We had snow this week, so pretty to look at when I am inside in the warm!
We had snow this week, so pretty to look at when I am inside in the warm!
It is over a month since I last wrote, there has been a lot happening at home, our son was offered, and has started a new job, this is his first full time employment contract since leaving school. His other jobs have been zero hour contracts and agency work. We are delighted for him and he is enjoying it, he has spent the last few weeks training, working in all the sections of the factory and will be working in the quality control department once he has completed his familiarisation training.
Our daughter has moved out, she has lived away from home before and has returned but she says that at 26, she thinks that this will now be permanent. She is sharing a flat in North Greenwich, it is a purpose built 1970’s flat, the views from their second floor windows are fabulous. They can see Greenwich Observatory to the left, Greenwich Power Station (almost identical to Battersea Power Station) directly in front, and the Shard to the right. The flat is 5 minutes walk to the Thames and the Cutty Sark. We spent a busy and tiring day transporting all her things from our home to her new one.
I also have job news, I have a new job and will be starting in just over a week to work for a UK charity that changes young lives through taking children with a serious illness or disability, without their parents, on the holiday of a lifetime to Orlando, Florida. I am delighted! During my first week, their offices are moving to the town where I live and it will take me 17 minutes to walk there (according to Google Maps). I feel privileged to be able to contribute to such a worthwhile cause and the staff are all lovely.
I am prompted to write today as I saw a post at lunch-time by ‘Mind’ on Facebook that Sally Brampton has died. I read her book ‘Shoot the Damn Dog’ earlier this year when I was at a particularly low point, it was immensely helpful. I am so sad to hear this news, thinking of Sally’s family. I must admit the news shook me, I am not one to cry but today I did, I suppose I thought that as Sally was well enough to have written the book and had also written others, that she was managing well and was unlikely to relapse to such a severe degree, but it seems the ‘Black Dog’ returned to nip at her heals and it is this which scares me.
I have been doing really well since the dark days earlier this year, and with the supervision of my GP have come off the anti-depressants. I have also received the diagnosis of having an under-active thyroid, something which I have long suspected so it didn’t come a surprise, and am two weeks in to taking the initial dose of thyroxine. Low thyroid levels can be a factor in low mood and depression, I wonder if this may have been a contributory factor in my problems this winter.
What happened to Sally scares me because it reminds me that we are all vulnerable to relapse, I worry that it will happen to me too. But I am aware that to some extent, I can take charge of my mental health, there may be times when things get out of control but I hope that I have the strength to get through the bad times. I am practising self help as much as I possibly can, my new job will give me a new challenge, which may be stressful to start with but will I feel be offset by working for such a worthwhile cause and with such lovely colleagues. Being able to walk to and from work will give me more exercise which I really need, and will get me out in the fresh air, also a benefit. So I am hopeful that these things will be a positive contribution to maintaining good mental health. I am continuing with crafting and have several fairs over the next few weeks.
Although over recent weeks I have been unable to meet up with friends due to work commitments, this will settle down soon and I will make time for coffees and catch ups.
So having spent most of today in the garden working on restyling various things and making a large size dreamcatcher for my stall, I have enjoyed a tasty dinner cooked by my husband, and am now enjoying a glass of red wine before toddling off to bed. Here is the next instalment of my life story:
My Paternal Grandfather, Robert, was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1897, he and his family moved to the UK at some point before his youngest brother was born in Camberwell in 1899. My Paternal Grandmother, Elsie, was born in Dartford, Kent in 1898, she was a secretary before they married in 1924.
Granddad Saunders second from left, Nana Saunders third from left:
My Grandfather served in the Army during the First World War and sustained a severe head wound but was able to return to the front after recovery. During the Second World War he served with the Kent Fire Service.
Granddad was an accountant in business with his brothers but they all fell out at some stage, after which he worked for a company called Patchell & Boobyer until his retirement. My grandad made news in the local paper a few times for having car accidents, after having so many crashes, no one would give him insurance. I think he was a bit of a daredevil!
