Never mind…the introspection

It’s been a while, hasn’t it?  Last episode’s cliffhanger saw me in the aftermath of panic attack number 691, dashing to the A&E department of a local hospital, and not dealing with the loneliness and emotions that Trisha’s death has left me with. What’s been going on in the two months since?  Well…

I’ve had a bit of a health scare.  I found a lump where a bloke isn’t supposed to find extra lumps, which didn’t do wonders for my stress and anxiety.  To tell you the truth, it sent me into orbit with worry.  I started thinking that stress had manifested itself into a physical symptom.  Just as I was beginning to think in terms of being able to start my life again, here was something serious that was going to curtail it all.  Fuck my luck.  Or some self-pitying shit like that.

I did the sensible thing and got it looked at.  Nothing sinister.  Or on the right.  So, I can stop that nihilistic train of thought.

In other news, I’ve also started bereavement counselling sessions offered by the hospice where Trisha spent her final days.  I’m half way through the sessions and I’m finding them to be a real help.  When I first spoke with the counsellor on a one-to-one basis, I admitted to still being in a state of hyper-vigilance.  I’m not overtly jumpy because I have a long-standing defence mechanism.

When people are confronted with someone who’s radiating anxiety, their initial reaction tends to be to withdraw from that person, so as not to be affected or have to deal with it.  I don’t want people to withdraw from me, so I’ve learnt to mask how I feel, mainly because I don’t want to be judged negatively by anyone (this has been a thing with me since childhood, but I’ll not go into that just now), but, apparently, what I was saying to the counsellor showed signs of a high level of anxiety.  Always on a hair trigger, waiting to react to some kind of threat.

However, over the past two or three weeks, I’ve noticed that I’ve changed a little.  I’m less inclined to race from zero to 100 in terms of anxiety.  I don’t know whether this is due to the sessions, the relief following my health scare or other parts of my life that are positive.  This isn’t to say that my antennae don’t go off every now and then, but I’m not jumping at the slightest noise.

When Trisha was still here, I would constantly monitor everything for the slightest change: Trisha’s bodily reactions, my body, external sounds, even smells.  The tiniest thing would trigger me.  This change can only be a good thing, but, since I can’t yet put a finger on the reason why, I don’t know if it’s temporary or permanent.

Something else that’s come to light is my tendency to see everything I do as either perfect or shit.  There’s no in between.  There’s no OK.  I constantly look for things within myself that I can improve to ensure that I appear ‘normal’ to the outside world (and make sure they don’t want to withdraw from me).  All things to all people.  Physically more attractive, more personable, better at this, able to do that.  All the while thinking that I wasn’t good enough.

It was the same with caring for Trisha.  Perfect or shit.  Perfect meant she was still alive and well; the opposite meant…well…the opposite.  I still struggle with this.  I always assumed – wrongly, I realise now – that if I did my bit, if I did my best to provide Trisha with the care she needed, she’d stay alive and well.  I saw it as being my job to keep her alive.  As she worsened, I’d try harder, try to eliminate all my defects, as I saw them.

See where this is going?  I tied myself in knots, emotionally, trying to achieve something that was impossible.  I couldn’t have made a difference, no matter how hard I tried or what ‘improvements’ I made to myself.  Even writing this last sentence doesn’t stop the little voice in me which tells me to look for the defect that led to Trisha dying, and improve it.  I am trying to be a little more self-accepting.

This outlook is affecting how I’m looking at the future.  For all intents and purposes, I have a blank canvas.  But, because of the perfect/shit self-judgement, I’m scared of making errors – what if I move to a house I don’t like?  Or an area I’m not happy living in.  Do I return to study?  What if I don’t like it?  What if I pick the wrong subject?  I know, I’m scared.  I’m scared of failing and making an error.  I’m working on it.  I knew I needed some help and the counselling sessions have confirmed that.  I still have three one-to-one sessions left and I can go to group sessions for the next year or so.

I’m also aware that the first anniversary of Trisha’s death is looming.  In a couple of weeks, it’ll be a year since Trisha was taken into hospital with swallowing difficulties.  I have no idea how this is going to go.  I may feel like writing a little more over the coming weeks, I might want to withdraw.  Either way, I will keep trying to better deal with things.

