Trigger Warning: This is not a cheery post and talks about feelings of hopelessness and worthlessness. Please don’t read on if you feel that this may upset you or cause you any form of mental distress. This blog is here to raise awareness, improve understanding and communicate difficult themes of mental illness that I experience, it is not here to cause any distress so please read with caution and look after yourself!
Crises are things that many of us go through at some point in our lives. Whether it be a mid-life crisis, a confidence crisis, a devastating loss, a sudden change in circumstance, they can all be crises to us that threaten to overwhelm, take control and force us to submit to the idea that we cannot and will not cope with whatever it is that we’ve just been dealt. I am very much going through this right now.
Despite being virtually housebound for 16 long months, I have mostly been able to keep plodding on, to keep my head just above water and to keep hoping and believing that I can and will get through this and get better. Sadly, this is a very fragile state for me and involves a lot of hard work and effort to keep the negative thoughts at bay and to keep moving forwards as best I can. I have to work at it every single day otherwise the drowning feeling quickly seeps in and takes over and I have to fish myself out again, always a little more damaged by the darkness that’s snuck into my head. Each time it gets a little harder for me to find the light, to find hope again, to believe that this may be temporary and I may be lucky enough to get my life back again.
So what sparked this crisis off? I’ve been waiting for the last month to hear from the support worker I’m supposed to have been allocated after my last psychiatrist appointment where I was finally diagnosed. I have been incredibly anxious about this phonecall and every time my phone has rung my heart has skipped a beat and my breath has caught in my chest while I check the caller ID and see if it could be them. But I haven’t heard anything. I’ve been feeling increasingly apprehensive about whether I’ll like the person, whether we’ll get on, whether the treatment will be set at my pace or whether I’ll be forced to do things I feel unable to do and pushed too hard or not be believed if I say that I cannot do what they’re requesting. I’ve worried about whether it will make me worse by pushing me too far too fast, whether it will indeed help and if it doesn’t, what, if anything, might help instead. All of these thoughts have been racing through my head every day for the last month and it’s exhausting. My head feels full, like it’s wedged full with cotton wool which makes concentrating on even the most basic of tasks increasingly difficult. It’s why my reviews are so sporadic, because some days I’m completely unable to get ideas down on paper or even pick a colour or a page to colour. Other reviewers complete around 5 reviews a week, I’m lucky if I manage half that despite not working, not having children and being a total disaster of a housewife because I find the task monumental and every single step takes longer than it should or would if I were well. I try to ignore this and just keep plodding on at my own pace but it’s hard not to compare myself to others and wonder how I’ll ever cope with a real job again if I’m struggling so much with doing this. Don’t get me wrong, I love reviewing and I’m unbelievably grateful that I’m being given the opportunity to write them for publishers who kindly donate copies of their books, but I find it very hard to keep on top of it and to not get overwhelmed. But, I refuse to give up – I refuse to surrender another part of my life to my condition. I have to challenge myself, to keep pushing my boundaries and to keep standing up to the anxiety or it will take over every part of my life and my personality. So I keep going, I keep fighting the demons, I keep telling myself that I can do it, that I am achieving something, that I am, in a small way, helping others with my reviews and that I’m not totally useless like I regularly slip into thinking.
Anyway, on top of all of these daily thoughts and worries about the support worker which are already added to my general every day worries and anxieties, I received a letter on Friday which was what triggered this crisis. I’ve been asked to attend yet another assessment, with another member of staff I’ve never met (this time a nurse) at a day centre I’ve not attended since I was 18. I don’t know what this assessment is for, or why I’ve been asked to attend. I’ve been sent a standardised letter which totally panicked me because the wording states that they’re assessing me “to determine the best course of treatment for you at this time” and that it will last an hour to “enable you to discuss your current difficulties and whether we can help you at this time”. I’ve already been given a treatment plan and was under the impression that the next step was a support worker being allocated to me and contacting me to arrange a home visit. None of this has happened and I have no idea what this assessment is for. I’ve phoned this week to ask my psychiatrist what’s going on and what it’s for but I’m yet to receive a response so I’ve now spent 6 days (and counting) feeling incredibly anxious to the point where my insomnia has worsened and I’m now unable to sleep before 4am instead of my usual 2am and yesterday I didn’t sleep until almost 5.30am. This then means that I’m even less able to deal with the anxiety and I’ve already had at least 4 panic attacks this week because of it.
