A Sad Time – Some Rambling Thoughts

I feel like it would be almost remiss of me to not write about Coronavirus. As a planet we’re all fighting it and, as with Influenza (Spanish Flu, if you must), this is something we will see in history books in the future.

I’m normally pretty up to speed on news. I try to keep myself in the know. You can’t always catch everything, though, and the rise of Coronavirus was actually one thing I’d not noticed. In fact, the first time I heard of it I thought it was a joke. Even then, when I read up on it, I wouldn’t have predicted what has happened.

I apologise in advance for if this post is a bit all over the place…this is all just a bit off the cuff.

I work in food retail. Due to this, I’m now classed as a ‘key worker’ in the UK. Someone that, if my kids were old enough, could still send his kids to school. Someone that has to keep working. That’s fine. I agree with it. I totally understand it…people need food to live. People need to shop.

I’ve been off work this past week due to holiday time. The week prior was when panic buying started. When I finished up for the week on the Saturday I left saying, “I’ve never seen anything like it.” I was, and still am, incredibly proud of my team during this time and proud of my friends in other stores working equally as hard…this is absolutely unlike anything any of us have ever seen. I’ve been in retail for nigh on 15 years. Going in to the shops this week has been eye opening and has made me think that, potentially, I’ve ended up being off for the worst week of panic shopping.

But what will next week bring? Who knows? All the retailers have been asking shoppers to stop panic buying, think of others. They’ve put restrictions on. But people are still panic buying. People are still buying far more than they need to. Today’s government press conference included a member of the retail consortium. The message? Think of others and stop panic buying.

I fail to understand how that message will change public behaviour any more than retail bosses have by saying the same thing. The mentality of people now is “We need to get this before they run out”…not everybody would have been thinking that way but the behaviour of others will have definitely forced it. Even for myself, I sit here knowing depots have got stock – I know some of the plans that will be put in place…can probably guess at others – but I worry about things my kids need. Thoughts of “if I see the correct size nappies for them I’d best get them before they’re gone”…it’s fear, anxiety and panic not bought on by the retailers, but instead by the actions of the public as a whole. The government message today does nothing, really, to alter that.

I’ve found myself walking around the stores this week when I’ve been getting food and found myself on a few occasions feeling almost emotional. Massive greed and selfishness will have hurt people. When I am shopping and thinking about the food my kids like but those shelves are empty…what do you do? I feel fortunate that I’ve seen some great generosity this week otherwise, potentially, I’d also be panicking for the weeks ahead.

As I’ve stated before, I’ve been in retail for about 15 years…both food and clothing/home. In that time, I’ve had the chance to get to know so many people – people I wouldn’t normally talk to – and you get to see a side of humanity, both good and bad, that you don’t see in any other job sector. Looking at the bare, empty shelves has me thinking of a customer I used to serve years ago when I was a part time deli assistant. His name was John.

I have no idea if John is still alive. He was getting on a bit and clearly had some issues. He’d come in, pretty much, at the same time every day. Albert Einstein hair style, an old blue coat that had tears in it and patches of dirt. His facial expressions used to remind me of Wallace from Wallace and Gromit. Anyway, he’d come in every day and ask for “two slices of honey roast ham on one and a half. I don’t have a fridge so this way I don’t throw it away.” Every day. Without fail. I found John quite an interesting character. He had a good job before retiring, but once he retired he slipped. Clearly had signs of dementia, clearly very lonely. The trip to the shop was as much a social thing as it was a necessity for food.

I look at the shops now and think of John and the countless other John’s I’ve met, served and got to know over the years and it genuinely saddens me. It saddens me because I don’t know how he would survive. Food counters have shut to allow supply chains to focus on key deliveries – a correct decision – but for John that would probably mean spending more on pre-packed items. And, even then, it’s only if he could get it. I’ve noticed how, in several areas of stores, the cheaper and average priced items have all sold meaning only the expensive alternatives remain. If you shop at the wrong time, you’ll spend more and, probably, for less. For people like John…could they even afford that? I worry that, for those people, it won’t be Coronavirus that kills them…it’ll be malnutrition. And, again, it saddens me because that’s not the fault of the retailer as there is stock at depots…there was just no need to panic buy and put depots in a position whereby they simply can’t get enough of the stock out quick enough. We’ll undoubtedly see shoplifting increase, too, as people find only expensive alternatives and find they can’t afford it.

