Wednesday, December 31, 2014

A letter to my Dad

A friend of mine, a few days ago, made a suggestion that he hoped wasn’t invasive, but felt it needed to be said. As I brush my teeth, feeling as if (as this year ends and another starts) the world is very heavy on my shoulders. The last six months effectively boil down to a few sentences:

My Dad is a nasty drunk. A nice man and father, but a nasty drunk.

He has always had a drink problem; but heck, he was an adult in the ’60’s, 70’s and 80’s, who didn’t? Just like smoking, it was endemic. When you went out in the evening, you had a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Smoking killed my mother nearly five years ago, and it seems Dad wants alcohol to do the same for him.

My first real memory of him was when I was three years old, and in a rage, he held me by the throat up against a wall, as my feet were dangling; I was being a pain and I didn’t want to go to sleep; he was drunk and needed me to shut up. My childhood is dotted with little memories like that. Now, don’t get me wrong. My Dad was fundamentally a good guy. He was in essence a good Dad. Yet, it is true, that both my sister and I were very scared of him when he had a few. We didn’t know how he was going to react. I left home at eighteen and to be honest I tried to stay away as much as I could.

Now, twenty years later, his alcoholic beast has raised its head again and, as before, I seem to be taking the front line.

I have been rather lax on my writing of late, and not without reason. What has happened over the last six-twelve months has been too close to home. I knew, that I had to write about my Dad, before I could write about anything else, but I just couldn’t. It hurt and I couldn’t process everything going through my head. I had writers block; my Dad was my writers’ block. I claimed I was researching my next book, I wasn’t, not really. I was just too scared to write.

Before I progress a little background.

The weekend before Fathers’ Day, I went to visit my Dad with my Son. It was the first time I had really seen the change in him. He looked thin, he smelt, he couldn’t remember where we usually met and what we usually did when we visited. I talked to him about my Sister who had visited the weekend before and he couldn’t remember her visiting. She had stayed with him for four days and he couldn’t remember. After my son and I had spent nearly two hours driving down to see him, he excused himself abruptly after thirty minutes and left. Just like that he left.

The next day was Fathers’ Day and we couldn’t get hold of him. My Sister and I ran every number we could find, constantly and no response. After twenty-four hours of no answer, and given the dire state he was in the day before, we called the Police. He eventually picked up the phone, the Police stood down, but we were getting concerned. I resolved to contact his family Doctor to make an appointment that week. The next day ,(Monday), at seven o’clock in the morning the Paramedics called me. They were picking him up from the floor, (he is a double leg-amputee), and he was pissed. Seven o’clock in the morning and he was drunk. Angry, difficult and drunk.

His behaviours over the last few months fell into place. The times he forgot we were meeting up despite calling hours before. The times he bailed after short periods with no real reason and the frankly horrible behaviour. I mean it he was vile. He ignored my son and swore at him, to the point my Son didn’t want to visit. He told me I was a poor mother, as well as listing my Sister and I’s faults in blatant detail whenever he could. 

He was a mean drunk.

And yet he managed to keep the drinking secret. How? I have no idea, but he did. He always organized meet-ups in the late morning, so he could have a short period where he was vaguely sober. He always wanted to meet in town so we couldn’t see his home. He lived alone, so he could buy alcohol and drink whenever he wanted. He could hide he wasn’t eating. (When I went to sort through his house I threw out three cupboards of out-of-date food). When we talked in the evening (because he liked to be out most of the day, or so we thought), he seemed tipsy, but not drunk. He ensured that no authorities called my Sister and I to tell us what was happening.

It wasn’t until a brave Paramedic put his career on the line and called me that we realized what was happening. The Paramedic told us that they came out three to four times a week to pick him up from the floor because he was drunk and this had been going on for months.

I raced down to see my Dad, and after an Emergency meeting with his family Doctor, we discovered the extent of his drinking. He was drinking between one and two bottles of spirits A DAY. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t taking his meds and he could barely look after himself. I was disgusted at myself that he had gone to this state and we hadn’t noticed.

My Dad was admitted to the local hospital under a detox program. All-in-all he was in hospital for three months. My Son didn’t have the summer holiday we had organised, because I had to spend at least two-three days a week making phone calls on his behalf and visiting. At one point we thought he had stroked out during the detox program because he could barely hold himself up. There is a memory of my Dad scorched in my brain, of him, lying in a hospital bed, drooling, unable to speak, shitting himself and being spoon fed.

This is what alcohol addiction had done to him.

He didn’t have a stroke, but he did have swelling on the brain. Swelling which destroyed his short-term memory, his mobility and his control over his bowels. Under the advice of the hospital and his agreement, my sister and I organized a nursing home for him. We had to send our sixty-seven year old Father into a nursing home, because of drinking.

