The Story of My Illness – Part One

Introduction

Hello! I’m back again. And if anyone is wondering why it took me so long to get this blog started and why there has been a long gap between posts – welcome to my world! Opening myself up like this is not easy, as I am basically quite a shy, private person and I really have to build confidence up each time before posting anything. So this is going to be irregular, but hopefully worthwhile when it happens!

A brief recap: as I said in my introductory post, I am now back at work after nine months off, from Oct 2011 to July 2012, with a combination of depression and sleep problems. I am still on a high dosage of medication – Sertraline for anyone interested – and will be under the care of my GP, local mental health team and my dietician at least until I retire next September. I am now nearing the end of a course of counselling, and it is out of that experience that this blog has started. I have been writing a lot for the counselling sessions and have been advised to share it, both to help me but, more importantly, in the hope that this will help anyone else going through this to see that they are not alone. This is what I can remember of that period, what I think is happening now and what I hope will happen in the future. As this is going to be quite a long read, I’m splitting the basic story into three parts to make it easier on you. When that is done, I’m going to post occasional pieces on anything that has interested me, not always depression-related – although it is sometimes hard separating things in my current life from that. These will be more general, not specifically about me, but I hope they will be interesting. I would very much welcome feedback on what I say, as I would like to know what you think, whether or not you have similar experience. And I am also hoping that this will give me some ideas for future articles, i.e. knowing what you want to talk about – yes, I know that’s cheating, but why not pick your brains too?

 

The Beginning

Although I don’t recognise a link going back that far, the professionals think my recent depressive episode dates back to the time in late 2006 when my now ex-wife told me she wanted a divorce. I had my first spell of depression then, and was off work for more than three months, into early 2007. But there were clearly some very specific triggers at that time, and resolving those helped me in what seemed to me a fairly speedy and ‘full’ recovery. But this time it was different. The divorce was finalised in early 2008, I had been living on my own for nearly four years and thought I was quite happy. I had adjusted to fending for myself, to being in control of what I did – and when – and had gone through the loss of my mother in 2008. So, why should I be depressed in 2011? It didn’t make sense – and it still doesn’t. But I found myself feeling worse and worse, until I reached the point where I just couldn’t face getting up, getting ready and going out, whether for work or anything else. And I was ill all of the time, to the point where I was off work for what seemed like a week or so every month.

I have been a migraine sufferer since I was 15. They tell me it is hereditary, from my Mum. I guess that’s right, as I seem to have inherited her constitution too. Every bug that went around, she got it, and so do I. If there was a cold doing the rounds, Mum ended up with pneumonia. I’m not that bad, but you get the picture. The migraines have come and gone over the years, I was even free of them for three years in my 20s, but as I get older they have become more frequent, more severe, and last for longer – up to three days in some cases. Against that background it took a while for me to understand that something was happening to me, other than just an increased frequency of feeling completely crappy.

 

D (for Depression) Day

For the whole of 2011 up to D Day, the day I realised that I needed help, I had been having lots of migraines and a number of spells off work with these and with bouts of physical sickness. It was thought that I was carrying some kind of virus that didn’t respond to treatment, and I just wasn’t getting any better. I was also having all kinds of difficulty getting to sleep at night, and often felt tired during the day. With hindsight I can now see that this was a long, drawn out ‘descent’ into depression, and the physical symptoms were part of my body’s way of responding to that, but it wasn’t easy to see that at the time. I was too busy feeling very ill to notice that anything else was happening. It was the realisation that I felt totally unable to cope with life that made me seek help. I was sitting around all day, doing nothing, crying at the slightest provocation, not eating or sleeping, feeling too numb to think properly, shunning other human contact – these are not the everyday habits of a ‘normal’, healthy, functioning human being, are they? That is, of course, if you can define ‘normal’ and ‘human being.’ These could be topics for future posts, perhaps.

