Hidden Truths

Hidden Truths

Imagine the scene. A young adult on crutches staggers into a department store. It’s clear for all to see that he’s struggling and getting around the store is going to be a challenge. The majority of people will show empathy and kindness to him, if given the opportunity they might even offer him support. The staff are more likely to bend over backwards to help and make his shopping experience as comfortable as possible. Now it’s possible I’m being a tad naïve in this case but I do have experience of pushing people around shops in wheelchairs. All of a sudden you find people queuing up to be helpful, opening doors, moving objects out of the way, even offering to carry your shopping for you! You’re given all the time and space you need.

Getting around a department store would be extremely daunting for me and likely be even more challenging than for the person on crutches. My mental health illness is equally restrictive but unlike the people with physical ailments, my illness goes unrecognised. On first appearance I seem to be in perfectly good health and able to cope. In a busy environment people are not likely to give me space, even though I desperately need it. My anxiety levels, sometimes make leaving the house an impossibility. Though people are becoming more educated and perceptions are changing for the better, it’s still hard for them to understand what they can’t see, so sadly there is no immediate solution.

Maybe it’s time we started challenging the way things have always been. If we lived in a world where we felt comfortable enough to talk openly about our mental health. In such a world it wouldn’t be unusual for someone with anxiety issues to phone up a venue, prior to their visit, to request some help. This could result in a member of staff meeting you at the front of a shop and escorting you around or even meeting you at the entrance to the train station and taking you exactly where you need to go. The possibilities are endless if you just have the confidence to ask for help in the first place. I know I have no right to preach to you when I haven’t even tried this myself yet, but it’s certainly an option I’m going to explore in the future.

Hidden Truths

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, You have as much right to it as anyone else and you might be surprised by the response you get

What can society do?

Media and television have a huge influence over how people view mental health. Now, before I get on my band wagon, Its not all bad! There’s plenty of expert phone ins on day time tele, which are informative and offer good advice and links to support groups. There’s actors who portray mental health very accurately in some of the soaps and dramas. In Coronation street I thought Steve Mcdonalds story of living with depression was a particularly good one and in Emerdale Ashley’s dementia storyline was extremely well written. Both of which brought much needed awareness to the public. But as well as this on the same programs you get so many of the derogatory terms used when referring to someone with a mental health illness.

Brain dead, Insane, Nutjob, Fruitcake, Retarded, Not all there, Nothing up stairs! These are just some of the terms I’ve heard used flippantly in the last couple of weeks, and there normally said in a humorous manner, not intended as an insult! Fair enough, I can take a joke as much as the next person, but you wouldn’t expect a joke to be made about someone with cancer or a brain tumour would you? so why accept it with mental health? and why should we be so surprised that people have trouble opening up when this is how they’re perceived?

Then you get the news stories, regularly including violent attacks by someone with a mental health illness. Of course not everyone with mental health issues is violent, most of us know this, I hope! But what about the younger audience, what must they think?

I think the media need to include more positive stories relating to mental health and I strongly believe that at school, just as much emphasis should be put on the subject, as is already put on physical education. If we can get people talking about it from a young age then hopefully perceptions will change and more people will get the help they need.

asking for help

 

 

 

Questions and Answers

Here are some of the questions I have received this week and my responses to them

Why do people with depression push others away?
 There’s lots of reasons why I push people away, the main one being unless they’ve had depression themselves they can’t possibly understand how I’m feeling. When I’m in a depressed state everything’s a huge effort and therefore having company is the last thing I want. I also don’t want to inflict my negativity on to other people, I would much rather suffer in silence. Add to that, that I feel I’m a burden and don’t deserve peoples sympathy and I think I’ve answered your question.

 

Keeping Things simple

Today I’m going to talk about keeping things simple. For all you smart arses out there, when I use the word simple I’m not describing myself! I’m actually referring to the way we live our every day lives. Time moves quickly and that’s why its important not to waste a single moment. All the small day to day experiences are much more significant than you think. The majority of us rush from one task to the next and sadly the simple pleasures end up passing us by.

