Despite living with quite terrible mental illness for years, it actually took my chronic pain to get me in to see a CBT therapist. After failing to do anything about my suspected endometriosis and with no ability to give me any other help, I was passed on to a rehab clinic which I’m super grateful for (although it did take a while to get over the fact that there was no hope left).
I got a doctor, a physiotherapist and a psychologist who worked as a team – taking a holistic view at the chronic pain and fatigue. Unfortunately for them I am not a quick fix and way more complicated than usual so I’ve now been there for way longer than I’m supposed to be and soon my time will be completely up.
I feel incredibly lucky to have had this opportunity at help and wanted to share some of the golden nuggets of wisdom I’ve learnt. Although, disclaimer, I might have got the wrong end of all the sticks so talk to your provider before you listen to me!
Panic attacks. Had them for years, debilitating, couldn’t even leave the house for years because of fear of them. Fixed. (Not forever, I do lapse when severely triggered, but wow, I went two weeks without one which felt like a complete and utter miracle). How? Sit through it, don’t try and stop it. Yes it feels like torture, it feels like you can’t breathe, it feels like your heart is going to implode and you are covered in sweat. Don’t touch your heart, don’t practice breathing, you CAN breathe, your heart will calm down, but touching it, telling yourself you need to make yourself breathe, it just gives your brain more evidence that something IS wrong and makes your anxiety worse. If you don’t react to your symptoms your body does not take it as seriously.
I have health anxiety and I constantly check my heart, it is one of my compulsions. Somehow I figure I need to check it is still beating. I used to have a Fitbit, you know, get to 10,000 steps a day and feel amazing. But it’s gone now, banished. I was told I can’t wear it anymore. Obsessed with the heart rate function. It takes A LOT of strength to not do my normal checks, and I am sad that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wear my Fitbit again but WOW my health anxiety is so much better since I stopped those two things. I’m not allowed to google symptoms either but that habit is proving harder to kick.
Go outside. Even if you are in your PJs. Yes, that is ok! That was actually one of my first “homework” tasks – to take the dogs out in my pajamas. Being chronically ill means that sometimes just getting dressed takes way too many spoons – should I miss out on fresh air and seeing my dogs enjoy themselves? No! So go out in your pajamas.
Make friends – go out for coffee, go out for food, meet up with friends. Another homework I put off for months. I know right? Not exactly punishing task, but for me it was too much. I used up all of my spoons on work or looking after my daughter and otherwise I just wanted to lie in bed. Here is the complication – a day out can be great but it takes away spoons from the next day, committing to going out for a walk or a meal or a day out is committing to more pain and fatigue in the coming days.
I’ve been completely blessed to meet such a kind, funny and understanding psychologist, the downside to this is that whenever I am reminded that our time will be up soon I completely break down. She has shown me so many things that are life changing and I know that she could help me so much more and losing her feels like losing hope. She is also just so fun and just someone I know I would get along with so well in “real life” and I just wish we were friends – it doesn’t help that whenever I think “I wish we could be friends” my brain replies “well you can’t because you’re too crazy!”. Feeling embarrassed and pathetic about how upset I was at losing her my friend said “It’s normal to be sad, imagine going for fika with someone and talking to them about the most intricate things in your life every week and all of a sudden it’s over and they never speak to you again” of course it hurts.
2 days of crying, at rock bottom, broken hearted, lost control. I wrote this, to try and pick myself up, I don’t want to let her down.