I have never been one to throw in the towel, despair and just want to give up. I pride myself on my resilience and capacity to cope with most things that life throws at me. Unfortunately we all have our limits. I feel that I reached mine. I understand the importance of seeing a bigger picture and embracing the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence and this is what I tend to do when I find myself slipping down a chasm of desolation
It all started around 9 months ago when I suffered from unrelenting cystitis. Now most females are bound to know better than males just how excruciating this can be. No major problem: just take the sachets available from most supermarkets and it’ll be calmed and gone within a few hours – days at most. It becomes a bit more bothersome when that just doesn’t do it; chronic urges to urinate along with painful stomach cramps, just can’t be ignored. Not too worrying, though – just go to the doctor and get some antibiotics. Gone!
Blissful: the feeling of having a regular urination cycle! But not for long. It recurred so many times that I was left sick of the sight of doctors scratching their heads, taking urine samples, consulting their “General Practitioner-ing Guide for Dummies”, bemused by the fact that there seemed to be no infection at all. At length they would say “We’ll try another antibiotic”.
As suspected, the antibiotics didn’t work and by now I was worrying even more after having looked up my symptoms on the internet and scouring forums which all pointed to dreadful diseases and incurable ailments. The last straw came at the fifth hundredth doctor, who this time after some bewildered “umming and ahhhing” offered the following: “maybe you’re constipated- it can sometimes put pressure on your bladder”.
Having described my symptoms at length, now well-practiced like the words of a play, I was appalled at this whimsical diagnosis. My discomfort was quite clearly a localised problem having nothing to do with my bowel movements, which were in fact regular. I must admit that I had an intense urge to punch her in the face, whilst shouting “If you want to make random guesses, fuck off to Deal or No Deal!”
I had decided enough was enough and as is so often the case when things are free, the NHS healthcare was useless. I sought the advice of a private gynaecologist who gave me a quick and accurate diagnosis: Urethritis. The medication helped and I was cured.
I’m sure that you can imagine my horror when, quite unpronounced, whilst still taking the long-term prescribed medicines, the symptoms all returned. I went back to my local doctors, dejected and requesting a consultation with someone other than the constipated moron. Fortunately this doctor had a clue and on my second visit to her (which must be making my total number of doctor appointments circa 2281) I was given an alternative medication after being informed that I was unlikely to have an infection any more. This medication was instead aimed at dulling the nerve signals from the urethra to the brain, which now had been eternally “switched on” due to the returning infections.
Although this tactic worked for a while, like everything else so far, its efficiency diminished and I was left in chronic discomfort and a state of despair. Aside from the physical hindrance, the mental impact was the worst. What was once joyful in life was now drained by the anxiety that I was filled with as I evaluated: Can I do that or will I be too uncomfortable? No gym, to relieve you of those inevitable fat days which are becoming much more frequent now; no going out drinking with friends as it makes you feel worse when you drink and boring when you don’t! ; no sex, so you feel prematurely “passed – it” and unsexy as you flinch every time your boyfriend’s hand near touches your thigh.
All of this contributes to the worst part of the sorry situation: The sensation that you are losing yourself. Once positive and light-hearted, resilient to most things if not all, you feel as though you want to curl into a little ball and hide from the world that now must surely see you as a weak crumbling mess.
The last consultation confirmed what I feared. In the absence of an infection it was likely to be psychological/neurological/same-thing. My central nervous system had gotten into a pattern of firing that now would be hard to counteract. Having been intensely interested in health psychology, I was horrified when the urologist likened the condition with “phantom limb syndrome” which I have learnt is often intractable and chronic. The most effective methods of relief are – to my knowledge – often complex neuropsychological techniques.
The worst part of the unidentified condition was the impairment on my psychosocial well-being and general distress levels. I suppose as a psychology graduate I should have welcomed the opportunity of putting faith in the power of the mind-over-body stance, which I had always advocated. I can’t quite explain why, but the prospect filled me with fear, quite possibly because I felt that I had little energy left to invest in mindful practice to relieve my discomfort. I wanted “a normal” problem – one that could be fixed with antibiotics or strong pain killers.
Although I have always embraced the fact that I am not “normal”, embracing my as-of-yet undiagnosed condition in the same way was rather hard. Getting the feelings of anxiety and worry to subside, is no easy feat. Having said that I suppose it is time to put my money (or mental health) where my mouth is and practice what I preach. During my studies I was put in awe of the brain’s plasticity and capacity to respond physiologically to different patterns of thinking.
In a study this year “Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density” it was demonstrated how just 8 weeks of mindfulness training could reduce grey matter density in the amygdala (the brain region principally responsible for emotions such as anxiety and stress) which was consequently reflected in the participants’ own subjective feelings.
Perhaps it is the untamed neurosis within me that makes it difficult to suppress feelings of helplessness that only ever really arise when my health is involved. This in itself presents an opportune subject for examination which may help in my attempt to assert mind over matter.
I suppose that all is not lost while you still have your mind. Referring back to the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence; nothing remains the same. What cripples me now is likely to be nothing but a distant memory in time to come. I must remember that I am what I think and have faith that my mind will surely overcome matter.
Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much