Friday, October 17, 2014

Mental Health 108 - Mentally checking in


It was a week ago now.  My uncle Charlie had died a few days before - it was sad, he'd had a brain tumour which had seemed treatable, but had been too aggressive.  The news was upsetting, but I phoned home and made sure my dad was doing okay with the news, as they were very close.

I thought I was okay.  Because I understand a measure of "human factors", I took a day of leave to be a little reflective, making sure I made buying a condolences card for his family.  I hate buying those cards.  Okay, no-one likes to buy them I know.  But the thing that upsets me the most is you always find them to the right of the "get well soon" cards.  I have before now purchased a condolences card knowing full well we had a "get well soon" card in the post to the family, and feeling dreadful about it.

Me and my wife went to a cafe just over the road from the Post Shop, and the logical part of Mike's mind went "well if you write the card now, you can get it in the post now".  I clicked a pen, opened the card, and everything went white ... I'd been thinking all week about what to write, but now, I actually realised what I was about to write.  And the enormity of it just hit like a brick, and I started to cry in a crowded cafe.  Crying for men is a tough enough subject, but in public!

In truth, it wasn't just Charlie.  The news was sad, he was only in his early 60s.  He was a great character through my childhood who I'd just seen less of in the last decade.  Much like his dad, my uncle Norman, he was a great teller of stories - the best being about how his kids had conned him into getting a dog using the name of his favourite actor, Charlton Heston.  With a name like that, you'd expect a majestic German Shepherd, but what he got was a pocket sized mongrel.  My dad was an only child, so Charlie and his brothers were like siblings to him (although by all accounts my dad was a bit of a terror).

The problem was it's been a tough year in our house - in all there was been five deaths of people quite close to me; two close friends, my mother-in-law, my grandmother and now Charlie.  On top of this, my wife has been diagnosed with acute anxiety which although was a slight relief (originally we thought she was having a heart attack), has been difficult to deal with.

I know I tend to put people first in such circumstances, I know it's a very "man" thing to do (although I don't think it's just men who are like that).  You know someone else will be more affected, and you want to be supportive to them, so you tend to put off your own grief.

And here's the crazy thing - I know about grief.  As a teacher in post-Hillborough Sheffield we had to be aware of grief, and post-traumatic stress - we had special workshops.  I know how we grieve, I know why we grieve.  And when I opened up that card, it was a trigger for everything I was holding back - and despite all my knowledge and logic, it still felt like a ton of bricks had fallen on me.

Knowing doesn't seem to soften the blow one jot.  But here's what it does lend you.  You know it's normal, and even when it happens in public, it's nothing to really be ashamed of.

Even so - it's been a weird week.  I know I've not quite been myself at all - things have happened this week that would normally cause me to roll my eyes and just get on with it.  But instead these events have made me either incredibly angry or really weepy.  Thankfully my wife having gone through her anxiety "gets this" and has shown huge support.

All the same - I know I'm not quite myself, and it's been going on for several days.  Although I'm not feeling depressed and certainly not contemplating suicide, I decided it was still worth going into the doctors today to talk about what was going on.  Never under estimate the power of just going to the doctor to just mentally check in with a professional.  Indeed it was he who diagnosed me with a case of mild anxiety because I've delayed my own grief over other people who were closer than Charlie, but it's Charlies death which has triggered what I'd just been keeping in, and hoping to avoid.

There is some medication if I feel it's very bad (which to be honest, I'm a bit scared of becoming addicted to), and counselling to deal with the grief (which I usually find useful and my preference).  But a lot of it is just understanding it's going to take time - I've been here before with Violet I know, trying to grieve to a timetable.  And yet not knowing how long you're going to feel like this is really scary.

I've decided to blog about this - I'm always terrified people will think less of me for this.  But I think it's also important to try and be open about it.  I'm really lucky to have people like Whirlwind to listen or my friend Lotz who is very open about his experiences with grief.

I talked in my mental health series about Richard's tale and how he knew something was up with him, but only went to the doctor when the depression had taken root.  I've found for myself, a key to keeping good mental health is about mindfulness of ourselves to know that something is wrong, and have the courage and relationship with our doctor that we can go in and say "this may seem silly but ...".  Very rarely is it silly.  If something it bothering you, then it is neither silly or trivial.

Don't be afraid to talk to someone.


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