Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Shhhhhh, don’t say the STRESS word...!

I had a thought provoking session at the fatigue clinic yesterday, discussing stress. Have I told you that as well as seeing an endocrinologist I am now also attending this specialist clinic for fatigue?
It’s interesting. At the moment I spend an hour there each week doing cognitive behavioural therapy, that’s looking at how I think and behave with a view to improving my fatigue levels. I am highly resistant to the potential implication that my illness could be “all in the mind” but that’s not what they’re saying, just that everything is connected and there may be some mental patterns locked in my subconscious somewhere that might be perpetuating some of my symptoms. My thyroid blood tests are all now optimised and perhaps my health issues are not just down to my thyroid.  
Well I’m an open kind of a girl and up for discussing stuff....it’s good to have the chance to talk to a professional about what’s going on with me on a week to week basis.
We identified today that I am very resistant to the idea that I may be stressed.
I am fine with recognising that I have stress in my life and even that I have had very considerable stress in my life in the past. I accept that stress is normal and everyone has stress. If I am honest with myself I can even admit I’ve rather worn the stress from my childhood almost as a little badge of honour, “...look at me I had all that to deal with but haven’t I done well.”
But I know that I have quite a deep rooted emotional need to believe that everything is okay and under control in my world. It’s really difficult to accept that I am affected by stress or that I am stressed. I resist the idea of being stressed (as opposed to having stress, yet dealing with it admirably) as though it is a shameful label I don’t want anyone to put on me.
Of course there are times in my life when I know I have been stressed and I would admit that I was, but for the most part this is only the case when the stress I am under is very extreme.  For example; when I was waiting for my results of my finals at university I insisted I wasn’t stressed but I developed a rash over my entire torso. The results came in, the rash disappeared same day, go figure!
For the last four weeks, for my “homework” from the clinic, I have been tracking my stress levels. I have not as yet recognised that I have been more than very slightly stressed at any time.  Most of the time I believe I am not stressed because I am having a nice time, relaxing or doing fun things, which I am fortunate to be able to do because I am not working at the moment.
And yet, I have noticed that my muscles are tense most of the time and I have to accept that feeling tension in my muscles is most likely a manifestation of stress. So maybe I’m more stressed than I appreciate. ..
I would say that my life is not stressful at the moment, my life is delightful, I’m not working, I can do pretty much what I like with my days (obviously limited by my energy levels), I am not short of money (for which I feel exceptionally lucky), I am not short of social opportunities, I am loved and I know it.
However, I am in a kind of limbo land in relation to my health. I don’t have the energy to pursue many of the things I would like to do right now and I don’t know to what extent I may regain the energy levels and clarity of mind that I used to have, so I can’t really make plans for the future.
Perhaps I am more anxious about that I have admitted to myself. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to suppose this could be the case, when I stop and think about the situation I am in.
Hmmmmmmh. I’m not going to berate myself for the fact I may have been denying my true stress levels and the possible impact they may be having on my fatigue levels. Whatever I’ve been doing or thinking is neither good nor bad, right nor wrong, it’s just how things have been/how things are.
However, I believe that the more I can recognise and respond to reality, rather than my beliefs about how things ought to be, the more powerfully I am likely to be able to deal with it. And that includes the reality about my state of mind, as opposed to what I might like to tell myself about how I’m feeling.
Today I have realised that my level of stress may not just reveal itself in the thoughts I have, it can also surface in physical ways. And being someone who is mentally exceptionally “strong” it makes sense to me that if I am stressed my body might signal the fact before my mind picks up on it. So I’m going to be paying more attention to what my body may be trying to tell me in the next week.
Do you listen to your body? What does it tell you? What is your relationship with stress, do you pay attention to it and how do you know if the levels in your life are healthy or not?
I know this post is a departure from what I promised but I wanted to put these thoughts out there for discussion....as always I will be thrilled to get any comments...


  1. We seem to be experiencing many parallels. I wanted to sneak off after reading your post without comment, because I feel stirred up and emotional..as if you somehow tapped into my current experience and wrote about it. I have recently recognised and acknowledged that underneath my thyroid condition lies something else...burnout, a tendency to stress out, adrenal fatigue. I am scared of change, I am scared to admit that all my mental strength does not change this fact & I too have experienced awful debilitating fatigue & muscle pains. Thanks so much for your honesty. I don't know if I could be so honest just now.

  2. Wow, geez...um, this one really, really hit home with me. Besides a few minor details I could have written this! One paragraph in particular really parallels with me - the one which reads: "I am fine with recognising that I have stress in my life..." especially your statement about the "badge of honour". I really do need to re-read this one and really take note. It left me emotional, lost for words (which is strange for me!!) and thinking about my particular stress at the moment.
    Thanks for being so honest!! xx

  3. Great, honest post Lorraine. Identifying your relationship with stress is the first step to dealing with it and so I acknowledge you for such a breakthrough! Well done!

  4. Thanks so much Innerbeam, Nat and Andrea, it's so nice to get comments on here and I'm so glad to have made an impact with this one, I think when we feel confronted it's a good thing, it means there something there for us to get. Something that matters for us.

    Andrea it was so spooky that I commented on your blog just before being compelled to write this one. Thank you for your wise and supportive words.

    Innerbeam, how are you feeling now? Have you thought any more about this since you commented? I feel like I've found a greater degree of peace and acceptance around where I am right now, having started to confront that stress could be more of a factor in all this than I'd realised. Whatever we pay attention to, as long as we're not judging it, starts to transfrom before our eyes. Perhaps it's the judgement of ourselves that we need to let go of.

    Natalie - you deserve a badge of honour, in fact we all do, but actually, you in particular I feel. So wear it by all means, you've earned it. I guess what we don't want to do is wear it and think that's who we are. We're so much more than our pasts and the things we've been able to overcome and I guess the thing to do is to ensure we don't end up identifying too strongly with it in case we somehow inadvertently end up perpetuating something, somehow.... Does that make sense?

    Thanks also to all the people who have emailed me about this post to say how much it resonated for you. I understand that not everyone feels comfortable openly discussing this kind of thing. That's fine. It means the world to me to hear from anyone who feels they've got something from what I've written and I'm so grateful too for all the lovely messages of support I've had, particularly from people coming to the British Thyroid Foundation meeting in April.

    Gosh people are lovely. And it's so good to share and learn from each other.


  5. You're totally right Lorraine, and that's something that I reflect on daily and always keep front of mind - all my past and things I've done are only a small facet of me. It's not who I am. It's all only a small part of the bigger picture which is me! Take for instance, while I am a thyroid patient; I am also so many more things. Thinking that way helps keep things in perspective!
    Looking forward to the next chapter!
    Take care xx