The last four weeks have been a challenge. The number of days I have had to finish in bed, early, has increased. Often seeking solace in a darkened room at 3 in the afternoon. My limbs have been heavier, where trying to lift my arm takes effort. Walking, taking longer, slower every day, struggling to climb the stairs, often collapsing on the couch, before abandoning the idea. Dark, impenetrable days are now piling on top of each other, and I now wonder is it depression taking hold, or is it Multiple Sclerosis or chronic pain asserting their dominant roles in my life.
My symptoms can easily describe depression, a symptom all too common for people with my illnesses. How can I discern the difference between physical symptoms and mental symptoms, or is there actually a difference? Does one come with the other? Lying on my bed wondering what is the point? I cannot use my body in any physical activity, and my brain has been hobbled by pain. Access to the two parts of living, which make us feel alive, has been curtailed.
Last week I finished a 4-part series with Dr Jonathan Egan discussing how to manage anxiety, stress and depression during the pandemic. Over the four weeks we discussed each of these, and it was so easy to ask the questions, as I was experiencing each of these, now, because of the pandemic, plus the continuing decline in my illnesses. They all seem to be progressive. Anxiety about venturing into the world, the stress of perhaps catching SARS-CoV-2, and depression brought on by my body’s inability to handle committing to recording the training.
After recording each episode (it would finish at about 3pm) I would have to eat and then go directly to my bedroom. Closing the blinds as the pain caused by light on my sensitive eyes was too much, the sounds of the house needled my ears. Pain cresting from the back right of my head, crashing just over my right eye, was accompanied my a decrease in my ability to use my legs. For some reason, the pain makes my legs stop. That night I would sleep for 10-11 hours, waking with drained batteries, which could only be partially filled by taking modafinil. But medication for fatigue only delays the experience of listlessness, and in my case, increases it. If I use it my recovery time doubles.
How do I feel now?
Today, a week after finishing recording, editing and transcribing the episode, I am looking back. The four weeks have passed and there are complete parts I don’t recollect. My brain has put a dark cover over the day days. Only if I look well and with a bright light, can I look at, and perhaps explore, the bad days. Sitting here in my new “office” I wonder, should I be the brave adventurer, and pick apart those bleak periods of the last month? Would there be something I would gain from this self exploration?
There were several recurring recommendations made by Dr Egan. They were:
- Talking to someone or something about how you feel
- Projects/Hobbies/Flow State
Each episode discussed these, and he gave examples of how to implement these into our lives. I am doing all of them. As much as I can, and I am much better, mentally, because I have. Before I ventured on the series, I said to Jonathan it would come with a cost for me. My experience told me I should prepare myself for tough times after each recording. I knew it would happen.
However, like every explorer, I knew there would be tough times. Stages of the journey when to keep going looked foolhardy, dangerous, or even deadly. Scott, Hillary, or even Dr Livingston all had times like this in their adventures, and I am sure they knew about it before they set out. They prepared for this with extra food, water, and other essentials to help their survival.
So I prepared myself mentally for the possible troubles I would face. The key element which ensured I could continue was the hope someone would be helped by this project. As the pain increased I clung to this hope. That the prize would be worth me wading through the flea-bitten swamps of my physical and mental malaise. In bed, pain cascading around my head, groaning with the effort of walking, or eating what is usually tasty food, which now was just something to chew on, trying to quickly get the nourishment in my body, as eating had no pleasure, no taste, just bland gruel.
Was my hope justified? Was I able to see the view from my Everest? I did, and I continue to see more than the response to the training has been better than I hoped. The live audience appreciated the help, online people listened, and asked questions, and they were answered in the following sessions. These recordings are now available for anyone to listen to, to benefit from, to help more people find a way of preparing themselves for their dark days.
Jonathan promised before we started it would increase both of our vitality, and the sessions have. Every day I get a buzz, and welcome and friendly buzz, not the l’Hermitte type, when I see someone else has downloaded one session. It might help another person. I have steadily received more back than I expected, and now I have decided I won’t commit to the exploration of how I felt on those dark days. I don’t need to. I have blanked them from my memory and won’t be an obstacle to me doing something like that again. Maybe not four in a row, but I will do more.