One thing I have learn't about anxiety, depression and fibromyalgia is just how lonely they can all be!
Anyone suffering with any of these conditions, and indeed a great many more like Arthritis, CFS, MS, IBS, basically any disease people can't see, will totally understand what I mean.
There are many different levels of all of these conditions and in their mild forms they are more easily controlled. The sufferer can manage many tasks, even if they are limited tasks, and can to a great extent hide the symptoms and effects of these conditions from Joe public! In fact it isn't until one of these illnesses takes a real hold or has a period of flare up that the majority of people would even have a whiff they were ill. This is because the sufferers of the 'Hidden' dis-ease is usually a fantastic actor.
I have had some great comments from people on flare up days. For instance "Eee but you look so well" - "Your too young to have arthritis, wait until you get to my age" - "I would never of known, you hide it so well" - "Oh yes I have a pain in my knee when it's damp now and then I can totally sympathise" - "Your far too pretty to be really ill!"
Then of course there's the empathic group of people who tell you it's all for attention and you must enjoy it really! Yes of course I do. How silly of me. I love having constant pain which some days feels like I've been hit by a bus then sat on by a hippo. And the anxiety is so much fun I am thinking of having anxiety parties so I can share it with all my friends...who doesn't love to feel terrified all of the time, have the shakes, feel sick, develop swallowing difficulties, have stomach problems and gasp for air several times a day. Honestly it's a hoot. Oh and lets not forget the panic attacks. You know the ones that come on so fast you don't get a chance to catch your breath, in fact they take that away from you straight off and make you paranoid, manic, terrified, give you horrendous physical symptoms like blurred vision, migraine, the runs, a feeling that your extremities are so heavy they won't work and you physically can't put one foot in front of the other or walk more than two steps, make your skin and muscles tingle and go numb so you think you've had a stroke, as well as the mental and emotional battering and then...then they take every last scrap of energy you have and suck it out of you like a dementor and leave you quivering like a blob of warm jelly on the floor for a good hour or so, then if you get through all of that the effects of this alien attack can last from several hours up to three days in my experience and are different for everyone so maybe worse for some people!
Is it any wonder people who suffer anxiety hide it and themselves away? You get to the point where your so anxious of having an anxiety attack or worst still a major panic attack that you begin to avoid everything that makes you feel even the slightest bit nervous until eventually you are frightened to be in your own home because your not safe anywhere from anxiety. It is a very lonely disease because no matter what you do you feel trapped. Trapped inside your own body. It has to be hard for those around too.
Family and friends often feel useless because they don't understand. Sometimes they do understand but they can't seem to get in passed that wall of depression. Mixed with the fact a sufferer can have symptoms of paranoia, agitation, frustration and sometimes aggression (our of frustration and feeling overwhelmed) it's not that surprising friends back off. Plus have you ever spoken to a depressed person? They can be guarded, preoccupied, spaced out, self absorbed sometimes through no fault of their own and the ones that do talk about it often are so consumed by the anxiety and or depression they can't seem to think or talk about anything else before steering the subject back around. It's not that they are selfish or self centered, then generally are that consumed by the illness they are trapped in a bubble and can't see beyond it except wish they were normal again and this adds even more pressure.
Then you have depression. And let me tell you it is not something you can 'snap' out of or 'get a grip' of. Depression is like living the life of Olaf. You have your own little cloud following you about everywhere you go and you just can't shake it. It's usually raining, cold and grey, but sometimes it's white and fluffy and not quite so hard to bare and other times it's black and heavy and weighs you down like 1000 Elephants. It can come over you at anytime during the day or night ...usually when it is most unwelcome...and linger for hours, days, weeks or months. Who wouldn't be able to just shrug that off? Tisk!
So now you have a tiny idea what it's like to live the life of someone with an already disabilitaing physical disease, coupled with associated anxiety and depression which many of these conditions bring along to the party have but of course I haven't really touched on the illnesses themselves yet. Here we have constant pain, sometimes excruciating pain that no amount of drugs can touch or niggling pain that never seems to end, loss of mobility, fatigue, sickness, fatigue, mental retardation (yes I have put the tea pot in the fridge, forgotten where I lived and thrown out £300 because of the fibro fog), migraine, headaches, numbness, swelling, skin conditions, stomach illnesses...the list goes on and on and on
Hence my heading. One is the loneliest number that you'll ever be. So many sufferers feel completely alone. You can be in a room full of people, and indeed these people can all be supportive or may have even experienced this themselves but although they can support you, with all the will in the world they can't make you better or feel safe. Doctors loose patience with you because they don't really have many tools to help, so they dish out drugs like sweets, omitting to tell you of the terrifying side effects and with drawl symptoms these drugs produce...many of which are far worse than the illness itself. According to recent research drugs don't really help the condition anyway but doctors hope the placebo effect will be enough to send us on our merry way and head us in the direction of better mental health but this isn't always the case. Now I am not a medic and nor do I have any medical training but I have experienced anxiety in it's worst form, depression so debilitating I couldn't physically get out of bed for months on end and fibromyalgia to a similar extent. I'm not saying none of the drugs they give you help. some people get great relief from them and therefore it is always good to try every option made available to you but what ever you take it will only ever relieve the symptoms and not remove the disease entirely. That is something that only you can do, and even then there are limitations for many.
