Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Long time, long thoughts.

Readers who like to come here and look at the pretty photos or the pushbikery (there is a little bit) may want to skip this one as it's going to be a waffle about my achilles heel, or more precisely my anxiety issues.
Let's indulge a little and have a rewind back to 2009/10.
*cue Wayne's World shimmying*

I began to fret about little things; was the cat ok? I kept having to check to make sure he was fine and happy. This would even be needed in the early hours of the morning. I used to be a heavy sleeper but that was changing and I would wake and suddenly need to find Roscoe and make sure he was ok and elicit a purr. Then it got slightly worse still and I began to worry about getting a hangover if I had a beer.

Physical manifestations started with a tight feeling in my abdomen which would leave me feeling sick but I never had any bowel issues although this didn't stop the GP diagnosing IBS and booking me in for a colonoscopy. Of course my anxiety (ah hindsight) immediately went straight to the worse case scenario; I clearly was going to find out that I had bowel cancer.
Again with the benefits of hindsight the cocodamol and anti-spasmodics I was prescribed really didn't help. The painkillers were beginning to spin me out and the Mebeverine would leave me feeling gassy and bloated. Not helping when the cocodamol were bringing on the constipation.

Why was my mind wandering and letting the anxieties develop? Work was with enjoyable people but really wasn't challenging, especially after coming out of being mentally challenged in an under-grad then post-grad environment. I was spending less time able to mentally commit to the job in hand and more time negatively daydreaming. Even down to thinking that colleagues were going next door to chat with the boss and laughing at my work.

I had an horrendous weekend away with friends on the motorbike up on North Wales (The Dragon Rally) where due to the pressures of having to organise 14 people, devise the route and then lead the route as well as not eating well (I'm always hungry) meant that when we got to North Wales I was in bits and had to call NHS direct as I was convinced I was going to die. Friends got me through that night (thanks Al, I still remember you coming to find me after I wasn't in the bunkhouse and you were convinced I'd gone feral and gone off to die under a bush and I'd just nipped for a piss.)

When the appointment for the colonoscopy came up 5 months after my GP visit imagine my surprise when all that was carried out was a sigmoidoscopy. Now I was even more stressed out. Two more months passed until the colonoscopy and that came back clear. No bowel cancer then. No nothing really apart from some wild rice that had escaped the pre-scopy clear out...

As the year came to an end there was a glimmer of hope; I had a counselling assessment. By this time I had dropped in weight from 16 1/2 stone to 14 stone through not really having any appetite and also trying to cut various things out; lactose, gluten, alcohol from my diet.

By the time I saw the counsellor I had decided to do something positive with the weight loss and got the bike I'd bought on cyclescheme out and began riding again. The last time I'd ridden was back in my early 20s and I used to cycle a lot so was expecting to jump back on again and be flying. The reality was that within 400yards I was panting and aching. There was a marker point 2 miles from my house and so I began cycling there and back. It would make me feel sick through exertion and I would have to take a seasickness pill once home on occasion to stop feeling so sick. Most times I went out I would get overtaken by an old fellow on his commute home going up a hill. I could make it halfway up but would then be off and walking. I was determined to make it up the hill (I did eventually).

The counsellor was very good. We talked about the family history of depression and my concerns that I was going to follow that route. After many questions I was told that I wasn't depressed, but was anxious. Whilst no one likes to find out there is something wrong with them, it was a relief to have it quantified.

The counselling carried on and so did the cycling. Soon I was up to 8 miles, then 15 miles. The feeling of achievement was amazing and real. The evenings I went cycling after work I slept so much better. The counselling stopped but the cycling didn't. Along with swimming once a week I was beginning to get fitter. My weight had levelled off at a bit under 14 stone (I've never been that bothered by my weight.) More miles were being ridden and I was determined to do 25 miles. Which I did, and then did more times.

