It’s 7 February 2016 – that means I have had – enjoyed – 15 x 7 Februaries that I very nearly did not have and enjoy….7 February 2016, the 15th ‘anniversary’ of the day I died, the day I went into cardiac arrest, 7 February 2001, the day, for me, and my loved ones, on which the world did stop spinning on its axis.
The lead up to ‘that day’, they were dark days, increasingly dark days. My clinical depression had me spinning out of control, I was drifting further and further away from those around me, from reality. I was sleeping through the day and getting up at night. I wasn’t going out of the house very much. The fear of another anxiety/panic attack (they had become unbearable) pretty well kept me house-bound. I was on SO much medication, some of which (I later discovered) can affect the heart (and, in my case, putting 2 + 2 together, I assume it did!).
Dark days for me but, I am sure, darker days for my loved ones who were locked out. Physically, I was there, sitting in front of my wife, Y, she could see me, my 2 year old son, he could see me, but I couldn’t really see them. Well, I could see them but nothing was registering. It was as if I was looking through everybody and everything. I was numb. I was just existing. There was nothing there. I don’t remember everything but I have a couple of vivid memories:
I remember a friend telling me that I should pull myself together. Hmmmmm….an asthmatic who can’t breathe properly, can he/she throw away the Ventolin and just get on with his/her breathing?? Can a diabetic in a coma, without insulin, just pull him/herself together?? No and no – and there’s no reason why someone with clinical depression, without the right medication, should be able to just pull him/herself together. I am incredulous as to how an educated person, someone with even half a brain in his/her head, can think it appropriate or good ‘advice’ to tell someone with serious clinical depression to just pull him/herself together. I’m afraid it is still commonly heard by sufferers.
I also remember going to funerals (in hindsight, I don’t think cemeteries were the best places for me to go when I was in that parlous state) and feeling envious of the people who were being buried – I remember thinking that they were ‘lucky’ to be staying in that quiet place, resting…..bad thoughts!!
Yes, very dark times…
7 February 2001, I was on my High Street, I was crossing the road and I collapsed (of course, I have no memory of it). Ambulance to hospital, my wife was told that I was ok ish but that as I had banged my ear and blood was issuing from said injury, the doc wanted to keep me in overnight for observation (a life-saving decision which would only be realised later that night).
Midnight ish arrived and I ‘flat lined’, went into cardiac arrest. Why it happened, no specific diagnosis followed – it wasn’t a heart attack, there was no issue with my heart per se, it ‘simply’ stopped. In my opinion, it was a number of things: tricyclic antidepressants (bad things!), maybe a clash of medicines and an exhausted body, both physically and mentally.
The prognosis? When it happened, it wasn’t clear – the docs told my wife and my folks that they didn’t know if I’d come round and that, even if I did, I might not be 100% (yeah, yeah, I know, that explains a lot….and was I ever 100%?).
To cut a long story short (I feel a ‘Spandau Ballet’ song coming on…), I did come round, Intensive Care for a week (my wife said that when it became clear that I was ‘out of the woods’, she took pleasure in seeing me lying in a coma because she hadn’t seen me looking so rested in a long, long time!), then I was moved to another hospital, heart checks, there for a week, given the all-clear, and back home (I remember that day very well!!). I must, at this juncture, express my eternal thanks and gratitude to the NHS nursing staff – and the docs, of course, and everyone else in the hospital – for their dedication to my wellbeing. Of course, it’s a team effort but the nurses were the ones who dealt with all the sick and the cr*p – literally, the sick and the cr*p – they were the ones who ensured that my dignity remained in tact and made me comfortable throughout my two weeks in the hospitals – angels!
Still cutting a long story short (yes, I know, why change the verbose habit of a lifetime?!), a new psychiatrist, new meds and a new life. I don’t remember if it took days or weeks for the new meds to kick in but when they did, it was more than a case of the fog clearing…more akin to a blind man exclaiming joyously, “I can see!!” Only when the meds kicked in, only when I realized that in my new psychiatrist I had a life-saver, only then did I realize that I hadn’t seen clearly before, that, although I had experienced short term highs, happy moments, happy days, my life had been running on the tracks of a long-term low, that I’d been in, till 7 February 2001, a life-long state of clinical depression. To those looking in, I had so, so much, I should have been smiling and enjoying life, but the reality was very different.
