Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Heart Attack/Panic Attack/Indigestion?!

Sometimes I wonder whether I should post things on this blog.  I am aware that it is open to the public, so obviously I don't put my private thoughts on it (although I used to at the start when I was writing it anonymously).  So I have thought hard about what I am about to write, because it is quite personal and quite embarrassing.  But I have decided that it is relevant.

After my last blog post, I wrote for an hour or two.  I then had a sandwich and some sunflower seeds for my lunch.  After that I sat down in the conservatory with a cup of tea.  I texted Paul to tell him that I was relaxing and that I had decided I should do so more often.  (I had already text him earlier to say that I had deleted the completely rubbish romance novel that I had been trying to write and he had replied saying he thought that was a good idea). 

All this preamble is leading up the point that I was not consciously stressed at that point...  Anyway, before I'd had a chance to drink much of my tea, I started to feel pain in my chest.  It got worse.  I retreated from the conservatory into the front room where it was cooler, because I had broken out into a cold sweat and was having trouble breathing.  The pain continued and I started to worry.  I lay down on the sofa (sometimes I get indigestion and lying flat helps).  I got up, because it didn't help.  I tried to stay calm and keep breathing slowly and deeply.  No help, and now I was feeling dizzy and a little sick... 

After a few minutes of this, I called Paul at his work.  I had considered calling the ambulance, but at the back of my mind the thought of my diagnosis always niggles, and I was frightened that if the pain subsided soon, as seemed likely, I would be sitting in A and E for several hours, earmarked as, at the least, an hysteric and at the worst a schizophrenic.  I have had bad experiences in hospitals over the years, of trying to reassure doctors that I am fine mentally and them remaining convinced that I am not, so I do my best to avoid the places.  

I do get a lot of physical aches and pains, and I have had IBS for years.  The IBS has abated considerably recently, if not stopped - I have been implementing a strategy of mind over matter with it, and I seemed to have won.  I know that my mind is capable of conjuring up all sorts of physical manifestations of worry, and although I worry a lot less than I used to, anxiety does creep back in at times.  I have been very busy recently, on Twitter and Facebook publicising my work, writing, doing the usual stuff and home and with the kids.

The chest pain still did not make sense.  It was agony, and it continued.  Paul came home and insisted that I call the GP, which I did, and they asked me first to go to A and E, but when I said I didn't want to do that, they said I could see a doctor at the surgery.  She listened to my heart and said it sounded fine, but booked me in to have an ECG on Monday.  She said she thought that it was likely to have been indigestion, or a 'bronchial spasm' or windpipe spasm.  Or a panic attack.

The doctor said we might never know what it had been, but she gave me a prescription for an indigestion medicine and told me to take one pill a day for a week, to prevent the return of symptoms.  (I haven't taken them.  If it was indigestion I can live with it.  Well, I couldn't and wouldn't want to live with that pain if it happened again, but if it was indigestion I would have to be on pills for the rest of my life, to prevent it ever happening again.  Which isn't practical, and as we know, all medications have side effects, and also they don't always work.  I'm pretty sure it wasn't indigestion, but I have been eating more slowly and carefully since, just in case).

I didn't really think that it was a panic attack either, because as I told the doctor I have had plenty of those in my time, and that was not how they manifested.  But if it was either indigestion or panic, that's not good because presumably it means it could happen again at any time, which is a scary thought.  Although obviously it would be better than heart trouble, which really would be awful.

I didn't have the ECG yesterday in the end, because something came up, but I am booked again for tomorrow.  I am really embarrassed about having to go for it, because I feel like an idiot.  I am actually physically really strong, I have done loads over the last few days, and if I had a heart problem I don't think this would have been possible! 

But I know I should have the ECG, for various reasons, so I will.  I will post about it here if anything shows up on it - no news will be good news.  Almost certainly, no news is what it will be. 

I am a hypochondriac, I know it.  Usually I deal with it these days by ignoring any and all symptoms of physical ill health, and they go away.  This time though, I couldn't.  And it is interesting timing, because last week was Mental Health Awareness Week, and I had been on Twitter talking about anxiety, which was the subject for this year.  I had been saying that I used to suffer from anxiety, but was much better now...  And then this happened, and showed me that actually I am not much better, or not always.

I did have an episode like this once before, about five years ago, and at the time I didn't go to the doctor.  Paul was at home with me when it happened, and although he wanted me to get checked out, I had my usual doubts, so I didn't bother.  And it has been fine since then.  Until now.  Whether it was anxiety, or indigestion, or a combination of both, I have been wondering what I can do to prevent a recurrence. 