A depressed or anxious person wants help. I have never met anyone in this state yet who doesn't. They feel let down by society as a whole because someone can't or 'won't' give them the magic pill or tool to get out of it. They want a quick fix because it's such an awful place to be nobody want's to stay there but they get frustrated that there isn't a magic pill or tool. Like any illness, depression and anxiety, fibromyalgia, arthritis and all these illnesses need a period of rehabilitation. Counselling, physical rehabilitation, CBT. The road to recovery is a long and slow road full of twists and turns that sometimes take you right back to the beginning before leading you forwards. It is a journey of self discovery, self examination and change. Great change. If you have lived your life in a way which has lead to or exacerbates this illness then you have to change your life in order to get better. Fr some it is a path of determination for others it seems to hard and for some they just can't understand why their isn't a quick fix. There are many things you can do to achieve better health and to make the most of the life you live. But accepting that it may never be the life you envisage for yourself is the first step. If you had an infection would you expect to get better just because your doctor gave you a course of anti biotics? No! You have to take the pills, consistently, for the whole course and sometimes you have to try different drugs before you find one that suits but you still have to take the whole course because if not the infection will inevitably creep back and this time it may be immune to the drugs that worked before and so you have to try others. The disease may never totally go away. But you can improve your quality of life by changing your mindset and resetting goals. Starting with really tiny ones first. You have to be prepared to go 2 steps forward and 1.5 steps back...a lot but you will get their if you put the work in.
There is such a small amount of help available for mental health sufferers and it is still such a taboo subject. Why would such a crippling disease be thought of as someones own fault? Little is known about any of these diseases and I think that is the problem and yet more of the population suffer with one or more of these conditions at least once in their life, so why isn't more being done? Well there is lots of on going research going into mental health disorders but it is such a wide bracket and every single case is different from the next one. People see mental illness as a weakness or not real because it isn't real but in fact it is so very real and it concerns the whole of your physical body as well as the mental and emotional bodies.
Can we prevent it? I don't think we can no but I do believe we can reduce the likelihood of it getting to these crippling points if we take a more holistic approach.
Stress can come in all shapes and sizes. I hear daily how people say they have no reason to be depressed and they don't understand why they have it but then go on to tell you they have a long term illness or that a loved one died, or they have stress in their work, or lost their home or are so busy working and looking after family 24/7 they have no time for themselves. I also hear people say they've had really traumatic incidents happen to them in the past and coped brilliantly but then a little seemingly insignificant thing happens and the world comes tumbling down and they can't understand why.
The problem is people don't talk anymore. We watch T.V, play on mobile phones, games machines, we work every day of the week now and every hour of the day. The pressure on us to work full time, raise a family, have a lovely home, have two or more cars per family, buy every electronic gadget on the market, go on holidays abroad every year, wear nice clothes, by designer pets, and keep a certain standard of living is overwhelming. You don't have to actually do any or all of these things to feel the social pressure. Not to mention dealing with everything life throws at us on a daily basis any way. We live on adrenaline, not surprising then that we feel we are about to explode but we keep pushing it all down and squashing more in and then when that final thing comes down...no matter how big or how small it is,(mine was an insect bite) it is just too heavy to hold anymore and BOOM! We have exploded into the atmosphere and come crashing down like a lead weight, smashing into 100,000 pieces on impact. But the best bit is even when we are in 100,000 piece scattered about the floor we feel under even more pressure to get up, gather our broken selves back together, pack it all back in, smile and get back to it!
Come on. You have to be one hell of a person to do that without any help! Some people have higher tolerances than others but we all have a breaking point. What I have learn't is that people who suffer with anxiety and depression are more often than not kind, caring, considerate people, who want to be there for and support everyone else but who somehow manage to take on that energy and it all adds to their own. Depression and anxiety are NOT signs of weakness they are the symptom of being an Earth Angel and taking on too much. An illness of any kind on top of that just compounds the problem.
Now anyone reading this is doing so because they have some form of anxiety and or depression or they know someone who has. Even if you don't think you know someone the chances are you know more than one. In my line of work and since writing this blog I meet or speak to wonderful, kind, caring people every day who look like they have it all on the outside but who are crumbling on the inside. And they all say the same thing..."it's not my fault!" Usually because they are ashamed to admit they are struggling and I agree it isn't anyone' s fault. As discussed before, many people are pre-dispositioned to anxiety or depression and it is far more likely to occur in someone with another illness which stops them from living life to what they perceive to be the full potential but we are all at risk of it and increasingly so.
Medical sciences is trying to keep up but unfortunately this ball just rolled away before anyone could stop it so it is a game of catch up. because of the 'Stiff upper lip' syndrome people don't feel they can ask for help before it gets to crisis point and are actually embarrassed to admit they have it. I know I for one am always questioning whether or not to post these blogs and put them on my facebook page or not because I am almost ashamed to let people know I have this disorder and have been so ill. But I know it is an illness and I know many more people suffer than we can ever imagine and I also get messages every single day from people thanking me for my posts because it helps them to feel less alone, they can relate to my experiences and they are just pleased to know they are not alone. The fact I am finding my way through the cloud and seeing the sunshine again gives people hope that they too can get better.
