A Health Update

The great war on anxiety continues here and barely a day passes without a minor skirmish being fought. I’m not quite sure who’s winning. A week ago, I would have said I’d made a decisive victory, but then just when I think it’s over, I find newly replenished and reinvigorated troops marching back from the dark side. This has been the pattern so far; I feel I am gaining ground and then, just as my confidence rises, so the anxiety returns stronger. I’d like to think of myself as Hercules, slaying the many-headed Hydra, or Perseus determined to outwit the Medusa, but alas the reality is far less mythic. I’m just an ordinary middle-aged woman trying to face down old and rather ugly demons because it turns out I have a strong disinclination towards negative emotions.

Everyone has a cross to bear, this much I know. I began long ago with chronic fatigue, and over time this has revealed itself as the cover for banked up reserves of anxiety. So, we have to take this as progress. But I find that my emotions are still rarely experienced as such, instead I am far more likely to feel ill with them: sadness is lethargy, distress is pain, insecurity is nausea. This tends to make me feel more victimised, because it’s harder to tell a physical sensation to go away than it is an emotion, harder to assuage it.

A fortnight ago I tried Reiki for the first time. I went to the local alternative health centre, where I feel very comfortable as I know it well. There’s a lovely woman on reception, the mother of a friend of my son, and seeing her always makes me feel right at home. The Reiki healer was unknown to me, a small, neat woman who came from Eastern Europe, at a guess, and who exuded compassion. I lay on her couch and she explained what would happen; that she would place her hands on me and I would feel warmth, possibly emotion too, and that whatever came up I should simply allow to be. She had been practising Reiki for many years and had pretty much seen it all. Not that I find that sort of thing particularly reassuring as keeping my emotions packed away has been one of my key goals in life, although it becomes clear that here lies one of the big problems.

‘I say a prayer for you before I begin, okay?’ she asked me, and I said ‘Okay!’ as I figured I need all the help I can get and frankly any source is good by me. Then she placed her hands gently across me, spending a lot of time on my head (‘No kidding,’ said Mister Litlove. ‘I expect she could hear the hot metal ticking in there.’) I felt rigid with tension to begin with, but I concentrated on my breathing and gradually I felt myself begin to drift away. I was quite sorry when it ended because it had become peaceful and safe. As I was thanking her, she held my hands and patted them kindly. ‘You will be able to let go more now,’ she said, and I tried to smile as if this were pleasing, rather than horrifying. I had a headache in the evening, but I felt okay, too, and the constant underlying anxiety had actually, finally gone away. This lovely state of affairs lasted about 48 hours, before the anxiety was back, but I felt braver for the tussles, and it really did seem that perhaps I was making a breakthrough. Ach, and then it all went wrong again and the past week has been a white water ride. She suggested I should go once or twice more and then leave it for a while. I should book in again.

I also still have the doctor’s pills which I keep putting off taking, partly out of stupid stubborn desires to overcome this myself, partly because I am a wimp and the thought of side effects when I feel poorly already is quite unbearable. I suppose here lies the crux of the matter; I don’t feel calm in the face of what my body can do to me. I’m not accepting of ill health, or pain or suffering. When I get a symptom, I don’t say, oh look, it’s a symptom; I say, the end is nigh! And yes, as ludicrous as my intelligence recognises this to be, the tenacious lizard brain that controls my sense of survival has a direct hold on my central nervous system, and persuading it to let go is no easy matter.

All I can usefully do is be honest about where I am; hence this sort of post. I know I am reluctant to reveal how I feel out of fear that people will gasp in horror and whisk their children out of my sight, etc. In fact, whenever I have spoken about my travails in the land of anxiety, people have been nothing but sympathetic and compassionate and often full of reassurance and good advice. People, bring it on. I need all the reassurance I can get right now that this will pass and that facing it down will do me good in the end.

Out of reasons of transparency I also told my son a bit about it earlier today. I’ve been very conscious that I’ve not been quite so present of late, hiding out in my room rather than sitting with him, and I’ve been agonising over the best way to keep him free of worry. I don’t like the atmosphere that arises when there are things that can’t be said. So I told him I didn’t have chronic fatigue anymore, but was dealing with anxiety that had built up over time and that I’d never really faced, preferring to be stoic. My son, as he often does when I’m telling him something he recognises as important, acted this out. ‘I’m not going to deal with you now,’ he said, shaking his head. ‘No, and I’m not going to deal with you either.’ Then he lifted up a finger and put on his cartoon lightbulb-moment face. ‘Now I’m dealing with you!’ he declared.

‘I just didn’t want you to worry,’ I said. ‘I’ll be fine, but it may not always be pretty. Dad’s brilliant at helping me when I’m anxious, though.’

‘We’re all good together,’ said my son, reassuringly.