A friend asked me a good question the other day. He asked ‘If someone told you that you only had a week to live, what would you want to do in terms of enjoyment? Here’s what I came up with :

  • Obviously I’d want to spend quality time with my family and friends
  • Maybe a countryside walk with my brother
  • A milkshake with my friend in our favorite café
  • A couple of ice cold beers in my best mates garden
  • A picnic with my mum at our favorite lake
  • One last game of table tennis with my team mates
  • One last round of golf at my favorite course
  • Watching a classic film, like Goodfellas, whilst indulging in some Ben and Jerrys ice cream

Hang on a minute, I did all this last week and I’m still here! You might question why I haven’t got anything more elaborate on my list, but would you really want to cram as much things in as you can, or like me, would you prefer to keep it simple and stick to what makes you happy?

Rather than just a week,when I planned to kill myself I gave myself a full month to savor my last moments. Once I’d sorted all the practical stuff, making sure my debts were paid and I left my family enough money aside for the funeral. Once I’d sorted all this, all that was left to do, was to keep things simple and enjoy the time I had left. This was not a solemn time, it actually turned out to be a great time and a very honest one, I no longer had to pretend to be something I’m not. I found I was able to reflect on all the positive and completely live in the moment. No more worries about the future, what future Ha!

More than just a feeling of relief, all my senses were suddenly heightened. I remember thinking, this might be the last time I see this, So I’m going to make sure I really see it! This could be the last time I feel this and so I’m going to make sure I truly feel it! I was noticing and appreciating more than I ever had before.

Have you ever quit a job which you really hated? you hand your resignation letter in and straight away it feels like a huge weight has been lifted. Whilst your working your notice period, all of a sudden things don’t seem so bad, you might even start to wonder whether you’ve made the right decision to leave. I’d decided to make the ultimate quit, quitting on life, and all though I still thought I’d made the right decision I was far from certain.

I’m not going to go into details again about the day I almost went through with my suicide plan. If your interested in reading about this, its in my ‘There’s Always Hope‘ post. But this day was again about my senses being heightened, and arguably about a stronger spiritual connection. In the build up to the day and after it my whole outlook and approach to life changed. Now I’m satisfied with just being me and not having to prove myself to anyone. Still being here, alive and well should be, and is more than enough. I’m not going to pretend the journeys been an easy one, living with depression is extremely difficult. On my bad days I still hurt, and I still feel lost, like there’s no way out. But by learning to live in the here and now and  keep things simple, I’m putting much less pressure on myself and I no longer want to die (which has got to be a good thing!) I’m now able to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of life, like a beautiful sunrise or a clear starry night. Things that in the past have somehow passed me by. I feel lucky to be able to witness these things and thank god everyday for giving me the strength to carry on.

Keeping Things simple

 

I don’t have to go far to feel close to nature. This is what I can see whilst sat on my garden swing

 

 

Suicide Prevention

The Uncomfortable Truth- Suicide Prevention 

Mental health is still an extremely uncomfortable subject to talk about and life would be so much easier for myself and fellow sufferers, if this wasn’t the case.

They say that one in four of us will have a mental health illness at some stage of our lives. The reality is it’s almost certainly much higher than this but sadly the majority of people don’t seek help. Recently I was made aware of an alarming statistic that over 70% of people who commit suicide, haven’t attempted to get any medical support. Often the families are left totally shocked and bewildered by the tragic event, saying that they didn’t see it coming.

suicide prevention
A smile can hide our true emotions

It fills me with sadness when I think of those people trapped in their own heads having to deal with unimaginable mental anguish and eventually losing the battle. Feeling alone in every sense of the word, right up until the end.

At the moment mental health topics are on the television every day, be it in expert phone ins or actors portraying depression on dramas and soaps. People are being made aware of all the helpful organisations that exist and are being encouraged to seek help from their GP’s for the first port of call. So why when the subject is at it’s most prevalent, do the majority of people, even at their darkest moments, still refuse to get help? I find the whole thing perplexing to say the least and an area that desperately needs challenging.

