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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