This is a personal blog about my mental health issues. I won’t be offended if you don’t read it as I know it’s not a regular instalment of wild camping fun and happy stuff!
It may seem a little disjointed as It has been added to at different times..
For those of you that do read it I hope it goes some way to explaining about me and how things aren’t always as they appear.
So, this a wild camping blog? Right? Well, yes, it is, but this time it’s going to be about something that some of you are aware of and some aren’t. It is partly an explanation of how I got into wild camping and needing solitary time on the hill..
I really don’t know where to start. Anxiety is something I have suffered with for a long time. When my mum got sick 9 years ago, I was rocked. I watched my mum – the most important person in my life, die. Now, death is cruel in all its forms, but this death was more distressing, more cruel and earth shattering than any other death I had been exposed to because it was taking my best friend away. I watched it take her ability to feed herself, to draw-her biggest passion, to communicate, I knew I would never hear her tell me she loved me again. I watched he as her hair fell out from the radiotherapy, her skin lost its colour and then at last she was in a hospice and I knew it wouldn’t be long before she and us were released from this 8 months of torture. The day she passed was the saddest day of my life. My dad had lost his soul mate and we, our mum. But me, I had lost my best friend. Now, my point is, this shit changes you. You are never the same….ever.
The anxiety started during her illness, I was in a shopping centre when I was suddenly overwhelmed by a need to leave. I couldn’t swallow and thought I was going to faint or be sick. I ran to an alley and stood there, terrified to move or go back into the centre. I tried to put it down to a lot of things. I prayed it was a blip but the attacks became more frequent. I couldn’t go into meetings at work, public transport was a definite no, getting in a car as a passenger, having people in my car when I was driving, no, cinemas, shopping centres, aeroplanes, pubs, drinking hot drinks in public-stupid, yes?? No…. I lost the ability to swallow drinks if other people were with me… …I was becoming trapped. I found reasons not to do things if it involved anything that may bring on an attack…I eventually went to the doctors, I was diagnosed with severe anxiety. I was put on Beta Blockers. For four years, I took them until eventually things started to level a little. I still avoided all the situations that I knew could bring on an attack.
I found sanctuary in the mountains. I guess this is where the bivvying became so important to my well-being. Despite my back pain (which I was dealing with also) I would force myself out. I went into the mountains when I knew nobody else would be around. In a way, I thought I was ‘healing’ ok. I still think this is the case…But now and then something happens that is out of our control.
The following happened recently…
I had wanted to see Placebo for years but a gig this big took a lot of courage and ‘manning up’. With help of Paul my friend, I did it. I felt anxious but I did it. This was a huge deal for me. A huge step forward..Then, the following day I walk into Asda and boom. A massive attack. I literally ran out of the supermarket….I sat in my car crying. I was crestfallen. I couldn’t put my finger on a trigger..
The next day I had a staff meeting at work and our Xmas party in the evening. In the morning, I was edgy, lacking in focus. I walked over the park and realised I had forgotten my shop keys… I went into the coffee shop and then wandered up to work. David let me in and I explained that the day prior I had suffered an anxiety attack and that I would like him and Steve to be my voice at the meeting. The whole team were soon in the store. As Ali walked in I looked at her and she caught my eye, she came straight behind the counter and I grabbed her arm, I knew what was happening, what took place next was the most terrifying experience ever. I was hysterical, shaking, hyperventilating, confusion, nausea, fear…I looked as the guys watched in horror and pity as I broke down. Steve and Ali holding me up and trying to get me to breathe. It was the worst attack I’d ever had. I searched my confused head for triggers and found nothing. I felt beaten down. I was now in fear. The day passed in a blur. I tried to focus on work, sitting in the office trying to rewire my brain. Dave came and sat with me on his lunch, we watched a cycling video, it was a good distraction. Then Steve came up. He complained about his lunch tasting naff. I decided to try to go to the shop floor when Steve was finished. I walked apprehensively downstairs and to the counter. Dave was there too. The guys suggested I should maybe try to come to the party….This was like poking a fire that just needed a little oxygen..I was almost running out of the shop..Steve was hot on my heels and I was outside again in a similar position as the morning. I had no idea what was happening. All I knew was I was terrified.