Dad was born on 10 March 1929, his oldest brother, Donald, was born in 1925, then came Brian and Patricia (Twins) born in 1927. Sadly Patricia was either stillborn or died as an infant, we are not sure of the exact circumstances. Then came my Dad, he was born in a nursing home on 10th March 1929. A as a young child thought him being born in a nursing home meant that he had been adopted. Finally came Doreen, born in 1932.
At around age 7, Donald contracted Measles and suffered complications, we do not know which, but it was most likely meningitis – an infection of the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord, or encephalitis – an infection of the brain itself. As a result he suffered epilepsy, development delay & violent episodes. The family had a Nursery Nurse or ‘help’ for some time to assist with the care of the children and the home.
I remember hearing that there was an incident where Donald had an aggressive eposode and injured Brian, after this he went to live at The Stoke Park Colony for Mentally Defective Children, near Stapleton, Bristol:
The family lived in a detached bungalow, Glendon, 17, York Road, Dartford, Kent. The children attended St Albans Infants School and then York Road Primary School which was next door to their home, so no excuses for being late!
They seem to have had a quite privileged childhood, there were tales of building sailing boats to sail on ponds, go-karts and several holidays to the coast.
A holiday snap:
My Dad was apprenticed (maybe at age 14?) to Everards at Greenhithe, working on Thames Sailing Barges.
Dad and my Uncle Brian played basketball for Dartford, Basil Fanshawe Jagger (known to everybody as Joe) – Mick Jagger’s dad, was his coach. Dad remembered Mick going along to watch the team training and to matches.
Between age 17-21 (another unknown), Dad was called up to do his two years National Service. He worked as a mechanical engineer in the RAF for some of this time, based at Brize Norton in Oxfordshire.
Mum & Dad met at a fun-fair, they were engaged while Dad was still doing his National Service and after Dad was demobbed he returned to work for Everards.
Mum & Dad were married on 4th June 1952. Their first home was in Stone, near Dartford, they then moved to 10 Starboard Avenue, Greenhithe, in housing built for Everards employees and naval staff.
My eldest sister Sharon was born on 3rd September 1953 and middle sister Nicola on 31st January 1958.
Mum was ambitious for my Dad and encouraged him when he decided to study to become a Building Control Officer. When Dad was studying the dining room, my mum would lock the door so that my sisters couldn’t disturb him. He achieved his ONC in Building Control, progressing to HNC and then HND.
I will be writing more about my early years in a later chapter, today I am reflecting on more recent thoughts and feelings.
I recently read: 19 Things People Wish Their Friends Knew About Depression
Today I am considering the first of the nineteen:
I have a few friend with whom I will talk about how I am feeling, my husband Ray is my person of choice to talk to with about it. My children are both in their twenties, but I still resist being honest with them, I don’t want them worrying about me. My mothering ‘protection instincts’ kick in, I just don’t go there. This may be counter-productive, they can probably see that I’m not doing great, but it is not easy for me to talk to them about it, so in a way I’m treating depression like a stigma too.
But what about others? If you ask me how I am in a polite, conversation starter sort of way, my response will not be genuine. I, along with many depressives, will respond that I am fine, I am unwilling to bare my true self to people who are acquaintances, or to work colleagues. I would not want to risk the possibility of a true and frank conversation about the state of my mental health for fear of their reaction. I am an expert at deception when it comes to my mental health, most people I meet are probably totally unaware of my depression.
There are many people who I have begun a conversation with, who just don’t ‘get it’, they have no real conception of what depression is, and that it often does not happen for a definable reason. I have had experience of being advised to see a Psychiatrist (tried that), getting Psychotherapy (tried that too), Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (doesn’t do much for me), and various holistic/alternative treatments, none of which have ‘cured’ me.
If depression were an illness for which one ‘outbreak’ produced antibodies to prevent it happening again, like Chicken Pox, or one which had an available vaccine like Measles, then yes, once you have recovered/had the jab, chances are it would never affect you again. Sadly this is far from the fact. For those of you that have suffered depression just once, or for those of you for whom it is almost a permanent state of being, the truth is that it is an individual illness, the range of suffering both in terms of severity and duration is enormous. It is as unique as your personality, which is what depression can mess with, temporarily or otherwise.
