Stress is seriously stressful
Stress is such a little word. I visualise someone pulling their hair, tired, pressured and feeling trapped but it’s even more than that. It is very dangerous physically and mentally to the body.
I’m going to tell you what stress does to my body.
Eight years ago it was an accumulation of stressful events that resulted in my break down and diagnosis of bipolar. I think most of our bodies can naturally cope with short bursts of stress, for example, working longer hours, looking after the kids, relationship breakdowns and family hassle but the problems begin when this stress is prolonged. If we think of each of us having a stress bucket we can imagine our layers of stress building and without a tap filtering the water out it does nothing but fill until it overflows and there we have it – mental illness.
I don’t think I had a coping tap. I was like a sponge and absorbed everything. I didn’t know how to open up, ask for help and release. I didn’t know overflow would result in depression and I had no idea that my body would react to stress in very unusual ways.
A year ago I was sitting on the sofa and all of a sudden my body felt very weak. My neck was lolling around and I was struggling to tell anybody what was happening. My head fell forward and I lost the ability to use my limbs. Everybody thought I was asleep whilst I was begging in my head for someone to help me. I described the episode to my family and they began to recognise when they were happening. I reported them to my community psychiatric nurse and I was given an emergency appointment to see my Consultant.
I was diagnosed with pseudo seizures.
I cried as it didn’t make sense. Pseudo meant false but they were real and happening nearly every day, some lasting for an hour. And the word seizure? My body wasn’t reacting like a normal seizure would. I was confused. It was explained to me that the episodes were an amalgamation of psychological distress building up in the body needing a release. The body can’t run or hide from traumatic experiences so it disassociates itself and the stress is shown physically. I asked what I could do? I had gone through a recent low period but thought I was coping. However, something unusual was obviously happening to my body.
Recently I walked inside the house and was shaking all over before my mum helped me onto the bed. My mouth gurned, I felt boiling hot and my limbs began to seize with rigidity. An ambulance was called. Thankfully all my observations in hospital were ok but the dreaded pseudo seizures had come back.
I can feel when they come on now and I can cope. Sometimes I cry after because I wished my body had more emotional resilience to process stress normally rather than physically disassociate it. However, I have accepted I may have them for life.
I take sedative medication to help calm my body down and I see a private cognitive behavioural therapist who allows me to talk through my life’s challenges and process them with self compassion to stop me from beating myself up. Thankfully the NHS are also providing me with talking therapy which should help me learn to cope with my stress in a more effective way.
With everything going on I always think of my coping tap and try to release my stress as much as possible. I talk to family, friends and sometimes call the Samaritans for a non judgemental rant (they are an amazing service!) I eat regular, balanced meals and allow myself lots of time to sleep. I wind down at night without hammering the laptop or mobile phone beforehand and always make sure my room is cool and dark. I go for walks when I am able to and take in the scenery around me. I focus on one thing at a time and don’t overwhelm myself with ongoing lists that are impossible to achieve. I say no to things I don’t feel able to do and feel confident that my friends, colleagues and family will understand. I am kind and help people to feel that wonderful sensation when you make someone’s day a little better. I practice mindfulness which is the simple ideal of living in the present – taking in the surroundings, what you are doing in the immediate and stop worrying about the past and future. I choose to watch trash TV because it gives me escapism and makes me laugh (which is so important in this crazy life!). I’m not afraid to ask for help and stay in contact with my professional support network. I listen, read and learn to open my mind to help myself. I simply do my best in whatever capacity that may be.
Think of your coping tap and what you do to release stress. That little word has so many symptoms that are lengthy to list and destructive beyond description.
Life is hard enough so lets try not to let stress fill our buckets until we can’t cope. Lets take control and make some changes. Spot those stress signs and use your coping tap.
General mental health support resources:
livinglifetothefull.com – online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) website
youngminds.org.uk – with parents/carers helpline
amazon.co.uk ‘Madly Seeking Sanity’ – Lola Jane
http://www.samaritans.org/ – The Samaritans are a non-judgemental ear where you can talk confidentially about anything