 

I grew up in a world where I was lead to believe that only weak-minded people could get a mental health illness and only a negative pessimistic person would end up getting depressed. Depression not even being recognised as a proper illness but something that people should just be able to snap out of! I wonder how many still share that view today. I now realise this is complete rubbish. Mental health is not a weakness and as for depression, I for one have always been a positive upbeat person who sees the bright side of life, but I still got it! I could give you several examples of strong level headed people who end up completely pole axed and unable to function properly, all because of this illness.   Telling people that I suffer from depression is a great way to kill a conversation! Either that or they say they understand as they get a bit down sometimes too. Clearly these people don’t get it and it infuriates me beyond belief. Having depression is not the same as feeling a bit down, just as having a mental health illness does not make you cuckoo or a fruitcake, or any other derogatory terms I’ve heard used. It does not mean that you’re stupid in anyway either. Look at Stephen Fry, one of the most intelligent people on the planet, but his illness has been well documented over the years.

The truth is it doesn’t matter who you are, rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful. Sure- a traumatic event might act as a trigger but often this isn’t the case and you might just be one of the unfortunate ones who happens to get it. Like any other debilitating illness it affects people at random. No different to cancer or heart disease, mental health does not hand pick you. It has no favourites. But the facts are there, clear for everyone to see; suicide is the leading cause of death in young people aged 20-34. Just how many of these deaths could have been prevented?

I accept that society is becoming more open to talking about mental health, but there’s still a terrible stigma surrounding it, which prevents individuals from seeking help when they need it the most. I was nearly one of those people. Terrified by the prospect of asking for help, I didn’t think I was worthy of it and worst of all I couldn’t accept that I was in any way mentally ill!

 

The majority of people I have spoken to are of the opinion that suicide is a selfish act. This has been the same for as long as I can remember and growing up I shared the same view.

It doesn’t help if you’ve been directly affected by it or know of a family who has. You’ve been witness to the horror and devastation left behind. It’s perfectly normal at this point to mainly sympathise with the family and not give a second thought to the victim and the horrible place they must have found themselves in. What you witness is a whole world of pain and suffering and you can’t help but feel an element of resentment towards the person who caused it. It’s a delicate subject, I know, but in my opinion to consider suicide as a selfish act is a huge misconception. Suicide is not a selfish act, suicide is an act of shear desperation by someone whose experiencing unimaginable amounts of inward torment. Someone who has lost all sense of hope and literally feel they have no other option.

suicide prevention

In my case I was convinced that my family and friends would be much better off without me. I’d become a burden to them all, I’d become a burden on society. I longed for it all to be over, for the pain to finally stop. People’s lives would be so much easier without me dragging them down.

I knew there would likely be sadness right after my death but this didn’t compare to the sadness and disruption I was going to cause by staying alive. I didn’t see myself ever recovering, you see, I was only going to get worse and cause further distress to my family.

I guessed that my closest friends would try to take on some of the responsibility and I hated the idea of them feeling in any way to blame. I therefore wrote letters to each of them in a vain attempt to explain my actions and try to reassure them that they had been amazing friends, explaining that this was my decision alone and nothing they could have said or done would have changed the outcome. I couldn’t possibly predict their emotions but I’d much rather they felt anger towards me, as apposed to guilt. These letters were extremely difficult to write. Would a selfish person have gone to all this trouble?

My next big concern was financial. I didn’t want to leave my family with any debts. In an ideal world I would have sold my house and paid off the excess mortgage. Previously it had tenants in but at this stage the house was vacant and had been up for sale for some time. Unfortunately I’d had no luck, the economic climate being in a poor state. However after doing extensive research I realised that the debt of the house would die with me and my mother would not be accountable for any of it. This came as a huge relief.

I made sure I had enough money in the bank to pay for the funeral and put all my account details in a file in my top drawer. Also in this file I put any other important information my family would need, such as my birth certificate, national insurance number, mortgage details and all the numbers they’d need to contact after my death. I was trying my best to cover all angles and make the process as simple as possible for them. Does this sound like the actions of a selfish man?

