Tuesday 8 March 2016

What do my elbow, back and my brain have in common?

Back in August I had a bike accident. I broke my elbow and herniated a disk in my lower spine. Meanwhile I was onto my fourth (or was it my fifth?) course of therapy for the PTSD, anxiety and depression I'd developed two-and-a-half years before - a delayed result of my brain attempting to cope with what it had been through during the years when I battled to get my teenage son through anorexia.

It took around 12 weeks for my elbow fracture to heal. Eight months on I am still working on the tail-end of the disk herniation, very gradually easing myself back into normal tasks and even sport (I can't wait to get back on my bike, for example, but will need to rehabilitate myself with care).

Healing my elbow and back was also helped along by doing all the exercises recommended by the experts.

Likewise, I have been doing all the exercises recommended by my therapists for the PTSD, anxiety and depression (CBT, mindfulness, etc).

All these exercises - elbow, back and brain - have helped enormously. But it's been slow progress. You can't 'wish' or 'will' the recovery along; you have to wait for the body to heal itself in its own time.

And what was even more helpful was learning that the brain thing is actually a very physical issue. In another blog post I described the PHYSICAL changes that occur in the brain when an individual goes through prolonged stress and trauma.

So just as I am mindful of what I do - and don't do - with my back right now (i.e. I'm not back on my bike yet), I need to be mindful of what I do - and don't do - with my brain.

Both need to be eased back into normal life gradually and with care.

And both will let me know if it's not the right time to do whatever I would like to do.

For example I'm finding it OK to ease myself back into the world of eating disorders - GRADUALLY. There are things I can and can't do. My brain sets off a kind of red warning light if I'm doing too much too soon.

Speaking in Edinburgh was fine; I could manage that. Blogging is fine, too, on the whole. But the 'red warning light' began to flash when, for instance, I agreed to get involved in a series of interviews for a new book on eating disorders.

I'd gone too far. My brain let me know. A big red STOP light came on and I had to send my apologies. It was a little too much too soon. Just as getting on my bike and cycling 20 or 30 miles would be a little too much too soon for my back.

There are other things I find I can't do yet - like getting involved with other new eating disorder groups. Suddenly things seem 'too big' again. The world of eating disorders seems so massive and the illness seems such a huge and mountainous problem - and so devastatingly cruel to families - that my brain says "NO, NOT YET!!"

And the way it does it is through a kind of high anxiety state - like a rabbit caught in the headlights. I just stop and can't function. I have to say no, sorry, I can't do this yet - and I just want to run away and bury myself under the duvet.

Of course I feel guilty because I see others doing it all - going over and beyond the call of duty, so strong, so determined, doing so much good out there. How come they can do it, but I can't? I used to be able to do it after all... Guilt...

But I have also learned that whatever it is that was going on inside my head is something that can happen to strong people (as Dr Tim Cantopher explains so beautifully in his wonderful book Depressive illness - curse of the strong). We have pushed ourselves way over and beyond what normal people would need to do in their lives and our brains have blown a fuse. Unfortunately that happened to me.

Just like my elbow and back, the brain is a physical part of my body and it takes time, care and specialist exercises to heal.

I have to keep reminding myself of this fact.

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