Nuts, Allergies & A New Perspective – An Anaphylactic Adventure

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Allergies. Always a fun thing, and something which I have lived with all my life. I mean I am allergic to pretty much everything: apart from having bad asthma and being lactose intolerant I am also allergic to tree pollen, grass pollen, dust mites, strawberries, kiwis, pineapple, cats, dogs, horses, rabbits etc etc…..and NUTS.

Up until fairly recently I’ve always been pretty ‘lax about it all. I mean, sure, it’s annoying having to chug down antihistamines by the bucket load all year round, and being all itchy and stuff is not much fun, but all in all I have been pretty unconcerned about it. In spite of having been rushed to hospital a number of times, I’ve just never really taken any of my allergies particularly seriously, never thought of them as something potentially life-threatening. That is until a little while ago, when, having inadvertently eaten something which contained nuts at a seder meal, I went into anaphylaxis.

It was a delayed reaction, so I was already on the bus on the way home, when it struck, and when it did, boy did it strike hard and fast. Even though I could instantly feel that this was very different to an ordinary reaction or to an asthma attack, I of course got my inhaler out and started puffing away. Only it wasn’t helping. At all. And this is when I got really scared. My tongue was swelling up and my throat was closing, and I really didn’t know what to do. Thankfully the guy who was sitting next to me [who didn’t know me at all] must have also realised that something was very seriously wrong, because – without even asking me if I needed help – he got his phone out and called 999 while at the same time [incredibly impressively] had the presence of mind to call out to the driver to stop the bus so he could tell the emergency service where we were. Within only a few minutes the paramedics arrived [one of the definite advantages of living in a big city], gave me a shot of adrenaline, transferred me to the ambulance, hooked me up to an IV drip and took me to the hospital. They gave me another shot of adrenaline and added some sort of steroid – I think – to the drip. To be honest, even though they told me exactly what they were doing, I wasn’t really with it enough to properly take it in. All I know is that by the time I got to the hospital I was breathing fine, and so as soon as the doc came to see me I was like “Can I go now?”

Not knowing all that much about anaphylaxis I figured that all was fine and well; the adventure was over, I was exhausted and just wanted to get home and to bed. But the doctor insisted on me hanging around. By the time I finally got discharged it was just gone 2 a.m. Had I known at the time about the high risk of anaphylactic relapse once the adrenaline stops working, I probably would not have badgered the doc to discharge me ASAP.

I was clearly in shock, because while waiting for the doctor to agree to discharge me I updated my Facebook status with a comment about being at A&E of Hospital X, when in fact, it later turned out I was actually at Hospital Y. Just as well that I turned down my friends’ very kind offers of coming out to see me, ‘cause I would have sent them to the wrong hospital.

The day after, I was still pretty blasé about the whole thing, joking about it with some friends I was meeting up with. Even their telling me off for not ringing them had much of an effect. It wasn’t until later that evening that it finally hit home: I could have died. In fact, had the stranger on the bus not acted as quickly as he did, I most likely would have.

As a consequence I have now been to see my GP and have been issued with an EpiPen and strict instructions to never ever take any risks with nuts. I have trained friends and house mates alike on how to administer the injection, should I be unable to do so myself, and I read food labels religiously.

This experience really has jolted me into action, into taking my allergies seriously. And it has also highlighted something quite important: that although I in an odd way feel almost OK with the idea of suicide, should life get me to that point, I would not want to die without feeling that I was ready for it.

I’ve spent a number of sessions with A. talking about this. About the difference between choosing to die and just dying. I know it’s a bit of an odd concept, but in many ways it makes sense. It’s not the dying I’m necessarily afraid of, it’s the not being ready, the fear of not being given the chance to say goodbye to those I love.

This, by the way, should not be interpreted as me saying that I am going to kill myself tomorrow, or even the day after that; it’s just a way for me to explain why, suddenly, I feel almost paranoid about eating things. It’s that unpredictability factor, the inability to control things. I can check and double-check food labels, but there are no guarantees. And it really scares me.