I probably should give up gluten again.  There have been a lot of books published recently on the subject of 'grain brain' and how bad certain foods are for us.  I followed a gluten-free diet for a year or so, and should really go back to it.  But I found it difficult, and restrictive...

I probably should just stop worrying and generally take things easier.  Keep a balance between work, rest and play.  Enjoy life.  I suppose whatever it was that caused the chest pain etc, it was a warning that something in my life is out of synch, and I should be grateful that it was just a warning and nothing more serious. 

On a completely different subject - I watched The Book Thief last night at the cinema.  It was a real tear jerker.  Not as good as the book, but then of course films so rarely are.  People should read more books. 

I should read more books.

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Time for a Rethink

It's a lovely day today.  I walked the dogs early, and then reluctantly sat down to get on with the business of writing.  It is a wrench, when the sun is shining so warmly outside.  The beach is calling me...

As I have written recently on this blog, I have been beavering away this year, writing like a woman possessed, but I have not come up with anything of note.  I am pretty sure this is because I switched from the idea of writing as a creative outlet, as art, to the idea that I need to earn a living and that writing is a good way for me to make this happen. 

So, in the last few months I have produced and published several chick-lit novellas and a children's book.  None of them very good.  They might have been better - I had some moments of insight, when I could see exactly what I needed to do to improve them, but I wasn't connected enough with them to bother.  I didn't want to invest any more time in them.  Surprisingly, I have actually sold a few of these books despite my own lack of interest in them.  Which shows (she suggests hopefully) that I do have some talent, if even the work I know is nowhere near my best can attract some readers.

Recently, I have been working on a full-length romance (if you have read this before on here, bear with me.  I do have a point to make).  I was not proud of this work at all - even less than the others - because I decided to write it for purely commercial reasons.  It was trash.  It went from being Mills and Boon to being Jilly Cooper, and then descended even further into something that I can only imagine was on a par with Fifty Shades (I haven't read those books but I have read plenty of reviews of them, none of them flattering).

No matter how I tried to convince myself that writing this rubbish was fine, because it's not my fault if people want to read it, and after all I need to make a living, my conscience did not rest easy.  For the purposes of research, I skimmed through some other books in a similar vein (there is plenty of this stuff free on Kindle) and I knew I was lowering myself by reading it, never mind by trying to emulate it.

I mean, perhaps I am wrong here.  Plenty of women (and a few men) write these sort of books, and plenty read them, and who I am I to judge?  It is probably fine for those people - but to me it just did not feel right.  So several times I deleted all the rude bits from my book, only to reinstate them because there was no story left without them (no story to speak of with them either).  I kept going round in circles, but I was determined to finish it.  I hate leaving things half-done, it feels like failure.

But anyway, this morning I have finally given up the ghost.  This is not the sort of book I want to write.  Even if it earned me a million pounds (and to be honest, it was so completely uninteresting that it might never have earned me a penny) I would not feel happy with myself about it.  So I deleted the thirty thousand words that I had hammered out over the last goodness-knows-how-long - two months?  Six weeks?  Four?  It's easy to write fast when you are writing trash...  It's gone. 

Well, it's in my recycle bin, I suppose, but it's not coming out.  I feel relieved to have given up on that particular money-making idea.  Life is about more than money - I have worked hard over the last fifteen years or so to find peace of mind, and I am not going to jeopardise that now.  I want to produce books that I can be proud of, that my children will be impressed with perhaps, hopefully, one day. 

So, it's back to the drawing board.  I think I am going to concentrate on finishing my 'recovery book' again, first of all.  I have a new story to put into it now, one that illustrates again the importance of remaining true to one's own self! 

But before I get started, I'm going to head up to the shops.  I have a random list of stuff to buy for the family, including new toothbrushes, wellington boots and cling film.  I may be some time... 

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Mental Health Awareness Week

This week is mental health awareness week, and the theme is anxiety.  This is something I have had a lot of personal experience of - in fact, sometimes it seems as though most of my life has been ruled by anxiety.  It is the most innocuous sounding condition, something you might be forgiven for thinking is not really a condition at all, but rather a fact of life. 

That is how I used to see anxiety, even when I was pretty much crippled by it.  I thought it was just a horrible, but necessary, fact of my life.  I told myself that I was just a shy, nervous sort of a person.  I thought it was normal to worry about every possible eventuality, every single day.  It felt like a kind of preparation, just in case the worst happened.

