Dying is a lonely journey. Not only for the sick person but also for the family. As hard as we may try to avoid death, the truth is that we do a lousy job of it. Science and medicine will certainly postpone it, even staying healthy might seem to delay it, but the harsh reality is that death does not wait for you, it does not ask you, and it does not listen to you. Death ignores your feelings and wants; you do not matter to death…Death is the only certainty in life! We need to remember that our existence here is fragile, and we never have as much time with people as we think we do. If there is someone or someones out there that you love, don’t neglect that and don’t put off engaging with them because waits for no-one… Vic's Journey ended on 18 January 2013 at 10:35. She was the most courageous person in the world and has inspired thousands of people all over the world. Vic's two boys are monuments of her existence. She was an amazing mother, daughter, sister and friend. I will miss you today, tomorrow and forever my Angle Child.
Yesterday the sun set on our tears and longing. This morning I lay awake watching the sun send it first rays through the silhouette of the oak tree in our garden.
“Rays of hope” I thought.
I lay there, my eyes still heavy with tears and sleep thinking how grateful I am that my child’s suffering is over…
Yesterday was a day filled with selfish sadness. All I could think of was how much I miss Vic; how empty my life is; how much pain we are in… For one day I “forgot” her terrible suffering. Her tears of pain and frustration. This morning I thought back to Vic vomiting pure, bright red blood, crying “Mommy I broke another vertebrae”.
This morning I remembered that Vic had absolutely no quality of life. I remembered my fear that her suffering would never end… I remembered my prayers, pleading with God to end Vic’s suffering.
So, today I will allow peace back into my heart. I will do my best to be a good back-up mommy to the boys. I will try to live with my pain. And when sadness threatens to overwhelm me I will force my mind back to Vic’s words “I can’t do this anymore”. I will remember the indignity that she lived; her tears…
I will remember my baby girl’s laugh; her beautiful eyes; the rich texture of her hair. I will honour her pure heart, compassion and goodness.
I will celebrate the fact that Vic is now free of pain, indignity and loneliness. I will visualize Vic running free in Heaven.
Rest in Peace my Angel Child. You are ALWAYS in my heart.
It was very presumptuous of me to actually think I could write a series on depression. The more I research the subject the more I realise that it is not for hacks (like myself) to blog about. It is a very difficult and complex issue. So I shall only share my own notes with you.
Please note I am NOT a doctor or a psychiatrist or psychologist…I have no training or expertise. Just my own notes. I am sharing because it is so fascinating!
Anxiety and depression have been called first cousins…
Whilst there is a lot of commonality between the two – they are separate conditions that requires different treatment! Furthermore,the symptoms often overlap, and one can suffer from GAD and depression at the same time!
People suffering from anxiety often find themselves feeling like something bad might happen and they’re worried it will. People suffering from depression often assume a bad future and don’t expect anything else or think there’s anything worth preventing.
The term “anxiety disorder” refers to generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is a condition that describes a situation when a person experiences stress for no particular reason. GAD patients worry excessively, uncontrollably, and irrationally about normal situations to the extent that they have trouble functioning because of their fears about money, death, family, relationships, and work. People with GAD might feel tired, fidget, have constant headaches, feel nauseous, and have pain all over the body. Other symptoms of GAD include trouble swallowing, rashes, hot flashes, and problems breathing. The physical symptoms of anxiety can be as disturbing as the emotion itself.
A powerful anxiety attack will cause moments of intense fear. During a panic attack one may experience increased muscle tension and rigidity, an accelerated heart rate or palpitations, light-headedness, chest pain, shortness of breath, a dry mouth, trembling, sweating and clammy hands, a queasy stomach, nausea, and perhaps even diarrhoea. A panic attack might occur in response to a particular situation or for no reason at all.
My BFF Marlene, who died of a heart attack in 2011 suffered from panic attacks. She feared the panic attacks themselves, as they were overwhelming and unpredictable. The first couple of times she thought she had a heart problem (which she did). Her fear compounded the attacks. Her anxiety manifested itself through pronounced restlessness (restless legs), fidgeting, clenching her hands and grinding her teeth.
There is a free anxiety test that can help. It is possible to have a combinations of both. This is called a “comorbid” condition. Symptoms may overlap as both share similar causes, issues, etc.