So how am I feeling? Over the past four weeks I have, under supervision from my GP, been reducing the dose of my medication. I have been taking 200 mg (the maximum allowed), for the past two years. It had been working for me until very recently. I will be on week five of gradual withdrawal tomorrow, down to 50 mg for the next two weeks and then back to my GP to discuss what to do next. Either try a different drug or see how I get on without.
January and February are always risky months for me, by the end of February phases of low mood were becoming more frequent and prolonged.
I knew I needed to see my doctor on the day I had the worst ‘black dog’ moment ever. In the past I have had thoughts of having ‘just a little accident’, some mishap that would mean I was confined to the house, giving me a justifiable reason to escape from the effort of trying to function normally, and making this effort is exhausting, really exhausting. I have never carried this through, preferring to take sick leave instead. But on this day, my thoughts were more extreme, they came out of nowhere, and were scaring me.
I thought about tablets, no, I’m too cowardly for this, what if I didn’t take enough? Using a kitchen knife, I hate the sight of blood, it makes my legs go wobbly and I get light headed and in danger of passing out, also I am seriously knife-phobic. I’m OK using a sharp knife myself, but if I’m in the room when someone is using knives or when Ray is sharpening our kitchen knives, I have to get out of there, it gives me the jitters.
I was home alone, working in my craft shed so what caused me to feel this way? I certainly didn’t choose these thoughts, I was in the middle of doing something I enjoy, but still the bad thoughts rose up and made their presence felt. I considered my options, I really had no wish to end my life despite what the depressive thoughts were trying to suggest. So, should I phone Ray (he was over an hour’s drive away), go and knock on a neighbour’s door, phone 111 or the Samaritans. I sat doing nothing for a long time, immobilised by my thoughts, eventually I decided to pick a physical task to immerse myself in. I had a mirror frame, one of the first things I had decorated, that I had never been entirely satisfied with, so dug this out to work on. I spent over an hour stripping off the decoupage and paint, I was able to totally focus on the task to the exclusion of all other thoughts.
When I had stripped the frame back to bare wood, I had got over it, the suicidal thoughts had retreated. To pick myself back up, I looked through ‘Pinterest’ for inspiration and began working on a completely different design. By the time I had completed the new design, it was as if the destructive thoughts had never happened. This is it:
It has been months since I wrote and the reason I have been prompted to write today is that both my nieces have started their own blogs this month and reading what they have written has motivated me to write.
So, an update – I had the first of my five annual Mammogram screenings and check-up appointment in November. I am delighted to announce that the result of my mammogram shows NED – No Evidence of Disease. So I am now officially in remission, fabulous news!
However, despite being pleased, I admit that I wasn’t as excited about the news as you might expect, not because I am not grateful, for I certainly am. It is more that it felt more like the next step along the way to healing both physically and emotionally.
Looking back, my last proper blog was written on 2nd May 2015, it had just been agreed that I could reduce my working hours and I have been working three days a week since then, this has been significant in me feeling well enough to keep working, both at my paid employment and craft work.
There have been days recently where I have felt very low, the feelings were very familiar, anxiety and low mood hit me unexpectedly in early January, there were days I so wanted to stay home with a soft, fleecy blanket to snuggle under and my kindle. But I managed to grit my teeth and get myself to work, it took a lot of effort and at times I sat at my desk, anxiety twisting in my stomach and tears threatening when I would have picked up my things and walked out of the office. January has been a difficult month for me for many years, I probably have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), but having not been formally diagnosed, I can only suppose this to be the case. I have a Light box on my desk at work and have started using it again, I think it is helping, I am beginning to feel more ‘me’.
On the 12th January, I posted on Facebook: ‘Two years ago today I was at the beginnings of another occurrence of depression. Today I am fearful because despite still being on maximum dose anti-depressants, I am heading downwards again. Those familiar feelings of despair and panic are re-surfacing. The wish to hide away somewhere warm and dark with a blanket and my kindle is just about all I feel I want to do. A re-assessment of life might be worth considering, perhaps it is time to make changes?’ I understand that some may not approve of putting such personal and negative sentiments on to social media, but I am blessed with some wise and caring friends who have supported me through this medium for many years and their comments and good wishes pick me up.