And what about when people do find themselves in a place of not being able to afford food? Food Banks? Well, no…because people aren’t donating. Some are being stolen from. Help from the banks? Unlikely, unless you’re a business affected by things. So, bankruptcy? Unpaid rents and rise in homelessness? Maybe. Anxiety? Depression? Further mental health issues? Most probably.

The behaviour of people has lead to this. That is why Supermarkets are now having to put in place designated hours for vulnerable people, NHS workers…but, the reality is that it should never have really needed to get to that point.

Even if the country goes in to lock down – which, you’d believe looking at others, it will – Supermarkets will still be open. I’ll still be going to work. People still need food. My brilliant team, myself and others will still be working to provide for the people. We have online deliveries. To repeat what the retail bosses, and the government, all say…there is no need to panic buy, there is a need to think about others.

But what is the answer? Honestly…I don’t know. We’re asking people to change. There is a likelihood that these past two weeks will change some people’s shopping habits for good, anyway. I don’t know what the future will look like.

Are the government doing enough? Again, I don’t know. Hand on heart, I couldn’t say if I think they’re doing the right things or not. I think today felt like a checklist press conference – a way to say, “we’ve talked about it.” I think offering to pay 80% to workers that find themselves out of work due to Coronavirus is admirable. I think the negligence to the self employed and zero hours contracted people – plumbers, freelance journalists, PR people, writers, musicians and so on – is shambolic. I think we’ve been slow to respond to the virus…still think there’s an element of people underestimating how serious it could be…but I think we’ve eventually got to doing the right things, such as closing pubs.

I still don’t think information on the virus itself is clear enough. We don’t do enough testing. How do you know the difference between a cold and the coronavirus? What makes a “persistent cough”?

I don’t pay for Spotify premium. Don’t really use it enough to warrant it, plus I love physical copies of CDs etc too much. But, during the Brexit talks, there were public service announcements about the changes coming. For Coronavirus, I’ve heard none at all.

We have to trust in those above us and believe they are doing the right thing by us…even if I think, you think, or anybody else thinks more could be done…we have to have faith in them.

And then we have to look at ourselves, too. We have to think about other people. Not just look at the news, read words online and say “That is a shame, isn’t it? How sad.” but seriously look at ourselves, our behaviours and ask if we are doing the right thing, too.

Eventually Coronavirus will pass on and go…but it is our actions that will dictate just how damaging this pandemic is for people in the years to come.

Birth, Anxieties and Facing In To Mental Health

Pixar-Post-Inside-Out-Joy-Cheers-Up-Sadness

There was a moment in the aftermath of my son being born whereby all the midwives and nurses had left the room allowing my fiancee to have a shower and for us to have the first time alone as a family. At this time, I’d never really held a baby for that long. I certainly hadn’t felt comfortable holding a baby in the past and I was extremely nervous about holding my boy for the first time. Basically, I didn’t want to drop him.

I imagine it’s a fear that many new Dads have. The thoughts of “will I balls this up?” are always there, ever present, planting seeds of doubt. I had a moment of guilt. I’d watched a baby be born (a baby weighing over 10lbs at that), I’d seen the enormity of what the female body goes through during delivery and here I was, thinking, “Adam, don’t drop the baby.”

Fortunately, I didn’t. For the first time in my life I felt genuinely comfortable holding a baby, my baby, and immediately I was besotted. Here in my arms was a purple (he was a big lad and he came out quick), perfect little boy. My fiancee, once everybody had left the room and we’d had a few minutes with our son, got up and went to have a well deserved shower. I had my first bit of alone time and faced, for the first time alone, tears.