Depression can occur after someone experiences anxiety, because someone who deals with severe anxiety may end up feeling drained and hopeless once their anxiety or anxiety attack is over. Similarly, those with depression can still fear certain things getting worse, despite already being of the belief that the future is less positive or bright.
Although the physical symptoms between anxiety and depression can be very different there are similarities. Both anxiety and depression can leave you feeling drained and fatigued. But in the case of anxiety, the intense fatigue usually occurs after intense anxiety, while with depression it tends to be more constant, without necessarily any triggers.
Depression tends to have fewer physical symptoms, but the mental symptoms can be so dangerous (especially the potential for suicidal thoughts) and the lack of energy so pronounced that many people with depression deal with intense struggles daily that certainly rival the symptoms of anxiety.
Getting rid of anxiety disorders isn’t the same as taking out the trash. If you take your trash out to the curb, it’s gone forever, and won’t come back. But when you try to dispose of chronic anxiety, you often find that this task is more like the child’s game, “Whack a Mole“, than it’s like taking out the trash. Each time you hit a mole, more moles pop up. Every effort that you make to fight against anxiety, invites more of it.
So you need to be able to work smart, not hard, to overcome anxiety disorders. This guide will help you do that.
The Anxiety Trick
The fears, phobias, and worry that you experience with chronic anxiety disorders often seem “irrational”, and difficult to overcome. That’s because there is a “Trick” to chronic anxiety problems. Have you ever wondered why fears and phobias seem like such difficult problems to solve? The reason is that chronic fears literally trick you into thinking and acting in ways that make the problem more chronic. You can’t learn to float through anxiety disorders if you don’t understand the Anxiety Trick.
The outcome of the Anxiety Trick is that people get fooled into trying to solve their anxiety problems with methods that can only make them worse. They get fooled into “putting out fires with gasoline”.
The Key Fears
There are six principal anxiety disorders. The fears are different, but each one relies on the same Anxiety Trick, and draws upon the same kinds of anxiety symptoms.
And in each case, the person tries to extinguish the fears by responding in ways that actually make the problem worse and more chronic. Here are the key fears, and typical responses, of the six main anxiety disorders.
Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia
A person with Panic Disorder and Agoraphobia fears that a panic attack will disable him in some way – kill him, make him crazy, make him faint, and so on. In response, he often goes to great lengths to protect himself from a panic attack, by avoiding ordinary activities and locations; by carrying objects, like water bottles and cell phones, that he hopes will protect him; by trying to distract himself from the subject of panic; and numerous other strategies will ultimately make the problem more persistent and severe, rather than less.
A person with Social Phobia fears becoming so visibly and unreasonably afraid in front of other people that they will judge her as a weak, inadequate person, and no longer associate with her. In response, she often goes to great lengths to avoid social experiences, hoping that this avoidance will save her from embarrassment and public humiliation. However, her avoidance of social situations leads her to become more, rather than less, fearful of them, and also leads to social isolation.
A Specific Phobia is a pattern of excessive fear of some ordinary object, situation, or activity. A person with a fear of dogs, for instance, may fear that a dog will attack him; or he may be afraid that he will “lose his mind”, or run into heavy traffic, on encountering a dog.
People with phobias usually try to avoid what they fear. Unfortunately, this often creates greater problems for them. Not only do they continue to fear the object, but the avoidance restricts their freedom to enjoy life as they would see fit.
A specific phobia is usually distinguished from Panic Disorder by its narrow focus. A person with a fear of flying who has no fear of other enclosed spaces would likely be considered to have a specific phobia. A person who fears airplanes, elevators, tunnels, and bridges is usually considered to have Panic Disorder or claustrophobia. However, the fear of public speaking is usually considered to be a part of Social Phobia.
A person with a Blood Phobia may fear a variety of situations, but they all involve the prospect of seeing blood. A person with a fear of vomiting (either fearing that they will vomit, or that that they’ll see someone else vomit) would be considered to have Emetophobia. The official definitions of some of these disorders will change in 2013, so don’t get preoccupied with the label.
Whether you have one or multiple phobias, these are very treatable conditions.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
A person with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder experiences intrusive, unwelcome thoughts (called obsessions) which are so persistent and upsetting that he fears the thoughts might not stop.
In response, he tries to stop having those thoughts with a variety of efforts (called compulsions). Unfortunately, the compulsions usually become a severe, upsetting problem themselves.