‘Yes, I do realise that I can only deal with this because I feel so secure and loved,’ I said. ‘It’s ironic that I’m feeling all this anxiety when my life is really perfect. You’re the one with tough exams this summer. I don’t want you ever to think that you can’t tell me your problems; they’ll make a nice change from my own.’

My son gave me a look. ‘If I don’t tell you my problems it’s because I don’t want you to know,’ he said. ‘I am a teenager, after all.’

We had a good laugh about that, and I pointed out that since I couldn’t be a good example I had to be a terrible warning about the dangers of bottling, and then I said he might have to help his father out a bit practically when there were things I couldn’t do (I’d been schooled by Mister Litlove to put in this bit), and he sashayed off down the hall seemingly quite unconcerned. I am such a lucky woman to have a boy like that. In the midst of this difficult patch, I feel so grateful for all the love and support I have around me from my family and my friends. Many of whom I owe an email right now!  With all your help, I should be able to beat this, right?


30 thoughts on “A Health Update

  1. I have beautiful walking stick… which has gathered up and put on Found Things: aluminum can tabs, colored ribbons, shiny bits of this and that… it’s become Spirit Stick (I won’t say ‘my’… ownership is a kind of slavery). For whatever good it does, I’m not much of a believer in this sort of thing… I will shake it the four directions, & up, and down, & in a circle to encompass us all… & I’ll hold you in my thoughts as I make this gesture of blessing.

    The 7 principles of Spirit Stick who walks with me:

    …that there are as many gods as there are people who imagine them
    …that all imagined gods are real
    …that those who keep their god in chains become prisoners of their
    own lives, walking through the world untouching untouched
    … that if you give your god its freedom it will grow in power and (some not all) of its power will be yours
    … that the gods care nothing about good and evil
    … that they only know what you teach them
    … that imagined gods cannot save you from death, but if you ask, they may give you the power to save them from death… and you from your own deepest fears


  2. Just know we’re there. When I find myself careering out of control and know that I’m going to have to suffer the consequences, knowing that my friends are there is the only way through.

  3. Yes, you absolutely WILL beat it! Despite setbacks here and there, I can tell you are well on your way. The Reiki sounds lovely. I should try it, although I am always, always so skeptical of such things. What a sweet son you have. Do concentrate on that last paragraph of yours, because I believe love is absolutely the best medicine of all.

  4. You will get better. There is no reason why you wouldn’t. The problem with panic attacks (I suppose that’s what it is, right?) is that they sensibilize your nerves. It’s pretty much like an abrasion. Once the nerves are sore, it takes not much to trigger it again. It’s importnat to know this. It’s a cycle and it will get better. As long as you are scared that it will get worse and worse you do not let your nerves rest. It’s all very normal (depending on the constitution). I consider it far better than the chronic fatigue, life seems to be flowing back. Now you will have to learn to let it flow more gently and to trust yourself. It’s good to know you have the tablets. Maybe you should take one to interrupt the cycle. I had severe insomnia a few years back and my doctor scolded me and said I should just take one sleeping tablet (which is very difficult in my case, I react pardoxically to benzodiazepines and we had a hard time finding something) to break the vicious cycle. To see that they worked (it was a very weak OTC product) gave me confidence. I didn’t need it again. Just to feel that it really works could be comforting. Hope I’m making sense. In any case do just take a light anxiolytic.

  5. Litlove- I’m very sorry to hear you are having such a terrible time. I know what it is like to be anxious. It gets utterly exhausting always being on edge, constantly tied up in knots and struggling not to be overwhelmed by lizard brain twitching.

    I wouldn’t go so far as to say there is an upside to having a temperament that is prone to anxiety but your son sounds like a lovely, funny, sweet young man. No doubt that is partly innate but perhaps it is also because of all your careful, conscientious, sensitive care of him over the years. To be, or to have, an anxious mother, is probably a mixed blessing but we are certainly attentive and concerned as parents and anxiety is part of what makes us so.

    That said overwhelming anxiety is horrible and a problem. I understand that a lot of people find medication helpful and if your anxiety has reached the point where it is preventing you from living the life you want maybe it is worth a try. It may improve your life a lot and can it really make things much worse?

  6. Many years ago, when I was in training to become a psychologist, one of my psychiatrist supervisors explained the taking of medication for anxiety/panic like this: The panic sensations are a learned response, triggering your fight-or-flight response for different reasons for different people. Taking a short-acting medication, like a benzodiazepine, provides an opportunity to escape and unlearn what felt like an inescapable physical and mental state. Just having that experience of cutting the anxiety short a few times, makes it eventually less and less necessary to take the medication, to simply carrying it in your pocket “just in case.” Many people with panic attacks share the fear of dependency on medication, but in fact, relying on medication for awhile makes you less dependent and less fearful eventually. This of course only applies to me and many, many patients I’ve seen. But everyone is different. But since you have a doctor who prescribed something for you, he/she must have had a good reason and if you otherwise trust them, you should give it a try. Anxious stoics are always resistant to psychotropic medication that can often change their lives.

