Relentlessly Relentless….

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Who cares for the carers?

There are many days where I feel like waving the white flag of surrender. I give up. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Substitute your own personal favourite motto for when the¬†ūüí©ūüí©¬†just keeps on coming and you really don’t want to face it anymore.

As a rule, I am not a woe is me kind of a gal but there are limits and even for the Queen of “the glass is half empty, therefore there’s always more room for wine” claimant, sometimes I just don’t want to play anymore.

So why today? It’s been a busy week – nothing new there. Multiple appointments – again lather, rinse, repeat. Certain “dark forces” (bear with me, having to be slightly obtuse so it’s not too outing; a story for another day!) have done their level best to floor us as family and put up barriers; as my Dad would say: “same sh*t different day.” ¬†Nothing especially jumps out as being out of our ‘norm.’

Actually, the straw that broke the camels back today is really rather ridiculous – ¬†especially since I’m a grown (loosely termed since I barely scrape 5ft 3″) woman.

I don’t know about you but for me, it’s often the little things that tip me over the edge and today was no exception: there were NO apricot danishes left in a certain food establishment that prides itself on offering not just any old danish…. and boy did I have my heart set on that danish.*

You could in fact say I had built that particular danish up to be the highlight of my week (I know I know, I need to get out more!) and I was relishing scarfing it down with my mid-morning latte whilst staring daggers at my ever-increasing piles of paperwork that needs to be set light to dealt with and some of it rather urgently (anyone thinking I might be procrastinating by writing a blog post instead of dealing with said paperwork, that’s an affirmative!) particularly if I intend to throw my own kind of shade back at the dark forces. They might be putting up barriers but I’m packing TNT, a demolition ball and an AK47 to pulverize them. Ok perhaps I should STEP AWAY from the caffeine….my over active imagination, key-board-warrior-esque approach and twitchy eye suggest that caffeine, my drug of choice, has been consumed in too vast a quantity.

Whether it was the *slightly* murderous deranged look in my eyes or the muttering ¬†sotto voce of curses questioning the parentage of all food halls connected with this particular establishment that caught the attention of the lovely man on the bakery counter, I can’t be sure but clearly sensing something was amiss from the plethora of delicacies in front of me, he tentatively asked if everything was all right.

Resisting the urge to scream out in the style of Ross from Friends a la “My Sandwich” sketch (you young things aren’t likely to be familiar with that gem so let me share it here¬†https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6tqmXTYa3Xw) and without resorting to tears either (the struggle was real people!) I managed to convey my deep disappointment that there were no danishes of the apricot variety to be seen.

And then, as if by divine intervention (ok, I’m waxing faaaaaaarr too literally, all that caffeine has really done for me today!) the dear, dear bakery man, (alas I did not find out your name in the ensuing rush of emotions that came over me!) uttered those most blessed of words: “not to worry, I’m just about to put some out!” ¬†Yes! Fist bump, air horns and angels singing the hallelujah chorus; the gods and goddesses and the high priestess of bakeries had smiled righteously upon me.

I must confess it felt like there was something in my eye. I’m thinking that as my salivary glands went into over-drive, some sort of neurological spill over occurred to cause watering?

But the thing is, I’m a firm believer in taking your pleasures where you find them (erm just to caveat, legal ones, I’m definitely not advocating lawlessness or reckless criminality!) because being a parent is at times bloody hard work.

Being a parent carer is even bloody harder, thankless work and as far as I can find, there’s no resignation clause and as for the pay? Well if you are “lucky” enough to qualify (there are certain criteria and the person you are caring for has to have significant needs taking up significant amounts of time) for carer’s allowance, do the maths – ¬†you don’t even get minimum wage for the hours you put in. Oh and no matter how many people you provide care for, you only get a single carer’s allowance.

When you multiply caring for 3 children and an 18-year-old who all have varying medical/social-emotional needs and complexities, there really aren’t enough hours in the day. I go to bed every night with a to-do-list that grows ever longer. For every 2 things I manage to tick off during the course of the day, I seem to have added at least another 5.

