Wearing The Inside Out
In the time BBA (Before Brain Attack), I would never have thought it possible to write about anxiety as it was something I don’t think I had ever experienced. That may sound a bit arrogant, it’s simply that I don’t recall ever being nervous or anxious about anything much. However, ABA (After Brain Attack) it is a completely different matter. What’s prompting me to write this piece is that, for the last few weeks, it has been quite bad. To misquote Nigel Tufnel from Spinal Tap, “It goes up to eleven”.
The first time the Anxiety Pixie raised her sweet little head was in December 2013, some 5 or 6 months after my brain attack. I was now walking again (albeit with a stick, quite slow and doddery) and was taking part in a research study run at a local university that was looking into stroke recovery. Part of this study required me to have an fMRI. This is a functional MRI scanner. You may have seen this on the TV, it’s a normal MRI but with the ability to see the parts of the brain that ‘light up’ when they are active. There’s a small periscope inside so the subject can see images projected on to a screen. What I didn’t know was that the ‘cavity’ in this particular fMRI was quite small (I’m a big lad – getting bigger by the day!) and because the study involved looking at the subject’s ability to walk, my feet would need to be strapped to ‘pedals’. Anyhow, I arrived at the imaging centre and found my way to the scanning room. I lay on the MRI ‘bed’, my head was ‘clamped’ down in a frame, and they then started to attach my feet to these pedals. They mentioned the periscope. I mentioned my double vision, caused by the swelling in my brain. No problem, they said, we have some goggles for you. My head was unclamped, the goggles unceremoniously plonked on me, my head re-clamped, I am told to fold my arms as “It’s a tight fit” and I am inserted into the machine. Boy, it’s hot in there. The goggles are pushing into my face, I can’t move as my arms are across my chest and my elbows are wedged against the sides of the scanner and I can’t move my legs at all as my feet are strapped to these blinking pedals. Otherwise, it’s wonderful (?!?!). “Can you see the screen OK”, I am asked. I look and it’s all blurry. “Er, no”, I reply, “It’s all blurred, like I’m not wearing my glasses”. “Oh, we must have used the wrong goggles. Hang on”. There’s a whirring sound and I slowly slide out into the fresh air. My head is unclamped, the goggles removed, new ones put on and my head is re-clamped. Again. “It’s a bit hot in there” I say, “Any chance of blowing some cool air in?”. “Yeah, we can do that”. I didn’t mention it, but at this stage I am starting to feel really uncomfortable. A bit ‘weird’. An odd feeling inside of me.
The whirring starts again and I am inserted back into the machine. A very faint, slightly warm gust of air is blowing over me. “Is that better?”. “Yeah, thanks”. It isn’t really, but I don’t like to complain. The weird feeling inside me is getting worse. “How’s the screen now?”. “Er, it’s upside down”. “Oh no, we must have put the lenses in the wrong way. Hang on”. The whirring re-starts and I’m back out into the fresh air. Again. My head is yet again unclamped, the goggles are yet again removed, adjusted, fiddled with, put on me, taken off again, re-fiddled with, put back on my head and re-clamped. Yet, yet again. By now, I am feeling really hot, my mouth is dry, I am gasping for a drink of cold water and that weird feeling is . . well . . I think I’m feeling panicky! The whirring re-re-starts and I go back into the machine. “How’s that?”. “Yeah, I can see that. How long will this take, guys?” “About 45 minutes” came the reply. All I can hear in my head is my voice screaming “GET ME OUT, GET ME OUT” over and over. I start to feel dizzy, trapped, suffocated. It is awful. Fear sets in. “Guys” I say, “I can’t do this, please get me out. Just get me out. Please!”. A few seconds later I am back out in the fresh air and am being unstrapped. The team there were great. Very understanding, lots of “Don’t worry, it happens to a lot of people”.
To digress a wee bit, time for a bit of history. In the past, I have been caving, potholing, and generally crawling around in very tight spaces. I loved it. Great fun. I have been inside boilers on ships, very enclosed spaces and also very hot. No problem. But not anymore . . . .
After leaving the sanning room, I met my wife in reception. I couldn’t talk to her. She knew something was up. We got outside and the cold, crisp December air hit me. I burst into tears, and if it wasn’t for a nearby railing and my wife, I would have collapsed. I cried for a good five minutes and was still crying when I made to back to our car, parked a few yards away. (This event will be Track 17 on the Brain Attack album, entitled ‘The Machine’).
So, that was how my new found anxiety manifested itself. And here I am nearly 4 years and 16 sessions with a neuropsychologist later. The neuropsychologist was fantastic (thank you, Peter!) and helped me understand the possible root causes of this anxiety that has been buried for about 30 years until the brain attack brought it to the surface, and beyond. He also provided some coping strategies. However, just at the moment, we are looking to move house (for the second time in just over a year) and I am finding the whole process totally overwhelming. Plus, I have an operation coming up (long story, not related to my brain attack). And I just can’t cope. After much discussion with my GP, I have been prescribed Trazodone. I was told to start at 50mg and then move up to 100mg if required. 50mg is quite a low dose, but my GP was unsure what my brain chemistry is like post-brain attack, so decided the gentle approach was best! It’s only been a week but I now feel more in control of my thoughts and more able to cope. I feel slightly spaced out and it’s made me a bit more wobbly (balance-wise) than normal, but so far so good. And as well as the physical aftermath of my brain attack, I now find myself suffering from anxiety AND extreme claustrophobia!
If you’d told me 4 years ago that I’d be on anti-anxiety meds, I’d have laughed in your face. But, this is a brain attack for you. It’s affects are very wide-ranging, both physically and mentally.
Until next time,
“I’m creeping back to life, my nervous system all away”