For example, a man may have obsessive thoughts that he might pass swine flu on to his children, even though he doesn’t have the flu himself, and wash his hands repetitively in an effort to get rid of that thought. Or a woman may have obsessive thoughts that she left the garage door open, and repeatedly check the garage all night in an effort to stop thinking that. Not only do these efforts fail to rid the person of the unwelcome thoughts, they become a new form of torment in that person’s life.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
A person with Generalized Anxiety Disorder worries repeatedly and continually about a wide variety of possible problems, and becomes so consumed by worry that she fears the worry will eventually kill her or drive her to a “nervous breakdown”. In response, she often tries a wide variety of “thought control” methods she hopes will enable her to “stop thinking about it.” Distraction is one such effort. Unfortunately, the effort to stop thinking about it actually makes the worrisome thoughts more persistent.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
A person who has witnessed or experienced some dangerous or life threatening event (a shooting or a car crash) fears that the subsequent thoughts and powerful reminders of that event will lead to a loss of control or mental illness. The powerful symptoms of fear and upset a person experiences when recalling a terrible event are reactions to that event. However, the person gets tricked into responding to these reactions as if they were warnings of an upcoming danger, rather than reminders of a past one.
And Depression, too?
It’s very common for people to experience depression in response to the way anxiety disorders have disrupted their lives. Less frequently, sometimes people experienced a strong depression before the anxiety set in, and this is a different kind of problem. Either way, depressive symptoms need to be addressed in recovery, so it’s useful to know something about how depression and anxiety disorders are related.http://www.anxietycoach.com/anxietydisorders.html
Clinical depression goes by many names — depression, “the blues,” biological depression, major depression. But it all refers to the same thing: feeling sad and depressed for weeks or months on end (not just a passing blue mood).
Depression is a state of low mood and aversion to activity that can affect a person’s thoughts, behavior, feelings and sense of well-being. Depressed people may feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, worried, helpless, worthless, guilty, irritable, hurt, or restless. They may lose interest in activities that once were pleasurable, experience loss of appetite or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details, or making decisions, and may contemplate or attempt suicide. Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains, or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may also be present.
If you identify with several of the following signs and symptoms, and they just won’t go away, you may be suffering from clinical depression.
Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
Reckless behaviour. You engage in escapist behaviour such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.
Negative thoughts. You can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
Suicidal thoughts. You have thoughts that life is not worth living (seek help immediately if this is the case)
There are many on-line depression tests. These tests should not replace or substitute a visit to a physician. It is only an indicator. http://www.depressedtest.com A physician will have to rule out other serious medical conditions that may cause similar symptoms.
The main types of depression include:
Major depression — to be diagnosed with major depression, you must have five or more of the symptoms listed above for at least 2 weeks. Major depression tends to continue for at least 6 months if not treated. (You are said to have minor depression if you have less than five depression symptoms for at least 2 weeks. Minor depression is similar to major depression except it only has two to four symptoms.)
Atypical depression — occurs in about a third of patients with depression. Symptoms include overeating and oversleeping. You may feel like you are weighed down and get very upset by rejection.
Dysthymia — a milder form of depression that can last for years, if not treated.
Postpartum depression — many women feel somewhat down after having a baby, but true postpartum depression is more severe and includes the symptoms of major depression.
Since Vic’s blotched back surgery in 2002 I have been on anti-depressants. The anti-depressants allowed me to continue functioning; fighting – living. It made life bearable. I was able to survive and support my child through 11 years of hell. The tablets certainly dulled my senses, my emotions. I have also gained 15 kgs in weight.
I have decided that I can no longer rely on medication. I have to take back control of my life. I have to heal. I have to let go of all my crutches.
I know I have to wean myself off the medication… Now that I no longer have symptoms and treatments to research to keep Vic alive, I decided to research depression. It has been absolutely amazing! I will be doing a series on depression and the treatment thereof.
Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and anxiety are obvious signs of depression. A less known fact is that depression can also cause unexplained physical symptoms. Physical pain and depression often go hand in hand….
Depression has no respect for colour, creed, sex or nationality. Depression does not discriminate.
The exact cause of depression is not known. Depression seems to be related to an imbalance of certain chemicals in your brain. Some of these same chemicals play an important role in how you feel pain. So many experts think that depression can make you feel pain differently than other people. An episode of depression may also be triggered by a life event such as a relationship problem, bereavement, redundancy, illness; or it can develop without any reason; there may be some genetic factor involved that makes some people more prone to depression than others. Women are more predisposed to depression than men i.e. postnatal and menopausal depression….