  7. Sending you huge hugs, my dear friend. I’m sure it’s precisely because you are in safe and secure place in your life that your anxiety is rearing its head. Thank goodness that you are surrounded by love and understanding and kindness – a backdrop from which you are able to explore ways through your anxiety. I hope that your journey is swift and direct.

  8. This is huge progress, though it doesn’t feel like it to you.

    I think you realize pretty clearly that this anxiety is years’ worth of stored pain. And learning to tolerate that pain long enough for it to be acknowledged and released is a process you will fight. I know this from first-hand experience. But I also know that it can be done.

    One thing I have found to be really helpful in getting past the spot where stored negative emotion is still expressed as physical illness is to simply explain to myself — like, just talk to myself, in my head — that expressing emotion in this way compromises my ability to attend to my own safety and comfort. This stored anxiety, this unprocessed pain, comes from needs not being met. Often the parts of the mind that are trying to get your attention in these ways will respond to a calm and kind explanation that their manner of getting your attention is defeating their own desire to be taken care of. This may mean you experience more emotion rather than physical symptoms, but the emotion is actually easier to deal with, though until you see it for yourself, it’s hard to believe that can be true. It’s hard to believe that emotion won’t kill you — and that is what you believe on some level, or you wouldn’t have repressed and stored it up for so long. But it won’t kill you. It might scare the living crap out of you for a little while, but you’ll find that it can be dealt with and released. It’s sort of like toxic gas coming up from a well shaft … it’s pretty intense, but it does dissipate.

    The hardest thing for me to learn was to stop telling anything to go away, but to ask it, instead, what it was trying to tell me. Oddly, sometimes just asking it what it wanted made it go away. The physical symptoms are linked to parts of yourself you can talk to. Doing that may make you feel less victimized.

  9. You have such a lovely family litlove. With their support I hope you get to be less stoic and find a way to feel better. My brother does reiki. I’m cynical about that sort of thing, but he did it for me once and it seemed to help.

  10. Sorry to hear that you’ve been having a rough time lately but it’s reassuring to hear that the chronic fatigue has largely been replaced by anxiety (even if the anxiety is such a bugbear in itself). As for the pills and breaking the cycle, I would be quite curious to take one of those pills when I feel very anxious to see what happens. The danger I suppose is that you could feel zonked out but as an experiment it could be worthwhile (although I guess you are worried about the side-effects). As always I think you write about this extremely well. I’ve been thinking about writing as a mindfulness exercise. You know, being aware of all the thoughts that are there but trying not to feed into them. I’ll let you know if I find anything useful in that regard.


    Love the whisked away children – I know you’ve got this licked because you’re too funny to fall so very far – and your sardonic son. And you. Xxx

  12. Dear Litlove, I’m sure you’ll be able to shake out of this funk (is that the word?) soon enough. Reiki sounds great, perhaps you should go there more often? I just finished Devotion by Dani Shapiro, where the writer tells about her own anxiety bouts. If you’re in the mood for some spiritual questions, it would perhaps interest you, but each anxiety is deeply personal, I think there’s no easy answer. Keeping you in my thoughts!

  13. What a good son you have. Sounds like you done good there.

    #hughughug I am so sorry you’re struggling with this. And I completely understand the pills thing — I took an antidepressant, briefly, and I was furious the entire time that my body was forcing me to this extremity. I’m afraid my reluctance about the pills may have worked against their effectiveness, honestly. The human brain is so finicky. The only thing that’s consistently worked for me has been cognitive behavioral therapy, which might have been designed for me as I am the most suggestible human being on the face of the earth. :p

  14. “It’s ironic that I’m feeling all this anxiety when my life is really perfect.”

    That’s exactly when it’s safe enough–though it sucks to have the perfect life interfered with in this way. You are making progress. Don’t worry about the emails owed. At this stage you are doing the best you can, which is tremendous. You are trying new things, and they are helping, even though they are not making everything go away instantly and not yet permanently.

  15. Dear blogging friends, you are magnificent. I am reading all your messages, often many times over, as they all bring a little bit more peace back into my heart. Plus you all have such good ways of thinking about things and excellent advice for me. Big hugs to all of you. I will answer comments individually eventually (and on my previous posts), the moment will come! But I do so appreciate your support – it means the world to me.

  16. Oh my dear Litlove, how I do understand. This has been a long, anxious winter for me as well, for I “live in my head far more than is good for me,” as one dear friend put it. It’s so wearing physically as well, which is what people don’t often understand. And though realistically you know there are things you can do for it – like therapies of various sorts, and pills of more various sorts, and exercise, and deep breathing, and healthy diet – it all just seems too much at times.