That was the week that was

I hesitated before writing this.  Who wants to read that I’m struggling?  Who am I to think anyone would want to know?  People have got their own stuff going on and don’t need to hear mine.  Yet here I am, opening up a bit.  Because I must.  I’ll only get worse if I don’t.

Just over a week ago, I found myself crying tears of shame in A&E after a panic attack.  Relieved to discover it wasn’t the heart attack I’d self-diagnosed; ashamed that I couldn’t cope with life.  Yesterday, I was going to go out for a coffee, just to get out in the sunshine.  I got dressed and ready, then I hesitated.  I questioned myself.  Where am I going to go?  I won’t be meeting anyone.  I’ll be on my own again.  I can do that at home.  So, with my self-confidence beaten, I got changed again, into kit I wear around the house, and didn’t go out.

I’ve been here before.  For me, this leads to depression, even agoraphobia.  I don’t want to go back there again.  It’s a terrible place to be.

Long time readers will know that I’ve been fighting for years with anxiety and periods of depression.  Since Trisha died, I’ve been concentrating on practical things and not dealing with the loss.  I’m lucky that I can rationalise my way through daily life but that comes at a cost.  My body is showing symptoms and I need to let my emotions catch up.

If you’re expecting a coherent explanation of how I feel, I can’t give you one.  I don’t have one for myself.  My inner monologue describes snippets of feelings to me but that description has no real meaning, no flow to it.  If this is grief manifesting itself, then it’s true that it has no linear path; it’s more of a scribble that meanders its own way, in its own time.  I need to start making sense of what happened, not just when Trisha died but over the whole course of her illness.  That means talking to someone.  That means reaching out and admitting that I can’t deal with everything.  I don’t have unlimited reserves of strength.  I’m not superhuman.  I never was.

If I’ve learnt one thing dealing with this – and I’ve probably learnt only one thing – it’s that ignoring these feelings won’t make them go away.  Help is there.  If you’re struggling, please talk to someone – anyone.  Don’t hide away and think that you don’t deserve to be heard, to be helped.  You do deserve it.  You are worth someone’s time.  Please go and find the help you need.

The first rule.

The first rule of (Not Being A) Dad Club is that you never talk about (Not Being A) Dad Club.

Did you know it was Father’s Day this weekend?  Every shop you see has some Father’s Day angle or other. It’s on TV – adverts and programme spots -, in magazines, newspaper sites, all over social media. It’s everywhere. Tonight, MW said, apropos of not very much, that she’d like a child “even at 50”. Yeah, I’d have liked a family, too. It can’t happen though. And that hurts.

Long time readers here will know that my Dad died before MW was diagnosed with MS (Father’s Day is the same week as his birthday). MW’s Dad died earlier this year and we don’t have children. So, Father’s Day no longer applies in this house. It’s a closed shop – a club that I’m not a member of anymore. And won’t be. I might have written about this before and I might write about it again. Because it crops up every year, and I don’t remember what I’ve written before. And I’m not about to go trawling through to check.

One of the things that parenthood inspires is the thought of the future; that a) your family is continued, and b) gives you reason to look forward, with the assumption that you’ll have your children around you as you get older. That you won’t be alone in your advancing years – not necessarily from a practical perspective but from an emotional one. I can’t lie, the idea of being alone as I get older isn’t one I relish.

By alone, I mean absolutely alone. My mother is nearly 80 (don’t tell her I told you! She doesn’t know this exists.) and, as active as she is, I can’t assume that her health won’t deteriorate. I assume, as nature generally goes, I’ll outlive her. And the odds that MW and I will, at some point, no longer live in the same house seem to be getting shorter and shorter. I don’t begrudge others their happiness with their family. That’s not fair. I just feel wistful. Sad. Scared. Uncertain. A mind full of what if’s. And jealous. A real envy that my life has taken this path and not the one I’d set out for myself in my formative years. When I was actually thinking about the future and not busy obsessing over records or furiously obsessing over photos of Beatrice Dalle and Michelle Pfeiffer.

