Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Time to talk

I haven't written a blog thingy for ages. After saying (again) I am going to try and blog more, I have done less and less and less. I've also done less talking to friends, picking up the phone seems so arduous. This isn't going to be about jackets or burgers, or running or travel, it's going to be about my dad.

Today was an unremarkable day in the main. I ran an induction session, and bumbled nervously through it, talking too quickly and finishing too early, leaving an awkward gap between me and the next speaker. I sent usual amount of emails (too  many), and I got my eyebrows done at lunchtime. I bumped into someone I used to work with on the walk to the office, and finishing my run early because I bumped into someone I went to school with and haven't seen for 12 years, then caught a delayed train home. It's been a fairly humdrum day. Until my mum called to tell me that my dad had tried to take his own life this morning.

This last year has, in the main, been incredible. My Dave finished uni, we got married, we went to California, I got payrises and bonuses and finally a permanent role at my company, I turned 30, we went to Poland. I ran a half marathon and raised lots of money for charity, and we're looking at buying a house. On the flipside, we both lost our maternal grandmothers within months of each other, and my dad has been horribly ill, physically and mentally. 

Last May my Dad told me on the phone he'd been having some aches and pains that he thought had something to do with when he fell of his bike 2 years (twice, once fracturing his pelvis, the other damaging his spine). By our June wedding, he was in constant pain, and on the day, although present he was a shadow of his former self.

My dad had travelled with my mum to Portugal, the first holiday for which they'd flown in my 30 years at least. My dad has Menieres disease, an inner ear condition and had been advised against air travel years before. However, they got invited to the Algarve and he visited the doctor who advised him that things had changed, he'd be ok flying a short distance. They went, and he said that while he didn't enjoy it, he didn't suffer because of it.

My dad did however get bitten by a tick while he was there and spent months convinced he had Lyme Disease as he started to experience nerve pain. By September, he was admitted to hospital and after detecting an irregular heartbeart, they fitted him with a pacemaker. I found this hard to take in at the time. My dad has been an obsessively fit cyclist since his late teens. He won the fire brigade cycling world championship in 1983. My dad's always been ferociously fit.

He had some tests and nothing was found. He was admitted to hospital again and spent most of December there. He had seen a consultant from Kings who had recommended IVIG treatment which might work with his condition, though it would take up to 5 weeks to have an effect. He finished his treatment on 23rd December, and we took him home on Christmas Eve to recuperate there.

Since his treatment had finished they said, all he was doing was taking painkillers, there was no need for him to be in hospital when he could do that in the comfort of his own hime, although I wondered how on earth anyone had signed him off as fit to leave as he was clearly in a distressed mental state by this point, months and months into worsening illness.

Over Christmas, he had a full-blown nervous breakdown, pacing the house, talking about how he was going to explode (from the pain) and take us all with him. How he'd fucked it all up. My dad was admitted to a mental health unit on 2nd January.

My dad caught pneumonia whilst he was there and was transferred to A&E. That's when I got the real heebie-jeebies and fled home from work, and went to visit him in the Kent hospital. My dad had a week at Kings scheduled for tests at the end of January so he was transferred straight there, but the tests were delayed because he developed a bowel problem, then a chest infection. He ended up there for 6 weeks. Tests were run. Nothing was found. Nothing at all.

This is perhaps good news in some ways. Ok, he's not terminal, he's not a dying man. However, he's been in irrefutable pain that nobody can explain and he thinks he's dying. Anyway, they said he'd be given steroids and physio and sent home, whcich he was, just a week or so later, on 2nd April, 3 months after his admittance in the first place.

I went home at the weekend and saw my parents for lunch on Sunday. My dad has lost 3 stone and dropped to 10.5 stone, and standing at 6'3" this is shockingly skinny, his jeans hang off him. We had some lunch in a Beefeater. He is defeated and hopeless-looking. He struggled still to hold a conversation, and had a permanent grimace, as if there was a bad smell in the air. He said the pain was much better but he's still struggling, but couldn't articulate any more. My mum, who has reached the end of her tether with it rolled her eyes at me in despair. I told them I'd see them again for lunch in two weeks time.

The mental health visitor had been the previous week and recommended some coping strategies, and that my parents gradually ring around their friends and fill them in on what's happened, let them know dad is home, and let them assist them with getting back to their normal routine. He was coming again tomorrow, to visit him at home.

