Hello again dear reader.
This will be my first post since May – and the reasons for the absence should become clear.
This has been hard to write and, if you are struggling with your own mental health, it might be hard to read. But I’ve been inspired by a couple of online friends who have been open and honest about their own battles with mental health, so I felt I needed to be honest too. Please, please, please know that what follows is not intended to make anyone who knows me feel bad. I’ve struggled with the decision to post this for that very reason. On one hand I didn’t want anyone to feel bad or guilty, and on the other, I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me. I would hate to be somebody’s ‘pity party’ or for people to treat me differently. Through this whole thing I wanted my contacts with my friends to be happy and positive – and there was nothing anyone could have said or done that would have helped, anyway. This was a situation that I had to work through myself.
To cut a long story sideways, all I can say is it has been the worst few months of my life. And I include the breakup of my marriage and the all events of the subsequent disastrous rebound relationship in that assessment so, yes, it’s been THAT bad.
This time last year, I was in a pretty good place. For the first time in years I felt like I had fully got past the endings of assorted relationships, I’d had an eventful, but brilliant, holiday, I’d adopted my bonkers little cat, I had painted my kitchen and I was planning to do more decorating in the flat. I even had a bit of a social life, with lovely people in my life who were positive and supportive and I was trying to figure out ways I could get out and meet more people. Then I made a disastrous decision.
If you follow me on any of the social media thingamajigs, you might have seen my blog in April, which was about my decision to come off all my pain medications. It was a decision based on the fear of the effect they were having on my body (and my brain). I knew that taking opioid meds long-term was not a good thing. My April blog was about that decision and the side-effects of the withdrawal process (which were seriously unpleasant) but I imagined (and was told by the various doctors I saw during the process) that, once the effects of the medication were out of my system, I’d wake up one morning with a clear head and would feel so much better. Did that happen? No. Not even close.
What happened was that the side-effects of stopping subsided, but never went away completely. And the pain came back.
I know!! Who’d have thunk it?!? I genuinely thought that being free of the meds would help me be more motivated to get more active and that getting fitter would help manage the pain. Thick as two short planks, me.
Oddly (but happily) the fibromyalgia pain hasn’t completely come back – there’s just a little bit of that left. But the pain in my spine came back with a vengeance.
I think the brain is very good at blocking out memories of pain. And because the medications had never completely removed all the pain, and I’d learned to live with a certain level of what was there, I’d forgotten just how intense the pain in my back could get. I’d forgotten about the days, when I was still working, when I would make it home after an inspection and have to lie on the floor in the hall with cats crawling over me, because the pain was too intense to even get from the front door into the living room. I’d forgotten about the days I wanted to go shopping but knew I’d only make it to one shop and back before I could barely stand.
So, when it all came back, I was (literally) floored.
As the pain increased, my ability to go anywhere declined. I planned things then cancelled them. Sometimes there was a genuine reason, like having to go to see Mum, but (and I confess I sometimes made excuses) sometimes it was because I was too tired and sore and anxious to go out, but I didn’t want to say that. I even stopped my regular trips to my favourite cafes on my own, to write and people watch. I became really isolated – and that has never been a good thing for my mental health. Everything seemed to spiral downwards. As I got more isolated, my mood went down. As my mood went down, my focus on the pain increased and I became more isolated. I found comfort in staying at home, knowing that I could potter around, but that I could lie down when I needed to – but the end result was less activity, putting on weight and a mood that was in the pits of gloom, with pain levels up to a 12 out of 10.
There came a point when I started to wonder if there was any actual point to my life. There was no enjoyment in anything. I ‘knew’ that I was just a burden on everyone in my life. I ‘knew’ everyone would leave me eventually, because that’s what happened before. So what was the point, if this was going to be how it was for the rest of my life? I even joked that a trip to Dignitas had became very appealing. But it was only half-joking. That feeling came and went for quite a while. And then I would get a text from someone, or have a chat on social media with someone, or get out for a coffee with one of my lovely friends and I would feel ok for a day or two.
