#Depression – it can happen to anyone!

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I want to share a link to a blog post from a very talented young man who has just announced his departure from progressive rock band The Enid.  Please don’t switch off because Prog Rock isn’t your thing – it isn’t really mine either, but my husband has followed The Enid for years and so also the career of Joe Payne since he became their lead singer 5 years ago.  His talent is undeniable – his vocals would work on any musical theatre stage let alone a rock band.

My reason for sharing is that Joe has written a very candid post describing how life overtook him and before he really knew it, he had been taken over by anxiety and depression and breakdown.  I have described before how my husband suffered a similar mental health breakdown a couple of years ago, after a period of extreme pressure from both work and several life experiences.  There is still a stigma attached to any health issues that are related to the psyche rather than the physical – but this should remind us that if a young, talented and successful young man can succumb to depression, it really can effect anyone. Let’s all continue to raise awareness of the importance of mental health care – thank you Joe for sharing and very best wishes for your future.

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https://thatjoepayne.wordpress.com/2016/09/05/a-new-chapter/

Reflections and resolutions

The end of the year always feels like a time for reflection, doesn’t it? Or is it just a time for looking ahead and making those dreaded New Year resolutions, only to broken by Jan 5th!?  I really, really want to be looking forward for my own sanity and for those around me – but not before I reflect on this year.  Please indulge me……

It has been a tricky year in our house for a variety of health issues and the related monetary concerns that being unable to work brings.  It is almost exactly a year since Duncan was given the correct meds for his depression and was able to start on the long road to recovery.  At first, when he was so ill and unable to think straight, he was adamant he wouldn’t take drugs.  During my time nursing I cared for many patients and relatives who resisted antidepressants and we had the “if you had a headache you’d take a paracetamol; you have a chemical imbalance that just needs a little extra help to be put back to normal” chat.  At least when it was my own husband, not only had I this medical experience, but I had also been there myself just 2 years ago.  As a society we still prefer not to discuss issues of the psyche, whether our own or others – there remains a stigma around mental health problems.  Maybe this is part of the reason that so many of us feel an overwhelming need to refuse medication – feelings of shame, embarrassment, failure, fear, addiction concern, to name a few.  I remember feeling like a huge failure when I joined club Prozac and illogically ashamed.  It took several months before Duncan was convinced of the need for chemical help and then the first drug only went and made his symptoms worse.  But with great support from our GP and the correct drug, he has made progress.  We would probably both say, about each other, that seeing your partner in the grips of something that you have no control over is the hardest thing to witness.images (10)

Then one of our sons was also ill and this really did knock us for six, as we had never seen him like this before.  It emerged that he had recognised certain symptoms when reading articles with titles such as “Existential depression in the gifted and talented adolescent” – I was lost by the end of the first paragraph!  Happily with the right support all round,  we all have a better understanding and things are back on an even keel.  But our youngsters today never switch off.  They are constantly over stimulated as they rely on social media to communicate, and have a powerful hand held computer in the shape of a mobile phone on tap 24/7.  Overthinking has always been an issue in the very bright, but I wonder if we will see it increasingly becoming the norm?

My appointment with the specialist pain team at St Thomas’s came just in the midst of these crises.  I warned the psychologist that she had caught me at the end of a particularly stressful and emotional week, but she told me to describe everything from the start of my back problems.  “But that began in 1991 – should I really go back that far?” “Yes, please” “How long do you have?” Poor woman didn’t quite know what had hit her!!  This in turn led to my 2 week inpatient programme and subsequently the implant.  It all sounds terribly easy like this……

I have had some highs and lows over the last fortnight.  One real success was a trip to London to visit the student with the other teenagers.  We decided to brave the train rather than London Xmas roads, and I even had a member of BR help me to get into the carriage which made me feel about 90!  We had a lovely meal on the South bank and then enjoyed following our three offspring around the Xmas market. download (2) So nice to see them actually getting on.  In their black skinny jeans, I couldn’t help but compare the legs to strips of liquorice…..but I digress.  We walked to Trafalgar Square to see the Norwegian tree and then the kids went back with their brother to the student flat, whilst we made our way slowly back to Waterloo.  It wasn’t easy, my foot was dead and my leg kept giving way, but with the help of the stim (and Duncan half carrying me!) I did it – a far cry from a similar visit last year when we went to the theatre on the same night as the tube strike.  That was one very long trek and never has  Waterloo  bridge felt so endless – it took 45 minutes to get me across the bridge alone!  A couple of walks in our local park were made so much easier and even enjoyable as I was able to whack up the stim and counter the leg pain, even sitting outside for a hot choc.

But I have also learnt that the stim can only deal with so much!  As the weather has become colder over the last few days and the nights have been so windy, so my barometer body has played up accordingly.  My EDS has left me with extremely painful shoulders which dislocate regularly – Duncan monitors me when asleep to ensure that I haven’t lifted an arm above my head…and the weight then pulls itself out of socket!! The back pain at night has been reaching a peak and I actually fell asleep with the stim turned on, and a trip to our local shops became extreme as both the weather changed and my leg pain rocketed.  Even the stimulation couldn’t do battle with the nerve pain exacerbated by cold wind and rain – we couldn’t even stand upright – and the then familiar nausea and vomiting that follows when my body experiences large changes in temperature.  In this case it was stepping into our warm home!

