soon as I try to write or speak about the trauma of the past year, the flow becomes stilted and murky, and then it stops. 

I was schooled in silence. As tools of the trade go, it’s pretty essential to an abuser. Without it they must rely on apathy or disbelief on the part of anyone hearing, or else they themselves must rely on the tool of discredit to save their skin. When the reality of my family life was finally disclosed, well into adulthood,  to a locum GP, the only one to act on suspicions, and with the gentle telling that followed that this was abuse and I didn’t have to live like that anymore, I knew. I knew that I had to learn to open up, that to begin to heal I had to tell. I did so. 

So, last year, I kept going, bullet holes and all, until a small event on the 13th of February this year (I’m not superstitious, the date is purely coincidental) became a monumental trigger. 

Having concluded that I should hold off publishing ‘part one’, on Monday this week, an hour before I was due to receive a visit from my advocate I sent a desperate, terror-fuelled email cancelling my appointment. I was and remain petrified of the consequences of speaking out. I’ve lost count of how any times I’ve cancelled in recent weeks. 

All I can say now is that among the traumas of last year was an incident in which I disclosed significant trauma and detail of significant risk to myself to two trusted professionals. I was not believed, and lies were told about me. I was not treated with respect but rather with contempt. I was mocked. I was refused support. I was left sobbing like I’ve never sobbed before, traumatised and feeling dirty in a way that I hadn’t felt since the abuse that occurred within my family.

The whole event had an element of the surreal about it. It was such an appalling abuse of power, a disregard for professional standards and duty of care.so shocking, that it was difficult to take in that it really was happening. To make matters worse the incident happened in my own home, the only safe one I’ve known. 

I don’t know how I’ve managed to write parts of this post. I can feel both shame and terror lurking, waiting to pounce the moment I hit publish. 

The third floor …

The third floor is out of reach

Beyond a wall I cannot breach

Only if escorted may I proceed

Life beyond my front door to lead

 

Anxiety has imposed these limits

To beat it will take more than minutes

For now I must accept my life curtailed

and that in doing so I have not failed

 

I’ve watched scaffolding contractors outside the windows of my second floor flat, working today to reach the floor above, and beyond. I realise that despite the safety harnesses, teamwork and effort involved to scale this extensive Victorian building, they are able to reach the third floor far more easily than I can at this time.

As the summer of 2015 arrived and illness took hold of me I found it increasingly difficult to get out and about. At first I chose to retreat as a form of self protection. Severe depression led to self neglect which led to feelings of shame and a fear of exposing myself. I didn’t feel like me and didn’t feel able to face much of the world, once more so vulnerable and reduced. Broke and with my home at risk, I struggled too to confront reminders of the life I’d been so assiduously working to build. Later, anxiety, rather than I, chose to restrict my boundaries still further.

My world shrank, as my illness grew. I stopped travelling the mile or so into the city centre. I stopped making the 15 minute walk to my GP’s surgery. I went no further than the pharmacy at the end of the street where I live. I only got as far as the bins right outside this building, to put out my rubbish. I stopped being able to go outside. I found myself trapped behind my own front door.

I didn’t go out at all for five weeks. I’ve ventured out three times in the last three, each time escorted by my friend, but no further than a shop in the area immediately surrounding my flat. I’ve put goals in place to stretch my boundaries and to make at least one solo journey to the pharmacy by the end of this month. Next month I’ll push the boundaries further still. I can’t Tigger my way of out of this, at least not to the extent of pushing myself too hard too fast, as I am oft’ liable to do. Slow and steady wins the race. Pacing? Yeah, I think I’ve heard that word … a few gazillion times. Crash and burn? Not this time!

Something over a decade ago I experienced life living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (G.A.D.), Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia, alongside my severe depression and physical health problems. Life was such fun back then 😉 .

I have discussed the question of which is worse, depression or anxiety, with others who have experienced these illnesses. It’s like asking how long is a piece of string. They are both difficult to endure. However, some have told me they feel, as I do, that if they were forced to choose to live with one; they would choose depression. My reasoning for this is that with depression at its worse I feel I have to die. With anxiety at its worse I feel that I am dying, horribly and perpetually.

I highly commend No Panic for its support in the face of anxiety. The charity has expanded in the years since I used its services and appears to have even more to offer. Clinical anxiety is much more than worry or concern. It is a pervasive, debilitating and life-diminishing condition.

After discovering water dripping through the ceiling in my bathroom this week. I knew that I had to visit my neighbours living in the flat directly above, in order to try to discover the source of the problem. I don’t actually know who lives there and, as the configuration of that floor is slightly different to this, I am uncertain even which door belongs to which flat. Anxiety doesn’t appreciate uncertainty or unfamiliarity!

I had a very productive day yesterday, in spite of limited #spoons after little sleep. I tackled some stressful tasks with aplomb, but I could not open my front door, let alone venture upstairs. I tried repeatedly, deploying various strategies, but my feet might as well have been set in concrete. Shame and a sense of failure crept over me and, try as I might, I could not shake it. I tried to compose a blog post but found I couldn’t write, so consuming was the anxiety. I went to bed at 9, feeling gloomy and weary. I slept fitfully.

Today, I have once more been productive. I succeeded in opening the door to the postman and a further delivery. I haven’t tried to venture out.

I consider myself lucky that this time around I am not experiencing panic attacks frequent or otherwise. This time I think of my anxiety as ‘the wall’ – a sturdy but temporary fixture – that is blocking access to certain aspects of life. I learned a great deal as I sought to conquer the anxieties of old. I’ll use that knowledge to take down this wall, brick by brick.

That anxiety has sneaked back into my life is a bind. It is no more than that. I will get past it as I did before.

Coming next: Poor Self Care