So, from now on, my EpiPen and I are joint at the hip.

xx

PS. Why oh why is word check telling me I mean ‘profylaxis’ every time I type anaphylaxis..?

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Powerlessness, Asthma & Echoes From The Past

Feel like I ought to be given some sort of medal or badge today. It’s been one week since my last therapy session, and so far it’s been manageable. Moments of feeling somewhat lower than usual, but absolutely within the range of what I can cope with without freaking out.

That aside, today I feel like a prisoner in my own home.

The last few Fridays I’ve not been attending our Friday meetings, because B. – a former therapist of mine, whom I chose to terminate therapy with – is doing a student placement as part of her training at those meetings. I have been trying to explain both to others and to myself why I feel so strongly about her coming here, but it’s really hard to put it into words, aside from stating the obvious, that I chose to end therapy with her for a reason, and to not want to have to see her again, even in a group setting, seems – at least to me – a not unreasonable request. I would have thought that most people would not be particularly keen on having to see an ex-therapist once they have terminated therapy with that person. No?

But, of course, it goes deeper than that. It’s not just having to see her; at a stretch I could possibly, maaaayyyybeee, cope with that. No, I think this is tied in to the fact that I’d not just be seeing her anywhere, but actually in my home. And I have a feeling that this is a large part of what is getting to me; that living in this therapeutic community I ultimately have no choice in who to let in or not into my own home.

Now, let’s put this into context of my own background.
I grew up in a house where I was put through some pretty severe abuse by people living in my home; my oldest brother and also, for a time, by a foster child placed in my family. At the time I didn’t feel able to stop it, didn’t know how to speak up [lots of complex issues, as anyone having experienced abuse will know]. In the end, the only way out I could find – and not before having already suffered through twelve long years of abuse – was to kill myself. It was the only control I felt I had over the situation; the option to live or to not live. So, at the age of 17, I opted to take a cocktail of painkillers and my mother’s various medications.

Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, and – in fairness – looking back, I can see that this was probably a cry for help, for someone to see that something wasn’t right.

To an extent it worked; the abuse came to light and it stopped. Would I call this a happy ending? No. Absolutely not. While the abuse stopped and things came to light; even went to court, I couldn’t call it a happy ending.

You see, even after all of this came to light, after by brother was convicted for what he had done, and despite the fact that everyone believed what I said had happened, I was still expected to carry on seeing him at family dinners and holidays, essentially giving the message that what happened to me didn’t really matter, and his place in the family was still more important than mine.

Me being me, having spent my whole life acting as if everything was fine, of course reverted back to that old habit of acting as if I was OK, as if these messages did me no harm. Not good.

Going back to the present situation, with B. coming into my home [even though this time I have expressly stated that I don’t want her here] it evokes in me the same feelings of being helpless, of having no power over who is let into my life; that what I want doesn’t matter.

Realising that the situation wasn’t going to change, that whether I felt OK with it or not, D. would be doing her placement with us, I was faced with a choice. A) To go to the meetings, reverting to the old pattern of pretending that things are fine, putting a brave face on it. Or, B) Not go to the meetings, feeling somewhat driven out of my home, as I don’t want to be around when she’s there, even if I don’t actually attend the meeting.

So far I’ve chosen option B. I say so far, because, of course, there is an option C) Going to the meeting, and not pretend that things are OK, but to speak up with her in the room.

Now, I can certainly see that there would be some value in option C), but – and this is a big but – I honestly don’t feel I am at a place yet where I would be able to do that. And as long as I feel that way, as long as I feel that going to the meeting would make me go back to acting OK, I simply don’t see how that would be a healthy choice. And so, for now, I do the second best; I preserve the boundaries I have set up by choosing not to attend the meeting. I accept that I can’t change B. coming to my house, but I don’t need to be around when that happens.

Except today.

Today is a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in London. Gorgeous, really. It is also the perfect weather for death-by-asthma. The government has even gone so far as to issue a smog alert for this bank holiday weekend.