A dear friend commented:-
“”The wish to hide away somewhere warm and dark with a blanket and my kindle is just about all I feel I want to do.”
I understand those sentiments Dee, I’ve been somewhere similar myself. I am not sure what to say to you, as everyone’s situation is very different. If I could find a positive uplifting message that would make a difference, I’d write it, but the part of your post that did give me a lift was “A re-assessment of life might be worth considering, perhaps it is time to make changes?”
Quite possibly yes. I would caution you not to make them all at once, as that too can be overwhelming. One step at a time Dee. You and your family have had a lot going on in the last couple of years.
I know you’ll also have heard this, a lot, but please make sure you speak to someone in person about this – whether it’s Ray, a counsellor, your GP, someone.
I won’t say “it’ll be alright”, I don’t know that, and can’t say, but what I can say is that I hope and pray that you can follow through on the final words in your post, and take first steps in clearing your way through the miasma of depression ❤
For her words I am thankful, this lady can be relied upon to give advice is relevant and thoughtful and for that I am grateful. Yes, the last few years have had many challenges, I wonder whether staying strong through it all has left me emotionally exhausted with depression as the resultant fall-out.
So, one year on from the traumas Ray and I experienced at the hands of Bi-lateral Breast Cancer and Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) do still affect our day to day lives. Ray has days where he struggles to make it through work and will go to lay down when he gets home, just last week he went to do the grocery shopping and had to call me to go and pick him up as he felt too ill to drive home safely.
I have radiation damage to my left shoulder and upper arm, I am learning to live with nagging aches and on bad days, noticeable pain. It is better to keep the area warm but the hot flushes get so bad some days I need to put a fan on, which makes it cold and painful.
But I am grateful to be alive and well, to have my family around me, and for all the good things I am blessed with. Life has sent challenges, but I’m still standing!
Geoffrey A Saunders 10th March 1929 – 8th August 1982
It has been a while since I wrote, and there is a lot I could write about, but today I have written about my Dad, it was 33 years last Saturday that he passed away and I felt the need to talk about him.
In October 1977, my family and I had our last holiday together, my Mum, Rosemary, age 47, Dad, Geoff, age 48, Nana Rose, age 76, my eldest sister Sharon, age 24, then my sister Nicola, age 19 and lastly me age 14. We went to the Cotswolds, Nicola was to be married the following July, I remember we spent what felt like ages wandering around Bath looking for a Wedding Dress for her. On one of the mornings, my Dad and I were in the kitchen eating toast for breakfast, Dad started to cough, and was then choking, I panicked and ran to find my Mum. I can’t remember what happened next but Dad was fine so he must have managed to clear the toast from his throat. We were all completely unaware that the reason Dad had choked was that his oesophagus was narrowing.
Then in January 1978, when I was almost fifteen years old, having finishing school for the day, my friend Lorraine and I were chatting at the end of the drive to my home. My neighbour, came out to tell me that I had better go in as he could hear someone was being sick in my house. I thought it was probably my Mum as she was always getting ill and I was fed up that I had to go and help out again.
When I got inside, my Mum was fine, it was my Dad being sick, he had put his car in the garage which was why I didn’t know he was at home.
Over the next few days, Dad didn’t get any better so Mum called the doctor. When he came, the doctor phoned for an ambulance to take my Dad to hospital as his heart wasn’t beating normally. My Dad had some tests done in the hospital and they found he had Endocarditis – inflammation of the heart valves and he also had Septicaemia – a blood infection. My Dad was put on intra-venous antibiotics to clear the infection in his blood and drugs to reduce the swelling in his heart.
Whilst he was in hospital, the doctors did more tests as it was not normal for a healthy 48 year old man to have his immune system depleted enough for him to be so vulnerable to these infections and they wanted to find the cause. They discovered that my Dad had a tumour in his lower oesophagus and upper stomach. My Dad needed an operation to remove the growth, which he had within a few days. On the day of the operation, Mum stayed at the hospital with Dad and Sharon and I went to visit him that evening, on the way there, she told me that the doctors had confirmed that the growth was cancerous, but she didn’t need to tell me, I had already worked that out for myself.
