Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Evil Numskulls

The mind is a terrifying thing and the power it has over the body is something I never really appreciated until I suffered from anxiety for the first time back in 2009.

What reassured me back then (and was the eventual key to my recovery, both physically and mentally) was that the underlying cause was eventually found. Admittedly the majority of the symptoms were in my head, but there was an underlying physical cause – unfortunately, by the time it was found it had healed almost by its own accord so I’d lived through months of pain unnecessarily. The doctors had done exactly the right thing and concentrated on the potentially dangerous areas first – my heart, my lungs, etc. It was only towards the end that they’d begun to look at my digestive system which eventually was where the issue was found, but then it was no longer an issue – treatment wasn’t needed because there was nothing left to treat. My body had healed itself.

I can even identify the patterns; The physical pain starts, and I begin to worry about it. Because I worry about it, my muscles tense so any actual pain is magnified to the point where I convince myself that it’s a serious issue. Because the pain is now constant, It’s constantly on my mind and so I think about it more and more to the point where I begin to create my own symptoms. This makes me tired and irritable and sluggish, because my body is constantly on edge, in “Fight or flee” mode to a threat that doesn’t exist. When it gets too much I go to the doctors and they find nothing and the relief is palpable. I feel better almost instantly. Much like Clove Oil with tooth problems, the pain switches off. Somebody in a position of authority has told me there is nothing wrong with me, and my brain and body believe them. Which is all well and good for a few days or a few weeks, but then I get a twinge. Probably the normal twinge most of us would take for granted, but then I start to dwell on it again – and the whole evil cycle repeats itself.

I’m not an idiot. I know this happens and I know this is what I’m undergoing at the moment. I’ve had months and months free of this intolerable curse and It’s knocked me for six. The reasonable part of my brain is more than aware that this is just a repeat of something that’s hit me time and time before, but unfortunately the subconscious part of my brain that is in cahoots with my body seem obsessed with whispering about me behind my back, mainly when I’m asleep. I never realised my imagination was quite this vivid.

Let’s go over the current symptoms – bear with me, this may sound like a whinge on my part, but if anything Its going to be cathartic because it’ll enable me to put in writing quite why I’m being so daft. And it’s my blog, so I’m allowed to be as cathartic as I like.

The symptoms started with chest pains, much as they did last time. A tightness in my sternum which of course means I start to scratch at it and rub the skin. This irritates the skin and makes it worse because it then starts hurting when my clothes rub against it. Which means I start to feel it all the time, so can’t forget about it.

I’ve also been suffering from upper back pains and the feeling that somebody is jabbing me in my armpit – again, the sensible Numskulls in my head know that these symptoms are both associated with stress and anxiety and are only due to muscle tightness. However, the evil traitorous numskulls read the internet ages ago and know that backfills are associated with problems with the pancreas as well. However, pancreatic problems are associated with lower back pain – but If I really concentrate on my back pain hard enough, I can start to feel it in my lower back as well. This of course isn’t anything to do with the fact that my nerves are causing my entire back to tense up because I’m thinking about it, oh no. That would be way too logical a cause. It’s pancreatic problems.

I can even recall the trigger moment; I've been going to the local doctors surgery on a Friday morning with these problems.  She's had a medical student in on those days to do her work while she oversees it.  They've put me back on Propanolol (beta-blockers) - not so much for the high blood pressure but because of their anti-anxiety effects - and they were asking me where the back pain was.  "Around my shoulders" I said whilst the medical student prodded me to confirm exactly that; the pain was at the top of my back.  "Good", mutters my Doctor to him, "That rules out anything pancreatic". 

Now, the sensible numskulls were placated by that.  But not the evil ones - they wrote it down.  Because that means all my other symptoms could indicate pancreatic problems - it's only the type of back pain that rules this out.  So what the evil numskulls do is make me concentrate so much on my back problems is that the muscles start to tense and I start to get problems in my lower back.  I'm generating my own symptoms.

I'm not - or at least never used to be - a hypochondriac.  For 38 years of my life I rarely saw the doctor and was fighting fit.  But now it appears I'm blessed with the magical ability to be able to give myself the symptoms of any chosen ailment just by thinking about them hard enough.  "Illnessiarmus!".

Because I’m not sleeping properly through worry and not eating properly because my appetite has gone, they’re symptoms of pancreatic problems as well. Let’s forget I haven’t got the accompanying fever or high temperature – they’re not always present with pancreatitis anyway. And I’m sure if I concentrated hard enough or worried about it for long enough, I could cause those symptoms to develop as well.

So, so far the traitorous numskulls are winning. They’ve forced the sensible ones out of the brain room and have locked the door behind them (and are probably leering at them through the frosted glass) but they’ve forgotten the great secret weapon that the sensible ones have. The one overwhelming element that should cause the traitorous numskulls back into hiding but for some obscure reason doesn’t.

The almighty bath. If I have a bath (and believe me, I’ve had many, many baths over the past few weeks – and it’s not even my birthday any more) the symptoms switch off. I’m not a medical man, but I’m pretty sure that pancreatic problems or heart attacks can not be cured by the application of bubblebath and hot water. Mr. Matey can not yet be found prescribed on the NHS – and if he was, they’d probably rename him Doctor Matey. Although oddly enough, it does. Well, for as long as I'm in the bath anyway.  And with me not being the Captain of a Space Ark, sitting in the bath permanently isn't really workable.  How bizarre is that? It’s almost as though I’m not dying after all, and all this nonsense is in my head.

And do you know what?  Writing about it makes all these worries seem absolutely daft and makes me feel really nasty about the burden and worry I'm putting on Tara, who has been brilliant, supportive, understanding, tolerant and patient.  All qualities which will make her a perfect counsellor.  And they all make me feel rather embarassed for feeling like I do.

But will this help when I wake up in the early hours of tomorrow morning sweating and in a panic?  Thats sadly when the sensible numskulls are all asleep.  Lazy shift workers.  Hopefully the propanolol will work - and if they don't, then the next option of antidepressants will.  I'm tired of this vicious cycle, and my body is physically exhausted from it.

1 comment:

  1. Dave. Don't know whether this will be a help or a hindrance but I have been going through the exact same cycle as you for the last eight years. Every time I convince myself I'm dying and can't think about anything else until somebody convinces me otherwise (usually Elaine telling me not to be such a prat) or the 'symptoms' go away on their own. Next time it comes round I will read this blog and remind myself and use your catharsis to hopefully 'cure' the obviously fatal condition! Thank you. We'll have to go for a beer soon so we can laugh at each other!


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