Back To Work

In February 2016 my spinal consultant told me he wouldn’t do the operation he had previously offered me to fuse two vertebrae in my spine, as he “thought I would regret it” and thought I was “too young”.

Having inherited my Mother and Grandmother’s stubborness I obviously refused to accept that as an answer. I sought out a second consultant who initially seemed very promising. I was told the op wasn’t off the table and was offered at least 4 other things we could try. 

I felt hope for the first time in almost a year. 

Sadly that hope was not long lived as, following an excruitiating experience involving getting six needles containing steroids and anaesthetic injected into my spine, (without anaesthetic or sedative) – an experience that failed to provide any relief – I was to again be told that my consultant was going back on his word. 

I was in his office for only 2 minutes, but in those two minutes my hope vanished along with any hope of living a life without pain. 

As you can imagine that hit me really hard. 

I have fought anxiety and depression my whole life and so it was inevitable that this event was to trigger both conditions in a big way. 

It in fact resulted in me having to remain off work sick for over a year and has been probably the fourth major breakdown I have experienced in my almost 35 years on this planet. 

As I mentioned previously, I thankfully have inherited a lot of stubborness (and strength) from both my Mum and Nana. 

I always underestimate how strong I actually am. Something I’m sure most people could say about themselves. This year I have proved it to myself. 

Things became pretty desperate financially – I nearly lost my home and my car – but it was at this, my lowest moment, that I found that light at the end of the tunnel and the strength I needed. 

Nothing was going to make me move out of my beautiful home, which I love, and I simply couldn’t survive without a car, being disabled and unable to walk far. 

This dire situation ignited a fire in me and helped me do what I had been desperate to do for months; get back to work. 

It wasn’t easy by any means. I was greatly helped by the fact my new anti-depressants which had recently been changed, were starting to take effect and were making a huge difference. 

I actually started getting excited. I had been on my own so much for so long, I was really looking forward to seeing my friends and colleagues and to being able to use my brain again. 

As is common when people have been off sick for a long time, it was agreed that I could do a phased return to work. 

The phased return was agreed between my gp, my employer, HR and myself. Starting with half days in my first week and increasing an hour per week over a 4 week period until I am back to fulltime hours. 

I have just finished my third week back, doing 5 hour days. 

I am so proud of myself. Only three weeks ago things were pretty dire. Now here I am feeling positive and loving being back at work. 

Everyone was so welcoming when I got back and I am so pleased that my new meds don’t give me anywhere near as much ‘brain fog’ as I used to get. Nor do they sap as much energy from me. 

I have found that I am getting back up to speed with my work, almost to where I was before my chronic pain condition. 

There have been moments where my anxiety has crept up, but that is to be expected. I have had weepy days, exhausted days and every day is a sore day, but I’m doing ok. 

I am doing ok. Three weeks ago I wouldn’t have dreamed I would be saying that! 

I even managed to go swimming after work last week. I adore being in the water and it is the only exercise I can do with my back. It felt amazing to be back there. 

For the first time in a long time, and despite some set backs and stressful situations, I feel good mentally. I’m exhausted and sore, but happy and beyond proud of myself.

Recovery is a constant thing where mental health is concerned, I am constantly working hard to stay ‘well’, and there are obviously things about my spine condition I have to work through still. On the whole though, that light at the end of the tunnel is looking closer and brighter than ever. 

Thank you for reading

Love, love, love

The Faraway Girl 💜

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Hermit Leaves the Cave

Me (on the left) at my besties’ Wedding last year (2016)

I have been off work on and off for the best part of a year with my mental health. 

It was all triggered by first one, then another Consultant telling me there isn’t a fix for my chronic back pain, and that I will be in pain for the rest of my life. 

As my pain is caused by arthritis and two discs in my spine that have disintegrated completely, the condition will get worse as I get older. 

I have to walk with a stick currently, and I don’t know if I will end up in a wheelchair by the time I am 50.

I am 34 now, single, living alone and I feel like my future is a black hole of uncertainty. 

People say, “Well everyone’s future is uncertain, anyone could end up in a wheelchair.”

Yes that is true, but the chances are more in your favour that you won’t, whereas they are more in favour that I will. 

Not to mention the fact that regardless, I will spend the rest of my life – barring a miracle cure for arthritis – in pain. 

I am not able to walk far at all and any movement causes me a lot of pain, even with the morphine and pregablin painkillers I am on. 

Obviously the news hit me pretty hard. Until that point I had hope that there was something the consultant would be able to do. I felt like my hope had been taken away. 

