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.

The blues.

I keep saying that this account is a means for me to occasionally rid my head of all the shite that infests it.  But what if the shite in my head isn’t really coherent?  Or just plain fucking miserable?  Do I self censor?  Keep quiet?  Or just say ‘fuck it’ and let go, come what may?

I’ve spent most of this past weekend either in bits or moping.  It’s hit me that MW is now fecally incontinent.  In reality, I’ve known this for a few months but I figured that instances of it were just anomalies that could be explained and it would all right itself in time.  No.  They weren’t.  It won’t.  There have also been moments where MW has displayed symptoms that I imagine have parallels with Alzheimer’s disease.  An insistence that something exists where it doesn’t.  A memory that seems vivid but has no basis in reality.  Disagreements follow.  Tears.  Reassurances.  More tears.

Imagine a grieving process that is like death by a thousand cuts.  This is how I feel.  Like the life I once had, and the life I thought would be a given, is being taken away very slowly, one cut at a time.  That MW is being taken away one piece at a time.  And it hurts like fuck.  There’s always something new/different to grieve and I don’t know how to deal with it.  I wouldn’t know where to start, or if I have the right to ask anyone to listen to me try.  Would I if my circumstances were reversed with someone else?  I don’t know.  I like to think so but we all would like to think so.  The net result is isolation.  Loneliness.

“Are you alright?”

“Well, it’s like this… [opens hitherto well-barriered floodgates of emotions and experiences.  Watches enquirer’s expression alter irrevocably.]  erm…so, anyway, how are you?”

It’s like a very long blues song. And that’s a lot to shove on to someone.  I don’t know if I can, or should, do it.

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.


It’s been a time of epiphany.  Certainly for MW.  Progressive MS affects MW in a way whereby we know things are deteriorating, which is to say that we deal with the deteriorations on a day-to-day basis, but don’t really notice how things have worsened.  The times we notice the deteriorations are:

  • when we see someone who we’ve not seen for a while (and is honest enough not to resort to the catch-all “ooh, you look well” in the absence of anything else to say), and
  • when MW can no longer do something that she could previously do.

Recently, there have been quite a few times like those at number two.  I’ve written in previous posts that MW’s legs only move through spasm but I’ve not made a point of highlighting this to her.  Due to the fact that I have a fair idea what reaction will follow.  Besides, I’d feel a proper shit for ultimately saying, “hey, your legs don’t work now”.  No matter how delicately you try to phrase it, you’re pointing out something very distressing.

There was no need for me, or anyone, to point this out to MW this month.  She’s taken to trying to move her legs because she now realises that she can’t.  And she gets upset and frustrated.  Which makes her try harder, which makes her more upset and frustrated when she can’t, which makes her try harder…..  And so on, and so on.  As I wrote right at the beginning of this blog, I have no idea how it feels to have MS or any other disability.  I don’t know how it feels to lose the ability to do those things that most take for granted – walking, eating, writing, etc.  I’m not going to try to guess how it feels because I don’t feel it.  I can tell you how I feel to witness someone going through it or how I feel dealing with things as a carer.  And I can write about how MW reacts to the realisation that these things are taken from her.  But I don’t know how MW feels.

When I say she gets “upset and frustrated”, I’m really skimming over a wide range of emotions.  First, there was mild amusement.  Like when you try any challenge for the first time.  This quickly passed into more determination.  I could see the effort and determination she was putting into trying to move her legs.  I saw that any response on their behalf would have satisfied her – a challenge passed.  But the more the cycle continued – re-doubled effort to no avail – the less animated the response was.  The more resigned the tone of speech.  The quieter the report of realisation.

It’s one thing to try and get a handle on your own feelings.  It’s another to try to be a support to someone else when you know that, “it’ll be alright”, are pretty much the most hollow and useless words you’ve got, yet they’re the first that spring to mind.  What the hell do I say?  What do you want to hear when you’re in that situation?  Each epiphany is like a bereavement insofar as they are realisations of something lost.  MW deals with it in the best way she can.  She’s remarkably stoic.  I don’t know if I could deal with it all with the same spirit.

There have been other epiphanies this month.  MW’s Dad is pretty ill.  He has leukaemia and his blood count has dipped very low recently.  He has also been diagnosed with shingles which may or may not have a basis on or connection to his leukaemia.  MW hasn’t seen her Dad for two years and she’s getting more concerned that she won’t see him again.  He’s in his 70s, which isn’t the oldest parent you’ve heard of, but combine his age with his condition and you can understand her fears.  We’re trying to organise a trip to the other end of the country to visit her parents.  This feels like positive action so isn’t quite so sombre.

It was my birthday this month and MW got me a card.  But when it came to writing it, she couldn’t.  Her arm strength and control have now deteriorated to the point where she can’t write legibly.  I’d have thought that this would have upset her more than it did.  She apologised for having to get help with her message in the card and for her inability to sign it legibly.  It didn’t matter to me but she was still very apologetic.  Despite her apology, she didn’t seem quite as upset as she does with her legs.  I guess dealing with one epiphany at a time is enough to be going on with.

