Today I walked 5.64km, had a scalding hot bath, wrote up some changes to my script, and wept silently to myself while watching The Simpsons with my parents. Evenings roll … Continue reading Into The Nettles
8.00am. Ignore alarm, sleep in an extra two hours.
10.15am. Wonder whether to make my bed or have breakfast first while staring at the wall a while.
10.30am. Make my bed and debate which trackies and tshirt to wear to breakfast. Pretty sure it’s just me and the cat in the house. Decide on high school trackies and Marvel tshirt.
10.50am. Bitterly chomp bowl of bran flakes while glaring at election commentary on Facebook, making mental list of people to unfriend. I never get around to acting on this.
11.35am. Figure I should go vote.
11.40am. Figure I can’t wear trackies and a Marvel shirt out of the house, even if just round the corner. Spend further half hour deciding which skirt to wear. The Marvel shirt stays.
12.10pm. Shuffle round to polling station, avoiding all eye contact with other humans therein.
12.20pm. Decide to walk the long way home, getting some fresh air before getting down to work on the play.
1.35pm. End up taking the really long way into Oxted, stop for a coffee before the opticians opens.
2.10pm. Have severe anxiety attack over price of contact lenses. Curse self for ordering a three month supply.
2.15pm. Decide to take alternative long route home. Feel good about this decision.
2.55pm. Realise I’ve taken a wrong turn. Regret earlier decision.
3.00pm-3.35pm. A series of further bad decisions and wrong turns before deciding I’m as safe in the woods as on rural, pathless roads.
3.45pm. Realise every damn tree looks the same.
3.50pm. Stumble across two older ladies who seem to know where they’re going. They do not. We laugh hysterically, compare dot locations on our phone maps, and I tag along with them looking for a road I recognise.
4.05pm. On reaching road I jump on their offer of a lift to the station.
4.15pm. Arrive home. Collapse with cereal in front of tv.
4.35pm. Glance at printed pages of script, pen in hand.
5.30pm. Write day’s lack of achievements in list form.
So far today I’ve consumed around 800 calories, and burned 170 doing yoga, according to my fitness tracker.
I hate this thing.
I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve tried keeping up with it, each try varying from a couple of months to a couple of days before I got annoyed with it. I’ve now lasted about a week. I’m still tracking, but I’m not happy about it. A little over a week ago I was put on new anxiety medication which, among other nasty side effects (more on that), can cause weight gain. I’ve been steadily gaining weight since the latest flair up of anxiety started over a year ago, accelerated somewhat around my 25th birthday and my decision to quit smoking, and the prospect of further weight gain is not something that fills me with glee. So. This was the turning point, I decided, this was the day I’d take control, I’d not only defy the medication and keep the weight off, I’d lose weight, I’d become fit and lean and amazing!
So of course after a week of limiting calorie intake (eating less), and furiously biking, jogging and stretching myself into madness, I’ve gained weight.
More importantly I’ve been reeling from the other side effects of the new drug, the ones Dr K. didn’t warn me about. I was not happy about that appointment. For something I’d waited so long for and put so much faith in, it was a massive blow to find the specialist I was finally seeing had no records of my previous scans, to the point I was asked if I was sure that they had been done. They had. In fact the last one had been ordered by him, 5 years ago. It went downhill from there, from having an attack right there in front of him, getting mom in to confirm I had had the scans and to translate for me as the stuttering had taken over, to being told the side effects I’d had on propranolol weren’t a thing. So I was a little doubtful about the pregabalin prescription I was sent off with, but it was worth a shot, and the only side effects he thought worth discussing were the possibility of weight gain and maybe a different kind of twitch to the one I already have.
I started taking the pills on a saturday, and by monday I was swinging between highs and lows, slurring my words then speaking faster than I could think, laughing hysterically and crying for no reason. I trekked up to London to see a friend who had to hold my arm to keep me from skipping into traffic, and who reminded me that my skull was in the way when I complained that my brain was itchy. By the time I reached home, somehow, I was a wreck. A giggling, gibbering wreck with a hell of a headache and some fun new twitches.
There were slightly more problematic side effects than weight gain.
As with other changes in my life over the past year or so, there are worse things that can happen and have happened than going up a couple of dress sizes. But this is the one I focus on. Why? Because I think I can control it. If I work out enough, if I starve myself enough, I can fix this. I can lose the weight, I can stop twitching, I can control this. First, lose weight.
As a fitness goal…you know what, it’s actually a little vague. And a massive distraction. I get frustrated with exercising and getting no measurable results, completely ignoring the positives. After each run (when not injuring myself), no matter how puffy and dishevelled I look, I feel like a god damn superhero! When doing yoga, every time I can stretch a little further or hold a balance a little longer I feel so smug I want to punch myself. And swimming has always been my favourite way to relax, meditate, centre myself. And pretend I’m Esther Williams.