On birth, he didn’t cry. The only cry we had was a solitary cry as he was passed in to his Mother’s arms. Nothing else, really, until this moment. I’d gone from hoping I wouldn’t drop the baby to suddenly thinking “What do I do now?” I kept thinking of the few antenatal classes we’d been to and it popped in to my head that the nurse doing the classes said, “You have to think, these babies have never seen a face, never been outside, not seen anything…it’s initially probably very scary for them being away from the womb.”

I held him close, gently rocked and instinctively started going “sshhh” and whispering a made up song (tired, jumbled words about the world being scary but it’s okay and we love you…or something) before just repeating “It’s okay…it’s okay…” as he fell to sleep in my arms for the first time.

This would turn in to what I’d do (minus the made up song…although they’d still sometimes creep out) every time our boy was crying and I was on duty to comfort him. “It’s okay…it’s okay.” Sometimes it worked, other times it wouldn’t but that’s babies. We’ve been lucky because our little boy is, for the most part, seemingly very happy and that’s absolutely brilliant.

As a new Dad, I’ve started to look at things in life a little differently. My priorities have changed completely. Life has changed completely. It alters your perception on some things, too. You start to look to the future, thinking about what it will be like, not so much for yourself, but for the child. Some of my biggest anxiousness now hangs around the world my little boy (and soon little girl) will grow up in to. Things are so different to when I was younger, and because of that ‘unknown’ factor it sometimes terrifies me. These are parents’ anxieties, I have learned. I have no doubt that when I am 62, and our little boy is 32, I’ll still have similar anxieties.

One thing that has arrived since I left school is social media. We live in an age where people do their best to present an almost false life on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. It can be dangerous, it can lead to bullying, narcissistic personalities…but, it can also be good. Fewer days highlight that more than World Suicide Prevention Day, that we had on the 10th September.

Twitter was awash of people sharing their stories and their experiences. Words to help people, let others know that they are not alone and there are other options. Several of my Facebook friends shared posts. The main statement always being “It’s okay, not to be okay.”

It made me think back to my son’s first day when I sat gently rocking him whispering, “it’s okay”, over and over. It made me think of the amount of times I’ve comforted anybody and said either, “it’s okay” or “it’ll be okay, things will be okay.” It’s the ‘go to’ comfort comment, but, I wonder, how many people saying those things actually believe things will be okay? And, more importantly, how many of those people we comfort by saying “it’s okay” actually think it is okay and things will get better? I fear sometimes that we dismiss mental health too quickly by saying “It’s okay not to be okay” when really we should say “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.” There is a worrying lack of real support for those that suffer with mental health, waiting lists can be huge – by constantly telling people it’s okay to not be okay are we potentially risking people ignoring their mental health and shrugging it off as “one of those things”?

I’m as guilty as anybody for shrugging off my own mental health. I can think of times when I have seriously struggled, but not done anything because I’ve taken the stance of either “I’ll be okay” or “this is just normal”. The worst time for me was, without doubt, the passing of my Mum. I remember being sat with my Dad in a hotel when she was in hospital and feeling my chest getting tighter and tighter. It carried on for some time and when we got home I went to the doctors and ended up being given an ECG. It came back normal and it was explained to me that I was probably having anxiety attacks. Nothing more was done because at this moment in time it was okay not to be okay. Of course it was. But the months after that? In the August of that year, 8 months later, I went to the doctor regarding my stomach and got diagnosed with stress related IBS – we talked about my Mum, briefly, before the doctor talked to me about other doctors suffering the same condition. I remember him saying “It’s one of those things, unfortunately, it affects the best of us.” It’s okay not to be okay.

I’m not meaning this as an attack on the people that say “It’s okay not to be okay”. For what it’s worth, I completely agree. I do, however, think it’s fair to worry that we normalise it as being something it is not. I think about friends I’ve had, some I’ve lost, and I wonder if they hadn’t faced in to their own mental health issues because they also dismissed it as a bad day. We need to do more to make people aware of what is out there to help. Yes, we do need to let people know that it’s normal to not feel well, it’s normal to have moments where you struggle and that it can be brought on by almost anything or nothing at all.

But we also need to know when saying “It’s okay”, as I did with my young lad on his first day, isn’t enough.