So, yes, that was a close call and since that time, my attitude towards life, my outlook, my understanding and interpretation of what I see and hear is very different.
The big things, family. I’m still hit with a heavy punch when I look at what I have, something I can’t do without the equally heavy appreciation of what I came so close to not having, seeing, knowing, hearing, experiencing.
If I’d died, my wife would never have known that I loved her…. I was so ‘far away’ in 2000/2001 that she could well have been forgiven for thinking that I didn’t love her;
My then 2 year old would have grown up with little or no memory of me and I would have died without knowing him as I do now, without the memories that I have now;
I came out of Intensive Care on around 13/14 February 2001 – my daughter, R, was born on 16 February 2002, almost a year to the day after I was carried out of ICU. Even if I do say so myself, that was a speedy recovery;
Another son was born on 14 April 2007 – if 2001 had gone differently, that wouldn’t have happened.
There’d have been no daughter and no second son – I can’t get my head around that thought…I look at them and am constantly reminded of how close we came to a world in which those children who we love so much would not have existed.
I enjoyed another two great years with my Grandpa and almost another 9 years with my Grandma….wonderful, quality time!
Mum, dad, my sis, the rest of the family….we were almost separated when I was 34 years old. I don’t mean to be presumptuous but I think I can be permitted to assume that many lives were very nearly shattered. The laughs, the hysterics, the love, the hours, days, months and years, the simple times, the walks together, the chats, the music, the movies, the bigger things, the holidays….the small things and the bigger stuff, the time together, we so nearly didn’t have any of it. Even today (and I’m sure it will always be the case), I can listen to a new piece of music or watch an old movie that I haven’t seen before and be overcome with the feeling of gratitude for the life that I have, gratitude and consciousness of how fortunate I am to have lived to enjoy such bursts of pleasure.
My clinical depression is such that I will always have it but it is treatable and, on the whole, my meds and I, we keep the black dog in its kennel. I have to remain on my guard, I am aware of the signs, I have to be conscious of them when they are flagged up and, when that happens, I have to take action. The meds are a constant but sometimes I have to get a bit more sleep (my usual is about 5 hours per night so it’s no surprise that my body sometimes rebels against that stupidity!), sometimes I just need to rein myself in, sit, relax, breathe, take a few hours time out, regain control, slow down….depression, anxiety/panic attacks, they are the names of my demons and I can fight them, it’s me against them and they rarely get the better of me these days. They are always there, sometimes the devilish little critters mass at my head’s front door but I usually repel them. More recently, I have introduced exercise into my life and that has given me a huge lift. My running keeps the black dog on an extra short chain, it helps to keep the anxiety and stress away, it helps to stop the walls from closing in on me. I have also dieted, lost 16kg and given up alcohol – I guess I’m trying to look after myself holistically, looking after my mind and my body.
I could go off on a tangent and reference the fact that my 50th birthday is coming up this year….you can only imagine how that is playing out in my head but I’ll leave that for later….another blog, another day…
I’ll just conclude as follows:
Mental illness – it’s still a big problem in society, still a big stigma attached to it, there is still a lot of misunderstanding and I hope that the “we must deal with this issue” murmurings at governmental levels are converted into more research, understanding and real change;
Don’t assume, just because someone seems to be ok, that they are – most people keep their depression hidden and, often, the people who appear particular happy and self-confident, they are suffering the most;
CLINICAL DEPRESSION IS AN ILLNESS: sufferers can’t just ‘pull themselves together”.
ATTENTION, SUFFERERS: IT IS TREATABLE, THERE IS HELP OUT THERE, THERE IS LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL – YOU MIGHT NOT BE ABLE TO SEE THE LIGHT BUT TAKE MY WORD FOR IT, THE LIGHT IS THERE!