It plays on my mind that I have dropped the ball somewhere; have I requested everyone’s medications from the GP and arranged for them to be sent to the pharmacy? Do we have enough feed/containers/giving sets/dressings/lotions and potions in hand to get to the end of the month? Have I transposed all of the appointments that crop up into my phone calendar so I can plan everything round them in the weeks ahead? And woe betide if any of those appointments were only given to me over the phone and I don’t have an actual letter to cross reference and double-check with – ¬†will I get the right child to the right hospital/clinic/specialist on the right day and time?!

I’m not ashamed to say I take a concoction of various medications every day to help me manage one way or another; be that for my severe depression, anxiety and inability to sleep or for the acid reflux that plagues me and the dodgy back/neck/shoulders and most ¬† recently, excruciatingly painful sciatica (so many carers suffer with joint/muscle pain and problems as result of the physical demands of caring for a loved one with mobility difficulties) I’m acutely aware that these are a crutch for want of a better word. In an ideal world, it would be far better to tackle the sources of the problems permanently. Even better in some far off utopia, it would be to put provisions in place to be proactive instead of reactive. To prevent the aches and pains and feelings of isolation, despair and all the affiliated emotions and physicality’s that go along with being a carer.

I learned to my cost (and that of my families, not to mention the NHS etc) that if we carers don’t put protective measures in to fortify ourselves it all comes crashing down.

I am not unique. As a member of support groups such as SWAN UK Р http://www.undiagnosed.org.uk I read far too many comments from parent-carers who face battles similar or even harder than my own.

On other forums I’m a part of in relation to education, health and social care there is a generalised resignation to the fact that accessing support, working WITH organisations or professionals instead of the THEM and US facade is a constantly uphill battle; at best a ‘sorry there’s no money in the system’ approach to outright horrific accounts of utterly despicable, underhand tactics designed to deprive the most vulnerable members of society from the most basic, fundamental human rights and discrediting, even slandering or making false allegations against those who have to pick up the mantle and strive on their loved ones behalf. Probably best I don’t get started. I can feel the vitriol rising and that won’t help the acid reflux!!

Next week from 11th June to 18th June inclusive is Carers Week in the UK.  You can learn more here:  https://www.carersweek.org  It is estimated that in the UK there are 6.5 million carers and that figure is only certain to rise as we face an ageing population who are living longer, an NHS that is under resourced, over stretched and a welfare system that has been not so much stripped back as hacked to death and lord only knows what, if anything will be around in future times to help and support those most in need.

But for now anyway, I have taken care of myself by refuelling with a double shot, fully caffeinated (you don’t say?!) latte and a belly full of apricot danishso I’m bouncing off the walls all fired up to tackle the paperwork and smite those dark forces with a mother’s wrath.

*If anyone suddenly feels the need to shower me in delicious pastries of the apricot kind, you know, I’ll happily take one for the team¬†ūüėȬ†Or tell me your own personal sanity savers and maybe I’ll see what else I can try!

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A picture paints a 1000 words?

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When you look a this picture, what do you see?

A smiling girl (admittedly that’s probably stretching the use of the word ‘girl’) and her dog?¬†A woman who looks tired, definitely in need of a bit of slap (literally and figuratively?!) and probably some air brushing?

This picture is so bittersweet in so many ways that¬†I *almost* can’t bear to even share it. ¬†My beautiful dog Buddy is in it and he’s no longer with us, departed over the rainbow bridge to be with other furry friends. It makes my heart ache all over again but he still brings warm thoughts and a semi smile to my face nonetheless. The power of canine love.

But what this picture represents is so much more than the image at face value.

Just over one year ago this picture was taken in the reception area of a psychiatric hospital. I was suicidal and had been admitted two days previously having reached crisis point and having made the decision to end my life.

Even trying to write that phrase feels unreal and melodramatic. ¬†Like a bad soap opera or overly prosaic novel. ¬† This stuff doesn’t happen in the ‘real’ world. Except it does.

I don’t know if it was a surprise when I eventually confided in some of my closest friends about what I had done and what at times, it feels like I still intend to do. In some ways reaching that point was a huge shock, even for me.