I didn’t intend to tell anyone my plan to end my life but as the pressure valve increased I desperately needed some kind of release.

Jack Daniels became my only friend

I chose to open up to my counsellor and in doing so I immediately felt a huge sense of relief. I didn’t hold back or spare any detail, I literally told her everything.

It wasn’t until a much later date when I was in a better headspace and had no intention of going through with the plan. Only then did I confide in my family and closest friends. My friends all responded in a similar manner, in complete shock. They said things like “ How could you have done that to us? How could you have possibly done that to your family?” I couldn’t blame them for asking these questions and don’t get me wrong they have been amazing support to me ever since. But again, their initial reaction indicated that they believe suicide to be a selfish act.

 

It’s hardly surprising that people are so reluctant to talk about their mental health or admit to having suicidal thoughts. Yes there’s many organisations out there offering great support but we can’t expect the alarming statistics to go down any, unless people’s attitudes drastically change.

In my opinion people need educating from a young age. Physical health is well covered at school so why not put as much emphasis on mental health. Everyone is likely to be effected by it at some stage of their lives, either themselves or someone they’re close to. So why not get them talking about the subject as early as possible.

It needs to be accepted as a serious illness and I still have my doubts that people do. For those of you who claim that you do accept it in this way, ask yourself this – have you ever sent a ‘Get well’ or ‘Thinking about you’ card to someone with a long term illness? The majority of us would say that we have. But when was the last time you sent one to someone with a mental health illness?

Reassurance

Reassurance- People power!

When I think about needing reassurance, the first thing that comes to mind is my family. I am extremely fortunate to have a loving supportive family who understand all about my illness and the limitations it brings.

ReassurancesI’m fortunate to have a small group of amazing friends who also get me and are just like an extended family. When I’m out with them I feel like I’m cocooned in a protective bubble. Their support is invaluable and gives my confidence an extra boost. Don’t get me wrong I’m not mollycoddled by them, I still challenge myself daily and try to be as independent as possible, they just keep my spirits up and reinforce to me, that I’m doing the right things.  When I do something or go somewhere on my own, my reassurance is that I always have a friend or family member on stand by. If I’m struggling with my anxiety they’re only a phone call away and will come and rescue me, not even questioning the reason why. Knowing I have this plan B in place, gives me the necessary peace of mind and more often than not, I find I don’t have to use it. I appreciate that not everyone has the same level of support that I do. I remind these people that there’s an awful lot of online support services available and I too am happy to respond to any comments. It’s important to remember you’re not on your own.

Reassurance- Repetitive cycles

I gain comfort from a continuous routine. I guess it’s part of my illness that I need to feel in control and that there’s no surprises waiting for me around the next corner! Sadly there’s not too many guarantees in life but I find nature offering me some. Like every autumn the leaves turning a golden brown and falling off the trees, or every spring daffodils and tulips shooting up everywhere.

ReassurancesJust like these other phenomenon, for a two week period between spring and summer, my garden bush begins to blossom, tiny white flowers appear everywhere and the bumble bees come out to play. On sunny days there can be hundreds of them hard at work collecting pollen. The greedy ones drop to the ground, too heavy to take off! pretty soon the flowers all turn brown as they die away. This reoccurring event takes place every year without fail and there’s something strangely soothing about it.

I crave a simple life, where I know exactly what’s expected of me. Even though I know such a life doesn’t exist for anyone, I try to limit the surprises in mine, by excessive planning. For example If I’ve been somewhere before, I notice where all my escape routes are for future reference! I also know what time places are likely to be at their quietest. It might sound crazy but this is the simple reassurance I need to live my life.

Praying For Rain!