Climbing Mountains

snowdon group

I always used to think that when people would say “I think about them everyday” they were being almost too over sentimental, saying things that people are ‘expected’ and ‘ought’ to say. As it turns out, I was the one that was wrong.

Since Mum’s passing in January I can honestly say I have not had one day go by where I haven’t thought about her, and the thoughts can be about anything, brought on by the smallest things. In my own way, I don’t mind having these thoughts because I guess it almost makes it feel like she’s still there, still with me.

I vividly remember when Mum fell ill. I was at work, due to be working to 7pm, a shift I had intentionally put myself on in order to complete some colleague performance reviews. Around half 5/quarter to 6, a colleague came to me with the work phone saying he had Lexi, my fiancée, on the phone for me, which started alarm bells because, well, I don’t get personal calls at work. She told me I needed to contact my Dad. I called him and he explained my Mum had collapsed on the landing. My sister, Joy had found her on the floor, but Mum was awake and talking, just unable to move. Paramedics were on the way.

I remember leaving work and saying to my duty manager that I thought Mum may have just hurt her back, and that was why she couldn’t move or, later, be moved by the paramedic. At no point did I think that things would turn as they did.

mum

Mum was 55 years old when she passed away. She hadn’t suffered with any previous serious illness, the only thing that had affected her was high blood pressure which she was taking medication for. Ultimately, that high blood pressure played a major factor in Mum’s collapse and subsequent illness.

Five days after that fall, after I thought she may have damaged her back, Mum passed away with aortic dissection.

I struggled to come to terms with the shock of that. The whole family did. I can’t write about how my Dad, Joy, Aunt, Cousins felt, but personally I felt like I almost went through two stages of grief – an initial bout of shock that was followed by some large bouts of denial, followed by the realisation that, yes, this had happened, and, no, Mum wasn’t going to walk through the front door and tell us that it was all some sort of joke. Coming to five months on, I know we still all have those bad days, bad moments…but as time goes by we learn to deal and will get better at that.

Somebody, I think it was a nurse, said to me “You’ll always hear people saying that you need time to heal, time is the greatest healer. Ignore it. You never heal; you deal. You learn to deal with it in your way. It’s not about healing, it’s about dealing.” I think they were right.

The five days Mum fell ill and was in hospital getting treatment were five of the longest days of my life, and I can remember so much so clearly it still feels like it was only yesterday. I won’t go in to more details, but I will talk about where she was, and talk about the team that looked after her at the amazing Papworth Hospital.

On the Friday morning, at 7am, I left my Mum after talking to her for what would be the last time while she was awake. We had to leave as the operation was due to start. The surgeon looking after my Mum, a man named Mr Choo, took us in to his office to explain the operation he was about to carry out. I next saw my Mum at 2am on the Saturday morning, Mr Choo sat us in the office to explain how things had gone. 19 hours later, this man was still working, he hadn’t stopped. The next morning, we couldn’t sleep, we were back at the hospital early and so was Mr Choo, continuing to monitor Mum. He was always there, the dedication he put in to it was so incredible to watch and on that Tuesday when the end had come you could see how disappointed and upset he also was. He was with us all the way through it. You don’t forget things like that.

Mr Choo is just an example of the staff at Papworth. Everyday we saw the dedication from so many of the staff there, both working for my Mum and for other patients…it was truly inspirational. To see someone work the hours they do, but never drop the amount of effort they put in, just to try to help, try to save others, was phenomenal. I wonder whether some of them even sleep, to be honest!

The team at Papworth supported us all so much during those last days, and for some people they may struggle to understand why I feel so fondly for a place where my Mum didn’t make it. I feel so strongly for the hospital because of what I saw in every hour of every day; they don’t switch off, they never give up, they do everything they can and they go through it with you, supporting you all the way. They’re a credit to the NHS, these are people we should be proud of, and should support.

One thing that sits in my mind was when I was sat with Mum while she was sleeping post-op, and the nurse was talking to her, explaining what she was doing. It may sound odd, but just something like that alone gave you hope. Every member of that team did what they could to keep our spirits high through an ultimately devastating period of time.

