fibromyalgia, neurasthenia, dr seneviratne, and me

the overarching diagnosis i live with is fibromyalgia – but back at the beginning i saw a doctor who offered me another take – he suggested neurasthenia, which, at the time, in the uk, was merely an old timey diagnosis, a sort of whimsical suggestion, i thought. especially since his formal diagnosis at the time was a DSM4 category, unipolarism with mania if given certain drugs. to wit, i won’t get manic unless you give me SSRIs. what fun! and what a lot of shopping i do on SSRIs! (though not as flamboyantly as one manic depressive who thought that it would be fun to drive a red tractor round edinburgh, so bought one before he got sectioned, and had to sell afterwards. turns out tractors are quite expensive).

i mean, you can see his point. tractors are pretty cool.

anyway, what happened was that i became too ill to do my job, took a while to get anywhere near on my feet, took a little backstage job to get me used to working again, got given SSRIs, promptly went mental, presented myself at college to start teaching again, got sent home. end of career. after my initial, quite frightening, experience on the SSRIs, i said that i wouldn’t take psych meds unless they were prescribed by a psychiatrist. why yes, i was a little naive. bless me.

after some months of hanging around, i finally got my appointment. as it happened, the guy i was supposed to see had been suspended because he was accused of sexually abusing a patient. after several months the case was dismissed, and he got his job back (i wouldn’t weep too hard for him, he was on full pay the whole time and was apparently big into speed boats). but, in the meantime, his office was occupied by one saul seneviratne. it was the work of moments to quickly cyber stalk him just now, and i find he is doing very well as a forensic pshychiatrist. i did topicalize his wearing of a clip on tie one time – he told me that he was moonlighting in the cop shop. paid off, too, so it would seem.

now, here in the uk, it is perfectly usual to get bounced around, barely seeing one person twice, and having appointments every couple of months if you are lucky. i guess sene had some time on his hands, because he saw me a LOT. and no, it wasn’t because i was a big time mental criminal, stop thinking that. we talked about a lot of things, including the bands we’d seen when we were at college – being the same age, we had a fair bit in common. in between actually trying to get me effective treatments, he also proposed something more whimsical; what did i think of the idea that i might be neurasthenic?

wikipedia was launched in 2001, and this was maybe just before it’s launch or a couple of years after. don’t quote me. but you can imagine, when i looked up neurasthenia when i got home, i didn’t get quite as many hits as i did yesterday, when, on a whim, i decided to look it up again. what i found out first go round, was that it was a victorian diagnosis for people for whom modern life was really too much. the advice at the time was that the patient should stay in bed, drink hot milk, and have her maid send away visitors. clearly not an ailment for the hoi polloi. this pleased me, sort of, but it seemed irrelevant, since it hadn’t been used as a diagnosis for some time. the symtoms, of extreme sensitivity, pain, fatigue, mental weakness, seemed familiar enough, though it wasn’t many years til i got a positive diagnosis of fibromyalgia. incidentally, i listened to the audiobook of remembrance of things past and it features a character who clearly had fibro or CFS, and it turns out proust was diagnosed with neurasthenia, himself. as was virginia woolf.

i don’t know what prompted me to look neurasthenia up again, over a decade later, but there is a lot more material online now. i was surprised to discover that it is still recognized by the WHO, since it is still actively diagnosed in many countries. it seemed it peaked in the uk around WW1, and as many men as women were diagnosed with it. it was so closely identified with the stressors of modern life, that it was also called “AMERICANITIS”!

i kid you not!

in japan it is treated with something called ‘morita therapy‘. now this i wish i had known about. instinctively i landed myself at the buddhist’s doorstep to learn meditation and mindfulness, and this therapy is a lot about that, but it has other parts to it’s structure i now wish i’d known about. not because i haven’t come to many of the same conclusions about how i need to live, myself, but just not in that order, and perhaps if i had done, i might be in a better state of health today. as it is, i have done the meditation and the living in silence, and quite coincidentally, i have also written journals, both on paper and online. i have quite often wished for the kind of sanitorium that rich folks of yesteryear might go to. sipping hot chocolate on an alp with a blanket over my knees, ministered to by a kind nurse. or looking over the ocean. however, the nhs doesn’t run to such things, and most probably, nor should they. having said that, whatever an actual rest cure might cost, if i were recovered i would be a lot more cost effective, since i am well qualified and have a professional career behind me, and am now contributing nothing and living on the state. who wins at that game?

anyway, it’s nice to see that sene is doing so well. and clever of me to move to the tottenham riviera.


the view from my garden.

2 responses to “fibromyalgia, neurasthenia, dr seneviratne, and me

  1. I can totally understand why people find the history of medicine so interesting – so much of how we understand diseases (particularly the intersection of physical and mental illness) and their treatment change of time, and yet even as our treatments become better we end up reaching into history to better treat them today.

    • it was just SO WEIRD when i started reading about the morita therapy!

      i mean, there is no point in thinking “shoulda woulda coulda” because we could play that game all day. even so, what i found really interesting was that over time i have actually done all of the things they recommend – including journal writing – though i am not sure what they would think of writing journals online.

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