    Forgive me for hijacking your beautiful, candid post and adding my own litany of problems. You’ve apparently been a catalyst for me to release some of my own bottled up anxiety about the past few months! Just know that you aren’t alone, and that we’re all of us seekers for a brighter day 🙂

    Hugs to you 🙂

  17. Aw, I’m so sorry to hear that you’re struggling with this. I very much relate to the experience of coming up against a mental obstacle time after time, feeling like it will never give way. Then, eventually, miraculously, I’ve found it does. I’m sure it will happen for you as well, especially since you’re working so hard and surrounded by such a sweet, supportive family. And you’re keeping a sense of humor, at least enough to write a funny blog post about your situation now and then! That’s quite a good sign, I think. Best wishes, lady.

  18. Much has been said already and all of it good. All I will add is that these things are deep seated and long established and you will have to keep chipping away at them in whatever way you find to help. We all support you in that I’m sure. And we’ll keep offering that support as anyone with knowledge or experience of this kind of thing well knows how helpful support can be when you are in a lonely place. Best wishes.

  19. Amazing how connected the mind is to the body! Reiki sounds perfect for you.
    So do the wonderful Mr. Litlove and your son. Teenagers just know how to put things in perspective (shhhh–if we tell them it goes straight to their heads).

    You’re doing all of the right things, and keeping your humor intact. Just give it time; of course, I’m still waiting… :S
    Hugs to you.

  20. ‘I’ll be fine, but it may not always be pretty – this was exactly what I said to my son almost two years ago. Thank goodness for supportive spouses and children who understand.

    Hang in there.

  21. You are going to make it to a better physical place and we are all going to be here until that happens. Good luck and good medical practitioners!

  22. Sometimes it might not seem like it, but you really are getting better. Those 48 hours after the Reiki is just a taste of what is in store if you keep working at it. Since the session worked so well, it sounds like a second one is in order. Have you tried meditation? I have found it useful especially when I am anxious and stressed. You have a wonderful supportive family. Big hugs!

  23. As one who’s lived a long time in the land of anxiety and depression, I can tell you from experience that the drugs might be of help. One way to evaluate your disinclination to try them is to figure out the absolute worst thing that can happen(I’m guessing that the worst thing is that they will make you feel a little more fluff headed than you like), and, if you can bear that, (and knowing that you can stop if they really bother you), well, they are most definitely worth a try.

    PS: I adore your family. Please give Mr. litlove my best regards. I’m hoping to be in London this summer — and would love to have tea with you again. (Not to mention SOUP!) xo

  24. You are already beating it. The fact that you can acknowledge what is going on and have such an incredible self-awareness about it all has to be more than the first step towards feeling better. We are all rooting for you. As someone who has suffered with anxiety myself at times, I can relate to the struggle.

  25. *hugs* Wishing you all the very best, Litlove. You WILL beat this. And I want to echo Jenny’s comment and say I can relate to your reluctance about medication. It’s something I wouldn’t have considered a year ago, something I wouldn’t have imagined myself EVER doing until the stress of moving to a new place and starting graduate school and having such a hard time adjusting and meeting people got me down to such an extent that I was having trouble functioning on an everyday basis. I also wanted to beat it on my own – going for medication felt like cheating, somehow. But in my case they did turn out to be helpful. By this I don’t of course mean that pills are the “correct” solution. Different things work for different people. Whatever you decide, good luck!

  26. Just another message of support and empathy, Dr B. You are very much loved – by your family, and also by your former students! Sending positive thoughts your way. (And please don’t feel obliged to reply – knowing you’ll read this is all the reply I need!)

  27. You are very brave, Litlove, and wonderfully honest. As always I am impressed by your wit and clarity, even when confronted with such a difficult situation. Wish I had some wisdom to offer, but I don’t, so I send support instead, a virtual hug and lots of energy and good thoughts.

  28. Sorry I’ve been largely absent lately, but I did see your post earlier and have been thinking about you and am sorry the world still feels like it’s pressing down on you. I very much understand that feeling that you have to just ‘deal with things’ and let them get bottled up. I hope you can find a satisfying way to deal with things–I don’t like the idea of medication either, but I know there must be a solution out there. You’re a really wonderful person and I know you will be able to beat this. You have lots of people sending you good thought–me included!

  29. Your son is wonderful! I’m glad the Reiki helped out, even for a little while, and I hope you have more good experiences with it. I know that feeling of uncertainty and fear at the possibility of letting emotions out — it’s so scary and sometimes exhilarating too, but mostly just scary. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences here — it seems to help you and it can help readers as well. We all wish you the best!

  30. I’m smiling at: ‘If I don’t tell you my problems it’s because I don’t want you to know. I am a teenager, after all.’ That is one WISE teenager you’ve got, litlove!

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