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.