A Work In Progress By Alison McGrath
Written by: Alison McGrath Recoverer
I have always seen myself as a strong and reliable person, someone whom other people can come to for help. Surviving a nasty period of bullying as a young student nurse in the army convinced me that I could cope with anything. Later, civilian nursing taught me that I should be able to carry a limitless workload and still smile for the patients. As the eldest daughter and a nurse in a matriarchal family, my work spilled over into my personal life and I became Mrs Fixit for everyone.
Over the years I went through several crashes, each time developing a better understanding of the craziness of the expectations laid on me, but unable to find ways to protect myself. When I voiced my needs, I was described as aggressive, angry or selfish and pushed back in the box.
As so often happens, I emerged from the challenge of parenting young children, only to be sucked back into several years of supporting elderly parents and an extended family battered by repeated bereavements and traumas. I deliberately chose to return to work at this point to establish something that was just for me. I hoped that this would shift the family expectation that I was permanently available, but family dynamics don’t change that easily. I was still the family nurse and fixer and a challenge to this earned me a bruised face from a relative and the pain of a long-term rift.
I loved my work but, as I threw my all into it, the expectations mounted and the funding dwindled. Work became the final straw breaking my health. The ‘obvious’ solution was to give it up, along with any other pleasurable activities that gave me a sense of my own existence as something other than a carer. I woke to a sense of dread every morning, feeling as if I had been battered overnight. I remember the jelly knees, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other to make it down long hospital corridors, the looping anxiety at three in the morning, the feeling of idiocy at forgetting names and missing appointments. I was so far beyond exhausted that it was a meaningless word, just part of who I was.
I embarked on the traditional route to a diagnosis of fibromyalgia; fruitless appointments with a series of consultants, punctuated by long periods on waiting lists. The initial optimism that a diagnosis would lead to help died in a local support group, where I met people who had been transformed by fibro from people into patients. My nursing may have been a huge part of why I became ill, but it also taught me that doctors are often wrong, especially about chronic conditions. Instead of giving in to despair I got angry, determined to find a way back to health, but I didn’t know how to go about this on my own.
Life changed at a ceilidh run by my choir, as I sat and watched a friend dance. Like me, she had missed weeks at a time with exhaustion. She told me about the Chrysalis Effect and how much it had helped her. I was a bit sceptical, after having seen so many quack claims of cures, but her dancing and the online testimonies convinced me to give it a go.
Over the past year I have made astonishing progress. Instead of holding onto the wall as I hobble downstairs each morning, I can jog down to catch the postie. The swelling in my hands, feet and face has gone completely. I no longer crash in a heap after every shock or argument. I have recognised the people and situations that press my buttons and found the courage to say ‘No!’ more often and to leave the dream job that had turned into a nightmare.
Over the summer I have enjoyed learning how to build a website, as well as writing content in which I’m sharing my love of gardening and nature and my quest to find ways to follow this passion on a limited energy budget. All I need to do now is work out how to make some money from my writing!
I still have a long way to go, but my progress in clearing the woods means I can now see the trees. The pain in my hands is still there, but since it’s the only pain left, I have found that it’s because I have a congenital joint issue in my thumb which can be treated. I’m still struggling with tiredness, but my GP is willing to engage with my low heart rate and temperature now that I have fewer other symptoms and back up from TCE.
Sometimes I doubt myself and wonder whether I really have made any progress, then I read back through my morning pages and Chrysalis notes and am amazed at the difference.
My biggest challenge now is not getting out of bed, it’s learning not to throw myself back into life so hard that I end up back in bed.
Now that is a change worth celebrating!
Thank you so much to Alison for sharing her journey. I know your words will reach out to another recoverer who maybe dealing with similar challenges and give hope that Recovery is possible. We cannot wait to see what’s next for you Alison.
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