Do you know what a PHQ9 is? Or a GAD7? I do. These are check sheet tests used by the medical profession ( among others ) for people who are showing symptoms of anxiety, stress and/or depression. I have filled in quite a few of these test sheets. One of the PHQ9 questions reads as follows:
“ ( Over the last 2 weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems ) Feeling bad about yourself – or that you are a failure or have let yourself or your family down? ”
This question resonates with me emphatically. Because that’s how I feel. Like I’m some sort of failure. A hopeless case. Why? As I’ve said in previous posts, MS has taken so much away from us, from me. My role is not what society would deem to be the normal role of a husband, of a man. Look at any newsagent’s shelves and you’ll see many instances of people undertaking caring roles. These people are celebrated for their achievements and how they’re able to cope with what life throws at them. Great, yes? Look again. And tell me what publications you see these stories running in. Publications which are targeted squarely at the female market. Now look at the male end of the market – anything from GQ and Esquire through Men’s Health to the likes of Loaded, Nuts, et al. How many of these magazines are carrying similar stories? None. Nil. Not one. I accept that there are now magazines aimed at fathers, FQ to name but one. Great, these are caring role models aren’t they? Yes, to a degree. But there are major differences in those fathers and doing what I do. What they do and what I do are NOT the same thing. I have no contemporary benchmarks in the mainstream media for what I do.
Being a carer is a very isolating business for me. It’s physically and psychologically demanding. Yesterday afternoon I was sitting outside crying to myself after a particularly fraught few days. Little did I know that the day was yet to get worse. I’d been trying to keep up appearances for a few days but secretly feeling a bit disconsolate. I’ve not been able to see any brightness in life. I’m 40 years old and I feel I should be getting more out of life. And here’s where the question from the PHQ9 comes in. Because all I see from society, from the media, are female role-models for carers, I feel like I’m not doing what I ought to be doing in life. So I feel like I’m letting my wife down – more importantly, I’m letting me down. I start beating myself up for getting so bogged down in it all that I begin to think about chucking it all in. Which makes me feel like I’ve failed as a husband. Failed as a carer. Failed as a bloke. But that’s not a great thing to do, right? So, I bottle it all in and get on with what needs doing. Until yesterday evening…
I was making dinner and I felt a gripping sensation at the top of my stomach. It’s just wind, it’ll go eventually. But 10 minutes later, it’s not gone away. Try and drink something fizzy, that’ll do the trick. No. It’s got worse. So I call the neighbours to come and keep my wife company. Now I feel dizzy, and my fingers are tingling. My heart’s thumping a gabber beat that I’ve no particular desire to dance to. And I’m sweating. A lot. I can’t go to the GP as it’s closed so I try the out-of-hours service where I’m asked many questions and told I’d receive a phone call back inside 20 minutes. 20 FUCKING MINUTES!!!! I FEEL LIKE I’M HAVING A HEART ATTACK!!!! 20 MINUTES IS NO GOOD TO ME!!!! I dialled 999 and called for an ambulance. When it arrives, I’m wringing wet with sweat and my heart’s gone speedcore. I have various wires and nodes attached to me and my heart output is printed from an echocardiogram machine (ECG). They take me to hospital where blood is taken, further ECG tests are done, and I’m left in a side room for a couple of hours while a doctor becomes free.
Because I am, otherwise, normally healthy, this is diagnosed as a panic attack. A severe one. Many questions are asked about the state of my mental health and I answer candidly, and because I’m waiting for an appointment with a counselling service, I’m discharged home. Physically feeling better. Definitely feeling more relieved ( I’m not dead!! ). But still feeling bad about what’s happened. Today I’ve been told by my GP that the panic attack was my body’s way of letting out the anxiety and depression that I’ve been bottling up, and that I need to start taking better care of myself or I’m heading for a breakdown and then what good would I be to me, or anyone? Then how bad would I feel?