I can live with that; I presume some people would agree.
What they do not know, however, is the other side of me, the side I chose to hide and refused to give meaning to.
Hints were dropped here and there, but I never told anyone about the fear that gripped my throat every time one particular MS symptom showed its ugly head.
Since anxiety is a psychological issue, the stigma surrounding mental health made it difficult for me to speak up about it. I was also clueless about the fact that MS and anxiety are linked, making it a mental health issue about a physical illness.
I was more than surprised when I read that research showed that MS-related anxiety usually happens shortly after being diagnosed, while some doubt it does not result from the physical process of MS itself.
Not so fast, buster!
I begged to differ.
MS had already been my associate for seven years when trigeminal neuralgia (TN, or facial pain) returned after a four years absence. Just like TN, it seemed that anxiety always found a way. And just like facial pain, it proved to be one tough cookie.
Sadly, I had to cancel plans once too often because of the unpredictability of MS and the excruciatingly hurtful arrival of facial pain just a couple of hours prior. Despite explaining why, to add injury to insult, foul remarks were hurled at me about how I handled my illness. Apparently, the person in question knew how to manage my disease in a much better fashion even when she didn’t have MS (Don’t you just hate it when that happens?).
Yes, it does sound insane that vibrations, bright lights, sudden loud noise or a whiff of cold air can cause intense stabbing facial pain. Eating, laughing, talking, brushing my teeth, likewise. As funny as it sounds, TN seems like such an easy excuse when its symptoms are anything but. It is hard to understand if you have never felt this kind of pain.
Since those hurtful remarks, however, a tiny fear-induced seed started to grow in my mind each time trigeminal neuralgia triggered awful facial pain.
But, TN was not an excuse.
This was MS.
This was not kindergarten.
When a TN attack happens, it feels like a lightning bolt hitting the inside of my left ear, inside my eye and anywhere around my left eye, including the top of my cheek. I might yelp or close my eyes tightly as a reflex. Sometimes the stabbing pain turns into rubbery, burning numbness.
When I am at home, I can live with the consequences because I am in a safe setting where I can go to bed and tend to its symptoms quickly. It is also where I cannot be criticised or made to feel guilty.
When it happens when I am away, however, its sudden onset can be harder to look after. I don’t want others to see how it impacts me so I’ve learned over time to hide its symptoms as best as I can. It resulted in more stress caused by compounded unrest and TN/MS symptoms.
fight or flight response made me freeze, my mind and heart started racing, and I felt restless and nauseous as if I needed to get the hell out of Dodge.
Nice was different.
Organic changes in the brain may result in anxiety, and while I dealt with MS on a physical and physiological level, I learned how to address anxiety on an emotional level. Being retired, I spent as much time as I pleased on improving each. The disquiet-perceived temporary threat to my persona was reduced to nothing by studying, reading, watching TV or meditating – as long as I could focus my attention elsewhere.
It now sounds so simple because it was that simple.
By identifying and talking about my fear of being put in a similar position, I had to accept the fact that for some people, it’s dreadfully easy to break down others to hide their own mistakes. This ugly character trait was and still is their problem, and not mine.
My issue – my physical and mental response to that ugly feature, meant that I had to adjust my way of thinking to stop feeling overwhelmed each time TN happened in a public setting.
Anxiety taught me that fighting to keep toxic people in my life was just that: a fight. There simply comes a time in your life where you need to let go of people you have crossed oceans for, while they didn’t want to jump puddles for you.
My CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) course helped to shift my attention because CBT’s premise is that what we can learn, we can unlearn. With some luck, such uneasiness will become a non-subject, altogether.
The beauty of the mind is this: it uses itself to repair itself. And that includes my anxiety.
To know what your apprehension means and how you can control it, take this free 7-minute anxiety test
© Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me, 2011-2017. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner are strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Willeke Van Eeckhoutte and Ireland, Multiple Sclerosis & Me with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.