Not only has my anxiety worsened significantly, I’m now able to do even less than I usually can because my baseline anxiety level is so high that it takes very little to push me into levels where I can’t control it or cope and have a panic attack so I’m now leaving the flat even less than usual and I’m now even more trapped in my own home and my own head. This has really scared me because normally a letter would shake me up for that day, maybe the next as well but I’m now at nearly a week later and I’m still not calming down. It’s got me questioning major parts of my life (hence the crisis) and I’m now wondering if I’ll ever get better, what might help, will anything help, what do I do if I stay at this level of functioning for a number of years without improvement? I have goals and dreams and plans for my life. None of these are especially big or outlandish. I don’t want to travel the world, if I can never go on an aeroplane again then so be it. I don’t want to bungee jump, skydive or put on a concert for 1000s of people. All I want is to be able to leave the house when I want to. I want to be able to work. To socialise. To get married. Most of all? I want to stop feeling scared. I’m fearful of so many things, it has taken over my whole life and I now overthink everything. I want to be able to get dressed and not worry about what people will think of what I’m wearing. I want to be able to work without the fear that I will fail or let people down. I want to be able to say no to people without the fear that I will be rejected and end up alone. I want to feel confident in my own skin, to feel safe, and to know that the choices I make are ok and accepted and that I don’t need to worry all the time. I want to stop feeling afraid.
This week has caused me to feel totally lost. I feel like I’ve barely made any progress since getting ill 16 months ago. I try my hardest every day and I challenge myself regularly. I’ll achieve something one day and then not be able to do that thing again for another month or even 6. At this rate of progress I still won’t be able to work in a decade and that’s hard to stomach when you’re only 24 and you have your whole life ahead of you. I want to be able to fulfil my modest dreams, to achieve the things I hope for. I want to know that somehow, someday, I will get better. That I will get my life back and grab it with both hands so that I can change the lives of others with conditions like mine. I’m desperate to make a difference, a bigger difference than I can possibly make sat behind a computer screen and trapped inside my flat. I have no idea how to get better, or what will work. I was so convinced that medication would work and I’d be back at work within 2 weeks. I thought I’d be able to drag myself away from the irrational fears and force myself into no longer being scared but that has not been the case. I’m rapidly losing hope and I feel like I’m pretty much out of options. I’m not religious, I don’t have faith, I don’t have the comfort of believing in a higher being that has a plan for me that I just have to wait out until it improves. I don’t have anything to rely on or to comfort me in these dark hours to prove that I will get better and that it’s just a matter of time. So I have to keep working, all day, every day, on trying to keep my head above water and when I can’t do that, like I can’t currently, I have to just try to prevent myself from drowning and falling further down under the water. My hope is that this anxiety will calm down again over the next few days and I’ll be able to build myself back up with the help of those closest to me who I know still believe in my ability to improve and get myself better. One thing I have in spades is determination so if anyone can do it, then I can, but right now that feels so untrue and so impossible because I can no longer think of a solution or method to improve and without that it feels like all hope is gone because I have nothing left to hope with. I have heaps to hope for but that just feels like torture, like showing a hungry child photo upon photo of plates of delicious food without giving them any way of having it. The hunger is easier to deal with and ignore if you don’t think about the thing that you want most – food. So I’m trying to ignore all of the things I’m missing out on, the things I’m desperate to do, the simple things that everyone around me takes for granted but that would make my day if I could just do them without fear anymore. I’ll keep on colouring and reviewing and keeping myself busy in the hope that it will keep my mind occupied at least some of the time and keep me distracted from the constant stream of “what if?” and “how the hell?” questions running through my head. Hopefully this crisis will pass as quickly as it’s hit me but for the moment I’m drowning and trying desperately not to sink any lower.
My heart goes out to you. I know this kind of fear and terrible anxiety. It’s hard to believe when we are in the thick of these feelings that improvement is possible. There have been times I’ve decided, “Oh, well, possible for OTHERS maybe, but I’m the ONE PERSON who will never get better!” Yet despite that, I always have, and there have been long stretches of my life with pretty much no anxiety issues (I’m 62 by the way, old enough to be your grandmama).