Actually, this time of obsession was the closest I’ve come to being a Dad. My first girlfriend unexpectedly fell pregnant and decided to have a termination. In the aftermath, I assumed that I’d have a family of my own “at the right time”. Obviously, I had no idea how things would pan out. I lost contact with her years ago but I do know that she went on to have a family of her own. I didn’t know whether to include this piece of information but I’ve written about it before, so I suppose there’s no real reason to leave it out. As I look back, I don’t really know what I’m supposed to feel about this now – shame? bitterness? regret? I don’t know. But it does hurt.

I guess it’s the same jealousy and wistfulness that seems to hit MW when she has a more responsive moment and says that she laments not being a mother. I used to think that Father’s Day card and gift buying was a bit of a bind. Because it coincided with his birthday, I’d have to do twice the spending. Our relationship wasn’t great (to massively understate the case), so I thought the cash could be better used on more exciting – and obsessive – stuff.

I get it now. I get what it’s supposed to be. It’s supposed to be a celebration of being part of a family. And the cards in the shops are a reminder of a club that I’ve joined against my will. (Not Being A) Dad Club. A reminder of a past that’s gone and a future that never will be. But if I have to be a member of this club, I’m bloody well going to talk about it. A bit.

The Fear

The Fear.  I hate The Fear.  I have The Fear now and I don’t know what to do about it.  More accurately, I don’t know what to do about what’s causing The Fear.  So, as famous people take to Twitter, I’m taking to Tumblr in a bid to make sense of it all in my head.  You can have a read, if you like.

MW is in hospital.  She was taken in on Friday with a temperature of 39.8, rapid breathing, and a lot of confusion.  The district nurse who saw her said she’d be better off in hospital where she could be given IV antibiotics.  Tests showed another UTI, and two patches of what appeared, to the doctor, like cellulitis (which is new to MW).  I’ve seen her in some states thanks to MS but this seems different.  She seems more distant, more disorientated.  As I’ve written before, MW has shown signs of dementia-like cognitive impairment – memory lapses, confusion, and so on.  I know that infections will exacerbate any pre-existing cognitive impairing.  It’s just that she seems so frail along with it.  I was feeding her a bun and a drink tonight and had to remind her to swallow.  She didn’t seem to know that I was trying to give her some food/drink, even though she’d agreed to have them.  I don’t know what part of this is due to the infection (presumably reversible with medication and care), what is caused by the MS (more damaging and potentially more permanent), or whether it’s a mixture of the two (and will that part caused by the temporary infection become a more permanent part of her MS).  Frustration leads to attempted rationalisation of what’s going on, which leads to The Fear.

MW was asking about her Mum coming to visit her, so I explained why she couldn’t.  We live at the opposite end of the country from her parents, but it’s mostly due to her Dad being ill and that her Mum cares for him.  This is not news to MW but tonight she seemed to get quite upset by it, which is very unlike her.  She normally understands the situation surrounding her Dad, yet it was as though she’d forgotten all about it.  I told her that her Dad’s very ill, which seemed to upset her.  I tried as best I could to put a positive slant on things, telling her that they’re doing their best and that they’re winning but she still looked quite teary.  I was telling her that she was winning too and that we’d get her right, and back home – trying to instil a spark of determination in her – which seemed to work.  In truth, I was trying to blink back my own tears.

Which brings me to The Fear.  I have the fear of losing her.  Not just in the sense of her not being the same person as she once was – mentally, I mean.  But also losing her physically, really losing her.  Dying.  A feeling not helped by the nurses performing ECGs on her due to a raised heart rate.  With it being Easter, and staffing levels being low, there was no doctor around tonight to ask for an opinion or to ask to expand on their reasoning behind the tests.  The nurses are asked to do the tests, not to evaluate the results and explain them to an anxious husband.  I came away from the hospital at end of visiting time feeling very uneasy.

