There was a point when I was going through a particularly tough time looking after my mum. Within the space of a few weeks it had been the anniversary of my dad passing away, what I knew would be my mum’s last birthday with us, I’d split up with the guy I’d been seeing, was being trolled by a particular girl on social media, mum’s condition was taking a nosedive and she’d had several falls, and to top it off I got laryngitis. And this was all in-between the daily grind of being a carer 24/7 of course.
So I made an appointment to see my GP and ask if they could refer me for counselling. I felt as if I was starting to slide off track and wasn't sure I knew how to put the brakes on. I thought that being able to talk to someone who wasn’t involved would really help.
When I explained to the doctor how I was feeling, she asked me if I was thinking about taking my own life. I told her I didn’t think that I could carry on but that I wouldn’t do anything because I didn’t know who would care for my mum if I wasn’t around.
The GP continued: “So, just to be clear, you haven’t planned how you would take your own life?”
I shook my head and said “No, no I wouldn’t actually do anything. I suppose I just think sometimes about how nice it would be not to have to cope with all of this.”
“Right, ok, well in that case you’re not what we would consider a priority but I can put you on a waiting list. It usually takes around 3 months for a consultation and then you’ll be assigned a counsellor and be entitled to four sessions with someone here at the surgery. Shall I put your name on the list?”
It made me angry. SO ANGRY. If I self-destructed then someone would help put me back together but where was my reward for trying so hard not to fall apart in the first place?
Coping seems to be so black and white in people’s minds. Either you are or you aren’t. But in my experience, there’s a whole load of grey when it comes to managing when a loved one has cancer. Just because you went out with friends yesterday and were joking around this morning, it doesn’t mean you won’t be affected by your dad’s bad scan results this afternoon and cry yourself to sleep tonight.
From the outside you look fine… You’re still managing to keep a roof over your head and food on the table. You’re still managing to get dressed and make it to work everyday. You’re still managing to hold a conversation (even though you and they both know your heart’s not in it). And you’re still managing to say “yeah I’m ok, trying to stay positive” without bursting into tears when people ask how you are.
People might notice that you’re a little frayed around the edges but they think you’re fine. In fact they think you’re doing great considering the circumstances. “So proud of you hun. You’re so strong” they text you. But inside your head it’s a whole different story. Never mind frayed, you feel as if you’re barely hanging on by a thread.
And there’s a strange part of you that wants someone to realise what a mess you are. You want someone to notice that you’ve started to drink more nights that not; that you hadn’t eaten earlier when you said you had; or that you’ve been slipping behind at work for months. You want someone to take the time to really look into your eyes and see you’re silently screaming out for a hand to hold as you charge into life’s next battle; for someone to tell you it’s going to be ok; to be there for you while you’re being there for everyone else.
Yet nobody does. No matter how much you’re struggling, no matter how much water you swallow, as long as you keep your head above water most of the time, nobody thinks to throw in the life buoy and help you reach the shore.
So I guess this is a little reminder (to myself as much as to anyone else). A reminder to look beyond the surface when one of your friends is going through a rough patch. And a reminder that if you’re ever the one going through that rough patch, to let others know how hard you’re finding it.