For that reason, a team of us decided to raise some money for the Papworth Hospital Charity; a way to say thank you. A team of 8 of us chose to climb Mount Snowdon at the end of May. None of us particularly experienced walkers/climbers, we set the challenge of doing the climb to raise £2000. The weather was difficult, the walk was tough…both mentally (the Miners Track…constantly looking for the car park on every corner) and physically…but we made it. And, at the time of writing this, I am immensely proud to say we have so far raised £2,591.95.

snowdon climb group

Throughout everything that has happened, it has totally opened my eyes to just how kind and how brilliant people can be. Whether it was the support my work gave me, the team at Papworth, to the several people that have donated out of their own good will and sent messages to us all…I can’t say thank you enough. You have all helped to make positives out of an incredibly negative situation.

I know full well my Mum would have been watching us, calling us “crazy” for going up on what turned out to be a rather wet day, but I know she’d have also been proud of what we have achieved.

She’d also be proud of the work my cousin, Mark, has done in raising £535.34 through his own fund raising efforts.

My Mum was the life of the party, a wonderful woman, and I miss her dearly. I have so much to thank her for, and so much to love her for. I will never stop thinking about her. And if there is another place we go to after life, I hope she’s there having a party now, showing the others how to have a good time.

If you’d like to donate anything to our Just Giving page, please feel free to do so by clicking here. Thank you.

Thinking Of Nan

When I was at school and I used to label so many things as ‘lucky’ or ‘my favourite…’, I used to regard the number 28 as my ‘lucky number’. Unlike other ‘lucky’ or ‘favourites’, I had reasons for labelling 28 this way. My birthday falls on the 28th, the house number for where I lived in Birmingham was 28, my Nan was born in 1928.

Unfortunately, earlier this year, my Nan passed away. After years of waiting for a phone call to tell me it’s happened, when I finally got that call it still hit me as a total shock. No amount of preparation, or even expectation, could prepare me for it. The night before we’d been advised it wouldn’t be long, so I was expecting the call the next day. When it came, on that morning, I remember my emotion didn’t change. Looking back I probably seemed a bit emotionless when on the phone.

I was home alone that morning, not at work until 2pm. I text a few people in the family, text the other half…had a brief conversation with the other half…but at no point did I feel it had hit me. With hindsight, I took the wrong decision and I went to work. I went to tell my line manager that I would need time for a funeral. I broke down. All the emotion that had refused to show itself all burst out at once. It was the first time I’d talked about it in detail on that day and it was too much for me.

My Nan’s death wasn’t a surprise. It felt like a prolonged wait for that day, if truth be told, but it still hurt. My Nan suffered with dementia, and, years ago, she had clearly forgotten who I was and I took the decision to never go and see her again.

I will never forget the last time I saw Nan. She was in the Lickey Hills Nursing Home. I’d moved to Lowestoft with my Mum, Dad and Sister a couple of years before, and it had been a while since I’d last seen Nan, so when we visited Birmingham for a weekend I said to my Mum and Dad that I wanted to go with them to see Nan. Both of them advised me against it, but, being stubborn, I was insistent that I go. I walked in to the social room, which was effectively a large lounge/dining area, but couldn’t find Nan. The TV was in the far corner of the room surrounded by arm chairs with big backs on them. We stood by there for a few seconds to see if she was in the room. And then I remember looking towards the entrance door to the room, where we had just come from, and Nan was there.

I remember Nan was stood there, looking towards us, but not looking at us. There was nothing there. She had lost so much weight, she looked like a skeleton with skin. This old, frail, woman that I loved, and pretty much lived with during my childhood, was stood in front of me looking like a shadow of the person she was, looking straight through me. I was so scared. Without even knowing what was going on, I started crying. I ran past Nan, she didn’t even take notice of me, and I tried to get out of there. I remember getting to the main door to get out and there was a security code you had to put in to open the door. I couldn’t even collect myself to get the code in correctly. An old man that resided at the home put his hand on my shoulder…I’d guess he was trying to comfort me somehow, but it did the complete opposite and I was in an even bigger state. My head was gone. My Dad came round the corner and took me outside. We walked around Lickey Hills and I calmed down.

