A number of carers have contacted Carers Support with their stories and wish to remain anonymous.
It was a February more than a decade ago when it began.
On the 8th, my son passed his driving test, on the 18th we celebrated his 18th birthday and on the 28th he attempted suicide.
Nothing can prepare you for the reality of sitting with your child through the night, knowing their life hangs in the balance by their own hand. He spent a few days in hospital and was then discharged with a prescription for antidepressants and a follow up GP appointment.
“We were horrified, but we muddled through the next few weeks; our raw emotion transforming into watchful anxiety.”
We were horrified, but we muddled through the next few weeks; our raw emotion transforming into watchful anxiety. In some ways our family became stronger. We talked more about emotions, feelings, despair and real issues. In another sense, however, our complacency had been ripped apart.
My son passed his A Levels, went to university for a year, but dropped out and returned home. He had a few low level jobs, but couldn’t hold any of them down. During this time he continued taking antidepressants, constantly reassuring us that he was fine and was just trying to find his niche in life. He became withdrawn, yet intense, fearful, suspicious and emotionally volatile. His GP prescribed strong antidepressants but there was no offer of counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or family therapy. He slept during the day and prowled around the house at night. As the months went on, he barely left his bedroom, still refusing to talk.
One Sunday night he completely broke down and he agreed to let me take him to A&E. Eventually, he saw a psychiatric nurse and she was so alarmed by his state of mind that he was detained under the Mental Health Act and my son spent his 21st birthday in a psychiatric hospital.
His suicide attempt was torment of the highest order, but this was a close second. Being thrown into the depths of the mental health world was desperate. We began a life influenced by a cycle of hospital appointments, medication, a period of calm, refusing medication and then back to hospital.
The family learned a new vocabulary: sectioned, CTO (Communnity Treatment Orders), CMHT (Community Mental Health Teams), Crisis Team, responsible adult, support worker, Quality and Outcomes Framework, paranoia, secondary care, severe and enduring mental health condition.
But people cope, humans are resilient.
Those next few years were a blur of calm periods and ‘flash-bulb’ memories, seared into my mind. I became knowledgeable about his illness. But I carried fear, shame, guilt and stigma very near the surface and I was emotionally fragile. I recollect often leaving the house by the back entrance so that I could avoid neighbours.
“For the first time I could talk without stigma and shame. It didn’t matter that I cried, was angry or quiet, everybody there understood and respected each other. Up until that point I hadn’t recognised myself as a carer.”
I don’t remember how I found Carers Support West Sussex, but I recall my first meeting; slipping in at the back and listening. I was amazed at the experience and knowledge of the group. How welcoming they were, how helpful and realistic. How unobtrusively the facilitators guided the group. For the first time I could talk without stigma and shame. It didn’t matter that I cried, was angry or quiet, everybody there understood and respected each other. Up until that point I hadn’t recognised myself as a carer. I was in paid work, he is my son and that’s what we do.
Through Carers Support I accessed counselling, and a behaviour management course but just as importantly I learned from other experienced carers. I slowly began to feel proud of what I do, not shame. About 5 years ago I retired and used part of my free time to learn more about mental illness and the recovery principle. Carers Support directed me to activities that would challenge and enlighten me. Gradually I realised I was becoming one of the long standing experienced members of our group. I can honestly say that it constantly amazes me to see carers who are the real heroes in life. People who are adaptable, resilient, brave and funny. Humour has a great place in our support groups.
Last year I recognised that Carers Support had enriched my life so much that I wanted to give something back to the organisation, so I applied to help at a local carers group. Already it is giving me as much knowledge, pleasure and fun as anything I give to it.
In the words of Christopher Robin to Pooh: “Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.”