Saturday, February 26, 2011

Psychosomatic Sicknesses | Psycho till Sick, Sick till Psycho

It was 1996 and I was seventeen.

Also, it was the year I first ever had a doctor in front of me figuratively scratching his head, because he couldn't diagnose the sickness I brought with me to him, finding no other reason for a stomach ailment I had than that of 'stress'. He had nothing to prescribe me for it, because he couldn't figure out what was wrong with me.

The situation preceding that doctor's diagnosis was very kindly and loving. Two of my classmates at the time were very concerned that I had been having chronic stomachaches daily for two weeks, triggered by simple actions like bending down to sit at a chair, or eating fried egg. They did an intervention and dragged me to a doctor near their old school in Lorong Ah Soo, convincing me I simply had to get some help for it.

I remember that doctor somewhat: my friends said he was a Christian doctor, and he had stacks of 'Our Daily Bread' devotionals in his clinic. He didn't have charismatic bedside manners and wasn't an outstanding doctor in any particular way, and him finally saying in a baffled manner that my stomachache was 'due to stress' definitely did not make me want to see him again in a loyal fashion - as I did and still do, other doctors I have met later in life. I supposed he did keep me in his prayers, as did my two intervening friends, because the stomachache eventually went away. I avoided egg for a long time after, though - just in case.

But the trend started - many sicknesses after, many doctors saying the words 'due to stress' or similar. I now know that such sicknesses are 'psychosomatic' in nature, to give the whole issue a proper term. Being thirty two years old this year, it has been sixteen years of having psychosomatic sicknesses. All the freaking time.

Psychosomatic sicknesses affect me so badly not because they kill me, but because I always end up being so frequently sick it kills my productivity. The more stressful the environment I am in - work, school and so on - the more frequently I fall ill. Some are serious ailments, like developing adult asthma, or gastric problems, necessitating hospital visits or rushes to the emergency room. Some are irritating, like chronic eczema, or rhinitis. Usually it is just frequent flu', colds, coughs, headaches, giddiness and such.

Before I knew for sure they were psychosomatic illnesses, I tried every darn thing to 'take care of my health' as my irritated bosses kept saying to me whenever I had to take yet another MC. Nothing worked, but I sure did contribute a hell lot to the health-care industry in terms of buying supplements.

Eventually, I just explained it in simple terms to the people I worked with: When I am stressed, I fall sick. That's just me.

Ah, then the final revelation eventually came to me. I have clinical depression, and psychosomatic sicknesses are part of the deal! It took a while for that causal conclusion to sink in and thoroughly educate me. It started with regular doctors revealing the term 'psychosomatic' to me more often, and prescribing me anxiety medication and sedatives alongside treating stupid minor ailments.

By the time my second and still ongoing major depressive episode kicked in a few years ago, I became more concerned with getting treatment for depression itself - it is much more life-threatening than the sum of all the irritating sicknesses like gastritis and allergies. Years on, still getting treatment for depression, still not able to push the disease into entire remission, still not able to do a lot of things normal people can do. Am still trying, am still bleeding money into getting better.

Meanwhile, I still get psychosomatic sicknesses.

For the past few days, it has been terrible nausea that came with actual puking. Everything I puked was undigested, so definitely some incongruence in my gastric system somewhere.

Well, this bout of sickness may not be purely psychosomatic because I have been having side effects from my new antidepressant (works wonders for depression but): gastric problems, giddiness, severe headaches. I prescribed myself a dosage reduction and the headaches became slightly more bearable, the giddiness went away.

Whatever the cause, I am so sick of being sick. Psychosomatic, or caused by psychiatric medication, I am thoroughly fed up with being sick almost all the time for the past sixteen years. Right now, I am typing this in the middle of the night because I am too sick to fall asleep. I have just puked, and my head hurts. I feel like shit, and I wanna puke some more but there is nothing left to puke. My stomach keeps churning. Medication for it? If could afford any, have consumed them and finished them or puked them out - rinse and repeat - the pain and suffering continues.

And what makes it worse? I am too poor to be sick, and am poor because I am sick.

Monday, February 21, 2011

my own unusual wishlist

Every now and then I post wishlists on our cat rescue blog to call for donations-in-kind. Then I realise, there are lots of human things I really need myself but am too poor or busy to buy or both. So here they are, just for fun:

  • A block candle for our bathroom. The starter on the lamp has broken and J hasn't found time to fix it. It has been about 2 weeks or so of showering in semi-darkness with nothing but an LED candle to help illuminate some.
  • Tealight candles. For my room's and kitchen's aromatherapy burners. Have been using my stash to light the bathroom because of said reason above. Have now run out. 
  • Antibacterial hand soap. I am paranoid about hand washing and we are running out of it and no cash to buy since it's not an absolute survival necessity.
  • Tissue paper. Also no money to buy and it's not a do-or-die necessity either. 2 boxes left around the house. Really makes me save paper.
  • Panadol and antihistamines because I eat them too often and don't always have them in stock at home at the rate I consume them. 
  • Restock on coffee and tea in house because there ain't no more. 
  • Headphones to plug into my netbook for music and tv shows and drown out weird noises from outside the house and also not disturb J when he is asleep.
  • Earphones for my phone so I can be less phobic by spamming music when I am out of the house.  
  • New specs or at least get my old ones fixed (not sure how much that would cost me). 

