Eight years ago my life was re-shaped by breast cancer. My three children were young, I was young – only 45 and although I had experienced a number of episodes of mild depression and anxiety over the course of my adult life, I believed strongly that my health was pretty perfect. Two years after breast cancer, a ‘spot’ on my nose turned out to be a basal cell carcinoma. Not in itself able to kill me but another shock. Another knock. A year later every twinge, every blemish, every change in the landscape of my naturally ageing body caused me to believe categorically that I was seriously ill or dying. Over the last three years health anxiety has grown and multiplied and poisoned my life. I began to have regular panic attacks. Recently I became convinced that my heart was failing. It wasn’t and it isn’t but that has not prevented me from exhaustively questioning an eminent cardiologist. Her patience and kindness has finally persuaded me that my heart is strong. But I have other symptoms, probably brought on by a cocktail of long term tamoxifen, anti-depressants, beta blocks, xanax…My heart is racing as I write, just thinking about all these failed chemical ‘treatments’. Last week I had a brain and spine MRI. I found myself alone in St George’s Hospital staff car park, hopelessly lost on Thursday at 1.30 in the morning with chronic leg pain and numbness. It turns out that I don’t have MS, I wasn’t having a stroke. I had some back trouble and a trapped nerve. I, my husband, my GPs and a psychiatrist know that this situation of devastating anxiety cannot continue. I am not dying but I am desperate for my mental health to get better. I love Bryony’s writing and I love the idea of joining Mentalhealthmates’ walks. I once read that walking has been proven to be just as effective in helping reduce anxiety as any medication. Now I will put it to the test, along with proper CBT and support from my family, friends and health professionals. Breast cancer was easier to manage and deal with than the subsequent torment of anxiety. This is the first time that I have ‘shared’ my recent story. It will maybe chime with anyone who reads it as other’s story’s have chimed with me. I look forward to beginning my (probably long) road to recovery.
1 July 2016