Panic Attacks Make Me Feel Weak.

There’s nothing like a panic attack to make the rest of your day feel terrible. I have social anxiety and the reality is; one single person can lead to me having a panic attack. I’m not just an introvert who likes to dwell in my own company; I have a mental illness that makes me terrified of people. Humans are a social species, we need other people to keep us sane and happy…my brain has decided despite that it’s going to make being social impossible for me.

It’s so hard to explain social anxiety to other people, it’s not just being anti-social; it’s being distressed at just the idea of interacting with other people. Today my panic attack was caused by something others deal with easily; a repairman turning up to update my smoke alarms. Others would have dealt with it like it was nothing but my brain can’t cope with someone turning up unannounced to my house. I then have to let that person into my safe space which completely takes away my feeling of safety. I live in council housing and my housing association have my issues on file so I’m given prior notice if anyone needs to come to my house. That simple act of letting me know and prepare is the difference between me being simply uncomfortable and full on panicking and having a break down. But today I had no prior notice and that simple act changed the whole experience.

I only answer the door if I’m expecting a delivery and that’s the only reason I answered the door today. Instead of a simple delivery it’s a man who needs to come into my house and do some work. This unexpected moment completely freezes my brain. I want to explain and say I can’t let him in, I want to ring my Mum who is ten minutes away and can come and deal with the situation. But I can do none of these things because my brain has short circuited and I’m incapable of anything but a one word answer. So I open the door and let this stranger in despite my whole body fighting me. I’m panicking but this man won’t see it because when I’ve learned to hide it very well. He can’t see that I’m gritting my teeth so hard it hurts, or that I’m digging my nails into my skin and scratching because pain is the only thing that stops me physically collapsing into a heap and crying like a baby.

The physical and obvious panic attack comes when he leaves. Because all that adrenaline that’s been rushing through my body has nowhere to go. My safe place feels unsafe because someone else has been in it and most of all, I feel like a complete and utter idiot because all I want to do is be a normal person and interact socially without a break down. All of this self-hate and adrenaline makes me hyperventilate, makes me sweat and shake. I’m crying and struggling to get my breath, while everything around me spins. I’m not in control of my own body and all I can do is sit and wait for my brain and body to run out of energy.

That’s my reality. I won’t forget it and get on with my day. I’ll spend the rest of my day feeling broken, embarrassed, ashamed and completely weak. I hate feeling weak, I like to think I’m a strong person, I’ve overcome so many obstacles and struggles. But the reality is I have social anxiety, I’m terrified of people and I am weak.

Sometimes I wish I had a big sign on my head that said “social anxiety” because then at least people could see my mental illness, they could try and be more understanding. You never know what battles are going on in someone internally, so be kind and be patient.

The guilt of cancelling plans.

One of the things I find most difficult about living with a chronic illness is cancelling social engagements. Before chronic illness I was a very reliable person when it came to making plans and sticking to them.

Chronic illness has made me this unreliable person who might cancel plans an hour before or rearrange plans a dozen times. The most important thing I try to get across to friends and family is that I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m not cancelling because I can’t be bothered or don’t want to meet up. Sometimes I wait until an hour before to cancel because I’m praying and hoping my body will just cooperate and allow me to socialise and be a normal 26 year old.

I had plans to see my sister yesterday and she was going to do my nails and I was looking forward to it! I woke up exhausted as usual but hoping some energy would appear from anywhere. I got dressed, I ate breakfast and did normal things about the house. An hour before I was due to leave, my body just switched off. I hate that about M.E, one minute my body is coping and managing my fatigue and then it just switches off and all I can do is go to bed because I don’t have the energy to stand up for more than 5 minutes or even lift my own arms and head.

Then comes the difficult part which is letting the other person know I’m not well enough to meet. I try to get across how disappointed I am in myself but it always falls flat and feels like I’m making excuses. I feel like I’ve let my friends and family down and I hate it. I hate feeling like I’ve let someone down and it affects my mood so much and is one of the main triggers for my depression.

Eventually I just stop getting invited to socialise and it’s both understandable and devastating because I want to see my friends and family but my body betrays me. I see pictures online of all my friends meeting up and feel sad that I wasn’t invited but also I expect it because why bother inviting someone who is going to cancel 90% of the time. It’s a very isolating and lonely experience.