Despite this, not wanting to be in the house when B. is here, I still tried to brave it this morning and went out. Unfortunately, I had to turn around and head back to the house, because I just couldn’t get enough air in my lunges; the weather and the pollution was simply too much.

So at the moment, I’m in my room, using my inhaler, feeling more than ever as a prisoner in my own home.

Oh well, at least I have the internet here, and I can spend my time exploring where my feelings stem from, and then plague the world with my findings in the form of a blog entry!

Happy Easter, Passover or Spring – whatever floats your boat!

All the very best and much much more,

xx

PS. The trick is to keep breathing.

On My Own – An Entry About Finding New Ways To Cope

I’m at The New Place now. I moved my stuff here on Saturday and myself today. And so far it feels ok. Had a house meeting today and that went well. We had a visitor who’s also looking to come here and after the meeting me, T and C sat in the lounge talking about him, realising that we had all made almost exactly the same observations. I’m not going to go into any details about that, because that’s not really the point – I just mentioned it because it was really nice to sit there together talking. Both T and C have really made me feel very welcome. They had even put up curtains in my room and flowers on my chest of drawers. Very sweet. The other person who lives here hasn’t been around since sometime last week. In fact I’ve only met him at two meetings. T said that he has been finding it difficult being in the house and so he has been away quite a lot lately.

As I mentioned earlier I split the physical moving of things and actually moving in myself over a couple of days. It wasn’t what I had originally planned to do, but the closer I got to the big Moving Day the more stressed out I got about the physical move. So much so that I began to notice that I completely shut off all emotions I had regarding moving away from Dev and into this completely new place. So, that’s why I, in the end, decided to do it this way. Once I had moved my stuff over (and that went ridiculously smoothly) I was able to go back to the flat and spend the weekend with Dev, firstly letting go of the accumulated stress regarding the packing and unpacking etc, and then slowly allowing myself to think about what my feelings are in terms of the mental change this move will mean.

I was saying to my friend (who came over to help me with the move on Saturday) that had I still been in counselling I could probably have managed to deal with both aspects of the move in one go, but since that’s not the case I think it’s a very positive thing that I was able to work out another way to cope with it, without going back to my old habit of simply shutting down.

Having said that, I must admit that I don’t think the move has really sunk in yet. In fact I think it will be quite some time before it does. But, as I said at the house meeting today; I’ll let it take as long as it needs to. There is no need to rush anything. I have all the time in the world to wait for whatever reaction is to come and to deal with it as and when it does.

Had to go back to the flat today to get my duvet and a few bits and pieces I wasn’t able to carry when I came here this morning. Going back to the flat, seeing it looking so empty, now that all my clutter is gone – it was pretty emotional. Just before I left I switched on my iPod, and what comes on if not the piece of music Dev has composed for me. Needless to say I then had to take a moment, to just listen to the music and remember all the things we’ve been through in our five years together. Not just the difficult stuff we were so desperately dealing with for the better part of last year, but also the fun bits. And I realised that more than anything I will miss the laughter we’ve shared. For better or for worse, Dev is the only person in the world who can make me laugh so hard it sets my asthma off.

Anyway, it’s getting rather late now. I really should be going to bed. I’m just finding it a little bit difficult to settle down. There are two main reasons for that. One that it’s a different bed the one I’m used to (don’t ask!), and secondly that there are no locks on the doors. That doesn’t bother me in the day time – and I certainly don’t distrust my house mates in terms of going into my room or anything like that, it’s just that, well, with my background I just find it difficult to relax in a new place at the best of time, and I think I would have found it easier had I been able to lock the door. Again, as I said before, this has absolutely nothing to do with my house mates, it is basically old ghosts that haunt me.

Still I’m sure I’ll be able to deal with it. I remember having similar feelings both when I moved into my first flat in Sweden and the first few nights I stayed at Drayton Park. Sooner or later I’ll get used to it and it won’t bother me anymore.

It’s just a matter of finding a way to tolerate feeling a bit unsettled for a while until normality sets in.

xx