But whatever progress I make, I can’t help but fixate on how I’m not slimming down as quick as I’d want to. I desperately want to be able to think of my body in terms of what it can do, rather than how much space it occupies. Especially now as twitching, freezing, and all round exhaustion takes over, I need to find a way to build up my strength and focus on what I can achieve, not how much I can lose.
After going backwards and forwards with your GP, trying different medications with mixed results, you wait several months for referral to a specialist. As new symptoms appear, you’re told to hang in there until the appointment.
You resist the urge to Google your symptoms.
You give in to the urge to Google your symptoms and, finding lists of deeply unpleasant illnesses that match, you make yourself more and more nervous as the date of your next appointment seems further and further away. When the day finally comes, you’re prepared, you’ve written out your symptoms in case the stuttering starts (which it does), and you arrive in plenty of time.
And then you see the doctor. You’ve met before, a few years ago when the more severe physical symptoms started. He has no record of this. He asks what the problem is and as you recount the last 8 months, he stares into space. You tell yourself he is listening. You go through your list. You stutter. You twitch. You lose all confidence as you mention your GP and he has no idea who you’re talking about. It is not a good sign.
Thursday was disappointing, to say the least. I’d put so much faith in it, told myself, if I can just hold out until April, I can start to turn this around, we can start to figure this out. In the end I left more confused and scared than ever. Throughout the appointment it felt as if we were having two different conversations, so when he was searching any evidence of my last scan, I jumped at the chance to bring Mom in to confirm that it did indeed happen, and that I was not going crazy. I was sent away with a blood test and a prescription for pregabalin, which is something to try at least. If nothing else, tracking the side effects should be a hoot- how exactly does one measure ‘change in perception of self’?
I have no idea where to go from here. I was hoping to have my concerns taken seriously. I was hoping to be reassured that it wasn’t anything serious. I was hoping to find out why my body reacts to stress the way it does, and what I can do about it. I was hoping there wouldn’t be vast chunks missing from my medical history.
I knew this would be a long process, and I accept the fact that I’m nothing special. There’s only so many types of people, really. A friend and I figure that there’s at least one of us in every town, more for major cities, which helps us rationalise seemingly random rejections. ‘Who the hell is getting these jobs I’m not even getting interviews for? The ones that could have been made for me? Who has this bizarrely specific combination of skills and experience? Oh, Brighton Kate? That bitch.’
There have to be others going through what I am. Which means there are people who have been through it, and others for whom it’s only just beginning.
There will always be people better off, and worse off than us. So how do we help each other?
I’ve spent much of the last week feeling pretty sorry for myself. After injuring my ankle and then ignoring it for too long, I now can’t walk without a crutch. My own stupid fault, but damn frustrating.
While this injury is temporary, it’s got me thinking bigger, scarier thoughts about ever getting back to work. About my physical weaknesses, about the anxiety, about various coping strategies I’ve developed over the years to make sure I can meet my commitments, whether that’s a busy bar shift or performing Shakespeare in a rainy park. It’s been difficult, but I’ve always found ways to work with my illness. When I had an anxiety attack my third night working a horror maze, I was at the doctor’s office the next morning getting medication so I could finish the run. When I had a fever and chest pains the day I was to be filmed running round a football pitch (as if I knew what I was doing), I found a quiet spot between takes to catch my breath and centre myself. In my final months working at the cinema I’d take frequent breaks to trot out to the alley and kick the bins. You find ways to survive.
But I think this latest bout is the first time, at least since I was 16, that I’ve been forced to step back completely. Before Christmas I had to walk away from two projects because, aside from the long travelling and working hours involved, stuttering and twitching didn’t really fit in with the director’s vision on either one, so not terribly helpful. I’m not kidding myself that I was tragically cut down just as my career was taking off- the last acting job I finished was as an extra in a short film for an anti bullying charity. I spent the day playing quidditch and had a lot of fun, but my breakthrough role it was not. Point being I was working through it, I thought I had it under control. Just as now, as I’m finding ways to fight the lethargy brought on by the meds to actually get up and get some exercise, I’m hit by a minor injury that’s thrown out the rest of my joints, left me exhausted and feeling like I’m back at square one.
Not really sure where I’m going with this one. But I will say that a year ago, when a friend was telling me I should go on holiday with her, I was worrying about money, about taking time off from my front of house job, and the possibility of having an attack on the road.
I was a damn fool.
I’m still a damn fool, and dangerously close to wallowing here, so for now I’ll enjoy the chance to rest and the fact that I’m still able to hobble to the park for coffee with a friend, as I intend to do in the morning, and try not to angst over it until my next appointment.
