#WeekendCoffeeShare: The Elephant in the Room

I don’t think my family read the blog but this is now common knowledge to immediate family anyway. I’m sharing it because as a society we don’t talk about these things nearly enough. I don’t intend embarrassment or shame, and there really shouldn’t be any. Either way, whoever reads this, please tread softly out of respect for those concerned.

We wouldn’t be having coffee this weekend i’m afraid. I’d have to politely decline and promise to reschedule. Things have been unexpectedly turned upside down in the last two weeks and I just feel I have to put everything on hold for the moment.

‘Phone dad.’

The only two words in a text from my brother at 07:29am last Tuesday. In truth, my brother and I haven’t been on the best of terms lately so that he reached out to me so early in the morning was cause for concern enough. I phoned my dad.

My mum has Bipolar Disorder (formerly known as Manic Depression). This means she can experience the extreme highs of elation and manic activity, and the crushing lows of despair and self-loathing.

Diagnosed in her youth, she has been through several forms of therapy over the years, including barbaric electroshock therapy. When I was growing up, she was admitted to a psychiatric hospital a number of times, and I have strong memories of those visits. Nowadays, however, her mood is kept relatively stable with medication and she hasn’t had a severe episode for a number of years. She leads a full and busy life, keeping her illness in check.

Last Monday she took an overdose.

Thankfully – miraculously – she survived.

This is not the first time she has attempted suicide, however there were no obvious warning signs this time around. Mum and dad spent an uneventful afternoon together – she even made lunch – however when he returned home later he found her out of sorts and extremely lethargic. He soon discovered she’d taken at last ten day’s worth of anti-depressants. We believe it was around 160 tablets.

The cocktail included Lithium which is especially toxic, however thankfully she didn’t take paracetamol which is particularly deadly. My dad rushed her to the local hospital where she was admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. By the following morning – when I first spoke to him – they’d put her on dialysis to flush the drugs out of her system and had her sleeping under a mild sedative.

I caught a flight up the same day and when I saw her that evening she was connected to various machines, including – as a precaution – a ventilator. It was horrible and strangely alienating. It didn’t feel like a person in the bed, much less one I know personally.

The team looking after her were very good and kept us informed, however it was very much a waiting game to see what would happen. Their main concerns were damage to her organs such as the kidneys, or possible brain damage since she’d been almost unconscious when she arrived. Needless to say, extremely worrying.

Thankfully – miraculously – she came through physically unharmed.

By Thursday she was stable enough to be moved to an observation ward. She was awake but shaky and confused, although she recognised our faces. Her throat was sore from where she’d been intubated and her voice almost a whisper. She couldn’t remember how she had ended up in hospital and was experiencing some delusions due to the after effect of the drugs.

By the next day she was talking and in good humour, however she tried to leave the hospital, and for her own safety was detained under the Mental Health Act. Thankfully she remained on the same ward, however it was made clear to us that, as this was a short term ward, if she had to stay longer than 48hrs she would be moved to another hospital; potentially anywhere in Scotland depending on the beds available.

She improved day by day and by Sunday evening was physically fit enough to be discharged. She didn’t say a lot but was by now aware of what had happened, even if she couldn’t remember much about it. We had dinner together and put her to bed.

On Monday morning she was completely different. If you’ve ever had an elderly relative with dementia, that’s what it felt like. Mum was listless, lacking responsiveness, and vacant. She was confused and gave limited one-word answers. It was radically different from the days before and – in all honesty – quite shocking.

She has since improved though and every day this week has been different. Some days she has been more active, more talkative and self-aware. On other days, like yesterday, she’s been agitated and experiencing involuntary movements, particularly of her arms. Today was her first low day but we were expecting it to come sooner or later. Her dreams upon waking remain particularly vivid and she gets tired very quickly.

There’s still a long ways to go but we’ve been here before. It will take time. We’re having regular visits from the care team at the moment and i’m off work for another week to be here for her and my dad. I hope over the coming week things will settle a bit more.

I don’t blame my mum – not in the slightest – i’m just glad she’s still here. I’m angry at her illness but it’s a fruitless anger that won’t change anything. Mental illness is the taboo subject that no-one wants to deal with. It gets swept under the carpet and there’s a stigma associated with it that doesn’t help those who suffer from it. Our minds are amazing, incredible, mysterious organs and our mental health just as complex. We should talk about these things.

So, yeah, rain check on the coffee?

Tell us about your week..

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15 Responses

  1. I don’t know what to say, and I certainly cannot bring myself to hit the little star icon. Thoughts, prayers and courage to you. Thankfully she has pulled through. May things be on an upward trend here on.

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  2. Glad to hear she’s doing alright. And that you can be there to support both your parents, as hard as that is I’m sure they are incredibly grateful. Hugs from all of us!

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  3. Thank you for sharing something so deeply personal.
    My mum has depression too, though our relationship is much different to yours. Through her own insecurities she’s made me feel fat and ugly for most of my life. She’s cold and bitchy, but I know deep down it’s her illness that makes her like that. Still, it makes it difficult to feel sorry for her in her situation.
    One day I hope to write up a post like yours – we must share the different sides of mental health, to show that it’s more common than people think – but now isn’t really the time.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sarah

    Dan, you’re incredibly courageous for writing this and hitting ‘publish’, it’s a very vulnerable thing to do. I hope writing it helped you, even just a little. I shall give you another hug when I see you!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Sarah

        I completely understand, it’s something I’ve tried to be more aware of – it’s hard when other people’s stories blend with ours, though. Your voice matters too, and you’re making a difference by telling the story from your perspective; it is just as important.

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