My first issues were at around your age, with terrible anxiety which turned into agoraphobia… what you share sounds very familiar! This lasted a few years, but then I reclaimed everything, went back to working, marrying, raising a child. I can’t say the improvement was because of anything in particular that I did (also was not given any meds back then – this was the early 70’s). Life changes us, and you’re young. Have faith that significant improvement can simply come without your having to work hard for it!
There have been a couple of other times at mid-life that anxiety has re-entered my life. You’d think one would get used to it, but it’s always just as horrid, even when we have experience of it! I’ve tried anxiety meds (benzos which I don’t tolerate well, the herb valerian, Rescue Remedy, etc.), but find its generally good old time that ultimately makes the difference.
One of the best helps I’ve received is through the books of Claire Weekes. Have you read them? She was an Australian doctor who wrote books to help others with anxiety; this was back in the late 60’s/early 70’s. Her philosophy has been the very best in helping me get through the frightening times and sensations. Her books stay right on my bookshelf and are well-thumbed!
Please hang in and try not to be overly afraid of the future. You CAN get through while contending with these upsetting thoughts and bodily sensations – remember they are just that. Thoughts needn’t be believed! And bodily sensations change in time – adrenaline always eventually peters out.
I have had a rich and beautiful life, despite such struggles. Anxiety can always be conquered with time. Distract yourself, enjoy your coloring, and take heart at any moment of lightening that comes in the course of a day. Better times are coming for you, I PROMISE. Be brave.
Jacquie, thank you so much for taking the time to write a comment and for reading my blog in the first place. It’s so great to hear that you were able to make a spontaneous recovery a number of times because it’s certainly looking like that might be my only way through this and I’ve never really heard of that happening to anyone. Everything I read is either about people who were moderately affected for a few months and then recovered or went on medication which helped or people who are severely affected like I am who never get better and stay housebound for decades which is not something I want to live through. It’s really cheered me up to hear from someone who’s been where I am and has come out the other side and managed to spend years without much anxiety. I definitely feel that time is what I now need and I think forcing myself through treatment that I don’t especially believe in and that is so anxiety-provoking is a bad idea at least at the moment. It makes day to day living so miserable and this has been a truly awful week because of it. I hope I’ll be able to be brave enough to contact the NHS again and explain where I’m at and postpone the treatment until I’m better able to deal with it and that that will make me feel calmer and pull out of this crisis again.
I will certainly look into Claire’s books and see what I think of them. I’m a firm believer in self-help so that if you relapse you can pull yourself out of it again but I certainly need help with it because so far progress is very minimal. I shall try and wait it out, get through this crisis and go back to making the most of the bits of the day I enjoy and the achievements I accomplish, however small they may be. Thank you so much for your lovely words and for telling me some of your story. It has really helped and I shall try and keep it in mind through the tougher moments. Thank you! Lucy x
I’m sorry you’re having such a rough time. Somehow the hope of getting new help makes the uncertainty even worse, doesn’t it?
All I can say is that if anyone can get through this and fulfil all their dreams, it’s you (and people can and do, so I have every faith in you). As you already know, that involves a lot of fighting to tread water so you don’t drown, and you can do that, I know it.
If you ever need to talk/rant, you know where I am. x
Thanks for your lovely comments 🙂 I will certainly continue to try and keep fighting this. It’s good to know that people around me believe I can do this, particularly when my belief in that is currently so weak. Hopefully I can work out what I want in terms of this treatment and then let them know and hopefully start feeling better about it all. I’m thinking about postponing it because it’s making me so much worse at the moment and my level of functioning has majorly dropped over the last few weeks because of it. I don’t want to refuse treatment but at the moment I feel like I’m too ill to deal with other people getting involved and pushing me to do things I don’t feel able to do. We’ll see. Thanks for being there and I’m sure I’ll be updating people when I know what I’ve decided and what’s going on. xxx
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I think you might find comfort in this article, written by a very successful reporter for the New York Times, who speaks of his experience with tremendous anxiety and depression. Please note his response to being introduced to the works of Claire Weekes! http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/15/jokers-wild/#more-131327
I know it’s hard to believe, but I honestly feel everything you’re going through. Just when you feel you may be starting to get better, something comes along that cripples you more severely than the last. You’ve reminded me that even the strongest looking of people are still susceptible to moments of weakness.
As you well know, I struggle too. It’s horrific. And though it’s of little comfort, it’s good to know I’m not alone. You’re not alone either.