I still couldn't deal with being away though and again I abandoned a Dragon Rally and rode 4 hours  back through the cold February night getting home with only vapours in the tank after every petrol station on the A470 was shut. Of course they were shut as I left the North at 10pm and it was 2am by the time I arrived home. Anyone sensible was asleep.

Still on the cocodamol and likely not doing well with the effects.

2011 also saw a change of employment after taking redundancy from my old job as the place was going to the dogs and a new opportunity had arisen. That first day I can still remember having to fight every urge my body had to run away and instead stay there and do the day. It took a couple of weeks before those feelings had settled, but I was glad I stuck at them and the job. More cycling, swimming and again the more I exercised the better sleep I had and the more I was able to concentrate in work.

Into 2012 and my weight was slowly dropping just down to exercise. It wasn't something I was aiming to achieve but it was noticeable that I kept needing smaller shirts and trousers, as well as smaller shoes! 2012 was a good year and after completing a ride from London to Paris with friends for a holiday I was in good enough form to join a local cycling club. I even treated myself to a new bike, the Burls of Doom! 

2013 was an injury fest with a broken finger, broken bike and knackered AC joint, writing off the car and breaking 3 ribs and cracking my pelvis and finally doing a SLAP lesion, breaking another rib and a segment of my collarbone to round the year out. The kicker here was the medication (again) with me being prescribed Tramadol to deal with the pain from the car crash and continuing that to deal with the pain from the bike crash. 3 1/2 months of Tramadol was not a good place to be and along with massive headaches I was sleeping just an hour and a half a night due to shaking, heart palpitations (MIND has excellent information on panic attacks, if you need to explain to a close one what is going on), being convinced I had a brain bleed (a CT scan and neurologist ruled otherwise) most of which I realised were down to the Tramadol side effects. I began to cut them down and after almost 4 weeks the crazy feelings had dissipated. The only thing remaining was the massive headaches. Another GP appointment and a small dose (10mg) of Amitriptyline was prescribed to relax my nerves and muscles. Within a week the headaches had ceased and I was able to sleep again. I didn't like the morning after grogginess of the Ami though and ended up quartering the tablets and only taking the miniscule amount.

I had been sent to see a counsellor again and this one was different to the previous. The session began with all the history being dragged up, not just from the last time I had been there but from my youth. This wasn't working. These were all mental issues that I had dealt with and put to bed. I told the counsellor this and we moved on. Another appointment was made, which the counsellor then cancelled on the morning. For those of you who have been lucky enough not to have needed counselling there is an agreement that as a patient you won't cancel within 24hours of appointments. I remarked that this clearly didn't apply to counsellors. I was never called back to make another appointment. Which was fine as I had decided that I wasn't going back. I was prescribed twice books on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy but both times I found them to be massively patronising and at such a dumbed down level to not be of use.

I know that it is my head that makes me feel like this, that makes me build worse case scenarios but it's that I struggle with getting beat. I do know as well that physical exertion either through exercise or work helps massively. My anxieties are fear based, fear of something holding me back or preventing me from doing something with my life. To tackle these immediately provokes a lethargy in action from me and I find it a huge effort to do what is needed to resolve the fear. I know that if I stick at it I will beat this but I am my own worst enemy. I still have bad nights; some spices in food set me off as do certain alcoholic drinks but I can get through it. I can talk about what is getting to me with my friends and I can view it with humour; it's always the monkey on my back.  I am open about the issues I have, perhaps too open sometimes but hey my anxiety isn't visible and sometimes I need to explain a little.

1 comment:

  1. Such a brave thing to write so openly about this. You've really been through it, and I'm glad some aspects of it have stabilised for you a bit.
    I'm starting to think, from my own experiences and from talking to others with anxiety, that everyone eventually starts to find their own, personal way of dealing with it: knowing and (as far as possible) managing triggers, having their own personal strategies for keeping trouble at bay (it's interesting you mention exercise, as this definitely helps for me, too), even down to looking at food and drink as you have. It can feel like such a pervasive, insurmountable problem, but you've done such a lot to understand and make progress with it. Awe-inspiring!