I decided the best place for me was home. I cried all the way back in the car. The sense of relief as I locked the door behind me was overwhelming. In my head, I knew this was not healthy as you can’t stay locked up forever and I knew I could only postpone ‘real life’ for a short time before I would have to sort myself out. But how? How do you sort out something that you are totally bemused about? I searched my head for answers. Soon it was full and spinning. I tried to focus. I knew that one thing that was important was work. I was going into my buying season for Winter 17. I was in Manchester on the Friday to see Patagonia. Surely, I would be ok. I sat with a glass of wine and stared at the flames in the fire. I liked watching the fire; it offered more entertainment for me than TV.
Over the next 24 hours the phone rang and pinged, I ignored calls and communicated by message. I couldn’t face talking as I knew I would cry. People who are very dear to me were trying to reach out but I pretended they weren’t there by putting my phone onto silent and ,making the cat chase the laser pen as a distraction. I slept uneasily with the help of amitriptyline.
The next day I would drive to Manchester and see Patagonia for my appointment…right? Wrong… I went to see Marc first (my boyfriend). He reassured me I would be ok. I knew already I wasn’t going. It was not going to happen, the thought of going filled me with dread. Marc had gone to work….I sat crying in the car again trying desperately to make myself go…no. I text Steve apologetically. I was embarrassed and upset. I went to Marc’s and blitzed his house, I moved furniture and cleaned. At least I would achieve something and kill the hours that would pass until he came home at 9.45pm. I then decided to try the shops. This was a massive challenge. My friend Paul had suggested putting my headphones in and trying to focus on my music. I walked into Poundstretcher (don’t laugh!) I wanted something for Marc’s bathroom. My heart pounded as I walked around. As I got further from the door I clutched my neatly folded plastic bag -this comes everywhere with me in case I’m sick….stupid eh? No…. it’s like a lifeline. I grabbed the bits I needed and made for the checkout, it was empty.. The girl was really pleasant behind the counter. She asked if I had a new bathroom. No, I replied, a new boyfriend! She laughed as we exchanged glances, she had noticed my hands shaking…I was embarrassed now and the panic was rising in my chest. Just made it I thought.. I dashed to the car and dumped the bags. Now, in my head I just achieved something amazing….Mental? Sometimes when I think about what I’m writing it is completely off the wall. The fact that going into a shop is seen as a major achievement is utterly bonkers but sadly very real. So, as I’d achieved such greatness I was eyeing Asda up…I picked up my bag and headed to the entrance. I thought about pizza, but there was no time to think, it had started. I grabbed a flat bread and went straight to the self-checkout. That was a bit of a failure. I was in a mess by the time I got to the car… The one thing that is certain about anxiety is that it is irrational…totally irrational. I was glad to be back in the safety of the car.
It would appear now that everything in my head was a challenge. My thought processes were reverting back to a few years ago. I was already making up stupid and irrational scenarios in my head. Everything was focussing on anxiety and how I would cope. Work, friends, my dad etc
The scenarios have continued to rear up. For instance, I decide to go into the Lakes for a bivvy.. I spend the whole journey being terrified by the thought of going into my favourite coffee shop in Coniston. Would I be able to ‘swallow’ my coffee or would I stare at it and then take the tiniest of sips and fight to get it to go down. It’s like my throat closes and that’s it, I’ll gag and maybe I’ll be sick in front of everyone…the spiral starts. This is before I am even there…
Today I am in bed. A trigger last week (which I can’t talk about yet) has left me in another state of being mentally dysfunctional.
I hate myself for not being able to just get up and sort myself out. I hate myself for being weak. I hate the pain I have to deal with. The way tramadol makes me feel sick. I hate the way anxiety and pain exhaust me to the point of tears, to the point where I second guess everything, to the point that my head is never quiet, guilt, suffering, pity, hate, sorrow, loathing. Tinnitus at 2am when all the world is quiet but my head is so noisy. Over processing every scenario. Wanting to make plans but knowing I’ll cancel them anyway.
Some days I avoid going for coffee with people I’ve known for years in the outdoor industry because I worry that I won’t be able to have my drink in case I start to feel anxious and can’t swallow…
I expect a big question for most people reading this is ‘Why not get help’?
I’ve had counselling – for quite a while after mum passed. I was also on Beta Blockers for 4 years ( as I previously mentioned) to control the attacks. I was weaned off them and don’t welcome going back to them.
