June 2017, life changed with no warning. I embarked on a rollercoaster ride but instead of breaking me it was the making of me. This is my story.
It began with a stomach pain. I consulted Dr Google who said I had approximately 73 ailments and was at risk of imminent death. Not fancying that option, I went to the ‘real’ doctor. Well actually, three, ‘real’ doctors and each gave a diagnosis plus a prescription to match. But despite the combined might of a trio of medical genii the mystery pain persisted. It was time to go to the ‘experts.’
Which is why I found myself at hospital being prodded, poked and questioned by a very determined doctor, who despite his best efforts couldn’t find a reason for the pain. Undeterred, the intrepid physician prodded a bit more and peered into my throat before asking if was it sore. I thought it a strange query but checked anyway – and found I did have a sore throat, yet I hadn’t even noticed. Thinking it must be a virus, I wasn’t particularly worried until the doctor uttered words I would struggle to forget,
“I don’t know about the stomach pain, but you have inflammation in the throat which indicates X disease. You need strong medication or will be in pain.”
Now pain is not one of my favourite things. I avoid pain like a cat avoids bathing and I don’t ‘do’ medication, preferring to fight germs with ginger shots and vitamin C. As for ‘disease’ – well that word could darken anybody’s mood – and mine was getting blacker by the second.
Despite my rising panic, I tried to act ‘normal’ and focus as the doctor talked about lifestyle changes, listing foods I should avoid – which seemed to be ALL my favourite foods. I could cope without chocolate and live without curry and manage to get by without virtually everything else on the list, but when he said ‘no wine or coffee’ my heart sank to my shoes. How could I say goodbye to these two life-long loves? Depressed, I wondered whether it might be easier to just shoot myself or check into a convent right away, but I held it together as the doctor drew his merciless monologue to a close and dismissed me with words I would struggle to forget…
“Most people with this disease manage to live normal lives, so don’t worry.”
And so my inner over-thinker leapt forth, analysing what he really meant – as we over-thinkers tend to do…
Most people – means everyone but me.
Manage to – means I won’t manage.
Normal ‘enough’ – means normal for everyone – but me.
Don’t worry – means WORRY. Worry A LOT.
I left hospital that evening with a lot more than I arrived with. Going home with me was a disease, a sore throat, a bag of medication and the stomach pain I walked in with. It was surreal and I felt like I’d wandered into someone else’s nightmare. Sadly I hadn’t. This nightmare well and truly belonged to me.
From that point everything changed as I embarked on a metaphorical rollercoaster ride – one which I couldn’t navigate or stop. In response I retreated inward and reluctant to socialise came to exist on the periphery of life. But if I had to venture out I presented my ‘happy’ face and kept my inner turmoil private. I preferred it that way.
For months I followed the rules. I took the medicines, had the tests and lived a saintly life, but despite it all, things got worse. The sore throat I hadn’t initially been aware of had grown indomitable, presenting in a variety of guises – sore, scratchy, tight, burning, sensitive – occasionally calm if I was lucky. Over time more symptoms rolled up, with earache, toothache, insomnia, sore skin and palpitations coming along for the party. It was frustrating, depressing, and all rather strange.
Finding a way through
Life was becoming a challenge and I struggled to find enjoyment in anything. I felt like an outsider looking in at a party I hadn’t been invited to and knew I had to do something to find a way through and not let my present become my future.
So I explored a plethora of approaches from acupuncture and yoga to reflexology, meditation and mindfulness, with many others in between. I even went to a health retreat in Malta.
But nothing changed.
I put my faith in supplements and vitamins, spending a fortune on the many hope-infused packages ordered from far-flung corners of the globe.
But nothing changed.
I discovered a diet advocated for people with my health condition and followed it with the discipline of a Russian Gymnast. It consisted of eating mainly green things with protein and home made organic bone broth. I stuck at it rigidly and hoped it would be the answer.
But nothing changed.
My days became groundhog, built around routines implemented to restore my health. I took the supplements, went to the appointments and followed my self-imposed diet, never once falling off the wagon. I even noted every symptom, every food I consumed and every emotion I felt in a diary which I updated all day long, then cross referenced at night for clues and connections.
But I couldn’t find any.
I spent hours on the web in chat rooms, forums and Facebook groups for people with throat related issues. These were dark, depressing places, frequented by people who carried pain like trophies and defined themselves by disease. A silent voyeur, I absorbed it all, feeling the fear of strangers and believing their pain was my pain. After a while I became aware of one disease which was mentioned frequently. It was an unpleasant disease and difficult to defeat, yet it seemed familiar to me. I knew this disease. I had the symptoms. With great trepidation I realised it was what ailed me.
And I was terrified.
I went to see my Consultant, but before I could tell him about my self-diagnosis, he said I was healthy and there had been a mistake at the hospital that night. My tests had returned normal, they could find nothing concerning. I was free!
I had longed for these words but I knew I had a terrible disease so they meant nothing. I told the Consultant my fears but to my dismay he dismissed them and me, telling me to go away, relax and enjoy life.
What a joke!
I was traumatised. Having received unnecessary medical attention for months, I now needed it for real, but all support had been withdrawn.
I didn’t know what to do.
Life was a struggle
From there it all got worse. I would wake daily to a feeling of uncomfortable apprehension and the overwhelming sensation of being strangled. My days were challenging as I tried to deal with the symptoms while a stream of dark thoughts rolled around my mind and would not let me be. At night I would collapse into bed yearning for sleep to bring reprieve, whilst feeling afraid of what tomorrow would bring.
It continued for weeks and I came to realise that whatever I did, I was not going to win this battle. I had tried so many different things to reclaim my life and had got nowhere. It was time to stop fighting.
But the universe works in mysterious ways and as I was about to throw in the towel, quite by chance I crossed paths with a kindly doctor who listened as I sobbed out the entire torturous tale.
And when I was done he turned to me and said two little words,
That’s right – he said ANXIETY!
I had spent many months on a journey TO ANXIETY. Next time, I will tell you how I began to go BEYOND.
Just for the record, you might wonder what became of my original stomach pain – the one which took me to hospital that night?
Well it turned out to be very simple, though certainly not glamorous!
While on holiday in Canada I went to the Emergency Room with the same pain that had struck me at home. And within minutes an extremely sensible and thorough doctor identified what four British medical minds could not work out between them.
IT WAS CONSTIPATION!!!
Good old constipation!
And ever since I have wondered if my doctors figured that out, would I have gone on a journey to anxiety and beyond?
I guess I will never know!