Life caught up with me a few weeks ago. I was sitting in the car outside the physio, everything aching as usual. I stared blankly through the windscreen and suddenly I was just exhausted. I tried to turn the keys in the ignition, but the effort was beyond me. Tears rolled down my cheeks and I felt a tightness in my stomach and a shortness of breath that might have been a panic attack if I had that kind of thing. But I don’t do not coping. I cope and I manage and I get things done. I don’t panic… I problem solve. So I started calling people in desperation. First I tried my GP. I figured I’d drive straight there and get a prescription for anti-depressants. Yes they give me heart palpitations, but this is worse. My GP was booked up all week, so I called my chinese herbalist, although the hundreds of dollars in herbs and supplements in my pantry were clearly not helping. She was on holidays, so I called the gorgeous couple who ran a course I did a few years ago called Being the One. No answer, so I called my mum. And mum told me what I already knew. This has to stop. I have to stop.
I’ve been tired for 10 years. I’ve had hip pain, lower back pain and neck pain pretty much every day. Sometimes I have headaches that last for weeks. There are periods when my wrists and knees and joints ache too, or my muscles become stiff and sore and tight all over. I’m exhausted when I wake up and I crash by 4pm. Most afternoons I drag myself through what needs to be done until I can collapse on the couch. Then I go to bed, sleep badly and wake up exhausted, ready for another day. Good company and a few drinks will always perk me up, but the after effects make it less and less appealing.
Since Scott’s recovery from his second cancer early this year, we’ve been slowly getting back to normal life. I took a few months off and then launched back into my business with renewed enthusiasm. I picked up 4 new clients and found plenty of varied and interesting work. I put new energy into Slow Change and launched a newsletter. I was working nearly full time on content and writing jobs, looking at expanding and rebranding my business and signing up for more hours at the co-working space I love. Things were going exactly as planned, but I was coming apart at the seams. The more I took on, the worse my physical symptoms became. I could barely sit at a desk, and my right arm was in so much pain that I could only work for half an hour at a time. I was juggling deadlines and panicking about getting things done. I kept finding myself in tears on the couch, unable to face another day. Things were not working out, but I was determined. I knew if l could just get on top of these frustrating physical problems, I’d be able to get on with life.
I went to the GP and got a new mental health plan and medicare plan for chronic health conditions. I booked a new round of sessions with my physio, gave up yoga and started at a new pilates studio 3 days a week. I got acupuncture and more supplements from my chinese herbalist. I committed to early nights, less wine and an even healthier diet. I was trying so hard. And yet here I was, crying in the car, unable to go on. It was abundantly clear that I had reached the proverbial wall. This is it, I thought. I’m all out. I’ve done absolutely everything I can and none of it works. It’s madness to keep doing the same thing over and over and expect to get different results.
There’s nothing left I can do. I’ve tested for every food intolerance under the sun. I’ve tried cutting out wheat, gluten, sugar, coffee, alcohol and meat. I’ve seen myotherapists, chiropractors, osteopaths, physiotherapists and a rheumatologist. I do not have arthritis or fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue. I’ve had Xrays and bone scans and MRIs. I saw a sports physician who specialised in structural conditions, and he suggested pilates, which I did for nearly a year. My bloods are normal, but I’ve had long periods of taking B12, B6, D, magnesium, zinc, selenium and countless other supplements. I’ve boiled up chinese herbs and drunk concoctions of foul smelling powders. I’ve had kinesiology, acupuncture, EFT and remedial massage. I’ve seen a naturopath who tried me on GABA, 5HTP, melatonin and a variety of other pills and potions. I’ve smeared progesterone cream on my chest, dabbed iodine on my belly and rubbed magnesium oil on my shoulders. I’ve sent stool and urine samples all over the country and ruled out countless things I can’t pronounce including the MTHFR gene and pyroluria. I’ve tried post-natal fitness classes, a personal trainer, jogging, swimming, cycling and running. I’ve done yoga and regular walking. Every single form of exercise triggers an increase in pain. Pushing through makes it worse. I can do gentle yoga once a week with minimal issues, but if I push it much further it sets off a chain reaction with weeks of aching and recovery time. Earlier this year I was managing yoga 3 times a week and things were looking good, then it suddenly went downhill and I had to stop.