My Dad had an L shaped wound which went down from his breast bone towards his abdomen and then turned across his chest to just behind his back. The doctors said that this type of cancer normally only occurred in old men who smoked pipes, my Dad had started smoking when he left school at 14 and had later swapped cigarettes for a pipe. These were the days when smoking at work was commonplace, although Dad’s job took him outside to inspect building work, the time spent in the office was probably smoke filled.
He was very ill, I don’t remember how long it was until he was well enough to come home. When he did come home, he could only eat liquefied food but even then he struggled to keep anything down partly because of the operation but also because of the chemotherapy. He looked awful and his hair began to fall out.
I feel that I lost my Dad the day he got ill, he was never the same person again, the Dad I loved had ‘died’ for me then. I remember the happy times, silly things, like Dad making my sisters and I laugh by telling us fairy stories in a funny voice and with his own silly bits added in, or details changed. And the times Dad would fall asleep in the armchair when he got home from work, my sisters and I would torment him by throwing cushions at him to wake him up. And there was the time he and I were messing around on the way to buying my new PE kit for Secondary School, I was trying to walk along the kerb stones and Dad was trying to pull me off, I fell and twisted my ankle so badly Dad had to take me to casualty and I started at my new school on crutches. I could go on, there are so many happy memories.
Dad had always been a strong capable person, just the week before he got ill he had been playing football with his work team. Dad did his national service in the RAF, he was a mechanic. Mum and Dad were married on 7th July 1952, they lived in Kent, near Dartford, I was born at Starboard Avenue, Greenhithe, Kent. Dad worked as a shipwright at the dockyards, working on the London Barges. My Dad was ambitious, he wanted more than this, so in the evenings he studied to be a building surveyor. He would sit in the dining room studying, my Mum would lock the door so that my sisters and I couldn’t disturb him. I don’t remember this as I was a toddler at the time. My Dad achieved his qualifications and got a job working in the Building Control Department in Chelmsford, Essex, this is when we moved to Brook Lane, Galleywood. This is the first home I can remember, I was two years old.
When I was four, we moved to Beehive Lane. The house was a 1930’s semi, it was in a poor state, very little had been done to it since it had been built, but it meant that it was cheap enough for my parents to afford to buy. The wiring was so dangerous, Mum got an electric shock when she had been cleaning the house ready for us to move in. So, as soon as the money was scraped together, Dad re-wired the whole house. My Dad could turn his hand to every job needed to renovate our home, it seemed that nothing was beyond him. We had very little money at that time, after paying the mortgage, bills, groceries and essential clothing, what little remained went on modernising our home.
For the first few winters of living there, when it was frosty outside, the house was so cold we would wake to beautiful frost patterns on the inside of our bedroom windows. ‘Jack Frost’ visiting to draw on the window panes was very exciting for a young child! When my parents had saved enough money, Dad installed gas central heating, there was a lot of mess and upheaval with fitting all the radiators and laying the pipes under the floorboards but it was worth it, we were lovely and cosy when it was finished.
To earn extra money, at weekends and after work, Dad would use his surveying and draughting skills, drawing up building plans for his clients to submit when applying for planning permission. After a few years, we were a bit better off, the renovations on our home had been completed, so the money from this would pay for a family holiday each year and Nana Rose Billing would come along too. This was years before computers and CAD packages, Dad would draw up the plans by hand using technical drawing instruments on a huge draughting board. Once completed, Dad got them copied, these copies then needed to be hand coloured to a specific scheme indicating the building materials to be used etc. I am good at colouring in and enjoy it, so would sometimes help Dad with this and in return he would give me a bit of extra pocket money. I recall many evenings spent with Dad at the dining room table, Dad drawing and me colouring, in companionable silence.
My Dad slowly got better and started to go back to work part time at first and then full time, life almost got back to normal but the cancer hadn’t finished with him yet. I can’t remember the exact sequence of events and time scales, these things happened, but I may not have got them in the right order.
The scar from my Dad’s first operation developed a small growth on the left side on his abdomen. It looked like a lumpy boil and it started to discharge but it wasn’t puss coming out it was cancerous matter. The growth got bigger and bigger eating away under the skin.