And those are just the tangible, human things. Anyway, cash inflow expected this and next week so, after paying some debts, should have some left to buy some of these things. And maybe won't need the candle for the bathroom because J might finally fix the bathroom light.

Monday, February 14, 2011

dilemma about a space

Our spare room, currently occupied by two tenants, is going to be empty soon, which is a good thing - mostly.

When our tenants confirmed they were moving out we smiled a bit. Our first response was, "Cat boarding!" because in the line of our work we meet cat owners that need a hotel to board their cats on holidays and they simply have to go elsewhere because we can't do it for them for lack of space. With a spare room, we can. Cat boarding is also in line with the social enterprise direction we are intending to grow along as a cat rescue. It is the only way I can finally move towards cat rescue as a full-time job, officially, because it will bring me income.

Right now, of course, I am already doing cat rescue full-time, and my unrelated but paying freelance jobs are just part-time. Well, full-time is a misnomer when it comes to me, because I can't really work that much, still. I still can't do a lot of things normal people can. I still get panic attacks albeit now less frequently (last one was on Saturday). I still fall sick with psychosomatic rubbish often; I have been having a headache for the past 3-4 weeks now and even as I am writing this. From the small pool of resources within myself to do anything occupational, almost all of it goes towards my cat rescue work. It isn't enough of course to count as much, but J does it with me, I am not alone. So, despite how weak I am, it is safe to define that I really am doing cat rescue full-time, just simply unpaid at the moment.

I could of course, abandon the cat boarding idea for the spare room, and think of my original idea before this pair of tenants came along: which was to make it my classroom to teach my students in. It has great light, the air-con is cooler. The hard part is prospecting for more students. Doable, I guess. The only problem is, what kind of student-load can I take on before I fall too sick again and need to be forced into a sabbatical and let everyone down? I need to take on 2-3 more students to replace the loss of rental income. I am not sure I can handle that without breaking down. And if my doctor tells me once again I need to work only on alternate days and not every day, I pretty much have to let go of the idea of more students to love and teach. A dedicated teaching room is too big an investment on a brittle person like myself.

We do relish the idea of having the whole flat to ourselves when our tenants leave. We can use the room to store the rescue cats' supplies, and finally clear up the cat-related clutter in the foster lounge (living room), make space to foster more rescue cats if possible. I also look forward eagerly to our electricity bills coming down with less humans in the house. And a cleaner toilet (current tenants don't really upkeep the bathroom), dedicated to cat-related uses like cleaning and baths. In any case, for the spare room, storing foster cats' stuff and boarding cats for owners on holidays are both synergistic uses that work together.

Yet at the back of our minds we worry about the loss of regular rental income. Sure, cat boarding income will be about the same as our current rental income. But it won't be regular, and thus will take some getting used to. And, considering how poor we are now no thanks to my inability to work more and my crazy-high medical bills, this will be a tough one to ride out.

The good thing is, while it is a fluctuating source of income, it has the potential to bring us much more than from simply renting out a room at a fixed rate monthly. There will be a teething period, there will be down times. But the financial potential is great. It is synergistic with our goals in our volunteer work. It is easier for me to do than teaching because I can go on furlough anytime if I break down.

But our financial drought will become worse before it gets better. If this is the route to take, we will have to survive it no matter what until we start on a financial trajectory.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

an email to my doctor

I didn't manage to go further into the recent spat I had with my mother over my not making a passport and thus not going to Malaysia to see them over the new year.

I told my mother that I was too stressed out to go make a new passport. I explained to her that it has too many steps for me to handle. I said that that just for this year, I wanted to stay in Singapore.

She attacked me verbally by saying that:

1. I am abandoning them, my ONLY family in this world and all I have.
2. I am purposely not recovering and purposely being sick.
3. That Andy is not supporting me at all financially because we live so frugally, when in fact he pays all the bills, even the cost of my medication and visits to you. That it is thus better that I be alone without an other half.
4. I am 32 years old and at this age I should be financially independent, why am I still needing financial help from them (she asked if I needed money to help pay the bills, I said okay, and that was her response to mine).
5. That my doctor - i.e. you - is lousy because I am still sick after so long and that I should stop seeing you.
6. When she dies she will not acknowledge me as her daughter.

What she said was very hurtful and I couldn't get through to her. The phone reception broke up and she didn't call me since to take back what she said. My dad tried to call me right after but I didn't want to answer because I was fearful that he would take her side and scold me even further. I couldn't take the emotional attack any further and I just opted out of it.

It is now the first day of the new year and I am not sure if I should call them to apologise to them for hurting me. I have always apologised to people who hurt me because it is my fault that others hurt me. But cognitively I know this to be an unhealthy pattern and thinking.

I don't think that they understand the extent of my disease and I have no idea how to explain it to them. If I try they would probably just keep perpetuating their point that I am 'purposely' being sick and 'purposely' not recovering.

I don't know how to deal with this. If I call them to apologise now then at least it would smooth things over. But if I completely shun them this new year they would probably hate me for much longer time.