Running scared from the black dog

‘There’s always someone worse off’, yes there is.  ‘Give yourself a kick up the arse’, yes done that.  ‘You’ve nothing to be depressed about’ – if only it worked like that.

What i’ve found is that depression is an illness that doesn’t pick its times of effect by following a well considered thought process.  If it did, then it wouldn’t exist.  What it does do is land as an empty, hollow, worthless feeling sitting in your heart and mind when you least want it. Like you’d ever want it…but you know what I mean.

I’ve spent 3 years always trying to keep my bum out of the jaws of the black dog of depression as it chases after me. When it bites it spreads a cloud of desperation.  Utter loss of self worth and desperate feelings that, some mornings, you wake with a dread of facing another day.

Depression scares me.  I’m more scared of depression than I am of spiders, and that’s going some.  At times over the last couple of weeks i’ve felt, for no reason I can exactly pin down (i.e. there’s no one single cause) that I am worthless to the extent that the world would be better without me.  That’s when the dog bites.  The running away from it is tiring, a constant effort and motivated as much by fear as it is by a love of my family, kids, job and the times when i’m not being bitten.

I wish it was as simple as ‘i’m depressed, and here’s the reason’.  If it was then, well, all that well meaning CBT bollocks I know so well would equip me to replace the automatic thought with a controlled one and, abracadabra there’d be no empty, horrible feeling.  I do know it’s a combination of things that weigh me down, slowing my escape from the black dog.  Carrying bags and bags and bags – a bag called Isaac’s house adaptations, a bag called Isaac’s – at times bobbins – SEND system support, a bag called work, it goes on.  I’m not egotistical enough to think that we don’t ALL carry loads of bags.  But I suppose the fact that the black dog of depression has bitten me hard before makes me push and push and push and not admit when it’s all getting too much.

There’s nothing good about depression.  It’s beyond crap and life affecting.  I’m lucky that the last couple of weeks a couple of friends have reached out and allowed me to unload some of the crap from the bags – even if it just meant unloading it and then picking it up again, the relief from the temporary change of putting it aside was massive.

Weirdly, having been fed resilience theory (and facilitating training it!), I know what emotional intelligence and self talk are.  Can I apply them to myself? If I could then I wouldn’t have spent time feeling utterly empty over the last fortnight.

One thing that I do understand about depression is that if you’ve never experienced it’s brilliant sense of timing and crushing debilitation then you’ll believe the media.  ‘Blue  Monday’ was last Monday ; the day when the whole country was apparently at most risk of feeling blue….does the media say  ‘it’s blue Monday and here’s a few things you can do to help other people who may be feeling horrible today if you’re feeling ok’? No, it’s almost a ‘if they’re feeling down today then it’s only because it’s after Christmas and January’.  Unhelpful to the extent of making people who feel terrible with depression shut down further.

Anyhow, my bum is back out of the black dog’s jaws at the moment, and i’m running (well, as best I can with a torn knee cartilage which will at least grant me an hours sleep under general anaesthetic in the next month or so).  I’m terrified of it biting, but hopefully I can build enough distance between me and the jaws I’ll ride the setbacks easier.

How to lose friends and influence people.

Facebook is a constantly running, ticker tape of stuff that varies in use.  A friend told me months ago that it’s a ‘necessary evil’ in the modern world because of the connectivity it allows and the effortless way it keeps you ‘in touch’ with others.

About 6 weeks ago I binned it after about 7 years of using it pretty much daily.  I had decided that it was not for me.  I was struggling with depression and kind of reckoned that when the bile rises when I see someone presenting a fake angle of themselves on FB that I could do without the negativity.  I’m not so much blaming others, its an odd concept though how people communicate on FB.

You get the ‘boast posts’ with people saying what they’ve bought.  Now, really, what went before FB on this front? Did people put their most recent expensive jeans / shoes / coats in their front window with a clipboard on the outside of the glass with instructions to others to add a tick if they ‘like’ it? Or is it about materialism…the ‘I am considerably richer than yaw’ mentality? I really just don’t get this sort of post ; may as well say ‘i’m insecure but obviously my latest expensive shoes show i’m a success’.  Weird as a lemonade sandwich.  If my own kids ever decide to post something they’ve just bought in a gauche ‘look at meeeee’ post I promise, they’ll be moving out.

There’s the ‘banter’ posts.  Now this I miss.  For naturally sarcastic people it’s like a firing range – just aim and fire off a comment that pokes fun at something or someone and it’s good for a giggle.

There’s the ‘i’m at x’ posts, checking in from wherever.  I’ve seen check ins from shops, gyms, America, Australia and everywhere in-between.  I’ve checked in from landmarks, from coffee shops and trains.  Odd isn’t it though….in the past we used to send postcards when we’d been somewhere interesting but now…now the arrival of the postcard is usurped by you thumb scrolling past the fact that i’m in somewhere dead interesting.