It’s Tuesday night, I’m exhausted, I’m frustrated, I’m terrified, and somehow still bored. I know exactly why this is, but I’m still having trouble pinning down the details. So in other words, same old same old. I am a little over a week away from my neurology appointment, which would explain the sudden sharp awareness of my condition, as well as a sudden inability to list actual symptoms.
Doctors make me nervous because, well, of course they do- is there anyone who enjoys the experience? But for me, the doctor’s office is the one place I worry about not having an attack. Part of this comes from doubting my ability to communicate, which itself comes from general confidence issues, and anxiety induced stuttering issues. I combat this with lists, thinking if I can physically write down my symptoms I’ll feel better prepared, and worst case I can just hand over my notebook. But an actual attack on the day can be pretty handy. Why explain what my twitch looks like when I can just show it? Massive time saver, even if I spend the rest of an appointment day a shivering mess.
It also springs from a feeling that I have to prove it to my doctor. These appointments last around ten minutes and you damn well better make it worth her time, because she is definitely judging you as a person based on what you believe to be worthy of medical attention. This is the kind of thought anxiety can throw up. More so in day to day life, when explaining to that friend you haven’t seen in a while why you’re not working right now, when you suddenly forget what words are when asked what kind of coffee you want, and when asking your parents for the third time in two days, ‘But am I doing ok? Am I? But really, do you think I’m doing ok?’.
This need to prove something can also make you push yourself a little too far sometimes, which is why I’m currently nursing a swollen ankle. I’ve taken up running again recently, which I absolutely love because I am terrible at it. By the end of a run I’m a breathless, sweaty, exhausted mess, but every slight improvement on my previous time feels like a major achievement, and that feeling is addictive. Which is why after feeling a bit of a twinge in my ankle after a run two weeks ago, I figured sod it, strap it up, head out again anyway the next day. I then spent the next week in Liverpool, which was very pleasant and involved a lot of walking, and the last minute purchasing of ankle support bandages and a new pair of trainers. I’m actually building quite the collection of joint supports, but that’s for another post.
On returning home I decided to take a couple of days to keep off my feet, and use the excuse for a Netflix binge, until a friend I hadn’t seen in a while invited me to trot around Covent Garden with him for the day. I could have said no of course, but of course, I did not. Again, an issue for another post. Throw in another ill advised run on Monday, and here I am shuffling around the house, downing painkillers, and generally feeling sorry for myself. The one upside is that this is a much more effective excuse to get out of certain social obligations I was dreading, or at least easier to explain than I’m feeling pretty low this week and would rather not trigger an attack.
Could I say this injury was brought on by anxiety? Or is it just down to plain old stubbornness and stupidity? Either way, it’s a tangible, physical injury to focus on while I’m preparing for the next stage in my treatment.
When’s the interval? Will anyone notice if I look at my watch again?
Right now, outside this very building, people are smoking. People are drinking coffee. People are living. I could be doing all these things. Maybe not smoking. Coffee’s not a great idea, to be honest.
Wouldn’t have delivered that line like that.
Wait, why’s everyone laughing? Did I miss something?
No, I’m pretty sure that just wasn’t funny. People are weird.
Should I get a drink at the interval? I’d have to go the bar. I always hated people who didn’t pre-order interval drinks… And I might run into that woman again, the one that looked like so and so’s mother, who I’ve met twice but can’t be sure and she was either looking at me wondering why I don’t say hello or wishing that strange girl at the bar would stop scowling at her. Nightmare.
Ok, why are they laughing now?
A few nights ago I managed to haul myself up to London to meet up with a friend and see a play. The journey through London wasn’t as hideous as it can be, all my trains were on time, my headphones didn’t die on me mid song, and I actually had space to breathe on the underground. Planning, distractions and space have become extremely important to me ( even if I write this now with a cat pinning one of my arms to the keyboard, breathing heavily in my face, TV blaring in the background- these are intrusions I can deal with), and I was pretty psyched to have made it to the theatre intact. I found my friend, we had plenty of time for a catch up, all good. For whatever reason, as soon as the house lights went down and the play started, I could feel an attack coming on. I tried breathing through it, and focusing on the action. And then I hit a snag. The play was just plain dull.
We decided to stick it out in the end, partly because my friend had discovered her seat was a particularly good spot for a nap she was keen to get back to as soon as possible after the interval, and because I wanted to get my breathing back to normal before facing the underground. So we stayed, the play toddled along for another hour, and that was that. Probably could have ditched and gone for a drink, but no harm done. It was a thing that happened.
But then there are the shows that are so bad it hurts. Although I always feel bad walking out on a show, and try to avoid it, I am forever haunted by one hideously long-winded production of The Duchess of Malfi that my mom and I discussed ditching at the interval, but figured, ‘how much worse can it get?’. When this thought occurs, just go. Don’t look back. Unless you know someone involved in the production, in which case the only appropriate response is…nope, still haven’t figured this one out.