I wish people could experience just one day in my body, so they’d understand the strength and exertion that goes into just doing basic things like getting dressed and taking a bath. I wish people would understand that I don’t cancel because I’m a bad friend or because I can’t be bothered; but because my body is too exhausted to leave the house.

It’s inevitable that I feel guilt for being so unreliable and that guilt is like poison; it infects the brain and makes me feel worthless and hopeless. I can only hope that my friends and family take a minute to think about how cancelling plans affects me and how disappointing it is to be stuck in bed instead of being out, socialising ad enjoying myself.

Thanks for the suggestion but I’m ignoring you…

Living with depression and anxiety for 8 years I’ve dealt with advice and suggestions from people who think they know better. You know the type I mean;

“You need to get out more”

“You just need to snap out of it and decide to be happy”

“Try and see the positives instead of the negatives”

“You need more exercise, that will make you feel better”

Since developing CFS and Fibro I’ve noticed these dreaded suggestions more and they frustrate me enormously, I don’t mind advice on how to manage my pain or deal with my fatigue but when it comes from people who have no idea what it’s like to live with my conditions, who think they know better then it offends me.

“Just go to bed earlier at night, then you won’t be so tired”

“Maybe you need to stop taking all those tablets”

“You just need to change your mindset, it’s all in your head”

“Try meditating and thinking your pain away”

It’s never ending. Recently I’ve heard a lot from people who make judgements about the medication I’m taking and say I should come off it because it’s making me worse. People who say I’m filling my body with pills and tell me I’d be better off without them. It’s frustrating because without the medication, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed. People seem to think I enjoy shoving pills down my throat, and that I enjoy all the side effects.

I don’t take medication because I want to, I’ve tried coming off it all and it wasn’t helpful. People don’t understand why I’m taking pills when it’s all in my head but my pain is not in my head; I wish it was because then I could deal with it. Instead it’s physical and I can’t just change my mindset and get rid of it, I have to manage it with medication and that medication allows me to get up and go out, it allows me to do the small things I enjoy.

But people always think they know better and I believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion but I am offended when they think their opinion and judgement is more valid than my own.

Why finding the right therapist is crucial to recovery.

I’ve had CBT 4 times during the past 6 years to try and help manage my depression and social anxiety. I hated it, I dreaded going, used to beg my Mum to cancel because I hate talking, especially about myself.

My first experience with CBT was like hell for me, I was virtually agoraphobic at that point and didn’t leave the house so I used to be forced out by my Mum and dragged to my therapy appointments. I learned pretty quickly that the therapist was only interested in discharging me as soon as possible. It was also like he was sticking to this strict appointment script, reading advice off of a piece of paper. He wasn’t interested in my feelings and I could tell. So I told him what he wanted to hear instead of what was actually going on with me, I faked my depression and anxiety scores so they got better and better until he decided I was fixed and discharged me. It was no surprise that my depression and anxiety was the same and the therapy hadn’t made any difference.

The next two courses of therapy were not even memorable, I was always given this timeline to recovery and if I didn’t keep to this then it was like the therapist got frustrated and annoyed with me. It made me cynical about the whole process and I was convinced that CBT was a load of rubbish. My depression was up and down and my anxiety was constant. Eventually the right medication helped me feel as if there was hope but medication doesn’t solve everything. My anxiety was still ruling my life and I agreed last year to go through another course of CBT but after the last 3 failures, my GP arranged for me to meet a particular high intensity therapist.

I went into my fourth CBT experience with an open mind, I wanted to control my anxiety but I was also worried it would be the same as my previous times. From the beginning, the therapist assured me that although on average it took between 8 and 10 sessions, if it took longer then that was alright and it was about my recovery. She also took an interest in my life and understood my anxiety wasn’t going to just disappear in a matter of weeks. She was the first therapist who was forceful in giving me homework and expecting me to carry it out. Although I didn’t like it, I needed that authority to scare me into doing the activities she wanted. It started off small with me just going on a small 10 minute walk, then it was walking to appointments on my own. The scariest homework was taking trips to the shops which I couldn’t do alone, again she went with small steps and I was allowed to take someone the first couple of times into the shop, then I had to leave them outside while I went in. Eventually I was going on my own.

