Where do I start with this? My life over the past few months and weeks has been a challenge to say the least. Some of you will know that my incredible Mum has been living with secondary breast cancer since June 2014. Devastatingly, she died on 23rd September 2019.
She was an amazingly stoical women. She never once complained or got angry (that we saw) about her diagnosis. Her cancer didn’t define her, and she wasn’t going to let it get in the way of her living the life she wanted to. To say she ‘fought’ the disease implied that she ‘lost’ when she died, like it was her fault for not trying hard enough; that she was defeated. It wasn’t something she was ever going to ‘beat’, it was something to live with. And she did that so bravely and formidably.
The last few months saw her physical strength decline, and when the time came that her wonderful NHS team could do no more than to try and keep her comfortable she maintained her grace, humour and vigour. She planned everything for the end right down to the food we ate at the wake.
I could write pages about who she was and what she meant to me, to my Dad, my brothers, sons and friends. But I won’t. You’ll just have to take my word on that. Needless to say we are all trying to cope with her loss in our own way. I am so fortunate to have a close family and be blessed with wonderful friends. Not only have they helped me with bereavement but with my own mental health journey around this.
An understandable response to three significant life events (Mum’s declining health, my ‘day job’ being removed from the organisational structure, and a separation), in September this year I found myself circling into a depression. The first and only previous time I have experienced this was in December 2018. I felt hopeless and helpless and unable to do much more than function as an automaton. This time, I knew the warning signs and could feel myself slipping into the same space. I was also unbelievably lucky to have a friend who told me to seek help.
I am so lucky to have access to an incredible primary care clinic and the doctors who work there. They knew what happened around my depression in December and this time their doors were instantly open to me. I was signed off work and told by my GP to ‘exercise, eat well, sleep and do things you enjoy’. If you’re anything like me, this was invaluable. I found it hard to be ‘signed off’. I would have felt that unless I was bed-ridden, I should be at work. But my GP helped me to realise that what I needed was alleviation of some of the pressures to just enable me to get back to a basic level of mental health, and for that I needed to prioritise myself.
On World Mental Health day, I am so grateful to the NHS. I have worked with and for the NHS for 20 years, and have been a recipient of its care so many times; now for my mental wellbeing as well as my physical health. The care given to my Mum was incredible. The absolutely awe-inspiring Secondary Breast Care Nurse, Ann, was essential to my Mum’s ability to live well with her diagnosis. The care she received from her therapist, Liz, her oncologists Mark and Martin, and the other key staff were incredible. It was all about the humanity and the rapport, the attention to her ability to cope as well as her physical needs. At the end, it was through the actions and thought of caring health professionals (district nurses, the palliative team and her GP) that she was able to die at home and without pain. My Dad by her side. Just as she hoped.
This World Mental Health Day, I am sharing my story with you. I am also going to meet a friend for lunch and a walk in nature. I am doing something to feed my soul. I am reaching out and saying “it’s okay to not be okay”. We all face our own struggles. How are you? No. Really. How are you? What can you do to make sure you are prioritising yourself? Who might need your shoulder, your ear? Who do you need to check in with?
I am slowly getting stronger and developing a ‘new normal’. It’s not easy, but I’m surrounded by good people. It’s not the case for everyone with mental health challenges.
Be kind to yourself.
With light and love,