If there is such a thing as a poster girl for depression, I’m not certain mine would have been the picture used (hopefully not this one anyway…it’s not my best side!) I was and still am (usually) a glass half full type person – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – a glass half full means there’s still plenty of room for more wine!

See, I crack jokes, talk a lot, especially when nervous, I smile, put make up on, clean clothes, prepare meals, answer phone calls etc etc so how can I be depressed? And therein I think lies the crux of it: what does a depressed person look like? What image does someone who has reached the end of their coping skills project?

I wouldn’t dream of speaking for others who have gone through and continue to battle their own demons. But in my experience, depression is such an insidious thing. So even if you seem to be the life and soul of the party, the one that is strong and capable, dependable and reliable, it doesn’t mean you can’t experience the gnawing, dragging, emptiness. The feeling that it’s all too much, no way out, nowhere else to run to.

Too much effort, too much expectation, everything from getting up, dressed, one foot in front of the other a herculean effort.¬†But it doesn’t mean you don’t keep DOING all those things. Sometimes the doing of all those very things is one of the ways you keep some kind of a handle on it, albeit a wonky one.

So it doesn’t in any way seem surprising to me when I read accounts of how someone has gone about their day-to-day life, seemingly taking it on the chin, even appearing to have a great time attending events, get togethers, nights out….and then they end it all.

The shock and grief to their nearest and dearest must be bitter, unpalatable and shrouded in disbelief. ¬†There must be soul-searching. What did they miss? What clues didn’t they pick up on? How could they let their friend/partner/family member down so unreservedly? Why couldn’t they be stopped from choosing this final absolution?

And anger, only natural too. Rage at their selfishness; that they left everyone in this mess, they stopped trying. Took the ‘easy’ way out.

All these things run through my mind regularly, over and over, like a fuzzy old-fashioned film negative.

I feel burdened by the weight of other people’s expectations of me and the damage that would ricochet through our family unit if I achieve my objective. I once had a crisis mental health worker give me the statistics of how many young people go on to take their own lives in the event that a parent ‘chooses’ to commit suicide. Harsh and horrifying and heaping on the guilt. Crafty, effective move that was.

Perhaps because so often my every day life involves meetings with professionals in relation to the needs of our 4 children, it is so important (to me) that my armour is in place. Keeping up appearances, stopping them from defining me as *that* mother, that weak, special snow flake.

The vast majority of professionals we deal with have been nothing but supportive and helpful, even sympathetic but there are always a few, (ironically the ones who in my view have most failed our wider family), who would like to define our ASD child’s difficulties by my ‘shortcomings.’

The fact of course that respite care was proffered but never organised, dangled like a mesmerising carrot for so long, just out of reach; the fact that our child required appropriate specialist schooling and wrap around care, the inevitable self harm, suicidal idealisations, violence against myself and our other children, the regular police involvement, ambulance call outs, CAMHS care and so forth, all accumulated into some persistent, momentous ball of hell unravelling at lightning speed had nothing to do with my break down at all. I’m *just* that sad and pathetic and attention seeking……

Mental health is still, despite the (much-needed) increase in awareness and highlighting by people like the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince Harry and high-profile celebrities, radio presenters and such like, a taboo, a dirty little secret.

Admitting that you have mental health difficulties, at least to me, feels a bit like shouting out the word VAGINA (or other awkward word of your choosing that doesn’t tend to come up in day-to-day conversation!) on a megaphone, naked on stage to a silently packed out Wembley arena, being globally transmitted by multiple satellites……

I can only speak for myself but having chatted to other friends going through similar concerns, I know they too feel a sense of shame, being perceived as somehow weak and feeble, lessened.

One of the most crucifying ¬†experiences I had in the latter months of last year related to the ill-health of our youngest son. Due to severe gastrointestinal difficulties culminating in losing 5 Kilos in a 4 month period, an extended hospital stay and the insertion of a naso-gastric feeding tube,¬†the lead paediatrician (also our regular consultant for both G-Man and Minx) called a multi-disciplinary meeting to discuss both children’s health concerns (they share many similar aspects) and a plan going forward.

