In his self-appointed role as my Guardian Of All Online Activity, Dad was among the first to question my blogging silence.
‘I figured you weren’t having a great time lately,’ he said on the phone.
‘Oh? Why,’ I asked.
‘Well, you haven’t been as active online as you usually are,’ he pointed out.
‘Yeah I know.’
‘So I assumed you were a bit blue. That’s why I’ve left you alone for a while,’ he added.
(If this seems mean, I assure you it's not. It’s absolutely the best tactic.)
‘How are you anyway?,’ he asked. (The loaded ‘how are you’. Not the just-arrived-in-the-office ‘how are you’. The kind of ‘how are you’ where the emphasis is on the ‘you’ rather than the ‘how’.)
‘I’m not having the best time, Dad,’ I admitted. ‘I’m getting so down, so easily.’ (I’m always loath to use the word ‘depressed’.)
‘And with good reason, shitface,’ he empathised. ‘Tell me about it.’
‘I’m sick of all the pills I’m having to take. I get up in the morning and see them all in bathroom, and the sight of them makes me feel physically sick. I’ve had enough of them, but it’s tough because I can’t stop taking them.’
‘Is Tamoxifen the problem?’
‘I think so. I know how I felt off it, and I know how I feel on it. Even when I was in the depths of chemo I could find a way of getting through it. But now – when things aren’t even nearly that shit – things somehow seem darker. This week’s been awful.’
I went on to describe how I’d spent the previous evening in uncontrollable tears, and had been experiencing so many hot flushes and night sweats that I’d been sleeping in the spare room so as not to piss off P. I told him how P had worked from home that day because he was so concerned about me, and I told him about the horrendous nightmares I’d been having.
‘I read on Twitter that you’d been in bad pain with your back, too,’ he said.
‘Really bad,’ I confirmed. ‘My Tramadol have stopped working so I’m not taking them any more.’
‘And that’s obviously making things worse.’
‘I spose, yeah,’ I said, stopping short of telling him about the hallucinations and the nervousness and the fact that I’d been Googling rehab centres, convinced I was having a breakdown.
‘But I really think it’s the pills, Dad. I’m convinced it’s chemical. I just don’t feel like me.’
There’s no resolution to that kind of conversation, though, and so beyond agreeing to ‘take care’ and ‘look after yourself’ there’s little more to do than carry on talking about what’s going on this week, how far away the next holiday is and what you’re having for tea. But, of course, after freaking out your old man like that, there’s nothing for tea, because you feel too guilty about having offloaded on him to eat anything. (And ain’t that freedom from guilt just the most wonderful thing about therapy? Screw getting antsy about talking to a stranger. That ‘stranger’ is paid handsomely to listen to your troubles, and it’s amazing how quickly you’re able to open up to them once there’s no longer any worry about how what you’re saying is going to affect the person hearing it. Frankly, I think therapy should be compulsory. I know I’ve benefitted from it. And, cop-out as it is to suggest as much on one’s blog, I think my husband and parents are lunatics for not trying it themselves, given the shitstorm of the past two years, which I’ve had much more assistance in dealing with than they have.) But that’s beside the point. The point being that last night, my awful week came to an equally awful head, with a panic attack and sudden purge of my stomach’s contents in the disabled loo of Nando’s. (I only puke in the classiest places. See also: Costa Coffee, out of a moving taxi window, into a rubbish bin in my student dorm. Oh, and Claridges. Claridges was a swanky puke.)
Frustratingly, it wasn’t a therapist or a rehab doctor – hell even a sodding stuffed animal – who had to be witness to my crappy week’s culmination, but my friend Weeza.
‘Mate, are you sure you’re all right?’ she said as I pretended to nibble on a chicken wrap, following a three-minute car ride in which I’d had five hot flushes.
‘Hm? Yeah, yeah,’ I answered unconvincingly, my eyes darting nervously from side to side.
‘You’re not though, are you?’ she pushed, and I was pleased she did. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, other than feeling like I couldn’t focus and might drop my corn on the cob from shaking so much.
‘I don’t feel too well, if truth be told,’ I admitted.
