Today I am struggling with something I haven't yet discussed fully. Yes, I see all the progress and I am in no way ignoring all the positives...but it is difficult to FULLY see the progress when you are struggling so deeply inside. I am the one who feels every strange sensation all day long. And it proves to be difficult to rejoice in the progress when I still don't feel very good. So what is bothering me?
The nausea has improved greatly over the past few weeks but when it does come it's like a slap in the face. How did I deal with that EVERY DAY for so long? I still have a lot of GI issues in general. Whether it's fullness, bloating, gas cramps, or pinches, there seems to always be something going on in that area. Now I also have more issues with my ovaries. Lots of pain that radiates to my lower back...it feels like mild labour pains. I have an appointment for another ultrasound - a followup for the cysts and polyps that were found last year. I'm sure all is fine, but I'd be lying if I said I don't worry about it.
Then there's the OCD feelings. In the last week, I have heard my fair share of "vomit stories". No one likes vomit...but I take it to another level. I deeply fear it. The fear came on years ago. A lot of my friends would playfully tease my husband over the years for his hand washing. Every time he has to eat, he meticulously washed his hands...which really, is common sense. I however, didn't care. I'd go to the food court at the mall and MAYBE remember to wash my hands (quickly) once in awhile. Did I get sick often? No. Then my daughter had a bad stomach bug when she was 18 months old. I remember fearing getting the bug myself and almost obsessing over it. Did I get the bug? No. Years later as my daughter approached the school years, my fears worsened. Suddenly germs became more prevalent with a daughter in kindergarten. That's when the SSRI's came back into play. I was already taking many "as needed" doses of Clonazepam...obviously it wasn't working (and if anything was possibly contributing to the problem). So I began taking Cymbalta. The meds helped and the fear diminished, however the side effects were not worth it. I took the Cymbalta long enough to feel some relief from my irrational fears, but chose to wean off of it after approximately six months or so.
Things were okay initially, but then I continued to take the Clonazepam. And as I took more and more doses, the fear crept back - even stronger. I began hand washing - a lot. And I began obsessing even more. The turning point was when we were visit good friends of ours. I was sitting on her living room floor when the phone rang. She spoke for a few minutes and then got off to announce she wouldn't be able to go see her family member at a local nursing home as the stomach flu was going through the facility. Ugh. My body went ice cold. My husband said the colour left my face - leaving me a greyish-white. I remember being convinced that the bug in that nursing home was going to miraculously travel through the air and make its way to me, where I'd then end up spending the night vomiting over the toilet. I obsessed all evening about it and didn't feel completely relaxed till a couple of days later.
Every vomit story created more fear. I could barely handle it at times. Every single night when we'd put our daughter to bed, I would literally spend the entire evening jumping up at every noise I heard, convinced my daughter was up and vomiting. It was painful as I didn't want to feel that way but I couldn't escape the constant fear. I remember searching online for information on it and discovered it was a legit phobia called Emetophobia. I spoke with my former Psychiatrist about it and even did a lot of exposure therapy for it. She said it is the 4th most common phobia in North America. Even some celebrities share this fear...well, that or OCD tendencies with germs. Matt Laurer and Denise Richards have stated they have extreme fear of vomiting, and Howie Mandel and Cameron Diaz both avoid door knobs and opt for using their elbows over their hands.
Skip forward to the present. I am now finding the old fear resurfacing. As I tapered off the benzos, I noticed the fear diminishing, but now as I slowly recover from the meds, it's coming back to haunt me. So is this just me? Or is it all part of the recovery - perhaps it's the benzos throwing everything at me until I fully heal? My hands are cracked more than ever as I wash and wash them several times a day. I avoid touching our fridge door and use my sleeve instead. I worry that the cracks in my hands are "open wounds" that can attract new germs. I've often thought about how perfect gloves would be, but I wouldn't allow it to go that far. If I wash my hands to prepare food, I then have to wash them again after touching the packaging the food was in...example...I buy sourdough bread, so I open the tab at the top and shake the bread out onto a cutting board (VERY careful to not let the bag touch the cutting board)...then I wash my hands again because they have now touched the bag that was touching the cart. I wouldn't say this fear consumes me, because I don't care that I wash my hands so much. I get a bit embarrassed if I get caught, and typing it here doesn't help me much in regards to worrying about what people may think...but this blog is all about honesty. Even after washing my hands in my own home I would prefer to eat a meal that does not require my hands to touch the food...or I'd use a tissue to hold the food so my CLEAN hands don't have to touch it. Wow...as I type this out I can see how much this fear has progressed. But again, I'm not bothered by this aspect of it...I'm more bothered by how fearful I am of the actual vomiting.
Now, with a week of many "vomit stories" (through my daughter's school), I have myself convinced that "this is it...you ARE going to get this bug". Even today my intestines and stomach are gurgling up a storm and I sit here now terrified. I can't do this! I can't get a bug on top of everything else! I can feel my hands going cold and tingly and my body feels like it's in a mild sweat. The very thought of spending the day in the washroom makes me want to scream. I feel like I've had very little control over my body this past year or two, and to now have to endure 12-24 hours of endless vomiting and diarrhea is enough to send me over the edge. But am I even getting sick? I don't think so...although I can't convince myself of that.
So now I battle this again. I hope this really is just the fear coming back at me to haunt me one more time and then it will all slowly fade - just like all the other strange sensations and intrusive thoughts. Part of me realizes that I have just endured over a year of constant unpleasant physical side effects to staying, coming off and now BEING off of Benzodiazepines...so why can't I handle a 24 hour bug?! It's beyond me. I can say this and rationalize it all, but within a minute it is all forgotten and I am stuck in utter fear again. A fear that I hope soon goes away for good. Until then, I'll continue to use my soap.