So, I’m lying here at gone 2 a.m., watching fuck-knows-what on TV, trying to make sense of it all (getting more frustrated by the minute that I can’t contact the MS specialist nurse for another 36 hours at the earliest – thanks a bunch, Easter), and trying to keep The Fear away.  I know where The Fear leads if unchecked – panic attacks, anxiety, deep depression.  And I really have The Fear of The Fear.

Fear and self-loathing in the North.

I don’t really know where to go with this.  But the last two weeks have been difficult to say the least.  As I type this post, I can feel the urge to shut the laptop down and not write it.  It’s embarrassing to write about.  So the question is, why do it?  Because I need to let it out.  Because I’m tired of bottling it up.

I moved house two weeks ago, which isn’t an easy task.  When you’re solely responsible for moving the lives of two people, it’s harder.  There’s no-one to share the load with.  I’ve organised everything: the new house itself, dealing with the housing association, removals, the packing, getting social services on-side, organising a new care team, new equipment, dealing with the old landlord (of which more, later), swap-over of domestic services, address changes….the list is a long one but it’s all been down to me.  That’s just the way of things – it couldn’t have been any other way.

I’ve felt my stress levels rising rapidly (I can’t even write those words without feeling sneers of disapproval – don’t ask why or from who/where – I just do).  I’ve been lucky insofar as I’ve had my Mum staying with us to help with the practical things.

It got to the point that, on moving day, I was sick of hearing my name and having someone “need” to have my input or approval.  I was travelling between the new house and the old, overseeing everything the movers were doing, dealing with signing the agreements, everything.  And in the quiet minutes, being a carer.  And in the tiny cracks of time between that, being a husband – rather, trying to be.  The panic attack I had should have sounded a warning bell but I had to keep going.

We’d been in the house three days when I was involved in a car accident.  It’s in the hands of the insurers now which feels to me a little like it’s sub judice.  Everyone involved was OK and MW wasn’t in the car at the time.  It shook me like hell, and it’s been a grind dealing with insurers, garages, solicitors, the police.  It’s something I could have done without.  I could tell that I was in a bad way, mentally, but no-one can take over from me.

Another blow came the following day.  Our old landlord sent me an e-mail which put me into a spin.  He’s sought to keep the bond we left, giving the most flimsy reasons for keeping it and ensuring that we’d need to fight for it by legal means.  This, along with the fall-out after the car accident was all I could take.  At first, I was just numb.  Working on auto-pilot.  But, at the beginning of last week, I was in a bad way.  Crying all the time.  Worrying about everything.  Scared of everything.  Tired of all the responsibility.

I was thinking things that I’ve thought before and they scared me.  I just wanted to say “make sure that MW is looked after” and disappear.  I didn’t even know what I meant by that, only that I didn’t feel worthy of being around.  I don’t just mean unworthy of being in this place – the new house – at this time.  I mean unworthy of being anywhere.  That I’d made people worry, that I’d disappointed people.  That I’d let everyone down, especially MW.

My Mum was about to go home (to be fair, she’s been here for about two months now) but I had to ask her to stay a little longer.  I suspect she could tell by my behaviour that I was in a bad way.  Fortunately, she agreed.  She’s still here.  I don’t know where I’d be if she wasn’t.

I’m tired.  I’m not sleeping properly or feel like sleeping half way through the day.  I’m still crying but not as much.  And I’m still scared.  Still fearing the phone ringing, the post arriving, wondering where the next setback’s coming from.

Anyhow, this post’s rambling about with no real focus.  Which is pretty much where I’m at right now.  Rambling about trying to keep going as best as I can.  But it’s a struggle.

Still going. I don’t know about strong.

Before I carry on I want to clarify something about this blog.  Apropos of nothing at all other than something that came to mind which burrowed its way in and won’t go.  This is my space to vent – this is my outlet, if you will.  I don’t have a wide circle of people that I can talk to at the drop of a hat about what I’m thinking/feeling, etc., so this is my way of letting some of it out.  If you’re looking for witty, inspirational writing on how caring is a challenge to conquer, to face with a smile and overcome head-on, and how life is a big bag of love and roses then you’ve come to the wrong blog.  I try not to be overly pessimistic but I am realistic.  I’m aware that what appears in this blog is pretty dark, even miserable at times.  I’m not sorry for that.  What’s happening is a struggle and I will reflect that.