There’s the ‘feeling’ thing on FB.  The ‘little bob is feeling…upset’.  Then the next person says ‘oh are you ok’ and little bob doesn’t reply. Repeat x 10 on your timeline most weeks.  Before FB did we walk into the pub with a sign in our hands saying ‘i’m feeling excited to be out with (tagged friend) and (tagged friend)’ before checking in at the Cock and Bull before we even got a drink?

There’s the ‘Little Bob has invited you to play jelly swap’ or some such crap.  On receiving a message like this there should be an option to click that euthanises Little Bob instantly. If life gets so bad that I wait for an invite to play a game on a computer then i’ll be joining him.

There’s pictures.  My god are there pictures.  ‘Jane has just posted 47 pictures of her night in the pub’.  AND YOU CLICK ON IT.  And it’s Jane. In the pub.  And her friends who you don’t know. In the pub.  I love to see a pic, or 2 or maybe 3 of people I know but I can only imagine the horror that 47 pics of me would inflict.

So, FB and me are divorced.  You’d think bearing in mind my views that it’d be a happy separation? Not especially.

I used to post a fair bit on FB about my kids, about news, about how I was feeling sometimes but no more.  In the 6 weeks i’ve been off i’ve found out I face redundancy, I’ve questioned whether life is worth living aside from my immediate family and i’ve come close to throwing it all in.  Would the support on FB have helped? Probably not cos people say things like ‘chin up’ and ‘it’ll work out’ and ‘thinking of you’ and it’s all wallpaper to the reality that life’s pretty shitty at times.  Had you spoken to them in person they would say more than ‘thinking of you’ wouldn’t they but how FB makes us communicate is that we can feel like we’ve done something positive by a click or a vacuous statement.  I’ve heard people say ‘I click ‘like’ on their posts because I feel I have to’ and it’s that sort of thing.  I have found myself saying ‘hope all is well’ when someone has just posted that they’ve got an elderly relative in hospital who will probably die imminently.  ‘Hope all is well’??? It’s like the most non committal comment that makes me feel i’ve connected by writing it, and feel better.  What does the recipient really feel? Hopefully a bit supported but it’s nothing really is it.  If I cared i’d call, or text or do something that shows a little more empathy.  FB is not for compassion.

In 6 weeks there’s some mates who I thought i’d keep in touch with through old fashioned means like text or email or phone, but we haven’t.  It’s selfish to say that the isolation that comes from depression means that you need people to reach out but it’s unfortunately true.  At times I can’t be arsed with people who I probably should be arsed with ; friends but people I think a lot of but who fall under the fog of the negativity of the depression sometimes.  Some people have made so little effort that it shows that the FB link up was less than superficial to them – and with those people I know i’ve made the right decision moving off line.   It really redefines friendships – FB takes away that ‘who makes the first move to stay in touch’ thing but once you’re off it then it all lies on me.  And the thing with depression sometimes is that I think others don’t care so why would I bother to contact them.

The other thing you miss out on is ‘news’.  Announcements, alerts, opportunities, and so on – FB is a conduit for a lot of ‘stuff’ in your networks and you miss out, simple as.  Can I live with that? Well what you don’t know, you don’t know…

I really don’t know whether I’ll ever return to FB.  I miss some of the positives ; I have mates in Australia and America that I will lose contact with and family members who i’ll never hear from for years probably but on balance at the moment it’s not a good place for me to spend time….I hope they understand.

Dad’s an onion.

3 kids under 9 was never going to be easy, especially with twins.  I was always destined to be one of those dads with a thousand-yard stare due to exhaustion and a triumvirate of small people shouting up at me like hungry birds in a nest, and needing intravenous coffee to support me through the day.

Four years of it, I should have been an old hand at the plate spinning it requires.  I am, by different times of the week a dad, a social worker, a rugby coach, a taxi service.  Oh, and I have peacekeeping and mediation tactics of Kofi Annan, without which there is every chance that Itchy and Scratchy (Jake, 8 and Ethan 4) would succeed in inflicting grievous harm on each other.

Nowhere in my self identity is there a label of ‘carer’. I’m just a dad, and being a dad involves a lot of roles, caring being one but it’s no more a catch all definition than ‘feeder’ (although the line of thought that connects to involving zoos, wild animals and feeding times is perhaps accurate).  But ‘carer’? Well, I used to work in residential care and looking back it was a lot of caring for, but it was paid.  It was a job.  The title of carer makes me think ‘paid employment’.  People paid to care.

As a dad it’s just part of the package.  When Jake was born and I was nappy changing, feeding, bathing him, dressing him, carrying him around and suchlike was I a carer? No, I was a dad doing what a parent should do.  With Isaac we nappy change, feed – through a PEG-, bath, dress him, carry him around.  Why the difference?