I do have 3 diagnosed conditions, all of them with a hormonal link. One is called Mittelschmertz, which is a funny German name for ovulation pain. It happens at ovulation (obv) and It’s a sharp, intense abdominal pain that builds gradually over 24 hours and feels a bit like appendicitis. The second is Adenomyosis, which is a degenerative condition a bit like Endemetriosis that I discovered by accident at a routine checkup. It causes bloating and severe abdominal pain, but I don’t really have those symptoms – at least not yet. The third condition is called PMDD and has been described as extreme PMS. But I’ve had pretty bad PMS most of my life and PMDD is on a whole other level. Ordinary PMS for me starts a few days before I menstruate and includes irritability, mood swings, intolerance and low energy. Sometimes there’s abdominal cramps or back and leg pain. PMDD on the other hand starts at ovulation (Day 14). I go downhill dramatically and it continues diving until I menstruate. I become increasingly tired, sore, achey, emotional, depressed and anxious in that time. All of my physical symptoms are exacerbated. Basically everything hurts. After 2 weeks I’m physically and emotionally wrecked. I spend the last few days in tears on the couch because life is completely untenable. Then, a few days after my period ends I’m back to normal. The thing is, normal used to be a big improvement. It would be like the clouds had cleared and the sun came out. But these days normal is starting to look a lot less sunny. Life with PMDD used to be a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but lately there’s less up. Now it’s a few days of OK, a patch of not so great and then 2 weeks of diving the depths.
I’ve paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to specialists, experts, professionals and crackpots. Nothing has made a lasting difference to my wellbeing. If I get enough sleep, avoid wine, alcohol, caffeine and sugar and eat a clean diet I can keep my head above water. But only just. For years I’ve been told there’s nothing wrong with me, and every time I hear that, I go home and start researching the next miracle cure. I’ve blamed myself for not finding the answer. Or for not doing enough. I’ve felt like a complete failure at health. How is it that everyone else can muddle through feeling mostly OK and I can’t seem to get through the week without a crisis?
All the lovely people who care about me say not to be silly. They remind me how tough the last few years have been, they acknowledge how debilitating chronic pain can be. They tell me it’s normal to be exhausted when you’re a mum, or a step-mum or your husband has cancer and your step son has epilepsy. But it’s not. It’s not normal to suffer like this. The human body is amazing and strong and capable and resilient. Well, other human bodies are. Not mine. My body is letting me down and it doesn’t even have a good excuse! I’m an educated, intelligent woman in a first world country with a good income and access to organic, nutritious food. I work for myself, part time from home, doing work that is rewarding and well paid. My husband works part time too, so we get lots of time together alone and with the kids. He is also amazing and thoughtful and 100% engaged in home and family life. My extended family is helpful and supportive and my friends are there when I need them. I have a cleaner for christ’s sake! I’m not doing it tough, but for some reason my body is.
Something is wrong and I’ve been fighting a battle with it for years. But I realised I’m never going to fix it with doctors and therapists and medicines and supplements. That day in the car I decided to let go. I decided to stop fighting. I knew I was days away from a complete breakdown if I kept trying. I sobbed out all of my overwhelm and exhaustion and panic. I told mum that I would give up work and just stop. With no end date in mind. I would rest, and sleep and read books and watch TV. I would let go and stop fighting and simply take care of myself. It felt rebellious, financially irresponsible and downright risky. But immediately the clouds began to clear. Driving home, my friend from Being The One called me back. We spoke for a while and I told him I was closing down my business. He asked how I felt when I sat down to work these days and I said I felt heavy, fuzzy in the head and mentally blocked. I told him how my back ached, my shoulder throbbed and I couldn’t remember what I was supposed to be doing. He asked if I knew why I felt that way and the answers fell out of me in a rush of tears.
“Because I don’t want to do it anymore. Because it’s not what I’m here to do”
And how much longer do you have to suffer before you listen to what your body is telling you?
No longer. I’m listening, body. I’m listening.
(Image from Laura Ferreira)