I also now have the added problem of the acceleration of my back pain. The doctor joked once when he was prescribing Amitriptyline that whilst this drug was for a muscle relaxing purposes it was also used for depression – after all he said, most people who are in pain everyday will also suffer from depression. I guess he had a point. I hadn’t really thought about it before, I suppose I was used to the grind of the daily pain.
The other medication I’m on – Tramadol has side effects that if you read you would probably never take them… Sadly I don’t have that choice.
The vicious circle..
Tramadol – side effects include anxiety and nausea. But there are days that if I don’t take them I cannot function and would struggle to go to work full time. So, I can be pain free but have increased anxiety and symptoms that relate to anxiety.
Amitriptyline – make you feel hungover but stop me having nerve spasms through the night which would otherwise wake me up. These allow me to sleep most nights but make me feel hungover – also similar symptoms to bring on an anxiety attack.
So, it’s a bit of a ‘Catch 22’… Obviously, I’ve tried many different types of medication to find a better solution… But, it seems there would never be an easy option.
The solution. All I can do is carry on trying to function as normally as possible. I know there will always be times when I cannot do the things I want to do. That may be going for dinner or going to the shops or having a coffee, getting a lift to somewhere, using public transport. The things that most people take for granted are the things that can consume my thoughts for hours..I have tried Mindfulness and it does work to a degree but I think that there are some things we are allowed to accept as our own normality..
I cannot really remember being carefree and pain free. (this isn’t a sympathy hunt..). The days of rationality are long in the past for me. This is now my life.
When I went to counselling more recently I was asked about my childhood etc. I felt like the counsellor was looking for other reasons behind my anxiety.. As he dug around in my past I had to tell him as I could tell where he was heading! I told him I wasn’t interfered with as child, I wasn’t abused. I had a strict upbringing but that was a good thing as I’ve grown to be a disciplined and honest person. I wasn’t bullied, I left home young but it taught me to be independant and streetwise. All I knew was I missed my mum and I was in constant pain with my back..
I felt like I wasn’t really being listened to. Like there should be something else that was causing my anxiety. I thought long and hard about this…(too much as usual). I decided counselling had one benefit for me. It had made me realise that some of us can’t be fixed. Not by talking, medication, therapy or anything else for that matter.
I felt it was time to be honest with myself. As I sit here in bed feeling sick from the tramadol and struggling to function normally (it’s a nice day outside and that’s where I should be)…I have come to the conclusion that this is how I am now. These conditions that I suffer are part of me that I can’t change. I am allowed to be like this. I don’t have to get help. All I can do is help myself. I will try to stay fit and active as my back allows. I’ll take my painkillers when I have to. I will have anxiety attacks. I will struggle with all those things that most people take for granted because its who I am now. I am a product of everything that has happened in my past. This is my life. I’ll never be fully free of pain and it will deteriorate and I will take all this in my stride. My friends and colleagues will have to accept that from time to time I may not be able to make it to work because of how I am on that day. I know I can’t go to the climbing wall, yoga classes, the gym…All these places are now ‘no go’ areas as they are all places where I know I am increasing my chances of having an attack..
I also know that sometimes it stems from my back pain. I become ground down and don’t always realise how much it’s getting to me. The desperation to keep pushing myself so I don’t fail at work or miss a night on the hill or be there for someone else takes its toll and before I know it it’s all got too much and I’m on my knees. (or that’s how it feels). But this is ok. It is what it is. We are allowed to be tired. We are allowed to throw the towel in from time to time when it gets too much.
This is just a small part of my story. But I do feel that even putting this small snippet out there it may help others in some small way that are also suffering in similar ways to me.
(Or you may just decide I am bonkers and should be avoided at all times!)
Mental health issues and problems come in many different forms. It can be destructive and frightening to suffer from any form or condition whether it be Anxiety, Depression, Bi-Polar, PTSD amongst others. The battles are often (as I know from friends who suffer) debilitating and exhausting. I never thought I would be someone who would be here as one of those people. I wrote this because at times I feel like everything is pointless. Today I made a step toward accepting my ‘nutty’ problems and moving forward carrying them as best I can as oppose to trying constant ways to rid myself of them and failing miserably.
Keep trucking people.