Over the last few days there have been many reports and responses to Princes William and Harry‘s open declarations of mental health issues since the untimely death of their mother, Diana. It must be very painful for both of these adult men to disclose their anguish and misery, although I am sure that the world has come to understand that trauma such as they experienced, was never very far from the gaze of others. It strikes me that in sharing such intimate details, people are more likely to be honest about their own struggles and hold a hand (albeit shaky for some) up to ask for help or to share their own stories.
Although my illness didn’t begin with the death of a loved one, it certainly didn’t help and it was at one of the lowest points in my adult life.
My own journey (yes, I do think it is a journey. Rocky roads and mountains may be prevenlent but so too are the brilliant rays of sun at the end of a tiring trek) began when I realised at the tender age of 8 that death becomes us all. A night alone in my bedroom, when I should have been sleeping, turned into years of waking and walking nightmares of panic attacks. Even writing now feels like a daft thing to do as I may start the whole panic off just recalling and writing about it. So panic attacks are where is began for me I think. Mortality in mind and ultimately body.
I stopped eating properly. I saw no point. I mean, why bother if in the end it didn’t matter. We weren’t a rich family by any means so I was a skinny kid and I don’t think that many people really noticed – at least judging by the fact that no one ever mentioned my lack of appetite or abstaining from food. I was considered a ‘picky eater’ – no more, no less.
The majority of the attacks would come at night. I felt I could drown in this irrational fear and my coping mechanism was when a panic spread over me I would stand bolt upright, go to my sister and ask her to slap me out of it. Initially out of concern, she refused, and when she saw how desperate I was she caved. The thing was my sister and I were separated at night and I would have to venture into the room she was in (it was my parents room as we would often be separated because we ‘acted up’ a bedtime) and this was above the living room where my mum was. Not my dad often whilst we were awake. He would be at the pub until closing. So mum would hear me creep in or even just try to open the door and I would be caught and sent back to the darkness. You may be thinking, why didn’t I just tell my mum? Confiding in the woman who bore me about what troubled me. Well I did and that didn’t work out too well for me. I was scolded and sent back to bed with a flea in my ear for being stupid. Several times in my life I went to my mum for support and assistance to be told the exact same thing, but I never learnt that lesson well. I mean, you go to your mum when you’re scared, right?
Fast forward to the here and now and the relevance to William and Harry. My father passed away in July 2015. I was there when he took his last breath. I was there the whole weekend when he struggled to breathe, to urinate, to drink, to find any comfort. I watched as he was given morphine to calm his own mortal panic. When people sat around him and tried not to speak loudly or cry or think of the inevitable. After a lung cancer stage 4 diagnosis, he was hit hard. I would like to think that it was quickly so that he didn’t suffer for months on end knowing that nothing could be done but I’m sure that couple of months felt an awfully long time.
During this time I was myself going through crisis/self-care management of my own. In 2013 I suffered a breakdown although I didn’t really know that’s what it was. Many situations, work, home, personal were culminating together to bring one almighty crash. It got to a point where I stopped leaving the house (my job at the time permitted) for many if not all activities; crossfit, shopping, family and friends. Weirdly, only the people at crossfit noticed that I was missing in action. I was distancing from everyone and everything in my life. I didn’t want to burden people with the thoughts in my head and be shunned for
asking crying for help. So I left people and places, good times gone and to come to those who would eventually stop thinking of me or how I once fit into their life landscape. This didn’t work though. In doing so I was so isolated, so desolate that I saw to take my own life. I had a plan in how to do it too which I won’t explain.
One day during this episode, my Son came to me and asked me if I knew about mental health issues. A once close friend of his was going through an exceptionally hard time since the loss of his grandfather. I said I did and whilst I tried to talk from a third party perspective – somehow I think he already knew. He asked about signs and symptoms and what I felt could be the worst that could happen to his friend as his mum and his friends were all extremely concerned for his welfare. I was honest and brutal. I knew what this poor young man should have; kindness, comfort and solace. Help. Something must have triggered my Son to start asking if I was dealing with MH issues now. I burst into tears and shared everything. Slowly at first as I didn’t want him to be as concerned for me as his friend (I was an adult and could take care of myself, yeah right) and then it came tumbling and gushing out.
I can honestly say that moment was a turning point. Whilst it wasn’t all sun from the behind the clouds, it did make me think I needed help. My Son was the only thing that was stopping me from taking my own life and no one should carry that burden; known or otherwise.
I wrote as much as I dared to share on paper and made an appointment to see the doctor. I’ve seen many doctors over the years for depression, anxiety, panic attacks and wasn’t looking forward to this anymore than those other times. Feeling like I’m going into the lion’s den, I was going to be prepared this time and have my instant concerns on paper – things I probably wouldn’t be able to get out because I was being interrupted or losing train of thought or just such a mess I would hastily leave.
Gosh as I write this I can feel the tears but that day saw me sharing more than I had ever, with another human. I was a wet, sniveling mess. Laid bare my rawness and desperation cascaded from every word; paper and verbal, every movement, every reach for more tissue. Not once was I told I was stupid or to pull myself together. This person actually listened. They reached out when all I could do was fall apart. It felt like I’d been there for years but time elongates it seems when you cannot stop the verbal flume of pain from falling. The doctor put plans in place for my support and well-being and judging by how quickly this happened, and the potential threat of suicide no doubt, I headed off into therapy. Therapy which whilst painful and during the time of my dad’s last couple of months, helped me to see that talking with people, getting out, getting help was sorely needed. I wouldn’t like to ever compare what I was going through to my dad or any one else who is going through the turmoil of cancer – however my life was in real danger of demise and close to its end before the day talking to my Son helped me to see what else I was about to lose.
Losing my dad during this time was f*cking hard man. That and the aftermath of family fights. I still have dreams about seeing him, alive and well and me dying. I didn’t do exceptionally well in therapy. I got loads out don’t get me wrong and more than I imagined I would. I also drank quite heavily and on top of medication I was heading the exact same way before my Son’s initial intervention. I couldn’t escape the pain enough and those thoughts of self-harm seemed ever closer. Once again I made the arduous visit to my doctor and explained how this was affecting me and my family; Son and Fiance, and that I couldn’t take any more. Again, I visited therapy and once more I was helped to put the pieces of my life back together.
It’s 2 years almost since my dad passed away. 4 years almost since the breakdown. Only time will tell if this ever happens again but if it does I can honestly say that having people such as William and Harry reaching out plus listening and reading every other human who is also going through this like I did, and still am to an extent, is sharing in an effort to overcome the pain, overcome the silence, the barriers helps me come to terms that I’m really not alone and I can ask for support if and when I need it.
Talk to someone. Anyone. Please reach out. I couldn’t bring myself to do so initially and it is fortuitous that I have a Son that (in helping another) used that situation to encourage me to move from crumbling mess to still breathing and moving forward today.