I don’t believe there’s any use in praying for the weather to change, I’m sure God’s got more important prayers to answer! However If I was to ask for anything it would be rain! For all you sun worshipers, before you scold me for even suggesting such a thing, think about all the other people and animals who also love the rain. Some even depend on it to survive, you see it on nature programs about creatures living in the baron desert lands, they can’t wait for the wet season to come. Closer to home you get gardeners who love the rain, saying it helps keep the grass healthy and the flowers blooming. In hotter climates people find the rain refreshing, as it cools them down, the Jamaicans refer to it as liquid sunshine.

Reassurances
this little fella loves the damp ground

Winter is my favourite season, mainly because it’s cold and it rains a lot! My body image problems are less of an issue, as I get to cover up.

In England when it rains the majority of people run for cover. The majority don’t go anywhere on foot if they can help it. If I see anyone they tend to be in too much of a rush to even notice me! So basically you can guarantee a quieter environment, which is ideal for me! Strange as it must sound I never feel more comfortable and stress free, than when I’m out in the rain. It’s one of my biggest reassurance, when everyone else is hiding indoors, I find I’m in my element.

 

social anxiety

My social anxiety presents itself all the time, some days when it’s at it’s worst it becomes extremely restrictive to my everyday life.

social anxiety
from a young age I always felt to be on the outside of the group

My major roadblock- social anxiety

 I’ve stopped pegging the washing out on a weekend, for fear of encountering the neighbours. This is ridiculous as we have good neighbours, they’re all perfectly pleasant and really shouldn’t cause me any trepidation what so ever. However the prospect of having a two-minute chat with them (probably about the weather) just to pass the time of day is so horrifying, that I simply can’t risk it.

Sadly my avoidance tactics don’t stop there, as my social anxiety starts to get the better of me. Getting the wheelie bin from the side of the house, once a week on bin collection day has quite frankly become a military operation. I tend to do it the night before when it’s dark and I’m less likely to be seen. I have to look out of the front, back and side windows before I even contemplate stepping outside. I open the back door ever so slightly and listen for a minute or two, then I tentatively stick my head out and check both ways. Only when I’m completely satisfied that no ones around, will I make my move. If this was an Olympic event I would win gold every time, I literally have it done in a flash, like my life depends on it and then I’m back in the safety of my house, taking a few deep breaths and thanking God I don’t have to do it for another week.

I began to lose my hair at a young age, in fact by my early twenties it had receded badly and there wasn’t much left. Since then I have always cut it myself and like to keep it shaved very short.

That was until six months a go when my clippers broke. As you’ve probably gathered by now, I don’t do social interaction too well. Hairdressers are notorious for being the chattiest of all people and sometimes sitting in that chair for ten minutes can feel like hours and be torturous to say the least, as they delve into your life history! Therefore I saw this as an ideal opportunity to challenge myself by taking myself out of my comfort zone. This is roughly how it went:

social anxiety

Barbers number 1– Cheerful enough but far too talkative. Constant questions tripping off his tongue, including asking what I did for a living which makes me feel uncomfortable at the best of times.

 

Barbers number 2– This one was disturbing. She was fascinated by the heat coming from my head, so much so she got the other hairdressers to come across and have a feel! This left me feeling a little self-conscious to say the least and I couldn’t wait to escape.

 

Barbers number 3– This one couldn’t understand why I didn’t cut my own hair. I told him that it was only temporary until I got some new clippers. As soon as I said that I realised I wouldn’t be able to return. Not that I would have anyway, he was far too chatty for my liking.

social anxiety

 

Barbers number 4– This one was interesting, nowhere near as friendly as the others. All the customers and staff seemed to know each other and this created a bit of a funny atmosphere. When I walked in everyone appeared to stop what they were doing and stare at me like I didn’t belong in their company. Like a scene from an old western as a newcomer enters the saloon. Hardly the most welcoming of places!

Barbers number 5– I finally found the perfect place for me, where the staff only understood a little English and couldn’t speak more than two words of it. When it was your turn they’d point to the chair and say, “sit”. When finished they’d say “five pounds” and that’s the only bit of chitchat I had to endure. Absolutely ideal! And this is the one I’ve chosen to return too.

Socially Inept?