Over the last six months he has been sober. His mobility has recovered and he has more control of his bowels. His memory is still hit-and-miss and he has no real recollection of anything that happened during the last year. He finds it easier to think that I had put him in a home against his will instead of admitting the situation. For the last six months I have been constantly blamed by him for his predicament.

The lack of memory is unfortunately his  downfall. He has no recollection of what he was like during the last twelve months. He doesn’t understand what has happened. He thinks my Sister and I have dumped him in the nursing home and forgotten about him. Because he didn’t have organize Doctors meetings, or have telephone calls with Social workers and housing officers, it didn’t happen. Because he didn’t have to tour multiple homes and talk to accountants, his drinking is not an issue. Because he had decided to let me sort out all of his mess, he doesn’t realize how much work that is.

When he joked about drinking again and my sister and I berated him, he thought we were over-reacting. Who were we to dictate what he could and couldn’t do? He was lonely, and he could do what the heck he liked.

So, as he brought that bottle of Scotch last week, and started to drink it, he didn’t think it mattered.

Guess what Dad, it did!

I have spent the last two days having meetings and phone calls and playing damage control, because it does matter. When he drank himself to the point of hospitalization in June, it placed him on the RADAR of multiple Government agencies. When he refused help, it meant that liberties had to be taken away, and although my Sister and I have fought to maintain as many of those liberties as we can for him, it still means he can’t fuck up. Everyone is watching him; making sure he doesn’t get out of control again. If he drinks he is potentially dangerous to himself and others.

So, here is my letter - the one I was encouraged to write. This is what the last six months have been like for us. Dad, this is what Tor and I have gone through.

Your memory is shot and there is only so many times I can say all of this without going a little nuts. So, here goes… once and for all…


I am sorry Dad that we didn’t notice what was going on in your life. I am sorry that you are lonely and we weren’t there for you as much as we could be. We understand that you want to live close to where you have spent the last thirty years of your life -where you spent your life with Mum- but Tor and I cannot up and move our lives to be close to you. I am sorry I couldn’t ask you to live with us, but I am already a dedicated carer to one member of my family, who really does need my full-on attention. I do not have the mental strength to cope with you too. (Also we would have to move, as our house would never work for you). We were happy for you to move close to us so we could see you every day, but we can’t force you. We respect your decision to stay in the area you are comfortable.

I am Sorry, I really am. I feel guilty that we let this situation happen to you.

However, you are a grown man. Yes, Tor and I do have some of the responsibility for this situation, but so do you. We offered help and support and you ignored it. We tried to get you help and you refused. Tor and I do not have any legal responsibilities over you. Everything that has been decided for you, has been done with your consent. We can’t force you to be anywhere, or do anything you don’t want to. Ultimately where you are is YOUR choice, not ours. YOURS.

This isn’t about blame. You messed up, but we all do. We are all human. Family is there to help you pick up the pieces, and we have done that. You have no idea how hard we have worked to get you the type of housing you want in the area you want. You have it; in three months time you can move. I have lobbied and called and negotiated and pulled off a mini-miracle. I have jumped you from the back of the long waiting list to the front. Months of MY hard work have paid off, but you need to be sober.

You have to accept that you cannot drink anymore and that you need help. I will organize everything you need to help you in this, but you need to acknowledge that you have an issue and take the help. If you don’t then no matter how hard I try, I cannot fix this problem for you.

Understand the stakes. If you drink, you will lose the place you are in; they won’t allow you to stay if you are drunk, dangerous to yourself and mean to the staff. If you drink, the placement in a more independent home -the place you cited you wanted to go to- will fall through. Your memory will go, your mobility will decrease and you will have to be placed in a home that is very restrictive. If you carry on this path, any liberties you currently have WILL be taken away from you because you are dangerous to yourself and others. The authorities will do this to protect you. I will not be able to prevent it.

So, I am pleading with you. Please when you think that the one drink doesn’t matter, then read this. Tape this letter to your wall. Memorize it.

Please be the Father and Grandfather we love. The one that takes your Grandson on buggy rides and who races him in the park. The one who is kind and loving. The guy whose mission is to make one person smile every day.  Please do not become the mean nasty drunk who forgets Christmas because the Scotch is more important.

I can’t do anything more for you. I can’t fix this problem anymore. I have placed enough bandages on this and I have fixed it all I can. I have picked you up and placed in front of you all of the opportunities you claimed you wanted. It’s up to you now. A life or a bottle. Your choice.


Your Loving Daughter


I have needed to write this down for months. It has been swirling around my head to the point of breaking. It’s out of me now and perhaps, with two hours to go before the new year starts, I can finally start my days with a lighter heart. I have done everything I possibly can, (I know this now and I no longer feel guilty for the past) and now I need to pass the burden onto the only person who can fix this; my Dad.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Ten hard steps in beating depression (essentially act like a caveman!)