I’m feeling a bit stressed at the minute.  Which is to say more so than usual.  I had another panic attack the other week.  Cue thinking I’m having a heart attack; cue frantic call to paramedic then ECG and blood pressure tests; cue calling neighbour to come round to sit with MW if should need to go to hospital; cue feeling utterly ridiculous, hopeless and pathetic, especially when the physical diagnostic tests came back all clear.  I have high self standards.  Those standards tell me that I ought to be able to cope with everything thrown at both of us because, outwardly, I’m the healthier of the two of us.  Even using the word “stressed” makes me feel feeble.  My mind and body tells me that isn’t true.  When I say I’m a “bit stressed” I must admit that I’m more than a “bit” stressed.  I’m stressed to the point of my body giving me messages to rein it in a bit and calm the fuck down.  But it’s easier said (or thought) than done.  When I list it all, I guess I’ve got a fair bit to worry about.  

I’m stressed about MW’s constant deterioration.  She can’t move her legs voluntarily at all now.  The only movement comes with spasm – so her legs have to be manipulated to ensure proper blood flow.  Her arms are losing strength but gaining ever more tremor – sorry, fasciculation (must be accurate).  Independent feeding and drinking are becoming more difficult.  She’s allergic to the morphine patches she’s just started – not to the morphine but to the adhesive patch.  They make her skin blister.  The MS nurse tells me that it’s important to maintain skin integrity because sores and patches of skin inflammation will make her MS symptoms worse.  And then there’s the blood clot.  The injections are nearly at an end but we’re in contact with so many medical people that I’ve asked if they do a health equivalent of frequent flyer miles.  Or at the very least Nectar points.

MW’s father is ill as well.  Her parents live at the other end of the country from us so we can’t see how he is at first hand.  MW hasn’t seen her Dad for almost two years.  Not that they don’t get on – they do.  It’s just that the distance between them and their respective health difficulties has made it pretty much impossible for them to see each other.  Her Dad has a form of leukaemia and he’s been suffering with some symptoms recently which has laid him pretty low.  These may or may not be connected to the leukaemia but her Mum is worried enough to not feel confident enough to come up and see us.  It’s been almost six months since she visited us.  MW’s parents are both in their 70s now so their good health can’t be taken for granted.  The thought is always in the back of her mind that her parents won’t be around forever.  It’s a struggle trying to keep MW from worrying because it will make her MS symptoms worse.  

I’m also worried whether the money we have coming in will stretch far enough.  I know I’m not alone in this.  But MW has developed a penchant for buying clothes that she doesn’t need just because they’re pretty.  Thing is, her memory and mental acuity are worsening and she forgets what she’s bought.  She goes out with a carer a couple of times a week and when she gets back she’s laden with little carrier bags.  None of the items are expensive individually but it all adds up.  It falls to me to ensure that what we have coming in will cover everything going out plus be able to eat.  We don’t have a hedonistic lifestyle, neither of us drink or smoke, but we want to be able to live rather than exist.  Frankly, it’s a struggle.  I’ve asked her repeatedly not to do it.  I’ve got angry.  I’ve pleaded.  I’ve spoken to her rationally because she’s not a child.  Yet she forgets.  I’m having to slowly realise that she’s losing these abilities, and that she is, in a way, becoming more child-like.  I don’t want to treat her like she’s six and give her “pocket money”.  Maybe I’m just waking up to the fact that this is another irreversible change in her personality caused by those damn sheep in her brain (on an MRI scan MS lesions are little white blobs which MW called “sheep”).  Whatever the “cause”, it’s another tiny chink in the relationship.

In short, I feel like I’m being closed in from all sides and struggling to keep my head above water.  I spend a lot of time inside my own head – if that makes any kind of sense – trying to make sense of everything and remain sane throughout.  I try to second guess MW’s MS so its effects are managed as best as possible.  I try to ensure that we both are as comfortable as we can be given the circumstances we’re in.  I feel myself getting angry and frustrated on a more frequent basis.  Somebody used the word “inspirational” to me the other day but I genuinely, genuinely cannot fathom why.  I know it was meant as a compliment, and I am flattered.  But when I look at what’s happening to me and how I’m dealing with everything, that is the last word I would use about me.  I’m just trying to do the best I can and it ain’t easy.