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.

Caring – the never-ending shift.

I had a conversation with another carer recently.  This conversation took place on a Friday night but it only really began after we’d wished each other a good weekend.  And we both recognised the truth that, although the weekend was about to begin, there would be no distinction between a weekday and the forthcoming so-called days off.

This is something I’ve only acknowledged to myself over the past few weeks.  When other people are looking forward to a couple of days relaxation away from work, I just feel flat.  Simply because there is no line between Friday evening and Saturday. There is no end of shift or regular day off.  I never really know what to say when people wish me a good weekend.  I’ll reciprocate the sentiment, of course, because I know that weekends are important to people for all kinds of reasons – time off work, time to see family, and so on.  But for me, and the other carer I was talking to, each weekend is very much like every other day – and that includes birthdays, Christmas, etc.  That’s because the symptoms MW has are constant.  She needs to be got out of bed, washed, dressed, have food made for her, have her catheter emptied, be taken to the toilet to defecate – the list goes on.  MS doesn’t take a day off for her.

This realisation was reinforced today by news of a poll carried out by the Carers Trust which says that 60% of carers feel isolated, suffer from depression, are physically exhausted and have financial problems.  The story’s case study featured Norman Phillips, a man who had to give up his career to care for his wife who suffers with MS.  Norman said that he’d pushed himself to the point where he became depressed, injured his back through moving his wife, and ended up in a cardiac unit after collapsing.  He was exhausted – his shift never ended.

The Carers Trust poll seeks to highlight to Government that the UK’s 6m unpaid carers are in need of more support in their never-ending shift.  I wonder if they’ll listen?

Suffering in silence.

I’m sorry there’s been blog “radio-silence” recently.  I’ve not really thought I’ve had anything worthwhile to say about the day-to-day things that are happening here.  Not that nothing has happened, it’s just that I get tired of hearing my inner voice bang on about the same old things and I assume you get tired of reading it.

However, I’m moved to write something about mental health.  This has come to mind after a few people I speak to on Twitter have received a hard time from mindless bullies about their own mental health conditions.  I can’t help but think that Twitter, and life in general, is full of people who would mock others’ difficulties without insight but don’t have the intellectual or emotional capacity to either try and imagine what other people are experiencing or justify their cruel jibes.

But the over-riding catalyst for this post is the tragic death of Gary Speed.  Gary was a man who, on the surface, seemed to have had a generous helping of the good things in life.  He was a successful professional footballer with a long and distinguished career.  After his playing career, he moved into football management and was latterly the manager of the Welsh national side.  He had looks that were made for television, he had a family which, by all accounts, loved him dearly, and his amiability and warmth made him a man to be admired by his contemporaries and those who looked up to him.  Yet he was found on 27th November 2011, having taken his own life at the age of 42.

I felt his death very deeply despite having never met him.  I can’t adequately explain why the death of a stranger has touched me in such a way.  Perhaps it’s because he was a similar age to me.  Perhaps because I’ve watched him throughout his professional career and, like people who appear on our home television screens, I felt as if I knew him or, at least, was acquainted with him.  More likely it’s a combination of these two elements alongside a third.  That being that he’s alleged to have suffered from depression.

Following Gary’s death, media speculators jumped to the conclusion that he was depressed.  Not an unreasonable assumption given the circumstances surrounding his death.  One of the questions asked most frequently in the media is how someone who only hours after appearing on live television seeming to be happy, can be driven to such a point as to not only consider ending his own life but acting on it?  I suspect that even with all of the enquiries that will follow, no-one will get an adequate answer.  The only person that could shed any light on that would be Gary himself.

I’ve written about the fact that I suffer from depression before.  This may be the overwhelming reason why I feel such empathy with Gary Speed – the idea that despite the differences in our lives and lifestyles, he could be me and I could be him.  I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I know how it feels for my mood to shift radically from relatively happy to extremely despondent in a short space of time.  I’ve thrashed this post around in my head for a good couple of months now; as to whether I should tell you one of the darkest secrets I carry.  Because, to me, it’s shameful.  I don’t want to write it in a search for sympathy for myself but if I don’t include it here then I’d be doing myself a disservice, and, in a way, to Gary Speed as well.  Here goes.

I have, in the past, felt so low as to actually consider that ending my life was the best way out of how I was feeling.  I’d even planned a way of doing it that required no equipment.  A river ran near my house and, since I couldn’t swim, I thought it would be easy to walk into the river, keep walking and that would be that.  See?  When you put it into a sentence, it doesn’t seem much, does it?  29 words and a life is gone.  That thought bounced about in my head for months.  It popped up at work, during the night, on the bus, everywhere.  I cried more than I thought was possible when it appeared because I felt I’d not got the courage to go through with it, and not enough courage to carry on living the life I was in.  I was a mess.