For someone living with a chronic condition, looking forward to a new year can become something to dread rather than to celebrate.  At times the thought of living through another year in pain has been too much to contemplate even with the love and support of family and friends.  So this New Year, as others resolve to try that new diet, join the gym, do “dry January” etc., etc., I will continue to take each day as it comes.  As a family we will move forward together, continue to battle the intricacies of the benefits system, look toward Dunc returning to employment (albeit on a different level), the kids being teenagers(!) and for me to cautiously look to a year with some control over my body, that has been stolen by chronic pain, being restored to me with my stim.  I hope that we can remember that there is always someone worse off ……

Finally, after a very long post which I started on NYE, as you recover from festivities – I wish all my Painpals a peaceful and healthy 2016! download (1)

Empathy isn’t just for Xmas

We have been so unwell since my last post!  Duncan and I haven’t stopped coughing yet, I lost my voice completely last week – much to the delight of the kids – and have forbidden the student from coming home as I’m sleeping in his bed.  I have missed out on the various nativity productions at my primary school and have cancelled so many socials with friends I have lost count.images (7)  Panic started to kick in at the end of last week when the cupboards were bare and the fridge was empty, so we hauled ourselves coughing and wheezing to the supermarket.  As friends commented that they were busy getting everything done for Christmas, I was thinking that I hadn’t even thought about it let alone started!  Going from post operative recovery straight into flu/cough for nearly 3 weeks has not been a great seasonal prep time.

I have to admit that I have struggled with my back – coughing is rough at the best of times, isn’t it, putting stress on the abs, causing headaches and stress incontinence for us girls.  So the added stress on a not quite healed operation site has been tough.  My implant site (right butt!) and right leg has been so sore that some mornings I’ve woken up feeling like I’ve been beaten up and even resorted to my post op naproxen again.  The stimulation has actually made my nerve pain worse whilst I’ve been ill – I wonder why?  After nearly 3 weeks I am so fed up!  But on the up side, I have managed to get into the hairdresser’s seat this week and it is official – I am no longer grey.  Thanks to my lovely friend Bev, I now look and nearly feel 10 years younger!  Duncan and I got out to a carol service for the other school where I sit on the alumni association – I sang the carols beautifully.  Really easy to do when, as you open your mouth, no sound comes out!  It was here that I was given a piece of advice from an old school friend who has lots of remedies from his Indian grandmother.  We do lemon and honey hot drinks (unless like my brother and I, you can’t stand the smell of honey – long story going back to our childhood, our great grandmother and pots of coffee “thickened” with honey!!) whereas he recommended turmeric in hot water…..mmmm, delicious!  But I have been that desperate that I would give anything a go and, sweetened with a spot of brown sugar, it has proven oddly soothing.  Duncan has been well enough to drive to his parents today, we have shipped the teenage daughter off to stay with my brother and sister in law (thanks, Sandra!), and the boys are still at school/uni……so I am enjoying a glorious couple of days in an empty house.  Just me and my dog and rubbish Christmas movies……

For this is the season for goodwill, over indulgence, sentimental tv and bonhomie, isn’t it?  How many of us struggle to maintain the cheerful face as everyone around us appears to be having such a fantastic time?  Whether it is loneliness, grief, poverty or illness, there are a myriad of reasons out there that actually make this time of year very difficult for some of us.  Guilt is another emotion that gets in the way.  Guilt that you aren’t feeling jolly; guilt that your condition is keeping your loved ones from the activities that you feel they should be a part of; guilt that others feel that they must tiptoe around you; guilt that you can’t do for your friends and family what you would want to; guilt for feeling jealous of them.

It really is so true that when the chips are down, we find out who our friends are.  Over the twenty or so years since I have had my back problems, I have been surprised more than once by both the friends who have stepped up with support and those who have not!  This old adage is even more true with a chronic condition.  I am well aware that for some people my disability makes me a bloody nuisance these days, but it can still be hurtful.  I don’t want to have to constantly ask for a lift for instance, but when “friends” just no longer even think to ask or offer it is tough.  I was listening to the fantastic Adele’s song “Million Years Ago” and she seemed to be singing my song when she describes “not being able to stand the reflection I see; my life flashing by; missing my friends, when my life was a party to be thrown; but that was a million years ago”. images (8) I can see my friends’ lives moving on, careers unfurling, travels taking them far and wide, and I do feel that mine has come to a stand still.  Self pity?  I hope not.  More being realistic and understanding my limitations.  Note to self – New Year, new pain relief with the scs, new stage in my life!

I received a text today from a very supportive friend apologising for being a “rubbish” friend for not being in touch recently.  Yet her teenage daughter, who has an Asperger’s diagnosis, had tried to commit suicide.  Have you noticed that it is often the people who are in the most difficult situations themselves, who are also the very people who do make the time for their friends in need? I guess this goes back to the “when the chips are down” again – when we have been there maybe we develop a heightened empathy.  A friend who has been particularly supportive of me and of Duncan since his  mental health breakdown last year, has undergone her own battle with breast cancer, including extensive reconstructive surgery earlier this year.  Kylie Minogue took the time to surprise a young woman in her home, with a party live on a BBC show last night to “thank” her for the work that she has done for a breast cancer organisation.  What marks her out is that she was undergoing her own treatment for breast cancer, diagnosed in her late twenties, looking at the possibility of infertility, and yet pushed herself to run marathons, fund raise and praise the bravery of other women around her.  Of course Kylie had her own personal experience to drive her to want to do something for this young lady.

download (1)Christmas!  Looking on the bright side, Star Wars is back in our cinemas, the X Factor has finished and Jose Mourinho has been sacked……sorry, Duncan!