I do believe you, so many people have been in touch with me since I wrote this to say exactly the same thing – that I’d voiced exactly how they feel. it’s been lovely hearing from people who’ve been where we are and have recovered though despite months or years in the pit that currently contains us. You may find it helpful to read some of the other comments on this post, it’s certainly made me feel at least a little more hopeful that there is the possibility of recovery! It’s very good to know we’re not alone and can at least journey together. I hope today is being kind to you! 🙂
I found your blog for the first time tonight, via an article in the Guardian about colouring books.
I read this post repeatedly thinking “This is me, this is me!!”
I was in this position 3.5 years ago – completely agoraphobic, Anxious 24/7 & in the deepest depression.
I would go to the ER (I live in Canada now but am British) every time I had a panic attack! After a particularly awful visit I was assessed by Psych & sent home with new medication (had to try a lot of different ones to get any relief) and they set up a support worker to come for a home visit twice a week at first, then once a week.
(Sorry if this gets long – I just really wanted to respond after reading the comments)
I. Was. Terrified.
I thought I’d be forced into going outside to socialise or look for a job by an angry matron type character I’d made up in my head!
I couldn’t have been more wrong. A lovely woman came to my flat. I made her a cup of tea.
After a short chat she asked if I’d considered joining the local ymca community… I had a complete crying meltdown, sqeaking about not being even able to walk down the street alone & 100% no way could I do that!
She spent the next hour saying it would always be my choice – no-one would force me to do anything I wasn’t ready for. I just cried endlessly.
I owe a lot to her. She would come each week & we’d just talk about how I was coping/not coping & honestly – it was the beginning of re-socialising me.
Next came CBT – the most useful therapy I ever had. It got me out of my agoraphobia.
I still appreciate every day that I step outside & realise those people helped me get there.
I hope some of this made sense – I wanted to say that a case worker is there to support – not force. I really wish you all the best & hope I didn’t just type a bunch of nonsense!
(p.s. I am addicted to colouring so look forward to reading this blog!)
Thank you so much for writing, it all made total sense so don’t worry about that at all! Thank you for taking the time to be so detailed about your experiences. I’m really pleased to hear that your treatment worked so well and helped you so much. I’ve had a lot of CBT in the past for depression and didn’t find it especially helpful but at some point when I’m well enough I will be having it for the anxiety and I’m hoping it might be more successful. It’s so great to hear from others who’ve been where I am currently and have recovered. I’ve read a lot online but most people seem to have been ill a couple of months and then get better or stay housebound for decades with no recovery. I don’t fit in the first category because I’m much more severe than that and the second is where I’m desperately trying to avoid. Thank you for sharing your story, it has certainly helped me feel more hopeful!
Please don’t feel alone in your anxiety. Many of us know exactly how you feel and empathise completely. All feelings of anxiety – no matter how profound and overwhelming – are ephemeral and will pass. It never feels this way at the time because when you are trapped in a dark place of anxiety your brain lies to you and would convince you that it’s a terminal case, that there is no way out or no hope. This is not the truth. Anxiety is symptomatic of a creative and sensitive mind; you can harness this nervous energy into all kinds of creativity. Most of all this anxiety puts you in a unique position to empathise with others who are similarly suffering. Your experience matters and even just reading this blog has made me feel less alone with my own anxiety and despair. Keep colouring. Keep trying. Hold on for things to get better. Don’t ever lose hope. Over time things of necessity change. Nothing in life stays the same or is static. Have faith in yourself and your ability to endure and adapt and change. Anxiety is so difficult to manage but it can be done – mindfulness, meditation, diazepam, beta-blockers, yoga, talking to those close to you, colouring — all of these will help.
Thank you for your comment Joanne, and your email (I’ll be in touch soon and am very happy to be interviewed). I am certainly doing my best to keep going and keep doing all of the things you suggest. My concentration has improved a bit this week so I’m pushing on with reviews today after a week of being unable to do so last week so I’m hoping things are moving in the right direction. It’s all very slow and I’m trying very hard to stay hopeful and not give in to the depression and anxiety that take over my thoughts process so often. I’m so pleased to hear that reading about my experiences has made you feel less alone. I’m so pleased that I’m able to reach people and voice how they’re feeling and help raise awareness about what these conditions are like to live with. I shall keep pushing through until I reach happier more hopeful times again. Thank you for writing, it means a lot! 🙂