This evening my mum called me to tell me that after two weeks of having him home, she'd gone back to work today, and that she received a call from the hospital at about 1pm, saying that my dad was with them following an attempt to take his own life. He'd attempted to slit his wrists, and then taken a load of sleeping pills. My dad said then thought he'd messed up the wrist-slitting and called an ambulance. We don't know if this was a pang of regret at what he'd done, a cry for help, or just that he wanted to die in hospital rather than have mum find him at home.

I'm at a loss as to what to say about this turn of events. I just wanted to get it all written down. My mum, in her more old-fashioned ways is angry with him, he 'promised' he wouldn't do this and he's let her down in that respect. There's a lack of understanding of mental illness here, a sheer lack of comprehension of just how very unreasonable and irrational it all is. My dad apparently had a spate of depression when we were young children, and from what I can gather, it was nothing that being told to "pull himself together" wouldn't fix. But now I wonder if it ever truly went away.

We need more understanding and less stigmatisation of this things. I am not the first to say it and I will not be the last either. As someone who has never experienced such deep depression (excepting a 6 month stint of exam-based anxiety in my final year of university), it is difficult not to feel those feelings of anger at him, i,e. "how could he think of leaving us?" and "don't we mean anything to him?". I know we, his family mean the world to him, but this isn't about us, it's about these nasty monsters in his head, and us being angry with him is going to achieve nothing. We have to try and understand and have patience with his recovery from this awful, awful affliction.

My dad has missed Christmas, New Year, my mum's birthday, my 30th, my sister's birthday and Valentine's day, and hasn't been able to support my mum through the loss of her mother, because he's been trapped in this tormented world following this period of ill physical health.

We just want him back. 2-3 stone heavier, able to get on his bike again even if not at racing standard. We even want his cynical Daily-Mail-Reader comments. We want his charming wry smile and cheesy jokes, and we want his sheer unadulterated glee upon seeing a funny Youtube video involving very stupid dogs.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Running 2015. Building 2015. Owning 2015.

I haven't written anything on here for a really long time. Life has been busy, very very busy. Work has been crazy, we moved, we lost both our Grandmothers, my dad has been very, very unwell, and when I've not been busy, I've been playing BLOODY Candy Crush.

So...there's that. However, I've decided to abandon the Good Ship King at level 758, I've uninstalled it from my phone and tablet, and blocked it from my Facebook. Instead of playing, I am going to Get Shit Done this year. It's working already. The pile of stuff stacked in the window of our bedroom has been depleted since I've been sorting through it and decluttering the last couple of days.

I've also caught up with a couple of distant friends on the phone, and today I am going to an exhibition (Horst, V&A) and for burgers with my close friends. At the beginning of each year, I am usually resolving to do more, see more, enjoy London, but by the end of the year I am in full-on hibernation mode and it takes all my might just to go to the local shops. Time to amp it up again - Laurel and I are making a list of all the things we want to do in London (and out) this year, and making it happen (starting today). This will be the year we actually make it to Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, instead of just talking about it.

In 2015, I also turn 30. I am celebrating this by going to Poland. I'm calling it a pilgrimage since my beautiful Polish Nan passed away in July, while we were on honeymoon. We are going to Poznan and Warsaw, I've already identified some Airbnbs for us to stay in, we just need to get it booked in. I am looking forward to seeing the land that spawned my terrific Grandparents. See also: Pierogi.

I've also been running again. I have briefly dabbled in running before, to little effect, I half ran a 10k in 2011 but that was a half-arsed effort. This December, I completed a 10k, and I ran the whole way. It wasn't fast running, but it was most definitely running. I have also pledged to run 1000 miles in 2015 (#1000miles2015), and, in a moment of madness, I signed up to the Hampton Court Half Marathon in March so am currently training for that.

On a selfish note, this helps me firm up and get fit, in time for my March birthday so I can feel good as I come-of-age. On a less selfish (I hope) note, I am also doing the half marathon as part of my fundraising effort for ActionAid, because in May, I AM GOING TO MOZAMBIQUE!

I am going as part of a team of 20 colleagues from my company, and we are aiming to raise in excess of £30,000 collectively to build a library in Ngongonhane, an area where there is no library, and because of the expensive travel to reach one, many children end up dropping out of school. Can you imagine being a situation where you have to leave compulsory education because you don't have access to books?! Being a privileged Westerner, I can't, which is why I am taking part in this project. We are going to be donning steel-capped boots, digging foundations, bricklaying and doing metalwork over 5 days in the area. We, with some help from our company have paid for our own flights and accomodation, so every penny donated to ActionAid will go to this project, not to fund us having a "jolly". You can sponsor me here. Or if you like, you can sponsor me here. Or here. I think you get what I am trying to say.