I’m a mental health nurse by training, so you would think I would be more likely to ask for help. But it was still hard. Eventually, I knew I had to do something and I saw a GP and told her about the pain and how miserable I was feeling. She started me on medication for depression and referred me to a mental health nurse (Jane). Jane was so lovely and positive and talking to her helped. She referred me to Healthy Active Minds, which is an Edinburgh Leisure project to help get people with mental health issues more active. I felt genuinely hopeful and I hoped that going to the gym and improving my physical health would help my mood. Unfortunately, all that happened was that I came home after every session in the gym in extreme pain and feeling worse than before – because I felt like a failure. I felt like I was letting Jane down!
Now, here comes the really hard bit.
Then came the day when it turned from an airy-fairy “Dignitas would be an option” to “ I can’t do this any more”. I got as far as ‘putting my affairs in order’ as the saying goes. My will was already written and I wrote instructions for my sister about what was to happen. I even prepared a list of passwords for various things that would help her with banks etc. And I wrote notes to the important people in my life. I sat at my table with loads of the painkillers (stuff that I’d had leftover from before) in front of me – and wondered how many I would need to take to be sure I wouldn’t screw it up. I just wanted it to stop. I think Jo Rowling was a genius when she used the Dementors in the Potter books to describe her own experience of depression. It really feels like all the good stuff has been sucked out of life, and there’s no possibility that you will ever be happy again.
At that point, even if someone had called and asked how I was, I would have said “I’m fine”. There is no way that talking to someone would have helped. I was still maintaining a ‘front’. My social media stuff was continuing as usual. This is why I know that (for me) the well-meaning advice that, if you feel like taking your life, ‘just reach out and talk to someone’ doesn’t always work. By the time I had got to that stage, I would never have talked to anyone. I didn’t want to be talked out of it. I didn’t care what anyone would think (and I knew Mum’s dementia would, ironically, protect her from knowing what I was about to do).
I sat there for hours, contemplating.
But I had forgotten about my cat. My bonkers wee cat. In the end, it was River who stopped me. It was the thought that it might be a long time before anyone realised I was missing – and I couldn’t bear the idea of her being hungry and alone. It probably sounds stupid to think about a cat and not humans, but thinking wasn’t my strong-point by that stage, and that wee animal probably saved my life. I’m sure, if I’d been really, really serious, I wouldn’t have used her as my excuse. I would have sorted out something for her before I did anything. But, in that moment, she came over and sat on my shoulder and the blackness started to turn a bit more grey.
So, after crying for the rest of that day, I went to sleep – and I woke up knowing I had to do something. And I went back to see a GP. I was fortunate enough to see the lovely Dr. Murphy (may his name be ever blessed). He listened – then he said “well, it’s pretty obvious that all this is pain-related. You don’t need more anti-depressants, you need to go back on those pain meds”.
And, dear reader, that’s what’s happening. I’m currently at the start of the process of increasing from a tiny dose of what I was on before and have been given the freedom to increase what I take over a few weeks until I’m up to a point where I feel that I can function. That might be as much as before, or I might manage on less – I’ll have to wait and see what works.
And, almost immediately I felt better. Even just the feeling that he had understood helped. And, the little amount I’m taking has eased the pain and allowed me to do a few more things around the house. Then I went for physio on Monday and got some simple exercises to do to help my overall flexibility. And, because of slightly lower pain levels, my motivation to do things has gone up. I know I have long a way to go before I feel physically and mentally better – but the difference in how I’m feeling is already huge. And I’m grateful for that.
So that’s my story. Thank you for reading – and I’m sorry if it’s a bit of a ramble. As I said at the start, I don’t want anyone to feel bad for me or guilty, or anything daft like that. What happened was a combination of circumstances and brain chemistry and bad decisions on my part and I just wanted to be honest – and maybe get the message out in a small way that this happens to a lot of people. And now I’m on the way back up, so hopefully, my next blog will be on a slightly more positive subject.
Be kind to yourselves and each other xx