I accept that people probably view me as a bit of a party pooper and some are probably sick of inviting me to places- only for me to come up with yet more excuses! I can even put up with being branded antisocial. But when did I get to the stage were I had this constant feeling of inadequacy? As my self-doubt reaches it’s peak, I start to view myself as a huge burden and believe that people deserve a medal for putting up with me. I need to remind myself that this is not true. How I deal with these difficult emotions is crucial. I choose to look at the funny side of my social anxiety, as I’ve tried to do in this post. Learning to laugh at yourself is such an important coping tool. You put less emphasis on your frailties, there not that important, there just something you can laugh about. Suddenly you find you have less anxiety moving forwards.

 

 

Inspirations- using positive influences

Having people who inspire you is extremely important for your mental health. My main inspirations are friends and family, however I’m also inspired by various sports men and women. There’s a lot of bad things highlighted on the news everyday. Tragic events happening all over the world and closer to home in recent weeks, with the terrorist attacks. If you’re like me and you already suffer with your anxiety, such events can influence you leaving the house, as you don’t feel safe to do so. It’s hard I know, but this is when it’s important that we also remember all the positive events taking place and I use my inspirations to help me do this.

Everyone loves a good under dog story, someone who has achieved great things against all the odds.

Inspirations- YES I CAN!

This Egyptian Paralympian (Ibrahim Hamadtou)  was told that he could never play table tennis as he had no arms or stumps to grip the bat. He proved that with single mindedness and remarkable determination, anything is possible!

 

The Paralympic moto is ‘Yes I Can’. I’m sad to say that most of the time mine is ‘No I Can’t!’ I find myself blaming my depression for this but sometimes this is just a convenient excuse. When I’m playing sports my competitive spirit shines through, if only I could view depression as my latest opponent, maybe I could put it in it’s place! Seeing my inspirations and all their achievements gives me a huge boost and makes me want to try harder to emulate their success.

Inspirations- achieving greatness

InspirationsBefore anyone says, I know its sad to have a picture of yourself on your bedroom wall, but it does have a positive purpose. The person pictured next to me is a professional darts player called James Wade. The thing we both have in common is that we’ve won tournaments whilst battling our mental health illnesses. James is one of the best darts players in the world, where as I play table tennis in local leagues. James suffers with bipolar and had to have time away from the sport due to his illness. I too had to have a year out from playing in the league when my anxiety levels reached there highest peak and I struggled to leave the house.

James Wade is ranked number 6 in the world and is an extremely talented player, he also comes across as a really nice guy, he’s always respectful of his opponents and conducts himself well, win or lose. When I watch him on the stage he appears very comfortable and in his comfort zone, but off the stage doing interviews and even on his walk ons, I can see a lot of myself in him. Frailties such as low self-esteem, looking awkward and nervous and like he wants to be anywhere else. That’s why it’s truly remarkable that with such obvious confidence issues, He’s still able to perform to such a high standard in front of crowds of thousands of noisy fans, not to mention the millions watching on sky sports! For this reason I admire him more than any other sportsman.

Going back to the pictures on my wall. They’re the first thing I see when I get up in a morning and I use them as a really positive message to start the day. They remind me that anything is possible and I can still achieve good things despite of my illness. Whether your inspirations are well known celebrities or friends and family, doesn’t matter. What matters is that you use them as a positive influence in moving forward and becoming the best version of yourself.

 

 