There came a point, one Monday morning early in October 2011, when I woke up and felt that I just couldn’t go on. Not in the sense that I was considering suicide, I’ve been very lucky never to have had such thoughts, but in the sense that I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t even do something as basic and everyday as make a cup of tea – I just couldn’t summon up the interest or the necessary effort to do it. I somehow felt clamped to the chair. And I realised there were other signs that all wasn’t right: I didn’t want to eat anything either, and had hardly eaten anything for several days – a clear sign that something was wrong with me, as I love my food! I also couldn’t face the thought, taste or smell of coffee at all, and this was normally one of the pleasures of my day. Above all I just couldn’t face the prospect of going out of my flat, travelling, mixing with other people, going to work and trying to do a good job, whilst interacting as normal with my colleagues. So I rang my GP surgery. Being a Monday, they were very busy and it took a while to get through, and I was feeling panicky by the time I did. I was told ‘for a new condition the earliest your doctor can see you is in ten days’ – this wasn’t what I was hoping to hear! I tried to impress on the receptionist that I thought I needed help a good deal sooner, and something must have registered with her, as she said she would get the on-call doctor to ring me back. Half an hour or so went by, and then the phone rang. I was asked a number of questions, none of which I remember now, but I must have given some ‘right’ answers as an appointment was made for me to see their locum that afternoon. I don’t remember much about the appointment, but I know I took a questionnaire asking how I felt about me, life in general, and how I was coping. I scored 17 out of a maximum of 27. Apparently this is officially ‘moderate depression’ but it felt pretty bad to me! I was also referred to the local NHS mental health team. I then went home in possession of medications for severe migraine, sickness/vomiting, and for the newly diagnosed depression. But I wasn’t given anything at that point for my sleep problems, and I haven’t been prescribed anything for these problems at any time since, as things have turned out.

Treatments – depression and sleep

Apart from the daily dosage of anti-depressants, the medications for migraine and sickness were to be taken as and when needed, and I was also advised to take Paracetamol if I had a headache that wasn’t as severe as a migraine. At my next appointment two weeks later I was asked to keep a diary of how I was feeling physically and of the tablets I took, but not about my mental health, moods or feelings. Looking back, maybe that was odd, but it wasn’t something I noticed at the time. I just wanted the headaches to go away and for me to stop being sick, as I could have hurled for England at that stage, and thought that everything would be better when they did. My appointment with the local Community Mental Health Team (CMHT) was about three weeks later. The upshot of that was confirmation of my diagnosis, a recommendation that the anti-depressant dosage be increased, and the suggestion that I should be referred to a specialist sleep clinic, to be tested for possible sleep apnoea. This was a term I’d heard before, but which I knew nothing about. With what I know now that’s probably just as well!

Footnote

Thank you for reading this far. Part two, which describes the period I was off work, will be posted tomorrow.

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38 thoughts on “The Story of My Illness – Part One

  1. WOW, Clive. For anyone who confuses depression with “being depressed” this eye-opening post should set them straight.

    I’ve been there, but cannot go back to relive those two periods of my life, regardless of how much help it might be to others.

    I can only refer to them obliquely from the reality of my eventual recovery and a few of the details about how learning about the gut/brain axis and serotonin production made a HUGE difference there. I salute your courage.
    xx,
    mgh
    (Madelyn Griffith-Haynie – ADDandSoMuchMORE dot com)
    ADD/EFD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching co-founder
    “It takes a village to transform a world!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Madelyn. Re-reading the posts five years later was harder than I expected so I know what you mean. It just seemed a good time to revisit them and follow on with a new piece in a few days. I’m sorry to hear you’ve been through it too, but glad to know you also came out the other side xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree. It’s only marginally better here, but at least our government is just a bunch of incompetent right wing dogmatists, rather than outright lunatics. The only research I can see being done there is into how the mentally ill are allowed access to guns, and we all know the answer to that xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • ::sigh:: AND not only has it just been easier for everyone to own a gun, our bird-brained billionairess Sec. of Education has just recently disbanded national educational mental health guidelines as “useless and/or obsolete.”

        THIS from the woman who didn’t even know at her own **CONFIRMATION HEARING** that IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004) was a foundational and groundbreaking piece of legislation. Private school educated and life-long private school advocate, she had no awareness of the acronym at all.

        And STILL the Pencil was proud of casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of her confirmation. Narrowly educated idiots all!

        What did you THINK was going to happen, America, with a multi-millionaire claiming to represent “the common man?”
        xx,
        mgh

        Liked by 1 person

      • And Trump signed an Exec Order back in February that removed the safeguards preventing mentally ill people from buying guns. Those of us outside the US have a stereotype of US citizens as insular, believing in the greatness of their own country whilst being ignorant of others. Maybe there’s some truth in that – how else do you explain him getting enough votes in the right places to get elected, even if he lost overall by 3m votes? That certainly seems to be what his supporters are like, anyway. They were stupid enough to allow him to con them. It’s good to see so many opposing him and the idiots he has surrounded himself with. I just hope the GOP grows a pair and dumps him xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Those of us who are awake and aware know painfully well what the world thinks of our populace as a whole. While their conclusion is more true than I would like – dramatically demonstrated by the comments of the Orange supporters — an alternative explanation (and the foundational problem, IMHO) is our political system as a whole, rife in BOTH parties: graft and cronyism – along with our campaign funding policies and laws.
        I.E.,
        If I do NOT scratch your back here, you will rally enough supporters to block my proposed legislation designed to benefit my state and the people who elected me to office won’t do it again.

