In blog one…
An unexpected medical diagnosis sent me on a rollercoaster journey with my health and turned everything I had taken for granted on its head. Eventually doctors admitted there had been a mistake, but having dealt with erratic and uncomfortable physical symptoms for months, I believed I had a serious health condition. Filled with fear for the future I did everything I could think of to get well, but nothing I tried, worked.
And then, by chance, I met a doctor who told me I was not ill. I had ANXIETY.
Anxiety, or not, Anxiety? That is the question…
He said everything I had gone through was ANXIETY!
I didn’t know whether to hug the doctor or hit him.
But seeing as I’m not the demonstrative type, nor do I usually engage in random acts of violence, I did neither, as two voices went to war in my head.
“Anxiety! It’s only anxiety! You can have your life back! You’re not ill. You’re not going to DIE!” said the positive voice.
But the other one wasn’t so optimistic…
“He’s fobbing you off you idiot, DO NOT listen! You know you are ill and he knows nothing! NEVER trust a doctor, you know what they’re like! Listen to him and you could DIE!”
I wanted to put my hands over my ears and block the disagreeing duo out, but both had valid points. If I only had to deal with anxiety I could fix this. If it was only anxiety I wouldn’t have to live under a cloud and could turn off the negative scenarios that played on a loop in my mind. If it was only anxiety I had hope. If it was only anxiety I had options.
If it was only anxiety then I wasn’t ill and I wouldn’t die… at least it would be less likely and that would be a GREAT result!
But I was ill. Definitely. Doctors had spent months telling me I was – until they told me I wasn’t – so you’ll see why I was dubious.
Being told, “it’s anxiety” had put a new spin on it all but I didn’t understand how it could be anxiety. My symptoms were real and NOT in my head which was what he was really saying.
As if reading my mind the doctor said, “you have these symptoms because you are hypersensitive,”
Hypersensitive… why was that word familiar?
And with that a distant memory surfaced…
Long buried memory
Eight years earlier.
I was in the office of the heart surgeon who fixed an arrhythmia – known as SVT – that had dogged me for twenty years. He freed me from its chains and I had been delighted…until the palpitations struck again.
Having enjoyed a brief glimpse of life with a normal heart I wasn’t prepared to relinquish it, so I ran like Forrest Gump to the cardiac department for help!
After explaining the situation to my surgeon I was fitted with a monitor to wear for 24 hours and sent on my way with the instruction to do “whatever it takes (within reason) to make the heart misbehave.”
But I ignored the ‘within reason’ part.
And I took the rest of the advice literally.
*So, on kind-of doctor’s orders, I got stuck into our booze supplies and enjoyed a merry evening with, sort-of medical permission. Job done I went to bed knowing my heart would start bouncing about like a demanding baby at some point during the night.
And it did.
Next day I returned the ‘evidence’ to the hospital and a few days later went back for the surgeon’s verdict – only to be told he’d found nothing concerning! The recording had been checked several times and showed my heart had been in constant sinus rhythm.
So the surgery hadn’t come undone. I was in fine fettle and officially had the heart of a healthy person. Not the heart of someone with an arrhythmia! Yippee!
But how was it possible that despite having drunk more than I was willing to admit to a medical man, there was nothing amiss?
I knew my heart had been thudding like a high-speed train at 3am, I had felt its rhythmic thumps. So either I was delusional or he was wrong. But this doctor didn’t get things wrong. And I wasn’t delusional – unless I was deluding myself that is…
And then the surgeon suggested I could feel my heart beating so distinctly, because I had become ‘hypersensitive’ which meant every physical twinge would feel more palpable – pardon the pun – than it would the next person. Having spent years dealing with SVT, I had probably developed an over-awareness – or hypersensitivity – to my heartbeat. So I was now, kind-of on high alert. Looking for problems. Waiting for it to misbehave – subconsciously of course.
Although I didn’t really understand, I was relieved my heart was fine, accepted the explanation And it all went away. Knowing I was healthy had been enough to let go of my fears and life resumed as ‘normal.’
Now here I was, eight years later, hearing the same two words trip from the lips of another doctor.
It seemed there was a recurring theme here.
Could it be coincidence?
I don’t believe in coincidences.
I really didn’t understand what was going on.
The stress response
So the doctor explained…
Hypersensitivity can occur when the ‘stress response’ aka ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered. The stress response helps us deal with imminent threats. It goes back to when cavemen ran from prehistoric predators who wanted to turn them into Dino Nuggets and it ensures we react effectively to a threat situation. Uually the stress response is only temporarily engaged…
…unless you happen to be me, that is.
It seemed my stress response had triggered and then got stuck!
Of all the stress responses out there I got the dodgy one. The one Del Boy Trotter would sell down Peckham Market.
So I was the proud owner of a second-rate stress response that had made me hypersensitive and caused everything to malfunction as my over-stimulated nervous system remained on high alert, like a red level terror threat warning that doesn’t get downgraded. (Please note – that was a primary school level explanation so free to Google ‘hypersensitivity/stress response‘ ‘fight or flight’ if you want the grown-up version!)
With the ‘stress response’ effectively stuck, I had become hypersensitive,
A scratch in the throat felt like wild dogs were devouring my neck.
Palpitations felt like a triple heart attack.
Tooth pain felt like the worst abscess ever.
I changed beyond recognition, both physically and mentally.
Weight fell away at a rate of knots as I dropped 35 pounds in three months.
I developed an obsession with my health that ruled my life.
I lived by weird self imposed regimes I believed would protect me.
I locked myself in a prison within my mind and struggled to find positives or joy in anything.
AND IT WAS ALL DOWN TO THE STRESS RESPONSE?
It kind of made sense, but then it kind of didn’t, because despite the explanation I still knew I was ill.
So I wasn’t buying the ‘anxiety’ line and while I accepted it could be true for others, I didn’t believe it applied to me.
Meet the ‘Professor’?
The doctor then told me one way out of this situation would be to calm the anxiety – and that would then calm the physical symptoms.
Sensing my scepticism he said he had a colleague, a psychologist called Professor Black – an expert in this field and if I was willing to give it a go he would make an urgent referral to the Professor.
I knew I couldn’t carry on like this any longer, I was exhausted and desperately wanted my life back. I nodded my consent. If nothing else, it would be interesting to meet the, ‘Professor.’ So yes. I would give it a go.
So (just between us) as I left hospital that evening I took with me the teeniest, tiniest, most minuscule glimmer of hope that the Professor’ might have something new to offer.
After all, I had tried EVERYTHING else, there was nothing to lose.
And maybe, just maybe, there was something to gain.
Maybe, just maybe, he would be the answer. The one to help me find a way back to me…
And if he could, that would be a GREAT result!
Going beyond anxiety…
*(PLEASE NOTE – If you have an arrhythmia, do not get drunk at home to make it get really active. It’s not advisable. And this information was meant to be anecdotal, it was NOT. I repeat NOT a recommendation!)