‘What, like you might be sick?’
‘Well there’s a disabled loo right behind you, so if you need to, just dash in there.’
‘Yuh, maybe,’ I dismissed, before finding myself hunched over a raised toilet bowl two minutes later.
‘Right you, come on,’ she mothered as I appeared from behind the door. ‘We’re taking you home.’ It reminded me of the time when we were teenagers and I’d left my wallet and house keys in the pocket of some boy I’d been snogging, and she called my Mum from the nightclub to ask her to unlock the front door because doing so myself would have got me a bollocking, while Mum would never have balled out Weeza.
‘I think you were having a panic attack then,’ she said, hugging my tears away when we got back into the car.
‘Weez, I’m going mad,’ I sniffed. ‘I can’t get anything right. I think I’m losing it.’
‘You’re not losing it,’ she asserted. ‘Not at all. You just need to get home.’
‘I’ve hurt my back throwing up, as well.’
‘We’ll get you some painkillers when we get back.’
‘Nah, they’re not working any more. I took four in one go the other night and they didn’t even touch the sides.’
‘But hang on, they were making you so spaced out to start with,’ she half-questioned. ‘When did you stop taking them?’
‘Um, about 48 hours ago.’
‘And when did they stop working?’
‘About a week ago.’
With the conversation unfinished, I began to wonder whether she might have been getting at a solution. Earlier in the week, when I’d whinged to Twitter about my Tramadol no longer doing their job, a cautious reply told me to be ‘very careful’ of the drug and its effects. I checked the leaflet as soon as we got home.
‘Fuck,’ I cried, as my eyes scanned the passage warning of dependency, and the withdrawal symptoms that can follow when stopping the drug after prolonged use. Nausea, hallucinations, nervousness, panic attacks, sweats, difficulty sleeping… it was like I’d written it myself.
‘That’s it! That’s fucking it!’
‘Funny,’ said Jonny, Weeza’s husband. ‘I asked P when you girls went out whether the pills not working might point to a dependency.’
‘WHAT?’ screeched Weez and I, alarmed both by the coincidence and IT-expert Jonny’s sudden medical know-how.
‘Actually,’ added P. ‘When I told my Mum what painkillers you were on, she said they were ridiculously strong and you ought to be careful.’
‘WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME THIS?’ I wailed. Relieved resolution as this was, it was a bit like breaking up with a long-term boyfriend only for your family and friends to admit that they never liked him in the first place.
Concerned that I hadn’t been warned – whether by my GP or anyone else with even the most cursory knowledge of the drug – I messaged a couple of Tramadol-experienced folk I know.
‘Is this right?’ I questioned, simultaneously relieved by the chemical reason behind my wobbly week and freaked out that I hadn’t been smart enough to see it coming.
‘Totally,’ said one. ‘I had a dreadful time with it. Sickness, shakes, the lot.’
‘It’s a fucker,’ confirmed the other. ‘It’s screwed me over every time I’ve stopped taking it.’
Now, I’m not usually in the business of public-service blogging (Alright Tit isn’t medically literate, nor particularly useful, nor the kind of resource that your doctor might advise reading – it’s simply the story of someone learning to negotiate life through and beyond The Bullshit as they go), but in this instance, I’ll be pleased to see this post show up in people’s Tramadol-related Googling. (Plus, it’ll make a pleasant change from people stumbling upon this blog having searched for ‘angry miss piggy’, ‘pink nipples jogging’, or ‘this time next year Rodney we’ll be millionaires’.) Because, frankly, this is information I could have done with two months ago.
‘I can give you more if you need it,’ said my doctor when handing me the initial prescription. ‘Just see how you go and listen to what your body’s telling you.’ But given that, if I listened to what my body wanted, I’d be shunning my cancer-preventing drugs for chocolate biscuts, gin and fags, I dare say a better line of advice might have been to, y’know, just go steady.
So yep, that’s why I’ve been quiet. And that, I suppose, is the other thing about blogging. Just when you thought you had nothing worthy to write about and that publishing another post was more of a chore than an outlet after too long since your last one, along comes an episode like that to make you put fingers to keyboard.