It wasn’t easy and I had to want to control my anxiety. The gradual build up worked for me. I’m not cured, I still have trouble with certain places and my anxiety gets triggered easily. But I am trying not to let it control my life like before, I push myself to go to the shops even when I would rather stay in the house. Today I’m going out for a meal and although I may have to ask someone to order for me, I’m excited and not dreading it. I don’t think my anxiety will ever go away, it’s too deeply rooted in my brain but I can fight it and I can enjoy social events despite being anxious. That final therapist changed my life and it showed me that recovery is a personal thing, if your therapist isn’t connecting with you then you won’t be motivated to fight.

Why suicide shouldn’t be a taboo subject.

I hate that suicide is ignored and not discussed more widely. I know what it is to attempt suicide and even now, I feel guilty and ashamed for writing about it. It shouldn’t be like that in this day and age.

I have suffered with depression since I was 18 and it’s been so severe at times that I have turned to suicide. I’ve attempted to kill myself around five times, my last attempt was 2 years ago. When I admit this, I feel anxious and panicky because I’m worried what others will say and think. But I feel that if suicide had been a more talked about subject, if it hadn’t been so hidden and ignored then it may have helped me when I was surrounded by hopelessness and darkness.

People say that suicide is cowardice; that people who take their lives are cowards who took the easy way out. I hate people who say that, I don’t want to glorify or make suicide seem like a good choice but suicide is the opposite of cowardice. Other people will never know how hard it is, how brave you have to be to take that final step. Humans have evolved to suicide so imagine going against all those years of evolution, going against human nature itself and trying to harm yourself.

Having experienced trying to kill myself and surviving, I can look back and re-evaluate my choices. I regret every attempt I made on my own life, I wish I could take it all back. When you have hit rock bottom, you can’t think of anything positive, you think that suicide is the only and best option but it’s not. I was selfish when I attempted to kill myself, I was so focussed on my own misery and pain that I couldn’t think about the pain I would cause by taking that final action. I hurt my family every time I made an attempt, I let them down and I took away their trust in me. Those things, I will never get back. My family and friends will all look at me when I’m feeling down and wonder if I’m going to hurt myself, the trust is gone. The only way I can get it back is by proving I won’t make that choice again, no matter how bad things get.

If people talked about suicide more, if there were more places to talk about it then I think people would see it’s not the right choice to make. Instead, it’s this taboo subject that people ignore or hide and so people feeling depressed and suicidal feel guilty and ashamed, which just adds to that feeling that taking your own life is the only way out.

Suicide is not taking the easy way out, it’s trying to make the pain stop, trying to be free of depression and the struggles that bring us down. It’s a cry for help and as fellow humans, we should acknowledge that cry and do everything we can to help that person. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye, or ignore it because it’s easier to think these things don’t happen. Suicide does happen, it’s increasing and people effected by suicide or suicidal thoughts should not be ignored or swept under the rug.

Side effects may include…

Chronic illness often brings with it a whole host of medications to try and control symptoms but what happens when these medications have more side effects than helpful qualities. I wanted to give a brief history of my experience with medications and their side effects to show how much balance is needed to find something that works better than it gives side effects.

I’ve been on anti-depressants since I was 18 years old (I’m 25 now) and a lot of them worked for a period of time and then it was like my body got used to them and stopped taking notice. For me, the worst one was Citalopram, the side effects for that medication took over any good it was doing me. It gave me disturbing dreams, which happens with a lot of anti-depressants I’ve been on but this medication made the dreams so vivid and horrible that I was struggling to sleep and I was dreading when night came around. This medication also made me feel physically ill, I was nauseous and dizzy a lot of the time.

I finally found an anti-depressant that works for me which is Venlafaxine and I’ve been taking this for a few years now and the good thing is, my mental health has improved. I don’t notice many side effects with this medication other than the excessive sweating which plagues my life. As I explained in my last post, Fibro/CFS gives me very poor temperature control so the excessive sweating which comes with this medication makes that symptom a lot worse. It came down to weighing it up and for me, my mental health is way more important than some sweating. People may stare when I go out and I’m struggling to adapt to the temperature, and I’m covered in a thick sheen of sweat but my depression is under control for now and that’s what matters to me.

For a while I took Codeine to help with the pain symptoms of Fibro/CFS and I took this for longer than I should have. To begin with, it helped numb my pain a bit and it had the benefit of helping me sleep at night. The main side effect I had with this one was addiction. After a while it stopped effecting my pain at all so I increased the dose and then I began taking it more often. It soon became a habit and I was taking it just because I felt I needed it, rather than taking it for the pain. I decided to come off of it because I didn’t like that I was relying on it.