EOver the last year or so, people I know have all been diagnosed with depression. Its a hard subject to talk about unless you have actually experienced it. Unless you have felt the depths of darkness that depression feels like, then there is no point in saying you sympathise, because frankly you don't.

There are many do's and don'ts that you should do when dealing with someone with depression, and I am guilty of all of them. Which is strange, because I have been dealing with depression for about nine years.

I was talking to someone who has recently been experiencing the lows of depression for the first time, and I was trying to offer a perspective. It's a tricky situation, because just as is the case that you can't talk about depression unless you have truly experienced it, you also can't comment on someone else's depression, because like apples from a tree, not one case is the same.

So, here is my view. Take what you want from it.

Let no man tear asunder
As much as we wish, the likelihood is that once you have experienced depression, you will never be away from it. It will always be a part of you, and your job is not to overcome the feelings you have, but to accept them and develop tools to deal with them. Accepting that you suffer depression is the biggest success you have, learning to walk with it as a friend, is the next.

This isn't all about  you
The feelings and emotions and fears you are feeling are all a part of you, however, they are most probably due to chemical imbalances in your brain and body. Depression doesn't happen because you did something wrong, or bad, or you are weak. The feelings your body is telling you, are a direct response to the biological triggers that have been set off. If you want to blame someone, blame neolithic man. If they had determined the way to deal with a big fucking predator was to sit on your arse all day and drink coffee, then none of us would be in this position.

Fight or Flight
We can't escape our inbred, biological programming. Thousands of years ago when man met an adversary, they had two responses: Fight or Flight. For some reason we feel that our bodies should be smart enough to realise that a weekly trip to the grocery store, or a marketing meeting, isn't going to clobber us around the head, but heck evolution doesn't work like that.

The anxiety we feel with modern living triggers the same biological responses as being chased by a mammoth. The problem we have, is that we fail to respond to those biological impulses. Instead we act all 'Victorian' about it, develop a stiff upper lip that could hold up a continent and quietly get through our day.  Slowly, through every day, these chemicals race around our bodies shouting, "RUN" and "Hit the bastard" and they get more and more out of balance, until we are a wreck.

We need to honour those impulses. Why do so many people cite that a good physical workout sorts out their head? Those people are accepting that basic programming and work with it. Get Physical and shout, scream, run, lift heavy things, fight, whatever... by reacting to those stress chemicals in an appropriate way, you are in fact reducing the chemical imbalances.

Dig deep for sanity
Yep, it's neolithic man again. There is a anthropological theory that our ancestors were either 'Hunter-gatherers' or 'Famers', or possibly both. The hunter-gatherers are responsible for the fight and flight responses that require us to physically move, the farmers are responsible for our need to get dirty. Green therapy has long been used for patients with mood disorders and there is a reason. Bacteria in the dirt help our body release serotonin, (The happy chemical).  Run in the forest before planting a tree, should help lift your mood.

Where-ever you can, whenever you can. Laugh at things that aren't funny, then roll around holding you sides when they are funny. The old adage that "Laugher is the best medicine" is pretty much true. Laughter and smiling changes everything from our hormone levels to our blood pressure.It changes our attitude to life and how we perceive ourselves. Laughing increases neurotransmitters and endorphins into our brain. People who smile are healthier.

Did you know a four-year old smiles about four-hundred times a day, whereas their parents may only smile fourteen? Why should our kids get all the fun?

You don't even have to have anything to smile at. Pick a random person and smile at them. They will either look at you as if you are about to commit a horrible murder, or... shockingly... they may smile back. To receive a smile is just as good as delivering it.

People always marvel at the British attitude to smile self-deprecatingly at themselves. The British are always the first to make a joke at their own expense. Some nations cite this is a quirk; I call this brilliance. If you find yourself amusing, then you will never have to go far to find a good laugh. It helped us survive the Normans, the Vikings, Oliver Cromwell and the Blitz. If you need unsubstantiated evidence, there it is!

A glass of wine is worth a thousand tissues.
One of the pamphlets you will be handed when the Doctor diagnoses depression, will probably be about eating and drinking healthily. As much as that large slice of cake helps our short-term happiness, in the long term it will do more harm than good. The glass of wine you pick up at the end of the day is more likely to make your mood worse; have you ever seen the drunk twenty-something sat on the steps at the nightclub, blubbing into the shoulder of her long-suffering friend? Yep, blame that on the fourteen GandT's she has drunk in five hours.

It's not just wine. Caffeine elevates your heart-rate and can make you anxious. Yet, Eggs contain B-vitamins that may help your stress levels. Low digestible sugars are better than white bread and sweeties. Dark Chocolate may help, but not if you eat half of Bournville out of chocolate.