That was the last time I saw my Nan. I didn’t speak to her, she didn’t speak to me. That was 11 years ago. I’m full of guilt for the way I reacted that day. I constantly argue with myself about it. Should I have gone? Should I have “manned up” and stayed? Should I have gone again after? They’re questions that no matter what I answer with, or whatever anybody else answers with, I will always have. They are questions I will always throw at myself. It is a guilt, rightly or wrongly, that I will always feel. That last sight of Nan haunts me, even to this day, and it saddens me more than I can say that that is my last image of her. She didn’t deserve it.

I struggle to think of many memories of Nan before the onset of the dementia. Dementia is a truly horrific illness, and one that I was not prepared to see. I can tell so many stories about my Nan just before she went in to the home. Everyone always talks about the forgetfulness…yes, she did leave the gas on sometimes, for example…but there were other things that, actually, were sad but funny, for example, one Christmas sat watching Star Wars Empire Strikes Back, and as my Dad is about to go out my Nan is pleading with him to stay in because of all the fighting outside, pointing at the TV as if to say that battle on the sand was happening outside our front door in Birmingham. You don’t get told about things like that…you don’t get prepared…they just happen, and you never know how to handle it. As a 10/11 year old boy I remember laughing about it. What else could I do?

The last I remember of my Nan at home was when I think it really hit home with me that she was going. I was in bed and I got woke up by my Dad. I was no more than 11 years old, this is 16 years ago, and I still remember it like it only happened the other day. My Dad woke me up, he stood by the door, my Nan was stood to the left of him. He asked me, “Adam, am I your Dad?” To get woken up late at night to get asked that question by your Dad was a bit odd, and I remember asking “What?” to which my Dad said, “Your Nan is saying I’m not your Dad, and Mum isn’t your Mum. Can you tell her that we are your Mum and Dad?” I said yes, that they were Mum and Dad, their names were Mary and Roy…but my Nan argued with me to not believe them. She said, and I remember this so accurately, “They are Mary and Roy, I know, but they’re not my Mary and Roy, they’re not your Mum and Dad, they’re a different Mary and Roy.” She wanted to take me away to her house with my Sister and wait for my Mum and Dad, who were stood next to her, to come back for us. It was totally surreal, absolutely confusing and, looking back, completely heart breaking. My Nan had, on this night, gone over the line and I knew then more than ever that she was unwell. But Nan had no idea.

When she was in hospital, before going to the nursing home on Lickey Hills, we went to see her and I remember talking to a woman that looked fairly young, around 50ish maybe. She had got to know my Nan, and I remember her saying that she felt quite lucky because she knew she was being affected by Alzheimers, whereas she could tell that my Nan had no idea what was going on. I’m not particularly sure what is better…it still takes people away regardless of whether they know or not.

Looking back, perhaps the most striking thing is the appearance of my Nan from then to when I last saw her. She still looked healthy at that point, she didn’t look a shadow. She was, in fairness, still as stubborn in her attitude and personality as she had been before the illness took hold. My Nan was a strong character, a stubborn character. Five years after that hospital trip she was none of that. The degeneration, because that’s what it is, was truly terrifying. That’s the most upsetting thing about dementia. It takes a person you know and love and breaks them down in to a person you no longer recognise, and they no longer recognise you.

Eleven years on from that last visit to Nan, she has now passed on. I’m not a religious person, but I hope she has gone to a better place, a heaven if there is one. I continue to try to remember Nan for who she was. A woman that looked after me for so much of my childhood. A woman that cared for me so much. I try to block out that last image and think back to happier days with Nan. I also try to use my experiences to try to share feelings with others, and, hopefully, one day, be able to help those that feel the same way and are going through similar experiences. Knowing you’re not alone is a big thing, and it pleases me to no end that charities like Alzheimer’s Society, Dementia UK and Dementia Friends are doing so well now, and getting the publicity they deserve.

And, 16 years on from when she first went in to the home, I still say 28 is my ‘lucky’ number, and the main reason for that is, and always will be…my Nan was born in 1928.