Present at the meeting (in addition to the consultant) were an Occupational Therapist, Physiotherapist, Dietician, Speech and Language Therapist, Community Nurse, Student nurse, Ward Sister, Disability Children’s Team Social Worker, Paediatrician, myself and Mr DNTW’s and a few others I can’t recall. I think the only person who wasn’t there was Uncle Tom Cobley*

The consultant outlined the various medical difficulties, asked professionals for observations and then having brief knowledge of our background family situation asked for us parents to outline relevant events over the year.

It’s trite but during that account, it did feel like time stopped. There seemed to be a palpable and ¬†collective withholding of breath as I relayed the events of significance. I did my best to remain factual, honest, hiding nothing but not (at least I don’t think) boring them to slumber and derailing the topic with a pity party for one.

I couldn’t make eye contact. I didn’t dare look up. My attempt to be detached failed. I cried; big, fat, salty tears of shame. And of course that always brings on the snot. So as I crumpled tissues and wiped and snorted my way through this hideousness, it brought with it crippling anxiety; the awareness that I had laid myself especially vulnerable to the people I need to work with for my children’s sake on a regular basis and I was in their eyes, at least to my thinking, diminished, fallible.

I must take pains to clarify that not for one moment do I think the consultant was doing this to be unkind or humiliate me. His request came from a genuine place: to what impact psychologically were (are) G-Man’s difficulties related to what is going on in his life and how as a collective could we address this for the best patient care.

It’s an ongoing situation. G doesn’t have an eating disorder; his medical ‘foibles’ are complex and require further investigation (even as I type a referral to Minx’s gastro team at GOSH is on its way), interwoven with understandable anxiety around food , the pain it causes and the bigger picture. He’s also under CAMHS.

That there has been a fall out from my ‘situation’ on all the children, there can be no doubt. Even now, if I am unwell physically or seem low the children are hypersensitive to me, like little meerkats on guard. ¬†It will take time for that to subside and what I am beginning to realise, it may never go away entirely.

I’m still recovering if that’s the right word to use. I feel frustrated with myself and angry. There are too many should’s/would’s/could’s (which my mental health team would rap me over the wrists for) – unhelpful words those – and I suppose like the layers of an onion, or perhaps the facets of a diamond, (definitely preferable to root vegetables in my eyes!) are to be evolved and discovered in time.

Therefore, just as the 4 c’s in diamond terms are all important – cut, colour, clarity, carat weight – ¬†we know there is no such thing as a flawless diamond; technically speaking even those given a flawless classification have the tiniest of blemishes or imperfections – (bet you will sleep better knowing that hey ūüėČ) ¬†Having a love of all things sparkly and glittery, I’ll happily compare myself to a flawed diamond (less of the rough diamond please).

Perfectly imperfect. Needing a bit of a spit and polish.

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  • Uncle Tom Cobley origin:
    “Uncle Tom Cobley and all” is a well used British expression to define (in slight derision) a lot of people. It’s akin to the expression “the world and its wife” and¬†¬†comes from from a Devon folk ballad (Widdicombe Fair in case you are really interested!) ¬†Uncle Tom Cobley (and all) is named as the last of a long (long!) list of men with a chorus ending Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer, Peter Gurney, Peter Davy, Dan‚Äôl Whiddon, Harry Hawke, Old Uncle Tom Cobley and all.

Comfortably numb…

Life, at the risk of sounding self indulgent and more than a little self pitying can best be described in the title above. At least for the time being and that’s ok with me. Comfortably numb sits comfortably. 

I have loved this amazing song for many years but, you will forgive me if I defer to the Scissor Sisters version and the soothing warbles of Jake Shears than the sanctimonious, anti-Zionist (read anti-Semitic no matter what he may say) Roger Waters opus. 

It’s a song I have sang along and danced to in the past. Briefly thinking on the lyrics only in so far as much as trying to remember them for appalling, impromptu karaoke. 

But of late, they are strangely soothing and a fitting discourse of this time in our lives.  

Urban Dictionary’s top definition: http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Comfortably%20Numb

Doesn’t that describe the perfect “safe” place? Removed from the sharp stabs of real life, set apart from the disappointments, the difficulties, the knocks and the scrapes. And if that is so, then comparibly the edges dulled off the fun, frivolity, light and laughter?