As I wrote in the first paragraph, I know this blog can be a bit grim.  I’m not going to apologise for that.  I don’t spill all this out on Twitter because people would soon get sick of it.  I’d rather get it all out on here – this is my blog, for my own benefit because, without it, I’d be in a much worse place.

Dodging bullets

I’ve got to tell you, last week was pretty scary.  I’d noticed MW’s leg to be a little swollen for a couple of weeks – actually, it was much longer than that but they’ve swollen before and was told it was just benign swelling.  I must admit to rarely thinking it’s *just* anything considering the severity of MW’s symptoms.  So, when the District Nurse called to look at yet another pressure sore, I asked her to check the swelling.  “Oooh, it is swollen, isn’t it?  It’s about 2cms bigger than the other leg and it’s not hot or anything but when I go to the GP’s surgery later this morning, I’ll chat to her about it.  It could be a DVT.”

Fucking hell!  A DVT.

In a previous life, I worked in the Civil Service.  An environment that loves to abbreviate words and phrases wherever possible – thus giving those phrases an implied importance way beyond their actual significance.  I guess the health services do the same for speed in time-critical situations.  But a DVT – or Deep Vein Thrombosis to give it its Sunday name – is a pretty frightening prospect and one that belies its otherwise harmless abbreviation.  I felt a bit of a chill when she said it.  Partly because I knew how serious it could be and partly out of guilt at letting this swelling go unchecked.  Truth is, as a carer, I never know when to push the “panic button” or when to let something take its natural course and see what happens.  I panic at the slightest change in MW’s symptoms but I can’t go shouting to the nurses or the GP for the smallest thing, can I?  That’d be ridiculous.  It’s tempting though.  I’m no professional at dealing with this and there’s no training to help a carer cope with what gets chucked at them.

So, back to the swelling.  The nurse rings from the GP’s surgery later that morning and said that the Dr wanted to see MW later that day.  Appointment booked.  We turn up and MW gets examined.  The swelling is a cause for concern and the GP refers MW as an emergency admission to the DVT clinic at the hospital with a letter explaining her findings during the examination.  Half an hour later (as it begins to snow like hell!) we’re at the DVT clinic waiting for a blood test.  More examinations and bloods drawn, and an hour or so wait for the results.  The possibility of a DVT is still there but they won’t know without a scan.  MW is given a clot-busting injection and a scan is booked for the following morning.

Back at hospital for an ultrasound scan.  Not easily accomplished given MW’s lack of mobility but we get there.  They find a small clot in her calf but it’s not in a deep vein area, and there’s nothing above the knee – which would give greater cause for concern.  Dodged a clot-sized bullet.  A DVT can travel up the body and can be dangerous if it reaches the lungs.  Fatally so.  I’m no expert and I ain’t going to Google the damn thing but I’m content with what the Dr said.  Actually, the Dr was very soothing when delivering the news to us.

I’d noticed that MW was very, very nervous about it all.  I comforted her (well, I think I did) by saying that it’d been caught before anything dangerous occurred, she’d not displayed any of the symptoms that would tell us that the clot had moved, etc, etc.  Although I don’t know who I was trying to convince.  Her, looking pretty scared at the whole thing?  And who could blame her?  Or me, who was chewing himself up for not acting sooner.  It’s hard work trying to give practical care and emotional support at the same time, while you’re shitting yourself at the responsibility of it all.  Fuck knows how MW copes with it all in her head.  She’s the one experiencing all these symptoms, and relying on me and others to make sure she’s not at risk.  I know she relies on me and trusts me.  I guess I’m scared of making a mistake and putting her in danger.

Anyhow, MW’s to have daily injections of a clot-busting drug for 6 weeks.  She decided against taking Warfarin orally.  That was a scary prospect too far, I guess.  Plus she didn’t fancy having regular blood tests at hospital.

