When Treating and Recovering From Chronic Illness Creates Anxiety
Anxiety had become a fact of life
I have had a constant onslaught of anxious feelings associated with my chronic illness over the past two years. As the months melted into years, I began to grow accustomed to the low lying anxiety. It all seemed pretty natural over time. My brain would frequent the old standards: “What if I never get better?” “What if the doctor just gives up on me?” “What if my body just gives up one day?” It’s pretty natural, I think, to struggle with anxious feelings that you will stay in a constant high alert state for the rest of your life.
That was the situation with my condition. I have had the same debilitating and life-altering headache since March. March 2016 that is. And the idea that I would feel anxious seems quite natural. I’m sure it’s not a stretch for anyone reading to imagine that every day, waking up with intense pain and debilitating symptoms would create a sense of anxiety. It did. A lot of days, my condition created intense uncertainty and stress.
Now that I have had treatment, a new challenge
I was recently treated for my condition. Yes, I do have a treatable condition, which I know puts me in a totally different category than many who have chronic illness. For that I am eternally grateful. It is three months ago now, and I have to say… I still feel anxious. This is the second treatment I have undergone. The first time I was treated it failed after three months. So, you can imagine how apprehensive I feel to meet this milestone again. The odd thing though, is the entire three months, I have felt more anxious than I did prior to the treatment.
Will the treatment stick?
My anxiety now manifests as middle of the night panic. I awaken in the middle of the night convinced that my treatment has failed again. I take stock of my condition as I foggily wake myself from my slumber. I assess the head pain that I have to determine if it’s different or the same as it was when I went to bed. Have I started to deteriorate? Is my condition back?
You see, the treatment for my condition, a spontaneous CSF leak, or a spinal CSF leak, is that you often get a similar but opposite set of symptoms. My headache had been at the back of my head and is now in the front. I had a horrible time standing up when I was suffering, and now the treatment makes it difficult to lie down flat. I had a pulling down feeling when I was leaking and now that I have had treatment, my brain feels overfull like someone has to pull the plug or let the air out.
Every new symptom sends an alert to my consciousness
Every new twinge of pain in my head has me fretting that the condition is back. Each heavy headed sensation makes me ponder, “Is it the same as before or different?” Any time I do something “new” my fear skyrockets and I worry that I will “blow my patch” and cause my condition to go back to its horrid condition again. I fear the past and I fear the future.
Now I worry about “Will this new pain last forever?” “Maybe I’ll just have a headache for the rest of my life.” “Will I ever be able to go back to work?” And the more I think about it, the more I am left with no answers. My doctors do not know the answer. My friends and family do not know the answers. And I don’t know the answers.
What to do with the anxiety?
In order to deal with this looming sense of uncertainty, I choose to focus on what I do know. I am spending time logging all my successes. I log a few days of walking each week. Something that was impossible for me prior to my treatment. I note all the meditation time, the quiet reading time and the music I can now listen to (something that was impossible for me to do before my procedure). I spent time upright, still quiet, but upright doing things such a blogging, coloring, writing and drawing in my bullet journal, and accomplishing small household chores.
When my anxious thoughts and feelings arise, and I can feel myself start to worry, I focus my breathing on success. I try to imagine my body healing and knitting itself back together.
And I breathe.
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