And the worst did happen, several times.  That sounds rather dramatic, but it's not an exaggeration - I have had some really difficult times in my life.  But a lot of them were, strangely enough, due to the anxiety - the three nervous breakdowns which resulted in being sectioned and in traumatic forcible treatment being a major case in point. 

If only I had realised that I didn't have to live with that degree of panic and of fear. If only I had known it was faulty thinking, and that I could be taught to recognise that fact and to reason correctly instead.

I got it all so wrong.  I thought that I had an over-active imagination and that was why I couldn't even go for a walk without seeing an attacker around every corner.  I thought I was highly strung.  I cursed myself for my problems with blushing, told myself I was a fool.

Anyway, it's all over now, and I don't make a habit of wallowing in it, and that's not what this post is about.  I really try not to live in the past.  But I've been on Twitter quite a lot over the last few days - partly, if I am honest, to publicise my book.  I am so pleased and proud that it is doing well again, I know it is a good and useful piece of work and an enjoyable read and I want it to continue to sell.

The by-product of being on Twitter so much is that I have had a lot of laughs, some interesting conversations and 'met' (in a virtual sense) some fascinating and lovely people.  And since my interest, and special subject, is mental health, a lot of those people are currently suffering. 

I want those people to know, beyond doubt, that there is a way through.  That they can, and will, heal fully from emotional distress, and come out the other side, stronger as a result.  It may take time, but it will happen.

I remember all the times that I felt so alone, and so misunderstood.  The internet is a great force for good in that way - especially for people suffering from mental health problems, who can now seek and find support so easily.  I often marvel at how things have changed.

We have to continue that change.  We have to keep pushing on, pushing through our difficulties and helping others to do the same.  We have to keep supporting each other.

Since I have been anxiety-free (most of the time, at least) my life has been a thousand times better.  I could not have conceived that I would change to the degree that I have.  CBT helped me, and I am sure it will help others too.  It seems like such a simple thing now, although I know it took many years for me to reach this point.  I hope it won't take as long for others.  I was a tough case!  (I was also helped to recovery by various other factors, but the CBT really did target and dramatically reduce the anxiety).

So I want to say to all those people I have recently met through Twitter - hold on, keep strong, you will get better.  Anxiety can be tackled and it can be beaten.  I promise. 

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Dog Bites Woman

I was not a happy bunny this afternoon.  Every weekend I go to visit my Mum and take her dog for a walk.  I think of it as my good deed, although really it is kind of my obligation.  My duty.  Because she's my Mum and she needs looking after.  And he's her dog and he needs walking.  She can't walk him herself because a) she has a lung condition and b) he is a monster. 

Tyke (appropriately named) is highly embarrassing to walk.  He is very aggressive towards other dogs, and goes crazy pulling at the lead and barking if he sees one.  His intent is quite clear - to duel to the death.  So I have to keep well clear of other dogs on walks.  He also goes bananas if he sees a motorbike (go figure).  So I have to keep a tight grip on his lead at all times.

But he has been much more manageable recently.  My Mum has a couple of regular dog walkers, who I found for her through a charity called the Cinammon Trust, and a couple of months ago one of these ladies bought him a harness.  The harness makes him much easier to control, which is puzzling as prior to that he used to be on a choke chain.  I don't like choke chains, but honestly, with this dog there was no choice.  Anyway, the harness was more humane and also stopped him pulling so much, which was great.

Was.  Today I went over to walk him as usual.  I got to the park safely.  There was another dog on the field there, a large puppy (maybe a boxer cross) which was also on a lead and harness.  So I thought that would be fine.  But then the young couple walking him suddenly took off their puppy's harness and the puppy bounded over to us.  He wanted to play.

I shouted at his owners to get him away, but they couldn't catch him.  Tyke was going mad, barking and twisting, trying to reach the puppy.  I was holding his lead tight, shouting at the puppy, trying to get it away from him.  But it kept coming in close.  Soon, the pair of them were tangled around my legs.  Which is when I got bitten, on my calf.

And then Tyke slipped his harness.  I was aghast.  The dogs were locked together by now, fighting and biting.  I couldn't get hold of them (to be honest, I was too freaked out by the bite I had just received to try).  Luckily, the male owner of the puppy managed to get hold of Tyke and the girl got their dog and took him a distance away.  And put his harness, rather belatedly, back on.

I was totally freaked out.  I couldn't believe the other owner was being so nice about the whole thing.  He helped me put Tyke's harness back on, and he was talking to him really nicely.  I was so angry with Tyke, but he wasn't at all.  I mean, my dog - my Mum's dog - must have really hurt theirs.  I saw his teeth in its neck.   And yet the guy was really kind, even a bit apologetic.  It was incredible. 