I remember one of my worst days I honestly thought I was going mad. I was in the shower and as i raised my arms up to wash my hair they wouldn't move. They were so tense and heavy because I was in a constant state of such high anxiety I physically could not reach up to wash my own hair. The panic that ensued was worse than anything I remember having before. It wasn't as much physical it was mental. I now know that I was so poorly I had had an episode of psychosis. I begged my husband to section me. I paced the floor. Pulled at my hair. I wanted to be outside but couldn't get passed the back door. I wanted to be dead. There was no two ways about it. I didn't want to kill myself...I believe that is different...but I just knew I could not live like this one more day. Anyone who says suicide i the cowards way out hasn't got a clue. If I had had more days like that one I would possibly have done the same myself, just to be free from all that pain all those thoughts, all those horrible horrible feelings. What kept me going? I am the luckiest person alive because I have a very loving family and beautiful children and I know that without me they would be so sad and I just couldn't do that to them but what I did know was that I had to get better. I really couldn't have had another day like that I had to get well. That was about May of this year (2014) It is now October and I am so pleased to say I have come a LONG LONG way since that day. My husband took me to his parents and I cried on them for 5 hours. Over the next few days I cried constantly but it was good. I am not a crier as a rule and this was an amazing release for me.
I remember ringing my Dad at some point through this stage and telling him I wanted to be dead and just hearing the pain in his voice from hearing me talk in such a way, told me I had to get better. My Dad's uncle took his own life because of depression and I knew what pain that had caused the family and still did 38 years later and Idecided I was not going to add to that.
How did I get better from that point? Constant hard work and shear determination. I realised my husband couldn't make me better. The doctor couldn't make me better. It all had to come from within me and to start off with I had to learn to be comfortable in my own skin. I had to trust in my self (and my Angels for me). I started sitting in the garden every day to get natural light because I know natural light stimulates the serotonin production in the brain and shuts down the melotonin (sleep drug) during the day time. At one point I was sitting in the garden all day. I bought a mind spa which is a lights and sound meditation machine designed to give you the same relief as drugs but without the side effects and I used it three times a day. I read a Doreen Virtue book called 'Healing with your Angels' and started to put more faith in the fact that I was not alone after all, even though I felt it but I realised that we are all born and we all die and I had a choice of living the life inbetween or spending every moment being terrified it would end. I started watering the plants, cleaning out the guinea pigs then I would walk to the end of the street and back daily to build my strength and use up some of the adrenaline in my system. Gradually I added more distance on to it very very slowly until I could make it around the block and above all else I realised It was not for someone else to make me feel better. It had to all come from within ME! I stopped taking my phone to the loo because I thought by doing that I was telling myself something 'may' happen and by not taking it I was re-enforcing that I felt safe. I started being proud of myself for the steps I was taking, no matter how small. I was grateful every day just for being alive and all the wonderful things I had in live and I was grateful for the opportunities I was able to give myself to get well. A good night out now is to have a swim with my husband, or take the kids ice skating. Appreciating simple pleasures. I can go out partying and burn the candles at both ends but it hasn't got the same appeal as it once did and yet looking at the colours of a butterfly, feeling the energy of a tree, being out in nature all mean so much more to me. They bring me peace and it's peace that brings me well being.
Over time I could walk into a super market with my husband but had to wear sunglasses because the bright lights started off the anxiety symptoms but I could only stay a few minutes. I didn't care I was doing it and everything I did at that point was a bonus. Then gradually I would go on my own and 4 months after I did a full shop, on my own with no sunglasses! I can not tell you how amazing that felt! I started to get back to swimming just 20 minutes once a week and I am still building that up. I now walk 40 minutes every day, on my own and it feels great. I have accepted their are pit falls and i know I get good days and bad days. But as I am healing I am getting more good than bad days and I know I am getting better every day. It's true what they say, face your fears but this isn't just going out on the bus or shopping. It's facing the internal fears head on. Learning to fight in a different way. A way which is more productive and less exhausting. It's about resting and taking all the un-necessary stress out of your life and putting yourself first for however long it takes to get well and it's about challenging every thought, action, feeling and aspiration.
There is help and support. There are drugs. But ultimately the only help you need is from within you. Help yourself. Know that you DO have all the tools, all the skills and the ability to make your life as wonderful as you deserve it to be but you can only do this is you acknowledge the problems, implement the changes and accept that your life may be a little different to how you wanted it to be. But that it can still be wonderful!
Hi my Name is Philippa Woodsford and I am a Holistic therapist, Reiki Master Teacher and Hypnotherapist. I suffer with anxiety and depression due to a condition called fibromyalgia which I believe is linked with an auto immune disease I was diagnosed with at just 17. My blog is written for me as a sort of journal but also in the hope it may bring hope and healing to others suffering with similar issues on a daily basis. Enjoy