My Dad’s case was referred to London as he needed more specialist treatment. He went to Hackney Hospital in East London to have the second growth removed, it was a cancerous cyst. He had to have more chemotherapy but the growth came back again.
By the time the doctors decided to operate on the cyst a second time, it was the size of a melon, the cystic cavity would fill with cancerous matter which when it had nowhere else to go, would discharge, it was horrific, you could see it when Dad’s dressings were being changed, I can’t imagine how it made him feel. Dad was referred to an even more specialist hospital, St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in central London. Mum, Sharon & I spent the day of the operation sitting waiting at the hospital in the corridor outside the operating theatre, the operation lasted all day, it was about 8 ½ hours by the time Dad went to recovery. I believe that my Dad died and was revived during this operation, I have no proof of this, but I just felt it at the time, I have no logical explanation for my certainty that this had happened to him, it is a feeling which stays with me to this day.
My Dad was critically ill after the operation. He had had a massive amount of skin removed from his abdomen along with the cyst and this had been replaced by skin from his thighs. His abdomen looked like a patchwork quilt. Some of the skin graft didn’t take well, it started to go dark but fortunately recovered and began to grow normally. I think my Dad had to have more chemotherapy and was able to come home when he was sufficiently recovered. The operation had done nothing to prolong his life expectancy, it was only ‘to improve the quality of remaining life’ the cancer was now widespread in his body. When my Dad first got ill, he was given six years to live, he didn’t quite manage this and I would question whether towards the end it was a life worth living, he was ill and in pain for most of it, but he never gave up hope that he could beat the cancer until near to the end. I remember an awful day when the doctors had to put in a line for my Dad’s drip for his medication. Dad had already had so many needles in the veins in his arms and legs that they had collapsed and couldn’t be used again, so his neck was the only place left to successfully get the needed in properly. Most of the time my Dad spent in hospital, which was a lot, he had needed a drip for fluids and the chemotherapy and other drugs.
My Dad was having trouble managing the stairs at home as he was getting so weak, in the New Year of 1982, we moved from Beehive Lane to a bungalow. During the last few months, my Dad was increasingly ill, he couldn’t do much at all, he looked awful, his face and body had hollowed out, he was skin and bone, except where the cancer was growing, the cancer was eating him away.
Our GP visited regularly to check Dad’s drugs and monitor the progress of the cancer. In August 1982 he told us that Dad had probably only a few days left to live, he was only 53 years old. I took compassionate leave from work, Sharon, her husband Mike and baby Andrew came over and Mum got in touch with Nicola for her to come from her home in Nottingham. We spent the next day sitting by my Dad’s beside, he was asleep most of the time, his breathing was laboured and there were long gaps between each breath. The next day my Dad stopped breathing, we knew this was going to happen but it doesn’t make any difference to the amount of pain we felt at losing him. I had lost a parent and if I’m honest, he was straightforward, uncomplicated and reliable, he was always there, a solid, steady presence in my childhood. Of course there were times when we disagreed, he was quite old fashioned in his moral beliefs and this caused some conflict between us in the last few years of his life. But I always knew where I was with him, I didn’t have to worry about what sort of mood he might be in, if he was having a bad day then we would know it, but once he had had a bit of a moan, he was OK and in all the time he was ill, he never took his pain, discomfort and feelings about the cancer out on us.
I loved him and I had lost him, I was 19½ years old, I have now been without my father for 33 years, I still miss him, the thing with the death of a parent or indeed any person you dearly love, is that the pain never quite goes away, it gets easier to live with over time, but there are still occasions when the sadness bubbles up to the surface. For all the biggest events of my adult life, I haven’t been able to share my joy with my Dad, Ray and I were engaged before Dad died but he never saw us get married, he hasn’t met our children.
At times when I have needed him I haven’t had the benefit and comfort of having him to talk to, I haven’t had the reassurance of his love.
I really need him now, but he’s not here.
Tuesday 12th May, Today’s gratefulnesses, the concrete base for my woman cave (well, shed) is down and the shed is ordered, yay!!! After a rainy start, the skies cleared and I got two loads of washing done, dried and put away. I have two meet ups with friends organised, have done some crafting today and have been snipping out roses for decoupage this evening, all in all a very good day!