It’s been a while, hasn’t it? All the things have been happening, so I thought I would post an update. I’m writing more regularly on my other blog, but I’m not sure I’ll ever abandon this one completely.
I was having a really hard time when I last posted. I still am, to a varying extent. I got a bit of a reprieve part-way through last year, in August, after a diagnostic operation to determine whether I had endometriosis. Having spent most of my life trying to cope with excruciating period pain and IBS, fielding repeated suggestions that it was all a physical manifestation of my anxiety, it was a huge relief to be told by the nurses when I came round that the surgeon had found something to remove. I had small spots on my ovaries and uterosacral ligament, but the biggest patch, and the culprit for the pain, IBS, and other weird symptoms I’d been experiencing, was in my Pouch of Douglas. Post-op, it took me a couple of weeks to recover, but once my stomach muscles had stopped spasming every time I moved (not painful as such, more a kind of whole-abdomen hiccup!), I felt so much better. Not particularly in terms of pain, although the absolute worst, top level, can’t-remember-what-my-name-is-right-now pain seems slightly diminished – but I had so much more energy, and my mood was definitely lighter. I don’t know whether it was the reduction in inflammation (it turns out that bleeding into your abdomen is pretty bad for your health. Who’d have thought?) or the validation and relief of finding out what was causing all the pain, but I suspect both helped.
Apart from surgery, the only recommended treatment to stop it returning is progesterone-based medication to halt ovulation, which I was very wary about for several reasons: on top of the fact that progesterone and depression don’t always mix well, and that ovulating is quite useful if you have fucked up bones from anorexia, I’m not massively convinced by the research. So, my GP put me on amitriptyline, which is used for neuropathic pain as well as being an antidepressant. This was a huge risk, given my usual reaction to antidepressants which target serotonin, and the even worse reaction to those targeting noradrenaline, because amitriptyline works on both. But I’m on a tiny dose (like, less than half the recommended starting dose for depression), and while it’s not done a thing for the pain as far as I can tell, my IBS has all but disappeared. What’s more, because the endometriosis was sitting on/near some important nerves which made my bladder incredibly sensitive, calming those down has let me sleep properly for the first time in years. I didn’t know how sleep deprived I was until I was only getting up a couple of times during the night, rather than the usual 5-10 times prior to the op. I didn’t realise how ill and exhausted I was.
And it’s a good job that I have a bit more energy, because in September I started a Psychology Masters with an incredibly high work load. I’m just about keeping up, which is a bit of a shock because I still kind of expect to drop out of every course I start, despite having finally finished my BA. The course is really interesting though – much of the work necessary for assignments is self-directed, so I’ve ended up familiarising myself with all sorts of random topics, like the supposedly cognitively-enhancing powers of green tea (spoiler: it’s bollocks), the evidence for and against brain training interventions, arguments around genetic and environmental influences in personality development, the historical development of psychology as a science, all sorts.
Properly learning about heritability has been quite eye opening. I spent a good few years insisting that eating disorders were biologically-based, and that trauma/abuse couldn’t play a role in their development. I suppose my own grasp on recovery was so fragile that I had to hang on to the idea that if I just ate enough for long enough, everything would get better – I couldn’t imagine surviving otherwise. My impressively shitty mental health over the past two years has forced me to reconsider, but even if I had remained mostly stable, I think I would have had to let go of that idea at some point. It’s not just my personal experience that contradicts it, it’s delving into the methodological problems inherent in behaviour genetics, learning about gene X environment interactions, reading about the profound effects trauma has on developing brains. Even in the absence of personal experience, science doesn’t support the idea that mental health problems are entirely, or even mostly, based on faulty wiring or unfortunate genes, and there is every reason to believe that trauma can directly cause mental health problems. I know that’s not the case for everyone, but it’s certainly not universally untrue either. I wish I could apologise to everyone I argued with or invalidated in my quest to ignore my own experiences of abuse.
That’s part of the reason I wanted to update this blog. I want it in black and white that my opinion has changed, because I was so strident about this in the past, and I am certain that hurt people. It’s hurt me as well. I’ve spent the last eighteen months with my current therapist trying to undo the damage that not acknowledging the abuse for so long has done. I had it pretty much shoved in my face by an episode of self harm in May 2015 that I almost needed surgery for. In the last few months I’ve finally accepted that I have been profoundly mistreated by many different people at many different points in my life, and trying to deal with the emotions involved without hurting myself again. It’s been incredibly painful, but it’s also helped so much. Now I have a way of understanding the urges to self harm – why the urges reappeared when they did, what sort of things trigger them, which thoughts and feelings act as a warning that I’m about to be overwhelmed by them. I was always missing the context. It’s kind of fitting that 2015 was the year in which a surgical procedure immeasurably improved my mental health, and yet I also realised that my experiences were more important than biology. My body has always been awkward 😉
December and so far, January, have both been hard. More triggers, more urges to re-enact shit from the past, more trying to combine who I have been with who I am and who I want to be, and multiple exams and assignments to keep me distracted in between the existential crises. On the plus side, I’m having great fun (no, seriously, it’s fun!) planning and working on my thesis, I have been married for over a year, and my career is going well. I saw butterflies in 2015 that I’d never seen in Newcastle before. My wife and I have been keeping an allotment since last spring; it was beautiful in the summer, and although having dozens of Large White caterpillars vomit on me while I was pulling them off our broccoli was a low point (fluorescent purple vomit, at that), we managed to grow a pretty impressive amount for our first year.
I’ve leave you with my favourite photo from 2015, from our first anniversary trip to the Lake District. I’m sure I’ll be back at some point.