It was November, busiest time of year for a dance teacher. I felt on track, working efficiently but getting very tired and out of breath – a factor I kept attributing to “old age”!
One morning a friend insisted I get this checked out, TODAY!! To appease her I made an appointment and, within an hour, found myself in the Cardiac unit of a hospital. What I thought was just my crazy pulse turned out to be atrial fibrillation! This friend had possibly saved my life!
Further testing revealed the culprit – an extremely over-active thyroid, a condition with the dubious name – Graves Disease, affecting my heart and liver. A period of total unreality followed. Never having been ill in my life I suddenly found myself on massive medication, being constantly monitored and told NOT to exercise!
After two relatively short stays in hospital I came home to a long, hot summer, somewhat alarmed that I could not even walk to my letter box without getting out of breath. Eventually I could get half way up the street, pushing myself in the cool of the evening, to get a driveway further each time.
Friends were wonderful and visited but there were also long periods where I was alone except for the company of my two beautiful cats who, with their unconditional love, gave me enormous support.
Return to work time came and I was dismayed to be told by the GP not to return to full work load for an unspecified length of time! The start of the year is a crucial time for me but, instead my life became a long saga of visits to the GP, the cardiologist, the endocrinologist, never seeming to get anywhere.
I was told this journey could take 12 months. I never envisaged it would to take 18!! I became increasingly anxious and depressed, eventually reaching the stage where I was constantly crying, not wanting to leave the house and totally unable to think logically or function effectively – all very un-me! Friends tried to help but became frustrated for they really couldn’t.
What followed was terrifying – visits to my house by a psychiatric assessment team who finally put me into hospital, into an aged care unit, for, being over 60 classifies you as just that – another horrible realisation.
Over the next year I was to spend 2 long sessions there where I was lonely, confused and very, very frightened. Was I really going mad? The place was inner city, dark, cold and grey, the only place you could go for fresh [?] air two tiny courtyards with minimal vegetation and, more often than not, locked; the only exercise a 30 minute supervised walk [weather permitting] around a nearby oval where often you would see homeless people sleeping, huddled in blankets against the cold. Th patients spent their days queuing for medication, eating tasteless and unhealthy food, sometimes urecognisable, sitting around complaining or talking about their families and having their families visit [I have none]. A few friends visited but traffic, parking difficulties and other commitments made this rarer as time went on. The only activity was to attend lectures on anxiety and depression as advised by your psychiatrist – I found this even more depressing! I simply did not know how to talk to such medical people, it was all so foreign. I felt the whole thing was my fault and I was the one who had to fix it. Each time I would fake feeling better in order to get out for I was homesick and desperate to return to work while it was still there.
Another tough Christmas, another long summer, plus the loss of a beautiful cat who had shared my life for almost 21 years, a real soulmate, sent me further into anxiety and depression. Each day I would get up saying, “Today is going to be better,” but, try as I might, it was always worse.
I finished up in hospital again but, a different place and, slowly, the tide began to turn. There were tough times at first, especially when they tried to send me back to the other hospital – I flatly refused to go, knowing this would be the end of me.
Here, thanks to a wonderful team of psychiatrist, psychologist, social workers and nurses who took time to listen and to talk, a complete change of all medication, a program of activities which were designed to keep you active, creative and disengaged from dwelling on your problems – no lectures on depression / anxiety whatsoever and an environment in which there was time to be with nature, to think, and to heal, I began to recover, regaining the dignity I felt I had all but lost and feeling once again positive about the future.
The people I met there would take a whole book to write about but, suffice to say, I witnessed people who you knew would never get their lives back, whose only future was probably a life in an institution. Among them were some of the most beautiful people I have ever met, gentle, caring and considerate, their lives forever scarred by circumstances or by traumatic events in their lives over which they had no control. I am still in contact with 3 of these people whose friendships I treasure and I hope will continue to flourish
After 6 weeks I came home and have never looked back. My job, all but gone, is coming slowly back, though I would never wish it to be as intense as before. My little house has become a home once more, shared with one very happy little animal. I have renewed acquaintances and made new ones; rediscovered old interests and begun to forge new ones and achieved my goal of once more being able to help others. Life is a precious gift, one I give thanks for every single day.
Now I am fully recovered and able to take information in more clearly, two things I have been told by medical people I have found very reassuring. Firstly, that my emotional problems had a very physical base – my thyroid – and that there was absolutely nothing I could do but see it through. Secondly, that when you become so anxious and depressed the frontal lobe of your brain goes “on holidays,” rendering you unable to think or reason logically. I hope that this knowledge may help me listen to others more closely and help them where possible.
The old saying, “Every cloud has a silver lining,” rings true with me now. This has been the most challenging 18 months of my life but I feel I have learnt so much and emerged from it a more compassionate person.
In closing I have to say that very, very deep down throughout this whole journey Wu Tao was the one thing that kept me hanging on. I could not bring myself to dance it for a long time but, I felt its presence. A recent 2 day Wu Tao retreat at the beautiful, tranquil Vine and Branches Centre, close to my home, was for me the final stage of healing. I have my life back again…. Thank you Wu Tao, and, thank you Michelle!!!!
Jan Turner – Melbourne Wu Tao teacher