Let's all join together in a big sigh of relief. I am feeling much, much better today.
The turning point came last night. After another tortured day of feeling too physically overwhelmed to get out of bed, I was at my wits' end, and so was Ken. I had not been able to eat much for the last few days, and since I don't have a spare pound anywhere on me, this was frightening both of us. Ken kept encouraging me to eat, but I had very little appetite, and half the time when I did eat I felt sick afterwards. I was so wretched and he was so worried that we summoned my step-dad again.
My step-dad has a remarkably reassuring presence. Nothing seems to phase him. Sometimes this is a problem, because he doesn't worry about things that in fact merit his concern. My mom is always after him to pay more attention to unpleasant realities and details. He's a very "don't worry be happy" kind of guy. So while this may be a mixed blessing, it's definitely a boon anytime there is a crisis. Even when he's quite concerned, as he was in this case, he always stays calm and always seems to know what should be done. I haven't had to call on his help very many times in my life, but boy was he there for me this past week.
(At this point I also want to give a shout-out to my bio-dad, who showed up on Tuesday bearing lunch and a big pot of yellow chrysanthemums. He also has a very reassuring presence, and offered to be there for me in whatever way I might need. I called him in tears at least once (the details are already fuzzy on whom I called when these past nightmare days), and he was rock-solidly there for me. I am unbelievably lucky having two dads to lean on. Frankly I needed all the parenting I could get this week, so lucky me - suddenly that childhood divorce is bearing dividends. Two sets of parents! My mom has also been there for me by phone every day, and my step-mom generously offered that I could "lean on" her and my bio-dad. Step-dad gets to be the big hero because a) he's a doctor and b) he and my mom live much closer to me than my other set of parents. However, I am quadruply lucky that I know I could call any of my fantastic team of super-parents at any time of the day or night and they would be there for me.)
So, my step-dad showed up and said he'd been thinking about the situation, and in his professional opinion my main problem at this point wasn't the myalgic encephalomyelitis per se (although that was definitely playing into it) but that the physical symptoms which felt so much like extended panic attacks were, in fact, extended panic attacks. ME can definitely change one's brain chemistry by suppressing all the nice neurotransmitters, like GABA and serotonin, which keep one calm, balanced, and sane. Anxiety and depression are listed among the official symptoms. Take that and add on all the stresses that I've been going through this summer, and it created a perfect storm.
So, ta-dah! The good news is, most of my problem is in my brain! It's simply a mere panic disorder! This is much better than what I thought might be happening which is that the ME itself had taken my body down a road to complete and utter destruction on all fronts. When I was working with that hypothesis, it seemed like everything was going down the tubes and I might actually waste away and die. It is possible to die from severe ME, or to get so sick that you wish you were dead but don't die for ages, and there are way too many unfortunate people suffering unspeakably in that condition which I have read about online and thereby filled my imagination with worst-case scenarios. I have read a quote by a doctor saying that ME can be like the worst of MS, lupus, and AIDS all rolled into one. Obviously this information seared its way into all levels of my consciousness and scared the living crap out of me.
When I crashed after the simple task of taking the bus home from work, on one level I was in shocked disbelief that I could be so disabled, even if it might only be temporary; on another level I was frustrated beyond my limits by falling seriously ill again only three days after my careful and otherwise successful return to work; and I was desperately trying to strategize how to maintain any form of normal life in this state of unpredictable fragility. It had never been that bad, and I guess at the deepest level I lost faith that day that there was a limit to how low I might get. It felt like I was losing my whole life at an accelerating rate: all my thoughts were shot through with horror at how vulnerable I have become, terror at being so helpless, and an endless cycle of desperately calculating how I could possibly carry on with such reduced stamina.
It was all mixed up with the continued worry about Ken's heart condition (he has a consultation on Monday to see if he's a candidate for that outpatient surgical procedure), my Zaidy's death, the politics on my mom's side of the family which have been greatly exacerbated by Zaidy's death, big projects afoot at work, and a million other things that a mind can find to worry about.
I still don't really know how to face up to all of that crap, because it hasn't gone away, but at least I can tell myself that I'm not going to die a slow and agonizing death in the foreseeable future. As soon as I accepted that my symptoms were a result of pure panic, a lot of the anxiety abated immediately. Today, although I still feel quite drained, I am miles better than how I was feeling yesterday. I guess now that that's taken care of I just wait to see what happens when the Paxil kicks in. Four more days and hopefully the magic pills will start to cut those other worries down to a more manageable size.
It's going to be a slow road, one little step at a time, but I'm going to get my life back. You hear me? I am!