Does this make me melancholy? I do not think so. Does it make me less able to participate, share, enjoy? Perhaps. Nonetheless I will gladly settle for this numbness. There is little that can surprise me or scare me in this half life. It allows me to maintain a sense of glass half full. 

I realised on our journey to hospital this morning that my benchmark for stress, nerves and worry is very different to what it once was. 

Not to take away from any parent/carer watching their loved ones suffer or go through scary, frightening procedures but this is our norm. Different child, different hospital but largely the same. 

Did I appear to the nursing staff cold, unfeeling? The soft “are you alright Mum?” after the anaesthetic had been administered and my not so little boy’s head gently laid back upon the bed, a kiss on his still baby-soft skin , barely registered. I was dry-eyed and calm. I have walked this walk, talked this talk more times than I can recall. Is that admission in itself shameful? Should I know, unbidden, which child, what number anaesthetic? Why? 

I find myself waiting, pausing for a beat, attuned for updates. News of medical tests, results, tribunals, social care, and so forth; the envelopes received with post-marks from various hospitals, the no caller ID flashing up on my mobile, the ping of an email: I am both strangely alert – a cat on hot bricks and yet not really surprised by the lack of information.  I’m a bit bored of it all. Blanketed by ennui. 

So for now I will embrace the numbness, float along. The bumps are smoothed out. Temperate but equally obdurate. 

Shiny happy people….

I’ve noticed a theme in many of my blog posts – the titles often spring to mind based around music. 

Although I’m not quite sharing the lyrical prose, more precisely the sentiment behind Shakespear’s line: “if music be the food of love, play on!” I think it’s apt that music evokes so many thoughts, memories, emotions (good & bad) nostalgia for the past, excitement for the future (nothing better than THE song of the summer fueling the count down to an epic, sun-drenched, sun tan lotion coconut wafting, possibly cocktail inspiring yearning). 

For those of you who are mere whipper snappers, Shiny Happy People was brought to us by R.E.M. (Have a google, promise it’s worth it) Apparently released in 1991 (now I feel REALLY old) the video even now brings back memories & the halcyon days of having learned to drive, gaining the first tastes of freedom as my parents allowed me to stay out at parties providing they knew where it was, if there was a responsible adult there etc) & the realision that I was on the cusp of adulthood, (although A-levels were less fun)  In my present frame of mind how over-rated THAT adult bit turned out to be…. but it would be wrong to be all doom & gloom & as a rule of thumb, I think those who know me fairly well would have, up until this recent blip (understatement extraordinaire) have considered me generally an optimistic, enthusiastic, life embracing & vibrant (not necessarily alcohol induced on the last part – stop rolling your eyes at me! ūüôĄ) person.

Since I entered the hospital (spa) i’ve many time been asked about the Lisa of old by staff and inmates. What was I like before I crumbled? What did I do with time & to describe my qualities good and bad.

I think the person I used to be tried her best, be that whipping up cakes, volunteering for various jobs/school activities/charity work, getting Minx’s request for 10 different shades of nail polish on each set of hands/feet PERFECT, trying to interject exactly the right amount of enthusiasm & salient nodding to G-man’s newly created mind craft world number attempt 24598645 and basically, feeding/clothing & generally keeping on top of things as  best I could on the home/medications/therapies & ENDLESS meetings and appointments front. Any day we made it through with minimal maiming/moaning and a modicum of decorum, applied equally to kids, spouse or the fur babies was a day to be if not exactly celebrated, vaunted as a win won.

Most of all, I’d like to think I was a friend to many. One that could be confided in, counted upon; secret keeper, confidant, being around through the highs & the lows – proffering the cake & prosecco as needed.

I hope I have been a decent enough mother/wife/daughter/sister/auntie etc & been there for those in need be that family or friend.

I recall the old Lisa being terribly nervous but honoured to stand up & speak to a roomful of strangers at the Rare disease conference https://definitelynotthewaltons.com/2016/01/15/put-on-your-red-shoes/ and   https://definitelynotthewaltons.com/2016/01/20/d-day-red-shoes-part-2/to a room full of geneticists, high powered medical bods & patients & families about my family experience of raising an undiagnosed child.  