Depression is quite a common cause of physical symptoms. But, the opposite is also true. That is, people with serious physical conditions are more likely than average to develop depression.
A high percentage of patients with depression who seek treatment, in a primary care setting, report only physical symptoms, which can make depression very difficult to diagnose. Many people suffering from depression never get help because they don’t realize that pain may be a symptom of depression. The importance of understanding the physical symptoms of depression is that treating depression can help with the pain–and treating pain can help with depression.
Physical pain and depression have a deeper biological connection than simple cause and effect; the neurotransmitters that influence both pain and mood are serotonin and norepinephrine. Dysregulation of these transmitters is linked to both depression and pain.
I have noted a common denominator in the lives and blogs of chronic pain sufferers – depression. Pain in its own right is depressing. Depression causes and intensifies pain. Some research shows that pain and depression share common pathways in the limbic (emotional) region of the brain. In fact, the same chemical messengers control pain and mood. According to an article published by the Harvard Medical School, people with chronic pain have three times the average risk of developing psychiatric symptoms–usually mood or anxiety disorders–and depressed patients have three times the average risk of developing chronic pain.
The link between pain and depression appears to be a shared neurologic pathway. Some antidepressants, such as Cymbalta and Effexor, is used to treat chronic pain.
Most of us know about the emotional symptoms of depression. But you may not know that depression can be associated with many physical symptoms, too
In fact, many people with depression suffer from chronic pain or other physical symptoms. These include:
Headaches. Headaches is a common symptom of depression. Research found that over a two-year period, a person with a history of major depression was three times more likely than average to have a first migraine attack, and a person with a history of migraine was five times more likely than average to have a first episode of depression.
Back pain. Back ache is aggravated by depression. A study from the University of Alberta followed a random sample of nearly 800 adults without neck and low back pain and found that people who suffer from depression are four times more likely to develop intense or disabling neck and low back pain than those who are not depressed.
Muscle aches and joint pain. Depression can make any kind of chronic pain worse. According to research published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, arthritis-like physical symptoms may improve if the depression is treated with medication.
Chest pain. Chest pain must be checked out by a doctor immediately. It can be a sign of serious heart problems. But depression can contribute to the discomfort associated with chest pain. A study from the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Sweden, indicates several common factors among those affected by chest pain not linked to biomedical factors such as heart disease or some other illness–depression was one of the significant common factors.
Digestive problems. Queasiness, nausea, diarrhoea and chronic constipation can all stem from depression. Studies show that up to 60 percent of people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) also have a psychological disorder, most commonly depression or anxiety. According to one study published in General Hospital Psychiatry, those who reported symptoms of nausea were more than three times as likely to also have an anxiety disorder, and nearly one-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from depression. Depression is a possible cause for digestive disorders
Exhaustion and fatigue. No matter how much one sleeps, they still feel tired. Getting out of the bed in the morning is very hard, sometimes even impossible. Fatigue and depression are not a surprising pair. Depression and fatigue feed off each other in a vicious cycle that makes it hard to know where one begins and the other ends. Researchers have found people who are depressed are more than four times as likely to develop unexplained fatigue, and those who suffer from fatigue are nearly three times as likely to become depressed.
Sleeping problems. People with depression often have difficulty falling asleep, or awaken in the early hours of the morning and find themselves unable to get back to sleep. It is reported that 15 percent of people suffering from depression sleep too much. Lack of sleep alone doesn’t cause depression, but it can contribute–and lack of sleep caused by other illness or anxiety can make depression worse.
Change in appetite or weight. Several studies have found excess weight to be linked with depression symptoms, a history of depression, and other measures of psychological distress (e.g. anxiety). Others suffering from depression experience a reduction in appetite i.e. weight loss.
Dizziness or light-headedness.
Because these symptoms occur with many conditions, many depressed people never get help, because they don’t know that their physical symptoms might be caused by depression. These physical symptoms aren’t “all in your head.” Depression causes real changes in your body.
Jon-Daniel has had the best birthday ever! Yesterday he left school early for extra time with his Mom, we had a fun family lunch and then there was a cake and tea last night at his Dad’s.
Today it was his birthday party and Vic was well enough to enjoy it! It was a glorious summer day; the pool was a sparkling blue, the trees and grass a vivid green…. The sun shone and sparkled on Vic’s hair as she stood watching the children play.