Grieving process- mental wellbeing

7 Stages of the Grieving process

Shock or Disbelief can be the first reaction to news that a loved one has passed. Many people report numbness where they don’t feel anything in the first few moments. This experience can be surprising to many individuals because may not immediately sense the devastated feelings they would expect to feel with such news.
Denial doesn’t so much occur in the grieving process when the mourner “forgets” that their loved one has passed away.Denial is related to how one expresses their emotions surrounding grief. For example, a person who continually says, “I’m fine,” after a significant loss is likely denying his or her feelings.  It may also be true that the bereaved person does not know how to share their feelings with those closest to them.
Anger is not a universal emotion during the grief process. While it is not unusual to experience anger and many other feelings after a significant loss, it is not required. Some people become angry at themselves or the person who left them or simply at the situation they are left to face alone.
Bargaining refers to attempts to make a deal, often with God, to change the situation. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross noted bargaining in her observations of individuals dying from a terminal illness. Bargaining may not be so frequent when a loved one has died, but is likely present in other losses such as divorce, break up, job loss, home loss or other transition, where there is some hope the situation could be changed by an all-powerful God.
Guilt can occur when the bereaved have regrets about things they did or said before the loved one died or left them. There is a wish to turn back the clock and do some things differently.
Depression is often used to describe the profound sadness that is a natural human reaction to grief and loss. The symptoms of grief are very similar to those of clinical depression.
Acceptance and Hope. In the last stage of the 7 stages of grief one arrives at the belief that although life will never be the same again after the loss, there is hope that life will go on.

Grieving Process- mental wellbeing

Not everyone will experience these 7 stages of grief or like me it may take a long time.

A Fathers Love

On June 10th  2010 my dad died in hospital. Seven years have passed now, but it still feels like yesterday and I can honestly say I still think about him every day. The shock and devastation hit the whole family extremely hard. I had to deal with so many emotions at this time but the uppermost was complete disbelief.

I kept expecting to wake up from a bad dream and see him sat there in his favourite rocking chair, probably with a sarcastic comment about how long I’d spent in bed. It hurt me that I hadn’t had the chance to say goodbye and I was angry with God for robbing me of this opportunity. I also felt an unbelievable sense of guilt that I hadn’t told him how much I loved him. I guess that’s the cruelty of life, it all happened so quickly. He was taken into hospital with a suspected stomach infection and sadly never came out again.

I always viewed him as such a strong person, growing up I’d look up to him and even thought of him as invincible. For a long time after his death, all I had etched on my mind was a picture of him led in the intensive care unit with countless wires and tubes hooking him up to a machine. That was the only time I’d seen him looking so fragile and it wasn’t the way I wanted to remember him.

I never cried for my dad, not at his funeral and not anytime afterwards. At the funeral people who barely knew him were crying. I remember thinking there must be something seriously wrong with me. Was I some kind of emotional cripple, not to have shed a single tear on this day, of all days?This lack of reaction allowed me to continue to function properly and make sense of things. Inevitably I took on the role of chief organiser. At least this way I felt I was being in someway useful.

I was happy to be the strong one for as long as my family needed me to be. I believed I would grieve in my own time. The sad truth is I’ve never properly grieved for my dad. I’m desperate too, but don’t know how. I hope people realise, this doesn’t mean I love him any less. I miss him terribly every day and still feel a large emptiness, which will never be filled.

One thing that helps immensely with the whole grieving process  is that I’m able to wear his necklace. Every morning when I put it on I say ‘Good morning dad’ and tell him what we’ve got planned for the day. Every night when I take it off, I tell him I love him (Something I wasn’t able to do when he was alive). I take great comfort in knowing where ever I go, he goes too, and I’ll always wear his chain with pride.

My dad grew up as an only child in a strict family. I don’t know much about this stage of his life, as he didn’t like to talk about it, even with my mother. What I do know is he was treated harshly and unfairly disciplined, He was rarely praised and constantly put down, which is a lousy combination! Being a parent never came that naturally to him, which is not to say he wasn’t a great dad, but he did struggle with the emotional side of things, almost certainly because he didn’t receive it from his own parents. So we didn’t get much in the way of hugs and kisses or that much in the way of approval from him, but we had our mum for that side of things. We did receive a big cuddle from him every New Year. I know he loved us unconditionally, he just showed it in different ways. To put it simply, there was nothing he wouldn’t do for his family. Having worked a fifty-hour week, most weekends he would find himself taking me to Table Tennis tournaments all over the country. We were often setting off as early as four o clock in the morning and not getting back home until late Sunday evenings. Even though I know that deep down he had very little interest in the sport. All he ever stipulated was that the guesthouse had a bar. As long as this was the case, he wouldn’t moan about anything. We could drag him off to anywhere in the country. I actually think he enjoyed some of our weekends away, especially twice a year when we got to go to Blackpool. Mum would come with us and we would stay in the same lovely little hotel on the sea front. Dad particularly liked this one because there was always a live music act on and he loved nothing more than listening, whilst unwinding with a pint in his hand. It was always nice to see him so relaxed and contented.