I attended workshops, coffee mornings, presentations & felt confidant enough in a subject that I was passionate about to make my voice be heard and counted. 

But that Lisa isn’t me, at least not now & doesn’t feel like it ever will be again. (Don’t you just love a pessimist?! ūüė≥) 

Group workshops and therapy have tried to convince me she’s still somewhere there, buried under some rubble, a bit dusty, rumpled & crumpled but nothing that a quick febreeze and a dollop of self belief won’t sort out; however at this very moment, the disconnected, discombobulated partial person I am seems far removed from the one of old.

So that leads me on to my next party piece favourite, with a slight play on words; “if you’re happy and you know it…. take your meds.” Meds are my friend right now. I *may* have alluded to this once or twice (ahem) in the last 2 blog posts and I am quite certain there will be many readers out there shuddering at my cavalier attitude to essentially keeping the pharmaceutical industry in filthy lucre. But a valuable lesson I have learned in these darker days is that whatever gets you through is whatever you must do.  

The Doctors and nursing staff keep a careful and watchful eye on what you take as stated by the consultant and what is written up for PRN (as needed) and if you start getting a bit trigger happy on the prn front, they are not going to dish them out like smarties and are very keen that you try distraction therapies, chatting things over with your designated care-coordinator or even something as simple as a hot drink, walk in the gardens before willingly handing over the gooood drugs.

It is fair to say they leave you a little floaty, present but not quite there, comprehending of your surroundings & those of your fellow inmates but all the edges are softened, flattened & much less likely to leave me blubbering pathetically and hoping I’ve rammed enough tissues in my pockets before having to resort to wiping my nose surreptitiously on my sleeve (eewww). 

Today has necessitated plenty of tissues, prn & if I could pull it off pop star sun glasses worn at ALL times inside and out plus multiple avoidance, floor gazing & a pretense I’ve gone slightly deaf. 

Unbelievably, my 28 day (spa) hospital stay is coming to an end this Wednesday and despite feeling far from ready, able or even slightly like I can cope, the health insurance have not agreed to continue paying for care. 

Apparently after 28 days, I’ve had my lot & should be back to my usual, sparkly self. (Must make a note of that, can be my new daily personal mantra) 

My consultant did her level best to persuade them I am far from ready, she argued for day patient therapy & that was met with a resounding no. They even tried to secure me on-going therapy as an out patient since this should be covered under a separate claim area but apparently “the computer says no.” 

Since costs in a facility like this are in excess of ¬£3000 per week, we are not in a position to stump up the moola for a continuing stay. 

Apparently the kids still need all their vital organs & my liver/kidneys will be more likely preserved in a prosecco/formalyhyde combo – pre admission obvs… haven’t touched a drop in here & even for the few days prior to admission – in fact still not entirely convinced that my significant jitter/tremor commented on during early sessions wasn’t down to prosecco withdrawal symptoms…. NB – entirely joking; despite my reputation as the lush of FB, I’m generally a one glass a night type girl and for clarification purposes, I mean a small, glass not one that can fit an entire bottle!! So purely on a practical front I can’t ebay anything off…

So what now? Well the consultant has asked for the crisis team from the NHS local team to review me urgently tomorrow & try & find me a bed in the local NHS hospital. 

The thought of having to go through this all again with new staff, therapists, teams etc is exhausting beyond belief & I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t terrified. But my bigger fear is that there won’t be local bed space & I will be shipped off to Scarborough or such like; being this is more than an hour away from the family home & the logistics of trying to retain & build up some kind of relationship with my kids, puppy, not to mention hubby, this is untenable as an option to me. So I will be left with the only option to return to the family home. 

Do I feel ready? Hell no. Do I feel I can “cope?” Not even slightly. Do I still have as my end game the “plan” that put me in here in the first place as my intention? Without a shadow of a doubt. So back to the selfish, weak, feeble, ridiculousness  & all the other things I loath about myself it is then…

Meanwhile tonight I will cuddle G/man’s teddy that he gave me for support that bit harder & hope the combo of anti anxiety/depression & sleep meds I took will kick in asap….