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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Boxes, Bin Liners & A Pregnant Therapist – An Entry About Preparing For A Major Therapy Break

Last week was a big week, therapywise.

Started a bit shakey on Tuesday, feeling very anxious, and stepping into a mode of not wanting to engage, not wanting to connect and deliberately steering clear of potentially explosive material. There was a definite wish to keep it simple, to not touch on anything that could be even remotely emotionally triggering.

Then, on Wednesday, my second session of the week, the second I sat down I was overcome by this very intense need to retreat into myself, to shut everyone and everything out, to protect myself from making myself vulnerable. To, in essence, stop all processes and just deep-freeze everything. A. responded to this information by stating that that’s quite alarming, and I went on to spend the rest of the session trying to explain this reaction, to dress in words what this fear looks like. Did a bit of waltzing around, but eventually, in my own unique roundabout way, I arrived at the fairly obvious conclusion that a lot of this wish to cut and run comes from the worry about what will happen once A. goes on maternity leave.

I used the analogy of unpacking my moving boxes to try to illustrate what the worry is; how, as long as all my things are still in the boxes there is a certain order to things. I know exactly what’s in each of the boxes, and although the contents may not be immediately accessible, I can get to them, with a little work. On the other hand, were I to empty all the boxes, even if I arranged the contents neatly on my bookshelves and in my wardrobe, well – the contents wouldn’t change, but in an emergency situation, it’d be that much harder to grab everything and run for cover. That, yes, in day-to-day life it’s easier to have things within reach and in the line of vision, but, having spent so much of my life in survival mode, it’s really hard to trust that a fight or flight inducing situation isn’t forever lurking just around the nearest corner. I keep hearing the voice of Little S desperately urging me to not lower my guard, to make sure that I have a clear escape route at all times. And although Adult Me is trying hard to keep hold of Little S’s hand, to steady her and to show her that things are different now, it’s hard. It’s a fine balance to allow Little S’s voice to be heard, to exist, without giving into it – because, after all, she speaks from years of experience and from a place of almost unimaginable pain, and her voice is in no way trying to halter progress, but simply wanting to make sure that I don’t get hurt again. It’s a kind of poorly calibrated and somewhat mis-directed self-protective impulse.

Now, Adult Me knows that in order to move forward I have to somehow find the courage to keep at it, to keep sharing, to keep expressing, keep unpacking those boxes – even now when things feel so very fragile – knowing that, should things come crashing down around me, I can always grab a couple of bin liners and chuck my stuff into them to make possible my escape. It won’t be as neat, precise or efficient as if all of my things were still boxed up, but it would still work as a temporary measure. The only problem is that, as I explained to A., unlike with my actual, material possessions, when it comes to my emotional property, I don’t feel that I have that bin liner to hand; the fear is that I lack that quick-fix temporary container to make things manageable. I can have things out, look at my emotions, experience them, especially in the safe environment that therapy offers, or I can keep them in the box for now, until I feel ready to un-box, but, once they’re out – it’s not very easy to re-package. That, although I do have some practical outside tools, should things get really bad in A.’s absence; Drayton Park, the crisis team, shul, Samaritans, my friends and family, I just don’t trust it that I have the inner means to keep myself safe without shutting down. And that leaves me feeling very frightened and vulnerable.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Little S pipes up, reacting strongly to thinly veiled abandonment issues popping up in the face of A.’s impending leave, pushing for me to keep on the well-beaten path of trusting no-one but me, to rely on myself and myself alone, to let no-one in and let nothing out.

History shows that I often find myself struggling to keep things together during therapy breaks, that flashbacks and nightmares tend to increase at a maddening rate when I haven’t got that safe space to unload my emotions in, that the risk of self-harming behaviour sky-rockets, and so, with a break of this proportion on the horizon, well, it’s bound to drive my fears to boiling point. In some ways it would be more worrying if they didn’t.

A. reassured me that she has no interest in making this break any harder than it needs to be, and although it felt really good to hear her say that and I genuinely appreciate her wanting me to know this, it’s still incredibly daunting to know that I have such a big break ahead of me. And finding that courage, well, it’s something only I can do.

This week’s final session – Friday – was spent doing some further exploration into the constant internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. We looked at how Adult Me very much wants to do everything in her power to ensure that I don’t start going back on the progress I’ve made thus far in my therapy, while – at the same time – Little S is deeply invested in that tried and tested path, pulling in the opposite direction, wanting to go for what is known and what feels safe.

The conclusion is, of course, that what we need to focus on in the next few months, is to find not only a bin liner, but preferably a nice sturdy IKEA bag, to ensure I have what I need get me through once A. does go on her leave. To find that something which will allow me to resist listening too much to Little S – without completely ignoring or silencing her – and to not give in to the temptation of going down that comfortably familiar path of keeping myself safe through shutting down.

So, I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But – hopefully – I’ll find that I have what it takes.

To carry on.
Being me.

All the very best and more,

xx

IN OTHER NEWS

I was utterly surprised to find out, earlier in the week, that my blog has been nominated in two categories of the TWIM Awards this year. The TWIM Awards is an annual award given to blogs focusing on mental health issues. My blog is nominated in the categories “Best PTSD/Extreme Emotional Stress Disorder Blog”, and “Best Therapy Blog”. Feel honoured to have been nominated (especially considering how incredible some of the other nominees are) and would like to send out an absolutely massive thank you to those of you who have voted for me. I’m chuffed beyond words! Truly.

If you would like to support me, or any other blog, you can do so by casting your vote here.

Winners will be announced on January 1st, 2012.