Consultants in my experience care only for their specific part they are working on. For example, I had injections into my spine, (anaesthetic and steroids),and they didn’t work. The consultant wondered why I was sobbing hysterically when he told me there was nothing more he could do, (despite the fact he initally offered at least 4 treatment options we could try). 

Well, the reason was that not only had he just told me I would spend the rest of my life in excruciating pain, but I realised, that, or felt that, my life was effectively over. 

After all, who would want to date someone who is constantly in pain, hardly able to walk, constantly exhausted, so spends all of their time sleeping?Who would want that? I can’t go on typical dates. I have to plan everything ahead if I go anywhere. It’s not exactly an inviting situation to enter into. 

That also meant in my head that I would never have children, probably never get married and would end up dying alone and in pain. 

That all flashed through my head as he told me this, that and the fact I am struggling now. I can’t manage the housework, I can’t manage to cook properly (which I love), I struggle getting dressed and having a bath (I don’t have a shower), I am struggling at work, how long will I be able to work? How will I afford to live when I am forced to stop working? 

All this went through my head in true anxiety sufferer style, and he sat and asked me why I was crying!

I have been working really hard trying to come to terms with this. It has helped talking to people in the same situation on Instagram. I really could do with a therapist who specialises in people with chronic pain. Even if there was a support group for people my age being told they are disabled. I have yet to find one and my doctor didn’t know of one. 

I have been mostly housebound for the majority on last year and this year so far because of this. 

Depression hit me hard and my anxiety has been so bad, that at times I have been unable to leave the house for weeks at a time. 

Occasionally I manage to get the courage to go out. Usually out of necessity. 

My new anti-depressants have boosted my mood and lowered my anxiety levels, so when I have been well enough (see previous article), I have tried to get outside.

So, I am meeting my boss for coffee this afternoon. I am really anxious about it, but at the same time, I am looking forward to going out to one of my favourite cafés and catching up.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I will continue fighting and trying to get my life back. 

Thank you for reading

Love love love

The Faraway Girl 💜

This is me age 26 doing a photo shoot for my photographer friend 💜

Me around age 28 playing guitar at a friend’s acoustic gig. 

The Ghost Train – The Excriutiatingly Slow Rollercoaster Ride that is, Changing Anti-Depressant Medication

As someone who has been fighting Depression and Anxiety my whole life, I have experienced a fair few changes of medication. 

I started on my first anti-depressants when I was 26 years old – Fluoxetine, probably the most common ‘starter’ medication for someone with Depression – and I was on that for around 5 years on various doses. Unfortunately as often happens with medication on a long term basis, it stopped working for me. 

I was put on a new drug, Sertraline and it had an immediate positive effect. Obviously I thought after a few dose variations, that I would be sorted. I was wrong. Sadly I developed an allergic reaction which resulted in a painful itchy rash all over, called Urticaria. What followed was months of trying just about every anti-depressant there is, with varying awful effects. These went from making me seriously suicidal to more allergic reactions. 

It was so frustrating and mostly awful, but in the end I was put on a drug called Venlaxfaxine, which thankfully worked. I was so grateful that the side effects of the first few weeks didn’t bother me so much. 

You see, unfortunately, even the drugs that are successful – and most people have to go through a trial and error system whether with the type of pills or the dosage – have a two to three week period of ‘settling in’.

Ah the settling in period! It is mostly horrific and basically makes your life a misery for 3 weeks, (as if you didn’t feel that way to start with, suffering from Depression and all). 

Ok, so I will describe the type of symptoms likely to be experienced during this time. 

*Trigger Warning*

Firstly, a depressed person, depending on the severity, will likely already be experiencing some of the symptoms listed and probably more, though I can only speak for myself,such as:

  • Low Mood
  • Lack of self confidence/ self worth
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of motivation
  • Forgetfulness
  • Tearfulness
  • Negativity
  • Feeling like a burden
  • No interest in hobbies/things you enjoy
  • Little to no sex drive
  • Lowering in hygeine standards e.g not getting washed, dressed, brushing teeth etc… 
  • House/Room getting messy e.g. not doing housework, dishes, washing etc… 
  • Financial trouble e.g. overspending, unable to keep track of money, bills etc… 

To name but a few. 

Now, when taking a new medication, all of the above symptoms, as well as anxiety, perhaps suicidal thoughts/thoughts of self harm, are pretty much doubled. It is a really hard thing to go through, and I think it is possibly the reason a lot of people don’t like taking anti-depressants. 

So here is, the list of some of the things I have gone through during the early periods of a new/change of medication. 

