How can you feel like the odd one out at an ICU support group?
I have written before many times that due to my asthma I end up in ICU a lot. I have written about my time in ICU and what happened but I don’t think I have written much about the psychological impact of ICU and then the recovery from it.
I discovered ICUsteps when I went to give a talk to the Edinburgh Critical Care Patient and Public Involvement Group. I never knew there was an ICU support group until then despite spending a majority of my hospital admissions going to ICU.
ICUsteps is an invaluable charity and support system to help people come to terms with surviving their admission to the intensive care unit. To go to ICU you are the sickest of the sick and do not get taken there just for the sake of it. There is good reason for it and because of this it can be a very traumatic experience.
When I first started going to ICU I would have really benefitted from some support to help me deal with the trauma of being in ICU and also the recovery as ICU recovery is very different to a normal recovery from hospital. But when I first started going to ICU there was no ICUsteps and mental health was also not recognised nearly as much as it is now (if you can even say it is recognised now). My only form of support was my writing and even then I didn’t write my feelings and experiences in my blog. I wrote my thoughts with pen and paper. Over the years I have developed coping mechanisms and ways to process my experiences in ICU. I feel this is important especially for me because (as much as I don’t want it to) I will go back to ICU due to the nature of my asthma. I used to try and forget about what happened in ICU but I was finding that if I was in A&E and told that they were taking me to ICU I would get quite upset and scared because I had not dealt with the previous admissions. While I still get scared about the prospect of going to ICU I am not nearly as bad and don’t get anxious at the thought because I have processed what happened and the reasons for everything that took place.
Issues that Im not sure how to tackle.
While I do come to terms with being in ICU there are still many aspects that I find hard to talk about and wish also that I could speak to my family about it but we don’t as a family really talk about health too much or go into detail. Like I wouldn’t ask them how they feel when I go to ICU etc. I am curious to know what their experience is (other than horrendous fear of what might happen to me that I imagine they feel).
I love being able to support people who have survived their stay in ICU but I find it so hard sometimes knowing that for most of these people who attend the group their stay in ICU will be their only stay in their life possibly while I know I will be back in ICU and back several times.
It is a very strange position to be in and there are not many people in my position. I sit in meetings and will sometimes find myself thinking how lucky the other members are to have only been in ICU once and once they have processed everything it will be part of their history rather than part of their life. I hate feeling this way as ICU is traumatic for anyone going through it and I should not be thinking people are lucky to only need to go there once because it is awful but it is how I feel. I tend to feel like this when I am feeling vulnerable and just want to protect myself.
I sometimes want to split myself in two so that I can have one part of me that goes and supports ICU survivors, helping them to process what they have been to, offering them my help with ways I have managed to come to terms and recover from being in ICU. Then the second part of me I can protect and shield from hearing other peoples ICU stories so I can stay away from exposing myself to the trauma of going to ICU. I think what scares me is because I know I will go back to ICU at some time and so far all my experiences have been different I fear hearing other experiences in case I react badly when I am told I am going ICU. I used tp panic a lot at the prospect of going to ICU because every time was different and I didnt know what was going to happen so hearing other stories gives me more knowledge of what can happen. I don’t want to be thinking of these things when I am told I need to go. This is where I want to protect myself.
Im not sure any of this makes sense but to me it does.
I am curious to know how other people deal with ICU and the prospect of being a repeat visitor to ICU.
I really don’t want to give up supporting others who have survived ICU but I do need to find ways of dealing with the aftermath of support group. I would also be keen to speak to others who have experience of being in ICU multiple times with no real hope of not going there again.