When he wasn’t away with me he spent much of his spare time watching my brother play cricket. This involved sitting on the side-lines, in often freezing conditions, and cricket can be a long game! If he knew it was important to us then it would be important to him too. He showed amazing commitment to his family.

Dad had no time for misbehaving kids; in fact they frustrated the hell out of him. He would soon lose his patience and blame the parents. He put it down to lack of discipline and found it unforgivable when they failed to control their kids. In his eyes there was no excuse for this. In contrast when we were out with our parents we always behaved impeccably. If in a pub or restaurant we would sit quietly and not move a muscle until we were given permission. Whether out on a bus or in a supermarket shopping, whilst other kids were screaming and being disruptive, we would remain quiet and as good as gold.

Although he never smacked us, he had a certain presence and a way of looking at us that would immediately demand his respect. You could call it respect or you could call it fear but either way we were terrified of the consequences of misbehaving, especially in public.

As long as we abided by his rules, he was actually a lot of fun and I have many happy childhood memories of him playing in parks with us, taking us swimming and clowning around on the beach on family holidays.

Dad saw Christmas, as another chance to show us how much he loved us, he always managed to make it a magical time. Even working on a shoestring budget we were always spoilt with sacks full of presents. He embraced the opportunity to bring the whole family together for a big slap up meal. We would all wear party hats, pull crackers and play silly games, and he would relish being the host.

As a child I wasn’t always able to relate to my dad but I always felt greatly protected by him. It’s only as I grew up into adulthood that our relationship became much stronger. We discovered we were very much on the same wavelength and had the same dry sense of humour. We both took high delight in winding my brother up, in particular about his beloved Manchester Utd. He used to refer to us as Laurel and Hardy, as we were like a comedy duo. I’d prefer to think of us as two peas in a pod.

I was able to see him in a completely different light as he used to take me to the club for a pint and a game of snooker. This soon became our Saturday teatime ritual. After a few beers he would let his guard down and I got to see glimpses of a more sensitive side. Every year in the weeks surrounding Christmas, I would become his drinking buddy in the house as well. He would wait for my mum and brother to go to bed and get the whisky bottle out. it was round about now that the philosophical dad would come out. He would look up at the night sky and start musing about how vast the universe was and pondered where we all came from. I learnt how fascinated he was with all the stars.

This was a special time that just dad and I shared and these are the memories that will always be most precious to me and help me with the grieving process.

Looking back, there’s so much about my dad that makes me smile, I could easily write a full book on him. I will try to sum it up briefly.

He was one of the most honest people I knew, he would tell people exactly what he thought, whether they were ready for it or not! This painful honesty could at times be construed as tactless, but at least you knew where you stood with him.

In over thirty years of marriage I never heard him and my mum have a cross word with each other, he loved to spoil her and would do so with constant romantic gestures. Even though he liked to adopt a tough guy demine he was secretly a big softy at heart.

As a child my brother broke his leg. He was given exercise regimes to assist with his recovery. Every night dad would get home from work and take him to the local swimming baths and help him with his exercises. Over time he could visibly see improvements, as the leg began to strengthen, until eventually he was able to walk again.

If my dad was still around today I think he’d find my illness extremely difficult to comprehend. He hated seeing any of his family suffering but I think he would especially struggle with the fact that with depression there is no obvious fix and he wouldn’t know how to help.

Right up until the end of his life dad was still protecting us. He didn’t want us to see him ill in a hospital bed. He made my mum promise to keep us away. It’s  testament to his character that even when in pain and at his most vulnerable, he was still able to put his family first.