I never imagined that I’d ever write this post. Notes from Africa has always been my “happy place” – somewhere I can create positive energy. But I’ve decided it’s important to share my story. Maybe it will help somebody feel they are not alone. Maybe it will help a family member or friend of somebody dealing with this, to understand a little better. It’s not going to be a pleasant, uplifting post – these are Notes from the Dark Side – so you may not want to read further.
Several years ago I got out of bed one morning and promptly fell over. My initial thoughts were that I had had a stroke. Luckily, it was only an inner ear infection which had played havoc with my balance. This was not something that was going to go away by itself though, so I had to find a doctor. Since we moved to this town, I had avoided going to the doctor at all costs. I have been having migraines since I was about 5 years old, and every time I visited a new doctor, the cycle would start again. They would send me for a battery of tests and scans and to various specialists. Eventually they would conclude that they couldn’t “cure” me and I was left to deal with it on my own again. The doctor I saw that day for my ear infection was alarmed. He would tell me months later that he thought I was going to have a stroke in his consulting room – my blood pressure was very high and my heart was racing. All he said that day was “Come back when you’re over the ear infection so we can talk about what else is going on.”.
I went back to see him several weeks later, and it was the beginning of trying to get out of the very dark place I was in. My new doctor was patient and compassionate. He truly listened to what I told him, and didn’t try and “re-invent the wheel”. In the year before I met him, I had gone from having migraines about 3 times a week (all distinct episodes) to have migraines or bad headaches every day. Together with that came depression (both from the constant pain and low serotonin levels) and panic attacks (mostly at the thought of having to leave home and have the pain get worse). My life fell apart – I couldn’t work, study (I was busy with a course) or even cope with daily life or chores very well. I would wake up every morning with this feeling of absolute dread – not another day I’d have to get through! The only thing that kept me going (and still does) was the support of Willie (my husband), and a couple of family members and close friends.
In the years since then – and with the help of my doctor – things have improved. I still deal with some level of pain on almost daily basis, but the pain levels are generally lower and less taxing on my body. I still have really bad days with depression, but I deal with them better. The last year has been more difficult again which is why I haven’t been blogging much.
So now that you know the basic background there are a couple of points I want to make. These apply to me, and won’t apply to everybody, but maybe there is something of value to you.
- I needed to get professional help – I wasn’t able to deal with this on my own. In the depths of depression it was really difficult for me to ask for help, or even know that I needed it. I was lucky to meet a General Practitioner (GP) who was able to help me with pain management, and became somebody I could chat to easily about my situation. Therapy in the traditional sense did not help me.
- Support groups can be helpful, but they may not be. I joined a migraine support group, where I met some lovely people, and felt less alone in my situation. But I eventually had to withdraw. The only topics of discussion were migraines, pain and medication – which didn’t help me feel any better.
- I had to re-evaluate my expectations of life. I’ve never been a really driven career person, but my work was important to me. Not being able to achieve goals I’d set for myself was quite upsetting and my self confidence took a huge knock.
- I found it easier to work on a freelance basis, than in a regular job. Asking for time off was always an issue. It helped to determine my own hours and avoid those conflicts.
- Putting too much stress or pressure on myself, does not help with the pain or depression. It isn’t the cause of either, but it doesn’t help in dealing with it.
- Our pets have really helped me stay positive. Our cat and dog are very intuitive about when I’m not doing great and will stay close to me. Not only are they a comfort, but they force me to get out of bed in the mornings to take care of them!
- I need something to distract me on a bad day. Because I find it difficult to read or watch television when I’m not feeling well, I started listening to podcasts. It’s not just about the act of listening to something, it’s about having headphones on. Something about cutting out the outside noise and stimuli which bombard my nervous system, is very soothing.
- Not everyone in my life understands that depression is not just “being sad” and that I cannot just “snap out of it”. Bad depression days just happen and nothing has to go spectacularly wrong for me to have a bad day. I no longer try to explain to them how I’m feeling. On the advice of my doctor I do limit the contact with those people in my life who are very negative.
I am going to stop there for this post, but will write more if there is something I’ve forgotten about.
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