A balanced diet, eating a bit of everything but not glutting out on the bad stuff, will help you more than you realise. Forget the easy fast food outlets for a quick fix to your mood, try something that your body may actually benefit from. Your caveman buddies didn't sit with a tube of Pringles and a large hot-chocolate with whip. Take their advice.

Random acts of kindness
There is a tendency to always look inwards when you are feeling down. Everything feels as if its about you; every little slight, every little disaster. Life isn't like that. The universe isn't out to get you and people don't want to hurt you. It's hard to change that perspective. A simple -but not necessarily easy- way, is to do 'Random Acts of Kindness'. It doesn't have to be large, or expensive. You don't have to restrict these acts to family or friends. Anyone, anywhere can benefit from something you can give.

Help a stranger with the door as they struggle. Allow someone who looks harassed to go before you in the supermarket queue. Stop and talk to someone who looks a bit sad. Help distract a child who is having a meltdown in the clothes store so the Mum can catch their breath. Buy a coffee for the person in front of you as you wait at the coffee shop. Small acts, that change people's day. If people are genuinely thankful, and offer to pay you back in kind, then just ask them to pass the favour forward. Karma is a wonderful thing. Not only will you benefit from the good feeling you have from helping someone, but you understand that your problems are not the only ones out there. You remind yourself that you are a good person and develop a sense of perspective. Win, win in my book.

Accept the things you can't change.
There are battles in life you can't win; physical issues, societal problems, global disasters, the fact that your kid's teacher is called 'Hyacinth'. There is absolutely nothing you can do about it. Nothing, Nada, Zip. Pick the battles you want to fight and make the fight worth while. As for the rest? Ditch 'em. It is not worth your time and effort plotting a campaign of harassment on Ms. H. Pumpkin-Patch because you have hay-fever in the Spring. Yes, it is not as easy as it sounds. Yes, it is probably the toughest thing you will have to do. Yet, realising you aren't responsible for everything that happens in the world, and your job is not to make the world perfect, the simpler the battles you actually have to fight are. One of my favourite phrases at the moment is, "Not my monkeys, Not my circus". Picturing your arch nemesis in a gorilla suit makes walking away so much easier. 

Change the things you can.
The majority of our lives are determined, not by the decisions of others, but the decisions we make for ourselves. Where we live, where we work, who we have as friends, how we treat our family, how we act with strangers and how we look at our life -- these are all parts of our life we have within our control. When you think about it, there isn't much in life out of our control. We all feel as if we are the puppet to someone else's play -- that life is something done TO us, not something we DO. Yet, when you really think about it, there isn't anything in our lives that we can't change.

Hate your husband - divorce.
Dislike your job - apply for a new one.
Tired of your career - retrain.
Don't like where you live - move.
Friends treat you like crap - dump them.
Don't know what to do - ask for advice.
Have a chemical imbalance in your brain - take your meds.

I accept, that sometimes the decisions we have to make for our own happiness are tough calls to make -- especially when we are dealing with friends and family. I acknowledge that the decisions we make will potentially have financial and emotional consequences. There are times when the decisions we have made, are wrong later on down the line. Yet when we realise that our life is a myriad of dots that we have created; that life is a series of decisions WE have made, then we find the strength to take control of our lives. We get the strength to acknowledge our decisions, successes and mistakes. We are not a victim of our own circumstance; we are the ring-leader of our own show.

You know I said it's not about you? Yeah, actually it is...
I was sort of telling a little lie when I said it wasn't about you. Although depression is probably out your control in respect of your hormones and body chemistry, how you deal with it is your control. There is only one person who can cure -okay, alleviate is probably a better word- your depression. You.

Only you can acknowledge you have depression and that you want to change that situation. Only you can try to understand how YOUR body works and then take steps to remedy it. Whether it is talking to someone, or taking your meds, or changing the parts of your life within your control; only you have that power.

As much as we would like to, this isn't a situation we can pass on to someone else to fix like a broken washing machine, or a bad cell-phone service. Our friends and family can only support us so much, but if we don't acknowledge the situation and take steps to help ourselves, no amount of loving-platitudes will solve the situation.

Wallowing in our own self-regret and lamenting life's hurdles helps no-one and probably alienates more friends than we have. It is not easy, but then life never is. When cavemen had difficulties, they didn't sit around their rock on a Friday night crying into their beard... but there again they only had a language of one word and had a life expectancy of twenty years - okay bad analogy. The point still stands though - Running, getting dirty, eating, drinking, and living life a caveman is better than tea and sympathy in lightening your mood. Although, I would avoid donning a fur-lined loin cloth. That look isn't going to help anyone.