I took Tyke straight back home, terrified that he would slip the harness again en route.  I got to my Mum's safely, and to my shame I started to cry.  It was all just so awful - I felt so powerless, and I was horrified to think of what could have happened.  I was also upset because I thought I would have to go off and have a tetanus jab, and I had promised the kids that I would go home and watch a film with them and Paul (this is a weekend ritual, we watch a family film together on Saturday nights, or Sunday if it gets too late on Saturday).  I didn't fancy spending hours in A and E.

Anyway, it turned out okay.  I called 111 and the 'clinician' told me I would be okay for 48 hours, so just to call my GP in the morning to find out about a tetanus jab.  My Mum was really apologetic, but I reassured her that it was not her fault (but had to say that I doubted I would ever want to walk her dog again).  Then I went home, and we watched the film (Harry Hill the Movie) while eating pizza and coleslaw, with strawberries and marshmallows dipped in chocolate for pudding (how could that fail to cheer anybody up?)  

I think I was so upset because that exact scenario has happened to me before.  I was about twelve years old.  I was walking one of our two Alsatians when he attacked another dog - a small terrier - and killed it there and then on the street.  Its owner was shouting at me, so I ran and hid. I knew my dog would be destroyed for what he had done.  And he was - and not just him, his sister, who had not done anything wrong, but who my Dad decided with his twisted logic, would pine without her brother.  They were put down together.  I felt responsible, because I had been walking the dog when it happened.  And nobody ever told me it was not my fault.

Okay, not the exact scenario.  Luckily, the puppy survived Tyke's assault today, and the owners were incredibly kind.  They were foreign, and I did say to my Mum later that I couldn't imagine an English couple being so kind and understanding.  I think Tyke would have had a destruction order slapped on him in slightly different circumstances, and although I hate to say it, that might have been an appropriate course of action.

I love dogs.  I like Tyke, believe it or not (I wouldn't walk him otherwise).  But what if a child had become entangled between the two dogs, instead of just my legs?  What if it had been a smaller, weaker puppy, who had come up innocently, to play? 

It's a scary thought.  I am still shaken by the incident.  But I suppose, now that I have calmed down, I should accept that it's not my responsibility - just as the death of that other dog (of three dogs, in the end) was not my fault when I was twelve years old.  I would not send out a twelve year old girl to walk an Alsatian.  Would you?

Anyhow, my Mum has promised to warn the other dog walkers what happened today.  Hopefully, they will make sure the harness is tighter in future, and that they keep their distance from other dogs.  With any luck, it won't happen again.  And if it does - well, I certainly won't be there to see it.

Because that is the end of that particular good deed.  I will still go and visit my Mum every weekend, but I will not walk her dog again.  Poor dog.  It is a Jack Russell cross, and I am not sure that they make good pets for old people.  I think they need really long countryside walks.  Off the lead.  My sister looked after him for a while, when Mum was too ill to have him, and he seemed to be fine with her, because she does live out in the country and she did walk him a lot.  She can't have him permanently though.  So we will just have to muddle through as best we can, because he's Mum's pet and she loves him. 

That's life.  Ups and downs.  C'est la vie.

Friday, 2 May 2014

Bank Holiday - hurrah!

I know it's feeble, but we've only been back from holiday a week and a half, and I already need another break. Thank goodness it's a Bank Holiday weekend.  I have been feeling unaccountably stressed over the last week, which is not a good way to feel.

The children are flagging too - one of the boys has a cold and a nasty sounding cough, the other just seems shattered. The girls are better, in good spirits - both have recently had birthdays, which helps. And Paul is looking well - in the last few months I have begun to force him out to walk the dogs in the evenings when he gets back from work, and he admitted tonight that the exercise is doing him good.

What else can I report? My house is super-clean, thanks to an outside agent.  Book sales are still up - the only drawback there is that I have been checking the sales figures on Amazon far too often. Like a woman possessed, in fact.  Which leaves less time for writing, which I think is why I am stressed.  I know I need to chill out about how much I write though.  I am coming to the conclusion that writers, like fields, need fallow periods.  I have had a very fertile time recently (in a writerly way...)

And I did write about one and a half thousand words today, so I am making progress.  After the long weekend I am going to plunge right back in again.  With a new rule in place - no internet until I have reached my word goal each day.

There, I have a plan.  Sorted!

Happy Bank Holiday, those in the UK.  And have a lovely weekend, everyone else.