        Since I accepted your support during my campaign (which came with funds from your wealthy supporters), it’s too late to cross you now — or I won’t ever get elected to anything else again in my life.

        While I strongly agree with you that the GOP needs to grow a pair, you do realize the implications, right? Not only in this situation, but for the system as a whole?

        You and I see clearly see that kind of change as a GOOD thing, but we haven’t spent our entire lives learning the game, counting on our positions as elected officials to feed our families and keep a roof over our heads.

        MOST elected officials are mere politicians; few are statesmen. And American politics is not alone in that dynamic.

        God help us all.
        xx,
        mgh

        Like

      • A powerful explanation of a truly rotten system. It isn’t what I see as democracy. Money talks in most countries, I think, but maybe not quite to the same degree that you describe. I guess its far too engrained now for anything better to replace it. That isn’t a particularly optimistic outlook, is it! xx

        Liked by 1 person

    • Well done Clive for sharing what you were going through at this time in your life. We worked together, albeit over a short period, during the dates you mention and would never have thought you were carrying so much, you were just great to work with, brave man.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you so much for reading and commenting, Cornelia. Our work time together was actually a year or so before all this happened, so hopefully you wouldn’t have seen any signs then! It was great working with you too, hope all’s good with you.

        Like

  2. Clive, I purposely haven’t read your posts on depression until very recently because I find I am easily triggered. I have been healthy for anfew years now and was concerned that reading powerful posts about someone else’s descent into this crippling illness might set me off too. But today the sun is shining, I’ve had a long cheery phonecall wth my son about Christmas and for the most part, things with my mum are on a more even keel. A hiatus has also occurred in the ongoing crisis among my younger family. So. I feel strong enough and positive enough to read this and I will read Parts Two and Three as well. I wanted to say that I know how hard it is to write what you did, to relive it as you do so, but I am also pleased that you were able because it means you were strong enough to do so. It takes a lot of courage to open up to the world like this, especially as a new blogger, not knowing what kind of reaction you have. Apart from the idiot the other day, I hope it has been a positive response and that the writing of it helped you in doing so.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Many thanks for reading and commenting, Chris. Clearly, that wasn’t easy for you and I’m grateful for your support. I’m glad things are going well for you, too. Not much of the response shows on the blog, as my initial following wasn’t very large, but I was much more active on Twitter in those days and got a huge response, virtually all of which was positive, so it felt worthwhile having written about what I went through. Last week’s idiot was easy to take in my stride, now 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Take It Easy and commented:

    This is where the blog really began for me. I’d made a couple of brief posts before this, but this is why I started in the first place: in the hope that sharing my story would help others. Because the story was quite long I divided it into three parts and posted them over consecutive days. This was Part One, originally posted five years ago today. No doubt many of you will have already seen this but more recent followers may not have caught up with it.

    To replicate the original schedule I’m going to be reposting Parts Two and Three over the next two days, and intend to follow this up with a review of how things are now, sometime later this week or early next week. I’m doing this not, as last week’s troll suggested, because I’m self-obsessed, but because I still believe that the more of us who share our experience of mental health issues the better it will be, for two reasons:

    1. Knowing that others are going through something similar, and you’re not alone, can be a help and comfort at a difficult time; and

    2. The more who talk about this the better it will be in helping to bring down the walls of stigma which prevent so many people from seeking help.

    I hope this helps you, or someone you care about.

    Like

    • Thanks Bernadette. I was a little unsure about choosing this for this week’s older post for the Salon, as I didn’t want to take up multiple spaces, but having originally posted it as 3 pieces I was rather stuck with that! It’s why I started the blog, and helping others was the aim.

      Like

  4. I too used to suffer from migraines until I gave up eating chocolate and cheese, and stopped drinking caffeinated tea and coffee (I only drink green tea now). The migraines stopped completely, and I haven’t had an episode for over 10 years.

    Liked by 1 person

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