It’s made me think that I’m treading a fine line between being alert and being on-edge.  There’s no way around it.  I’ve just got to learn which to be and when.

Wait? What? What just happened…..?

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?

Don’t panic!!! (contains strong language)

I remember my first vividly.  It was sometime during the summer of 2005 and I was on the back seat of a friend’s car.  And it gave me a feeling that I will never forget until my dying day.

Now, given the fact that I’m 40, I think you can surmise that I’m not talking about sex ( I wasn’t a 34 year old virgin! ).  I am talking about panic attacks.  My first diagnosed panic attack.  There was nothing special about this day from any other after my wife’s diagnosis with MS at the end of May 2005.  She, I, and everyone in her circle were trying to come to terms with it all so a friend offered to take us out for the afternoon as we’d effectively been housebound after my wife’s hospitalisation.  We got my wife in the passenger seat and belted her in, and I made myself comfortable on the back seat.  If my memory serves me right, 2005 was a pretty hot summer.  For some reason, our friend had some aversion to having the blowers going in her car and didn’t fancy having the window open… anyhow, cut to the chase…. I’m sitting in the back of a Ford Ka and I felt I couldn’t breathe properly.  Fair enough, take a few deep breaths and you’ll be fine.  No.  I felt like I was knackered.  My fingers began to tingle, then my lips.  A few seconds later, I had the worst cramp running up my arms and neck.  My lips were screwed up with cramp.  Shit!!  I’m having a heart attack!!  In panic I shouted for help and got our friend to take me to the nearest place that had medical staff in it.  A GP’s surgery.  Within minutes he’d told me that I was having a panic attack and to try breathing into a paper bag along with some breathing exercises.  “A panic attack?  Is that it?”

“I have a wife with MS and I have a panic attack??  What’s wrong with me?  Have I no sense of priority?  My wife’s just been discharged from hospital with walking sticks, a walking frame and a wheelchair, and I can’t cope?  I have to cope!!!  I’m her husband for fuck’s sake."  My inner dialogue gave me a right bollocking.  Must try harder.  Get on with it.

That’s the problem.  In trying to just "get on with it” in the 6 years since my wife’s diagnosis, panic attacks and depression have taken me to casualty numerous times with what feels like a heart attack.  My poor wife has been dragged to hospital more times than I can remember with me “wigging out” as it was dubbed.  I have had my mother living with us to help me cope with it all.  And what 30-something doesn’t enjoy living with his mother and his wife, right?  One such panic attack ended up with me on an A&E stretcher, hooked up to an ECG machine, and crying like a small child.  My wife, understandably, was pretty fed up with me calling for a taxi to take us to hospital on a frequent basis.  I was lying there in pieces emotionally, thinking she was going to leave me and how my life, our lives, was a total mess.  An on-call mental health doctor (psychologist/psychiatrist – I can’t remember) was summoned to talk to me.  She was the first to use the words “depression”, “stress” and “anxiety” to describe what I was going through.  She also told me that any psychological help in the area we lived in came with a 3 year waiting list.  Helpful.  It’s now 2011 and I’m 4 years into taking anti-depressants on a daily basis.  The trigger for my stress, anxiety and depression is around me all the time, and isn’t going anywhere.  I get by day-to-day because I have to but it’s an epic struggle at times.

I’ve been thinking about my experiences recently after seeing media articles about similar things happening to public figures.  Sussex and England cricketer, Michael Yardy is battling with depression ( and it is a battle ) and his illness seems to have prompted some less than helpful comments *.  Today, Caitlin Moran has used her column in today’s The Times Magazine to talk about her experiences with panic.  Both Michael’s and Caitlin’s triggers would have been different from mine but the effects will have been no less frightening and intense.  I’ve heard many other carers describe their experiences with stress, anxiety and depression – some have had help, others haven’t.  A number of them attempt to “try harder” and “get on with it”.  It’s not that easy.  And I wish some people would stop assuming that it is.

* In the interests of balance, I accept that Mr. Boycott has spoken further on Michael Yardy’s situation.