That was 10 years ago.  What stopped me was meeting MW, and leaving a house and relationship which was abusive.  Now, I find myself in dark places on a regular basis because of a different trigger.  I’m sure I don’t need to spell out what the triggers are now.  If you’ve read this blog, I hope you have the intellectual and emotional capacity to try to imagine what they are, and what the consequences might be of dwelling on those triggers for hours on end.  The shifts in mood I experience now are still as strong and as sudden as 10 years ago.  And it frightens me because, although I still have some scraps of courage to call upon to keep going, I know that there is a breaking point when a person might think that enough is enough.

Which brings me back to my Twitter friends and Gary Speed.  Following Gary’s death, distasteful comments were rife on social media sites.  My Twitter friends have received the most appalling comments ridiculing their publicly admitted mental health issues.  It’s well documented that mental health issues are treated with scepticism or, worse, with disdain and ridicule.  I could go on at length about the rights and wrongs of this attitude but that’s for another time.  For now, it’s enough for me to say that each of us should think before we blithely make light of such a serious subject.  It might save a life.

I’ll finish by paraphrasing a line from a BBC drama, Garrow’s Law, which seemed rather poignant as it was broadcast around the time of Gary Speed’s death.  It seems rather appropriate.

Gary Speed has gone. When a good man dies, so much dies with him.  Not the goodness, I hope – we have great need of that here.  We, who have held him in such respect and regard, should demonstrate it now.

It’s all in the mind.

Having had a week with barely anything to say here, I now find my burning issue – mental health.  This is mainly due to the news of the untimely death of Amy Winehouse, which has seen her battles with depression and addictions get picked over by the traditional media ( and by all-and-sundry on various social media outlets ) with alarming alacrity.  But there have been other instances where mental health issues, including depression, have been mentioned – like the initiative to promote mental health awareness in rugby league.

It’s as though everyone who’s had a negative opinion about Ms. Winehouse has been waiting for this moment to happen so they can wade in with ill-timed and poorly judged comments about her life.  Ms. Winehouse had her problems with addictions too.  I don’t and haven’t.  I don’t feel I can speak about this intelligently and I’m certainly not going to guess.  But it’s the danger of the stark scrutiny of a sufferer’s life and lifestyle that makes those affected by depression shy away from revealing that they have problems.  And that they need help.  It’s the fear that you’ll be mocked, ridiculed, or worse that stops you from saying something to even the most trusted among your family and friends.  It’s the assumption that no-one will understand what you’re talking about and will trivialize it or ostracise you that keeps you quiet.  I have my own experiences with depression.  I believe this is a common theme with carers.  The pressures and stresses of being a carer can make life impossible to bear.  Even now, until this post exposes me, I’ve tended to keep quiet about my “dirty little secret”.  I find it embarrassing to discuss – shameful even – because I don’t know what kind of  reception I’ll receive when I open up.

I wrote about the forms PHQ9 and GAD7 in my post “Wait! What? What Just Happened…..?” .  I fill one of these forms in every couple of weeks or so.  Depression has blighted my life at various points in my life.  I’ve had feelings of very low self-worth from being a kid, but had no idea what it was or where they came from.  I was classed by my ( then ) GP as being “highly strung” ( whatever that means ).  About 10 years ago, I was in an abusive relationship and was desperate for a way out.  But I didn’t want to fight violence with violence which made my frustration with life (and depression) worse.  And now, as a carer, I am struck with depression again.  I know the feeling of being so utterly despondent that the idea of committing suicide becomes appealing.  That my life is completely empty with no hope of ever having anything to look forward to.  That I’m a total failure at everything and therefore not deserving of the good things that other people seem to take for granted in their lives.  That it would be better for everyone if I was no longer here.  These are not the transient thoughts and feelings of someone who’s a bit sad.  They’re the result of sleepless nights.  Thinking about your life and its problems over and over again and reaching some very dark conclusions.  I’ve felt like crying in the most inappropriate places, at the most inappropriate times.  

It wasn’t until directly after my first panic attack – that I wrote about a while ago – that I started getting help.  Thanks to two GPs, my previous one and my current one, I’ve been able to open up about it all.  I’ve now been taking anti-depressants for 4 years.  I’ve had some counselling sessions and I’m waiting for an appointment for more.  But the catalyst for me to realise the severity of what I was feeling was being able to talk to someone openly.  Someone who wasn’t going to tell me to “pull myself together”.  Someone who wasn’t going to pick my life apart and make sweeping judgements about me.  I hope, now you’ve read this, that you don’t think of me any differently now you know my “dirty little secret”.  Because, to be able to reach out for help with a peace of mind, sufferers need other people to have an OPEN mind.  Depression can affect ANYONE.  Without this understanding, I fear there will be more untimely deaths.  And that would indeed be a tragedy.