Society says babies are cared for in a certain way, and that chronologically, and developmentally they get bigger, walk about, start to talk, acquire skills and bobs-your-uncle-fannies-your-aunt they need less care.  It’s normal.

But with a 4 year old with disabilities, it’s becoming a bit abnormal is societies eyes.  See, Ethan as a twin brother is doing the things people expect, no nappies, starting to dress himself (albeit it looks like he has coated himself in glue and dived into a linen basket) and talking.  My word is he talking. He can breathe through his ears.

So, when does this ‘carer’ tag get applied?  I have, as i’ve said in other blogs, had a rough few months where depression has hit me and left me a bit empty – during which i’ve had a few trips to my GP.  A year or so ago, I went in explaining I was running on automatic, so, so exhausted and lacking a lot of drive or interest in what I used to like doing.  I explained about Isaac and the demands Isaac’s situation (NOT Isaac, he isn’t the cause, it’s the situation not him as a little boy) creates. Simply put, each boy should be 33% of my ‘dadness’ and 33% of my wife’s ‘mumness’ but the sum doesn’t work when one little boy needs more than his 33%, 24 hour 1-2-1 care in effect.  The GP gave me low dose Anti-Depressants, and told me that they may make me better and suggested CBT.  I attended, but when you’re given a list of things that people can find stressful in life like this one and it contains nothing about ‘having a child with complex disabilities’, nothing about providing 24 hour care and nothing about how it may affect his brothers I realised I lacked a bit of trust in the process.

A few weeks ago, I went back with similar feelings.  Increases of medication, and, having read around GP primary care support I asked about carer support either attached to the practice, or locally.  I’d had a bit of a ‘road to damascus’ moment and realised that realising that i’m a  ‘carer’ is now part of who I am.  I realised that the first thought in the heads of my wife and I on any given day is Isaac and his needs, and that we are caring to a level where it’s an issue to be recognised, that it will go on for the rest of our lives, and that I (I can’t speak on behalf of my wife from an emotional health perspective) needed some help. I was told flatly ‘no we don’t have anything’, no carers liaison worker, no nothing. Advised to call social services.  Will I? Probably not.  I’m a social worker ; thresholds for support for a family that ‘copes’ (i.e not accessing current Social Services home care or benefits) I strongly suspect sit above where we’re at nowadays in my local area. That’s not a criticism, it’s a reality of how overstretched services are.

It’s a bit frustrating because I think unfortunately I’ve been seen as a bloke who has had episodes of depression by the GP, and on a surface level that’s correct.  What is frustrating is that, whilst I can’t predict my future mental health, there’s every chance that unless some change is effected then there’s every likelihood that I’ll continue to be a bloke who goes back to the GP every few months with episodes of depression.  That change will need to come from me, I know that, but it’s about the support to help it happen that frustrates.  If my GP had listened a bit harder to my words they may have heard my true voice that whilst I sit there in the consultations room self deprecating about my inability to get any drive going, what i’m perhaps saying is that ‘look i’m a carer, I’m waving a white flag here, help me’.  The situation around lack of support outside the surgery may have been the same but that’s a secondary point; identifying the real issue is the main one.  Someone I’m close to described me as being an onion, lots of layers and whilst I knew what they meant the very fact that the last time i’d heard that analogy was of an overweight, bald ogre in ‘Shrek’ was…….accurate  clearly nothing like me.

Us guys are a nightmare, I know that.  My mates may ask ‘hows Isaac’ when we’re sat taking the p*ss out of each other over a brew and my ‘he’s fine, thanks, pretty stable at the moment and no hospital trips this month so far’ is a veneer.  They know it but I know that what they’re really asking is how I am, but as blokes we don’t necessarily do the ‘I’m sinking’ answer.  We brush off, we cope.  Stiff upper lip.  As one of my old rugby coaches said to us several times over my teens ‘don’t show them you’re hurt, run back in line, or else they’ll know they’ve hurt you and they’ll just run at you all day’.  Show weakness? No.  So what chance has a GP got of me, or an elderly gentleman from a stoic generation who is caring for his wife who has alzheimer’s disease, coming into a room with an oppressive power dynamic and telling someone who is essentially a stranger about what is REALLY going on in our heads?

There’s a need for better early identification of carers, I am talking from a male perspective and it’s an acute need I think.  All health care professionals and social care professionals, and society as a whole (ok, that’s utopia but go with me on this) need to reach in to grab the tightly folded arms of blokes bottling up the stress and strain that caring presents.  My thoughts on how to do it are a different blog for another day, but like a lot of solutions there’s no smoke and mirrors – it’s just about starting to think from another perspective, trying, and talking.

I’ve not half rambled on, so much so that my skinny cappuccino is a memory.  Now, the admission of having had a skinny cappuccino would have gone really well with that old rugby coach of mine…