Vic helped laying out the table, she bought helium balloons, she refused to sit or lie down. She insisted on carrying Jon-Daniels birthday cake! She started the singing. She laughed and glowed with pride. For a single day Vic looked just like a normal, healthy Mommy. I could hear her heart crying…. “this is the last birthday I will have with my son”
I thank God for a glorious day and memories. I thank God for granting Vic the joy of celebrating her baby boy’s 14th birthday.
C.S. Lewis says “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
For 37 years I have bargained with God. He alone knows of all my anguish, tears, pleading, my fears and pain. I am strong. I don’t cry easily or often. I have cried before God. Pleaded with Him for mercy.
He chose to ignore my pleas for mercy.
I have not been to Church in more than two years. I attended Marlene and then my Dad’s funeral. I went to one service at Reuben church. I have been angry with God….. Disappointed that the God of Mercy I learnt about from my parents’ knees does not exist. I have only experienced a God who has sentenced my child, and now my grandson, to a life of pain and suffering.
Today I attended the annual church fete. The arms that I have missed for more than 2 years enveloped me. Kisses rained on my cheeks. “I have missed you”, “We still pray for you and Vicky everyday of our lives”….. “It is so good to see you!”
The minister, Martin, hugged me and said “I think of you every day. We are always here for you….
I cried. I miss my church friends but I cannot go back for the wrong reasons.
I wondered tonight why the friendships did not last outside the confines of the church? I realized that our pain is too much for people to cope with. They hurt for me…..
But in the silence in our everyday lives is deafening…God’s megaphone has obviously not roused the deaf in our world…….
When you have a frozen abdomen from having 80+ abdominal surgeries, have a septic abdomen and septic prosthesis in your spine, suffer from Addison’s Disease and spend 24/7 in pain your world becomes very small. You also become well travelled as you have been to hell and back! Life gravitates around pain medication, more pain medication and hopefully some blissful sleep. Friends come and go. Spouses come and go. In an uncertain life it is a certainty that everybody eventually leaves.
So for the few of us that choose to stay around it is important to be sensitive to the emotions of the terminally ill person. Allow me to personalize this… It is important for us as a family to be sensitive to Vic’s feelings of abandonment.
Countless times a day Vic will say “Thank you Mommy for…….” “Thank you for looking after me”; “thank you for not leaving me”; “thank you for loving me” …… A child should never ever have to say that!
An adult child should rebel against the constraints of her parents rules and discipline and leave home. She leaves the safety of the home and comes back for Sunday lunches, to drop off laundry and bring a new love around to meet The Parents… Eventually the child will venture down the aisle, fall pregnant, christen her children, start running a car pool…. the list carries on and on. Eventually in large parts of the world the aged parents may move in with the now mature children and eventually die. I got married, left home, had Vic, got divorced, bought a new house, started my own business, remarried and eventually my Dad came to live with us for 18 months until he forgot how to breathe. Not once in my adult life did I ever consider moving back home to my parents. As an adult, wife and mother I often longed for the safety of my childhood home. I long for just ONE day in my life without responsibilities. I long to be a child again – carefree and cherished…. I miss my mom and wish I had her support and advice to get us through this difficult journey.
My sister and I discussed the way our lives had turned out. She has had an extremely challenging life and I seem to go from one crisis to another. We decided that we used up all our good luck and happiness as children…. I want to be a child again!
As usual I digress.
Vic is emotionally fragile. She fears that the remaining few people will also get tired of her ill health and pained life and abandon her. She fears that the boys will abandon her and look to us, the grandparents, for parenting. She fears losing the only “position” in life that she has left – the position of “Mother”. It has been very difficult to sacrifice her independence and move home. She has gone from being a wife to being a child. She has gone from being the mother to being mothered. I am a typical parent. I want to protect my little baby…. I want to do everything for her. I want to wrap her up in cotton wool and keep her resting in her bed. Maybe if she takes things easy it will buy us some extra time… If she is in bed her chances of injury is less.
Every day of her life countless indignities are heaped upon her. She is dependant for everything from medication, care, food and money. Poor poppet! Death is always in the foreground of her mind. Either fear of dying and at times fear of not dying.
I don’t really know what I set out to articulate in this blog but writing has once again reminded me what a pitiful life Vic has. My poor, poor little baby! No-one in the world deserves her life! But we will never abandon her – ever!