I've been struggling. And despite everything I still find that hard to admit. Maybe it's the perfectionist in me wanting everything to be 'just so' – even my recovery. I want so much for my narrative to be 'strived to get over Anxiety Disorder and won' that admitting that I'm struggling with my health again seems like a failure. Even though 'recovery' is rarely straightforward. And it's an entirely different health problem.
I want so much for my life to be 'normal', to be able to do everything that other people can do. To be able to do everything that I want to do. I want it so much that it feels like I've been pretending that I can do it. Pushing through and ignoring the warning signals from my body. Continuing despite increasing amounts of headaches, IBS flare-ups, achiness throughout my body, dizziness, light sensitivity, nausea, brain fog and just sheer exhaustion.
Until my body had enough.
I got a virus about a month and a half ago and I've been a different level of exhausted since then. I think it was 'just' a cold, but it seems to be painfully slow getting my energy reserves back.
The doctor diagnosed a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome flare up caused by a viral infection and I've been signed off work.
In the first few weeks there were days when I couldn't concentrate on anything much. I managed to feed myself (thank god for tinned food and freezer food), but getting showered and dressed took too much energy. There were a few days where I just sat and concentrated on my breathing for large chunks of the day so I would have enough energy to watch TV for a bit. That wasn't every day as I did watch reruns on Netflix for large chunks of some days – as reruns are easy viewing and take less mental energy. I even wrote a couple of blog posts during that time. But they took about half an hour to do, and I had to rest afterwards. I could shower and dress some days, but it took a lot out of me and I had to rest afterwards. I remember one day I tried doing some crochet and after about 10-15 minutes I felt so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open.
I felt isolated. I was stuck in the house, mainly on my own as my parents have been away a lot. I started to feel like a complete failure. As if the progress that I'd made in recovering from my anxiety issues meant nothing because here I was stuck in the house again. I was so frustrated I wanted to scream out. It didn't feel fair. I just want to live a normal life – why me?
I was so thankful for my friends during this time. A few kept in touch daily, or a few times a week and they kept me sane! I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't in the same position I have been in the past. I am not isolated as I have friends (and family) that care about me. But it's hard to keep yourself positive sometimes when you feel exhausted and can't concentrate on doing a great deal.
To keep myself sane (and try to recover) I've been concentrating more on my mindfulness practice and especially self-compassion practices. I've also been using heat packs on my poor achy shoulders and neck and doing the physio exercises I've been given more regularly. The random aching in my legs seems to be linked to the fatigue – so not much I can do about that apart from rest! And I've been trying to get as much nutrition as I can.
Self-care and compassion are so important and we often don't do these essential things until our body and/or mind demand them.
This has all felt like such a shock to the system. But looking back now I can see that it's been coming for while.
I was struggling to keep up with my self-care because I was so exhausted from work. Every day at work took it out of me. There were a lot of weeks where I was so exhausted from working 3 days that I couldn't do much on the other 4 days of the week. I had to cancel a lot of my social activities due to exhaustion. There were some months where I did more social things – and I really enjoyed them – but they took it out of me. I was generally so tired the next month I was cancelling everything again.
And every time I cancel something I feel like I'm letting someone down. I feel like if I keep going this way people will stop inviting me out!
I have been struggling since before my GP diagnosed me with CFS around a year ago. I've just been trying to carry on because I couldn't admit that working 3 days a week was killing me. I felt like a failure.
But one thing that this flare up has given me is a lot of time to reflect. I wouldn't think of anyone else as a failure for not being well enough to work. So why do I think that of myself?
Why do we always blame ourselves and berate ourselves for things out of our control?...
Is it because our society is so focused on achievements and competition? We should always be moving forwards, achieving more, doing more... And when we're not it feels like there's something wrong with us.
I personally feel like that's part of it. I worry what others think of me. I don't want to be seen as lazy, unsociable, unmotivated, work shy, a hypochondriac or whatever other stereotypes there are in society for those who are struggling. I would hope no-one would think that little of me. But ultimately I can't control what others think.
Having time to reflect and meditate on self-compassion I have come to realise I have a lot to be proud of.
I have come a long way since I first realised I had an anxiety disorder.
I've overcome social anxieties, gained a lot of confidence in myself and my abilities & overcome fears of travelling on public transport. I've gone from someone who had no friends, was fearful of leaving the house, had panic attacks getting the bus to the local town, thought no one would like me, had massive anxiety going out in social situations, had panic attacks making meals or going to a supermarket and never thought I would be able to work again. To someone who is comfortable on public transport, can travel across the country (or to other countries), feels comfortable socialising with all sorts of different people and loves meeting new people, loves taking on new challenges, has not only gained confidence in various voluntary positions but has been in paid work for over a year and a half.
I now feel like I am faced with a different challenge. And I will face this too. It turns out a lot of the coping strategies I learned with my anxiety are transferable and the meditation and mindfulness is also an important part of my recovery for this. It feels like my lifeline. And I'm grabbing onto it with both hands!
I want to recover. I want to be independent. I have ambitions I want to achieve. I have so much I want to do in life.
I am going to start by taking care of myself. I am slowly recovering already. I had an afternoon out the other day (I was out of the house for about 6 hours!) and although I was tired out the day after it felt like a massive thing for me as I couldn't have done that two weeks ago. The most I'd managed before this was a few hours out of the house for a meal with friends or a theatre outing. And a couple of these outings took a lot out of me and led to exhaustion. I can see things slowly getting better so I must be doing something right!
For now I will continue to try and pace myself. To have a daily mix of mental activity, low impact physical activity and rest (meditation). It's been a massive eye opener to me that everything I was doing to rest previously involved some element of mental activity (watch TV, crochet, colouring in, reading) and that I almost never had 'full' rest. Full rest meaning either doing nothing at all or meditating/ focusing on breathing (not sleeping as this can affect the quality of sleep during the night).
Hopefully I'll continue to slowly improve and be able to do a little more each day or each week. I'll certainly be making sure I look after myself as I don't want to be in the position where I can't do anything again!!
Hi, I'm Sleepy Knights - the exhausted creative. Thanks for visiting my blog! I'll be sharing my creative output - poetry, photography and crafts projects - insights into mindfulness training, coping strategies to deal with life and my own struggles and successes - Read the about section for more info!