After all this action, we also want to get round to settling down. We already decided to put off trying to start a family for a little longer, so that I can achieve the above, and so we can sort out our living situation. Currently we are living in my Grandparents' house, while probate happens and its future can be decided. If its future, once decided is that it's not worth very much, perhaps we can buy it. It's massively outdated, but certainly livable in for now and has huge potential. My grandparents bought it in 1963 and my mum grew up here, so the thought of being able to buy it and have our own family here is very exciting indeed.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Honeymooning: Coastal California

Following our stay in San Francisco, we picked up our Mustang and headed down the coast towards LA, via Monterey and Carmel.

  • Our first Airbnb with Mei in Marina, near Monterey. Mei had 2 double rooms with another couple staying in the other. We borrowed her Monterey Bay Aquarium passes at a discounted rate. Mei was friendly and helpful, and the Aquarium was awesome, an absolute must-see on your way down the coast
  • The Seventeen Mile Drive. Awe-dropping views. It took us hours because we kept having to stop to take more and more photos. 
  • Carmel is a gorgeous, artsy little town, Clint Eastwood was once the mayor. An expensive place to stay, but we threw caution to the wind and stayed at the Carmel Mission Inn in an awesome suite, and dined at r.g's Burgers (try the peanut butter and jelly milkshake).
  • Big Sur. Stunning. Just stunning. 
  • Pismo Beach Sea Lions lolling in the sun.
  • Solvang, a Danish village in California. Obviously.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Honeymooning: San Francisco

We got back from our California honeymoon nearly 3 weeks ago, which is about the same amount of time we were there for. It was awesome, but it feels like the memories are fading quicker than they should already, so I'm writing about it whilst I can still recall it.

Our first stop was San Francisco where we stayed for 3 nights at the Argonaut Hotel at Fisherman's Wharf. It cost more than we would normally pay for a hotel but its nautical theme and prime location seemed to justify its cost, and it was our honeymoon, so if you can't go nuts on honeymoon when can you? There's a daily complimentary wine reception at the hotel but it' was at an awkward time of day and we were always out and about so we never made it but my cousin and his girlfriend stayed there a few years ago and loved it.

I loved San Francisco. I'm not going to give a blow-by-blow account, but some highlights for me included:
  • The architecture. The Spanish influenced tiled stair cases and candy-coloured houses are just too cool.
  • Alcatraz. So eery. It's a must-see, and you have to buy tickets in advance. The low cloud over San Francisco, along with its invasion by seagulls only add to the spookiness of the legendary prison. While we were there, we met a former inmate, Bill Baker who had written a book about his stay and signed a copy for us, and I am so looking forward to getting stuck into that.
  • The incredible food. Clam chowder in a huge sourdough breadbowl at Fisherman's Wharf, the biggest burrito in the world* at Taqueria Cancun, Mission, the amazing pastrami sandwich at Tommy's Joynt, and Japantown and Chinatown's Asian fare, happy happy me.
  • Walt Disney Family Museum. It's no Disneyland, but a classy homage to the legend of Walt Disney, telling the story of where he came from and who he came to be with classy relics, original drawings and awe-dropping early animations.
  • The Golden Gate Bridge. If you're going by car (which is essential for traversing California) you need to do it, just don't forget to prepay the toll! We took the bridge on the way back in to San Francisco on the last day of our trip.
  • The shopping is pretty sweet too. We spent more time than we'd have wanted to shopping for clothing when our bags  failed to arrive with us (husband's turned up 36 hours later, mine only arrived with me 3 days ago, back home, another story altogether) so Old Navy was one of our first stops, but we also found Japantown's Daiso and Kinokuniya where I could happily have spent all day.
*I made this up, but it was big

In total we had about 3 and a half days in San Francisco. I could have happily stayed for much longer. It's an enormous city, and we only scratched the surface. happily go back and spend a week there, maybe more.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

I Married Him.

I've been away or quite some time.Turns out getting married is quite time-consuming. I wanted to share here a few snaps from the day, courtesy of Tracy Morter

It was the most perfect, but quickest day of our lives. I want to do it all again in slow motion. And being married is alright too.

We took a 3 week honeymoon in California. Every second of that was perfect too. Again it went to quickly, and here we are, light tans fading, settling back into London life. With a house move ahead we have another busy month coming up, but once we've settled in, I plan to blog much much more.