Then came Gabapentin which was a nightmare medication for me. It was supposed to help with the Fibro pain but the side effects completely outweighed any advantage it had. The first couple of months taking it, after every dose (3 times a day) I experienced horrible dizziness and nausea and it knocked me out, all I could do was sleep which didn’t help me CFS! The worst side effect for me was the weight gain, I put on about 2 stone in a matter of months and unfortunately, even after coming off of it, I haven’t managed to lose this weight because I struggle to exercise with my pain so now I am very self conscious and I regret this medication completely.

I was recommended Pregabalin after this experience which was said to have less side effects than Gabapentin and so far, this medication seems to suit me a lot better, I haven’t noticed any side effects, apart from the fact my weight seems stuck no matter what I try to lose it.

Lastly is Tramadol which is something I never wanted to take because I’d heard horror stories and it seemed like such a strong and harmful drug. But my pain, although being more stable with the Pregabalin, was still extreme at times and I had nothing to help in those moments so Tramadol was prescribed for when my pain is at it’s worst. I’ve never had a drug effect me like Tramadol does, it helps numb my worst pain but it does give me a giddy and high feeling which I don’t enjoy and the day after taking it, I’m unconscious for most of the day because it knocks me out and my whole body feels like a noodle. At the moment, I take Tramadol sparingly, only when I can’t cope so the side effects are manageable and I can put up with them.

So there is my brief medication history. I always find it interesting how different drugs effect people differently and I welcome anyone else’s experience with side effects. To me, it comes down to weighing the advantages with the disadvantages and making some compromise.

My First Blog Post

I don’t remember what it feels like to sleep and wake up refreshed; ready for the day. I don’t remember how it feels to walk without pain and aching in every muscle. I wish I could remember what it felt like being well. Now I wake up every morning and feel exhausted; like the 9 hour sleep I just had was nothing. I watch everyone going about their lives while I’m stuck inside, doing small bits of housework that makes me feel like I’ve run a marathon. I take pain killer after pain killer to manage the pain that covers my whole body. I can only manage to stay awake for 6 hours before I feel ill and have to go back to bed; I sleep for a couple of hours so I have the energy to get through the rest of the day.

I developed M.E after having Glandular Fever, a virus that the majority of people recover from and never think about again. All I think about is how that virus changed the whole course of my life. It’s like my body gave up in that moment and decided it was going into hibernation. I wish my body had been strong enough to fight that virus off. Now if I catch a cold or another virus my whole body crashes and I barely function, I’m overwhelmed by illness.

Every day I wake up exhausted and the fatigue follows me through the day, getting worse and worse. I can’t concentrate, my head feels like it’s filled with cotton wool most of the time. My social life doesn’t exist because after a few hours out of the house, my body begins to complain and my energy declines quickly. I zone out of conversations, get my words mixed up and forget what I was saying. People don’t understand that I’m not simply tired, I’m severely fatigued and every part of my body screams for sleep.

2 years after I was diagnosed with M.E, I got a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. I experience pain for no reason at all, like I’m being punished internally. Every muscle aches constantly, every joint seizes up and complains when I move. I have the body of a 90 year old woman despite being 25. I struggle to undo jars and bottles, I can’t hold a kettle if it’s more than half way full. Some days I can walk into the local village and other days, I can barely make it to the end of the driveway.

Since my initial diagnosis, it’s been a turbulent journey. I’ve taken people’s judgement and felt guilty for having an illness that other people can’t physically see. I’ve been called a liar, I’ve been told it’s all in my head. I’m at a point in my life now, where I’ve come to terms with my limits. I have to listen to my own body and rest when I need to without feeling guilty or ashamed. I’m trying to manage my condition the best way I can. I’m working on getting a degree in English Language and Literature and I’m living my life the way I need to, with baby steps and a lot of support from family. I’m determined that this illness will not define who I am, it may limit me and place obstacles in my path but I am not my illness. There are days I want to give up fighting, moments of real darkness but they are not as strong as my will to live and enjoy life and I hold on to the hope that one day my body will wake up and decide to recover; so I can remember what it’s like to sleep and wake up refreshed, with energy to last the whole day.