I must say, the reason I am describing this is because I think a lot of non-sufferers seem to be under the impression that you pop a pill and that’s it, you’re instantly cured. 

This is to try and show that that is not the case and anyone going through a change of medication or perhaps taking them for the first time, will need extra support from family and friends during this time. I have gone through this alone on a number of occasions and it is not a nice experience, believe me. 

Symptoms Coming On or Off Anti-Depressants

  1. Worsened Anxiety including:
  • Panic attacks, 
  • Feeling like you can’t breathe, 
  • Feeling like you’re having a heart attack,
  • Dizziness,
  • Sounds amplified
  • Panicky in crowds
  • Agoraphobia (inability/fear of leaving the house) 
  • Trouble focusing
  • Feeling distracted
  • Constant worrying
  • Circular thoughts
  • Unable to calm yourself down/ relax
  • Lack of concentration
  • Unable to use the phone
  • Money problems
  • Distance yourself from friends/family
  • Thinking you are a burden
  • Negative thoughts

2. Feeling suicidal

3. Feeling you have let everyone down

4.Feeling like you are a burden

5.Feeling like a failure

6.Thinking everyone hates you

7.Thinking people are talking about you

8.No interest in things you enjoyed

9.Not wanting to socialise

10.Lack of sex drive

11.Unable to see any positivity in anything

12.Nothing makes you laugh anymore

13.Isolation

14.Not feeling like yourself anymore

15.Unable to get out of bed

16.Unable to get dressed,washed, brush teeth

17.Unable to fulfil responsibilities like work or home committments

18.Crying at everything

I could go on and on, there are so many things it affects. As you see, it is a bit of a horror story. 

I was on the Venlafaxine for 5 years until recently, following a breakdown last year, I realised they had stopped working. 

After last time I was terrified of changing again and I left it as long as I could, but I knew something had to be done. 

Changing medication is not as easy as,‘stop taking one kind and start taking another’. First I had to wean myself off the Venlafaxine, one tablet at a time over a period of three weeks, until I wasn’t on them at all; then I could take the new ones. 

Coming off a medication like this is as awful as starting them, if not worse. I felt as though I had the flu and had been beaten up on the inside. 

As I’ve mentioned before I have arthritis in my spine, so I am no stranger to being in pain or feeling shitty. Every day I am in pain, but this was a new addition that I did not need. 

I couldn’t stop crying. In fact, this is how bad it got, on the way back from collecting my new medication, I cry-sang (that’s a thing) part of the way home to Jason Donovan’s ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’. Yep! Not my finest moment, but it happened. 

Anyway, I got home, dried my tears and took my new tablets. These ones are called Duloxetine, I haven’t tried them before. I developed a headache as the day went on, but thought nothing of it. I put it down to my Jason Donovan tears. 

My mood felt as though it had lifted a little and I felt hopeful for the first time in a long time. 

The next day, a Sunday, I woke up, the headache still pounding, but mood-wise I felt great! I got up, made myself and Misschief some breakfast, and had a relaxing Sunday; And, amazingly for someone with CFS I did not have a nap at all! 

Over the next few days, the headache stayed around, but thankfully so did the amazing lift in my mood. I even took the Christmas Tree down, which, since it was March was way overdue, but I had previously been too ill to take it down. 

I had an appointment with my doctor a week later and that day I was floating around on sunbeams. I would say I was maybe even a little hyperactive. I put makeup on for the first time in months, got dressed and went to the doctors. 

Everything went fine, we both agreed it was a positive reaction and to leave the dose alone for now since it seemed to be working. I even cooked a chilli that night, which is a huge deal for me, because I normally struggle to cook properly due to my back pain. I did need to keep sitting down, but I did it! All was going well, until the next day. 

I woke up the next morning feeling as though someone had taken a hammer to my head. The headache had worsened and not only that, every bone and every muscle in my body was aching, even my eyeballs were aching. I felt like I was burning up too, it was awful and exactly not what I had hoped for. 

Every day since then, about a week ago,I have felt the same. I have read the leaflet that comes with the pills and a lot of the side effects seem in keeping with that, so I am giving it another week, hoping and praying to anyone and anything that these symptoms die off. I don’t have the energy to go through the horrifying change of meds process again.

So, here I am, with a heat pack on my neck, feeling like a zombie that is more unalive than undead. 

I hope you enjoyed your ride through this train of ghastly thoughts. 

Please join me again when I may have rejoined the land of the living! 

Thank you for reading and please remember, if you know anyone going through this, give them as much support and love as you can 💜

Love love love

The Faraway Girl